Friday, September 8, 2017

It's So Tiring

It has often been said by those that are pastors "Being a pastor is a very lonely calling". I, being a pastor for the past 20 years can say this no doubt is the truth. But how can being a pastor be so lonely? After all every Sunday, Wednesday and beyond a pastor is around people. What could be so lonely about being a pastor? Allow me to explain. 

The past few weeks reminded me of just how lonely being a pastor can be. No doubt you, or those you know have been in friendships where you had to initiate every get together. It would almost appear your phone only works in one direction. Your email only has a send feature and your texts/messages go only one way. If you want to do something, it has to be initiated by you otherwise you probably won't do anything with anyone. Does this sound familiar? The same can be said of being a pastor. I literally had a person lay into me because we were going to do dinner (at no cost to them). Weeks went by without hearing from them so I ended up changing plans. This was met with a very hurtful response by this person that I have bent over backwards to help in the past and treated to meals before. The church I pastor even helped them out fiscally a time or two.

I have had people in my life where I have rearranged my schedule to help them move, do chores, engage in crisis counseling, etc. The classic is being asked to borrow a tool, tech device, etc. and being expected to drop it off and pick it up when done. People are needy and as a pastor, this is part of our calling. We are there for people and it is okay...it's what we do. This Sunday I will have a houseful of guys over as we grill steaks and enjoy conversation around a bon-fire. Earlier this year I have connected with people, treated them to lunch after church because I knew they were in a slump. Once a month I organize a men's ministry event. Just three weeks ago I had close to 50 people at the house from the church for a cookout. It can be a lot of fun while at the same time it can be...or rather is very exhausting.

Pastors get invited to a lot of birthday parties as well for kids and fellow adults. They are fun to go to but like graduation season each year, these get togethers have a purpose and include bringing a gift. This adds up quickly when a pastor realizes how many events he/she has to go to that require a gift. If drinking is involved, the after party is usually never met with an invite. It is great to have the pastor "friend" there but don't expect more.

Looking back on the people I have noticed being down and out that my wife and I have taken out to lunch, not one time was it ever met with a "just because" invite to go out for a meal with them. Of my 12+ years at this church and for that matter the previous 8 years at the church I was on staff at in Milwaukee...I could count on two hands how many times, I or my family and I have been invited over to someone's place for a meal. I absolutely cannot remember the last time someone called me (without an ulterior motive or in need of counseling) to invite me out to lunch, dinner, ice cream, etc. Pastors are always taking other people out for these things but hardly ever is it met with an invite in return.

So, yes we (pastors) are around a lot of people but when we are the ones having to do the inviting or when an invite happens it is because of a person is in need of counseling, party, etc. It makes a person feel lonely and honestly...used. How we/I long for someone to just say, "Pastor, can I treat you...or you and your family to dinner some night?" It would make my day.

Don't even get me started on "pastor appreciation day" or anniversaries.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Real Life Mr. Mom and Other Stay at Home Parents

This is a bit of a different topic for me to blog about. Typically, I write about all things pertaining to Christianity, church, etc. However, I have found myself diving more and more into mental well being, spirituality. My last blog was written in February and had to do with male postpartum depression. It has become one of my most read blogs first being about wedding etiquette from a pastors perspective

I would like to clarify that I have found myself to be the accidental stay at home dad. Never in a million years would I have pictured myself in the role I am now. When my wife and I first moved to Waupaca, I was told this new church I was a part of would require us to have our office at home. The main reason being the church building is small and we did not want to use space for offices. I came from a church in Milwaukee where we had to be there at a certain time each day. 

Fast forward a few years from the time we arrived in Waupaca and we found ourselves saying “yes” to a mom asking us to adopt her children. After 6 years of being married with no children we found ourselves saying “yes” to having two children. Our oldest son, James came to live with us at 9 months old on two weeks notice. He showed up at our door with some of his biological family and many totes filled with his stuff. We had no bed and an unfinished bedroom for him. Only a couple of weeks after receiving our son, my wife left for a missions trip to Argentina. I was signed up to go but decided to stay back to be with our son. I was instantly thrusted into having a teething baby while doing a major remodel to our home so that I may surprise my wife when she got home from this trip with her parents. Was I ready for this? I better be because there was no turning back. From poopy diapers to severe teething, I was hit with it all. 

