Ah, the life of a pastor’s family!
Would you like a little peek behind the pulpit of what goes on in the pastor’s family? Well, here’s your chance. I am going to relate some stories of the life in the pastor’s home, things that have happened to us that are funny, interesting, or downright scary. Whether we handled them well or not I will leave you to decide. Come along with me as I take you on quite a ride.
There have been many times in our almost fifty years of full-time ministry that we have come to the end of ourselves, but only two come to mind that we found ourselves totally incapable of handling.
“You have to trust God,” my Mom often said to me.
But how do you do that? Especially when you are faced with a life threatening situation. There are no courses in seminary or Bible college that prepare you for times when you are confronted with a situation that is so crazy, out of control, or out of the normal that you have no reference point to deal with it. This was one of those times.
It involved a lady and a gun.
Culdesac, Idaho is a tiny dot on the map. It is a village that lies south of Lewiston, Idaho in a canyon surrounded by steep hills. If you did not know of it, you would pass it by without a thought as you drive up the Winchester Grade that leads from the hot valleys of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers to the Camus Prairie. The steep hills surrounding the town are all farmed, a feat accomplished by a rare breed of men. Farming there varies from exciting, to dangerous, to fool-hardy. Or maybe all three.
An old disused train track intersects the town and winds up the grade, crossing deep-sided canyons with trestles. On one such high trestle, the movie Heartbreak Pass was filmed. Check this out: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072735/
A 1975 western thriller based on the book by Alistair MacLean, this is an oldie worth watching.
We walked the trestles many times and crossed that high one at least twice.
A beautiful little church and a lovely, almost brand-new parsonage grace the village.
In 2003, we were voted unanimously by the congregation to be their new pastor after serving them for four months as interim pastor. The folks in the church – retired railroad workers, teachers, store-owners, and farmers – welcomed us with open hearts and made us feel at home.
Nancy, a single woman, attended church regularly. She had long gray hair, wore simple clothes and no make-up. In heavy tote bags, she carried her big Bible and lots of other personal belongings with her wherever she went. She drove a VW bug and was friendly, sincere, and willing to learn the Bible. Yet we began to pick up on the fact that she had mental and emotional problems.
When we learned her back story, we were amazed that she was able to care for herself. She had been one of the “flower children” of the 60s. Due to the use of drugs, she experienced extensive brain damage and existed by taking prescription pills for her many problems. The “free love” movement turned out to be not so free after all.
Nancy was living proof that the wages of sin is death. (Rom. 6:23)
She was one of those lives that are strewn like flotsam across our country, the result of unbridled lust and sin. Why she moved to Culdesac, I do not know, but there she was. The former pastor’s wife, Sue, saw her in her yard one day and struck up a conversation. This led to a relationship, and Sue helped Nancy in many practical ways. Eventually, Nancy appeared in church one Sunday morning with all her baggage.
You can only imagine the reaction that she created that Sunday morning. Her hair hung uncombed around her face. Her clothes looked like she’d slept in them, which she probably had. She shook uncontrollably. The people in the church were scared of her and made their careful way around her, not saying a word to her.
This did not bother Nancy at all. She was scared of them, too. But the Gospel was shared that morning, and the next Sunday, too, and Nancy was there, listening to every word even though she seemed to be on another planet. One Sunday, a dear couple sat next to her after the sermon and gently led her to the Lord.
Nancy blossomed after that. Under the sweet care of the pastor’s wife, and the love of this couple, she cleaned up her act, combed her hair, read the Bible they gave her, learned the songs, smiled and talked. The grace of God changed her, and by the time we arrived, she was a different person. We began to see the real Nancy, the one Christ died to redeem, peeping out from underneath all the garbage and damage of sin in her life.
But she still had problems. Plenty of them.
One was that she complained that her house shook.
People investigated this shaking phenomenon but couldn’t find any rational answer for it. She was paranoid about her possessions, positive that someone was going to break into her house and steal them. So she carried several large bags of stuff around with her at all times. She said people came into her house and changed things around. In fact, one time she informed me that she left her vacuum cleaner in the middle of the living room floor so the people who came into her house could do the vacuuming!
We were alarmed when Nancy informed us that she was taking gun handling lessons and that she owned a revolver. In due time, she completed the class and got her gun permit. We stopped making impromptu visits to her house. Yet we reminded ourselves we had to trust God despite the circumstances.
One evening, Dan went to a town counsel meeting that was held in a room right next to the fire hall. Around 9pm, he called and asked me to come because they were having trouble with Nancy.
When I arrived, I saw that she had parked her little VW right in front of the fire station, blocking the door, and refused to emerge from it. Obviously, she had run low in her prescription medications and was having a relapse into the nether world of mental instability.
Because she trusted me, I was able to talk her out of the car, and she relinquished the keys to me so they could move it. After grabbing all her bags, she climbed into my car, very disturbed. She was sure someone was out to get her. She was having severe headaches and wanted to go to the ER in Clarkston.
Nancy moved to the back seat of the van when Dan got in, and we started to Clarkston, dreading the thought of taking her into town (a half-hour drive) at 9:30 in the evening. But we were determined to help her all we could.
