It has been a very long time since I wrote a blog post. I wish I could say I've just been too busy living la vida loca to sit down at the keyboard. Certainly, I wish I had some moderately believable excuse to give you. But I don't.
The honest answer? Well, I didn't write because I didn't have anything positive to say. For a while. I've been in a season of life one could describe as "the doldrums" and it might have even crossed into mild depression for a few weeks. It's time I talked about it and hopefully it will loosen up some bonds that might be holding your head under the water, too.
The past eight years of our marriage have had us living away from our support network. The first of those eight years was spent in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the rest were spent in the Joplin, Missouri area. After seven years in one area we had put down some roots. We knew most of our neighbors and had a great set of neighbor kids for our girls to hang out with. The house we bought was coming together slowly through renovations and updates. We had found favorite restaurants and had a great network of specialists, like our pediatrician and pediatric dentist. The girls had gotten involved in a homeschool sports league and learning co-op, plus they had friends at church they really love.
The only thing really lacking was a strong network of friends and family to support my husband and me spiritually, emotionally, and physically. There were no nearby grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins to rely on as babysitters. We never really found anyone with whom we could form a close friendship outside of the church. Certainly we had great congregation members who we feel great affection for and who care for us, but those relationships weren't truly free for us as their pastor. Congregation members need their pastor to be strong, holy leaders -- they don't want flawed human beings who struggle sometimes or who occasionally watch PG-13 movies or who cuss a little. We had very few friendships in the Joplin area where we felt safe to express our difficulties or genuine emotions without fear that it might turn into ministry-killing gossip or betrayal.
The hole in our lives left by a lack of support network left us feeling increasingly strained. We knew that things were changing with our church placement and it looked increasingly like we would be moving away from Joplinland. We began praying that God would open a door that would allow us to be closer to our family and the friends we had from before we moved from the Springfield area. This, we hoped, would give us access to a strong support network and help with some of the emotional strain that comes with being in vocational ministry.
We found out in March that we were going to be changing churches over the summer and we found out in April exactly where we would be moving. The answer wasn't what we had been praying for. (Yeah, I know...God's answer isn't always "yes").
Instead of moving closer to family and close friends, we were placed in a small church located in a small town that felt like it was a million miles away from everyone who loves us. When we found out with certainty that we were moving, we had only three months to sell our house and move our entire life three and a half hours north. There was an intense, exhausting push to finish all the renovation projects we had put on the back-burner -- at a cost we hadn't intended to invest all at once. Plus, I spent most of my spare time searching the internet for all the things we would need once we made the move (new pediatrician, new homeschool sports league, etc.). The renovations finally came together with a lot of sweat and a few spousal arguments, but we got our house on the market and got the offer we were hoping to receive.
The other transition plans, unfortunately, seemed frustratingly stalled. It seemed that no information existed regarding many of the things we needed to know for continuing to teach the girls at home. Where we easily found information about homeschool sports, co-ops, field trip groups, and other support networks in the Joplin-area, none seemed to show themselves in my internet search for our new town. The closest options all involved a 40-minute or more drive.
In a whirlwind, we made the final moving arrangements, said our goodbyes, packed up our belongings, and the mover drove away with almost all of our earthly possessions. I cried for most of the three-plus hours we drove to our new home.
The day we moved in to our new home (a church-owned parsonage) brought us into a house that wasn't ours and didn't feel like home. Plus, it was raining non-stop and our moving van couldn't make it up the long, narrow driveway to the house. Every box and every piece of furniture had to come off the moving truck, where each item was tossed in an unloving manner into church member's covered trailer before being transferred up the driveway and into our house. Boxes were varying degrees of smashed as things were hurriedly moved in this helter-skelter way. Several of my belongings were broken in the process and several boxes brought tears as I grieved the loss of some treasure or another (like the coffee mug my late friend had bought me on her trip to Disney the year she was taking chemo and radiation).
The kick in the gut came in the following weeks as I realized the girls weren't going to have any nearby homeschool support options or other ways to make friends. We decided that this pastoral move was going to be a very lonely one for them if we continued to homeschool, so we made the decision to place them back into public school. All the dreams we had of travel and field trips and things we were going to learn and the wonderful opportunities homeschooling would bring...well, they were dashed, just like those broken possessions I found in my moving boxes.
All the change, all the disappointments took their toll on me and I began sinking. Everything felt like loss in this move. I stopped sleeping well and was getting only five or six hours of sleep each night. My humor disappeared, replaced with silence as I could think of nothing at all worth saying out loud. Difficult feelings inside my heart and mind made it feel impossible to find anything positive to say to my husband or the girls. Parenting and wife-ing were becoming new sources of disappointment. All I could see was my constant failure at being a human being that anyone would want to be around. I was tired and sad and quick to become angry and even quicker to begin crying over every little thing.
Heaped upon my sadness was everyone else's happiness, which felt like a mockery of my inability to muster joy. Old acquaintances excitedly made comments like "God is going to do such great things in this new setting!" And people we met in our new town perkily asked questions like "How are you liking our little town?" I couldn't see how anything good was possible under the black cloud that seemed to be sitting on my head and I certainly didn't have anything nice to say in answer to their cheery queries. Everything I said was forced and I felt like I was constantly lying by pasting a smile on my face whenever I was out in public.
I am mostly out from under the dark cloud and I have found my sense of humor again. I'm writing some curriculum and using my time on creative pursuits while I try to figure out what the new "normal" looks like in our lives.
I've also done some personal exploration of what might have improved this transition. One pastor's wife I talked to about our move told me "You've got to be made of tough stuff to be a pastor's wife". I'm sure she meant well...or maybe that was just her version of "It is what it is". But, her comment felt like defeat to me. What I really needed someone to validate my feelings of grief and to give me space to have hard emotions about all the loss that was being heaped upon my shoulders. It would have been helpful to see and hear empathy, rather than perky platitudes or comments about the need to "suck it up, Buttercup". I needed to hear someone say "This is a hard thing you're doing. How can I bear some of it with you? How can I support you in this thing?"
If you are in a church where a new pastor is coming in -- especially if your new pastor is moving from somewhere else on the map -- be careful about your enthusiasm and excitement creating unintended pressure on your new pastor's family. Be sure to check in with your pastor and his family to make sure they are emotionally and socially okay, that they are receiving support as they grieve the loss of their previous setting, friends, school, and other parts of their previous support network. Even changing pediatricians can be challenging, especially if your pastor's child has a special medical need. There are several of the Big Life Change events that your pastor and his family are going through all at once -- new job, new home, new school -- that have to be navigated along with their need to make a good first impression on your congregation and community. Give them space to grieve. More importantly, give them permission to grieve. If God has moved them into your church, then joy will follow them....eventually. Until then, pray for your pastor and his family with their grief in mind and look for ways offer your encouragement and support to ease their stress.
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