True Church Stories - #14
I'm really open here on my blog and in life in general and I'll just tell you that for a loonnnng time (since I was 13 to be exact) I've been fighting off pre-mature gray. At this point now that I'm 44 it's not "premature" of course. But for most of the years of my life it was. Most people don't walk around at 13 with a gray head of hair. Well, suffice it to say I've been coloring my hair out of necessity since the age of 13 and I have to be honest with you, I really don't enjoy it but I make the best of it. My daughter can't wait to color her hair and I keep trying to get her to hold off since she's got such beautiful blonde hair naturally without doing anything to it. All that to say, every four weeks I get a color job or at least my roots done and people at the church often joke, "if you've only seen one shade of Pastor Deanna's hair, you're a newcomer!" That's true. Just last week I changed from blonde to a chestnut color with red highlights. I figure if I've got to color my hair, I might as well have fun and experiment. :) THINK POSITIVE! Well, all that to say this... (yes, there is a true church story coming out of this...)
There are some church people that I really believe don't mean any harm but the words they say have potential to cause great harm. Being a "church mama" I've worried more over the years about how their words will affect newcomers or others in the church more than me. One such person who has the gift of saying all the wrong things is a woman we'll call "Martha." I had the privilege (?) of meeting Martha the first week we were here in Tampa. She walked up to me that Sunday, and (without me asking her to!) turned all of her responsibilities in the church over to me and said, "here it is! It's a mess and I've just been waiting for you to get here!" [sigh] What a glorious introduction.
When we first accepted the pastorate here in Tampa I had been busy packing up a house in Maryland and saying goodbyes there, moving here, setting up a house here, getting started in pastoring the church, enrolling my kids in school, yada yada yada. Something that fell by the wayside for a week or two was my color/root job on my hair. I simply couldn't keep up with everything and my roots were showing. There was a little white stripe down my scalp and I tried to mask it by the way I styled it, but you know, that doesn't totally work. I just did the best I knew how to do at the time. I hadn't even found a hairdresser in Florida yet but slowly but surely I was getting there.
Lovely. Nothing like having one of the church ladies refer to you as a stinky mammal. LOL
Martha was great at dropping one liners like this (and more that one liners on occasion) at the most inopportune time, like right before service on Sunday morning, or at a wedding or funeral. One time she severely hurt one of the other ladies in the church by giving her a bar of soap and telling her she needed to use it. Oh my. Another time a dear lady at the church was in line for a second time at one of our covered dish dinners and she walked up to her and said, "Sadie, what are you doing back in line? You're already as big as a barn!" God gives pastors and spouses special grace to deal with stuff like that when it's said to us, but most people don't have that special grace. That's why it's "special". As Sadie ran from the fellowship hall and out the doors of the church, I was right behind her. I stood out by her car, arms around Sadie as she sobbed into my shoulder, comforting her and talking her through that horrible moment. If it wasn't for our little talk she was headed home -- for good...never to come back to the church again. She was so hurt. Martha is the type of person that when confronted with how she hurts people in this regard she'll twist a scripture like, "you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free", She'll say something like, "Look, the sister is overweight, I spoke the truth, and it's up to her as to whether she wants to be free." [sigh]
I wish I could say things got better with Martha but truth be told that was just an introduction for me with all things Martha. Larry and I tried our very best to lovingly pastor Martha and her family but alas years later another pastor is so "blessed" by her "ministry". Quite honestly, the culture of our church had evolved in such a way that it was so counter to what Martha is all about, she couldn't co-exist with us anymore. It was difficult for her to survive in at atmosphere of extravagant love, because she refused to be loving.
I've been writing these stories to provide people a real and humorous glimpse into ministry life and from time to time I'll also add a life lesson learned. This situation with Martha and people like her has been one of my biggest challenges in the ministry. I will be honest with you that I don't totally know the answer. Just when I think I have it mastered another person comes along and shows me how far I have to go. We must be "soft" in the sense of loving lavishly, while also developing a "hard" enough skin to let things like this not bother us. That can be a difficult mix. Being soft enough to love Martha and hard enough to let whatever she said roll off of me was one of my greatest learning curves and right when I felt like I was mastering it, she moved on.
In some ways I felt her moving on was God's reward to me for passing the test of loving her.