September 14, 2017

Friendship and the Pastor's Wife: A Healthy Perspective

My husband and I have been in full-time vocational ministry since the day we were married. People ask me what it’s like to be a pastor’s wife, and I tell them I don’t know what it’s like to not be one. His calling colors every part of my life in a way that’s difficult to explain and, in a way, difficult to understand even for myself.

Some well-meaning people, wanting to ease whatever pressure they imagine I feel, have cheerily explained to me how I am no different than other women in the church and should not imagine I had to “do” anything. During one such recent conversation, the well-meaning person was interrupted twice as they were speaking: once by a volunteer who asked me to pass along the visitor cards to my husband, and the second time by a new visitor who “just had to meet the pastor’s wife” and had been pointed in my direction. “As you were saying...” I said, hoping the irony had not been lost on them.
The Difference Between Church Relationships and Friendships
The truth is that being the pastor’s wife is not a biblically assigned role, nor is it a job, but on a weekly and even daily basis every pastor’s wife must navigate social scenarios and church situations that arise only because she’s married to the pastor. I’ve mostly learned to embrace this, because I see how God has given me influence and how I can use it to honor Him and bless others. But in all my years as a pastor’s wife, by far the most difficult consequences of my husband’s job to navigate have been friendship and social relationships.

Just recently, my husband told me we’d been invited to dinner at someone’s home, and we discussed whether or not we could commit to the date they’d offered. I felt immediately overwhelmed, because I thought about the emails with similar requests waiting for a reply in my inbox. I’m grateful for the invitations, and I also want to remain open-hearted to everyone in our neighborhood, everyone in our community group, everyone on our staff team, all the parents of the kids on our children’s sports teams, and everyone in our church at large, but the deepest truth is that what I really want is friendship. I’m surrounded by lovely people and countless relationships, but relationships don’t always equate to friendship, and I tend to forget that.

Fellow pastor’s wives, we must have a hearty understanding of what friendship actually is, because after years of ministry, we tend to lose the ability to discern between a relationship and a friendship. We may even feel as if we’ve lost ourselves or our ability to make friends beneath the busyness of ministry. So let me remind us: Friendship always starts with this idea of mutuality.

Many times, being open-hearted to others as the pastor’s wife means being a listener and an initiator, two things I don’t mind at all being. But friendship is not about always listening or taking the lead; friendship is about mutuality.

I think back to the invitations in my inbox. Does the woman inviting me to coffee need counsel or does she want to get to know me as a person? Does the dinner invitation come from a place of desired friendship or from a place of pastoral need. I often don’t know until I’m sitting across the table from others. If there are sparks of mutuality, in which I’m asked questions or there is some sort of interest and care shown toward me as I do for another woman, I may have a potential friend. And I thank God for those women: relationships that have evolved into friendships.

Take Risks
I can practically hear your rebuttal through the computer screen: it’s not as easy or clear-cut as that. Yes, but having discernment is the necessary first step toward friendship. We must allow ourselves the freedom to distinguish friends among the many relationships we have. We also cannot steward or pursue friendships we can’t even name. We are limited people and must draw lines somewhere, whether it’s regarding our time, our money, or our relationships.

If discernment is the first step, risk-taking is the second. I hear from so many pastor’s wives who are desperate for friendship: the mutual care, mutual conversation, mutual enjoyment, and mutual initiation. Too often, however, they’ve been told they can’t have good friends in the church, they’ve carefully crafted excuses that have only served to keep them isolated, and they’ve been hurt--painfully, devastatingly hurt--in ways they usually must keep silent about. Perhaps some have even heard from others that they aren’t allowed to have friends, because it might be showing favoritism within the church. All of these sentiments have made us fearful of taking risks.

For the pastor’s wife, pursuing friendship can absolutely feel risky. What if the friend ends up leaving the church? What if she shares a confidence? What if she doesn’t reciprocate vulnerability because she fears the pastor finding out? What if the friend won’t understand what ministry demands of our time?

