The Pastor's Wifebyjsragmanus©
I'd like to thank those people who helped me edit this work, particularly the dialog.
The Pastor's Wife
I was in the storage room counting candy the day my life turned upside down. It's easy to look now and say: "On that day, my life changed forever." Of course you don't realize it's that kind of day for a long time. In my case, I didn't recognize it until it was too wonderful to change, and if I had known how things would be, I'm certain I wouldn't have tried.
Our fall Harvest Festival was coming up, that's what we call our church's Halloween outreach event, and I was counting how much candy we had on hand. While I was working, I was singing to myself.
If dreams were lighting, thunder was desire
This old house would have burnt down a long time ago.
It wasn't the world's most cheerful song, but it matched my mood. I had become increasingly depressed over the past year and had been singing sad songs for a while now. This particular song was one I sang often. It spoke eloquently of the disappointment and emptiness that I was feeling in my life.
As I was finishing the verse, I noticed someone I'd never seen before standing nearby. She was intently watching me, her face barely containing an infectious grin.
"Hi there! I'm your angel from Montgomery" she smiled. Her smile was so beautiful, it lit up her face. She looked radiant.
"I'm sorry?" I lied. She was playing on the verse she had overheard, giving me the chorus to the song.
"Well, only kidding a little. My name is Morgan, but I am from Montgomery!" she grinned. "I was dropping my daughter off, and someone asked me if I would get some paper towels for her. They said someone would be in here to show me where they were."
"Oh, here, let me help you find them."
I worked my way through the shelves, past tubs full of plastic Easter eggs and bins full of macaroni, and paint, and all of the crafty things that get used in a church's childrens ministry. In the far corner of the room, I found the paper towels. As I handed her a roll of towels, I got my first real chance to look at her. I guessed she was in her late twenties, the same as me. Her hair was honey colored, falling in loose curls down her shoulders, to the middle of her back. A beautiful white cashmere sweater matched her brilliantly white smile. Her eyes were a beautiful liquid brown with cinnamon flecks. The tight designer jeans she wore looked great on her. Even though she was very petite, the thin taper of the pants gave her a much taller appearance. If I had to guess, I would have said she weighed about 105 pounds. Her skin was beautiful; she looked every inch like a lovely porcelain doll.
I'm almost 5'9" tall, and I felt pretty plain. My husband was the pastor of the church, and even though I had a trust fund that made us fairly well off, he insisted that we live very frugally as an example to the members of the congregation. Of course as part of his job, the Right Reverend Daniel Isaiah Hornbarger needed to have good quality clothing, and he assured me that people understood this. It was one of the sore points between us. I was tired of looking like all my clothes had come from a garage sale. My hair was in a simple, utilitarian cut that did nothing for me. I looked and felt like a total drab.
Taking the paper towels from me, she looked at me and said:
"There's a saying where I'm from that it takes a worried man to sing a worried song."
Reaching into her purse, she pulled out a business card and scribbled out a number on it and handed it to me.
"If you'd ever like to talk about things, I'm a good listener."
"I'm sure that won't be necessary." I said frostily. Her lovely face looked stricken for a moment. Backing out, she looked at me and whispered:
"I'm sorry. I'm new here, and I thought you could use a friend. I'll just leave now."
I stood there, totally ashamed of myself. I could feel my throat tighten, and my cheeks go flush as I thought about how rude I had been. Here someone was trying to be nice to me and I had intentionally asserted that I didn't need her kindness. I wondered what my grandmother would have said if she'd seen the exchange.
For the rest of the evening, and into the next morning I continued to feel guilty about my actions. Knowing that it would gnaw at me if I didn't do something, I took out her card and called the number written on it.
"Hello, this is Morgan" she announced.
"Hi Morgan, this is Kelly Hornbarger. We met last night in the storeroom?"
"I called because I really wanted to apologize for my behavior last night. It was really uncalled for and I'm sorry. I know you were being kind to me and I really regret that I snapped at you."
"Hey, it's OK. I understand that everyone has off days."
"Thanks for being so gracious. I know you probably don't think much of me right now, but if you don't mind, could I take you up on your offer?"
"Sure, I would be happy to. I work from home on Tuesdays and Fridays. On either of those two days, I can adjust my time to whatever would work for you."
