I have wrestled for some time with questions about how to address a topic that is near to my heart; and I feel that it is time for me to do my best with it, however it comes out. When I was in seminary, there was a great focus on women in ministry. I feel this was well deserved and, in fact, still needs to be. The Church of God, among other groups, claim to support women in ministry; and yet, women often have difficulty finding places of ministry because individual churches are unwilling to call them. I am fully supportive of efforts that my colleagues at Christian universities and at Church of God Ministries make to address this problem.
What I want to address is a specific type of family challenge. I am writing about how it affects families where the woman serves in ministry–I am a Hebrew professor at a Christian college. As I write this, I am keenly aware that this also affects families where the woman is working in another profession, and the pain is equally real. That is something I also want the church to understand; and part of providing good support for families where a person has a disability is being aware of situations like this. The reason I bring up the ministry aspect is that I want to address some issues specific to ministry. If you are reading and you fall into the other category, please do not hesitate to comment or to email me.
I am a woman serving a place in ministry, and my husband is disabled. We did not plan for this. In fact, we hoped that he would be able to attend seminary and serve in some aspect of ministry as well. It did not happen that way.
I was already out of seminary when Kevin and I became engaged. We were friends throughout my time in seminary, and he was very supportive of my journey and my plans to enter the ministry. By the time we got married, I was making preliminary plans to apply for further studies in order to teach. I planned to take a small sabbatical so that we could adjust to life together; and this is where life took a major turn in another direction.
The week before we were married, Kevin was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. He received other diagnoses while he was there; and by the time he left two weeks later, his life was completely different. He is now reliant on breathing treatments four times a day and takes enough medications to run his own pharmacy. We purchased pieces of medical equipment that speak so that he could monitor his blood pressure and blood sugar. By the end of our first 18 months of marriage, he had been hospitalized three times, had his gallbladder removed, and had surgery on his wrist to treat an infection that had developed where he had broken the wrist several years earlier. All of these things have had a lasting impact on his stamina, his feelings about himself, and even his cognitive functioning.
While all this was going on, I continued to have my own battles with chronic illness. These were nothing new. I have been living with several chronic illnesses for much of my adult life. That was an advantage to us in some ways. I was able to help Kevin with learning to cope emotionally; and I knew how to communicate with the doctors and equipment suppliers. On the other hand, we were both still very tired much of the time.
In time, I became well enough to take on some work, and Kevin’s health became stable enough that he did not need so much help from me. In fact, he began to do things at home that were of great help to me as I began to do more things that were of service to the community. There are some things that I continue to do; but we have settled into a very peaceful rhythm.
For both of us, the challenge comes when we attempt to socialize and people ask, “What does he do?” Our society is so locked in gender roles and career identity that it is difficult emotionally for us to answer that question honestly. It makes me feel like I am dishonoring him somehow. The truth is that I could not do what I do without him doing what he does. Because of the impact of my own illnesses on my life, his help is immensely more meaningful to me than it might be otherwise. A blog post does not give me nearly enough space to explain this or to give him the credit he deserves.
On a personal level, The things that he does for me are his choices. They are his therapy, and they are sometimes his lifeline. Watching him face his chronic illness, I often think he is graceful about it; but I also know personally how much it hurts to receive multiple illness diagnoses when you think you are healthy. It makes you need something to do. I appreciate that he chooses to do that something for me.
On a final note, When he does things to make sure that I have whatever I need (food and coffee, time reminders, etc.) to get my courses prepared, or a paper written, or when he helps me brainstorm my thoughts or recover from the emotional impact of sitting with too many people in crisis in one day, he is doing his ministry.
One of the things to understand about chronic illness is that it strips you of what you thought you were going to do, and it makes you feel you have nothing and no identity. When I do searches on ministry and disability in Google, it pulls up lots of hits about ministry to people with disabilities, like we are all little kids who need special programs instead of real big church. It also pulls up examples of insurance policies for pastors so that they can stop working if they are disabled. See, you lose when you are disabled. Not good enough to serve God anymore. We’ll let you off the hook now.
Not in my book. A few things need to change..
1. Reimagine the ministry so that we have an understanding that people can still do it even if they have some level of disability. Perhaps we should not run our pastors into the ground. A pastor who has limitations might be the best person to help mobilize the laypeople, assuming the laypeople want to be mobilized. (And perhaps therein lies the real problem.)
2. Reimagine ministry so that we understand that a person with a disability has a place in the body of Christ even if he/she is an unpaid worker. God doesn’t have retirement plans.
3. Learn how to converse differently so that the first (and often central) point of conversation is not job and child. Perhaps this should be at the top of my list.
So what does he do? Kevin is one of the most well-educated people I know–not because of the classrooms he has been sitting in but because he chooses to educate himself every day. He reads and listens to Podcasts about history, about politics, about matters of faith, about the use of the English language… In fact, he is helping me study for the GRE … because his vocabulary and reasoning skills far outpace mine.
The rest of what he does is serve as a model for every spouse, man or woman, who wants to empower the other to achieve. He knows every single thing that I cannot eat–and since I am allergic to the world, that is saying something. He is king of the kitchen, and while I am studying languages every day and attempting to conquer as much English as I have bothered to learn in Hebrew and Greek, he is in the kitchen making food several times a day so that my blood sugar doesn’t drop. He is my sounding board, even when he is not sure what I am talking about. And he loves his cats. He never had cats of his own during his adult life, but it is not obvious to anyone who might walk in and see him snuggling with one on his lap now. He might put Cleveland Amory to shame.
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- Daddy’s girl - June 19, 2016
- The Two Trees and the Everyday Fall - June 1, 2016
- Can We Carry the Cross - March 25, 2016
- From Darkness to Triumph: A Book for Everyone - March 24, 2016