As if…

As if my husband were my personal translator, I relied on him to interpret the bible for me.  I was little awestruck by his background – a pastor’s son, a pastor and such a powerful teacher. You see, my true personal relationship with Christ hadn’t really started until we had our son.  Yes, I was saved long before then.  Yes, I knew the sacrifice of my Savior but I didn’t really feel connected to Him.  I loved God from a distance, more like a groupie waiting for that chance encounter, than like a loved daughter.  My father-in-law led me to a closer relationship with Christ.  When we met, though I was his son’s girlfriend, he was concerned less about our relationship than he was about my walk with Jesus.  Thank God for him!  In crowded clamoring family gatherings, he would make it a point to listen to me and lead all my worries, fears, and insecurities to God.  Because of his concern for my soul and sincere heart to share Jesus, I lost my religion and gained a relationship with Christ.  So as a new creature in Christ, I kind of idolized my husband’s long-term relationship with God and seemingly deeper perspective of the Word.

So a man of God, steadfast in the Word, gets onto Jonah’s ship.  Not alone but with a wife insecure in the Word and two children.

 Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.  

The storm came with a vengeance.  In its wrath, even with a golf umbrella, we all got soaked.  Our business failed in warped speed.  Our credit dissipated like a drop of water on a sizzling summer day. Our savings sunk in quick sand as we tried to save our house.  Life seemed out of control and I started to get out of control.  My patience was thin, I couldn’t remember what I just started, tears came unexpectedly and lasted for what seemed like a whole day.  My poor babies played with each other quietly out of the way; I could tell they were trying not to upset me with questions.  Fear started to consume me!  We had to move, our house was up for foreclosure.  We scraped up loose change for gas and food.  I was hoping, against hope, that my husband would snap out of his spiritual coma and give us a word of encouragement.  That he would lead us and not just sit there. I didn’t know what I wanted to hear from him, maybe remind me of how Job lost it all but was rewarded for his faithfulness.  All the advice, I had been given about letting your husband lead, seemed RIDICULOUS at a time like this.  It was time for me to stop looking to him for a word and simply reach out and get it on my own.  I made his office my refuge.  I buried myself deep in the bibles, books and commentaries that filled the shelves.  I listened a lot more closely in our mega church.  I was surprised but refreshed to find out that I got it! I understood it! I didn’t need an interpreter after all!  I have the Holy Spirit to reveal the Word to me.  This was a hallelujah moment for me.  As the sheriff delivered the final notice to move from my dream home, I watched my husband shrink away as he signed the confirmation of receipt.  His thoughts of being a failure, his insecurity about his calling in ministry and his inability as a husband/father were almost loud enough for me to hear as he walked by. Nehemiah 8:10 …Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.  Knowing that the Lord was there, even then, is where I found my JOY.  That word gave me the strength to reach out to him and assure him that I believed in him and knew that things would get better.

Rather than ridicule my husband for not being the hero I made him, rather than scold him for not being in ministry, I prayed hard for him.  I did not want our marriage to part of the storms wreckage.  Assuring a man that you believe in him, is like fertilizer to a wilting garden.  So I hoped.  I relied on the Lord to give me the strength to be encouraging and not bash him for being stupid.  Hard to do, but it can be done!  His actions were stupid but I knew that he wasn’t stupid.  I could not do this without getting pumped up on the Word.  The joy of the Lord is your strength. God lives in me.  God will not leave me.  God loves me.  God is here for me.  I was joy filled in knowing God.  I rested on God’s promises.  So on a ship, nearly capsized, there was unexpected joy.  God ‘s omnipresence is awesome!  For the kids, I made packing the house a preparation for a great adventure.  I reminded them that God has plans for us that we don’t even know about but they are always VERY good plans.  When the tearful moments tried to defeat me, I prayed and whispered, “the joy of the Lord is my strength.”  I filled the house with praise and worship music and conversation with the kids about Christ.

Though the ship was tilted almost completely on its side and we were soaked with circumstance, I found CLARITY within the storm CLOUDS.  All things work together for the good? Romans 8:28 is true!  I could see how getting soaked with circumstances was cleansing me of insecurity and filling me with wisdom, bringing me closer to God.  What I wanted now more than anything was a way to pull my husband off this ship and get us back to shore.

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Smooth sailing…sorta!

Selfishly, I was glad to leave the “mean” church.  I thought my husband’s spirits would be lifted, if we left there.  I thought my husband’s drive and thirst for the Lord would be revived.  When my husband said we were leaving, I said a silent HALLELUJAH and gave the Lord an imaginary high  five.  I told my husband that I supported him 100% in whatever decisions he makes for our family.

