I can relate on many levels to Claire Musters’ wonderful contribution to the “There’s No Place Like Home” series today – loo seats left up and mud on the floors for one! But more importantly the tension of being married to a pastor and how that can change your approach to home, such as wanting to be hospitable but also as introverts needing a place to feel safe and contained. I love her vulnerability, and trust you’ll be encouraged by what she shares.
For me, home was a regularly changing place during childhood. We moved every few years due to my dad’s job and it just became normal to up sticks and move towns and homes. Dad also loved a ‘do-er up-er’, and we joked that he would throw himself into transforming each home and, just as he finished it, it was time to put it on the market and move again.
Moving regularly opened us up to all sorts of opportunities. Dad’s job took us overseas and we too spent time living in Virginia. As an adult, I look back fondly on the memories I have of spending time living in and exploring a different country (and I loved reminiscing while reading Amy’s book!).
Even when my parents chose to stay put in one town once my sister and I started secondary school, we still had a second house move (and the inevitable DIY!). It was in that town that I met my now husband, at youth group. He followed me up to London when I went to university, and, after marrying at the end of my second year there, we set up home together.
Starting out together
I felt so proud hosting my first Christmas for my parents in our tiny little flat; even prouder when we moved into our first bought home together. I married another fantastic DIY-er, and we spend many a special moment painting and decorating that place together. I had a wonderful surprise one day when I awoke from a long, recovering sleep to discover he had already painted what would be my new home office!
I loved that ground-floor Wimbledon flat, so when my husband first felt the inkling of a call to move to Sutton to help start a new church I point blank refused, arguing with God that he couldn’t possibly ask me to do that. I had a million reasons why – and most of them surrounded our home and its location. As my husband at that time was a record producer, his hours were appalling. I’d built a nice supportive network around myself with a church and friends within walking distance. I didn’t want to leave that safety net.
But God taught me a lot in that time – about myself and about submitting to his leading. He was so gracious. I didn’t really like the look of the town we were to move to, but, when we started house hunting, we discovered a street that looked like it should be near the seaside; most of the houses were painted difficult colours and very cottagey in feel. I fell in love with our current house – and the move was on!
A long-term home
This has been the longest I’ve ever lived in the same place, and sometimes it scares me slightly that, now my husband is the pastor of our church, we could be here for a much longer time. I still get itchy feet now and then – although I do hate the disruption of moving.
We had bought a ‘do-er up-er’, and spent many happy months creating our perfect idyll. We have always loved hospitality, and were keen to see our newly acquired, more spacious home opened up and used for meals and church meetings.
If I’m honest, however, that dream has also had a cost – and I’m still learning a lot through that process even now, 15 years later.
I can remember when my husband had spent literally days laying a new wooden floor and varnishing it countless times. We then hosted Christmas and New Year for our families. Pre-children ourselves, I watched in horror as our nephew rode round and round on his new wooden bike and left dents all over the floor. And then one of our nieces weed all over the new rug we’d literally just put down before they arrived. I kept telling myself ‘these are only things, don’t be so selfish’, but all the while slightly heartbroken as our efforts to create a lovely home seemed to be unravelling. Of course, now we’ve had our own kids that does all seem rather naïve!
I remember, during the extended sickness I had throughout both my pregnancies, feeling frustrated and upset that I could no longer be the perfect hostess of the small group that met in our home. Opening the cupboard where the tea and coffee is kept was enough to send me rushing to the bathroom. But it actually made my friends more at home – they loved feeling like they could simply come in and help themselves and still do so today. Sometimes there is a part of me that fights that, but most of the time I love the fact they feel so free.
Once, someone spilled a drink on our wooden floor, and about three people immediately got up to run for kitchen towels and sponges. I laughed at them and made a comment, which I thought was tongue-in-cheek: ‘wow you must be scared of me!’. They admitted that, pre-kids, I had been kind of scary and they still had that automatic response when a spillage happened. That took me aback – but also made me more determined to lighten up further.
A place for many purposes
Since we became part of the small group who first started our current church, our house has hosted church meetings, small group meetings, prayer meetings, lunches etc. My husband also designed a soundproof log cabin at the bottom of our garden in the hopes that he could do more recording work at home. I think it was used for just one session – but it has hosted endless prayer meetings and worship team practises!
