Ashes: Pashupatinath Kathmandu

IMG_4733If I closed my eyes and imagined myself somewhere else, it would have been in a happy place. Like, at a Memorial Day barbeque. Chris would be grilling burgers on our lanai; I would be setting out our favorite broccoli salad—the one with the raisins, red onions and bacon bits. The kids would want to open the bag of Wavy Lays and the French onion dip. “Don’t open that until dinnertime,” I would yell. I would then open it myself when the kids wandered off. I’d shove several chips in my mouth when I made sure they were out of sight.

IMG_4740I would have preferred to be there. Not here.

I fished the face mask out of my yak wool jacket’s pocket as soon as I began to see the wafts of smoke billowing across the path in front of me. This would be neither pleasant nor easy. I fastened the ear loops around my right ear, then my left.

I pulled the mask up and covered my mouth, then my nose. My eyes were still exposed to the air; they burned. I would later send the clothing to the laundry service at our guest house and would take a shower. The smell of burning meat permeated and lingered.

It would be more accurate, however, to say that the smell of “burning flesh” lingered.

The smell of cooked meat, the billowing smoke—it was all caused by burning bodies. It was 11 a.m. on a Tuesday.  Barely 24 hours before, the bodies had been people: they had laughed; they had cried; they had probably known they were going to die. Their families had gathered around them to say their goodbyes.

It was hospice.

I am at Pashupati Nath on the banks of the Bagmati River in Kathmandu, an area that consists of 518 temples and monuments. This is the biggest shrine in Hinduism. It is also one of the holiest places, where the dead are prepared for their eternal ritual. It was recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. It is dedicated to Pashupati, an incarnation of the Hindu god, Shiva. “Pashu” means “living beings”; “Pati” means “master.” According to, “Pashupati is the master of all living beings in the universe.”

The grounds are crawling (literally) with monkeys. The “sadhus,” who are ascetic “holy men,” are seated around the area, covered in the ashes from the funeral pyres. They have unshaven beards and long hair. They wear orange robes; although, some are naked. Naked yoga sometimes occurs. (We did not see this when we visited.)

In Hinduism, those who are cremated on the banks of the Bagmati River and whose ashes enter the water will have their sins washed away. In turn, they will be closer to their eternal goal, which is referred to as “moksha,” “nirvana,” or “samadhi.” This goal is essentially a release from the cycle of life—of death and rebirth.  All living things are trapped in this cycle, a belief that ultimately results in the caste system.

IMG_4744The bodies are prepared by the oldest son, who is the “lead cremator.” Before the cremation begins, he bathes himself in the river. The women step aside: they are not allowed in the area while the ceremony occurs.

The bodies are wrapped in white or red (red, if it is a woman whose husband is still alive). Water is put in the deceased’s mouth. The big toes are tied together with a string and a Tilaka (a mark on the forehead) is applied. The body is put first on a ghat near the river and is then set on the pyre with its feet facing south.

There were currently no less than six cremations happening, just across the trash-strewn “river.” At this point, in early January, the Bagmati River seemed less like a river and more like a trickle of water. (Although I grew up along the banks of the Mississippi. So, my standards of what constitute a “river” are slightly skewed.)

The water was filthy. A little girl of seven or eight had taken her shoes off and had waded into calf-deep water. Smiling, she fished something out of the water. She lifted it up triumphantly to show her brother who was kicking rocks on the riverbank. I wondered what she had found. At that age, my daughter would have collected rocks, mulch, ribbons—it didn’t take much to pique her interest.

“Look at that,” my friend Michael said as he leaned in next to me. He pointed to an active pyre. I looked just as a leg—from the knee down—tumbled out of it and onto the ground.

uXZdq0JJTPeCNV5su28s7gThe man tending the pyre, perhaps the lead mourner, grabbed two sticks. He deftly picked the limb up and flipped it back into the fire. The charred foot remained visible. I wondered who this person had been — what his or her contribution had been to the world. To me, he/she would always be associated with, “that time I saw the foot fall out of the fire at Pashupati.”

The air was heavy with not only smoke and ash, but with sadness. This was a place of sorrow and of death. I could feel it; it was acute. I believe I could feel it even more so: my dad had been cremated hardly a month before on the other side of the world.

We had sat in a small room at a dark paneled wood conference table on rolling caster leather office chairs.  A young woman sat in the corner. She wore foundation that was several shades too light and a dress that was at least two sizes too small. She didn’t say a word, but fetched water for us and, occasionally, documents off the printer.

