What Do You Do After Being a Pastor?

This is the journey I’ve been watching my husband try to figure out for the past (almost) three years. What do you do after being a pastor? My husband grew up heavily involved in the United Methodist Church (literally – his dad is a pastor); he did campus ministry while getting a Bachelors in Chemistry then, feeling called to ministry, spent time between undergrad and graduate school doing mission trips and paperwork to prepare for seminary; and spent three years in graduate school preparing to be a pastor. That’s a lifetime of preparation. He was a pastor. And then he wasn’t. And then there was – what?

Here’s what I learned from watching my husband figure out what you do after being a pastor, in roughly chronological order. Clearly I’m writing this as a former pastor’s spouse, but considering I’ve had a front row seat to this I feel pretty qualified to share it – with my husband’s permission, thanks honey.

You disappoint people. There were people in the church who really liked you and your preaching and your presence. They’re hurt and disappointed you aren’t going to be a pastor any more, but more specifically that you aren’t going to be their pastor anymore. They feel betrayed and confused and surprised. You end up listening to that and bearing that burden with them, because you feel betrayed and confused and surprised by all this, too.  You say “I don’t know” a lot when people ask what you’re going to do. Pastors are expected to have answers, but you’re becoming not-a-pastor.

You see people celebrate you leaving. There were people who didn’t like you or your preaching or your presence. You forgot to call or visit, you preached something they didn’t like, you didn’t support their ministry as much as you could have. They aren’t going to miss you. You see them post passive-aggressive comments on social media about how the new pastor is such a good change or a breath of fresh air after a long time. You unfriend them. Bless their hearts. (Sorry, that’s the Southern coming out in me). Let’s try again – bless them, Lord.

You lose your community. You don’t just leave your job, you leave your house, probably your city, your friends, and the people you saw on a regular basis. It’s a unique kind of loss. You know you chose it, but it’s still tough. People you’re still friends with don’t quite know what to talk about with you. God feels far away or non-existent. You can’t go to church for a while. Maybe a long while. A really long while.

DeathtoStock_NotStock7
Enter Tom Haverford – “Who are we? Where are we going in life? What is the meaning of all this? These are questions Li’l Sebastian never had to answer, because he was a horse.” If you don’t watch Parks and Rec, I feel bad for you.

You find a place you can be anonymous. After years of everyone knowing who you are and where to find you and what you cooked for dinner, anonymous is good. Anonymous is freeing. And then it’s really lonely because you aren’t ready for a church community yet, and that’s where you used to find community, and when you do meet people they ask you what you “do” – how do you explain that you’re figuring that out since you used to be a pastor, and now you aren’t?

You watch people you love get angry on behalf of you. I was so, so angry at the UMC about how they treated my husband. So angry. I think it helped my husband to know there were people in solidarity with him, but it didn’t change anything. The church still hurt us. He was still not-a-pastor.

You watch people judge you. Family, friends, casual acquaintances. I’m guessing they mean well but don’t know how to deal with you as not-a-pastor. They share unhelpful things about how “real” pastors are called for life, or maybe you just didn’t try hard enough to fit in, or why don’t you just go back to being a pastor if you’re having such a hard time finding a job? or everyone leaves a job – just get over it. Not-a-pastor is a lonely road. I don’t know if you can understand it unless you’ve tried it.

You envy your friends who are having a great time being pastors. Maybe envy isn’t the right word. But all the status updates about people who have become ordained elders (church bureaucracy details – don’t ask unless you really want to know) and how of course they were going to succeed at this and look what an amazing time it is in life – it hurts. I learned to stay off social media during certain times of the year because it was just too painful. The United Methodist church bureaucracy and politics work for some people. And decimates others.

Your spouse/family/friends push you to get counseling. And meds. A ridiculously high number of pastors face mental health challenges as a result of their career and need support. This seemed even more true for my husband after he was not-a-pastor. Eventually the right medications and counseling start helping. You begin to feel more like yourself again – first for a bit of the day, then for maybe whole days here and there, and then for weeks and months and even years. Healing happens.

You flounder. You try applying for some jobs that you would have been qualified for *before* you were a pastor. You look at your network of people and realize they’re pretty much all connected to the church. You try avoiding the question of what you do as not-a-pastor (video games are good for this). You don’t know what you’re doing, but Link and Minecraft don’t judge.

You start over. One day, you pick something. For my husband it was a hobby (computer programming) that became an opportunity for training. It took a while to get here – first he considered a new degree (mechanical engineering), then maybe working in IT, but he decided on web development. He’s almost done with Viking Code Academy, and the only time I’ve been more proud of him is when he made the tough choice to become not-a-pastor. He’s worked 12 hours a day for almost four months and he enjoys it. I hope a good career and brighter days are around the corner.