"This Friday would be great if we could meet then. I'm open all morning."
"Great. How about 10:00 o'clock at that coffee shop by church?" Morgan asked.
"That would be great!. I'll see you then." As I hung up the phone, I felt a sense of relief flood over me. I was looking forward to being able to talk with someone about some of the things that were bothering me. None of my family lived in the state, and the only person I could talk to was my mother. Even with my mother, I wasn't being totally honest about how things were. Heck, I wasn't even being honest with myself. It's easy to lie to yourself when things suck and you know they're not going to change.
Things were so bad that even going to Church had also become a trial. Not only did I have to put up with looks of pity, or superiority from some of the women, but Daniel's preaching had changed too. His style was becoming harder and aggressive. Last Sunday, he'd been preaching on joy when all of a sudden he launched off on a 10 minute shouted diatribe against the theory of evolution, and then another 5 minute tirade on the evils of cultural relativism. It got some applause, but I just couldn't see how those two things were related to joy. It was like he really wanted to preach about those terrible things, and joy was just his introduction. I thought joy deserved better.
When I got ready for our meeting, I decided that I was going to buy a new outfit to wear. I knew I'd be rebuked by Daniel, but I didn't care. I was tired of living a lie, pretending to be poor so that we could appear humble and righteous. I bought a lovely light blue blouse that highlighted my flat middle, and navy A-line skirt just short enough to display my long legs to their best advantage without causing a church scandal. Of course, I was decked out to the nines, and Morgan showed up wearing faded jeans and a heavy cotton sweater. Even in old jeans she's so beautiful!
"Wow, you look nice!" Morgan said. "Hot date tonight?"
"I wish! No, there's a funeral this afternoon, and I'm a soloist." This was actually true, it just wasn't why I was had bought and worn that skirt. Why had I defied my husband to buy new clothing for this meeting? Sometimes, I don't even understand myself.
"I'd really like to apologize again for what I said. I feel so bad that you were being so nice, and I was just so rude. Please forgive me?"
"Of course I forgive you. Everyone has off days. You wouldn't want to be around me when I'm having one" she blurted.
"I bet you're exaggerating" I said.
She smiled and winked at me as if to say "Not really."
"So, tell me about yourself."
"Well, my parent's actually have been attending for a while, they're the Somerlyns".
"Oh, yes. I know them. They're wonderful people. Founding members of the church I think?"
"Yes, they are. I've been living in Alabama for the past several years, but my daughter and I just moved back."
"Your daughter? That would be Emily?"
"Yes, I'm Emily's mom."
"You must be very proud of her. She's a lovely child. She is always so nice to the other children, even when they're mean to her."
"Thank you, that's very kind of you to say. Emily likes you very much too. She's always telling me after Sunday School that we did this with Miss Kelly, or we did that with Miss Kelly."
"What lead you to come home?"
"Well, my husband and I were just divorced, and I thought it might be better if we moved back here."
"Oh, I'm so sorry. If you don't mind me asking, what happened?"
"Well, let's just say a sister was involved, and leave it at that shall we?"
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to intrude." Wow, I thought to myself.
"So, anyhow, I just decided after the divorce that Emily and I would move back here. We're still getting settled in, but I think I'm happy to be home."
She took a deep sip from her coffee, and looked at me and smiled. "So, tell me about you?"
"Well, as I told you on the phone, I'm Kelly Hornbarger."
"As in the Reverend and Mrs. Daniel I. Hornbarger?" she asked.
"Well, yes, Daniel, my husband, is the Senior Pastor at the church."
"You seem much younger than him." she stated.
A raised eyebrow said it all. I knew the question, and I despised myself for knowing it. I hated her for asking it. "Yes. Daniel is 12 years older than I am. He was the youth pastor at my church when we met."
"Isn't that illegal?"
"Oh, no, I met him of course when I was younger but we didn't become romantically involved until I had graduated from college."
"What about boyfriends in college?"
"Well, I have to admit I didn't really date in college. It always seemed like I was too busy, and I was pretty content to hang out with my girl friends. I guess I don't emotionally connect with men real well."
An eyebrow rose slightly. "What was your degree in?"
"My BA is in Early Childhood Education, and I have a minor in Music. I love children, and I wanted to work with them."