Only four short months later our son’s biological sister was born and we brought her home directly from the hospital. I am so thankful for the FMLA leave my wife could take to acclimate our new daughter into our house. Both kids are a joy but going from a family of two to four in four months can really challenge a person. I still believe God saw something in my wife and I that I did not (and still don't) see in myself at least. This was quite the blessing and challenge at the same time. We were a young couple struggling to have our own children when God decided to do things differently. 

Fast forward 12 weeks from bringing my daughter home from the hospital. My wife goes back to work and here I am with these two kids, both in diapers running around (Emma was more of a roll around the floor kid at this point) the house leaving me to wonder what I am going to do. I must admit that I caught on pretty quick and in no time we were having picnics, going shopping, doing the day to day tasks including dishes, laundry, changing copious amounts of diapers and making meals on the days my wife had to work. I am forever grateful for my in-laws. They helped out when they could which was a lot. This was all stacked on top of the fact that I was/am the pastor of a church with my office at home which presents itself with a few interesting challenges. Being with kids all day, it is nice when my wife comes home. On average the kids will be up for another 2-3 hours but now my work day is just starting. Onward to appointments and all the things a pastor from a smaller rural church contends with.

I realize all of that was quite the setup for the heart of this blog (could be the longest one I have written to date) but with now having an 8 and 9 year old and starting over with our own biological child who is 17 months old, I find myself reliving many thoughts and feelings that I would like to share as an encouragement to other dads (perhaps stay at home parents in general) who find themselves at home. I have simply numbered my observations. Perhaps this could also be insightful to stay at home moms or moms that work from the home. 

So…here we go.

1. It’s a blessing to be at home! I could not possibly begin to figure out just how much money we have saved with not having to send our kids to daycare. Tracy works during the day (mostly) and I have my office hours including appointments during the evening. Not only is it a blessing financially but there is joy in knowing that some daycare is not raising our children. This is not a slam against daycares but who wouldn’t want to say the majority of their children’s time was spent with their parents? 

2. Around kids all the time. The joy of being at home with your children can easily turn into a real life Groundhog Day movie. Day in and day out you wake up, feed, nap, change diapers, feed, nap, etc. One would think when the spouse comes home that life would change. This is not always the case. With an office at home you can be in your room and still here the kids laughing, screaming, pounding (my eldest son hit the floor so hard above my office last night that it killed a bulb in my light fixture), etc. In the earlier years it was met with many knocks on the office door. How can you turn them away? That little knock would usually end with a silly question or a favor. For a person whose office is at home there is no jumping in the car and driving to work. Believe it or not many stay at home parents would be grateful to have that peaceful drive time to and from work. No one crying, barfing, pooping, whining, etc. just peace and quiet. Perhaps I should jump in my car and drive around town for a half hour before returning home to my office. This thought has potential.

3. Family day. When a spouse is working outside of the home it can obviously be difficult on that parent not to be around their kids all the time. The stay at home dad (parent) however is around the kids all the time as mentioned above. When a stay at home parent is around kids all the time, sometimes the last thing they want to think about is having a family day. Many stay at home parents go through a phase where they are drowning with land in sight. That precious hour nap means no one needing them. That ten minute extended stay in the bathroom means peace and quiet before heading out to the front lines of parenting once again. Family days are nice and ever so necessary but a single day or weekend of being left alone would be even more beneficial at times. I can say when my wife takes the kids because I am on the brink of melting down, it pays huge dividends as I am able to find myself once again. I can breathe, relax and gear up to spend more time with the kids. It is easier once kids are in school to think about family day because during the summer or those long holiday vacations…us, stay at home parents, are around the kids 24/7 and every day seems like a family day.

