When we were preparing to be married, eyes full of hope and idealism, we divvied up the tasks of life. Like trying to even out backpacks for a journey, I took the bills and the bank accounts; he took insurance. He'd take care of the cars and the retirement; I'd do the groceries and the taxes. He'd do the lawn, I'd care for the plants. We smiled sweetly at one another, satisfied that we each held a fair share, then grasped hands and started out.
Every February the task of taxes emerges like a mountain after an earthquake, large and bullying and aggressive. Breath held tight, every muscle clenched, I power up the pile of receipts that prove our life of ministry to the powers that be. In this occupation we track everything: living expenses, ministry meals, charitable giving, books, gifts, cleaning supplies. It's a mountain I dutifully climb every winter overturning rocks and poking into every crevasse. "If you can't get around it, get in it." This is nothing I can maneuver around. Every year I travel through and still reach the high top.
But this year is so very different.
The pack is heavier this year because midyear there was that bridge that gave out. And, at times, I still stand at cliff's edge watching the suspension cables dangle in the wind through the insurmountable canyon. I left a beloved life on the other side of the gap. And this year as my journey into tax season began I had to revisit it again. From a distance.
Taxes have frustrated me and stretched my patience, but they've never pushed me to tears until now. Every receipt reminds me of that wedding. That homegroup meal. That mentoring coffee. This year preparing taxes is breaking my heart all over again. Tell me again why I was made to leave that life I cultured and cared for? What did I do that merited this great humiliation and loss? I despair as I sort my two piles of receipts: everything before August, which counts in all the old familiar ways -- toward housing or ministry expenses -- but everything after that time is scribbled with question marks like the questions still unanswered and rotting away in my gut. And as the tears come again I say, as I said back in August, "I never wanted this."
The entire first year after great loss hurts. It's a death -- a divorce -- where every scent and song and celebration reminds you of that love you're loathe to let go of. At this late date I've nearly convinced myself that moving on from grief may never actually happen. That it will just inhabit me forever and hopefully be the decayed loam from which something new and beautiful can sprout. That is my hope.
This is the silent burden of the pastor's wife: when things fall and shatter we're not included in the movement that precipitated the tipping. We're left to piece together a new picture without understanding the last. So, it might take us longer to define beauty and justice again. Please understand.
Maybe people think in their self-comforting ways, "They seem to be doing fine so we can all move on." And some days I convince myself that's true of me. But why then do these receipts taunt me so quickly? This paper contrast of life in ministry and life in displacement?
The year presses on and still the old story comes back in so many faces and traditions and rhythms, echos bouncing off the canyon walls. With whom will I practice the silence before Easter? Who will spread ashes on my forehead next month? Maybe I can burn these receipts and do it myself in a mirror dimly lit. "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return."
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wickedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.