Sunday, January 28, 2018

For the Pastor's or Administrator's Wife

Early this morning, just after midnight, Paul and I got home from a Mennonite school administrators' seminar in Pennsylvania.*

I spoke to the women on Friday morning.

As I told them, when the organizer contacted me about speaking, he said he'd like me to give a "lighthearted" talk to these ladies, all of whom are married to school administrators and many of whom, like me, are married to men who are both pastor and principal.

"Um. 'Lighthearted?' To women who are married to men in leadership?" I said.

"Well, yes. Sometimes it tends to get really heavy, and we felt like we need more stories, laughter, encouragement, that sort of thing."

I told him I still can't do the math on combining "lighthearted" with "leaders' wives" but I would do my best.

He said that would be fine.

Paul went with me and was in charge of the small-group discussions with the men who are both pastors and principals.

We both had a really lovely time. Somehow at pastor-couples' retreats I always feel like an impostor, but at this gathering I felt like I belonged.

I told lots of stories and the women were kind enough to listen attentively and also laugh. And they drew me in to small group and mealtime discussions.

There's something magic about talking with people who understand.

*Then we got up a few hours later and went to church, where Paul preached a sermon and I taught Sunday school, because this is what pastors and their wives do. ---

In preparation for the talks, I had asked for ideas for completing this statement, "You know you're married to a principal or pastor when..." I had a number of requests for the list of answers, so I will post it here.

And I'll save the best for last--the lovely tribute that our friend Merle Burkholder wrote about his wife.


Here is my personal list:

You know you're married to a principal/pastor when:
1. You know at least three people who are afraid of your husband and shouldn’t be, and three more that aren’t, but you wish they were.
2. You can call his name and he doesn’t hear you, but if you say, “Mr. ___” you instantly have his attention.
3. You keep a coleus plant for years so he can demonstrate photosynthesis in science class every year.
4. Half of your living room furniture disappears before Christmas, along with your husband’s bathrobe and 4 dish towels. Then you go see the Christmas play and see all your missing items onstage. If it’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, you also see the ham you had put in the freezer for Christmas dinner.
5. You tend to have your babies in late spring, about 9 months after the most stressful time of the year.
6. You’ve been in groups where everyone was discussing a situation, and you knew more than anyone, but you couldn’t say a word!
7. When it’s snowing and your husband says, "Oh, it’s not that slick out there, I think we can have school!" And you remind him there are 16-year-olds driving their younger siblings to school.
8. You have a section in your recipe notebook for how much pizza and pop to buy for honor roll suppers, and which flavors.
9. You have another page for how much hot chocolate to send along on sledding days.
10. You have another page for how much food each family needs to bring for the Christmas program.
11. You’ve driven a van full of wild children to the museum, the mountains, the woolen mills, the newspaper printer, the waterfalls, and convention, if you use ACE.
12. You know which students cheat and lie.
13. You’ve put the children to bed by yourself on Saturday nights.
14. Within reasonable limits, you’re willing to be embarrassed for the sake of a good illustration.
15. You’ve had young adults come up to you and say, “I would never have graduated if it hadn’t been for your husband.”

When I put the question on Facebook, here were some of the answers. The discussion veered much more toward pastors' wives than school administrators'. I could relate to many of them.