4. We don't take you for granted. It is important for the spouse working outside the home to know that they are not taken for granted. For those that are from a single income home, it would be safe to say that your household probably wouldn’t be what it is without your spouses income. One ought never forget that though you, the stay at home parent may have a hectic day, it is just as hectic for the one leaving the home as well. They may deal with the emotions of wanting to be with the kids. The added benefit is that they get to leave the home ha ha (was that kind of snarky?). 

For those of you in my boat where you work full time from your home office while taking care of the kids, it is just as important to not take your spouse that leaves the home for granted. You are both working to make a great life for you and your kids so a mutual respect is both needed and necessary. Even though life is busy, I still make it a point to take my wife Starbucks, lunch, etc. Just this morning I ordered an array of flowers to be delivered to her office. Dates with your spouse are really important to keep in tact. 

5. Yes we do post a lot.  There can be an easy observation about those stay at home parents. Whether you are a dad or a mom, we tend to post a lot on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc. I humbly admit there are days where I post way to much. However, for those of you that get to leave the house or are simply not in this situation wondering what is going on, I would like for you to consider this. How many conversations can a stay at home adult have about poop, farts, Minecraft, chores, relentlessly repeating ourselves and more in one day? It’s no wonder when an adult night out with friends is scheduled that we get a little squirrelly. Unfortunately, those times are few and far between and many stay at home/work from home parents long for some kind of adult conversation/interaction. When none can be had we resort to social media. For myself during the down times I never watch TV. Partially the reason is that the only television we have is in our basement and I am to lazy to walk down there to turn it on. So, instead, I spend time on social media. It’s an outlet to engage in some conversation even though social media can be filled with depressing things.

6. We don’t need psychiatric help. As a guy, and I would like to believe I speak for most guys. We don't need something more on our schedule like another trip to a doctor. What we do need is the occasional day or weekend alone. Perhaps this is why so many guys (and a few women) look forward to hunting season, because it is there time to leave. I have not yet found my niche in the fall which is why I love camping, biking or simply tinkering in my garage. It always amazes me how a toddler can scream, fuss, etc. and women can just deal with it. Meanwhile, the man is ready to blow his stack. It is the culmination of constant talking, noise, questions and screaming that makes a man completely in need of some peace and quiet. I have no doubt men are wired differently and this is just one of many examples that provide proof. There is no need to worry and inquire about a counselor but time alone once in awhile pays huge dividends for the guy and his family.

7. Family vacations. Who doesn't like a vacation? I personally love loading up the car and going. Sure, having a screaming toddler can add stress, but we sure make some great memories. I can safely say my family made some great memories this summer. I will admit in years past I felt bad for the kids because it seemed we did not do much with them. We probably did, but it was my perception of how the summer went. This especially stands true for last summer since Noah was a newborn. Something to consider is that when the family vacation is over, and your significant other returns back to work...us...the stay at home parent continues to be around the kids 24/7. I have witnessed many parents grateful for the work week to begin after a long family vacation. Please use some consideration when you realize one of those parents will remain home with the very children you are looking forward to getting away from for a bit.

8. Electronic babysitters. It is every parents dream to provide a fun filled day...each and every day. Those days filled with playgrounds, splash pads, picnics, etc. but then one gets in the others space. The baby decides to discharge copious amounts of poop and you are left wondering will this day ever get started. It does....for a few minutes and then it is back to siblings getting on each others nerves and more. Don't even get me started on what it's like on a rainy day. With that said...yes...yes indeed they play on their tablet. I will go out on a limb to say their may have been a day or two during summer break where they played the day away. It happens and they are content. This certainly isn't a habit but I/we are thankful for these electronic babysitters. If you are going to judge, I would simply ask if you have kids? If so, are you a stay at home parent? If so, and you have the perfect house...I don't like you. Okay...actually I do. Teach me. 

