I married a pastor, which made me a “pastor’s wife.” We served at two white evangelical churches. I became really good at “conforming” to a culture foreign to my own, wanting to fit in, wanting to be accepted.
I never found the right shape to fit in. The corners didn’t match, and I felt the constant pressure of being pushed and pulled. The mold did not come in my size.
“I am not your typical pastor’s wife.” I said.
A pastor’s wife who had no close friends within church, yet friendships is not something I was without before.
A pastor’s wife who often felt “lacking.” Not because I believed I did, but because of what people said. “You should really talk to [this person] about it, they can help you be better.”
I learned from the white evangelical church who I was supposed to be as a woman — not taking into consideration my race, culture or heritage. I learned what political party to support and that homeschooling, apparently, makes you a better and holier mother.
I learned pastor’s wives (and Christians) are to be “beautiful” people. I have never been interested in beautiful. But I do want real. Being Mexican made me too different, and different is not beautiful. At least that’s what I learned in the confines of a church.
I pushed racial comments to the side. I tried not to dwell on them but I felt angry sometimes. Many of them were based on the way I look, “You are so dark!” “You are so brown!” “I cannot wait for your baby to be born with black eyes, black hair and dark skin.” I finally said, “Are you suggesting I cheated on my husband?” and once, “You realize you are darker than me, right?” As I placed my arm next to the arm of the person making the comment. My questions made people uncomfortable, yet they lacked awareness I was offended by their ignorant comments.
My “Mexicaness” was cute, like when you pat a dog on the head, “This is my Mexican friend. Isn’t she nice?” The “minority token.”
I walked four blocks to a neighbor’s house who had no ties to our church. Her husband worked at the Mexican restaurant of our town of only 7,000 people. She was the only person I could show up to her house unannounced; it’s part of our culture. But we were different people, like choosing between having a sweet or a salty snack. She spoke no English, so I was one of the few people she could talk to. I doubt we would have spent time together in any other circumstance; our friendship was companionship drawn in by loneliness and a desperation to connect with someone else. She was gone one day, I don’t know what happened to her. I cannot even remember her name. I like to imagine her flying through a starry night, back to Mexico to be with her family. But I wonder if she was deported and her children sent to foster homes. It is one of the most violent and dehumanizing things that happen to undocumented immigrants who have children born in the United States.
After her, a woman from Brasil moved to our town. We went out for coffee, her speaking Portuguese and I speaking Spanish. Mostly, we spoke in English. She became my friend. After eight years in our church, I finally had someone to call a friend. We moved a few months later.
The day we moved, a woman from church said, “I am sorry I was not a better friend to you.” She said it was bad timing, she was a mom and that was her priority. I still do not understand her ideology, but I did learn during my time at that particular church that to be a good Christian woman, it meant my only role, as I understood, was to be a servant to my home, and I was to desire that servanthood above all else. Full sacrifice to self was required. It was my duty as a Christ follower, it was what I was supposed to do. It’s what I was supposed to want. Always.
The expectation did not fit, it hung loose around my shoulders.
“I want to have a life outside my home. Outside my husband and my children. I still want to be me,” I thought, “I am not a good Christian.”
When I wrote a “Confessions of a pastor’s wife,” in my blog dealing with my clinical anxiety, this woman who was too busy to be my friend messaged me and encouraged me to “Fix my eyes on Jesus” to pray more and read my Bible because I was a pastor’s wife, and I had to set an example.
Apparently, I did not do the “spiritual” thing well. I did not parent well because I enjoyed time away from my kids. I did not do the wife thing well because I did not agree with everything my husband believed. Certainly I was (and still am) one of the worst housekeepers in history. And in case you didn’t know, this can be considered as a sign of being a “good wife.”
“I always have my house picked up,” a pastor’s wife once said to me at a women’s gathering, “You never know who might show up and our homes are to be a heaven for people who need it.”
“Don’t expect that from me,” I said to the women from our church who were there when the comment was made, “The first time you come to my house I will apologize for the mess. After that it is to be expected.” Some women laughed, but some women shook their heads.
In Mexico I grew up with maids. Say what you will, but housekeeping was not a skill I learned, nor is it one I desire to develop. Tying housekeeping to my spirituality and devotion to my family is not something I heard until I was a part of a church in the United States.
Our second church offered great connections for me. While it was a predominantly white church, it was first of all a predominantly “disabled” church. We wore our weaknesses and struggles wrapped around us like a winter coat on a cold winter day.
This church was my solace. I was free to be me. I could say, “I have not read my Bible in six months” with no audible gasps or exhortation to “Fix my eyes on Jesus.” Instead we created a beautiful and vulnerable community. We had — what I consider to be — true spirituality.
This safety net allowed me to feel I could share my experiences as a minority. At church, that was never an issue. But my ministry and connections had expanded beyond our congregation.
There were people who were quick to say I was being “divisive.” I was told how I was supposed to feel and act as a minority. My experiences dismissed and silenced. I was to have no voice of my own, unless my voice was the same they shared — the collective white evangelical voice. I could not be me, in all my “Mexicanness” and race.
It was easier to label me, their “Mexican friend,” as offensive for sharing the discrimination I faced, rather than actually treat me as a friend, care, consider my perspective, and respect me as a person.
I am no longer a pastor’s wife (my husband is now a counselor), but after 13 years of being one, this is what I learned: Being a Mexican pastor’s wife in the white evangelical church means in order to be “successful” I must deny my roots and culture and assimilate to the white evangelical beliefs (as someone from the outside looking in, it is often based on culture and political party affiliation rather than scripture). I must be quiet about my experiences as not to “offend” others, because their ideas and thoughts are more important and valuable than my own. I must never bring up issues of race, because it is “divisive.” And I must always be a “beautiful” person, which is hard to do when you are different and often one of the few minorities in a church.
I believe this is why my connection to the disability community is so strong.
But this is what I wish it meant to be a minority in the white evangelical church:
I wish it meant my voice and experiences were seen as adding value to what Church is meant to be.
I wish it meant my voice and experiences were considered — even when not understood — and that there was a real desire to understand.
I wish it meant that my spirituality was not seen as “lesser” than that of the majority.
I wish it meant there was an acknowledgement that we can all learn from each other.
Being a Mexican immigrant, I wish it meant people wanted to learn about the beauty of my country and culture. Yes, even at church beyond “I went to Mexico on a mission’s trip.”
I wish it meant people understood that acknowledging the hard stuff is not what creates division, it is dismissing it that causes the division.
I wish it meant different people could be fully themselves, without pressure to conform and fit into a “one size fits all” church model.
I wish it meant unconditional love.
I wish it meant true friendship.
Edited to add: There were many people who loved me and my family well. Those positive interactions and friendships are separate from the experiences I shared regarding this topic.