On Being a Pastor’s Wife and the Pretense of Being Perfect by Sherrie Hansen

I might as well get it out there right away. I’m the author of four somewhat steamy, very sensual, sometimes gritty romance novels, AND I’m a pastor’s wife – a combination that more than occasionally calls me into question.

So for those who haven’t yet figured it out,  I’ll admit it right off.  I’m not perfect. In fact, I have a confession to make. I just turned the heat on. It’s May 26th and I’m from Minnesota. I’m supposed to be tough. I’m supposed to be hot-blooded. When I was attending Wheaton College, near Chicago, I made fun of the locals for being wimps when it came to 40 below zero temperatures and Illinois’ supposed lake chill effect. I have no business turning the heat on in what’s practically summer.

At least I’m not at the parsonage (which is a whole different story, and one I should evidently also be feeling great guilt about), or I’d feel even guiltier, since my husband’s congregation pays the utility bill. But I’m not. I’m in my own house, it’s 44 degrees outside, the sun hasn’t shown for at least 24 hours, I got soaked by a cold rain and 33 mph winds 3 times yesterday, my husband was hogging the covers when I woke up, and I’m freezing. Some women my age get hot flashes. I get easily chilled. So there. How’s that for justifying my actions?

The truth is, I can feel the heat seeping out from the radiator under my desk even now. It’s warm. It’s wonderful.  It’s creeping up my thighs. It’s making my toes tingle inside my soft pink slippers. It’s deliciously comforting. It’s decadent. It’s making me feel relaxed and warm and cozy…

But I regress. I’m not living up to the ideal of being the perfect pastor’s wife, and some of the ladies from church are in a snit. Advance readers are predicting that when the contents of my current release are made known, I’ll be in even bigger trouble.

It’s a sad situation when people can’t separate truth from fiction. But then, it comes as no surprise that I’m in trouble because of the words I’ve written.

I’ve always lived with a long list of expectations, some imposed by parents and other authority figures, some by my own finely-honed conscience and genetic tendency to perfectionism.  I’ve always been rebellious, not so much in my actions, but with my words. Although I freely admit that I’ve done a couple of really bad things in my lifetime, my rebellion usually occurs not by deed but by thought.

I’m the sassy one, the very articulate one who isn’t afraid to speak up and say what she really thinks. The first time I got in trouble with the ladies at church because of certain words I’d written, I was 16 or 17 years old. I’d written a poem for creative writing class entitled Dear Pastor ____ (whose name I omit because I know he is on Facebook).  My brutally honest, heartfelt, full of teenage passion poem railed against the hypocrisies of organized religion, and the failure of our prim, proper Sunday School class discussions to meet the needs of teenagers who acted perfect around their parents and the people from church but walked on the wild side (and I mean wild) the rest of the time. It contained the word “damn”. Several times. I thought the poem would only be seen by my teacher, a man I trusted with my private thoughts. But the next semester, it was selected by a group of students charged with picking out the best poems to be published in our school’s poetry and short story collection.

The ink was barely dry when a church lady spotted my poem in her son’s copy and ratted me out to the pastor, who called my parents, who said I wrote it, I had to bear the consequences. So I reluctantly trudged (well, drove really) into the pastor’s office and took my comeuppance like a man (well, a young woman, really).

I guess not much has changed in the last forty years. As a generation, we’re much more candid than we used to be. We can talk freely about all kinds of things that used to be “best left unspoken”. Unless you’re a pastor’s wife.

So here’s my disclaimer:  Merry Go Round is about Tracy Jones Tomlinson, the youngest of three sisters in my Maple Valley trilogy. Tracy married her childhood sweetheart, is a minister’s wife, and has three lovely children. In the first two books, Rachael and Michelle’s mother brags about how perfect Tracy and her husband are. “Why can’t you be more like Tracy? Tracy never gives me this kind of trouble…” When Merry Go Round opens, it quickly becomes apparent that Tracy’s supposedly perfect life is anything but. When her husband leaves her for another man and she’s faced with moving out of the parsonage, she has no where to turn for help but to her older sisters.

Rachael, her oldest sister, from Stormy Weather, is none too eager to help, and frankly, feels that it’s about time that Tracy gets hers. Tender-hearted Michelle, from Water Lily, wants to help however she can and offers Tracy a job painting and wallpapering the home of Barclay Alexander III, the owner of the house she’s decorating. And so the plot thickens until Tracy has thought things and done things that a pastor’s wife should definitely not be thinking or doing. Everything Tracy has clung to is moving up and down and round and round and spinning out of control until all she can do is hang on for dear life.