1. You're expected to do a hundred jobs for free, because your husband gets paid or even partially paid for being pastor.
2. You're expected to teach children at church and fill in for anyone absent.
3. You hear the sermon multiple times before Sunday.
4. You make sure the back of your head looks ok because 98% of the congregation is behind you.
5. You're distracted by the message because the Pastor is so attractive.
6. You have the preacher read his scripture passage to you on Saturday night just to make sure he knows how to pronounce Ai.
7. When you had unexpected guests for Sunday dinner!
8. You are typically the last ones to leave church on Sundays and the hours are definitely not 9-5!!
9. Need to be ready for guests any moment of the day.
10. Every spring and fall you host the visiting evangelist for a week in your home.
11. You've left in the middle of the night to go be with someone.
12. You cut short your family vacation and return home early because of a death in the community.
13. You've mastered the skill of acting surprised when hearing "news" that you were told earlier in confidence.
14. You pay careful attention to the sermon, lest you get tested on it afterwards.
15. You raise your family on the front pew at church. Ideally, they should be well behaved, but you feel like you’re providing circus entertainment.
16. You spend time Saturday making sure everyone's Sunday clothes are in order.
17. If having your husband sit beside you during an entire church service is next thing to a date!!
[I would add to this: If you like going to funerals because it's usually just you and your husband in the car.]
18. When you're living in a parsonage and have a borrowed goat staked out in the front yard to trim the grass... but he gets loose and eats the church-owned snowball bush down to the ground.... and your very pregnant self tries to drag said animal away from the devastation... all the while sobbing about the damage... and potential repercussions...
19. When you aren't introduced by fellow members with your name. You are introduced as, "This is my pastor's wife."
20. Everyone else is going on family vacations.
21. If 75% of what you know you aren’t allowed to say, so you sit up late at night and write really bad stories under the guise of fiction novels, then you feed them through the shredder in dread of someone finding them and the sins that an entire community of people worked so hard to hide would be hung out like dirty laundry and those sensational TV shows about the Mennonites and Amish would come asking to use the material!
22. When your family vacations consist of a week of Bible camp with 3 services a day.
23. You meet new people and quickly realize that you know their dirty secrets, but they don't know you know.
24. You might be a pastor's wife if you know what missionary tea is.
25. Your dream vacation is somewhere without cell phone service.
26. A certain person probably knows that you were involved in a family reconciliation meeting and they keep bringing up the topic (such great concern, of course since it involves her family, too) in order to see what information they can get from you.  And you would like to just smack her in the face and tell her to mind her own business - but you can't because your husband is a minister and you're a Christian and a non-resistant Mennonite, after all. So you just smile and act like you have no idea what she's talking about. Later you think of all the things you could have said that would have shut her up, but at the time all you wanted to do was not betray any confidences (and you didn't.)
27. You hear a huge mistake in the delivery or grammar of husband's message but you don't tell him until weeks later because you know he already feels like the message was a disaster.
28. If your husband serves on a denominational committee that requires out of state travel.
29. You know you are the pastor's wife when you feel like you are sitting in the sunshine when he preaches because you see the beauty and grace of God working in his life and your spirits meet in a wonderful way.
30. People are shocked when your kids misbehave.
31. When out-of-state visitors come to church and a thought pops into your head that you hope so-and-so doesn't do this or that...and then an inner sunshine lights your soul because you realize it doesn't matter---you know these people, you've heard their hearts and know they love God and are on a journey -- and it's not our church anyways, it's God's!
32. You may be a pastor's wife if: you've been to a hundred wedding rehearsals; you plan your vacations around the preaching schedule; you appear to enjoy visiting other churches; you're expected to be the encyclopedia of names and church historical events; you cringe as you hear the sound of toes being stomped on as the preacher brings truth, and rejoice with him later as people thank him for it; you are so distracted by a mispronounced word you can't remember the gist of the sermon; and you have spent Sunday afternoons praying against Satan, because the Word must have been especially effective that day.

Last of all, we have the best answer, from our friend Merle Burkholder:

You know you are the wife of a pastor if you are the one he comes home to after the 2:00 AM meeting and you are the one who lets him know that he is loved and that he is welcome in your arms. 
You know you are the wife of a pastor if you hear the criticisms of him and you help him sort out what is accurate and what is not and he appreciates your help in being objective. 
You know you are the wife of a pastor when you stand by him and love him and he knows that he is loved and wanted by you even when others seem to be against him.
You give him confidence to carry on through the difficult moments when he helps to carry the pain of others.
You know you are the wife of a pastor when your pastor sits beside you at the dinner table and you hear his heart for the people he is shepherding. When you help him to understand the things that are happening in relationships, because he is a man, and as a man he sometimes needs a woman who has much more keen relational abilities to understand the intricacies of relationships.
 You know you are the wife of a pastor when you are there to help celebrate the successes and you rejoice with him over spiritual victories.
 You know you are the wife of a pastor when you sit beside him at the Pastor Appreciation Dinner and realize that in spite of all the struggles there are people who appreciate your husband and all he does for them. 

