Today, July 3, 2017, makes one year since my husband was ordained as a pastor after graduating from seminary and being installed at the church where he has been Called. Time flies!
For those who don’t know from my past entry on Call Night, a graduating seminarian who will be a first-time pastor gets a Call. This is something the seminary professors do with churches requesting a pastor. They prayerfully consider where each seminarian should go. They try to take into consideration if the seminarian is married, has kids, wants to be near family, wants to be rural or urban, or has any health issues. However, nothing is guaranteed. Ultimately, you go where God puts you.
Both my husband and I grew up in south-east Michigan, although we had lived for four years in Indiana for the seminary and one year in Illinois for vicarage (internship). My husband grew up in a rural town with a population of about 5,000. I grew up in the suburbs with a population of about 31,000. We requested that we be within a day’s drive of family – the closer the better – but no more than 8 hours. We said we wanted our daughter to grow up knowing her relatives. We also had some health concerns that definitely ruled out three states. We requested no inner-city church, because the traffic and the crime would really cause me health problems concerning my anxiety disorder. We had no idea where we were going to go; we only knew it would be in America.
The way seminarians in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod learn of their first call is very… dramatic. The seminarians all sit up front as a class, just like graduation. Meanwhile, the wives, kids, family, and friends sit in the back. (Thankfully, my parents, sister, and parents-in-law were there to support me so I didn’t have to go through this alone.) We go through a very long church service, which is both aggravating and wonderful at the same time. Aggravating, because you just want to know where you are going to live. Wonderful, because the hymns, Bible verses, and sermon have such a beautiful peace that strengthens and encourages you.
One-by-one, the seminarians are called by name and then told the name of the church, city, state, and district they are Called to. Some seminarians get more than one church, which is happening more and more, especially in rural churches, as Christianity weakens in America.
This is how the seminarians, their wives, and their kids learn where they will live. After the service, a seminarian can quietly refuse his Call, but this is rare, and to do so means you may never get another Call. It’s not good for one’s career. However, when one accepts a Call, one does so assuming that this could be the only Call one ever receives and/or accepts, and it could be where he stays until retirement. Of course, many pastors do receive other Calls during their careers (in a much less dramatic way), which they prayerfully consider and then either accept or deny. A pastor will usually stay at his first Call for three-to-five years to get a foundation under his career and not cause too much change at once for that congregation.
(A nervous wife waiting for the service to begin)
Frank and I had been receiving hints that we were getting a Call to Michigan, and we were delighted that we would be by family. When I heard my husband’s name called, followed by Missouri, I was in shock. Absolute shock. I had never heard of the town. I had never even been in the state of Missouri. Not only was it not Michigan; it was a drive even further than 8 hours away. I suddenly felt like there was this gaping chasm between my family and me. I looked down at my baby, and I couldn’t imagine her growing up without her aunts, uncles, and grandparents. My heart just hurt. I said, “I have to go. I have to leave.” And I walked out of the church and went to the basement where the bathrooms are. My mom and sister followed. When they caught up to me, my mom said, “It’ll be okay.” And then my sister – who is so strong, rarely emotional, so level-headed – burst into tears and grabbed me up into a hug. And then all three of us stood in the basement, sobbing.
After the service, during pictures, I was just numb. I was relieved to finally no longer be wondering where we were going. We weren’t being sent off to Alaska or some other terrible cold state; so that burden had been lifted. Everyone kept coming up to us and saying, “Perry county! You’re going to Perry county!” I wanted to scream, “WHAT IS PERRY COUNTY!?” (I had forgotten my Lutheran history lessons… it’s where Lutheranism was brought to America!)
(After the Call Service with our announcement poster)
Although it was getting late in the evening, the seminarians and their wives meet with their new district president. We found the room where we were assigned and met the Missouri District President. I liked him immediately. He put me at ease. He described our town, and he made it sound charming. The one thing that concerned me was how rural it was… a town with less than 500 people. This was more rural even than the town my husband grew up in. The Missouri DP said the one thing he could say about our congregation is that they need a pastor who will connect with them and just love them. We can do that, I thought to myself. I have a passion for loving people who have been through difficult times.
The next few months were spent with Frank finishing up his classes, graduating, receiving an academic award, and packing, packing, packing. All with a baby. When our daughter was 9 months old, we locked up our tiny apartment for the last time. I got in our car with my mom. My dad got in his car. Frank got in the Uhaul, and we were off for a long, long day of driving. Thankfully, our daughter was so well-behaved in the car and never fussed… until the last two hours. Then she made up for it by crying the entire two hours.
We pulled into town just after it got dark. We weren’t sure where the house was, so we pulled into the church parking lot. We got out and were greeted by 10-20 people who had come to meet us and help us unload. They pointed out the driveway, which was hidden in the rural darkness. We asked if we could walk through the house once before everything was brought in, just so I could plan what went where. (I had all my boxes color-coded with post-its according to what room they belonged in.)
I remember walking into the living room through the front door. I was overwhelmed. This was my home… for at least the next 3-5 years, if not more. I hadn’t lived anywhere for longer than a year since we were married. I walked into the kitchen and came to a stop. It was all brand new. The cabinets were a light-wood color. The backsplash was a brownish-copperish color. All the appliances matched in color. And so much counter space! So many cabinets! After having teeny, tiny apartment kitchens, I was thrilled. It even had a double sink with a window over it. And a tile floor, which made me so very happy after having a dining room in the apartment that was carpeted, which does not mix with a baby.
There were so many things I loved about the house… a huge basement, windows in every direction (unlike our apartment that had windows only on the north wall), a huge yard, three bedrooms and three bathrooms. But I was also overwhelmed. Everyone started unloading the truck, and really all I could do was make sure my crawling baby was happy and out of the way. I didn’t know anyone, and in the flurry of activity, I was struggling to remember names. Most of the boxes got unloaded, and we called it a night. Everyone left, and we started getting the beds set up, figuring out where to sleep and how.
