It’s been a whirlwind of activity here in the Pleasant Point Manse: birthdays, visitors, fashion parades and more.
First it was my birthday, which I celebrated a little early by having three nights away at Lake Hawea, BY MYSELF. It was a very restorative break, both in terms of getting rest and in doing things-that-make-Angela-happy. “Oh, there’s a museum!’ ‘Oh, there’s some historic buildings!’ ‘Oh, there’s a Mexican restaurant!’ ‘Oh, there’s some gobsmackingly beautiful scenery!’.
I read two books, pottered around Wanaka, and explored Cromwell.
I almost cried when I came home to this lovely gift that friends had made for our house/my birthday…
Before I could blink it was my beautiful boy’s fourth birthday! He had a simple, frugal, and fun Star Wars party. We borrowed my brother’s precious Star Wars figures to use as cake toppers, and had an obstacle course and a pinata.
For the first time in my life I am a bit lost as to what to do with myself for work in the distant future, and exploring options is taking a lot of time and headspace. But I find myself regularly loving on the children at our church. It’s not hard, as they are a nice bunch of kids, and I genuinely enjoy their friendship and look forward to catching up with them each week. The beauty of living somewhere small like Pleasant Point is that everywhere is walkable. We find our house overrun with children most Sundays after church as our kids and the church kids continue their play. I have quite a ministry in providing copious amounts of baking to the hungry hoards, and judging various magic tricks and fashion parades that unfold. I grew up doing the same stuff, so I love, love, love seeing the kids playing like this.
Life is not all sunshine and roses (and lakes). Mr G is really feeling the pressure of his internship now. Balancing study with the demands of the parish is stressful and the study often takes a back seat, only to loom large when assignments are due. All four of us have been sick a lot with little bugs that don’t last long but are annoying to deal with all the same. I’ve been missing my friends, family and ‘life’ we had in Whanganui. I’m not usually a person who looks back, but this move has been difficult to process – I suspect simply because it was not my own choice to come here. It’s not that I don’t like it here! I do, and I am grateful for the friendships I’ve made here; I think it’s more that I feel at a bit of a loose end here as this move was for Mr G to learn the ropes of ministry which has meant putting my own plans on the back burner. My aunt passed away, which has naturally been extremely hard for my cousins, and the only silver lining in that dark cloud is that while I am here in Pleasant Point, I am only an hour away from them and therefore am close enough to provide support.
Once I committed myself to Jesus, and decided that if I was going to be serious about this Christianity stuff, I’d better get serious at going to church. I didn’t grow up going to church – at least not regularly. But to me, the Bible is pretty clear that you can’t live out your faith on your own – you need the fellowship of other believers to encourage, stretch and even enrage you. God knows that by getting alongside a bunch of imperfect people you can’t help but to grow and mature in your faith.
I can be a bit of a boots-and-all kind of girl, and I’ve long been quite involved in the life of the various churches I’ve gone to. I’ve sung in the band, read scripture and led prayers during the service, helped with the kid’s ministry, led bible studies, prepared devotionals, been part of the church leadership team, and preached; as well as welcomed strangers, poured copious cups of tea, cleaned the toilets and vacuumed up the morning tea crumbs. So I was not completely unprepared for the life of a ‘not-quite-Minister’s wife’, and for how busy it can be.
As in the rest of life, sexism abounds in the church. I’ve had expectations of my new role – both said and unsaid – that are simply not aimed at the male spouses of female ministers. The minister of my last church was a woman, and while her husband is a wonderful, wonderful guy, I’m pretty sure no one expects him to make meals for the sick, go visiting, go on the morning tea roster or be on the kid’s ministry team (he actually is, by the way). Men who do these things are applauded. Women who don’t do these things can find themselves the target of bitter resentment – usually by the women who do.
I’m a card-carrying feminist, and whilst I’m certainly not above scrubbing toilets or pouring cups of tea or anything like that(!), I am trying to forge my own Angela-shaped role, and not do things out of a sense of obligation or because ‘that’s what minister’s wives do’. What has surprised me is the depth of my own feelings of responsibility for the church as the ‘minister’s spouse’. When Mr G worked for an emerging IT company, I didn’t lie awake at night pondering the future of his company. I didn’t ask after the welfare of his colleagues in any more than a desultory way. I didn’t even pray for the success of his company! But now I am enmeshed in my husband’s workplace. His employers/clients are my friends. I want this church to thrive and grow. I want to see lives transformed in this community. I pray for this church all the time.