That’s what I know about how you go from being a pastor to not-a-pastor. I almost wish I could tell you that there was something incredibly dramatic led to my husband deciding to no longer be a pastor, but there wasn’t. He was treated terribly by people in power. He had no support system. We were incredibly unhappy. When he first became a pastor we used to pray that we would be a blessing wherever we were – by the end of it we just started praying that we would survive until he could be not-a-pastor. Others go through much worse, especially our LGBT brothers and sisters. This has been my husband’s journey, from my perspective, and it’s freeing to finally write about what it was like to watch it and share it. Peace.

 

 

10 Fail-proof recipes (and a couple extra for fun)

One of my goals for last year was to come up with a list of 10 go-to recipes that I enjoy making and tend to have ingredients on hand for. I tried to make it a mix of Persian, breakfast, vegan, and company-worthy. Here’s what made into my top ten:
1. Salt roast chicken
2. Kabob kubideh
3. Vegan black bean soup
4. Scrambled eggs (these took some time to get just right)
5. Cream cheese muffins
6. Olive oil bread
7. Zweibach rolls
8. Rice with tadigh
9. Salad shirazi
10. Vanilla whipped sweet potatoes

And some desserts!
11. My mama’s chocolate fudge frosting
12. Vegan oatmeal cookies
13. Salted caramel cake

I’m still trying to figure out how/what to orient year 29 around. Pretty sure it’s going to be “year of the baby”, no matter what plans I make.

Running out of time!

Per usual, I’m less than two weeks out from my birthday and no where near close to finishing all the goals I planned on. I did get to some more in the last few months:

Try rock climbing
Make an article of clothing
Keep a journal
Participate in public speaking
Get CPR certified
One book each month. I’m behind. Does that count as 12 goals?
The Mama Bear book
Take a French class/find a French-speaking buddy
Make a dish each week from the Zuni Cafe cookbook
Volunteer
Go on a retreat
Write our will
Learn one dance really well
Create a core set of recipes by perfecting 10 of my own dishes
Learn to parallel park
Take an art class. Preferably screen printing.
A goal I’ll tell you about later
Thank you notes as a spiritual practice
Travel far, far away
Plan Service of Blessing for animals, collect for Blue Chip Farm
Learn to cut hair
Have a vegan month this year
Work on online branding by cleaning up my Google search results, developing LinkedIn account, having a more professional blog/website presence
Get rid of all plastic in our kitchen
Take a self-defense class
Spend a month away from Facebook
An article for a blog/website/journal
Throw a “favorites” party

Winter was incredibly stressful this past year. That “secret” goal is one we’ll be (finally) done with at the end of this month, finding a place to live and sustainable employment for this year. As of January, we were completely unclear on where we’d go or what we’d do after my husband transitioned out of his job. After months of searching for opportunities, updating resumes, applying to jobs, feeling lost, and planning to live with family as a back-up plan, I actually got a promotion. 

We’ve been living on the good graces of a wonderful friend while we find a place of our own near my work. It’s surprisingly difficult to find a house or apartment to rent when you have an adorable 50 lb dog. I am looking to finally feeling a bit more settled for a while–and then on to the next adventure!  

This winter was the first time my husband or I faced the possibility of losing independence, in a way, at least since we’ve been married. Lacking a steady income would have meant living with family, using community health services until we found work, and I’m thinking it would have involved borrowing money at some point. The prospect of that made me feel as if we’d be “failing” at being adults; it also helped me recognize how ridiculously blessed we are. To have family that would welcome us. To be able to access services we’d need. To have savings for necessities, at least for a bit. 

It was also energizing to discover the many different opportunities I (and we) applied for. Even in the midst of stress and uncertainty, I found career ideas I wouldn’t have otherwise considered. I remembered why I love the idea of being kind of nomadic–ironically, and idea we’ve accomplished without meaning to the past three years.

And really, this idea I have of being “independent” is never fully true–our world is interconnected, our lives are interconnected, and we can’t live well without others. Perhaps a better word is self-sufficient; I value being able to care for our family on our own, purchasing the items we need and want with our own money, being a person who gives and doesn’t have to receive, and paying what we owe. That feels so American. (I think I need to travel outside the US, soon.)

More updates to follow. I’m almost done with my core ten recipes, too–excited about that one!

Dogs and a squirrel and this amazing soup

One of my goals this year was to help plan a service of blessing for pets and collect money for our local no-kill animal shelter. The confirmation class I’m helping with put this together for our community, and we had over 20 dogs and a (domesticated!?) squirrel come by for a blessing. ImageI got to pet a squirrel! I feel like I should put that on my life goals list just so I can cross it back off. Who gets to pet a squirrel without getting bitten or contracting a disease?

