It’s been nine years. Nine years since I heard your voice. Nine years since I saw your smile. Nine years since I kissed your cheek and hugged you tight. Nine Father’s Days without you.
They say time heals all wounds, but I am learning that there are some wounds that don’t need to heal. I don’t want to forget you. The grieving is a reminder of how much I was loved by you. And how much I loved you in return.
The phrase “grieving with hope” has been stuck in my mind since yesterday when a friend and I cried together over our losses and she reminded me through her tears that we have hope in the midst of our grief. And then I read 1 Thessalonians 4:13 this morning as part of my read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan.
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope. (CSB)
It’s no mistake that I read that this morning. I see God’s sweetness and his goodness to me everywhere. Thank you for teaching me to love God’s Word! What an encouragement it is to my heart. I cannot imagine going through life without this anchor for my soul. It’s too hard, Daddy! But your faithful and steady love for the Lord continues to reap benefits. I have an unshakable hope, the very thing you prayed for all of your girls to have.
Yesterday was Father’s Day and I had the privilege of singing with Lindsay on our praise team with Dave playing guitar and Ethan on the sound board. It was reminiscent of Sundays at St. Pauls when Mom would lead the choir, Janey would play piano and the rest of us would sing! What a privilege it is to serve the Lord in this way. Thank you for instilling a love for music, for praising God and for using our gifts to serve him in me. It brings great delight.
The first song we sang nearly brought me to tears of joy as I looked out over our congregation and saw our precious young ones signing the words to the song. For God so love the world that he gave us, his one and only Son to save us, whoever believes in him, will live forever!
Then we sang Jesus Messiah and I was almost brought to tears again, because it will forever remind me of six year old Lindsay singing this song with all of her heart. I will never forget the Sunday when we sang this song in the beautiful sanctuary in Greenwich, CT, looking out on the lush green trees that surrounded the building, and Lindsay held the melody while I sang harmony! It’s a memory I will cherish always. It was the beginnings of her love for Jesus taking hold in her life.
I did shed a few tears when Dave prayed for a precious older saint who had to be taken to the hospital between Sunday School and the Worship Service. Later I was reminded of the quote by Jane Austen, “I have no notion of loving people by halves”, and although it was spoken by a character I was not fond of, I resonate deeply with the quote itself. I don’t know how to not love fully and care deeply. You taught me that too, Daddy! It all started with your intentional encouragement of me to visit our older neighbor down the street, to just spend time with her and listen to her stories. I’m so grateful you did that. It’s hard when our loved ones struggle, but I never regret loving them.
Next we sang In Christ Alone and this one always affects me deeply. The line “from life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny”, inevitably makes me think of the picture of you holding four month old Ainsley. It evokes emotions of joy and sorrow intertwined with the knowledge that Jesus is sovereign over all of it. And he is good. How kind he was to give me Ainsley, knowing that he would be taking you home in the same year! She is a constant reminder of God’s trustworthiness. Yes, there is sorrow. But there is also joy. I dressed Ainsley in a bright yellow dress for your funeral. She looked like sunshine and that is exactly what she was. A ray of light in an otherwise dark time. Grieving, but not without hope!
Dave preached from Colossians 2:8-15. I think if you had been able to give commentary on this sermon, you would have said that he preached with power and that the Lord used his words to challenge and encourage hearts. As I sat and watched my husband preach so passionately, I thought about how blessed I have been to have had you as my pastor in my growing up years and to have my husband faithfully preaching the Word as my pastor now. I don’t take this for granted. The criticism I have watched you both endure has been heartbreaking at times, yet I have the unique perspective of knowing the truth about these things! You were/are men of great integrity with hearts that desire God’s glory alone. I see the same wisdom in my husband that I saw in you and I am forever grateful.
The service ended with singing “It Is Well”. I knew it would be rough, but I also felt joy in the opportunity to sing “our” song, a fitting tribute to you and a joyous celebration of God’s goodness. It’s incredible to go through the roughest storms, yet to see how He graciously holds us close and carries us through. You demonstrated this to me my whole life. You lived and breathed the words “whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul”! You endured great difficulty with a faithful trust in our gracious God. This complete dependence on God has given me a solid foundation for life. Thank you, Daddy!
The last Father’s Day I spent with you is one I will cherish always! The impact you have had on my life is endless.
