December 12, 2016 is a day I will remember always, and not because it was good. It was, in fact, a terrible day in the life of our family. It’s the day my husband was told his job as Executive Pastor was ending. We were left with a lot of questions and very few answers, but it didn’t change the outcome.

In the beginning I just remember being shocked. Scared. Confused. So sad. All of it in waves. It was just two weeks before Christmas and I was still recovering from surgery, so needless to say it was difficult.

Above all of the emotions I felt, two decisions were locked in pretty much immediately:

1) I would fiercely protect my family.

2) I would lean into the Lord the hardest I ever have.

Living in a small town, it never failed that I would run into someone from that church. It was always awkward, and there were several times I was left actually feeling sick. Sometimes I would feel ashamed, even though I really had no reason to feel that way. Brian had been told he had done nothing wrong, that it just wasn’t working and an executive pastor wasn’t needed anymore, but that didn’t matter. It was hard and embarrassing and I just wanted out of there.

Because we lived in a small town where everybody talked, I didn’t want to come across as bitter, or that I was trying to retaliate. Honestly, for a while there I was just trying to breathe. To get out of bed every morning, hopefully resembling some kind of normal for our kids. That, sadly, was the best I could do. Who knows how that looked from the outside in… but I was doing my best.

I knew at some point our story would need to be told – how to tell it though, and when… that was the hard part.

So what I chose to do was to focus in on God’ faithfulness to us both on December 12, 2016, and every day since, and I wouldn’t share our story until we were on the other side of it – whatever that side looked like.

It wasn’t long before Brian started a temporary job with a local company – that part of this story will always be one of my favorites. God used a sweet man from the church we left who knew Brian’s character and was full of wisdom to show us His faithfulness. It gave Brian something to do while we sought the Lord in what was next for our family.

More importantly, it reminded all of us that God is in the details. Community, acceptance, love, and appreciation were abundant with those people, and we will forever be grateful for that. I returned to work full-time as a transaction coordinator for a busy real estate group. They were kind, and overall I liked the job, but struggled a lot. Although it took me a long time to admit it, I was grieving our old life.

I felt like a fish out of water everywhere I went.

For the first time in over 18 years, Brian was no longer a minister. I was no longer a minister’s wife. It was weird. Admittedly, I was relieved at first. I had some deep-seated anger that hadn’t been dealt with and God, in all His wisdom, knew we needed a break. Or at least that I did.

About 18 months in, I started to wonder if this was our new normal. By this point, Brian had been promoted a couple times. I was studying for my real estate exam. Our side business was doing well. We were tired, but happy.

Mostly.

I spent much of that time slowly building a wall around myself and my people. Inside the wall, things were basically the same. I was still me. More outspoken. Less tolerant. That fiery part of me I had previously been pretty good at keeping quiet… well, she made more appearances. But otherwise, it was life as usual.

Outside of that wall, things were very different. I quickly became jaded and had little trust in most people. My default was to assume the worst. Bitterness took root in my heart and hung on for dear life. Anyone related in any way to our previous church had already been shoved out. Hard. Unapologetically. Some of those friends dug deep and fought to stay in. For them, I’m forever grateful.

Brian and I would talk to each other about the future and what that might look like. We often prayed, asking God to guide us. I remember jokingly saying that if any ministry positions popped up in Boston or Nashville, I was all in, though the reality of that actually happening seemed unlikely. It was still too hard for me to go there.

All in all, things were good. But something was missing, and I wasn’t ready to admit what that was yet.

One Sunday in early September we were in church and I remember looking over at Brian and realizing how much of a toll the previous couple years had had on him. He was so good at embracing where he was, but I knew.

I knew how tough the past couple years had been on him mentally.

I knew how hard he was working.

I knew that despite all the difficulties, our marriage was the strongest it had ever been.

What I hadn’t realized was just how difficult Sundays were for him.

God hadn’t called Brian out of ministry. We had absolutely been sidelined. But believing there is a purpose in everything, we were assured of a couple things:

1) God had actually been protecting us on that December day. We can look back now with knowledge we didn’t have before, and are thankful He plucked us out. {That is a sweet affirmation of God’s grace – He didn’t have to show us any of it.}

2) There was a purpose in all of it. And all of this “junk” we were left to deal with had actually made us both stronger and softer all at the same time.

Of all the feelings and lessons dealt with over the past couple years, one thing stood out so much bigger than the rest – and that was the determination in our hearts with what ministry is supposed to be. We had been given a glimpse of what people who had been hurt by the church felt like.

We saw the ugly underbelly… the humanness that comes along with living on this side of heaven.

Mistakes are going to be made. We are going to disappoint each other. All the things that are supposed to make Christians different… well, we saw it from a different angle now.

We had a new understanding of why there are people who struggle with church, and because of that, Jesus. Something had to change.

I can’t say all of that though without saying this: we also witnessed the love of Jesus through so many people. Friends called, took us out to eat, stopped by just to hug us, brought meals, prayed for us. Stood up for us. The body of Christ is alive and well, friends. I never doubted that for a minute.

All of this has strengthened our resolve to love people well. To love them towards Jesus.

to be continued….