I’ve always had an overblown sense of responsibility for others, which means I have to enforce good boundaries in my life as they don’t come naturally to me. “Oh, you have a problem? Let me help you with that,” is generally my first reaction until Wise-Angela kicks in. When we got to Pleasant Point, both volunteer children’s workers needed to step down for personal reasons. I stepped up because no one else would (there’s that boots-and-all thing), and I felt responsible for the continuing success of the church because kid’s ministry matters. I really felt that mantle of responsibility. Like I’m the minister. Like I’m God.
I found myself spending hours on the children’s ministry in the lead up to Easter: so many hours that I had no time to reflect on the most important event in the church calendar myself. I had no time to just be with Jesus.
It was only after I managed to get a team on board with the children’s ministry, and got some breathing space that was I able to see the ridiculousness of my situation. Which was of my own making. Wise-Angela had lots to say to boots-and-all-Angela. I’ve learnt my lesson.
Church can be a wonderous thing. A refuge, a sanctuary. A family, a safe place to land. But it’s not going to fall over if you’re not there. Even if you’re the minister.
Frantically ‘doing’, even if it’s for the church, can stop you from ‘being’.
I can’t lead or mentor others in Christ if I’m not spending time in prayer or reading scripture myself. I’m not giving glory to God if I’m doing His work with a resentful heart. I’m certainly not doing His work if I haven’t even taken the time to discern if He wants me to do it in the first place!
When church gets in the way
If you’re a churchgoer, there will most likely be the odd season where church takes over your life due to an event you’re helping with, or perhaps there’s a crisis with a church member. Sometimes stuff just needs to be done. Bills need to be paid, rosters need to be drawn up, someone needs to write a sermon. But if it’s more than a season, then it’s time to make a change.
1. Take responsibility for your actions. If you are so busy that your personal devotion time is non-existent, or your church family sees your more than your own family, it’s time to take stock and figure out how you got yourself in this mess. Was it because you can’t say no? Were you pressured into it? Guilt tripped into it? Do you think that your ministry will fail if you step back? Is it time to ask for help from others? Is it time to let that role go? Ask God to reveal the truth of your particular situation.
2. Ask yourself – is this MY responsibility? When we don’t have good boundaries, sometimes we take on things that aren’t our responsibility in the first place. This is especially true of roles that are inherited from others, and where there is a culture of ‘that’s the way it’s always been done’. For example, some ministers find they are expected to do all sorts of things unrelated to their actual calling because ‘the last minister did it’. If some of your tasks aren’t actually yours to do, it’s time to either hand them back to the person who should be doing it, or discuss it with the church leadership to find a less busy way forward.
3. Am I doing this solo because I need control? If you find yourself swamped with an event or ministry and you’re the one doing all the leg work – why haven’t you asked for help? Do you find working with others too irritating? Are you able to take suggestions or advice if others want to run things in a slightly different way? Or is it your way or the highway? I’ve seen this many times in churches, where someone has a very definite vision of how an event or outreach ‘should’ run. They don’t listen to others – instead they take offence or think these people are just trying to rain on their parade, so they soldier on by themselves. Most folks don’t want to rain on your parade, they just might see pitfalls that you don’t, and we all need to be humble about stuff like that. Other people can be micro-managers, unable to fully let others take on responsibility in case something goes wrong/it’s not done properly/I don’t trust them. Do you need to let go of your need to control others?
4. Is this event necessary? Just because your church has ALWAYS had three services over Easter, plus a stations of the cross installation, a prayer vigil and a hot cross bun outreach, doesn’t mean you have to do all those things this year. Or indeed, ever again. Each congregation should approach the year afresh, acknowledging changes in its makeup and capacity. If it all just seems too much, then let some things go.
