The Ring I Don’t Wear

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Five years ago last Sunday was the anniversary of my husband’s first day as a senior pastor. It’s two important years of my life that have shaped me and my view of ministry. The problem is that every time I try to get my thoughts in order, I get a mental block. I can recount in painful detail the circumstances that led to our leaving, but I don’t want to hurt the people I love who remain in that church. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized I need to talk about it. It’s the ring that did it.

Caleb bought me a ring while he was a pastor. It’s a simple band of white gold with three oval sapphires surrounded by tiny diamonds. It’s beautiful, and I love it. But I rarely wear it.

When he first bought me that ring I wanted to wear it all the time. Sapphires are my favorite gem, and most of my clothes are blue. It was small and subtle enough to wear with almost anything. I couldn’t wait to show it to them.

By “them” I mean the precious ladies who were so faithful to come to my Bible studies every week. I mean the wonderful VBS worker who stepped in to help me when she was already working night shift. I mean our home group who ate my egg rolls and brownies and laughed with us every week no matter how hard Sunday morning had been. I mean the amazing wife of one of our deacons who encouraged me with hugs and kind advice, even as she lost her husband to cancer. I mean the family who constantly encouraged us, prayed for us, and never failed to tell my husband how much they learned from his sermon. I mean the kids in the youth group who made me laugh week after week.

But I found myself wearing it less and less until it stayed in my jewelry box all the time. I remember showing it to a friend outside the church who asked me why I didn’t wear it.

“It isn’t safe,” I said.

As in I was anticipating criticism, not of ME, but of my husband. As in I knew that people would use that tiny band of gold to accuse him of wasting money on a “flashy” gift. As in I was always on guard for the next biting comment, the next cruel rumor, the next nitpicking complaint. As in nothing was sacred, not even a precious token of love.

I would dress for the day and remember that there were conversations over Sunday lunch where everything we did was placed under scrutiny. I’d think of the one time I spoke in unguarded anger and how the woman who saw it never treated me the same again. I’d wonder if I was going to see the person who gave me backhanded compliments about my “fancy” professional clothes I’d collected as a secretary. And that ring would stay in the jewelry box.

It stayed there long after we left Kansas. I realized that I’ve worn it a handful of times over the last three years. I have good memories from our time in pastoral ministry, but that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with bitterness. I hate certain worship songs. I tend to be standoffish in chapel. I worry about how my involvement or non-involvement, smiles, frowns, clothing, jokes, and a hundred other things will reflect on my husband. Most of all, I realized that I’m scared to share joyful moments because I anticipate criticism. I’m still afraid to wear that ring.

A sweet lady I met at a chaplain training conference not long ago told me her own story of rejection by a church at the beginning of her husband’s ministry. The pain was obviously still fresh decades later. But in those intervening decades she and her husband had served God faithfully in many different roles and churches. As she gave me a hug and pat with a lightly bejeweled hand, she told me what she tells every pastor’s wife: measure yourself according to Christ, not what a congregation thinks. That’s when I decided that if she can wear her pretty rings without fear, so can I. I wore mine today. I’m going to wear it again tomorrow.

I’m going to keep wearing it until my fear is gone because Satan is not going to steal my zeal for the Gospel by threatening me with damage to my husband’s reputation. He’s a liar, and I’m going to remind him of that every day with three sparkling sapphires.

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The Book That Haunts Me

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When I was seven or so I took a creative writing class at a summer day camp, and while helping my parents clean out their house last year, I happened to find the storybook I wrote for the class. Though I hadn’t thought about the class in years, it is still vivid in my mind.

Everyone was tasked with writing a complete story by the end of the class. We were allowed to illustrate it if we wanted to. At the end the teacher printed and bound the stories into little cardboard-cover books. My friend wrote a mystery story about the Titanic. Another student wrote a family memoir. And then there’s me.

I wouldn’t have admitted this at the time (and I wouldn’t have been able to articulate my reasoning either), but I didn’t try. I drew a bunch of pictures of houses and labeled them: “This is an igloo. This is a mansion.” It wasn’t really a story at all. It wasn’t even totally finished when I turned it in. Worst of all, I had hundreds of crazy ideas stored in my brain that I could have written but didn’t.

Don’t try to tell me I’m being hard on myself because I remember my young self and the weird and wonderful ideas that I dreamed up on a daily basis. I could have written about the American revolution, traveling to the moon, or hobbits, but I deliberately created something that did not reflect my talents or interests. When the time came to present our projects, I refused to read mine. As the teacher read the book to the class, I remember feeling sick to my stomach and wishing I had written something else. Anything else! I was ashamed of that book. I knew I could do better and deliberately didn’t.

I’m thirty years old, and I still do this.

I would rather avoid, quit, or deliberately sabotage my own work than complete a project to the very best of my ability and find out it isn’t any good. The more important something is to me, the more likely I am to procrastinate or quit because I am terrified of failing.

I have spent the last year trying to come to terms with this fear. If I give my absolute best on my novel, it might not be enough. Failing on something that matters so much could honestly break me. I’ve realized this is why five unfinished novels sit on a flashdrive in my desk. As long as they are incomplete, no one can read them and tell me I’m a failure. I know many people will say that not finishing is a failure in itself, but I would rather never know whether I’m bad or good than know that I’m not good enough.