The shock of his death had barely set in. Not even 48 hours before, I had rushed to the hospital as fast as I could. I didn’t make it on time. I had instinctively known this. When I had pulled over to call my mom, the hospital’s chaplain answered her phone. Never a good sign.

“Thank you for being with her,” was all I could say. Several hours later, I kissed his forehead. He looked like he was sleeping.

My brother, husband and I sat with my mother in a weird, uneasy silence across from a rotund man in a cheap suit. He was nice, straightforward, and considerate—everything you would want in a funeral director, although I had no experience with this. It had been a preneed arrangement and had been already paid for. The date on the preneed papers my mom clutched within her file said 2015.

There were, however, several choices we need to make.

“Behind you are the biodegradable urns,” the man in the cheap suit said. We all turned, as if choreographed, to look simultaneously at the selections. They were all unremarkable, I thought; as Marie Kondo would say, nothing “sparked joy.” None were remarkable enough to hold my dad—a person who was utterly remarkable in every way. Not every daughter could say that, but I could. And I still can.

They were all slightly chintzy. He would have scoffed at the choices. We chose the biodegradable urn with butterflies on it. It wasn’t really him, but it would do: It would be going into the ground, anyway…what did he care?

The man went through the charges. He fussed around with a credit that had resulted when we decided that the burial would be performed at a later date: transportation wouldn’t be needed to the cemetery.

We designed the funeral programs.

The cardboard box in which he would be cremated cost $90.fullsizeoutput_1ac7.jpeg

I looked across the river at the bodies covered in orange cloth and sprinkled with marigolds. We had seen strings of marigolds draped across homes, shops, gates. Here, they were laid across the bodies before they were burned. I thought they were beautiful; however, I would never look at marigolds the same way.

His forehead had been so cold when I had kissed it. I’m sure the bodies across the river from me were also cold. Although the sun was out, it was a chilly day. The families of the deceased sat huddled together by each funeral pyre. I wondered if they felt the warmth from the fire in front of them; I wondered how it felt to know that the fire’s fuel and warmth came from their loved one.

My eyes stung. I realized I was crying.

Be Friendly to Foreigners

IMG_4881 “What does that sign mean,” I asked our guide between huffs and puffs. The sweat dripped off my forehead and stung my eyes. The wooden green-and-white sign was posted in intricate Nepali script on the side of the trail where I was currently struggling. We had tackled about 750 feet of Pokhara’s Anadu Hill on our way to Shanti Stupa, one of the world’s 80 peace pagodas.

Pokhara ranges between 2,713 feet and 5,710 feet in elevation. It is Nepal’s second largest city and is a short 30-minute plane flight from Kathmandu. (Our plane ride was taken via an airline named “Yeti,” appropriately. Our hopelessly spry flight attendant darted up and down the aisles — first with cotton balls [for the ears], then with hard candies. She raced to hand out peanuts and pour us each a glass of water before we touched down in the Pokhara Valley.)

The contrast between Pokhara and Kathmandu was stunning: The resort-like town of Pokhara had a lighter, less chaotic feel than that of Nepal’s capital city. I welcomed the reprieve from the Kathmandu Valley’s dust situation, which seemed to permeate everywhere and everything. Pokhara’s days were warm, bright and sunny. Paragliders with colorful chutes bounded off the sides of the cliffs, and then floated peacefully down toward Fewa Lake. Colorful canoes cut across the water and took loads of tourists to the Tal Barai Temple, which was located on a tiny island in the middle of the lake.

Pokhara Valley was picturesque: The city looked up to sharply ascending emerald-green mountains. (Nepali call them “hills.” I noted that their “hills” are the size of the Rockies.)

On clear days, the Himalayan mountain range that boasts three of the ten highest peaks in the world can be seen: Dhaulagirl (26,794 ft.), Annapurna I Main (26,545 ft.), and Manaslu (26,781 ft.). The city’s most famous peak, Machuchare, is said to resemble a fishtail. It reaches 22,943 feet and can be seen to the north. (Consider the highest point in the Rocky Mountain range, Mount Elbert, at 14,440 ft.)

U16aubrXTTm0rCPgq0QDRA“It says, ‘Be friendly to foreigners,’” he said. I was taken slightly aback. From what I had seen, being friendly to foreigners seemed like second nature to the Nepali people. Everywhere we went during this 10-day trip, we were met with smiles, hot, sweet milk tea (masala tea with loads of sugar and hot milk) and cookies. I enthusiastically accepted both…and more, if offered, given how much walking was occurring on a daily basis.