As we pulled out of Culdesac, she said conversationally, “I don’t know what to do with this.”
I looked back. She was holding her revolver in her hand!
I looked over at Dan and said in a low voice, “She has a gun.” I didn’t know if it was loaded or not. I assumed it was.
Here she was, mentally unstable, freaking out because she was low on her drugs, and waving a gun around! My first impulse was to bail. But I couldn’t leave Dan.
He stopped when we arrived at the main highway. I said, “What should we do?”
He looked back at Nancy, and said in a calm voice, “I think you’d better put it back in your bag, Nancy. It will be safe there.”
I repeated what he said, watching her carefully. She obediently returned it to her bag, and we breathed again. Somehow, we had both missed that class in college titled, “What To Do When A Mentally Unstable Person Pulls A Gun in Your Car.” Stay calm. Keep driving. Act like nothing is happening.
The issue wasn’t solved, though, because as we drew near to the hospital, she said, “I have to take my gun in the hospital. I can’t leave it.”
We informed her that she could not, under any circumstances, take her gun into the hospital. She was rational enough at this point to agree with us. Dan again forced his voice to a low, calm tone. “We will keep it for you. Just leave it in the car for now.”
To our surprise, she meekly agreed and got out! They kept her in over-night. We went home and took all her bags with us, including the gun. But we didn’t want to return it to her. We were afraid of what she might do to herself or to others if it continued to be in her possession. She was legally allowed to have it, but the government agency who had licensed her had obviously not considered that she was incapable of owning it safely.
We had a man in our congregation who was a deputy sheriff.
The next morning, we called him. He said, “If I can get there before she does, I will take it and hold it for her.” He hoped he could talk her out of it when she returned.
She drove up in her little car a short while later. We were chagrined when we saw the deputy pull in behind her. Before he could get out of the car, she came to the door, and the first words of her mouth were, “Where’s my gun?” We had to return it to her. She took it and merrily drove away.
I don’t know what happened to the gun.
About a year later, Nancy moved to Lewiston, and after that, we moved away, too. The last time I saw her, she was living in a similar rental house and was getting acquainted with the people in her new church.
While you might never be confronted with such a situation, there are a few things we can learn from Nancy and the Gun. How can we find peace and a calm spirit in the midst of a crisis?
1. RECOGNIZE SIN and deal with it ruthlessly.
Satan loves to label sin as fun or amusing. In the 60s, he managed to sell his package of sin as free love. Free death, more like it.
I admit that sometimes I fall for his lies. I tell myself that this once won’t hurt. Or that I deserve it. Or that no one will know. Or that I need something to comfort me.
We should get militant about stamping sin out of our lives, not matter what form it takes. “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” I John 1:6 “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” I Jn. 2:1
Today, sin is big business. It is flashed boldly across our TV and the theater screens. It is pronounced by our super-hero stars of the big screen that this is the only way to live. Yet take a look at their miserable lives that are characterized by divorce, abuse, misery and suicide. Millions of young women are trafficked to feed the mammoth problem of unbridled lust engendered by porn around the world. Ask any one of those women where sin leads – they will tell you.
Sin is death.
Satan doesn’t want us to see the ugly side of sin. It stares at us from the morgue, from the hollow eyes of those haunting the streets, from the crushed minds and hearts of people all across our land.
I must confess my sin, turn from it, and ask God to heal what is broken in my heart and mind. It is only then, when we are in right relationship with Jesus Christ that we can find peace in trying situations.
2. PURSUE A KNOWLEDGE OF THE WORD OF GOD.
Like Nancy, I want to pursue the knowledge of the Word of God with all my heart. “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Psa. 119:105
Nancy put the ladies to shame in my Bible study with the way she diligently memorized verses, answered each question to the best of her ability, and listened with rapt attention to my teaching. Child-like innocence characterized her life.
I want to give my life over to studying the Word of God.
Not the three-minute devotional Bible. I’m talking about the “as long as I can, every day of my life” Bible that I read diligently, apply to my life, seek out the meaning, and pray and weep over the sacred words. When I make the Word of God the center of my life, I can recognize sin and find God’s will and purpose for my life every day.
3. STAY CALM and trust God.
Instead of giving into panic, I need to trust God in the most extreme situations in which I might find myself. When I trust God and not worry, I will stay calm, pray for wisdom, and let kindness rule my actions, words, and reactions. If we had panicked at the sight of Nancy’s gun in her hand that night, we might have had a worse story to tell!
Shoot those little instant prayers to God that go something like, “HELP!”
God will help us whenever we ask Him. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Jam 1:5
Take a deep breath and see Him take over in your desperate situation. He is able. Trust Him.
I said there were TWO times when we were faced with a situation in which we were totally unprepared and had to completely trust God. I will share the other one with you next time.
Thank you for reading my blog! Share it with your friends.
Virginia Ann Work
If you like this blog, check out my books on my web page! https://virginiaannwork.com/
(All names have been changed to protect the innocent and the not-so-innocent.)