Consider this…Jonah’s ships sailed fine until it was far enough from shore, where the waters are deep enough for a great fish to linger below.  This is where we were. Resting comfortably in the calm before the storm, still not too far from shore.  Just like the sailors on Jonah’s ship, I was content that we were moving to a new destination and unaware of what lay ahead – in a blissful state of ignorance.  We left the country church!  Yay! Right? I celebrated no longer enduring the stench of chicken coops on the way to church. I did not miss the sight of cotton fields or the unusually large mosquitoes that greeted me at the church door.  I boarded the ship with trusting my husband’s leadership as my guide.  I believed in his strong faith and his commitment to his call.  I sort of idolized his anointing which made me a bit blind to reality.  Time passed without a dark cloud in sight.  Our conversations were less tense.  We were smiling and laughing more.  We focused on the kids and developing our financial service business. There seemed to be a beautiful  blue sky above with melodious birds all around us. But as the time grew, we got farther away from land.  The sea grew deeper below us.  More time was spent  without a church home, without my husband seeking ministry opportunities, and without family bible studies or prayer.  I started to question my confidence in his leadership.  None of this seemed right.  His insecurities about ministry were getting the best of him! I didn’t want to ask how he was really feeling because I just didn’t want to make him feel worse.  I knew he was hurting and still questioning himself.  But I was uncertain how to approach the subject without sounding like I was doubting him.  So one Sunday morning the kids barged into our room announcing that church would begin in five minutes.  They came in properly prepared with their bibles and hearts open to worship.  My daughter sang a few songs, my son read the bible and told us what the verse meant to him.  They prayed and then urged us, “We need to go to church somewhere.”  Out of the mouths of babes!  Thankfully, God has a way of getting your attention!  Even while traveling in the wrong the direction (for my husband traveling this way on purpose), God’s love and mercy has not bounds.  His desire to help us get is right is so GREAT!  He nudged my husband then to snap out of it!  When the kids left the room, my husband explained that we were taking a break from ministry for a while.  He said that we’d find a church and be anonymous.  He said that we were going to sit back and be fed.  A period of restoration is how he described it. This new church was bigger than any we’d been a part of.  Our amen’s were just one of many in a pool of boisterous voices.  There was no pressure here to be in the Pastor and wife spotlight.  No worry about what to wear, what not to say or do.  Anonymous was a temporary pleasure.  Though “period of restoration” sounded good it didn’t feel right.  As a very critical thinker, I think in equations. I wondered what is the recipe for a period of restoration? If you are called to Pastor and/or preach, is it ok with God to do NOTHING?  Even if we take a break for a while, how long is this suppose to last?  What had God told him to do?  Those questions were bubbling inside of me but I tried to stay caught up in the laziness of just showing up and leaving church in one and a half hours.  I was cruising on the “restoration ship” with my husband but being pestered by these questions in my head made me UNEASY. Let’s spend a little time picking apart uneasiness.  That uneasiness was the Holy Spirit prompting me to be weary of this new phase of life and to be expectant of something big coming on the horizon.  When you do not feel right about something, you need to respond to it and not ignore it.  Question number one: is this pleasing to God?  If your answer is, I am not sure, go to the Word.  What does the Word say about your situation?  Proverbs 3:5-6 advises us  “…lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.”  The nervousness that I felt, the uneasiness that ruled my days constantly even in smooth sailing on Jonah’s ship was because God needed me to stop being naive.  I knew we weren’t following the Lord. It became more and more clear that my husband was running from the Lord. Though my husband is called to lead the family, he was leading us into a storm.  The Lord hadn’t made these travel plans, we were on the wrong ship. 

Jonah 1:5 – …But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 

There we were, anonymous in a huge church with a personal storm brewing closely ahead.  I could see it coming.  In the distance there were ominous clouds, a faint sound of thunder and crashing furious waves.  And what was my husband doing?  Sleeping!  He’d sunk deeply into a spiritual numbness.  He kept his spiritual blinds shut.  Asleep in the sense that he wasn’t seeking a deeper knowledge of the Word.  This had been his daily mission before.  His spiritual life had come to a halt.  I hadn’t  seen his Bible move from its place on his desk for many months. In fact it had become dusty.  The study materials that he used to prepare a message were tucked away in bags.  His laptop was unused.  How was this part of “restoration”?  The facade cracked.  From the lens called reality, I looked long and hard at him.  His demeanor had changed. This is when I asked the question, “How long do you think this period will last and what can I do to help?”  His answer was resentful and terse.  “What? I don’t know and don’t ask me that again!” At this point, I realized even with a golf umbrella, the kids and I were still going to get soaked in the storm that inevitable was on the way.  And so we did…

All passengers for the Jonah’s voyage, please board…

Jonah 1: 3 – Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction in order to get away from the Lord…He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping that by going away…he could escape the Lord.

So if you haven’t read any of my posts, let me get you up to speed.  This is a different look at the Jonah story.  This is from the perspective of someone traveling on board Jonah’s ill-fated ship.  I am the traveler and my husband is Jonah.  My husband has a firm foundation in the Word.  He grew up in church and had godly examples in his life.  He is clearly called to the preaching ministry but he lost his desire to do God’s will.  My last post, left off at him seeking a clear confirmation to accept his call to ministry. Well, he did early in our relationship. Although, I feared the scrutiny of the preacher’s wife’s role, I knew that God’s plan is bigger than my insecurity.  So, I sucked it up and partnered with him in the labor of leadership.