There are, of course, times when having our home open can be quite difficult. I remember when our daughter was a baby and she woke up with an exploding nappy during a prayer and worship meeting. I was a fraught first-time mum and just needed my husband’s help – but trying to get his attention discretely was a little difficult when he had his eyes shut and seemed deep in worshipful contemplation! And there were weeks when we simply wanted a night to ourselves, but the only opportunity for that fell on the same night that the worship team needed to come through to use the log cabin to practise. Okay, so they weren’t in our house, but they arrived, made drinks and were going to come back through it at some point to leave – that certainly makes you aware that you aren’t completely on your own on date night! 😉
To be honest, the hardest transition was when my husband became full-time lead pastor at our church. The church didn’t have a building at the time (we met in a school) so the church office had been located at our old pastor’s home. When he retired the office moved to our log cabin. To start with, we enjoyed a lovely rhythm: working from home in our own spaces (my office is upstairs in our house) and then breaking for lunch together – me chatting over any writing projects that I would value my husband’s input on and he sharing any church matters he’d appreciate the same from me.
That all changed when he took on another full-time member of staff. All of a sudden there was another person in our house regularly – there from first thing in the morning. While they are usually based in the log cabin, I now had two men traipsing mud in the house from the garden and leaving the toilet seat up (one of my pet hates!). I also began to miss our lunchtime catch ups…
I can get quite stressed about the mess our home gets in during the week with two working parents and two boisterous children in and out of it, so, I admit, I’ve found it hard to adjust to what has felt like an invasion at times, as people come in and out for meetings, or knock on the door for a chat with their pastor (but it is me who has to answer the door because I’m in earshot of the door bell). When I’m in the middle of a piece of writing those sorts of distractions are incredibly difficult to deal with, as I need quiet to write. I know that I’ve been less than gracious quite often and God, and my husband, have been good at pointing that out to me!
I still fight with the tension of wanting our home to be open to people, and wanting to shut the world away and create a safe space. As my children are pastor’s kids I’m now, more than ever, aware of wanting to protect them. I think that they have the privilege of having their eyes opened to all sorts of situations that perhaps they wouldn’t otherwise – but I am also fully aware that their daddy is often on 24-hour call. Don’t get me wrong: he is around a whole lot more than he would have been if he’d stayed in the music business. He is able to see them when they come home from school (while the church office is still based at home – he’s currently meeting with a builder at our wonderful new building to discuss the final phase of building work: the new church office 🙂 ). He is usually also there at mealtimes and bedtimes – all things I am hugely grateful for.
Home as a safe haven
I have had quite a bit of ill health, and some time in hospital, since the start of 2016. I have needed space and time to recover, and God has had me on a huge learning curve about slowing down and not needing to ‘do’ all the time. We have been massively blessed by our church family, who have provided so many meals, had our kids to play so I could sleep etc. But there have been times when I have just simply wanted to slob about in my PJs but not felt comfortable doing so when I know the church office, and therefore our home, is in use.
After a mis-communication this week, I got showered and dressed feeling particularly grumpy. I had asked my husband to relocate his meeting down to our church hall as I felt really unwell and didn’t want to have to get dressed. He had done the school run and, when I got up, I looked out of the window to see our car – and thought I heard voices. ‘Man, he’s decided it’s simplest just to meet here’ was what I said to myself with annoyance.
I went downstairs, got some breakfast and put on some trashy TV – I simply wanted to chill out. But I was completely on edge – I knew at some point they would come down to make drinks and use the bathroom and I didn’t want to be judged for being curled up watching such rubbish. So I ate quickly, turned the TV off and dragged myself upstairs to work. When my husband eventually appeared later I broached the subject of why he’d chosen to stay at our home – only to be told they’d been down at the church building and had only just arrived back! I did feel a little foolish – but it also illustrated to me how on edge I can still be at home.
Yes there is a tension between wanting my home just for my family and choosing to open it up so it can be a blessing to others. Sometimes it’s great fun to have lots of different people in and out of our home – it gives us such pleasure as we know that that is partly why God gave it to us – at other times it feels like a sacrifice. And, being honest, it is a bit of both – but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Claire Musters is a freelance writer and editor, mum to two gorgeous children, pastor’s wife, worship leader and school governor. Claire’s desire is to help others draw closer to God through her writing, which focuses on discipleship, leadership, marriage, parenting, worship, issues facing women today etc. Her books include David: A man after God’s own heart, Taking your Spiritual Pulse, CWR’s Insight Guide: Managing Conflict and BRF Foundations21 study guides on Prayer and Jesus. She also writes a regular column for Christian Today as well as Bible study notes for BRF and CWR. Claire is currently standing in as editor for Families First magazine as well as co-writing the next CWR Insight Guide: Self-acceptance and working on her own book Taking off the mask. To find out more about her, please visit www.clairemusters.com and @CMusters on Twitter.