On this particular day, I had registered over 17,770 steps and 80-something stories. (Upon learning this, I promptly tore open another sleeve of cookies and attacked it. Think Cookie Monster; not a fine moment.) The trek up was mostly stairs, anathemas that I tended to avoid whenever possible, opting for elevators instead. I shuffled along slowly, occasionally stopping to sit on the edge of a cliff to catch my breath — as well as to catch the stunning views of PokIMG_4879hara.

I was passed by Nepali families: men, women, children — even a grandmotherly lady who appeared to be well into her 70s. (She carried a walking stick, I noticed. Next time, I vowed, I would find a walking stick.)

“Namaste,” I heard, over and over.

“Namaste,” I returned.

All friendly, all welcoming. All, presumably, slightly amused at the American-who-was-clawing-her-way-to-the-top-of-the-hill-no-matter-what.

No, I didn’t think that any of the Nepali people I had encountered needed any reminders to be friendly to foreigners.

Americans? Now, Americans are another story. We need to be reminded of a lot of things: “Slow traffic, move right”; “Don’t drink and drive”; “Slow down, workers present”; “Employees, wash hands before returning to work,” lest our brains and our common sense fall out into a puddle on the floor and we forget.  Americans — many of whom are lulled into complacency by social media and the ease of their everyday lives — need to be reminded to be friendly and considerate, as if decency doesn’t even come naturally anymore.

The default emotion now seems to be “OUTRAGE.” We are OUTRAGED when someone cuts us off in traffic, merges into our lane, looks at us wrong, slights us. We shake our fist; the middle finger flies up. Yet, when compared to much of the world, our lives are ridiculously easy.  This was my number-one takeaway from my trip to Nepal: We have it so, so easy compared with the rest of the world. We are OUTRAGED by things that don’t matter — little things, really.


I was surrounded by natural beauty everywhere in Nepal; the view from the top of the World Peace Pagoda was stunning. I climbed the stairs to circle the pagoda, which featured four statues of the Buddha in shimmering gold. It was late afternoon. As the sun went down, it would become chilly, even cold.

I started back down the steps that were carved into the side of Anadu Hill, down the hill toward Fewa Lake. We returned to our colorful canoes, and then to lakeside Pokhara.

There, we would sit down with friends for daal bhat, milk tea and cookies.



Thoughts and Quests

I am currently in the middle of filling out a “Secret Santa” form for work. I have been stuck on the “hobbies/interests” question for days.

I don’t have any hobbies and I don’t have time for interests. The unfortunate soul who receives my name for Secret Santa won’t have the advantage of easily refering to my list for gift ideas.

To be honest, I can barely maintain my own household. I am actually sort of worried that being a Secret Santa will wig me out, overwhelm me and set me over the edge. I know how I am with remembering people’s birthdays and anniversaries: I suck.

My Secret Santa is doomed

Putting aside the hobbies/interest mind-bender for a moment, I thought I would jot a few thoughts down I have had this week.

1.) Most of my day revolves around a screaming toddler. It is consumed with trying to figure out how I can placate her.

I often wonder what created such a malcontent, but I can’t think of anything specific. Chris thinks she is reacting to the amount of stress I exude; I think it might just be her personality ~ demanding, loud, high strung.

2.) Even though I don’t think that I consume the amount of calories it would take to attain and maintain my current weight, I must. Otherwise, the weight would be falling off.

I can run for miles and miles every day and nothing will happen if I don’t stop eating brownies and chips at bedtime.

3.) It doesn’t matter if I measure every single day. I probably won’t see a change in my waist/hip size. See #2.

4.) On a related note, my weight. Refer to #3 and replace “measure” with “weigh.”

5.) The refrigerator I want for our new house will inevitably cost 2,500.00, or more. There are cheaper alternatives, of course, but my eye will go to the one that is the prettiest, most tricked out, most expensive.

6.) Like the refrigerator, I am pretty sure that the car w/ third row seat that I want will most likely be a Mercedes.

7.) I visualize shaking my 8 year old until his teeth rattle out of frustration every day. It makes me feel better, for a moment, to visualize this because I know I will never do it.

8.) Angelina Jolie is a skinny little bitch and is probably starving. Our visit to the Potter’s wax museum hit this one home.

And Brad Pitt is shorter than I am and looks like a Backstreet Boy. Perhaps it is the artist’s interpretation of Brad Pitt, but from what I understand these wax sculptures are fairly accurate.