5. Does this event have to be done to this standard? Sure, last year’s women’s night was epic; with a guest speaker, home made nibbles, and fancy handouts and worksheets. But if this year seems too stretched, there’s nothing wrong with simply watching a DVD and discussing it over some store-bought crackers and cheese.
6. Am I in a hard season of life? Have you had a baby? An illness? A chronic illness or disability? Your personal life has imploded? You’ve switched to a more demanding job? Old age has caught up with you? IT”S OKAY TO GIVE UP YOUR MINISTRIES. IT’S OKAY IF ALL YOU CAN DO IS PRAY. PRAYING IS PLENTY! There’s not a single person alive who hasn’t endured a busy season of life. Most of the time it’s not forever. And you know what, if it is forever, God’s got other things in store for you. It’s okay.
7. Is this life-giving? Do you enjoy this ministry or this role? Do you look forward to it, or is it something you grit your teeth and suffer through? Have you lost your passion for it? If it’s not giving you joy, or you feel obligated, resentful or angry about doing it, then make like Elsa and LET.IT.GO.
8. Am I self-soothing with unhelpful things like TV, food because I’m so stressed and busy? Again, examine your motives for doing what you are doing. If it’s because you feel obligated, or guilty, or resentful because no one else is helping you, then start over at question 1 and dig deep. What changes can you make to your schedule? What can be let go? Who can I bring on board to help?
9. Have I discerned if I’m called to do this? Have you prayed about how you should use your time? Or asked for God’s direction? I love listening to Joyce Meyers on the radio. A few weeks ago, I caught a talk where she said she was called to be a teacher, but is often asked to do other things that take her away from her purpose. So she says NO to those things. What would life be like if you were fulfilling your purpose?
10. Let things fall over. I know several beautiful people who hung on and on and on with a particular ministry because no one else was willing to take it over. Sometimes you just need to let it fall over. To end. Yes, it’s going to be really sad. But if it’s time for you to step down, then step down. If I’ve noticed anything about church life, it’s that they have seasons. Perhaps in your church people reminisce about the once-thriving youth group you had, or that really awesome home group that petered out, or the Friday night dances that bought many couples together. Your church might simply be in slower season, or have no young and energetic folks to run things anymore. GOD IS DOING A NEW THING. Let Him. It’s not up to you.
11. If you are a churchgoer, contribute! In just about every church the bulk of the work is done by a few. If you have the capacity to help out in some way – big or small – don’t just be a consumer. Bless your church with your gifts and maybe help lighten the load of the few.
D was sick, whiny and rather belligerent due to a cold. E was run down and in need of a day off school to recharge her five-year old batteries. D had woken up with a coughing fit in the wee hours of the morning. He was wiiiiiiide awake, so I dragged my bleary-eyed carcass out of bed to look after him. The three of us had a duvet day and watched lots of TV – I now know the entire backstory to Transformers: Robots in Disguise, so if you lie awake at night wondering what the heck happened to Russell’s mum* and why he never seems to go to school, just ask me.
D had gotten over the worst of his cold the next day, which happened to be a warm and sunshiny day, so I took him to play at the nearby Temuka Domain. I pushed him on a swing for 30 minutes while he kept up a monologue of how aliens were trying to take over the earth and get into our brains, but fortunately he, D, had special weapons and was big and strong and would defeat the aliens single-handedly. We had a ferocious debate over whether aliens have birthdays (answer: yes, but they don’t play games like ours), and then looked for Decepticons (bad Transformers) in the native forest at the domain. I basked in the sun, and chuckled at D’s marvellous imagination.
There’s a fabulous op-shop in Temuka called Paws and Claws (all proceeds go to the SPCA). It’s a treasure trove, and my kids love visiting the shop because the lovely manager always gives them a wee lolly. If you are in the area, do pay them a visit – it’s especially well stocked with secondhand clothes, books and household goods. D wanted to visit the shop, and was so filled with extroverted joy he announced it to the nice old lady passing by, “We’re going to Paws and Claws! Mummy might let me get a toy!”. I did, for the princely sum of 20c.
Little things. Snuggling on the couch with my children, warm sun, the joy of a secondhand toy.
