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.


  1. Dorcas, The one local lady that I know of that heard you speak at this seminar told me, "It was so good!" She also mentioned that you had a long time to speak, but (and she sounded wistful) it was only once. May God bless you richly for the investment of time and effort you made to bless these ladies who have needed to share their husband with others in ways that require grace and sacrifice. LRM

  2. My sister-in-law Diana enjoyed hearing you. Thank you for saying yes. God is using you.

    1. Is this the lovely Diana that led our small group?

  3. My friend Mary Jo sent me the link to your blog because she KNEW I would enjoy it. She was right! As a pastor's wife, I could relate to so many things you listed. :)

  4. I even related to some of these due to my background as a pastor's child. Fun post, and I love the tribute at the end.

  5. Such a great read. I could comment on so much. But #5, 13, and 14 especially resonated. And the crazy thing is, #4 did too. But Dan only taught 2 years and the spring babies weren't anywhere in the making when he was. :) :)

    #13 and 14 were ones I also jotted down.

    In the comments: 4, 17, 25, 27, 31.

    This was much fun. I'm glad the weekend went well. Merle's words were mighty fine too. And I can't believe you're speaking in Montana this spring. I thought I wouldn't go this year. But I'm thinking I should change my mind!

    1. Ugh! I was so tired when I wrote this last night that my numbers are all goofy. And I can't find a place to delete my comment. Whatever. Sorry, I did write down the ones that resonated most on a sticky note and then meant to communicate them to you, but they aren't lining up now. And it's not worth a retry. But this was so insightful. You have a load that I have never carried, as I can tell by some of your points. Grace to you.

      I also wanted to tell you that our deacon's wife recently had twin boys under complications and while she was at home a lot with them on Sunday mornings, she listened to your sessions at Inspire over and over. She also borrows your books from me over and over. I had thought I wasn't going to MT retreat this year, but now I am reconsidering, after finding out you're speaking. I could go under the guise of being her baby helper. This is dream stage only.

    2. Thanks for the kind words and I would be delighted if you came to Montana!

  6. Oh Dorcas! This is the first time in 7 years of attending Admin Retreat that we had to miss. How I wish we could have been there!

    Your list of 13 things had us howling with laughter... Tears rolling too. Every single one is true for us except number 3...instead of that plant... It was my tail bone that was surgically removed and floating in formaldehyde... 🙈🙈🙈
    #7 howling with laughter... Like seriously were you a mouse and heard this conversation in our bedroom at 5:30 am every time the roads were iffy?! 😂
    Number 11 I would add... Driving a van full of noisy insecure 7th graders and getting separated from the caravan of mini vans because you were fourth in line and then losing GPS signal, your battery dies and you are lost doing circles in the heart of NYC! I can laugh now but I was fighting tears then... It took me an hour... And the kids just thought it was an adventure.

    Number 13... Yes! Except it was Monday nights while he had board meetings. That is when I overcame my fears of being alone at night and I learned to fall asleep without him by letting the little ones take turns sleeping with me. 😊

    Thanks for all the laughs!

    I love my Uncle Merle's tribute to Aunt Edith ❤️❤️ So beautiful!
    Gloria Croutch

  7. Oh and the baby timing 😂😂😂 this provided a good fit of laughter when we realized that most of our kids birthdays line up with your logic 😂😂

  8. How sad that you weren't at Admin Retreat! LOL on the tail bone and HORRORS on the trip to NYC.