Monday, March 26, 2012

a scandalous blog post about marriage and ministry

Matthew and Christy Fitzwater, Kalispell, Montana

Twenty years ago we started marriage as normal people – me a teacher and my husband a professional counselor with a masters in psychology.  We’ve only been at this not-normal pastor thing for seven years now. 

So maybe we didn’t know that a pastor and his wife shouldn’t be sexy and flirty and playful and adventurous. 

About ten years ago I realized my bridal shower lingerie was looking a little outdated and ratty, so that Christmas I put a tiny little box in my husband’s stocking, with a tag on it that said “open in private”.  He’s been getting one of those little packages every Christmas now for the last ten years - a most fun Christmas gift that says everything about how desirable a man he is and absolutely nothing about how good his sermon was last Sunday. 

Every Sunday in our Bible study class he walks around the room and shakes hands with people.  When he comes to me he holds my hand with both of his and pauses for a long time – looking deep into my eyes.  (I once talked to a woman who was new to the class, and she said, “Oh, I’m so relieved to find out you’re his wife.”) 

A few years ago he bought me a little black dress for Christmas and took me out to a shrimp-on-ice and cloth-napkin-in-your-lap restaurant.  So romantic.  All his attention on me.  Talking about life and enjoying each other. 

Every Friday (his day off) he takes me to Taco Bell for lunch.  I order a burrito supreme (because he’s no cheapskate), and we exchange long, lingering glances over hot sauce packets.  Catching up with each other.   

On our 20th anniversary last June, we decided to enter our next decade of marriage with an exciting new adventure, so we made a decision to become coffee snobs.  Armed with a $2, four-cup coffee maker from a garage sale and a budget-friendly can of Folgers, we brewed our first pot and enjoyed a cuppa together. 

For 20 years my husband and I have always lived like we were in the honeymoon stage, and because we’ve worked (and it takes work) to always pursue and flirt and be a little sexy and adventurous, after two decades our relationship is on fire and grows more exciting as time goes on.  I’m convinced that when we enter the ministry we need to act even more honeymoon-ish, because there’s so much at stake as we set an example for our church family of what romance looks like.  Everyone is watching.   

I think the 25-year-old pastor’s wife and the 43-year-old pastor’s wife and the 57-year-old pastor’s wife should all be caught in Victoria’s Secret every once in a while.  Ministry marriages need a little “pink” too.

Allow me to introduce myself...
My name is Christy, and my husband and I met at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Texas. We've lived in Kalispell, Montana (an hour from the Canadian border) for 17 years. He is a licensed professional counselor who worked with seriously emotionally disturbed children and teens for a decade before coming on as associate pastor at Easthaven Baptist Church. He preaches and does counseling. I have a secondary teaching degree, but I don't teach for a living. My ministry is all about words. I write and teach my own children's curriculum to about 70 Awana kids every week. I write Bible studies and small group discussion guides that correspond with our sermon series at church. I also write devotional guides for our youth, preparing them for mission trips.  (Check out my devotional blog, Tiddlywinks.) Besides all the writing, I do medical transcription and love being housewife, pastor's champion, and mom to my two awesome teenagers. 


Monday, March 19, 2012

Will You Marry Me?

by Shannon Milholland

Scott & Shannon on the night of their engagement
Sun-kissed skin and hair did little to hide my smile. The salty Jacksonville air blew around us as he looked into my eyes. I wanted to drink in the moment. I knew the question he would ask. The man of my dreams would soon ask me to marry him.

"Will you marry me?" The question asked and answered for centuries by millions of lovers, fell from his lips. My heart beat erratically in response. Before I could shout, "Yes!" he stopped me. He had a question to ask of two little young ladies first.

The thirty minutes from the beach to my home passed in alternating periods of stall and blur. Soon we were seated on the couch surrounded by my seven and four year old daughters. "Girls, I asked your mommy to marry me tonight. That means I want us to live together and be a real family but I won't let her answer until I ask you a very important question. Will you be my daughters?"