Love you always,
Do you remember when we used to be able to have discussions that revealed differences of opinions and we could still walk away as friends?
The ability to reason with one another respectfully seems to be a thing of the past. I’m not sure that we can pinpoint one catalyst for this cultural shift, but it is one that deeply saddens me especially as I consider the world my kids are inheriting.
The isolation of 2020 was difficult, but now I find myself longing for the solitude and for a quieting of the cacophony of voices. Turns out that there were some positives to our forced sheltering-in-place. Everyone has an opinion on everything and if you aren’t loud or obnoxious about it then do you really care? As I’ve watched the hostility grow, I have found myself growing quieter and quieter. There is great wisdom in James 1:19 when he says, “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” ESV
I value having friendships with others who disagree with me. Their voices cause me to pause and to reevaluate my own opinions. There has been a softening in my perspective through the years as a result of these friendships. It’s why I rarely enter into the political realm or talk about my opinions on issues.
It doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion, but it does mean that I would rather sit with you on Adirondack chairs by my favorite lake and have that talk with you in person.
I won’t call you a disgusting murderer if you are pro-choice and I won’t threaten to egg your house if you are pro-life (both of these are responses that friends of mine have received for sharing their beliefs).
I won’t write you off if you’re a registered Republican OR if you’re a registered Democrat. I know why you vote the way you do and I appreciate the way you have wrestled with the difficult choices we have faced in our country.
I get why hearing “All Lives Matter” makes you cringe and even seethe and I understand the reason why you can’t let go of this statement because if you believe that all of humanity was created in the image of God, how can you NOT say “All Lives Matter”?
There are so many other issues that have played into this great divide in our country, but as I watch things play out, I am convinced that we are less concerned with bridging this gap than we are are with winning the debate.
I love football. Anyone who knows me even a little knows this about me. When my team is playing, I cheer like crazy and I have been known to smack talk with friends. I have been gutted when my team has lost (and as an adult, I have had to temper my feelings knowing that I have four pairs of eyes watching my responses!).
When I consider the current values of our society, I can’t help but think that we have turned all things into a giant football game. Everyone is expected to pick a side and then to support their side with the same frenzy of a football fan. Trash talk is not only acceptable, it’s expected. You must celebrate your side with memes and social media posts aplenty. When your side wins, you are giddy with excitement. When your side loses, you find comfort in attacking and demeaning the opposition.
But this fight is not about a trivial football game. It’s a serious fight for a country that has thrived on its unity, but is now threatened by its own people.
And so, I find myself on the sidelines, not wanting to pick a side, because I long for peace and stability. If you were enjoying a cup of coffee with me, taking in the views of the water, the trees, the mountains with me, I would tell you that I have solidly decided that I am pro- Jesus. That’s it. I want to know him more and more and I desire for my responses to cultural issues to reflect his heart, not the opinion of the day. I believe that Jesus is the answer for all of the struggles that we face, but not in a hit you over the head until you believe kind of way, but in the “I have come that you might have life and have it to the full” kind of way (John 10:10).
Every opinion and stance you take, he understands. He knows your heart and the reasons why you feel the way you do. But if those values are not bringing you hope and joy and peace, might I suggest that you seek him too? He is the only thing that will not change. He will never leave you or forsake you. He holds all things together. He is always with you. His love for you will never fail. He will not write you off or cancel you.
There is great hope in this. I have found the sustaining love of Jesus to be the one constant in my life. He truly is an anchor for my soul. I hope you know this hope, this love, this security. If you don’t, there is always a seat open beside me. I’d love to have a chat.
I wonder what was said to you to make you turn away,
to leave a depth of friendship and act like it’s okay;
What lies must you believe to turn your back on me,
I didn’t do the things they said, oh, friend! Can’t you see?
I’m still the one who cried with you when your life fell apart.
I’m still the one who prays for you and cares deeply for your heart.
I stand here with my arms wide open to welcome you back home,
why do you run the other way and face your fears alone?
We all are on a journey, the paths we take diverge,
will they intersect again or are we doomed to ne’er emerge
from the road we’re traveling on of heartache and despair?
We need to take a deeper breath and come back up for air.
