Remember in the children's book The Velveteen Rabbit, where Rabbit asks the Skin Horse what real is? The Skin Horse explains, "It doesn't happen all at once, but by the time it does, you look very shabby. It's something that happens to you when you're loved for a very long time."
As a pastor's wife, I take it as a compliment when people tell me I'm real. However, I often think that if people knew my real thoughts about God, they would probably leave the church in disgust. Becoming real, however, is a process, a struggle at each level until God's love brings me to the next, which leaves me looking and feeling pretty shabby.
One of my greatest struggles with realness came this past year when a close friend faced the great intruder, death. He was diagnosed with melanoma. Questions flooded me at the news. Why Walter at 44?
Walter was a youth leader, whose own kids were teenagers — the same age as mine. I was afraid to pray for his healing. If God didn't heal him, would I believe God was still powerful? I questioned if God was capable of big things. Maybe He could handle only the little things, like finding me a close parking spot.
Yet, while I longed for the big miracle, I missed the little ones along the way. Someone provided for Walter's family to fly home for one final visit. As his time on earth grew shorter and he was less conscious, God opened a window of time where he was alert enough to have Christmas with his family.
After Walter's first surgery and the diagnosis, his youngest son bought a bouquet of flowers for the hospital room and said several times, as if to reassure himself, "My dad's going to be okay, I think." I felt the same insecurity: "God is going to answer our prayers, I think."
While I was scurrying around trying to make sense of this, God was patiently drawing me to Himself. One morning during my devotions, I begged God to help me make sense of Walter's death. My eyes were drawn to the words at the top of the page "to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ" (Ephesians 3:18).
For several moments, I let those words wrap around me. Width, length, depth, height — God's measure of love covered every part of me, even the part that demanded answers. As I let those words soak into my aching spirit, I finally began to relax in the security that whatever happened — even the death of a dear friend — God's love was the answer to every question I'd ever asked.
It was through Walter's illness and death that I learned: When I become real with God, in turn I have the courage to be more real and honest with the people at church.
Like the Skin Horse, God makes me real by His love. And sometimes the process leaves me feeling shabby. It is a feeling, however, I now cherish, because it comes with an amazing realization: God has loved me for a long time.
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.