I have been blessed with a wonderful wife who has blessed and encouraged me in so many ways. Edith had the opportunity to encourage and bless me building my confidence, or to criticize me and undermine me and destroy my confidence. She has done an amazing job of being my greatest supporter, and my most trusted and honest critic. I love her, and value her immensely.

Note: feel free to copy, print, or share all or part of this.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Letter from Hburg--Raising a Family Between Cultures

33 years on, the family stands tall

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
JAN. 14, 2018

 Feeling like ants in a cornfield, we meandered down the wide, needle-carpeted trails between the gigantic­ redwood trees at Jedidiah Smith State Park. Our six children, all adults now, scattered out ahead of us. One stopped to count rings on a log, another climbed up the roots of an enormous redwood to peek in a mysterious hole in the side, another marched far ahead and returned at a brisk pace, trying to tally as many steps as possible for the day.

“Would you ever have imagined this, 33-and-a-half years ago?” my husband, Paul, asked me quietly as we lagged behind. We were taking a family post-Christmas vacation in the same area of the southern Oregon Coast where we had honeymooned, back in 1984, which caused much reminiscing, even for Paul, who looks forward more than back.

“No,” I said, “I didn’t see this coming.” I couldn’t have imagined how challenging it would be to raise a family on that fragile boundary between religious tradition and modern life, how hard it would be to let adult children choose for themselves and what a blessing it would be when those choices were wise and healthy.

Maybe every generation goes through this — barely finding stability in adulthood before becoming overwhelmed at all the ways the world is changing. Just when you feel like life is safe and sane, and can’t we just park here for a while, please? — then there goes your teenage daughter, happily texting and Snapchatting her friends as she heads out the door to her next class.

I often think of my mom, who mostly kept quiet and prayed while her six navigated our generation’s changes.

She must have asked the same questions I do: Is this strange new thing good or bad? Should I freak out? Can I trust them to make good decisions? Should I say something? Can I let go?

I grew up first Old Order Amish and later “Beachy” Amish, a denomination that allowed a few amenities such as cars and zippers and electric lights. Amish young people enter adulthood knowing all about planting a garden, obscure Bible passages, sewing dresses and family history but knowing little of movies, college, popular music, TV shows, politics and most careers.

My sister and I were exposed to more of that world because we went to a public high school, and Rebecca was the first in the family, in multiple generations, to graduate. I followed a year later.

Mom could butcher 50 chickens in a day and piece a quilt, but she couldn’t understand the subjects we studied and was alarmed at the books we had to read. She knew nothing of the expected protocol for a graduation — what the ceremony would be like, what to wear, whether and how to celebrate, or how an open house was hosted.

So Rebecca and I took charge, taking cues from our classmates. We ordered announcements, arranged for portraits and made food for the guests.

Now, I feel for Mom, so heavily invested in our lives and yet so inept and confused when we chose such completely new paths.

After high school, I taught at church schools and then met and married Paul, squeezing in two years of college before we had a family.

We raised our six children in the Mennonite church and traditions. Even though the rules were more relaxed than in my childhood, we still didn’t have a TV, and we monitored the children’s media use, listening or watching together and discussing the themes and lyrics. While they had friends and influences outside the culture, they still grew up immersed in the safe, rural and somewhat isolated traditions of a dozen generations before them.