ImageAnd this little lady was too cute not to share. Actually, all the dogs are too cute not to share.

We raised $160 for the local shelter and got to talk to fellow animal-lovers in our community. Wonderful day. 

On a completely unrelated note, I must learn how to make this stew. I ate it this weekend and it was fabulous–tomato, garlic, probably loads of butter/oil, herbs, and seafood. Oh my.

O Lord, how long?

The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you ‘Violence!’
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judgement comes forth perverted.
–Habbakuk 1:1-4

 These verses have been on my mind this week, while I’m a safe distance from tragedy and violence in Boston; West, TX; Iran; Pakistan; Syria…sometimes the world just seems too full of darkness. O Lord, how long.

Two books down…

A few months ago I realized that most of what I read consisted of cooking and/or quilting blog posts and online news articles on foreign policy. Which is a great mix IMO, but also doesn’t require too much of an attention span or immerse me in a story.

Until starting my first post-graduate school job a bit over year ago, I tended to devour books pretty much weekly. And read multiple books at once. I never thought that would be a habit or hobby that would slide away in the midst of cleaning, working, dog-walking, and cooking.

I’m still behind on my goal to read one book a month this year, but I blew through a couple of books recently. Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Live What You Love, loaned to us by our good friend John.

It’s difficult to say I liked or enjoyed this book, as it’s a book about the author’s journey through mourning and grief in the year after the sudden death of her husband. Her writing beautifully and painfully details her remembering of their marriage and her experiences in the aftermath of her husband’s death.  It definitely brought tears, especially when she writes of how the death and absence of her husband did not immediately translate into altering her habits of running to tell him news or wanting his opinion on her writing. Her writing also caused me wonder what details, happenings, locations, and people will stick out in my remembering of mine and Josh’s marriage; it highlighted the painful fact of life that we (I) always want to ignore–that the people we desperately love are finite, that loss is inevitable, that loving someone deeply also guarantees pain. It reminded me of the quote from True Women, after one of the characters has lost her son: “I don’t think our loved ones make our life. But lovin’ them does.” The Year of Magical Thinking is a raw and exquisite book, and I’m so glad my friend Anna recommended it.

This was a fast and easy (like, 1.5 hours?) read. Our friend John loaned it to us since we’re currently facing major location and job transitions, and we aren’t sure where we are going to land. My husband and I had a great talk about this book over breakfast this morning because it brought up some good ethical questions.The essential message of the book struck me as: 1) Dreams are an expression of what you love so 2) You should figure out what your dreams are and then 3) Go after them while using your 4) Feelings as the best guide for how your life is going. What strikes me about the Blanchard’s life story is their willingness to take risks for what they want, their ability to have a plan and move towards goals even in the midst of incredibly challenging situations, and their flexibility in moving from one (ad)venture to the next. I think the premise of the book doesn’t sit completely well with me because it feels too narrow or self-centered. It’s wonderful and right to love the people closest to us and pursue things that make us happy–but what about the rest of the world? This book doesn’t seem to connect love with something beyond our immediate family or personal desires…it seems like any wider and positive impact of our dreams would be nice happenstance, but not a goal itself. Are feelings the best barometer to use for measuring your life? Can dreams be too selfish–and is that okay? Live What You Love certainly got me thinking, and I’m grateful for that.

So, two books down and ten to go!

 

Thanks, winter.

I started sewing a little over two years ago, through the combined efforts of my mama-in-law teaching me to quilt (and loaning me her beast of a sewing machine) and my mama giving me her fabric collection and quilting accouterments.

In the midst of what feels like an endless winter of snow, cold, and not feeling well (Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe anyone?), I have expanded my sewing boundaries a bit. Compared to curling up with multiple episodes of The West Wing, creating useful, beautiful stuff makes me feel a bit more accomplished on snowy days.

Recently I finished up this table runner for my stepmama,

Table runner

This quilt for my brother in his fraternity colors,

ZigZag Quilt

and a potholder for my mama-in-law. I actually made several potholders, but I’ll spare you the pictures–they are cute and square. Kind of like this one.

Potholder

I also made this curtain for our kitchen several months ago, but I wanted to share because I love this Laura Gunn fabric.

Curtains

Actually I think I might love all Laura Gunn fabric.

I’m pretty proud of that quilt because it is the first time I attempted stippling an entire quilt. First and last time, maybe. Free motion quilting is complicated.

I’m trying to finish up another quilt this week–I’ve had the quilt top finished since Thanksgiving!-for my grandmother. I am hoping my next project will be a shirtdress, which I’ve had the pattern and material for almost since last Easter. Goodness. Talk about stretching my sewing boundaries–I’m not confident that will finished before next winter.