Remember all the truth you know, let it settle deep,
Renew your mind, restore your soul, let your sad heart weep,
Let go of all the angst you hold, the lies that you’ve believed,
Surrender to the only One who truly knows your need.
Let His love wash over you, return to learn from Him,
Seek hope, seek truth, pursue His peace and let His story win,
Stop running after lesser things and let His love hold you,
He’s never left, He’s by your side, and dear friend, I am too!
When Dave was a youth pastor in Indiana, our then senior pastor went on a sabbatical. He did all of the work necessary to pursue a grant and had the support of our church family. I watched all of this and saw the benefits to it. Our pastor had served faithfully for years and years and the sabbatical was meant to honor his service and also to give him an opportunity to be renewed for the work God had for him to do. He did indeed come back with new excitement and purpose. I knew then that I hoped my husband would have that opportunity if he served at a church for longer than seven years.
When we hit the seven year mark at our current church where my husband now serves as a senior pastor, things were going very well. Our church was growing numerically and there was an excitement among our body for what God was doing in our midst. We were in the middle of a church renovation project. It was a busy time and I didn’t think about the fact that it might be time for our church to consider offering a sabbatical to my husband. It also felt extremely awkward as the pastor’s wife to suggest that my husband might need a sabbatical. Wasn’t that a selfish request?
I know now that it is not selfish at all. Instead, it is wise. The truth is that if a church doesn’t have a sabbatical plan set in place for their pastor(s), it is likely that a pastor will get burned out before a sabbatical is granted. I’ve also learned that a sabbatical should never be used as a punishment. The whole point is to encourage the pastor to rest and to be renewed in their calling. It is meant to be a time to come away and connect with God, but if there is any insecurity about having a job when you return, the sabbatical will not have its desired effect.
Years eight and nine of ministry turned out to be the most difficult years of ministry for us. Without going into detail, I watched as my husband struggled until I realized that I needed to be an advocate for him. While I found this an obvious thing to do for my kids, I somehow felt inhibited as a pastor’s wife. It felt wrong to ask for something that would benefit my husband even though I knew he needed it.
There were days when my husband wanted to leave ministry all together. My prayers were desperate during this time. I knew that God had placed a call on my husband’s life and I knew these feelings were not from Him. And so I begged God to accomplish His will in our church and in my husband’s life. Things got worse before they got better. But through it all, we held tightly to Christ and to the Word of God. We were willing to leave if that was God’s will for us, but the tougher choice was a willingness to stay if that is what God desired.
Ultimately, God kept us where we are. In His goodness and kindness to us, my husband was granted a six week sabbatical that he took soon after our ten year anniversary at our church. For his first week, he just rested at home and worked on a coding project, something that excites him, but that he never has time for. I was still involved with our normal activities, so one day I shared with him a decision that our property team had made. He lovingly told me that he needed to not know these things. He needed to completely disconnect. For me, that was the beginning of understanding what my husband truly needed from sabbatical. He set his emails to auto respond. He turned off notifications. It was a true break from all of the pressures and the trauma of the previous years.
The second week, our family went on a trip of a lifetime to Kauai. In our entire married lives, I have seen my husband relax the most when he is snorkeling and so I wanted him to have this opportunity. For our family to be able to share those memories together was truly incredible. We are so grateful for the support of our church family. It’s what I had hoped for all of those years before as the youth pastor’s wife. God is so kind!
We celebrated Thanksgiving with family which was another gift for us. We have several family members who are in pastoral ministry and the opportunity to encourage one another and spur one another on was exactly what our hearts needed. My husband ended his sabbatical with a week alone at a cabin in the woods. It was the perfect ending to his sabbatical, an unhindered, extended time alone with God.
I have no doubts now that every church should have a sabbatical plan for their pastor(s). Don’t wait until your pastor is falling apart! The week in, week out preaching of the Word, the pressures to be all things to all people (and the corresponding criticisms that come when you inevitably don’t meet all the expectations), and the sorrow and heartbreak that you deal with on a daily basis is a heavy load. If you are a lay person in a church that does not have a sabbatical plan, might I ask you to advocate for your pastor?
We all need times of rest and renewal whether we are in vocational ministry or not. Uninterrupted time with God is part of our growth in Him. We should all seek these times for ourselves, but we should also make sure that others are having and taking those opportunities as well. It’s crucial for pastors and ministry leaders!