Today, we’ll meet Martha Matthews, the pastor’s wife in Journey to Riverbend. The snarky, sarcastic pastor’s wife. As her husband, Luke, said, “She makes pastoring interesting.”
Martha loves Jesus. But…she is sometimes challenged in walking out this love with others, especially with her mouth.
She tells me it stems from her childhood (doesn’t it always—author eye-roll here). Martha is the youngest of seven children. Her father was a minister and also president of a large seminary. Her mother was the perfect pastor’s wife who maintained her wifely perfection with an occasional snort of sherry. Purely for medicinal purposes as they say.
Growing up in this environment, with students fawning over her father and congregation members buffeting her mother with one request after another, expecting her to organize and lead every project.
At age sixteen, Martha made a decision. She would never marry a man of the cloth.
A lawyer, a banker, a farmer, even a cowboy or circus clown, would be a better alternative than a profession where the main requirements were keeping your deacons happy and turning the other cheek (physically, spiritually, and emotionally) until your head spun.
She totally understood her mother’s need for a sherry from time-to-time, and admired her for not seeking
something stronger and more frequently than once a week.
Then, the unbelievable happened—she met Luke Matthews. The young man enrolled in seminary, a shy farm boy, awkward around girls—a trait she admired more and more. Many of the other students looked forward to being called Reverend but there was little reverence in their hearts for those of the fairer sex, not even the seminary president’s daughters.
Luke was different. From the beginning, he stayed in the background at the President’s Teas. Nor did he associate with the rowdier crowd of students—those who smoked, and nipped whiskey on the sly, and would slink away to other towns on weekends.
Not Luke. Nor was he super devout by any means. He struggled in several of his classes. Was forgetful to a fault, constantly losing Bibles, textbooks, notes, pencils, pens, hats, coats, and shoes. But he was a gentleman with her and her sisters, and solicitous of her mother; even offering to help with chores and church projects.
And he began to stand out, catching her attention whenever she saw him. His soft smile and the way he almost made eye contact drew her to him. He wasn’t afraid of her or her position. He was simply awkward. And deeply in love with Jesus.
Mother must have seen something in him as well. One Sunday, early in his last year, she invited him to dinner. Him. Only him. Not part of a crew of three or four students normally invited.
And she sat him next to Martha! The nerve! Playing matchmaker when she knew Martha’s attitude about being a preacher’s wife.
And it worked! Much to her own surprise. By Christmas, she was in love with him. By Easter, they were engaged. Married right after his ordination. To a man of the cloth. Not funny, God.
Next came his first assignment. She hoped for a big city. Chicago, New York, Boston, Philadelphia. She’d even settle for Washington, D.C.
But God had other plans. Riverbend. She couldn’t find it on a map. When they arrived, she saw why. Small, dirt streets, saloons, gambling, smelly farmers, raunchy cowboys, a fawning mayor, a mayor’s wife who thought she should run the church. And a mean-spirited businessman who controlled it all. A man who had no use for preachers. Or their wives.
Luke took to it like a boy jumping into a swimming hole on a hot summer day. This shy boy could counsel one-on-one with a person and hold a congregation in the palm of his hand when he preached. As long as he remembered his notes. A 50-50 proposition at best.
For the first time, she realized what it meant to be called by God. Luke was called to be a small-town pastor. As much as he dreamed of teaching in a seminary, Riverbend held his heart. And she fell in love with him more each day as he ministered to the flock God had given him. They were never his sheep. They were the Lord’s.
She almost settled in to working with him stride for stride, partners yoked in a work greater than themselves.
If only she could control her mouth. She could not tolerate big egos, bullies, or the pretentious, a trait she acquired from her parents. Unfortunately, she did not acquire their diplomatic skills. A verbal whack upside the head was her weapon of choice with such individuals.
She consoled herself by saying, “At least there’s no sherry in the house.”