9.) No matter what I do or how hard I try to control/manage everything, I will inevitably run out of toilet paper (or money) before the next paycheck.

10.) Dishes are my least favorite chore and there is usually a sink full of them on any given moment during the day.

And normally, I will need to watch an episode of “Hoarders” to get me motivated to mop the floor.

I’m deathly afraid of ending up like some of these people ~ harnessed to the medical toilet in the middle of the kitchen, snoozing amongst the filth of adult diapers. All the while flesh eating bugs are eating away at my toes (recent episode — one that has to be seen to be believed).

I have a feeling that the beginning of a slippery slope slide toward doom is easier than one might think. I have found this out with my weight issue.

“Oh, I’ll just eat the pint of Cherry Garcia,” I said. And, “sure, just give me another helping of spaghetti.”

The next thing I knew, I was wheezing when I climbed a flight of stairs and my feet hurt. Fluffy happened so quickly; I can only assume that filth and flesh eating bugs in one’s house can happen very quickly, as well.

I better get back to filling out my Secret Santa form. I might just leave the hobbies and interests line blank and hope for the best.


From 2008

I have decided I need a hobby.

I want it to be impressive ~ something that I can ramble off if asked, and will elicit a response like, “Wow! What an interesting hobby she has! She must be a FASCINATING individual; a woman I would like to get to know!”

The problem is that right now I am not sure I have time for hobbies; my current hobby, Maggie, throws up on me several times a day, craps her pants and bites my nipples, then laughs. I also think this hobby is cutting teeth, although four months old seems too soon (and too brutal for my poor nipples).

She arrived at the end of April and has been the center of our family’s universe. Her brothers won’t stay out of her face and I worry about them kissing her too much.

This week my “extracurricular” hobby, of sorts, has been getting my ass to the gym every morning. Since Maggie has arrived, I have managed to eat enough chocolate chip cookies to add fifteen more pounds to my already challenged figure. So, I joined Weight Watchers this week and began using my gym membership for the first time in a year.

My goal is to be where I was at a year ago: running 3-4 miles 5x a week. But because I am far too jiggly to run right now, I have taken to walking really fast on an incline, manipulating the elliptical machine and torturing myself for five minutes on the Stair Master. I hope to increase my minutes on the torture device until I am on it for 30 minutes because I intend to have a fantastic butt by this time NEXT year.

But enough of that fun stuff for now, I hear my current hobby crying in her crib right now.


Honor Student or Bust

Uber: denoting an outstanding or supreme example of a particular kind of person or thing.

I’ve always known that my genetic makeup was not that of an “ubermom.”

They are the types that have large calendars with all of their children’s activities written down three months in advance. They are also the ones who pack daily balanced, nutritious lunches for their children with sandwiches cut into triangles. They drive minivans with soccer ball stickers in the back windows or have “My Child is an Honor Student at _____” decals.

No, I’m definitely not an ubermom; although, each year I vow I will be more informed, more pro-active, more prepared.

But alas, I am again the last one to sign the kids up for sports and/or activities, calling the “organizer” breathless and panicked to make sure that sign-ups are still open. I am the one who never really knows what is going on because I forgot to write it on the calendar. I’m the one who picks up my teenager from junior high and tries to exit through the “entrance only” part of the parking lot (despite the squad car sitting there blockading the entrance). I embarrass this said teenager to the point of sending him into a crumpled, defeated heap on the floor of the SUV as I try to negotiate my way out of the parking lot,  hysterically begging and tearfully pleading ignorance.

Now that the third child has started his activities, I am operating at white-knuckle “seat of my pants” type mode. The best I can hope for is mediocrity with a tinge of desperation.

As my children get older, it hasn’t come any easier with practice; I don’t seem to have learned from past mistakes.

I am a little envious of the ubermoms sometimes, usually when I am running late to somewhere I didn’t realize I needed to be until thirty minutes beforehand. But then, as I think about it, the envy is replaced by a tinge of pride in myself that I found out where I needed to be before the event-practice-performance was over.

I have made a decision that perhaps next year I will strive to be a little more uber; this year has already started as a bit of a bust.

This is my Tenth Circle

Circa 2008:
I believe I am a pretty good person, although I am pretty noisy with my spiteful rage for the non intuitive, random idiocy of Florida drivers.

So…not to get into a theological debate about this or anything but I really hope that St. Peter will be stepping aside for me to stumble through the pearly gates when I kick the can. If not, well…there is the other place.