"Is that what you're doing?"
"Well, I'm only volunteering with the children at church right now." Part of me wanted to tell the rest, to tell of the ache and hurt. Surely, the mother of such a wonderful child would have something kind to say to me, some words that would help the pain. But, I didn't. I kept on the plastic smile that told the world things were OK when they were really horribly wrong.
"Were you going to tell me why you were singing a worried song the other day, or am I going to have to worm it out of you later?" she said piercingly.
She looked at me intensely; I could tell she was seeing me, the real me. The one full of hurts and sadness. The me that wanted to cry and needed to be held. I felt exposed and defenseless beneath her gaze. Part of me loved having her see the real me and another part was terrified by the vulnerability of it. I guess I found myself automatically trusting her, but old habits die hard.
"You know, I'm looking for a volunteer to help me with the children's Christmas musical. If Emily's going to be in it, I would really appreciate your help. Would you help me?" I desperately wanted to avoid her question. Avoid showing the wounds that were opened afresh and deeper, more painful each and every day.
"OK, that sounds like fun. When are the rehearsals?"
"Sunday evenings from 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM."
We spent the rest of the time talking about inconsequential things. After we finished our coffee we worked our way out towards the door. As we parted, she gave me a strong hug and said:
"It's OK. Things are going to get better. Just watch."
"Thank you." I said sniffling. Smiling bravely, I managed to get out "I'll see you on Sunday night."
When I got home, I called my mother. The machine answered.
"Momma? It's me. Please pick up." I could feel the barely contained sob in my throat, the croak that I always got when I was going to cry. "Please momma, please pick up."
"Kelly, what's the matter dear?"
Oh glory, she's home. Thank you lord! "Momma, I just wanted to talk."
"Well, I know that dear, but what's wrong?"
"Momma, its Daniel."
"What's happened, is he sick? Has he been hurt?"
"No, Momma, it's worse than that."
"Please baby, please tell me what's wrong."
"Momma, we can't have a baby!"
"What do you mean you can't have a baby? Of course you can have a baby. You're a fine healthy woman. No woman in our family has ever had problems bearing children."
"No, momma, you don't understand. Daniel and I can't have a baby. I've been trying to get pregnant for the past 6 years. The doctor said that Daniel's fertility is low and that the only way we could have a baby was in a test tube."
"Well, that's not the way I would have chosen for you, but it's still OK."
"No, momma, Daniel insists that it must be the Lord's will in our lives that we not have children. He won't go to the clinic with me!"
"Well dear, I'm sure he's just upset by things. He'll come around soon, you just see."
"Oh, momma, we found out a year ago and he won't move. He keeps insisting it's the Lord's will. Momma, what can I do?"
"Oh honey, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry you've kept this in for a year by yourself. Why didn't you tell me earlier?"
"Momma, I'm just so embarrassed. I didn't want anyone to know."
"Shhh. It's OK baby. It's OK. I'm sure things are going to work themselves out. Now, why don't you tell me everything from the beginning?"
Between chokes and sobs, I told my mother of my increasingly desperate attempts to conceive a child. As I related the details, I sensed my mother's increasing anger. Daddy had been a Marine Sergeant Major and had served in Viet Nam, and I knew the only thing that ever intimidated him was Momma. She's a formidable woman, and when she's in full temper, brave men look for ways to leave the room.
"You tell that son of a bitch husband of yours that we will be in town on Sunday for service, and we expect to have dinner with you both after worship!" she barked.
"Please momma, please don't"
"Tell your husband we will be eating together on Sunday!"
"Yes Momma." She was in a temper. I knew her. Once she got going, nothing, but nothing was going to stop my mother from defending her baby girl. I prayed that she wouldn't bring her purse that had the concealed holster with a pistol in it.
After service on Sunday, Momma and I and Daddy and Daniel went to lunch together. I had the meat loaf. Certainly, I thought, if I have something as plain as meat loaf, nothing dramatic will happen. Things started out well enough. Momma could be a smoothie if she thought it would get her way. Obliquely, she brought up our troubles and asked Daniel for his thoughts."
"Well Darlene, I have to say the Lord has laid this heavy burden on us. I've spent many hours in prayer on this subject and I feel that it's His way of saying that our ministry roles are so important that we mustn't have any distraction from them."