I have creative ways of justifying this bizarre self-destruction. I said the storybook was for my baby sister. I say the plot has a massive hole in it. I complain that I don’t know enough about forensics. I claim I don’t have enough time. The truth is it all amounts to a mental gymnastics routine on the level of Cirque du Soleil.

I need to learn how to fail without dying a little inside, but I haven’t the slightest idea how to do that. So here I sit, facing down an empty page as one would a firing squad, and that little storybook hovers over my shoulder, simultaneously mocking my paralysis and reminding me I can always give up like every chance I’ve had before.

I desperately want to prove myself wrong.

Kangaroo Attacks: A Bizarre but Accurate Analogy from My Subconscious

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This post is going to be weird. Bear with me. I have a point.

The other night I dreamed that my husband was killed by a kangaroo. I found myself in an office in the hospital trying to figure out what to do, and I looked down at a pad of paper. On the pad was a bereavement hotline for people who had lost a loved one in a kangaroo attack. I called the number, and the person who picked up said, “National Forestry Service- Kangaroo Education Resources.”

“Uh, I was trying to call the kangaroo attack bereavement hotline?”

“I’m sorry. I do education resources.”

Can you transfer me to the right person? I just lost someone to a kangaroo. “

“Yes, they can be very deadly animals. That’s why they were used in boxing matches.”

“Excuse me?”

“Oh, don’t worry. Only five people are killed by kangaroos each year.”

“I see.”

“The tails are the deadliest part. Very strong. But they are usually quite gentle.”

“This really isn’t helping me,” I said.

“But it’s very rare!”

This went on for several minutes. I would say, “My husband died.” She would reply with a fact about kangaroo attacks as if it would somehow make me feel better. I finally started angry-laughing because it was so ridiculous.

“Ma’am, I don’t need you to tell me statistics about kangaroos. I lost the person I care about most to a stupid kangaroo.” And then I woke up.

I realize this is very morbid dream. Ignore my husband’s demise at the wrong end of a kangaroo, and focus on the phone conversation. This woman heard me say “kangaroo” and proceeded to tell me facts and figures. She emphasized that death by kangaroo hardly ever happens, that most kangaroos won’t hurt you, that my situation was not normal. It actually made me feel worse because I wondered why I, out of all the millions of people, had been selected to suffer. I was suddenly very lonely as I realized no one would be able to understand how I felt. As I thought about this bizarre scenario spewed from the depths of my subconscious, I saw a connection.

A few months ago my husband stepped down from his pastorate. It was a difficult situation, and we both walked away wounded. I’ve spent the last few months trying to sort out my emotions. I’m angry. I’m hurt. I’m worried for that church. I miss the wonderful friends I made. I’m trying very hard to forgive. When I explain what happened, people tell me that it isn’t normal, that most churches won’t hurt me that way, that it will never happen to me again. But I am the statistic. Telling me that it should never happen to me again does not undo the damage. It makes me wonder why I get to be on the wrong end of the statistician’s poll. It makes me lonely because it emphasizes how few people can really understand how I’m feeling right now. Believing God has purpose in pain does not make it any less painful.

I don’t say all this to keep people from trying to comfort me. I need hugs and prayer. I need reminders of God’s faithfulness. I’m grateful for our new church family and how they have loved me and my family. I just hope this helps you understand better why I’m still afraid of kangaroos. I am healing, and that takes time.

Writing what you are afraid of

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I’m not afraid of much. Insects, arachnids, vermin, and snakes only get a flight response if they get the jump on me or happen to be poisonous. (Hmm. I wonder if there is such a thing as a poisonous mouse.) Death has never bothered me because I know where I’m going. Public speaking is fun. I’ve always loved to climb trees, so heights are no big deal.

I will admit I am not a fan of snowmen. Frosty has no muscles, but he can move. He shares this disturbing quality with reanimated skeletons. My conclusion is there is something downright ghoulish about top hats. Frosty and his frozen compatriots is not allowed in our home. I am considering a similar ban on top hats. You probably think I’m kidding. I’m not.

I digress. Frosty is creepy, but he doesn’t actually scare me. There is pretty much only one thing I’m terrified of.

The vacuum of space.

When someone goes on a space walk on Star Trek or Battle Star Galactica, I cover my eyes. It doesn’t matter if they are in peril or not. The whole idea is my worst nightmare. You’re surrounded by nothing. No air. Nothing to breathe, nothing to feel, and absolute silence because sound can’t travel in a vacuum. It’s three degrees above absolute zero, so the spit on your tongue will start to boil. This is your experience for the last fifteen to thirty seconds of your life before oxygen deprivation renders you unconscious.

Tell me that doesn’t freak you out.

The atmosphere on Mars might as well be a vacuum, so every time a character in my book goes outside, I have a minor panic attack. I’ve avoided working on those scenes because they make me feel sick. I start writing and find myself contemplating what could happen if there’s a tiny tear in the fabric of the main character’s space suit. There is also an accident that involves depressurization. I haven’t even started on that scene because it makes me nauseated.

Why am I writing this book!?! I must be a masochist.

On the one hand, if you think something is scary, you might be able to write it in such a way that everyone is terrified by it. I often wonder if horror writers are just crazy-scared of everything and turn that into fiction. On the other hand, maybe the scenes that make me ill will make readers wonder why I’m such a ‘fraidy cat.