I've known my husband since he was a boy of eighteen. I like that, that I've seen the arc of maturity take him through so many twisting paths unto this day. And of course, that journey never ends, but it is nice to have arrived at a more settled place, where we are not re-inventing ourselves at every turn. I know this man (not completely, never fully, but truly), and our years, first as friends, then as more-than friends, and now nearly 9 years as spouses, have provided a rich foundation of intimacy and trust.
One thread that has been a constant through all of those years is Dave's passion for helping other people live into the spiritual truths that their lives hold, for teaching God's truth, and for encouraging God's people to live into our calling to love and service. In short, Dave is a pastor, a minister, even though he's never received training in that field. In every church that we've been a part of over the last 9 years, he has been involved in ministry in some capacity, and much of the time we have engaged in that work together.
An important part of our story is that 9 years ago Dave told me that someday he wanted to be trained to be a pastor, and 9 years ago I said, "H*ll, no!" I informed him in no uncertain terms that I would not be a "pastor's wife," leading bake sales and women's Bible studies. I was a liberated feminist after all, with no interest in hanging off my husband's arm like a nice wrist-watch! Okay, so I might have been over-reacting a bit. And perhaps also being really disrespectful and dismissive of all the real-life spouses of ministers out there. At the time, and for those early years following in which I maintained my position, Dave looked at me with a mixture of bewilderment, hurt, and anger. He always (fairly) asserted that he wasn't the kind of person that expected that of me, that I was reacting to some abstract fear that was not the reality of our life, and that he would never want to be a part of a church that would expect that of me. It hurt him that I was willing to let an abstract fear overwhelm my trust in who he was as an individual.
Honestly, this part of our story is still painful today, even though I've asked for and received forgiveness and a lot of healing has taken place. Mostly it's just embarrassing for me to admit my selfishness , stubbornness and judgementalism. But there it is, and, in my defense, it is true that historically the Christian church has been a bastion of patriarchy and repression of women, so my fears, while abstract, were not without grounds. Unfortunately, in my early twenties, I had neither the imagination or the confidence to see a future where Dave and I could be working together in a church context to push back against that very real patriarchy without being destroyed by it.
And so we moved on. We did other things. We worked in a boarding school for two years. Dave grew into a skilled carpenter. I became a librarian. We became parents. We bought a farm and dreamed of working towards having a retreat center/agrarian training ground/ educational center. This would be a space where we could engage in ministry together without the "confines" of a congregation and all the pressure and expectations that go along with that.
Something we didn't count on is finding a little church tucked into a Vermont hillside that shared so many of our values and beliefs and welcomed us (and all our baggage and hurts) with open arms. I've written before about our experience at Taftsville here and here, and the healing we have experienced there in the last 3 years has under-girded everything I write here. One of the beautiful gifts that this little congregation has given our family is the opportunity and encouragement for both Dave and I to use our passion for church work in the context of the life of our congregation. I have loved the work of creating a sacred space in worship leading, and Dave has loved the opportunities to preach sermons and teach adult and youth Sunday School.
This past summer, when our pastor and his wife had the opportunity to spend 3 months in Alaska working on a wooden boat, the church asked Dave to step into a formal leadership role as Interim Pastor. Oh the joys! He was like a little boy in a candy shop! My normally under-expressive husband was literally giddy! He rose to the occasion with grace and maturity, and had a great three months of preaching, meeting with people for encouragement and counsel, and serving on the Leadership Team and Pastoral Care Team to minister to the needs of our congregation and the lives it touches. I loved being right there with him in that time, serving on the ministry teams together and facilitating the weekly worship services. Most of all, I loved watching my beloved husband come alive with the gifts for teaching and pastoring he has been given.
As summer turned to fall, and we resumed the rhythms of our "normal" life, one thing was clear. Dave needed to apply for graduate school and see if he could further study the work that excites him more than anything else. For years there has been one divinity school (yes, that's what a graduate program in ministry is called) that has continued to pique his interest due to a couple of key professors and the work that they are doing, so it was a no-brainer to apply there. I'm talking about professors who bring together his interest in Anabaptist thought and high-church liturgy, sustainability and spirituality, intellectual engagement and rural life, the Biblical text and agrarianism. If this boy could dream it, it was happening at Duke Divinity School.
Dave and Little C in front of the chapel at Duke University
Yes, I said Duke. As in, North Carolina. And yes, we did just buy our farm last spring. Does the timing of all this make perfect sense? Absolutely not. We never could have foreseen, when we started this house-buying process 3 years ago, where we would be now as a family. But we felt like we needed to at least apply, and prayerfully take one step at a time. That one-step-at-a-time approach has led us through the application process, to acceptance, to a wonderful campus visit two weeks ago, to getting a call a few days ago saying that the school wants to give Dave a scholarship to come study in their program. God has flung open the doors of possibility to Dave's dream program that otherwise would have been cost-prohibitively expensive. Dave is going to get paid to study what he loves, and after three years we will be able to come home and do the work that he longs to do.
So it looks like we're moving to North Carolina. Do you know anyone who wants to try out their hand at farming? I know of a sweet little farmstead in the hills of New Hampshire that's going to be looking for someone to rent it for 3 years! There are so many more layers to the YES in all of this, but I won't go into them now. You'll be hearing a lot more about the changes unfolding in our life in the next months, I'm sure. For now, we're still reeling from the news and trying to imagine everything we need to do in the next 5 months to get ready for a move. And we're trying not to talk about it too much in front of Little C, who has already been falling apart with anxiety, but she'll be fine. She's a resilient kid-o. And we'll be together as a family. There is strength in numbers.
And so, Dave, I say yes to you again today, as I did on that hot August day nearly 9 years ago, and I will keep saying yes. I will be your wife, and stand by your side wherever this journey takes you. Because, as it turns out, this isn't just your journey, it's ours to share. And at the end of the day, I pray that we will both find our souls blessed, sheltered and protected, as John O'Donohue says. I love you today more than ever.
May the Light of Your Soul Guide You
by John O'Donohue
May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work
You do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those
Who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement.
May you be present in what you do.
May you never become lost in the bland absences.
May the day never burden you.
May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams,
Possibilities and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.
May your soul calm, console and renew you.