"I see," my mother said icily "and how has the Lord told you to counsel Kelly in her sadness over this?"
I looked down at the floor, searching for her purse. Damn. It was the purse with the holster in it. Unobtrusively I started moving it towards our side of the table, sliding it away from her.
"Well, I'm sure that with sufficient prayer, the Lord will lift this burden of sadness from her."
Damn him! Damn him! At every point in our marriage that needed work, even during our marital counseling sessions, he managed to turn things around and suggest that the problems lie in my spirituality. I could see my mother looking at the floor, wondering where her purse was.
"On a different topic, please, tell me how you folks are situated for life insurance. I want to know that if anything happens to you Daniel, my daughter will be adequately provided for."
"Well, Darlene, the district provides us with..."
I couldn't believe it. My mother had actually threatened to kill my husband and he was cluelessly discussing how I would financially benefit. Automatically, I started meditating, playing my favorite hymn in my head. Listening to the introduction and playing through in my mind each verse and chorus. Focusing on the subtle cord progressions and the bass melody.
"I'm sorry momma, what did you say?"
"I said we're very lucky that you have such a thoughtful husband who has planned to provide so well for you in the event of his untimely demise."
Momma had been married once before. Daddy was her second husband. Her first husband had been shot by a burglar. Momma even had the bruises to show where the burglar had attacked and struck her. But, when the mean relatives in our family got together and talked, they always said what a bad temper Kenny Humphries had, and more than one said that Kenny used to knock her around. The clever ones said that Kenny had only struck her once.
"Momma, I need to go to the bathroom. Did you need to freshen up before we leave?" I said shakily.
"Yes, that would be nice."
When I got her into the bathroom, I quickly glanced underneath the stalls. Once I was certain no one else was present, I positioned myself in front of the door and blocked it with my foot.
"Mother, you have to let me handle this on my own. Promise me that you won't hurt Daniel!"
"Dear I -"
"No Momma! Promise me you won't do anything!"
"Well, if you insist. I promise that I won't kill your husband."
"I know you mother. That's not good enough. Promise you won't harm him!"
"Must I? Oh, very well. I promise I won't harm the pompous little shit. But if you ever change your mind, I'd be happy to help meet his heart's desire."
"What's that?" I said cautiously.
"Why getting to heaven of course!" she smirked.
After dinner, Momma and Daddy came home with us and we spent a tense afternoon visiting. Finally, it was time for me to go back to church for the children's musical rehearsal. I kissed my parents, and as they got back in their car to drive home, I got in mine to go to church.
I must have looked terrible when I got there. Morgan was giving me an appraising look. She looked like someone who is riding a bicycle and knows the front wheel is loose and might come off at any time.
As we got going, I started to relax and enjoy myself. The kids were so cute, and it was so much fun to teach them the songs and hand motions for the program. Morgan turned out to be a wonderful helper. She was so animated and enthusiastic that even the shyest kids got caught up in things and participated. It was so much fun watching her go that I lost my own place a couple of times. All too soon, the hour was up and the parents arrived to pick up their little ones.
When the last of the kids were gone, I hugged Morgan and thanked her for her help.
"You're SO GOOD!" I gushed. "I can't believe how well the kids did with you! You should be in charge of this."
"Thanks. I had a lot of younger cousins so I had to learn how to entertain them. You were wonderful too! I've never seen someone get a whole room full of kids this age to follow along. You certainly have a gift with children."
"Thanks. I'm really glad you came, it's just wonderful to have you here helping."
"It's really my pleasure. Are you OK? You looked pretty rough when you came in."
"It's been a hard week. Could we meet again, next week."
"Sure. I'd love that."
"Oh, thank you so much. Can we meet Tuesday?"
"Sure, 10:00 AM at the coffee shop?"
"Perfect. I'll see you then."
This time, when we met, I started to tell Morgan about the things that were tearing me apart. I told her about how Daniel and I couldn't have a baby. When I told her Daniel's thoughts I was sure she was going to cry.
"Oh, Kelly, I'm so sorry. I wish I could help you. I know you're a wonderful person, and you're going to be a terrific mother. I'm sure something good is coming for you."