Lesson number 61

Patricia on her 60th birthday

When I drafted this list of 60 lessons learned over 60 years, I should have known that within days, it would feel out of date to me.

My 60th birthday came and went. The photo above was taken minutes after my pandemic birthday party ended, one week ago today on January 25. I don’t often take good pictures – but I like this one, snapped by my husband. I think you can see the genuine joy that was in my heart at that moment on my face.

Were it not for the fact that I had planned a “Zoom” birthday party, I wouldn’t have had the courage to host a party for myself. I’m uncomfortable with being too much the centre of attention. Even inviting my friends to a Zoom Open House – “come when you can, leave when you must” minimal commitment required – felt like a big ask. I worried that people would receive my invitation and think, “Who does she think she is?!” But a year of pandemic rules and lockdowns had made me lonely for my friends. And the reminders of our own mortality made me long to tell people how much they have meant to me over the course of my life while I could. Because, well, you just never know. Life is fleeting for all of us. I remember well my father’s 60th birthday party. We had a bit of a bash for him. He died at 70.

Besides, I truly never thought I would make it this far. And I felt like celebrating.

I have been blessed with many good friends. Dear people of intelligence and wisdom and good character who love me in spite of my many flaws. And so they showed up, and they shared kind words and jokes and memories on our call together.

A screen grab from my Zoom Birthday Open House.

I will never forget it. I went to bed that night overflowing with gratitude and thanksgiving. Over the days since, the kindnesses from friends and family have continued with notes and calls, gifts and messages. Just today, a kind and generous friend wrote to me that we need to “find ways to love on our friends through Covid,” because otherwise, she believes, a “little piece of our humanity dies through this pandemic.” So we need to “find ways to express ourselves outwardly.”

I think she’s right. And that, dear readers, is Lesson #61. If you find yourself in the midst of a pandemic, find ways to demonstrate your love to others. Do it because it will remind you of your own humanity. Do it because you never know just how much it may brighten someone else’s day to realize that they matter to you. Do it because, in the midst of this dark and dreary time, love still shines.

For my birthday, one of my wonderful friends – an artist through and through by the name of Lois Krause – took my list of 60 lessons and reduced each lesson to a single word, and then expanded those words into a poem. It took my breath away when she recited it, and so I asked for her permission to share it here. She gave it no title, so I’ve taken the liberty. I think of it as:

“Patricia’s 60 Life Lessons as Interpreted by Lois Krause”

My kids, their kids, these things I laud,

My spouse and things to learn  with him,

To travel, share a meal, a grin,

The Sabbath Day, a rest, a nap,

A walk, a diet, dog to pat,

Cooking, gardening, flowers and trees,

I’m thankful for each one of these.

Persist, forgive and try again,

Let go and broken fences mend,

Ask help and build your marriage strong

And give to those who don’t belong.

Give thanks and treasure time and sing.

Clean up and try in everything.

Prioritize and learn each day;

Speak gently and know good habits pay.

Be patient, know you are OK,

Good character will win the day.

Be humble, faithful strong and true

These are all things that we must do.

Know that it’s true you may be wrong,

But God can give your heart a song.

You can trust Him to bring you through

He’ll walk beside in all you do

And more than all of the above,

It’s true that we must love, love, love,

These things I’ve learned in sixty years,

These things I share with you my dear.

The Minister’s Wife

Front cover of The Minister's Wife

I was in middle school when I started babysitting for the minister and his wife at the little United church in which I was raised. George and Lois were still just a young couple with a baby boy when they enfolded me into their family. George was academic and bookish, Lois was lively and fun. He patiently answered my many questions about our Christian faith on drives to and from their home for babysitting appointments, she often had home-baked treats waiting. He was passionate about liturgy and readily loaned me books from his own library, she was pretty, had her own career, and adored her family and friends.

I quickly loved them—together with their son, and the daughter and the dog who soon followed. It wasn’t hard to do. They felt like a second family to me, taking me to their cottage in the summer, allowing me to witness the realities of clergy family life, which turned out to be not so very different from my own family’s life. Just like my family, they were not perfect. But they were good people.

I’ve long thought that George’s sophistication, encouragement, and teaching together with Lois’ transparent and joyful faith helped to set the foundation for my own faith journey in the years that have followed. The way they built into my life is no doubt part of the reason I have continued to seek out the various ministers and their wives—in the churches I’ve attended—for wisdom and friendship; I suppose I’ve been inclined to associate the people in such roles with George and Lois’ goodness and grace.

I don’t know when I first learned that my friend Karen was a minister’s wife. I don’t remember if it was a fact that she revealed to me soon after our friendship began to blossom, or whether that information was some time in coming. But I am certain that knowing she occupied that role would not in any way have given me pause to reconsider our friendship. If anything, it probably only made me want to know her more.

Karen is warm and real, loyal and honest, funny and fierce—all of the qualities that make for a good friend. And her newest book, The Minister’s Wife: A Memoir of Faith, Doubt, Friendship, Loneliness, Forgiveness, and More contains all of the very best of Karen.

In it, she reveals, “Being a pastor, and being married to one, is a complicated life and vocation. People may put you on a pedestal: They assume you are better, nicer, kinder, and more holy than you are. Or they may skedaddle: They assume you are unkind and judgmental, or just weird.”

In truth, they are none of those things, because of course, ministers and their wives are just people on a journey, trying to do their best in the life to which they feel called. Like we all are.

I’m grateful for Lois and George’s friendship long ago, for Karen and her husband Brent’s more recently, and for all of the ministers and minister’s wives I’ve been privileged to know in between. My life has been richer because of them.

If you don’t know a minister or a minister’s wife, maybe you should think about changing that. If you read Karen’s book, I think you will want to.