Their enthusiasm, fueled by surprise, outweighed my own. A stuffed animal sky rocketed to the ceiling as a chorus of "Yes! Yes! Yes!" rang from their lips.

Finally it was my turn to answer. My yes completed our joy. In nine months we would marry in a small church in a small town in Mississippi, witnessed by a few lifelong friends and our immediate family. The vows we would all exchange entered us not just into the covenant of marriage but the covenant of family. That day four became one.

Five years later my husband left his corporate executive job to become the COO (Executive Pastor) of a church 600 miles away in the last city where I shared happiness with my first husband. It was a place I never wanted to return. Since then, I have teased Scott many times that had I known what he was really asking that day, I may have changed my answer.

Indeed marriage is for better or worse. Sometimes ministry births days that stretch my marriage almost to its breaking point. For the good of God's church, we both carry burdens we are not entirely free to share with the other. Our hearts ache because close relationships are elusive. What should drive us together some days drives us apart.

Can ministry be a happily ever after?

Yes! I live my happily ever after every day...even on the really hard ones. Here's how:

Gratitude - It sounds simple and it is. As I move my thoughts from what's wrong to what's right, my heart warms to my husband. I whisper single sentence prayers of thanksgiving to the Giver of every good gift.

Thank you for my husband who comes home to me.

Thank you for my husband who cares so deeply for Your church.

Thank you for my husband. He is a gift from Your hand.

Time - I once heard a youth speaker say children spell love T-I-M-E. He asserted there was no such thing as quality time, only quantity. My husband spells love the same way. I often leave dirty dishes to crust in the sink because I'd rather awake to crusty dishes than a moldy marriage.

Some evenings we mindlessly watch American Idol while we hold hands and judge each performance. Other nights we whisper the secrets of love in a language unique to marriage. Many times we just enjoy being together and building our marriage one day, one trial, one stress, one ordinary at a time.

Oneness - Have you ever noticed that God says at least four times, "The two shall become one?" When I read God's Word, I try to pay extra attention to things God repeats. I figure if He felt it worth repeating, I should find it worthy of my full attention. The principle of oneness is a guiding principle in our marriage.

The activities I engage in, the way I spend money, the things I watch and think about are all sifted from the perspective of oneness. If something makes us more two than one, I make the choice not to invest time or energy there.

If we're married, we all answered the question. We said yes. Now we need to daily learn to say yes to living our happily ever after today among real stress, real pain and real issues. When we follow hearts of gratitude to spend time being one with our spouse, we'll find our happily ever after was here all along.

Monday, March 12, 2012

When Life Brings You an Earthquake...

By Monique Zackery*

5:33 a.m.

My husband and I woke suddenly to a terribly deep rumbling noise and a shaking house. I quickly opened my eyes, startled with confusion, as the bed rattled beneath me.

“It’s an earthquake!” He said, reaching his arm out to embrace me. I scooted in next to him while the walls around us trembled and sounds of glass shattering came from the dining room. He held me tight. I tucked my head into his chest in an attempt to find refuge.

A hundred thoughts raced through my mind in that moment.

Is this it?

What if the roof caves in on us?

Is this how we’re going to go?

Have I lived my life to the fullest?

Have I done all I could with my gifts and resources?

... Have I loved my husband well?

Truthfully, I had been in a foul mood the day before and I wasn’t exactly the most loving wife I could possibly be.

In a moment of totally exaggerated panic, a scene from the titanic flashed before me. You know the one. The sweet, elderly couple embrace each other in bed for the last time as the ship sinks and the water rises around them.

You might laugh at the fact that the quake only lasted about 10 seconds, but it all seemed liked slow motion! It felt like plenty of time to reflect and not enough time to do anything about it.

