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Pastors’ wives hear stories of strength

SAN ANTONIO (BP)–After Kathy Ferguson’s husband died four years ago in a car accident, her 26-year role as a pastor’s wife changed dramatically.

Struggling to overcome an empty nest as well as an empty home, Ferguson told the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Wives Conference June 11 that she had come to appreciate the Puritan proverb: “Life would be a little less sweet and death a little less bitter.”

Recalling the difficult time in her life, Ferguson shared the platform with other pastors’ wives to talk about “Strength for the Journey.”

“Psalm 84:5-7 became the single most resource passage of help for me in my life and journey as a widow,” said Ferguson, now women’s ministry leader at the Church at Pinnacle Hills in Rogers, Ark. She first noticed the Scripture reference in a book on loneliness by author Elisabeth Elliot whose missionary husband was martyred at the hands of Ecuadorian tribesmen in 1956.

“Blessed are those whose strength is in thee, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs,” she read, explaining the reference to Baca as a place of tears.

Convinced God had told her the psalm would have great meaning for her life, Ferguson said she focused on the phrase “go from strength to strength,” assuming it was a message that would help her navigate the isolation that minister’s wives often experience in local church ministry.

“On that Saturday night … I was just four days away from the greatest place of tears I would ever know,” Ferguson said. “How does the death of the love of your life become a fertile place?

“If we studied life in tsunamis, hurricanes, car accidents or unexpected medical reports, we may not conclude that God is good,” she said. “The essence of our faith is to trust God and believe He can, even if He doesn’t.”

That attitude becomes more difficult in times of hardship, she acknowledged, reminding women of the motive behind ministry.

“I love people and have rich resources of godly friends, but no one has been my greatest companion and touched the deepest place in my heart like my heavenly Father,” Ferguson said. “While I miss my husband at some level nearly every day, I do not miss my old heart.”

Diane Nix of New Orleans told of God’s sufficiency after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina only days after moving to New Orleans where her husband was to begin serving as a preaching professor. Beginning with her testimony of bowing to God’s authority, Nix reminded the women to maintain a vital prayer life by staying connected to the vine and having courage during times of tribulation.

“I decided a long time ago, no matter what, I was going to serve Jesus,” Nix said.

Noticing how God transforms believers from the baggage of dysfunctional relationships, Nix praised God for teaching her to see “with spirit eyes” the woundedness of people, helping her to love even the unlovable.

“Without forgiveness and release, we stop the flow in our lives and stifle the Holy Spirit’s work in us and through us,” she said.

Nix also encouraged pastors’ wives to be who God created them to be, exercising their spiritual giftedness instead of trying to do everything. Then, she said, they will leave the spiritual legacy God intends, “called to life to share life and to be life.”

Susie Hawkins of Dallas led a panel of pastors’ wives on issues relating to personal friendships and how God can use them to provide strength in facing the unique challenges of a tough journey.

“My friends keep me grounded,” Angela Kilby of Ada, Okla., said. “There are many times when I need to just get away. I come back refreshed, ready to do that next task in our church.”

Becky Graves, who is in transition from recent church plants in New Hampshire and Ohio, said their next move is to San Diego. Referring to a close friend she’s known more than 25 years who also is in ministry, Graves said, “It’s nice to have someone who can relate to that type of atmosphere. My faith grows as I walk through trials and blessing with such friends.”

As the wife of a minister who has served churches for 36 years, Karolyn Chapman of Winston Salem, N.C., encouraged the women to follow the advice she received years ago from an 85-year-old woman.

“Remember always that you need older women as good friends in your life — not just what you consider mentors, but friends,” Chapman said. Developing friendships with those who are college-aged and younger is also important, she said, reminding women not to limit their friendships to their peers.

Wives were encouraged to creatively maintain and develop friendships in spite of distance, utilizing e-mail to keep in touch as well as accessing a newly launched website for Southern Baptist ministers’ wives at contagiousjoy4him.com.

Dale Page of Taylors, S.C., described the whirlwind life she and her husband Frank have experienced in the year following his election as SBC president. At the same time, they have experienced the birth of their first grandchild and learned their oldest daughter was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma.

“Our lives have been pulled in many different directions, but I can testify to the fact that God’s strength is real looking back and seeing the journey He has brought us on,” Page said.

Humorist Anita Renfroe of Ackworth, Ga., in her lively talk, described “life in the pastorium — the Latin word that means non-marketable real estate.”

“When we were poor we were happy. I don’t know why those things go together, but some of you are just ecstatic,” she said.

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter