My husband, Bill, had a dream: to become a senior minister. In 1988 we were serving in a thriving youth ministry with Calvary Bible Church in Bakersfield, Calif. But Bill longed for the opportunity to shepherd families, and we both sensed a call to work with all ages.
During the months of sending resumes, I was his cheerleader. When Bill was called as senior pastor of Valley Bible Church in San Marcos, just north of San Diego, I was eager to start. But then we moved and the walls seemed to close in on me — literally.
We went from a three-bedroom house to an apartment that seemed about the size of a jail cell. Only after we arrived did the management tell us that our two preschool boys were not allowed to play on the grass or ride tricycles on the sidewalk. We'd sold a car to move, so I was stranded with two rambunctious boys who couldn't play anywhere.
Over the next few weeks, depression overtook me. I'd given up a nice house, great friends and a satisfying leadership role for sanctified insanity. One day as I reached for a box on the top shelf of a closet, I knocked everything over, scattering the contents across the floor and unleashing my frustration.
"I hate it here!" I yelled. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on a load of laundry, sobbing. As I cried, I prayed, "God, I know this is not the abundant life You planned. Bill has been coming home to my complaints and whining. I've been believing lies about him. I've accused him of not caring about me, and I know he does." I looked around and cried to God, "Help me figure out what to do!"
Bill was frustrated too. He'd done everything he knew to help me. He listened and held me close night after night. He brought me flowers, called during the day, let me have the car whenever he could. He prayed with me and for me. He involved me in ministry to help me re-establish my identity. Bill loved his new ministry, and yet he went to work every day feeling guilty because I wasn't happy.
The only thing that helped was taking long walks on the beach, which gave us a chance to talk. On one midnight stroll, I fell into my usual melancholy and began to weep. I walked more and more slowly until I stopped and sat under a lifeguard tower and stared out into the night. "I feel so helpless, Bill," I said. "I want to be happy, but I feel stuck. It's not you. You've been great. I'm even sure we made the right decision to move. I don't have answers." At that moment, Bill remembered a silly joke that always made me laugh. It was from the original Rocky movie: "So, you know what you get when you tap a turtle on the back?"
I couldn't help smiling. "Shell shock." Then I laughed. The punchline became our password: No matter how bleak things seemed, one of us would say those words as a reminder that someday we'd both smile again.
Shortly after that late-night walk, I phoned an old friend and complained for an hour. Then, as only a good friend can say, she asked, "Pam, what attribute of God are you forgetting?"
I answered, "Right now, all of them!" I hung up, went back to the kitchen table and prayed, " God, this is crazy. I am totally depressed even though I have two healthy kids and a husband who loves me. God, I need a fresh view of You."
I pulled out my Bible. I began to jot down verses that I found comforting and that friends had sent me in notes. I strung the verses together and personalized them as a love letter from God to me: "It is not by your might nor by your power but by My spirit...I know when you sit down and when you rise; I perceive your thoughts from afar...You cannot flee from My presence. If you go up to heaven, I am there; if you make your bed in the depths, I am there. If you rise on the wings of the dawn, if you settle on the far side of the sea, even there My hand will guide you, my right hand will hold you fast...even the darkness is as light to Me."
With that, God began rebuilding my heart. A few days later, on Bill's 30th birthday, I called him and asked to take him to lunch, five months after my depression began. He thought, Oh, no, here we go again. Lord, please; no more complaining.
Over lunch, I reached across the table and took his hand. "I'm sorry for the way I've treated you," I said. "If I never get the things I think will make me happy, I will adjust. From now on I am on your team!"
Bill sighed in relief. Over the next few months, his enthusiasm for life returned and my depression receded. I still don't have all the things I want — life's just that way. But I am content. More than that, Bill and I have gained a deep and strong love. Those dark days taught us to trust each other more.
Bill hung with me and didn't criticize me because of depression; he saw that I continued looking for answers and taking care of him, the boys and the church, and that I never stopped reaching out to God.
You might say that we found the ministry we always wanted — but only because we first gained the marriage we needed.
Ever feel like you need to wear a mask to cover up who you are? Are you concerned that, if people knew who you really are and how you really felt, they wouldn't understand?
One minister, two jobs and the family that's at the top of the list. The number of bivocational ministers, those in full- or part-time ministry who carry an additional job, is estimated by some researchers to be as high as 30 percent of ministers nationwide.
"You should see the church they attend," Lucille said, armed with bulletin and newsletter. Creases formed across my brow as celebration gave way to comparisons a trap that had sprung too many times.