The next few days were a struggle for me. Members of church dropped by to donate food, do some last minute repairs on the house (they had remodeled the kitchen and basement before our arrival), or just to say hello. I couldn’t eat any of the food, due to breastfeeding a baby with food allergies. It did help feed my hungry husband and parents, though! My baby, although breastfed, did not latch. This meant I had to pump for 20 minutes every three hours in order to feed her and keep up my milk production. That, in turn, meant that I had to constantly close myself off from everyone and hide away while I pumped. It seemed like every time someone dropped by, I was pumping. I could hear voices I didn’t recognize talking with my family, and I didn’t get to join in the process of getting to know our visitors. I knew my family was unpacking things without me helping them decide where to put it. I love help packing, but I actually enjoy unpacking and organizing everything myself.
I also struggled with being so rural. A drive to the grocery store meant 30-40 minutes. So if we went to the store, that was 40 minutes, plus, say, 40 minutes to shop, and then 40 minutes to get home. That’s two hours. That meant, if I pumped at 1pm, we could leave at 1:30 when I was done pumping and put everything away. Two hours for the store got me home at 3:30, and I needed to pump again at 4. There was no time for anything more than a quick lap around the store to get what was needed. In addition to this, I needed to coordinate my daughter’s feeding and nap times and proper storage for breastmilk. Due to the food allergies, I sometimes couldn’t find what I needed at one store, so I would need to go to another, but I didn’t have time.
I was tired, overstimulated, and so unsure of the future.
Sunday finally came, and we went to church. We got to meet the congregation. Another pastor preached for the last time. Later that afternoon, Frank was ordained and installed in a special church service, and then there was a meal with everyone afterwards. Again, I couldn’t eat much due to food allergies, so I nibbled on a few things and spent most of my time making rounds so I could meet everyone and try to memorize names. One thing I knew immediately – we were blessed with a congregation who was inviting, warm, and just so excited to have a pastor. Everyone loved our daughter, and I knew that although she was going to grow up without her relatives, she would have plenty of church family.
(Ordination and Installation Day)
The first few months were difficult for me, which was no one’s fault. My clinical depression, anxiety, and post-partum depression were kicking my butt, along with all the new changes – a baby, a career change, and a big move. The depression got so bad, I even became suicidal, and I had to start seeing a doctor and get counseling. Depression is a disease that has a terrible way of lying to you, convincing you that you are worthless and your family is better off without you. We also discovered the house was full of brown recluse spiders, which are pretty common in most older houses in Missouri and very, very difficult to get rid of. I’m not afraid of bugs, but I was TERRIFIED of my baby getting bit by these venomous spiders, especially since we were finding them in her toys, by her crib, etc. It really triggered my anxiety and OCD.
I share all these trials for the sake of other seminary wives and wives of pastors. You can be Called to the best congregation possible, but still deal with debilitating depression simply because it is a huge change, and it’s one you have absolutely no control over. If you need to do counseling, do it. There is no shame in asking for support during such a huge transition.
Slowly, as I learned more about my surroundings, met more people, got to know our congregation, I settled down. I learned our church and small town are very active. They have all these traditions that we experienced for the first time: the first funeral, first wedding, first baptism, the church carnival, the county fair, the Christmas country church tour, the children’s Christmas program, Christmas Day, Holy Week, Confirmation, Easter Sunday, the church chicken dinner, Vacation Bible School, the church softball team, the parking lot 4th of July party. We are always busy doing something with people from church and the people of the town. We’re never lonely. We feel so welcomed.
I also experienced my first Missouri winter. The winter of 2016-2017 was mild in the midwest, even in Michigan, it was still even more mild in Missouri than in Michigan. My family kept sending me pictures of all their snow and gray and slush. I kept an eye on the temperatures in Michigan. Meanwhile, although cold, it was nothing like Michigan in Missouri. We had two dustings of snow and one ice storm. The weather was mild enough for me to go for a walk. I didn’t hate being outside in winter like I did in Michigan and Indiana. Autumn stayed much later, and spring started much earlier. All of that meant that my seasonal depression was very, very mild. I had a few rough days, but not rough weeks or rough months. This alone makes me want to stay in Missouri forever.
We also experienced our first tornado in February. We only had hail damage that resulted in a new roof. The next town over was struck by an EF-4 tornado, tragically causing one death. The way the towns and churches pulled together to help those who lost their homes was inspiring. All the grocery stores had food drives. The community groups on Facebook organized donations. Churches raised thousands of dollars at door-offerings. It was a type of neighborly love I rarely saw in the city.
And that neighborly attitude is always present. Whenever one person drives or walks past another person, he waves a hand. Whenever I am out for a walk with my daughter, people stop to say hello, offer us fresh vegetables, talk about the calves being born. It’s this little town that time forgot.
One year ago, as I sat in this house, wondering what the future held, I felt so unsure, unsteady. I knew God’s plan for my husband, but what was my calling? What was my purpose? Today, as I sit here typing this, aside from missing my family, I never want to leave this town. The people here are important to me. I have fallen in love with the rolling fields and the country sky. I have adapted to the culture here and decided I was meant for this way of living my entire life. It’s a good place to raise a family. It’s a good place to make friends. It’s a good place to grow in faith and knowledge of Jesus. God knew what He was doing when He Called us here, and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve learned that it’s okay to be scared, as long as I still trust in Him. I don’t know if it is God’s plan to keep us here until my husband retires, but if it is, that would make me happy. I don’t know if it is God’s plan to move us to another Call or Calls in the future, but if it is, I will trust in Him.