But taking risks is worth it, even if some of our fears come true. We need friends in order to help us grow, to carry our burdens as we carry theirs, to help us be whole people who are not stuck in ministry-mode all the time. The benefits of finding friends far outweigh the risks.

To take the risk means being a consistent initiator. I long ago had to get over the fact that I have to be the initiator most of the time. Nursing bitterness about this does nothing to help me make friends. And, anyway, I’ve found that the treasures are often hidden from plain sight: they are women who have a natural empathy for me in my role and don’t want to impose. I can tell from my interactions with them that I really like them, and so I invite them to my home or to coffee, planning ahead with those I want to cultivate friendship with before all the church activities fill the calendar.

Pastor’s wife, friendship is possible. And not only is it possible, but it’s necessary. You may navigate social situations that others don’t, but in every believer’s need for life-giving friendships, you are no exception. Take the risk and initiate today.

Want More? Here's an Additional Resource for the Pastor's Wife on Friendship:

I recently chatted with Kathy Litton from NAMB about navigating the combination of ministry and friendship. Click on the image to listen.

September 6, 2017

The Invitation Inside the Feeling of Being Unseen

I first met Sara Hagerty at my friend Claire's house here in Charlottesville. I'd recently moved to the city, and Sara had recently moved away from Virginia, and I remember thinking I'd missed getting to know a treasure. In the years since, our mutual friend Claire passed away, and Sara and I have connected over missing her and over writing. My latest book, Messy Beautiful Friendship, is dedicated to Claire, as is Sara's beautiful new book, Unseen.   

Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to Be Noticed released just last week, and I'm thrilled to share it with you today. As I've recently written, this past year I've struggled with feeling invisible and overlooked. What a treasure, then, to read Unseen and reflect on the idea that perhaps God has tucked me away for his good purposes and for delightful intimacy with Him. Enjoy an excerpt from the book below and then go grab a copy of the book yourself. It will bless you.

The routine of my mothering days is patterned and circular. Wake, prepare breakfast, clean up breakfast, prepare lunch, clean up lunch, plan for dinner. Set the table for several hungry bodies, clear the table. Reset. The same pair of Eden’s jeans goes from worn to washed to folded to worn multiple times in a week. We empty the diaper bin on the same day the next shipment of diapers arrives.
Some might use a word like trapped to describe such an existence. I confess there are some weak days I might be tempted to also.

Tears of former orphans fall and hearts move ever so slightly and the babe learns a new word—all in the eight hours that no one else sees. But these are just the little minutes between long hours of sweeping floors and turning off lights and tying shoes and wiping up drool.

Is this all there is? pokes at me.
My day might look different from yours, but I suspect the same question haunts you.

At twenty-two, before children, I was telling high school students—future world changers—about Jesus. Stories of transformed lives made the long summer hours in the dining hall and weekday afternoons of ministry administration worth it. My life had purpose, purpose I could measure one life at a time.

Today, with six children, I could coach myself in the same way and find the stories that make the tedium worth it. That point in the afternoon when I catch my little girl at the piano writing a song from her Bible makes me think, Something besides diapers is being changed around here. At least I’m not wasting my time. When I see four of them, with different histories of brokenness, spread out on their backs on the trampoline laughing between fits of jumping and squealing, I forget how long it took to prepare their dinner.

Maybe you do the same. We scout our days, you and me, for these stories that make it all worth it. We’re forever on the lookout for new ways to infuse our otherwise mundane lives with measurable impact. We troll for tiny signs that what we’re doing matters, a mark on the earth, whether in the glowing successes of our children or the business promotion or the ministry we launched. Parenting feels most like it’s worth it when we see our child thrive, and the business or ministry seems to most warrant our outpouring when it’s growing.

But what if our real mark on earth was meant to reverberate in heaven? What if there is a possibility for impact—impacting God’s heart with our hidden devotion to Him—that far supersedes these this-made-it-all-worth-it moments?