Like many stay-at-home parents, this time of having under little ones has been an opportunity for me to take stock and decide what’s next for my career. In a little over a year, both my kids will be at school and the world is my oyster.
Yet, as I get older I am increasingly called to live small.
Since moving to Pleasant Point I’ve kept an eye on the part-time jobs on offer in the area. Each time I mentioned them to D he wisely said “But what about the school holidays? What about when I’m away?” He has a demanding job that encompasses our entire family, in a way that most jobs don’t. I’ve also been toying with the idea of going back to further study to upskill, but have felt daunted by the stress it would put upon me, along with the need to find someone who doesn’t mind doing rather bitsy childcare. Most caregivers want regular gigs, and I can’t say I blame them! I got very frustrated, and felt like I’d never be able to work without putting our children in after school care and holiday programmes (for my overseas readers, NZ schools have around 12 weeks break spread throughout the year).
I don’t want that for my kids. I’m not judging working parents. Honestly, I’m not. If my children had different personalities, I’d definitely be considering full time work. But I have two very sensitive souls, and I know that they would not thrive in a schedule that full-time work would have them locked into. Especially D. For all his bravado and confidence, he finds change hard and often needs handling with kid gloves.
And so it wasn’t because of a lightening-bolt moment of clarity, but a gentle conversation with Mr G (plus lots of prayer) that helped me to decide to continue as a stay at home mum, so I can be present for the kids. I also feel called to be present for church, and certainly once both kids are in school I’ll be available to lend more of a hand with the various things churches run. I’m also quite fortunate that most of the things I have a passion for doing in the church are quite often things that you get paid for. I love preaching, and running workshops and retreats, and there’s definitely some scope to learn a little income doing these. So stay tuned folks. I’m not ruling out further study or full time work in the future, but for the next few years at any rate, I’ll be living the quiet(er) life.
This decision requires some sacrifice, certainly in terms of income, and it limits my bigger dreams – which mostly involve my favourite thing ever, travel. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t matter to me. It does, and I’m sure in times to come I’ll find myself wishing I was at Abu Simbel or St Petersburg or even Bonnie Doon.
The song ‘Dream Small’, by Josh Wilson is one that I play on repeat, because it is just so apt for where I’m at. I’ve dreamed big dreams and even achieved many of those goals, and had a lot of fun and learning in the process. In the song, Josh talks about little moments changing the world; being used by God just as and where you are. More and more I am more content with these little moments shaping my life. I notice them, am thankful for them, and they give me direction and purpose in the same way my big dreams once did.
Dream Small – Josh Wilson
It’s a momma singing songs about the Lord It’s a daddy spending family time That the world said he cannot afford
These simple moments change the world
It’s a pastor at a tiny little Church Forty years of loving on the broken and the hurt These simple moments change the world
Dream small Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all Just let Jesus use you where you are One day at a time
Live well Loving God and others as yourself Find little ways where only you can help With His great love A tiny rock can make a giant fall Dream small
It’s visiting the widow down the street Or dancing on a Friday with your friend with special needs These simple moments change the world
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with bigger dreams Just don’t miss the minutes on your way, your bigger things, no ‘Cause these simple moments change the world
So dream small
Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all Just let Jesus use you where you are One day at a time
Live well Loving God and others as yourself Find little ways where only you can help With His great love A tiny rock can make a giant fall So dream small
Keep loving, keep serving Keep listening, keep learning Keep praying, keep hoping Keep seeking, keep searching Out of these small things and watch them grow bigger The God who does all things makes oceans from river
So dream small Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all Just let Jesus use you where you are One day at a time
Live well Loving God and others as yourself Find little ways where only you can help With His great love A tiny rock can make a giant fall
Yeah, five loaves and two fishes could feed them all So dream small Dream small
* She’s working in Copenhagen. Now you can get some sleep.
When you hear the name Jesus, many non-Christians – and heck, many Christians – conjure up an image a bit like this:
We know from scripture that Jesus was kind and compassionate, and didn’t shoo noisy children away. But the historical Jesus was also a troublesome rebel who went around saying seditious and (for the time) totally outrageous things, and was ultimately killed for it.
