Category Archives: Help I’m now a pastor’s wife!

Are you willing to let God disrupt your life?

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We are now in Advent, traditionally a time of looking forward and preparing for the coming of Christ through acts of remembrance and repentance as we get ourselves ready spiritually.

The word advent is the anglicised version of the Latin word adventus, which means ‘coming’, ‘arrival’, ‘approach’. During this time we remember the longing ancient people had for a saviour, a messiah, but also how we should be alert for His second coming.

Today, however, I’ve been pondering the consequences of one particular visit or ‘approach’ that started off the events of that first Christmas. That of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary, which I’ve been looking at in Luke 1:26-38.

I was struck afresh today what a bizarre and potentially terrifying experience it must have been for a young girl to suddenly be face to face with an angel. That itself was mind-blowing enough. And yet what about his message? To be told that you, a young, unmarried virgin, would be the mother of the Son of God?!

We obviously don’t get a blow-by-blow account of the story in the Gospels, but I wonder what your response would have been if you had been given such a life-changing message?

We are told that at the start of the conversation ‘Mary was greatly troubled at his words’ (Luke 1:29). Don’t you just love the Bible’s skill at understatement? Troubled? I think I would have either frozen stiff, screamed for help or run away. And that was before he’d even told her God’s plans…

Mary was obviously someone who sought God and made following Him a priority; that must have helped her recognise that this angelic being was indeed sent from God. I admire her courage for sticking it out, for staying long enough to hear his full message.

Pondering the passage in Luke, I do believe that God’s peace must have descended on Mary when she accepted that she was listening to His messenger. How else could she stand there and listen without having a serious freak out?

But what strikes me the most is her simple trust and obedience. Just listen to what she says when Gabriel has finished his speech: ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ (v38)

Part of me wants to shout at her: ‘Come on Mary he’s just totally disrupted your wedding plans – actually, he may well have cost you your wedding. Who is going to believe that you will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit? That just sounds crazy. Do you really think Joseph will believe you?’

And yet that side of me is silenced by the piercing effect her response has. Mary was being asked to trust an angelic being who had brought her a message that would turn her life upside down but, not only that, would change the world if the boy indeed turned out to be the Messiah they were all hoping for. What a privilege … but what an enormous upheaval that necessitated her laying down her rights to all her dreams and plans.

What this passage has made me consider, is what I would do if Jesus or an angel came to me and asked me to disrupt my plans. Not my whole life – just my week’s plans.

To read the rest of this reflection, please click here.

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There’s a crack in my fishbowl

9781782641292I am delighted to welcome Gerard Kelly to my website as a guest blogger. A prolific poet/writer, he has just released his first novel, The Boy Who Loved Rain, a beautifully emotive book tackling huge issues: toxic family secrets, suicide, self-harming… As a pastor’s wife, I was intrigued to see how the central family would deal with the enormous crisis brewing in their lives – particularly as the father, a pastor, will not acknowledge their problems or seek help from outside the church. I was totally drawn into the novel, especially through the way Gerard portrayed the troubled teenager, Colom.

Politicians, entertainers, sports stars and other celebrities often talk of the pressures of living in the limelight. Work / life balance is hard to maintain and where they have families it is hard to establish any kind of normal rhythm for their children. They live in a fishbowl, visible to all. They are subject to constant judgements from those who look on – always ready to offer an opinion and all too often happy to see their idols fall.

My novel The Boy Who Loved Rain explores this fishbowl lifestyle through a different and very specific group of of people: the leaders of churches. Theirs is not a life of celebrity – it would be difficult to describe weekly sessions in the pulpit as ‘the limelight’ – but the pressures on their families are nonetheless real.

David and Fiona Dryden, church leaders and parents to the adolescent Colom, feel this pressure acutely, not least because the growth of their church has come from their acknowledged expertise in parenting. David in particular hands out advice quite publicly – saving marriages and keeping families together. All is not well, though, in the Dryden household. There are dark secrets not far below the surface, and the decision to keep them from the light only means the impending crisis will be deeper.

Renowned psychologist Paul Tournier in his book Secrets suggests that keeping a secret is the first step to becoming an individual. The second step, he says, is telling it. Colom, at fourteen, is on the cusp between the two, and the comfort that secrecy has brought him in childhood will not sustain him in his adult years. The question is whether his parents will have the courage, for the love of their son, to let light shine.