So… Like Trevor, Tracy’s husband, who is gay, my husband of 7 years is a pastor. He is NOT gay. The first draft of this book was written before I even met Mark and became a pastor’s wife. So when I write about the drawbacks and privileges of being a pastor’s wife – specifically Trevor Tomlinson’s wife, I am speaking from Tracy’s point of view, NOT mine.  I am NOT Tracy. Tracy is a fictional character. To any church ladies who might be reading this, please keep this in mind when Tracy meets Clay and things start to heat up.  I am NOT Tracy. I repeat, Tracy is a fictional character. And give the poor girl a break. She’s at her sexual peak. She hasn’t had sex for 3 years. And before that, she’s been having sex with a man who wishes he were having sex with a man. She’s trying really hard to live up to her perfect pastor’s wife persona and her personal beliefs, but it’s hard, and she’s human, okay?

Which brings me to my next disclaimer. The subject of homosexuality and the church, nature or nurture, sin or absolutely okay, deviant or perfectly normal behavior, etc. is a touchy issue for many right now. I tried very hard NOT to let this book become a forum for my beliefs and thoughts on the issue, but to accurately reflect the feelings, emotions and conflicts my characters go through as they struggle through the implications of Trevor admitting he is gay, and dealing with the ramifications to his children, extended family, and church. I have been told by my advance readers, whose opinions on the subject probably vary from mine, that I was successful – that they finished the book not knowing what I, the author, thought about the subject. I took that as high praise and hope my readers agree.

I was raised in a very conservative Christian home. I am a Christian. My personal beliefs color everything I do and think. Although my books do not fit into the Inspirational Fiction category because they contain previously mentioned steamy scenes, they definitely have a Christian world view which includes characters honestly struggling through issues of faith. While people I’ve loved, mistakes I’ve made and life lessons I’ve learned over the years have become fodder for many interesting characters and scenarios in my books, I am NOT Tracy.  I am NOT perfect.

Got it? 

I almost deleted this daffodil photo yesterday because its pretty white petals were splattered with mud from a heavy rain storm we had a few days ago.  But I saved it, because even though it was flawed, I thought I might find a use for it some day.

6 Comments

Filed under musings, Sherrie Hansen, writing

6 responses to “On Being a Pastor’s Wife and the Pretense of Being Perfect by Sherrie Hansen

  1. Tracy

    Well done. I was wondering how your literary life would impact reality. You should know that from here – the daffodil looks perfect – even though we know it’s not, it is still beautiful.

  2. Wow! Wonderfully written. And the daffodil’s a perfect illustration.

  3. Lazarus Barnhill

    I am shocked! . . . you’re seriously not perfect?

  4. I have absolutely no problem with being realistic in a Christian novel. We all say and do things we regret, well most Christians regret. Non-Christians usually aren’t aware of the fact that they did anything wrong. And IT IS NOT OUR JOB TO TELL THEM. I like what my pastor says, “You don’t clean the fish before you catch them.” Well, Jesus calls us to be fishers of men (people) and HE cleans the catch, not us. On the other hand you have to watch that you aren’t writing “steamy, sensual scenes” just for the shock value. A favorite author of mine, Terri Blackstock, once wrote something to the affect of, “If what I write is not leading you to the Word of God, then you have no business reading it, and I have no business writing it.” A bold statement from a writer who, under a pseudonym, did write the steamy scenes until God convicted her. I’m not making judgments here, just mentioning that there is to be balance. There’s a line there that only you and the Lord can hash out together. What others say, well, that’s really not an issue. I have an editor telling me to change “Gosh” to “Horse feathers” and replace “Sheeesh” with a more acceptable word. I should just write what these non-Christian characters REALLY said.

  5. christinehusom

    Both entertaining and honest, Sherrie. It takes courage from time to time to be true to one’s self. And people in different positions are held to a higher standard, for sure. I had someone who couldn’t believe “all the swearing” in my books. (I use very little–and no “f” words, which is very commonly used by cops and others alike) And I’ve been told “You need more sex in your books, I want to see more sex!” So we can’t please everyone, can we?

  6. Sherrie, I knew I liked you from just the little I knew of you before…..now I know I REALLY like you….

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