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One Marriage, Two Careers

There’s a verse in the Bible which is cool even if you’re not into the Bible. It comes from this strange little book called Ruth, the story of a woman of that name whose life becomes intertwined with that of Israel through her mother-in-law Naomi. Ruth’s husband has died, and his brother and father, and Naomi is planning on going back to Israel, alone, urging Ruth and her other daughter-in-law to return to their own people. But then comes this line, daughter-in-law to mother-in-law:

Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. – Ruth 1.16

book-stethoscope-300When my wife graduated from medical school twelve years ago, I gave her a stethoscope with Ruth 1:16 engraved on it. With that gift I was borrowing Ruth’s loyalty, along with her prose, for her words expressed what I hoped was in my own heart. We were then stepping into the unknown of residency and Heather’s medical career, along with the unknowns of our not-yet-fully-formed family and my nascent career as a pastor. Since that moment, that stethoscope has amplified thousands of heartbeats. And those words still amplify the beating of my own heart, my love for Heather, and my devotion to support her calling. I’m no expert on negotiating the complexities of two careers in one marriage, but what follows are the handful of things that I have learned along the way.

1. Pride in the Other

My wife is a really good doctor. She’s crazy smart, loves her patients, and is kind and compassionate with everyone she works with. Her practice has been successful not because she set out for “a lot”– a lot of patients, a lot of money–but because she has been faithful. She sees her practice as her ministry, her service to God and God’s people. I am proud of her. This is a different kind of pride than I feel when I have preached a good sermon or led well in some aspect of ministry. That kind of pride is fine, as long as it’s not arrogant, but this kind of pride is better, because it is outside of myself. I have grown into this pride as I’ve supported and prayed for Heather along the way, and have been blessed by her pride in what God has called me to be and to do.

2. Our Money

Doctors bring home more bacon than pastors, in case you didn’t know. What I’ve learned, though, is that what Heather and I contribute to our bank account depends on the other. My job, particularly during the difficult years of residency, was to keep our ship floating. I am a part of Heather’s success in medicine because I’ve been her partner all along the way. All of it revolves around we, us, and ours, not me, mine, and yours. We earn together, spend together, save together, and give together.

3. Diapers and Dinner

Through the years I’ve spent a lot of time being a stay-at-home Dad (much preferred term to “Mr. Mom.”). This has largely been out of necessity. It’s also been some of the best work I’ve done, although certainly not the easiest. It’s a gift that I wish more men were open to receiving. My hunch is that at the end of my life I will realize that the dinners I made, the diapers I changed, the block towers I built, were of more value than the sermons and books and meetings. Theologian Martin Luther thought so:

Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool—though that father is acting in the spirit of Christian faith—my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling—not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith.

4. Location, Location, Schmocation

We left Boulder, Colorado for Kansas City, Kansas for Heather to go to med school. I remember distinctly our first night there, sitting on the floor of our dumpy apartment, crying into my Newcastle Brown Ale, missing Colorado. When we left four years later, I was crying again (and hopefully drinking better beer) because we were leaving and had grown to love Kansas City and the people there (but not the football team). Look, if you have two careers in one marriage you are going to end up some places that you never would have put on your list. Roll with it. Places are awesome because of people, and the surprise of loving a place you never would have chosen is a good surprise indeed.

5. Calling Before Jobs

My calling is to be a pastor, and I’ve had some great jobs that have allowed me to express this calling. I’ve learned, though, that I can be faithful to my call even when I’m in a job that isn’t dreamy, and also even when I have no paycheck or business card at all. Calling is about identity, and about expressing this identity for the good of others, particularly when this happens in obscurity.

 

So thank you, Ruth, for your words. I’m still learning what that kind of devotion means, that kind of loyalty. And Heather, this still is true: “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. ”

 

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Comments

  1. John Moser says:

    Very good words, my friend. I’m sharing them with some husbands I know.

  2. Walt Schuchmann says:

    Well said.

    Janet’s career took some hits in favor of mine along the way. But then moving to the DC area for a job for me opened up all kinds of educational and professional opportunities for her, so you never know. Must agree with you about location – Bluefield, Virginia, not on our short list by any means, was an enriching experience for both of us. And it becomes ever more clear that there is plenty of good to be done along the way, whatever the ultimate destination.

  3. Linda Wagner says:

    I may have commented on this another time..I had “saved” it to reread. Beautifully written from your heart and you live it out as you bless your children in being such a close part of their rearing , your wife in making it possible for her to care for many, and many like me that you serve so well along the way as a pastor…as well as the many friends who admire you. And, best of all, it honors God.

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