For Better Or For Worse

Post Author: Angie Mabry-Nauta

This article is one in an occasional series called "All About the Benjamins," running this fall on Fidelia's Sisters. As many congregations and organizations are running stewardship campaigns and lining up budgets for 2012, we'll be taking a look at the sometimes-taboo topic of money, and the role it plays in our ministries.  This is the first of a series of articles by this author, reflecting on how she and her husband have navigated the variety of financial situations they have encountered during her ministry.  The next article, "In Sickness and In Health," will be published in the November edition of The Ones We Love.

“Mawwage, that bwessed awwangement, that dweam within a dweam…”  The Princess Bride is one of my husband and my favorite movies.  Eric and I have seen it so many times that we can speak the characters’ lines with them, and we laugh preemptively.  We know well what is coming, and yet we find it hilarious anyway, again.  One of the sure-fire mutual crack-up scenes for us is Buttercup and Humperdink’s wedding.  Peter Cook, the actor who portrays the unnamed clergyman, does an outstanding job with the juxtaposition of looking and behaving pontificate and sounding completely ridiculous.  Conceivably it may be a woman thing, but every now and then I take sensuous pleasure in these shared moments with Eric.  I’ll be suddenly aware of our connection, our commonalities and ways in which we compliment one another while we’re laughing synchronously; and I relish in our “bwessed awwangement,” thanking God for my “dweam within a dweam” of being married to my soul mate.

Not long after Eric and I met in November of 1997 I knew that God had created us for one another before we were born.  Not long after that I also figured out that God was waiting until we were ready for one another before allowing us to come together.  The Lord determined the time was right when we were both newly-returned-home-to-God prodigals.  Each of our lives were at that time a postlude of sorts to Luke’s powerful parable (15:11-32), namely what the prodigal’s daily life might look like subsequent the welcome home party.  We both had learned and grown up the hard way (and perhaps the only way for true metanoia), and had finally, after years of respective wayward wandering, added walking the Christian walk to our lifelong talking the Christian talk.  When you ask us separately how we met, you’ll get completely different answers.  His version, of course, involves swagger, conquest and chivalry.  My version, equally as predictable, involves destiny, romance and an egalitarian game of cat-and-mouse in which each of us spends time as pursuer and one being pursued.  We dated exclusively from our first date onward.  Fifteen months later on a random Tuesday night, Eric proposed marriage in a beautiful, emotionally naked, spiritually authentic and intricately planned way.  Little did we know that sometimes the Breath of God would gust so dramatically as to disorient and deliver us anew simultaneously.

My husband and I are, for all intents and purposes, two only children married to one another.  I really am an only child; and his 3 siblings are 15, 13 and 11 years older than he.  I am the daughter of a physician/pharmacist and a university system administrator, raised in the suburbs in and near San Antonio, TX.  Eric is the son of a business executive and a pastor, raised also on the suburbs in various Midwest cities and Plano, TX.  All of this adds up respectively to equal two quite spoiled people who never lacked for anything and graduated with our college degrees debt free.  (Thanks, Moms and Dads!)   Eric and I were each set up for success.  Our parents had provided for their children better than their parents had provided for them — the American parenting dream come true.  We both entered early adulthood full of unrefined talent and big dreams of corporate achievement and upward mobility.

Although in an apartment, we lived in an affluent community.  Even an untrained eye could see money everywhere.  The city was zoned and well-planned.  Retailers and restaurants were primarily upscale, including grocers.  Houses were all brick and mostly 2-story, 3 car garage.  Lawns in residential, commercial and public areas were equally manicured and thoughtfully designed.  Most of the vehicles on the roads (which were wide and meticulously maintained) were less than 10 years old and in excellent condition.  A visual tour of the high school parking lots mirrored this transportation phenomenon.  As a consequence of the affluence, the quality of public education in our city’s district was the best in the State at the time.  I could go on.

Our upbringing and environment engendered in Eric and me an assumption of how our lives would proceed.  We understood ourselves to be on a trajectory to intersect with nouveau riche suburban family living.  Before that happened, though, we had high hopes of living a pre-children high life in a hip, gentrified urban loft apartment, complete with a Starbucks nearby.  We had little reason to think this unattainable.

I was a Director of Marketing for a small engineering firm.  I was making decent money and had received a raise between 8 and 10 percent.  I was contributing to a 401K which my employer matched dollar for dollar.  For his part, Eric was taking classes to complete his Bachelor degree and working part time.  An outsider looking at his checks might have thought he worked at least three-quarter time, though, as he consistently ranked first in his store for value-added sales.  We were not frivolous in our spending, but we enjoyed a life free of financial concern.  Bills were paid.  We dined out regularly.  Our closet housed trendy clothes, shoes and accessories purchased at the height of each changing season.  We attended live concerts and sporting events, and replaced the rickety television I brought into our marriage with a 27-inch mammoth.  If this was our starting place, our future would most certainly be bright.  We needed shades.

I liked my job and the people with whom I worked. Marketing and corporate communications stimulated me, but I was in love with God and ministry. I freely gave much of my personal time to church and faith related people and events. I would attend retreats, church gatherings, worship services, etc. and come home spiritually flying, burning for the Lord and wanting to do nothing else with my life. As a PK (pastor’s kid) Eric knew what this meant. When I finally ceased waffling, accepted my call and entered seminary early in our marriage, Eric was not surprised. Moreover, he recognized that our fantasized jet setting days effectively evaporated before they ever had an opportunity to materialize. News flash: very few ministers find themselves in the top tax bracket. And yet, my soul mate was most supportive. Nay, he was encouraging. I began my theological education early in our marriage (like within the first year) near where we were living. A year later, I transferred to one of our denomination’s seminaries, and we moved across the country.

Hindsight and diligent emotional work have divulged that from the inception of our marriage, self-hate missed no opportunity to tell me (and retell me ad nauseam) how I’d struck gold in finding and marrying a man such as Eric.  Furthermore, as the message went, I’d be emotionally indebted to him for the rest of my life, if not imprisoned.  I was hyper conscious, almost constantly, of our counter cultural life when it came to gender roles.  Although it was the 2000s, it was still typical for families to follow the husband’s career; and, it (regrettably) should go without saying that it was still typical for the pastor in a ministerial marriage to be the husband.  Therefore, I unconsciously and masochistically strove to make it up to Eric for his agape sacrifice of marrying such a strong-willed, career-minded and self-centered feminist who was determined for equality of the sexes to reign in her home.

God graced us with the birth of our precious firstborn, Sophia Leah Mabry Nauta during my senior year of seminary.  Hours of healthy pre and mid-pregnancy discussion had led Eric and me to define jointly some of our most important family-to-be values, one of which was having a parent in the home throughout our child(ren)’s growing years.  It honestly mattered not to either of us which partner would be the parent-at-home.  Since I felt more strongly called to work in my profession, our decision was frictionless.  Upon receiving a call to serve a congregation, I would work outside the home and provide for us financially.  Eric would work equally as hard inside our home, caring for Sophia and most things homestead related.  I never articulated this to Eric, but as I searched for a church, the thought of being the breadwinner and the fear of potentially letting down my spouse and child bore down on me with the tonnage of an aircraft carrier anchor.  (Alas, let’s not forget the above described self-hate cacophonous mantra.)  I schlepped this baggage with me into my congregational ministry and carried it with me through the years.

It’s a wonder my posture remained erect and I didn’t slump over like the Hunchback from Notre Dame.

Rev. Angie Mabry-Nauta is a minister in the Reformed Church in America and lives in Texas with her husband and two daughters. She writes at Woman, In Progress and is available for preaching, speaking, and teaching engagements.

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