The mundane hours can outweigh the one this-made-it-all-worth-it moment in a week if we are meeting God and pouring ourselves out at His feet, there. What if right in the middle of that mundanity we could waste? Like Mary at Jesus’ feet.

Without a vision for what’s available to us in sitting at His feet in the hidden place, we become restless. This restlessness is powerful enough to make us start new projects, sign up to volunteer, begin foundations, delve into new ministries. Many a small group is launched, blog written, and book published by ones who are itching to climb out of the hidden place. All these things can be beautiful within God’s timing. But out of time, they will only perpetuate the restlessness, the craving for the next “soul hit.” We become thrill seekers who miss the biggest thrill. We train ourselves to be satisfied with so little.

And so God whispers to us, Don’t climb out of this hidden, mundane place—don’t start the foundation, run after a new ministry, defend yourself to your critics, start the next blog—just yet. Find Me. Here.

Every single minute of the day is available for us to feel His hand resting, firmly, on the small of our backs and His breath brushing like a breeze against our skin, softly awakening us. His beauty is close, disruptively near.

Every single minute is available for wasting ourselves at His feet. To reach the dwelling place, to see and know Him there, we need to allow for the quiet, the questions. We need to lean into, and not away from, what can come out of the aching hiddenness with God.

We’ve been sequestered.

The closet, the corner, the place where we’ve been hidden from the crowd is where God’s whisper becomes a life-changing brush with His love. All the waiting rooms in life, the wasteful places where the only question is, “When will I ever get out of this place?” are the places God loves to show us Himself.

The waste of extravagant love we pour at Jesus’ feet is never squandered. That love expands us, it doesn’t diminish us. We weren’t made to ration our love. We were made for extravagance.

For pursuit.

Friends, I think you'll find Sara's book, Unseen, beautiful and helpful to you in all the hours and days and years when you feel invisible. What I love about her writing is that she always points us back to the One who sees. If you want to know more about Sara or her new book, find her over at or follow her adorations on Instagram

August 31, 2017

The Day I Learned to Mourn

This summer, as I walked along the beach in Galveston, God invited me to lament the lamentable parts of my life. I'd just been reading a passage in a book about the practice of lament; I no longer remember the passage nor do I remember the exact book, but I do remember my hesitancy at the idea of thinking too deeply about the unchangeable things, the unfixable things, the painful things in and around me.
I walked in silence, thinking, waiting. Why, I wondered to myself, does it feel as if I'd be doing something wrong if I were to voice to God what aches in my heart? The salty mist clung to my skin, the sun's heat I'd attempted to escape with an early morning walk burned hot on my neck. I felt uncomfortable inside and out.

Suddenly I remembered the simple phrases from the psalmist's pen that had kept me afloat toward the end of the spring: God sees. God hears the cries of the afflicted. God has not overlooked. 

The memory of these words was the invitation again, for if he sees and hears me, then he already knows what pains me. He's simply asking me to voice it.

And so I began, tentative at first, brave by the end, telling God what he already knew but what I could only just then admit to myself: mainly that there are costs to following and serving him. There are costs for me in this, I said, looking up at the sky. By that time of the summer, we'd been long removed from our usual routines, and I could see my life back at home with such clarity. The costs scare me, I said. I don't know if I can continue in them, I said, and then I began to name them out loud, one by one, cascading out of me like the waves breaking at the shore.

I've known there were costs to following and serving Jesus; the Bible lays it all out right there in black and white and sometimes red. Perhaps that's why we recoil at the idea of lament, because we tell ourselves we should have known what we were in for and that we shouldn't do anything that resembles complaining. Or maybe we recoil because we don't think being a Christian allows for grieving parts of what it actually means to be a Christian.

What I discovered that day on the beach is that when we get down to the details and the specifics and the realities of what it means to follow Jesus, when we experience pain because of it, an important part of embracing those costs is mourning them before God himself.