While we were at the front door keeping TVs shallow entertainment at bay, the Internet came creeping in the back door, potentially exposing the children to far worse. That was when we learned whether we had taught them to choose carefully what they watched and listened to, or if they could only follow specific rules.

Paul and I encouraged the kids to follow their gifts and interests, but we never pushed them to go to college. When most of their friends married and started families in their early 20s, we figured ours would too.

Instead, they are all single and are all in, or just out of, college, gathering one degree after another like my mom picked green beans with capable hands on a summer morning.

Again, I feel strangely between cultures and times. My Mennonite peers are planning their children’s weddings and welcoming grandbabies, while my more secular friends report that their grown children, like ours, are slow to marry and the parents wait, sometimes into old age, for a grandchild or two to appear.

Soon, I will be the least educated member of the family. Long ago, I was the expert at everything, and they came to me wondering what acorns are for and how do I double a recipe and is there a Bible verse that says your sister should stay out of your room?

Today, I put Sunday dinners on the table and listen in wonder and confusion as the conversation jerks from dystopian authors to fuel-to-air ratios to implicit biases to Bitcoin.

However, I also smile quietly, because in a strange turn of events, these unpredictable young people become, in some ways, even more traditional as they pursue a secular education. They ignore most of the social-media hashtag bandwagons and are not political, partly because no one represents their values and partly because they don’t see the political process leading to worthwhile change. They all want a traditional family, eventually, with plenty of children, and they value domesticity and homemaking. They like the personal dignity of dressing conservatively, but they don’t expect the rest of the world to follow their example. And they have a strong faith.

Really, they almost could be Amish.

On Christmas Eve, Ben the combustion-science grad student fed the chickens for me and then slipped and fell as he left the shed, pitching eggs in all directions and gashing his hand. Steven the paramedic student and volunteer EMT capably cleaned and bandaged it.

Amy the elementary-­ed­ major was in charge of Christmas dinner, helped by Emily of the communication degree and Jenny the future math teacher. Matt, the Navy engineer who will soon have a master’s in aerospace engineering, helped clean up.

We all got along remarkably well during the entire four days at the coast. Amy planned all the meals, and Ben planned the hikes and activities. Paul and I were probably too happy to give up these tasks. Yet, we both felt included and needed, pulled into games and conversations, and asked for our opinions and insights.

The redwood trees reminded me that growth cannot be rushed, and you might not see the results of your decisions until 10 or 20 years later. There’s seldom a clear light on that thin path between tradition and change, the safe values of the past and the scary possibilities of the new and different. You can’t control storms and disasters, but if you pray a lot and provide a sheltering canopy above, your kids just might grow into tall and strong young trees, full of new ideas yet blending into an ancient and beautiful forest.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

How to Change the World

When Matt was home for Christmas, we talked about running for President, since a number of people have told him he should.

He has a gift for seeing all sides of an issue and for explaining complicated concepts in understandable terms to normal people.  This is the sort of skill I want in a President, but--says Matt--few Americans have the patience to listen to explanation and nuance and details. They want sound bites and easily-repeatable slogans.

I asked him, skeptically, what he could actually accomplish if he were President. He said that a President's biggest accomplishments happen behind closed doors, and no one ever knows about them. For example, a President and his staff might decide not to invade Iraq after all, but the rest of the country and the world would never know what had been averted.

While he isn't that fond of either party or of politics in general, he likes the idea of changing the course of history in this way.

Meanwhile, I wrote a blog post about the winds of change that have blown through the Mennonite church in my lifetime. My friend David Miller asked, "While I appreciate and enjoy this article, I noticed it is from the perspective of a follower or spectator of new movements. But what if you happen to be an influential person in the new movement? That person cannot wait 20 years to see what will become of it. . . . How can a healthy, positive "wind of change" happen if someone isn't willing to cause a few ripples?"