I’m intrigued by the dilemma faced by David and Fiona Dryden because this is my world. I’ve pastored churches and I’ve worked with others doing the same, and too often I’ve seen uncomfortable truths swept under the carpet. It doesn’t matter how successful your ministry is, or how well known you are for helping others: your children are your children and their needs will neither be defined nor be met by the success of your ministry. They need parents, not professionals, and if any role is a crash course in the power of truth-telling, it is parenting. I’ve made huge changes in my own life, including career decisions that on the surface seem foolish, when I’ve seen that the needs of my family are clashing with the demands of my role. My children, as they’ve grown, have become my teachers, and listening to them has been a hard-won but hugely rewarding discipline.

The Boy Who Loved Rain is about the battle to take adolescents seriously; to allow them to be the central actors in their own drama; to recognise that their journey and my journey are not one and the same. Adolescence is the period in which a child moves from being a passenger in someone else’s vehicle to learning to drive their own. Controlling parents, who love nothing more than having their hand on the wheel and assume that they will be making all the route decisions, don’t always take well to this transition. We have plans; goals; desires for our children’s lives: but it is not our job to deliver them. Only they can fight their battles; only they can live their life. Our job is to equip them; to set them on their way, but ultimately to free them to be the warriors their nature and their maker have designed them to be.

For families in the fishbowl, this process of freeing our children might mean a choice – of relationship over reputation; of family over fortune; of those we love over those we serve. In my experience, it is a choice worth making. Sometimes it is the only choice that will save our children’s lives – and our own.

The Boy Who Loved Rain is published by Lion Fiction. Thanks to them for the review copy and for inviting me to be part of the blog tour.

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Feeling restless

St Augustine wrote, “[God] you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

“Our hearts are restless”: that’s a great description of life today.

So often I feel restless. I’m rushing around making sure the kids get homework done, get to their after-school clubs, are fed and looked after.

I rush around with church activities, chatting issues through with my husband as he seeks to lead the church well, organising rehearsals and leading worship, trying to spot new people and welcome them as well as look after those who’ve been in the church for years.

I rush around with my work, meeting deadlines and thinking up new ideas for writing projects. Yes there is a bit of space for pondering within that, but too often it is pressurised, rather than restful.

I rush from one evening meeting to another – church meetings, governors’ meetings, music practices, even rushing to exercise classes.

I feel restless a lot of the time. I know the better way is to start by positioning myself at Jesus’ feet, learning from His wisdom rather than trying to do things in my own strength. But I find that so hard to do.

I wrote about finding the rhythm that works for me and my family recently; I’m still working on that if I’m honest!

I arrived at church a couple of Sundays ago totally at the end of myself, but with my keyboard ready to play. I could barely speak, let alone sing, so one of the guys helpfully suggested we prayed together before doing anything else. And what one of them prayed for me really stuck with me – here’s a summary of it:

‘Lord, Claire works so hard for you. Help her to learn to rest.

I’m one of those people who find it difficult to sit down and relax until all the jobs in the house are done. I simply can’t leave dirty dishes on the side or floors unvacuumed. That may be why our vacuum cleaner suddenly stopped working when I was midway through vacuuming one of the downstairs rooms that weekend. I still had the upstairs to do! But I simply couldn’t, which meant that, after church that Sunday, we were able to settle down and have a family film time.

I was forced to rest.

Does God ever make you stop, through circumstances or even illness? If only we’d rest more regularly without Him having to step in and force us.

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Finding a rhythm that works

Our children are back to school now and life is settling back into the recognisable term-time pattern. For me, the start of this particular term of each year is a time in which I take stock and look at my life’s rhythm.

This summer became of wonderful tapestry of visiting friends, enjoying holiday time as a family, reorganising my office and celebrating my daughter’s ninth birthday. Oh and we also managed to squeeze in our church’s big outreach event.

It was such a great few months – and yet we didn’t get a chance to draw breath at all. My husband and I commented that we hadn’t had any evenings on our own; we celebrated our 21st anniversary towards the end of the summer holidays and in my card to him I asked whether we could really try and pace ourselves this term!

I am now sitting surrounded by all the work I’ve kept simmering away while the kids were off school, but which I now need to tackle in earnest. I’m so grateful for the work, but taking a break to focus on the kids means there’s rather a big stack of it now!

Of course, the start of the autumn term is also usually the time that churches launch new initiatives and ours is no different. So, as I’m sure you can gather, it’s a busy time of year for us as a family.