I stopped walking, stood where my toes were washed momentarily in the tide, and watched the ocean liners in the distance. As I spoke my costs out loud to God in prayer, I felt as if he was taking them from my hands in order to intently observe, much like I'd done the day prior when my children had brought me a hermit crab they'd found. We'd put the crab in a sand bucket, circled up, and bent over to watch his every move as he frantically tried to escape his plastic container. God too intently and compassionately observed my pains. God sees. He hears the cries of the afflicted. He has not overlooked.

We discover these truths most intimately when we mourn before God, even if the mourning is about what he's asked of us. Without lament, we don't know the richness and the reality of the truths. Without lament, we feel and emote without also inviting truth to reign.

In the months leading up to that walk, I'd felt the costs much more than I'd known the truths of God's perfect care. I hadn't given him opportunity to reach out his hands and take my concerns. Instead, I'd fostered my own bitterness, feeling the costs but assuming I'd nowhere to throw my pain.

With each care I handed him, he didn't remove the costs or rescue me from the unchangeable. But he redirected my gaze by reminding me of Hebrews 12: "Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross."

The weight for me had been the costs of following and serving Jesus, heavy, because I'd tried to carry it without complaint, without shedding a tear, without acknowledging my own mourning.

The sin was my self-fed bitterness, fed precisely because I'd not taken my tears to God.

As a result, I wanted out. I wanted a different race to run, not the one God had clearly set before me.

Only in gazing at Jesus did I see why God had invited me to mourn. Because the one who sees, who hears the cries of the afflicted, who has not and will not overlook the faithfulness of his followers, is one who knows the truest costs of all. Looking at Jesus, as Hebrews 12 tells me to do, I know what he endured will never be asked of me. Looking at him, I see that the costs are worth it. I can lament them before God, knowing he cares for me, but in the end know I'm secure from the worst lament possible.

Following Jesus isn't all about costs. It's also about rewards. Jesus endured the cross in order to have joy. We too know rewards that only come through embracing the costs: peace, purpose, salvation, heaven.

On the beach that day, in the midst of my tears, with unfixable things left unfixed, I began telling God about the rewards of following and serving him. They far outnumbered all that I mourned a few moments prior, and I'd only seen them so clearly after my lament.

I wrote this as a reflection of Hebrews 12 that day. I hope it encourages you in whatever you're lamenting and in whatever race you're running.

August 24, 2017

The Unique Challenges of Being a Church Planting Wife

Readers, I can't wait to share with you some of what the Lord taught me during our sabbatical this summer. With all that's happened in our city in the past week, however, I haven't yet been able to sit down and flesh everything out in written form. (Please continue to pray for us, as there are many things happening on a community wide level.) But I can tell you one thing I know for sure after this summer: God confirmed in my heart over and over how much I love encouraging pastor's wives and especially church planting wives. So I write today for my dear fellow church planting wives. May it encourage you! (Air kiss emoji)

In 2008, my husband and I prepared to move our little family away from the only culture we’d ever known, with one mission before us: we hoped to plant a church where the gospel would be preached, known, and lived. We tucked away our years of ministry and life experience alongside the dishes and the baby crib in the moving van, but we didn’t then know how much we didn’t yet know.

Everyone cheered us on and told us they were proud of us for following God’s call, but some also warned us of the obstacles and difficulties ahead. We tried to wrap our minds around what challenges we might face, but we were full of zeal and youthful energy, and I imagined going toe-to-toe with those yet unseen difficulties and forcing them into submission.

Then we encountered the reality of church planting. In our new culture, so foreign to us, no one much cared that we’d arrived to save the day: neighbors shrugged, fellow laborers said we were not needed, and we experienced the wariness and even opposition of others around us. We were a novelty in that we appeared seemingly as aliens out of thin air, having had no prior connections to our new city, but few were intrigued by the thought of a new church or of this Jesus we were sharing. In other words, it took precious little time for me to uncover the obstacles and challenges some had tried to prepare us for, and my courage and boldness dissipated into uncertainty and doubts.