I suspect that I experienced a little bit of “the other place” this afternoon, however. I attended my son’s junior high band concert. I did so in a foul mood because my pants were too tight and my stomach is now the same size as it was when I was five months pregnant.

As the screeches of the clarinets pierced the air, I realized that  my own version of hell would be this: me, chained to a bench that provided no back support and forced to listen to “The Final Countdown,” “20 Christmas Carols in 2 minutes” and “Aria and Arietta” played by uninspired 8th graders.

Satan would add a little more insult to injury and have the band teacher stop between every song and provide its background, why he chose this song and any other little turd nuggets of information he deemed useful in order for his captive audience to attain the full appreciation of each musical piece.

Yet, I smile as my child comes towards me and, although I was unable to locate him in the greasy mass of teenage angst, I inform him that he did a wonderful job. I ask him polite and appropriate questions, tell him I love him, and give him a hug.

I will do so as I make a mental note that my next child will play a string — not a brass — instrument. I pray that he will have an natural affinity for Bach, Chopin or Beethoven. I will make a deal with the devil for the sound to be pleasing to my ears.pexels-photo-164821

5 Things Your Pastor’s Wife Wishes You Knew: Dispatches from the Front Lines

I knew two things when I was young. First, that I wanted to be Amy Grant when I grew up. Next, that I would settle for writing the descriptions on the backs of shampoo bottles if the Amy Grant thing didn’t work out.

I also knew what I did NOT want to be: a pastor’s wife. I screamed, I cried, and I swore up and down that I would never, ever, marry a minister. This was, as you can imagine, troubling to my parents — two wonderful individuals who just happened to be, wait for it, pastors. My relationship with my parents’ jobs was tumultuous, at best. My outbursts left my parents scratching their heads on many occasions, wondering what they had done to deserve me.

So, imagine the shock — theirs AND mine —  when I married a minister. Because you know what they say about “never saying never.”

And I don’t regret the decision, either, on most days. Over the past 18 years, Christian and I have built a wonderful life together.

Sometimes, however, I feel a lot like that child who wants to fling herself on the floor, screaming and crying that she doesn’t want to do it anymore.  I knew this role would be tough. Sometimes I think it might even be tougher than I had anticipated.

There are some women who seem to have been born for it.  Take my mother, Lola, for example. My dad recently retired, for the second time, from a church in the Orlando, Florida area. Her stint as a pastor’s wife lasted over 40 years. And can I say that she rocked that job?

Lola was the epitome of the best pastor’s wife: she sang, led songs, organized. A distinct childhood memory of mine was of the smell of pot roast when we got home from church on Sundays.

“I just tried to be supportive,” she said. “I tried to make his job easier. I didn’t put on any airs, didn’t try to be something I was not.”

I often feel as if other women are doing a better job than I am — like those couples who invite us to worship via gigantic interstate billboards.

I understand that there are many types of pastor’s wives; there are some of us who feel comfortable on that interstate billboard and some who don’t.

Others, for various reasons, sneak in the back door five minutes after church starts. My reason is that I hit snooze too many times before I drag myself out of bed.  Other reasons are a little more selfless.

“I’m the last to show up for a reason. I want everyone else to get a seat, or to get a doughnut before I do,”  said Jamie, a pastor’s wife in the Des Moines, Iowa, area.

One thing is for sure, though: life in the ministry is stressful. Ninety percent of pastors report working 55 to 75 hours per week.

“Your pastor works way more than you think he does,” said Kristen, a pastor’s wife in the Midwest, “and struggles with the burdens of many on his shoulders.”

“My husband works six to seven days a week,” added Jamie, “and can go weeks without a day off.”

Eighty percent believe that pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.  Seventy-five percent report a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministries (, 2017).

Here are five more things that some of us wished that people understood about us:

#1.  Sometimes we wish our husbands would have “normal jobs.”

I realize that there really is no such thing as a “normal” job: every profession has its ups and downs, its advantages and its drawbacks.

Having no weekends off has been hard though, especially since I went back to work full-time. When I was a stay-at-home mom, weekdays and weekends often blurred together. Friday night’s sparkle lost a little of its luster.

But there is something special about Friday afternoon, isn’t there?  After having worked 40 plus hours and endured all of what life had to throw at us during the week, the mental brittleness that has accumulated over the week gloriously dissipates. The entire weekend looms with endless possibilities.