With everything that has been going on, and which I know is coming up, I’ve had some moments when I have literally felt the panic rising up, trying to overtake me. I am, for instance, about to start a leadership training course. The material looks great but I’m wondering how I will cope with it all and fit in enough time to mull over and implement what I learn.

In those times of panic I’ve had to come back to God and ask for His wisdom. Of course, some of that is obvious common sense – I need to look after my family and myself in order to be able to serve consistently. So I know I/we need to look at the rhythm of our lives and make changes before we burn out.

To read the rest of this article please click here.

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Accepting God’s adventures

In the run up to the school summer holidays our daughter was able to take part in the special celebrations the Guides were having due to their 100th anniversary. She has been part of Brownies for almost three years now. Her first weekend away with them happened to coincide with my 40th birthday so I endured a weekend of worrying and wondering how she was!

My daughter is so much like me it can be quite scary. Confident, chatty and sociable within circles of people she feels secure with, she becomes a totally different person out of her comfort zone; shy, fearful and so, so quiet. She won’t take risks, drawing back into herself to keep safe.

So when it came time for this year’s adventure weekend she wasn’t sure she wanted to go. I really encouraged her to because it was a special celebration and I didn’t want her to miss out (and we had paid a fair amount of money for it!). Well, she totally blew us away with the vigour in which she grabbed hold of every element of the weekend.

Her leader captured her mood brilliantly in a picture that shows her dangling from a harness having just stacked and climbed crates – her face is beaming with a huge smile and she looks like she’s full-belly laughing. It was a joy to see – and even better when she said that that was what she had been like all weekend. She commented, “I now know the real girl, the one you’ve been telling me about all this time.”

A few weeks later, the Brownie pack spent a day in Windsor, bungee trampolining and zorbing. Again, I wasn’t sure how much she would join in, but apparently it was all brilliant fun and “zorbing was the best”!

Knowing that our daughter grabbed all the opportunities set before her and enjoyed them so much gave us such pleasure. And that’s how God responds when we really enjoy something He’s invited us to partake in.

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How well do we support parents?

I recently attended a day at a nearby church focused on equipping Christian parents. Whole families were able to go, and the organisers did a fantastic job of keeping our children engaged and excited about the activities they did while we had teaching and discussions.

I was really struck by one of the questions we were asked:

“What is the best piece of advice you have been taught about parenting in church?”

We were then given a few moments to discuss it with the person next to us.

Those of us sat together all said the same thing – we couldn’t think of anything we had been specifically taught about parenting on a Sunday morning (apart from the few comments preachers had given about what they’ve learned about parenting from their own kids and their own mistakes). This made me wonder: how intentional are our churches about teaching and equipping parents?

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A journey of faith

As I’ve mentioned before, our church is in the process of buying the lease on a council-owned building. We’ve been in that process for over three years now. It has been a long, hard road…

It started with what seemed like a miracle. We were given the heads up about a community hall that is based right in the centre of the borough we meet in. And then, amazingly our (now retired) pastor was offered it at an incredible price (they were almost giving it away), he shook hands and walked away believing we had just acquired a home for our church.

You can imagine the celebrating that Sunday! We couldn’t believe how, after quite a few months of searching, that God seemed to have delivered something straight into our laps. What a blessing.

Then we heard back from the lease owners to say they had decided to open the process up to others. What seemed like premature celebrations ceased and we started to wonder why this had happened. And, of course, some of us doubted whether it was the right building. We also had comments from some of our members asking why on earth did we need a building anyway?

What followed was an intense period of fervent prayer and nail-biting waits. We lost out twice during bidding processes, pipped to the post at the last minute with bids only just above our own.

At the end of each of those processes we should have been automatically disqualified, and yet both times (praise God!) we were invited to continue on and bid again with an ever-smaller group of bidders. Finally, after an interview process where I was suddenly asked to help pitch (yikes that was scary), we were picked to be the next leaseholders.

I have to admit I have found the whole journey incredibly emotional. It has stretched my faith almost to breaking point at times. I can still remember the sinking feeling I had when we found out our first bid hadn’t been enough to secure the lease.

The very next morning I was at a women’s breakfast and I can still remember thinking “I don’t want to go. I don’t feel strong enough for all the questions there will be, all the disappointed faces. I can’t get my own head around it, I certainly can’t carry anyone else.”

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