Finally, the house began to settle and the earth fell silent. I stayed in Curtis’ arms, eyes wide open—heart still trembling. A few moments passed with the quiet. In my mind, I sheepishly recounted the way I had responded to him just hours before the quake.

What if that was my last day with him?

I humbled myself and apologized.

Later that morning I read Carla’s latest blog post. I was stunned by the statistics she shared. I wondered why on earth marriages in ministry find themselves under such violent attack. Then I remembered… marriage is meant to reflect Christ and the Church. It is a powerful gospel tool!

I couldn’t help but think about how comforting it was to be in my husband’s arms when the frenzy of a moving earth shook our home. Isn’t that just a tiny glimpse of the incredible relationship we have with Jesus? He holds us when everything seems to come undone around us. We can find safety in the heart of God when we place our trust in Him, no matter what our circumstances.

I love how clearly Paul makes this correlation in Ephesians 5:32. After giving instructions on submitting to one another in marriage, on husbands loving their wife and wives respecting their husband, he says this:

“This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.”

It’s no wonder the institution of marriage is so boldly attacked in the spirit realm, in our society, and especially in ministry. Satan hates the beauty and power of the marriage between Christ and the church. It represents true love, true grace, reconciliation, unity, and eternal life. Doesn’t it make so much sense that he would sabotage the earthly reflection of it?

The beautiful thing is that we don’t have to give in to the statistics. Even if our marriage experiences the jolt of an unexpected quake, we can trust in Jesus to hold us through it all. As we take refuge in Him, He can guide us into all truth while we wait for the earth to settle beneath us. 

Because of Christ's blood, we can respond to life's quakes by standing against the attacks of the enemy. Just as Christ laid His life down for His bride, and just as each member of the body had to die to self in order to live for Christ, I too choose to lay down my own selfishness (with the help of the Holy Spirit), in order to serve my husband in the blessing of marriage. Who's with me? :)

"My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command." -Jesus
May your marriage be blessed beyond measure, through thick and thin, through calm and quakes, as Christ shines in your union.



* Click here to read a previous post by Monique and here to read more about her

Monday, March 5, 2012

Surviving the Land Mines of Ministry Marriages

by Carla Adair Hendricks *

I've got a secret Ladies. Come closer and I'll whisper it in your ear.

Marriage is hard.

That's right. Three solitary words. Not rocket science. No "OMG!" response required. I think we'd all agree.

Now I've got another one for you...

Marriage in ministry is harder.

If you don't believe me, just ask the young pastor that attends church alone these days. Without his wife beside him.

Just ask the couple bouncing back from the Pastor-husband's emotional affair, the affair that stripped him of his pastoral title and recording deal.

Just ask any man or woman serving in full-time ministry. Just ask me.

The statistics tell the story:
  • 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family's well-being and health
  • 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do
  • 70% of pastors don't have any close friends; 56% of pastor's wives say that they don't have any close friends
  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse
  • 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively
  • 94% feel under pressure to have a perfect family
  • 75% of pastors report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear and alienation
  • 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict or moral failure
Okay, so what do we do with the reality we face? How do we authentically admit to the difficulties of this ministry life, yet remain positive and joyful? How do we ministry wives remain afloat with so many lifeless casualties floating down the river past us?

We stand.

Ephesians 6 says it this way: Finally be strong in the Lord and in his might power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then... (Verses 10-14)

Our real battle is with an invisible enemy. Not with our husbands. Not with that annoying or antagonistic church member. And the battle will not end until Jesus takes us home. So we must stand.

Stand on God's Word. Stand on His promises. Stand in constant connection to Him. Stand in submission to Him first, then our husbands. 

We must stand in the face of adversity and strife and strain. Stand when fellow soldiers fall on the battlefield beside us. Stand as if our very lives depend on it.

I'll end with Donnie McClurkin's Stand. Be encouraged...

Will you stand with me, my Sister?

* Click here to read Carla's previous post and here to read more about her.
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