This is generally not how the pastor’s family approaches each weekend. There are really no such thing as weekend getaways — or “getaways” in general.

Particularly when the other spouse works. This goes for holidays, too. Christmas means work.  Easter means work.

“It’s difficult watching everyone celebrate holidays with their own families and tight knit circles of friends,” said Kristen, “while usually spending them alone ourselves.”

Jamie said that she didn’t expect that, “so much of our lives, who we are, how we work as a family, our routine would revolve around the church calendar. It’s tough giving up my husband at night, on weekends, and on holidays.”

Personally, I have learned to embrace Thanksgiving — a holiday where there are no church obligations. I love Thanksgiving: the food, the family, the parades, the long weekend. I have happily adopted it as my favorite holiday. I look forward to it, year after year.

#2.  We don’t always want to be there. 

I guess there are always a few pastors’ wives that this doesn’t apply to, but sometimes our hearts are just not into it.

Perhaps the week was particularly difficult at work, or our children — or life, for that matter — gave us an unusually hard time.  So, when YOUR excuse for not showing up for church on Sunday is because you’re busy, we totally get it. We are busy, too. We would love to sleep in on Sundays.

We feel as if our lives revolve around church throughout the entire week, in some form or another. There are always preparations to be made, meetings to attend, endless talk about the church. By the time we get to Sunday, church can be the very last place we want to be.

But when bad things happen — to us, to friends, to our family — it is hard for us to be there at all, even when church is the exact place we should be.

When my husband was deployed to Iraq in 2006, I spent much of that year hiding. I can count on one hand how many times I showed up to church.  I think I could disappear because it was a larger congregation; I wasn’t so easily missed.

When I did show up, the questions were well-meaning, but repetitive. They reminded me that he was gone. Once, I went to a different church and ugly-cried through the entire service. I scared my children — and probably several other people’s children who were sitting in my general vicinity.

I have heard that people often stay away from church because crap happens in their lives, sicknesses or deaths, that makes it emotionally tough to answer any questions at all. Sometimes just a hug and an “I am so happy to see you” is perfect.

#3.  We have seen the best people — and experienced the worst. 

I have met some of the best people in our churches.  Amazing, loving, giving people who were the best kinds of witnesses. When my kids and I were alone for those 15 months  my husband was in the Middle East, a church family consistently brought us dinner every single week. We were easy to please: our weekly request was always spaghetti and meatballs. This was something we looked forward to; most of the time we ate frozen dinners. The members of this family are some of my very favorite humans, even to this day.

One of the best things about being a pastor’s wife, says Jamie, “is the incredible love and support that people give to us on a regular basis. It’s so humbling.”

“One of the hardest things we had to do,” said Lola, “was that we said goodbye to a lot of good friends. The upside to this was that we have friends all over now.”

Pastoral counseling appointments are always confidential. Other meetings, however (sometimes unfortunately), are not. My husband has tried to protect me from the worst of it because I am sensitive: conflict gives me nightmares. Humans are messy. My husband is much more gracious about this than I am — maintaining that their brokenness is just proof that they “need Jesus.”

Just like in the “real world,” people in church can be quick to criticize. That “sticks and stones” nonsense?  Total crap. Words hurt, damage, leave scars. It can be even tougher to hear criticism about a spouse who is trying really, really hard.

Kristen’s worst experience in church life came when she and her family were told there was no room to sit in the congregation.“That was a low point in a rough call.”

“I take it personally when people are rude to my husband,” said Jill, a pastor’s wife in Florida. “Putting my heart and soul into a church and having things go badly…it’s hard on us as a family.”

It is unusually easy to take it personally. Although the church is a “business,” albeit a 501 c 3, it does take an exceptional amount of emotional energy to make it a success.

#4. We’re lonely.  

This is surprising to some.  We expected this role to be difficult at times, but not lonely — not when we are, generally speaking, surrounded by people.

Kristen has been surprised it.  “Being away from my home, my family, my friends. I didn’t expect to feel so incredibly lonely.”

Up until our most recent move, I didn’t have close friends. Especially in the church.  There has always been a feeling that we need to keep people at arm’s length.

I feel as if I can’t talk about personal things with people in our church. I am, by nature, a fairly private person: my regular conversations would never, ever be anything like Carrie Bradshaw’s.  There are, however, some occasions in life that call for a good “girl’s talk.” Maybe it is just me, but I feel that girl talks are not necessarily appropriate to have with parishioners.

