With Connecting & Bonding
(Because we love things in sevens)
By Silvia Burns
We’ve all heard analogies about life. Life is like an onion, you peel off layer after layer and sometimes you weep. Life is like a coin, you can spend it anyway you wish, but you can only spend it once.
But when I think about my own life I often think of it as a book with me as the author. Every day is a new page and chapters begin and end.
I started a new chapter in my book 16 years ago when I married my husband, Steve, and moved myself and my teenage son cross country from Chicago to a West Texas town where the tallest structure was a 13-story building. At the time Steve was an elder in this West Texas church and within weeks of our marriage he became the lay pastor. Having been a member of our denomination since childhood I was familiar with how things worked, but it was one thing being a member and quite the other being the pastor’s wife.
Two months after our wedding we were in California for training and then back home to our congregation. As my husband ministered to the congregation, issues came up for me the training had not addressed. I didn’t know the appropriate way for a pastor’s wife to handle these situations.
For example, a woman in our congregation, who I considered overly needy, talked to my husband every week and let him know what an “idiot” her husband was. As I watched from across the room I’d see her take a step closer to my husband, then my husband take a step back, then she would take another step closer and thus the dance began. My antenna would go up and I’d start getting upset. What I wanted to do was stand by my husband and mark my territory, so to speak, but was that the appropriate thing to do?
Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t because this woman needed to talk with my husband that I was getting upset. It was because this was a continual week after week, same song and dance, and I knew it would be all too easy for her to start to eye my husband as her fantasy boyfriend.
My husband was also involved with four West Texas churches, which meant two circuits with two churches each. Most weeks we attended one service then drove two hours and attended the other service then drove two hours home. But once a month we attended one service two hours away, then drove three hours to the second service, then drove five hours to return home. Quite a difficult schedule for a newly married couple who worked full time and had a teenage son!
I attended a conference in Dallas where I heard Jannice May give a speech on marriage and ministry. As they say in Texas, “bless her heart,” she had no idea the can of worms she was opening. Or, was it God opening a door? You’ll need to make that decision yourself.
During a break I sought Jannice out and dumped on her my feelings of inadequacy as a pastor’s wife and my not being able to deal with stressful situations. She listened. I’ll say that again because it’s important. She listened.
Lesson #1: LISTEN.
She said she’d have to get back to me on a few things and she did. Then Jannice gave me a piece of advice to take home and put into practice, and I did just that.
Remember the needy woman I mentioned? Jannice advised the next time I should go up to Needy Woman and my husband when she’s giving him her weekly monologue, put my arm through my husband’s arm and just stand there and smile. I did. My husband thanked me afterward. Little did I know the weekly dance was stressing him too. That was the last weekly “my husband’s an idiot” talk. Did you guess that would be the case?
Lesson #2: Be aware of your antennae as you interact with others.
A few weeks after the conference Jannice followed up with me by telephone. She had spoken with a few other women, made some contacts, and ideas started swirling around. Connecting & Bonding was born!
Lesson #3: It’s important to follow through on your word – always – but especially when in ministry.
I was blessed to attend the first Connecting & Bonding conference in California. As a new pastor’s wife I didn’t have the advantage I thought many wives had of knowing each other because of attending college together. Jannice arranged a roommate for me, choosing her because she also lived in Texas. What Jannice didn’t know, but God did, was that this pastor’s wife used to live in Chicago and we had attended the same congregation. She was familiar to me and spearheaded my meeting many other women.
I realized two things, first that I was not alone. A lot of women married to lay pastors were unsure of their role. Second, even those who had married pastors from the onset faced stresses and struggles. I began to become anchored in my role and a new chapter was about to begin.
Three and a half years later the church hired my husband for full-time ministry and moved us from Texas to the mid-Atlantic region with two congregations. I could write a book on those years, but suffice it to say I continued to grow into my role as pastor’s wife and was able to attend another four Connecting & Bonding conferences. I took the women from my area whose husbands were taking on the responsibilities of lay pastor and each by default the pastor’s wife.
Lesson #4: Remember how someone reached back to take your hand when you were in need and helped pull you through. As you go through the journey, reach back to those behind you and help them through.
At each conference I could see my own growth. From “I don’t know if I belong here” to “Here I am, girls!” Stories shared at the table changed meals into a night at the comedy club. The level of detailed love and care we received as women from C&B was enough to fill anyone’s cup, give us a pat on the back and send us home for another year of service to others.
LESSON #5: Details do matter, even little things like a letter of encouragement left under a door, a mint on your pillow, a late night chocolate fest, a gift bag with a surprise – all make a difference in expressing love to others.
After 12 years in the mid-Atlantic area with increasing responsibilities, the time came for my husband to retire and thus the next chapter of my life’s book was about to begin. In our desire to live closer to family and build a more self-sustaining life, my husband and I purchased a small farm in rural west Arkansas. Now our husband and wife ministry continues as an outpouring from our hearts to those we come in contact with.
Is there life after ministry? Absolutely!
LESSON #6: Your identity is not in your position or role but in who you are as a person and whose we are, which doesn’t change no matter where in our life’s book we find ourselves.
Today, Steve and I feel a little like Adam and Eve in blue jeans. We dress and keep and plant and harvest. We have two Great Pyrenees dogs, a half dozen baby chicks (future egg layers of the farm), and we’re happy with the life we are building. We are thankful for the years we served in the ministry and the chance to meet some of the most wonderful, dear, beloved people one could ever meet, with a sprinkling of interesting others to keep things from being boring.
Connecting & Bonding was born out of my need that obviously reflected the needs of many others and heartfelt compassion on Jannice’s part. It has grown and become a living ministry and is now in its 15th year. I think often of some of the simple things discussed at the conferences, such as not letting things or people rob you of your joy, or trust God and realize that thoughts and ideas remain in our mind and are called up as needed.
The last thing Jannice probably thought would happen when she prepared to attend the women’s conference in Dallas all those years ago was that a speech would launch her into a ministry.
Lesson #7: Always be open to where God leads.
It may start a new chapter in your life too!
Silvia says: “I live on a small farm in rural Alma, Arkansas, where my husband and I tend our garden, orchard and animals. I enjoy reading, travel and photography, which leads to my hobby of scrapbooking. Also started Designs DeAlma jewelry, which will be available at very reasonable prices during C&B as a fund raiser for C&B.” You may email Silvia at firstname.lastname@example.org.