He preached at, taught at and ultimately pastored for three years at the church that his dad built.  With the regular ridiculousness of church ups and downs, he nurtured the Kingdom by reaching lots of young people.  Many of his family and their friends began to grow closer to the Lord.  They sought ways to work in the church and ways to bring more people to it.  Our ministry was growing. Then God, tugged him to move to the opposite side of the nation.  According to him, God was calling him to leave what was routine, to preach in a place that wasn’t his home and to reach people with the Word that needed to “be real with God”.  So obediently, we moved and were on fire for the Lord.  Like Jonah, before the ship, my husband was still moving steadfastly in his calling.  He became interim Pastor at a small church in the country.

When I say I country, I mean it.  A church far out, away from streetlights and street signs.  A place where cow crossing signs were common and long stretches of farmland were the norm.  A place where black snakes crossed the road with no fear.  At first, the country made me feel safe.  Maybe it was the perceived innocence of the country.  I thought the people would be untouched by the ugliness of the world.  I expected them to be kinder and more devout.  What a false reality I lived in…for about two Sundays.  It didn’t take long for me to notice, the people were well versed in the niceties of Christian vernacular (“God Bless Your Heart!”,  “Blessed and Highly Favored”) but they were deceitful and opposing to developing the hearts of people who hadn’t grown up in their church.  To those who read this and think this is unbelievable, I am sincerely happy you’ve never heard of it.  But it did and does happen.  The church was full of strife.  They were not honest people but were backstabbers and lovers of gossip and untruths.  

In every sermon, he gave his whole self. All he had, he used it for God’s glory. He loved on the people. Though we had experienced a fair share of church craziness back at home, my husband’s resilience to church mess dwindled quickly here.  He discerned the insincerity of the people.  He was hurt by the meanness. Yes, preachers do have feelings!  Then the enemy was able to pierce his heart with uncertainty about his call to ministry.  He began doubting not just his call to this country church but his call to pastor, preach or teach.  The enemy manipulated him with insecurities about ministry.  This environment took its toll.  Though I begged God to strengthen him, my husband’s zeal for the call was fading to a pitiful flicker.  This candle was getting ready to go out.  When he said that we were leaving that church, I was relieved!  I thought that this was finally the end of a bad chapter in our lives, not knowing we were getting ready to board Jonah’s ship. I thought we were leaving that church not ministry.  I grabbed his hand and walked with him with children in tow.

Pastor Steven Furtick’s book, Crash the Chatterbox: Hearing God’s Voice Above All Others, so aptly describes that insecurity is fed by listening to the “chatterbox” – lies about who we are.  The chatterbox was a voice that I couldn’t drown out with encouragement or recitation of the Word.  From Furtick’s book, I learned “…the voice you believe will determine the future you experience.” The chatterbox motivated my husband to buy a one way ticket for him and his family away from ministry. And so the voyage began…

Before Boarding, far from the shore..

Though Jonah’s ship was waiting for passengers at the far off shore, we could only catch a faint glimpse of it.  We were inland. Laboring for the Lord…

He began his sermon with a song.  The words of the hymn resonated through the church and quickly awakened the hearts of the listeners.  The Spirit of the Lord engendered shouting of amens and hallelujahs.   “Great is the Thy Faithfulness” was not a song that he sang because he liked to hear himself sing or enjoyed the compliments of the congregation.  It was song that ministered to him.  After the song, the Spirit guided him through a powerful message of hope.  People responded to the message passionately.  Hearts were softened.  Some came to the altar for prayer, rededication or the greatest victory – accepting Christ.  I was thankful that God was using him in such a mighty way.  I was proud of him!  I was astounded by how he humbly allowed God to use him.

Like Jonah, my husband is a church boy.  The epitome of a child who practically grew up living at the church.  The son of a truly great, godly man who founded a small church.  My late father in law pastored  for forty-five years.  He gave my husband the kind of example that one would expect from a pastor.  He consistently sought the Lord as his GPS for raising his seven children.  He showed my husband how to be a good husband, and a good father.  Growing up in the Word, my husband knows the Bible’s life principles. At a young age he showed a gift to minister in song. His anointing shone brilliantly when he sang solos. Many people told him he’d be a minister but he would not let their accolades determine his walk.  Though he felt the tugging to the preaching ministry, he prayed and waited for a confirmation God.

If your spouse, fiancee, boyfriend or girlfriend is seeking this confirmation, run!  No, I am kidding.  Pray!  Pray for the message to be clear.  Pray for a shield of protection around them because piercing arrows of discouragement are soon to come.  Pray for strength to know how to support him as the one true confidant.  The one who can listen, encourage and love hard in the midst of the rarely mentioned ugly moments of church leadership.