My husband and I fight, the default behavior of my kids sometimes seems to that of “brat,” and my house — I will be honest — sometimes looks like the Tasmanian devil flew through it with little to no abandon.

But, still, this has come as a surprise to certain people we have allowed into our lives. The “you’re a pastor, so how can you…” — fill in that blank — haunts us. No family is perfect. No individual is perfect. The occupation has been held against us. I am going to go out on a limb here, but I feel that every single pastor’s family has felt emotionally beaten down at least once in its ministry.

What has changed since we moved to Florida is that one of my closest friends is a Jehovah’s Witness. We agree to disagree about our respective faiths, we respect each other, and we encourage each other in our own faith walks — as different as they may be. For the first time as a pastor’s wife, I have a safe place to go to if I need to have a girl talk.

#5.  We are really, really proud of our husbands.

Although we share the difficult moments, we are also there to experience the best moments. Very few people have what it takes to get up in front of people and be vulnerable, interesting, thought-provoking, AND entertaining every single week. Ministry, I believe, is a calling.

“We are doing this because God called us to,” said Jill. It is also rewarding.  “Working really hard on VBS or a musical or cantata and seeing it all come together is one of the best experiences,” she added.

Kristen continued, “I think it’s an amazing thing to be able to share the Gospel, shepherd congregations, and walk alongside so many different types of people from call to call […] the bonds we make with people in our congregation, because we have no family here, those bonds can run deep.”

We are proud of our husbands — what they do every day and what they have sacrificed for their ministry. And although it is not where I saw myself when I was little, I wouldn’t change a thing.

© 2017 Mary Ann Magnell ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

There is no such thing as the “good old days.”

I am reading America’s Women: 400 years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail Collins. It is a collection of stories about American women from the Colonial era of New England in the late 1500s through the 1960s.

As I read this book, I realize that as Americans, the majority of our modern day “woes” stem from our technology: it isn’t working, it isn’t working fast enough, we can’t find it. We are hopelessly attached to our iPhones as if by invisible umbilical cords (that if for some reason these devices are momentarily misplaced – even if just for a moment – we feel a palpable anxiety that must be anything BUT healthy).  Our problems, so ridiculous to some, are referred to as “first world problems,” which according to Urban Dictionary are defined as, “Problems from living in a wealthy, industrialized nation that third worlders would probably roll their eyes at.”

Life is tough, yes; to some, it is crippling. But life before modern conveniences was physically and emotionally arduous – almost beyond the imagination of our modern minds. For example, because I have a tendency to experience wanderlust myself I used to think that the pioneers on the Oregon Trail, or those who managed those first treks toward the Wild West with their belongings, children, and wagons in tow, seemed like one big adventure.

Those first pioneers were arguably the original American thrill seekers. Their homes on the western prairies were sod houses and dugouts. When it rained, the leaky “roofs” made a mess of the insides, turning the dirt floors to mud. A girl from this time wrote that the family carried the water out “in buckets.” She continued, “Then to keep us nerved up, sometimes the bull snakes would get in the roof and now and then one would lose his hold and fall down on the bed, and then off on the floor.”  Snakes were a common topic in the diaries of frontier women; a woman in Texas wrote that she killed 186 snakes in one year (Collins, 2003, p. 225).

There were unique threats for every season. Blizzards in wintertime could strand a family for weeks; bugs tormented them or ate their crops in the warmer months. “Clouds” of grasshoppers would appear and eat everything in sight. According to Collins, “they ate the peaches off the trees and left the pits hanging” (p. 227). Fires were a danger from lightning strikes or from campfire sparks in late summer to autumn.

I will never not be grateful for the simple effectiveness of a window screen again. The summer presented challenges for these people in the form of gnats, flies, and mosquitos. I recently saw a quote on Twitter that said, “If you think you are too small to make a difference…try sleeping with a mosquito in the room.”  A swarm of them is almost unbearable to think of, particularly since there was little to no relief. To keep the mosquitos away on the plains, the women would burn buffalo chips.

In the Southwest, beds were moved away from the walls of their homes – at least two feet – to minimize the chances of scorpions falling on them at night. Fleas were everywhere, as well. Native Americans’ homes were temporary and could be burned down when fleas became too much of a problem; because the pioneers’ homes were more permanent, burning the place down to solve the infestations was not a viable solution (p.227).

Women’s health was another struggle. Even though we have a limited knowledge of medicine today – we still have not found a way to effectively eliminate cancer humanely, cure auto-immune disorders, or kill viruses –  doctors know far more today than they did 100 years ago. As a woman, I am thrilled about this.

