Sixteen days without Mike. It's felt more like the 1.38+ million seconds it was.
I've gotten good at being home alone over the decades with Mike on ministry trips several times a year. Sometimes I even look forward to having a week to myself.
This time was not one of those times.
This time, I solved a lot of problems, made some big decisions, and faced a few firsts--things I normally do together with Mike--alone. In a time when the whole world communicates effortlessly via internet, Mike was 90 miles off the U.S. coast in a communist country which restricts internet access. So close, yet so far.
There's been professional challenges, family business matters, a first teenage job interview and job offer, other teenage firsts, and an unsightly rash on my legs I think is an allergic reaction to medication I took. Or maybe it's just stress.
All to face alone.
I need to write all this to get it outside of me -- I think I may burst otherwise. But some of my concerns and issues are mine only vicariously as I watch my children begin to bloom into the adults they are becoming. At this point, parenting feels in my heart the way childbirth felt physically (and, yes, I did feel it all -- twice giving birth with no pain medication). It is terrifying, intense, joyful, expectant, and almost more than one woman can withstand. It feels quite violent and vulnerable.
I hesitate to be so open about my young adults' tumultuous growing into their own: the mistakes, the mishaps, the failures -- even the victories. I hesitate for three reasons.
One, it feels like a violation of my kids' privacy as they get older. Their stories are not mine to tell anymore. They are claiming their own lives now. I will not violate that.
Two, as a pastor's family, we live in the proverbial fishbowl. Glass walls. I am tired of the scrutiny and the judgment of others as well as my own n'er-go-away desire to please people. And both have played a part. We are guilty on both sides of the glass.
We have a wonderful body of Christ to serve, don't get me wrong, but it's tiresome living as an example. Ever aware of being a leader, one desires to live above reproach. One? Who am I kidding? I. I try my darnedest to hide from public view the things that are not exemplary, and there always are some. It's exhausting and stressful. No wonder Christian leaders fall, and break out in mysterious rashes that won't go away.
Leading up to these 16 days were the two weeks when Mike wasn't feeling well. Over-commitment, deadlines, and responsibilities can crush a soul. Overly dramatic? No, I think not. He had back ache that played mind games with the cancer patient in him. When he kicked off the covers one night, he laid awake the rest of the night wondering if that was night sweats again (one of his old cancer symptoms). He finally caved in and visited his oncologist, who scanned his body to prove to Mike he was healthy. We wept in the parking lot afterward. That didn't put everything to rest, though, because in the wee hours of the morning on the way to the airport, Mike talked non-stop about a multitude of things he's neglected of late. House repairs, yard work, church projects and goals that have been on hold. Date nights. His mind was still a pinball machine.
I've been leading a summer bible study probing the places in our spiritual walk where we get "stuck." Who am I to lead such a study? We've talked fears (the gateway emotion to worry), discontentment, and being broken, angry, and overwhelmed.
The biggest stuck place of them all? Trying to hide these flaws.
In one of the sermons I listened to this week, the radio pastor said, "Do you realize that the only one in your church who doesn't have a pastor is the pastor?" You'd think I know this already, being in the ministry for 25 years now, but my jaw dropped.
Ministry has been a joy and a way of life that I have loved. But I'm tired of being married to the ministry. Things have got to change, for the love of God. Literally, for the love of God, and for the sake of my rash and Mike's health.
Mike arrives at the airport and back into our daily lives at close to midnight tonight. That means a short night of sleep and church first thing tomorrow morning.
Story of my life.
You know what I really want? I want to go on a date with my husband in the morning. A slow, quiet brunch never sounded better. Then we would gather our three children, lock up all our devices, and head to the beach for a minimum of 48 hours. I need to engage with my people, and I think they all need it too.
Tomorrow, we will dutifully be in church, though. I don't resent it. It will be a sacrificial offering to the Lord, who is in charge of all these facets of life and ministry and family dynamics. I will go to church tomorrow, much like I sometimes cook supper when I don't feel like it--because I'm a big girl. I'll entrust our wounds and shortcomings to my God. At his feet is always the best place to be, especially when things are broken and fearful and overwhelming and stuck.
But come Monday, Mike and I will be making some changes. There will be times of the day that he will be letting voicemail answer his calls, and there will be the turning off of the computer and the light in his study. Because although God is first, He is not only. Family is second. There must be a third and fourth and all these things that will added unto you, as promised. There has to be.
The third reason I won't write this post is because I need more grace in my life. I ran into Romans 14 again the other day and all things permissible and yet not being a stumbling block to the weaker brother. Hello love. Hello grace.
I'm tired of striving. Striving to live up to the impossible standard that is Jesus. Unaware, I have gravitated toward my old foe perfectionism. Doing that from behind glass walls ever-aware of the audience leads to being legalistic and judgmental. Romans 14 reminded me Jesus sees and evaluates me through his grace. It's time I follow His lead and do the same.
So I resolve to be kinder and more gracious. I think I'll start with me and mine. I invite you to do the same.
And finally, since I'm not writing this post, I'll leave you, instead, with Mike's love song for this ministry trip.