The Challenge of Loss
There are costs to following Jesus. We know Scripture tells us this is true, we know we are commanded to count the cost before following Him, and many of us who have left “house or brothers or sister or mother or father or children or lands” have certainly counted the cost before leaving a place for the sake of Christ. However, we can’t know the daily consequences of that leaving until we have actually left. The cost is counted before, but the cost is experienced in the midst of the work and, for most, experiencing the cost leads to much grieving. We may grieve cultural familiarity or relationships changing. We may grieve a way of life we’d always envisioned for ourselves or for our children. We may grieve how different ministry looks in our new context compared to our old one.

All of these are legitimate losses, because in them we have lost a sense of home. Grieving the cost is not wrong, but becoming embittered in the grief can send us veering off course and onto paths of destruction. We must bring our griefs to God, the source of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3), and we must let our disorientation and unfulfilled longings point us to our true home. This is how Abraham and Sarah walked by faith as they fulfilled God’s call; they “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

The Challenge of the Unseen
The big “go”--when we’re commissioned or when we make our commitment to follow God--is exciting, celebrated, and adrenaline-filled. The little “go’s”--laboring over language (for those overseas), deciphering the bus system, or figuring out how to purchase groceries in a huge city--are rarely celebrated and rarely exciting, and it’s in those very moments that we become ripe for frustration and feelings of being forgotten. The big “go” is filled with a thousand little “go’s,” and most of them are tucked away, unseen by human eyes and certainly not what we’d write in a newsletter to our supporters.

However, it’s precisely when we’re tucked away that we find out who we’re actually serving and why; it’s then that we consider if the gospel is enough to hold us in place and enough to compel us outward to serve. In other words, there is a gift in being tucked away unseen and quite possibly forgotten by those back home: we find out that what we really need is something we already have. We have a God who sees all and delights in our faithfulness. “What we are is known to God,” Paul says, and this truth alone can sustain us in the unseen work and in all the little “go’s”.

The Challenge of Persistent Discouragement
The little “go’s” can become frustrating and wearying because we don’t always see direct results from our efforts. We wonder why God called us to a place only to leave us seemingly languishing and unfruitful. Discouragement seems ever-present. It certainly has been a plague for me, even as we’ve seen fruit from the seeds we’ve sown in church planting. I’m prone to look at what’s broken rather than what God has redeemed, including in my own heart. I’m also prone to look to myself as the antidote to my own discouragement, or to look to myself as the one capable enough to make spiritual fruit grow.

In the face of discouragement, when we look at ourselves, we see only powerlessness and weakness, and the only response is to shrink back in inadequacy. We must instead look to the all-sufficient Christ and His Spirit as our ever-present help. Our spiritual poverty teaches us to depend upon the true Grower and to wait on Him to do the growing in His time. When we look at Him, instead of counting our disappointments and worries, we can instead celebrate the marks of His faithfulness we’ve seen along the way, however small, and see by faith how He will be faithful in the future.

Church planting wife, whatever challenge you face today, let your griefs and your disenchantment with this world turn your face to the One who sees, the One who promises you will reap from what you’ve sown if you don’t give up (Galatians 6:9), the One who is preparing you a true home. Turn your face to the One who is worthy of all your labor costs you. He is pleased by your faith.

August 15, 2017

When White Supremacists Come To Town

Friends, many of you know that I live in Charlottesville, Virginia. We moved here from Texas nine years ago in order to plant a church, and we in fact returned a few weeks ago from a sabbatical in Texas to get back to the business of ministry in our city. And what a time to return: this past weekend was something our whole nation watched through images and social media. I had the privilege of writing a piece for the ERLC about our response here in on the ground. Please read it first and then continue with this blog post, which serves as a follow-up to the ERLC post.  