I said, "Good questions. Short answer: I don't know. Long answer: I've seen a lot of positive change in the church such as better teaching on child training, more honesty about sexual sins, as I mentioned a much more caring atmosphere at my home church in MN, and even switching to veils at Brownsville. All of those happened over a long period of time with a lot of deliberate thought and discussion. I know God also works in sudden ways, with a sweeping wind. In my own life, those changes were marked by repentance and joy."

That conversation reminded me that some of us are called to effect change like the apostles' preaching that roused and rankled whole cities, and some of us are called to work quietly behind the scenes, making tents and quietly explaining the way of God more perfectly, like Aquila and Priscilla.

I prefer the latter, which ought to inform my choices and service but should not make me skeptical of the people called to the former.

However we go about it, it is a happy day when we know that we actually changed something for the better.

So, you may at times have heard me go off about Amish novels written by non-Amish authors. We can add to this Amish TV shows and Amish click-bait articles on BuzzFeed.

Despite all my ranting, it is supremely clear that people like these materials very much, so I have not reduced the flood of such media at all.

But the other day I did my own little part as the Lord gave me opportunity, and it was only a cupful dipped from the swirling frothy sea, but I was proud of that little cup.

A man wrote to me via Facebook message thus: 
Hello, Dorcas. I am working on a blog about Amish rules. Would you be willing to share with me some rules that Amish mothers must follow?

A shiver went down my spine. I replied:
"I need to ask a few questions first--what is your connection to the Amish? Who is your audience? And why would you have a blog about Amish rules? Just curious..

Is it a single post or an entire blog?"

I added the "just curious" so I would sound a little less hostile.

He answered:

An entire blog called 15 messed up rules Amish moms must follow seen by the general public
I am not trying to offend anyone so I am very understanding if you cannot help
I have amish friends in Pa but cannot name people

I began frothing at the mouth and madly typing. Meanwhile he got a bit nervous and wrote:

I probobly shouldn't have asked I apologize I was looking up Amish rules somehow I came across your name and thought I would ask someone who know the truth.
Thank you anyways I will search elsewhere.

By that time I had finished my reply which was:

It's fine that you asked. However, I don't think it works for non-Amish people to try to write about the Amish. Kind of like if I would try to write about life for the elderly in inner-city Chicago or truck drivers in Mexico.
Instead, I think you should write a blog about 15 messed up rules American women must follow.
1. You aren't considered beautiful unless you're skinny.
2. You have to wear makeup.
3. You have to be employed.
4. You're considered irresponsible if you have more than 3 children.
5. You get praised in the workplace for masculine traits like aggression, logic, and leadership instead of feminine traits such as intuition, nurture, sensitivity, and emotion.
...and so on.
Your best writing will come from writing what you know and observe personally.
Good luck!

Well, we all know that a simple No would have sufficed, but I just had to yell at him.

Now, the big question: would he listen to me? Really, what were the chances I got through to a guy surfing the Net trying to cobble a clickbait article together?  Maybe zero.

But lo, this lovely message came back:

Well put, I am going to change my subject thank you.


We are all called to do what we can to effect change, make a difference, and bring God's Kingdom to Earth.

Some of us will do this by rousing a crowd to action, and some of us will work behind the scenes in small ways that slowly accumulate into something significant.

The important thing is to do what you know you should.

Story/Quote of the Day:

About 23 years ago I was a stressed-out young mom with lots of issues and naughty children who wouldn't listen to me. One day I exploded, "Maybe I should just QUIT and let somebody else be your mom!"
They were supposed to say: "Oh, we're sorry, please forgive us, we'll be good."
Instead, there was a long pause and then little Emily said cheerfully, "OK!! I want Aunt Bonnie to be my mom!"
Today Emily was substitute teaching a bunch of third and fourth graders. She told the kids she's subbing today. And little Elijah piped up, "Hey, we should get Bonnie to sub sometime!"
I laughed harder than necessary, I think, but oh the sweet taste of life coming full circle at last.