This Jesus, not twee Jesus, is the Jesus we encounter in Mary Magdalene. Told entirely from Mary’s perspective, we learn what Mary gave up to be a follower of Jesus, and the story shows some of Jesus’ ministry, his death, and resurrection. Taking liberties with her background (we know nothing of Mary’s antecedents), Mary (played by Rooney Mara) lives in the small fishing settlement of Magdala, where she lives a simple life with her family. As an unmarried woman, she is an object of curiosity and embarrassment for her family who are doing their best to marry her off. Mary yearns for something more than the traditional role her culture demands, and becomes very distressed when told she must marry. Her distress convinces the men in her village that she must be possessed by a demon, and they attempt to cast it out of her.
Into this situation comes Jesus, and he SEES Mary, really sees her. He speaks to her and his words bring her great comfort. This in itself is extraordinary, if you know that in this culture and time, men were not permitted to even greet women in public. Jesus has an extraordinary attitude to women – he never treats women as inferior, unclean or unworthy, unlike the patriarchal society in which he lives. Not only did historical Jesus teach women, he had female disciples who travelled and served with him, and who were highly regarded by early Christians.
Jesus (played by Joaquin Phoenix) describes a kingdom where peace and justice reign, a topsy-turvey world where the lowly are lifted up and an end to oppression. Mary is so captivated by Jesus’ message that she gives up everything to follow him. In becoming a disciple, Mary not only gives up her home, but she gives up her reputation and chance of marriage – for no man would ever be permitted to marry an unmarried woman who associates with men outside her family. The Mary Magdalene of scripture is Jesus’ most prominent female disciple; she is always listed first in named groups of female disciples, and with ‘movie Mary’ they explore just how important she must have been to Jesus’ ministry in such a patriarchal society.
I was very moved by this film. Firstly, I’m stoked that Mary Magdalene has been so accurately portrayed. She’s long been a subject of fascination and respect for me. Thanks to Pope Gregory who wrongly identified Mary as the prostitute who washes Jesus feet with expensive perfume (and merges her further with yet another Mary) Mary has been wrongly associated with prostitution, seduction and sinfulness. The dichotomy of the Virgin Mary vs the Penitent Whore served to oppress women for centuries – women were either expected to be good, dutiful wives and mothers, and those that weren’t were often considered mad or bad and in need of repenting. Don’t get me started. Scholars surmise Pope Gregory wanted to downplay the importance of women in the early church, because, you know, patriarchy. There is absolutely no evidence that Mary was anything but a devoted disciple, who was so important, that she was the first person to see the resurrected Jesus. To see the society in which Mary lived, and to understand the courage it must have taken for her to follow Jesus makes this film inspiring viewing.
Secondly, it was great to see historical, rebel Jesus doing his stuff. Giving poor and oppressed people hope, smashing the patriarchy, performing miracles, and to get a sense of how much the disciples were waiting for Jesus to smite the Romans, and usher in his new kingdom. Thirdly, I thought their treatment of Judas was sensitive and thought-provoking, and it made me understand what may have motivated him to betray Jesus in a whole new light.
I do have my criticisms of the movie, however. The actors playing Mary, Jesus, and Jesus’ mother are way too old, and white. They play their parts well, but it still bugs me. Joaquin Phoenix is 43, and looks every bit of it. The actress playing his mother is positively geriatric for someone who should be in her 40s, given that many women were married by 14. Blue eyes are everywhere. There’s also lots of inexplicable lying down, and Jesus swoons rather a lot. While I think Joaquin Phoenix does a good job as Jesus, he is let down by a script that offers a Jesus who smiles and gives compassionate looks, rather than life-changing teaching. I found the depiction of the Last Supper and Jesus’ resurrection rather flat and disappointing.
Despite its shortcomings, I recommend seeing Mary Magdalene to learn more about this remarkable woman. It is beautifully shot, with great attention to detail, and is reasonably faithful to scripture, although some liberties are taken.
Lastly, I would like to say I’ve seen some Christians raging online, and telling people not see the movie because the movie-writers also used the Gnostic gospel of Mary to inform the movie. Yes, there is something from the Gospel of Mary included in the movie, but hey, let’s think for ourselves, okay?