What Joplin, MO Taught Me About Contentedness

I never imagined I would look upon the first two years of our marriage with such fondness. We were two broke college kids living over 800 miles from home. My husband had been there for college for a couple of years already, but I had no one there but him. We were both strong and stubborn, and learning to compromise while navigating our new roles as husband and wife was sometimes quite ugly.

We lived in a beautiful town-Joplin, Missouri-but I couldn’t see the positives at the time. I called it “Misery” because all I wanted was to be home in Michigan.  To me it was a burdensome detour on the way to the rest of my life. In hindsight I know I was bitter toward my husband because I had to move there so he could finish his degree. It hadn’t been my plan. I had a university in Michigan picked out.  I was already accepted and had scholarships waiting for me.

I knew before I married him that moving to Missouri for a time with him would be necessary, but as I said, I was stubborn and I would have preferred to have things my way-a trait that I unfortunately still haven’t grown out of.  My life growing up was out of control and chaotic with no stability. This left me wanting to control everything, which has caused me more problems and stress in life than if I had just relinquished control to someone as capable, or more capable.

In Missouri I could only see what I was being kept from-my family, my college, my state, my plan. I looked to the future and what I would do when I got back to Michigan. Then my life could really start.  It is good to plan for the future and have goals, but not at the expense of the present. This was a toxic looking ahead.

This push in me led, not surprisingly, to some hasty decisions that had very negative results. As soon as my husband graduated Bible College, we left for Michigan.  We had been offered a position at a small church with someone my husband had known for a very long time, and I thought it was the perfect, safe opportunity to ease into ministry, as I was still nervous about being a pastor’s wife. My husband was hesitant. He wanted to stay a little longer to be mentored by our pastor in Joplin, who, incidentally, told us that he didn’t feel we should go yet. I am embarrassed to admit that I pushed for it against all of this, and my husband, wanting me to be happy, took me back “home.”

As is so often the case when we make decisions based on emotion, and ignore wise counsel, things did not turn out well. We left the position with hurt and hard feelings, and it set us back in ministry for years.  Instead of feeling better about being in ministry with my husband, I felt even more unsure of it.  It did something in him too.  He had been passionate about becoming a minister and the light in him faded some.  He had had such high hopes for stepping into a role as pastor, and it was nothing like he had imagined.

Through the years we have healed. We are involved in ministry again, as youth pastors, and my husband takes every opportunity he can to preach.  God is like that. In His infinite Grace, he restores the things we ruin. The question I have asked myself often though, and that I find myself for some reason dwelling on recently is-if not for that one bad decision-how would our lives have been different?  I visualize in my mind a starting point with many different paths.  There is one that staying in Joplin a few more years would have taken us on, and one that moving back to Michigan when we did took us on. In my mind they veer off into completely different directions.  Would they actually have?

The point I started with is this-Joplin was great. I just couldn’t see it.  In hindsight, my mind’s eye sees it differently than when I was living it. We were all young and all had the whole future ahead of us. Every one of our couple friends seemed happy and full of hope.  It was a special time. The blessings outweighed the negatives, but I refused to see it. I found a great college in the city that I ended up loving.  I did attend that state university in Michigan and missed my Missouri Southern.

My ungratefulness and inability to count my blessings early in life cost me. Just how much, I’ll never know, but definitely the joy and excitement I could have had the first couple years of my marriage.  Would I change a lot? No.  I would still want the most important things to be the same-the same husband and the four best kids who were ever created, and with whom I have had the privilege of staying home as to not miss a moment.

What Joplin taught me though, unfortunately in a big way, was to be grateful and to be content where I am placed, and to not move onto the next thing until I am directed by Someone much wiser than I. I’m not going to lie, 16 years later I am still working on it. I gain more and more tools along the way to help me count my blessings instead of my disappointments, and I try to let God make my decisions.  Things go smoother that way.





Guilted Contributions

I saw a sign that I was offended by the other day.  I’ve seen these types of signs or flyers before.  It read, “If you aren’t helping to stop domestic violence, you are supporting it.”  Really? I feel strongly about domestic violence.  I have loved ones who at one time or another in their lives were violently abused: physically, mentally, and emotionally, by either a husband or father. However, you won’t see me tangibly supporting the cause to end domestic violence.  My time, energy, and finances are limited.  I simply do not have the available resources.  However, I am passionate about it, and it makes me a little angry that someone (whether I know them or not) would say that I support abuse in a home.

There are many causes I am passionate about because of things I have experienced in my life.  I have great concern for the care of the elderly, especially those who have no family members to visit them regularly.  However, I have yet to go with a group to sing or do crafts at nursing homes.  I have thought about it, but never made it. Does that mean I support the abuse and neglect of the elderly too?

I have great empathy for many different groups of people in sad situations, but my plate is full, often with leftovers on it at the end of the day.  I pray for God to help me set my priorities.  “What is most important to accomplish today,” I will ask Him.  Before I commit to something I will think and pray about whether or not I can give it the attention and time it will require to do it efficiently.  Sometimes people do not respond well to this.  My resources are spread out in a lot of different areas, and it can be hard to see them all.

Unfortunately, manipulation and guilt are often used as motivation.  I understand that people feel passionately about their cause and want to do whatever it takes to achieve the desired result.  However, does the end really justify the means?  It is very hard to feel joyful about giving of your time, talent, and money if you are guilted or manipulated into it.  If the choice you are given is that you can either contribute in some way or you are a bad person who doesn’t care about others, how is that edifying to anyone involved?  If the goal of the ministry or cause is to help others, but leaves potential “givers” feeling bad about themselves because they are perceived as selfish or uncaring because they lack the tangible and intangible resources to help out, perhaps the methods need to be reviewed.