Because take obstetrics and gynecology, for example. In the late 1800s, doctors were regularly removing women’s reproductive organs to “cure” everything from anti-social behavior to over eating. By the time 1900 rolled around, an estimated 150,000 unfortunate ladies had undergone an ovariectomy (p. 252).

Even more gruesome was the condition of “vesico-vaginal fistula” in which, during childbirth, the wall between the vagina, bladder, or rectum ripped and left women unable to control the leakage of urine and feces through the vagina.

Johann Friedrich Dieffenbach, a surgeon in the 1800s, described it as “the greatest misfortune that can happen to a woman, and the more so because she is condemned to live with it without the hope [of dying] from it.  The skin…becomes inflamed and covered by pustules eruption. An unsupportable itching and burning sensation tortures the patient, so much so that she scratches the skin to bleeding…The comfort of a clean bed, that grave for all sorrows and afflictions, is not their lot, for it will soon be drenched with urine” (p. 118). The description continues, but I will spare you the rest: it is horrifying, almost beyond words. Yet, he manages to find those words and goes to places that I never thought possible.

And if you happened to be one of the unfortunate souls who gave birth in 1840 at Bellevue in New York, you had a fifty percent chance of contracting “childbed,” or “puerperal” fever, an epidemic transmitted by ineffective sanitation – mainly by the doctor not washing his hands. Eighty percent of these women died. Oliver Wendell Holmes campaigned in America for doctors to wash their hands, to which a doctor scoffed, “Doctors are gentlemen…and gentlemen’s hands are clean” (Burch, 2009).  In 1833, a woman who, at eight months pregnant, went into convulsions was emptied of “two-fifths of her blood over two days” and “lapsed into a coma” as she began to deliver (Collins, 2003, pp.125,126).

To add to my “thankful” list of modern-day conveniences, I am eternally grateful for elastic-waist pants, lycra, and sensible shoes. Although I am partial to Victorian-era television shows and movies and marvel in the costumes and accessories of those times, I say a little prayer of thanks when I slip on my yoga pants and my front-closure bra.

In the pre-Civil War era, gigantic skirts were all the rage. They were, however, known to catch on fire, get stuck in carriages, and “it was alleged, blew their owners off cliffs” (p. 122).  This was only one of the many eras in which “women were at war with their bodies” (p. 123). Girls who were of “courting age” were laced in corsets, in which the mother would tie the strings as tight as possible by “placing her foot on her back” and breaking some of the laces in the process.  In 1818, a mother wrote her daughter (of whom it was rumored made her underclothes large enough to slip on and off without lacing) a note that said, “If you love me, alter these corsets before I see you”  (p. 123).  Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, wrote at that time, “We in America have got so far out of the way of a womanhood that has any vigor of outline or opulence of physical proportion that, when we see a woman made as woman ought to be, she strikes us as a monster” (p. 123).

The long skirts were also susceptible to manure, mud, or expectorant (men were disgusting) that was likely to be on the ground. Livestock roamed around outside. In the late 1700s, the “tower” hairdo was popular with the upper class. The hair – which could reach up to three feet high complements of wire caging – was decorated with feathers, ribbons, jewels, and beads (p. 74).  Shoes were made out of wood at this time and had very high heels. Walking on them was not unlike walking on stilts (p. 73).

At the end of the 19th century, America’s “Gilded Age” had one benefit: larger, healthy women were in fashion. According to one Englishman, “young American women appeared to be morbidly frightened of getting thin.”  Because photography was now available, women were also becoming very aware of what they looked liked. Photographers were under increasing demands to make their “hair brighter, their cheeks redder, their skin whiter” (p. 239). Also popular during this time were elaborate hats which were “huge affairs” that had organdy, lace, flowers, and feathers attached. In 1900, a Chicago writer wrote he expected to “see life-sized turkeys…on fashionable bonnets before I die” (p. 240).

Yes, I am ever so grateful for my modern conveniences. I am no longer under any illusion that the “good old days” were anything to be pined over. I welcome technology; although, old-fashioned self-preservation skills, minimalism, and making due with what we have would be welcome in an increasingly complex, less resilient, and consumer-focused society. I recommend America’s Women as a record to how far advances have come in many ways – lest we begin to take some of these everyday conveniences for granted.

Burch, D. (2009).  When childbirth was natural, and deadly. LiveScience.

© 2017 Mary Ann Magnell ALL RIGHTS RESERVED