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On Highs and Lows … and Lists

Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. –Eph 4:2b (NLT)

The young woman looked nervous, but determined. As I took a chair in front of the girl and her husband, I wondered why they’d called an emergency meeting. It didn’t take long for me to find out.

“I’ve made a list,” she began, “and these are all the ways you’ve failed me as a pastor’s wife.”

I couldn’t believe what I heard. One by one, she read my faults out loud. Most things were petty and insignificant. A few would have been disturbing, if they were true. But they weren’t.

“You tried to get me to disobey my husband,” the girl said. “When he sent me to buy a van for our family, you tried to tell me not to go.”

I remembered the situation. But it hadn’t gone that way at all. Initially, I’d urged her to not to step foot on a car lot without her husband, because I knew the salesmen would eat her alive. But when she told me her husband had actually asked her to go, I simply warned her to be extremely careful and to make sure she read the fine print.

“You tried to keep my husband from going on the street and sharing the gospel,” she added.

That also wasn’t true. I distinctly remembered the day this young girl had called me near tears. “I’m a sinner,” she said.

I had laughed at that. “You and me both.” But I could tell she wasn’t talking in general terms. She had something specific in mind. “What’s troubling you?” I asked.

She explained that her husband had been out witnessing several nights that week and planned to go again that night, but she wished he’d stay home. She missed him and felt the kids weren’t seeing him enough.

“That doesn’t make you a sinner,” I said. “That makes you a woman.” I went on to tell her that women are like barometers — we have a sensitivity to the needs of our family and can tell when relational storms begin to brew. “You’re just recognizing that the family needs more of his time. That’s not a sin.” I encouraged her to ask her husband if they could plan a night that week for just the family, and promised her that God’s will would not be thwarted. If her husband wasn’t out on the streets sharing the gospel that night, God would make sure someone else went in his place.

But this girl remembered the conversation differently, and now, months later, she chastised me. “‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News,’ she quoted to me. “You shouldn’t have tried to get my husband to stay home. He was out doing God’s work, and you tried to stop him.”

At that, I couldn’t keep silent. I wanted to defend myself. It’s a weakness I have, if you must know. I just wanted to sort through the misconceptions and straighten out the confusion. “I can see how you might interpret our conversation that way, but don’t you remember that I …”

“Let her talk!” the girl’s husband barked. He’d positioned himself on a cabinet next to me, so the barking came at me from above. I looked up at eyes exuding anger and righteous indignation. His expression didn’t change, not during our entire meeting, and every time I attempted to speak, he shut me down in the same commanding way. “Quit interrupting my wife!”

I took it as long as I could. I managed to sit through the whole list of faults, but as the last was read, I lost my composure. Now, when I had the chance to speak for the first time, I couldn’t say a word. I left in a blur of tears.

I cried all the way to a friend’s house, where my sister and my children were waiting. Once there, I ran smack into a dilemma. I needed to let Tarri know I was there so she could send the kids out, but I didn’t want either Tarri or Paula knowing what had happened. But I couldn’t stop crying long enough to compose myself. Sitting in the driveway, I looked across the lawn and saw Tarri waving at me out the living room window. I gestured to her to come out.

The smile she wore as she headed in my direction faded as soon as she saw my face. “What’s wrong?” I heared alarm in her voice. She knew where I’d been and knew who had called the meeting. “What happened? What did they say to you?”

I didn’t want to tell her. I really didn’t. And if it had been anyone else in the church, I probably could have kept my secret. But this was my sister, someone who knew all my deepest pains and had been with me through the toughest moments of my life. I slipped. “She … she had a list,” I said. “A list of all the ways I’d failed her as a pastor’s wife.”

“Oh, Shanny,” Tarri said, and then she, too, began crying.

That worried me. “You can’t tell anyone,” I said. “Not even Paula.” Even as I said it, I could see our friend standing in the window, watching the emotional scene and no doubt wondering what calamity had occurred.

I suppose it was as hard for Tarri to explain away her tears to Paula as it had been for me to explain my tears to her. She slipped, too, and told her best friend. Paula, in turn, told her husband. I learned that the next morning, when Tony showed up on my doorstep. He didn’t say anything — he simply handed me an envelope, patted me on the arm, and walked back to his car.

I’ve been keeping a list, also, his letter began. And here are all the ways you’ve blessed my family … As I stood on my porch reading, his words soothed my hurt places and brought a fresh wave of tears. Since the first day we entered this church, you’ve treated us with nothing but love and kindness. You’ve welcomed us into your home … you’ve been warm and loving to new people … you’ve made me laugh … you’ve raised children that have touched our lives … you’ve brought my wife much closer to Jesus.

Ministry, I’ve learned, brings the highest highs and the lowest lows. You share in God’s joy when someone understands grace for the first time. You share the fellowship of His suffering when others misunderstand, betray or reject you. There’s no other calling quite like it.

Fourteen years ago, just one week before we arranged a circle of chairs on our front lawn and started our church, a pastor friend shook his head solemnly and warned, “You two are about to be hurt like you’ve never been hurt before.”

Mike was right about that. He’d been there himself, so he looked down at the path below our feet and saw, with eyes of experience, that much pain awaited us on that road. But what Mike didn’t see were the young people who would walk through our doors, grab hold of Jesus, and begin new lives. He didn’t see the broken man who would sit down and open a Bible for the first time as Dave taught through a chapter, and later say, “Pastor, I understood every word you said … and I’ll be back for more.” Mike didn’t see the near-death marriages that would be revived and strengthened, or the hearts that would be healed, or the eyes that would be opened for the first time.

And he didn’t see Tony walking up my porch steps with that healing letter in his hand.

I’ll take it all, Lord. Whatever You permit, whatever You send, if it will make me more like Jesus in the end — I’ll take it all.

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