Part One: When White Supremacists Come To Town

Part Two: What Now in Charlottesville?

I live in Charlottesville, Virginia, a city that in a few horrendous hours has become synonymous with violence and hatred.
Photo taken by Evelyn Hockstein/Washington Post of UVA students, counter protesting, who were surrounded by alt right marchers on the UVA campus
I desperately want to tell you that this isn't Charlottesville. And in some ways, it isn't. Many of the protestors you saw on the news came from outside of our city. They rallied around the issue of a Robert E. Lee statue potentially being taken down. However, this is Charlottesville and this is Virginia. We live in a place fractured by racial history and racial wounds. There is a reason the alt right has chosen to center their rallies here. We must acknowledge that racial sin has been under the surface in our city and our commonwealth all along, to its very inception. This is hopefully giving us the opportunity to address, confess, and acknowledge what we can no longer ignore. My prayer is that we seize it.

This is Charlottesville, but it isn't just Charlottesville. This is your town, too. Many people are praying for our city, and we are grateful for that. But don't miss this. Charlottesville is a mirror to your own cities and your own hearts. Let it be. Don't move on without acknowledging racial sin exists and is thriving. Pray for your own cities and your own hearts when you pray for Charlottesville.

As one of my African American friends said to me, "These people gathered together in one place to scream their hate. But they live somewhere, and many more do, and they express their hate to individuals in ways unseen by the media everyday."

This is a powerful opportunity for the gospel to be shared. We have a Savior who makes peace between God and man but also person with person. Ephesians 2 says the "dividing wall of hostility" is broken only through Christ. So, Christian, wherever you work and wherever you neighbor, what has happened in Charlottesville provides a wide-open opportunity to share the love, peace, and reconciliation that Jesus offers all people, because everyone is talking about it. Most of all, it is an opportunity to manifest that reconciliation.

Ask the question of your neighbors and co-workers, "How did you experience what happened in Charlottesville?" Listen carefully to the response, even--no, especially--if it's hard to hear or uncomfortable. Perhaps then you too will be asked and listened to. This is a moment of truth, Christian. Will we say and do what's right, or will we turn the other way, hoping racial issues will go away?

Our purpose is not to foment more anger. Our purpose is to showcase the love of Christ. I read Colossians 3, thinking of our response to violent anger and racial sin: "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another, and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were called in one body."

This is going to happen again. The alt right has vowed to come back to Charlottesville and to take their ideology to other public places. Some disrupted a Charlottesville church service on Sunday morning, lifting their hands in Nazi salute. We need Christians everywhere calling white supremacy, violence, and hatred what it is: evil and antithetical to the gospel. We need to stand together on this. And we must know what God has to say about citizenship, race, and our oneness in Christ, as well as our unique distinctions that make up the Church, or as Scripture calls it, the "multicolored" wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:10). And we must be bold in speaking and doing what is right.

Finally, we should not be shocked by this. If we are shocked, we haven't been paying attention. If we are shocked, we don't know the depths of sin in this world. We shouldn't be shocked, but we should be grieved. Grieved enough to once and for all lose our apathy and be a part of God's healing in our nation.

What now in Charlottesville? Yesterday at churches all across our area, we grieved and mourned. It is tense still in our city today as I write this, or as a salesperson said to me, "It's as if everything is so uncertain." It is uncertain, but we're having conversations.
The evening after the rally in our downtown, members of our church gathered with our friends from our sister African American church in town to talk, join hands, and pray for God's will to be done in us and in our city. We invite you to pray for us what we prayed for ourselves: pray that we'd use this opportunity to honor Christ and one another. Pray for how the pastors and leaders in our community can lead others and how our church members can boldly share Christ. But also pray with us. Pray for repentance, confession, and forgiveness. Gather others, talk about these issues, and pray for God's Spirit to do a work in our nation and in our own hearts.