So there you have it. It is a titan of a blog but I hope you were able to stick with it until the end. It was my hope to help you understand why stay at home parents and work from home parents that are around kids all the time seem to be a few steps off the main trail. Does this mean we love our kids or spouse any less? Absolutely not, in fact for as much barking as we do at our kids...society would do well not to poke the bear when it comes to his/her family because that bond is so tight. It is amazing how stay at home/work from home parents do get that time to themselves and within a day they miss those kids like crazy. We love our families very much.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Male Postpartum Depression

It was December of 2008 when my life got flipped over with the news that we were going to be adopting two great kids. Within two weeks of being asked if we would adopt, our son was living with us. He was only nine months old. It would be only four months later and his sister was born. After six years without children our family went from two to four in four months. It was a time of extreme excitement and yet a few months later after all of the excitement settled down, I found myself in one of the most dark/depressing places I have ever been. It wasn’t until months later that the kids social worker told me exactly what was going on. No pastor, no friend could tell me what was going on. In fact, many never really cared to ask. I recall sitting with a junior government group in my city that we were a part of. They were discussing how they could help another pastor couple help pay for some of their adoption fees because they adopted a couple foreign kids. I said “with us here and going through adoption as well, you don’t have to worry about us.” Their response was “don’t worry, we won't be discussing your adoption.” It wasn’t until this social worker lady asked me how I was doing. I told her exactly what was going on. She reassured me what I was dealing with was semi normal for men. She stated “you are mourning the loss of your freedom’. It was the male equivalent to postpartum depression. It was as if I just rolled a YAHTZEE! What an "aha moment" as I navigated these unfamiliar waters that quite honestly was not me. 

Fast forward 7+ years and I find myself with those same feelings once again. Sounds stupid doesn’t it? I mean really? A newborn son that lights up a room no matter where he goes and the struggle is back on? Years prior I recall days where I would be at church snow blowing, doing maintenance, etc. and having all out pouting prayer matches with God asking him what is up with this? I would say “Some teens can go screw around and get pregnant and here Tracy and I are trying to have our own biological child to no avail.” I just didn’t see the fairness. My wife works a job with babies while I dedicate many babies and yet, we have not experienced this in our own life. These were regular conversations I had with God in my thirties. 

The classic saying “His ways are not our ways” comes to mind when we found out Tracy was pregnant. You see, as a guy I would like to say I am wired differently than most guys but this is not always the case. It was spring of 2015 when I found out I had Multiple Sclerosis at the age of 41. Fast forward to the summer of 2015 and we found out Tracy was pregnant. This was just months after my diagnosis and me turning 42. This threw me for a loop wondering why now?  None the less we were very excited for the arrival of our son. I flipped our house in short order adding a room to our basement, repainting the kids bedrooms, built new loft beds from scratch and painted Noah’s bedroom. Yet almost a year later I have found myself in that dark place once again. It started months ago and I hope to find peace soon.

It has not been easy and during the winter months I found myself sitting, sleeping and eating a lot. Eating so much so I now have health issues that need to be addressed in weeks/months ahead. I tried to talk to some but it always turns into their problems or “but you’re Bob, you will snap out of it!” It is met with lighthearted joking. The fact that I need a day or two break from kids almost seems irrational. My home is my office and though I love the fact we don’t have to pay for daycare…I am around the kids 24/7. This is a huge reason I found myself mourning the loss of my freedom once again. I had two kids in school and now it is starting all over again. No one ought to question the love I have for my kids or wife but it’s a real thing I deal with being 42 and having a newborn. 

No doubt I will snap out of it. I have been down this path before but for some reason this one seems tougher. With spring around the corner I realize that helps a persons attitude and mindset. I share all of this with you to remind you that if you see a person struggling with depression, be there for them. Genuinely ask how they are doing…it means the world. If they choose not to talk, at least you have done your part. It does not make that person any less a Christian when they battle depression. In fact a Christian going through these times puts them in good company with some from the Bible. I think of Noah, Elijah, Jonah and more. They had mountain top experiences followed by major depression. Did they need to get counseling? Should they enroll in a Bible study or attend a conference that would result in JUST ANOTHER THING on their calendar? No...they spent time alone, with God heeding the words of the Psalmist "Be still and know that I am God." It is only for a season but what a season it is.


*I am currently working without an editor. Forgive my grammatical errors.