Wendy

By November of 1994 Nolan and I were now living in Rudyard with our new little boy, Daniel.  Nolan had graduated from college, we made a cross-country move, started a new career/ministry, and given birth to our first baby.  Statistics will say that we already had a lot of stress points for the year, but they were good ones and we were happy.  Everything seemed to be going very well at the church and we made plans to spend Thanksgiving with Nolan’s family in Langdon.

It was a great few days together of family fun and loads of Mom Spenst’s cooking!  Several of Nolan’s siblings were home and got to see Daniel for the first time.  Nolan’s brother Terry and his wife Wendy were there with their two black labs, Bear and Lady.  They were beautiful and obedient dogs, but it was sort of funny to see them in the house.  Mom and Dad had never allowed indoor pets while the kids were growing up, but now that they were grown and bringing their pets home, they’re allowed in!  Wendy, who wasn’t the baby-type, held Daniel and was very sweet with him.  It is a picture I will always carry in my mind.

After Thanksgiving we all packed up and headed home as everyone needed to get back to work.  We got home late and had barely carried in our stuff when the phone rang.  It was Dad.  There had been an accident.  Terry and Wendy had been on an icy road when they came over a hill and had no time to react to the SUV coming at them sideways.  Terry was in serious condition in a hospital, but Wendy was gone.

I screamed and dropped the phone.  “No!  No!  No!  It can’t be!”  How could this possibly be?  We’d just seen them.  She’d just been holding Daniel a couple days ago.  She’d just started her career and all was going well.  I had her quilt to mend for her.  How could she be dead?  Where was Terry?  What were his injuries?  Did he know?  For those of you who got the same call, I don’t have to go through the million and one questions and shockwaves that reverberated through my brain and body because you must’ve felt them too.

Thankfully, Todd and Bonnie were able to get to Terry and be with him in the hospital.  He had broken ribs and a punctured lung; I don’t recall his other injuries.  But he knew and his heart had broken at his loss.  As funeral plans were made the question was, what about Terry?  Can he come back to Grand Forks?  Do we wait until he’s able to come?  In Terry’s mind, there was no question about not being there and he convinced the doctors to make it possible.  They did and Terry arrived in Grand Forks with Bonnie and Todd complete with drain tube and equipment.  He’d survived Desert Storm, he was going to be there with Wendy.

Nolan and I were too exhausted and drained to make the fourteen-hour return trip to Langdon by car, so we took the train.  We returned to Langdon with a sense of everything being surreal.  Not only were we back after having just left, but we were there for Wendy’s funeral.  Nolan had been asked to read scripture and have a part in the service, so he was occupied and I had Daniel to take care of, so I was distracted.

Terry stood next to Wendy’s casket a long as he could for the viewing.  I’ll never forget his face–such pain and grief, yet a look of care for each person who came.  When he couldn’t take the standing anymore he sat, with Bonnie and Todd always keeping an eye on him, the drain tube and doing all they could to keep things running smoothly and less painfully for him.  In fact, each one of the brothers and sisters did the same.  People commented many times how amazed they were by the Spenst family.  It amazed them to see the care each gave to whomever needed it.

Nolan did a beautiful job during the funeral and the burial.  As we climbed into the car to drive back to the church afterward, he finally broke down.  The hearts of each one of us broke for the loss of Wendy and the pain of Terry’s incredible loss.

After another day we, once again, headed for home.  It was now the start of the holiday season, but it sure didn’t feel like it.  How does one prepare to celebrate after such a loss?  Nolan and I were so grateful for our new church family and community.  We received cards and prayers from so many people–a reminder that loss is common to all and we all must go on.

A Woman of God

The summer Nolan and I married we spent in Langdon.  He worked with his brother Jim doing concrete and brick work while we lived in Jim’s old trailer house out by the golf course.  There are some fun stories about that place that I might write up sometime, but for those of you who know Jim, well, you can just imagine!

At one point in the summer Nolan and I drove out to western North Dakota to the church’s camp called Mt. Carmel.  Nolan showed me around while he checked out some things for work that was to be done there that summer.  I knew this camp was special to Nolan and as we walked around I felt, for the first time, the real impact of what being a pastor’s wife would mean.  Just as many pastors had impacted his life at this camp, many other pastors and wives had impacted mine at church camps I’d attended.  Now we were the ones who would be making that impact.

I sat down near a fire pit while Nolan continued his own tour of the place.  I thought of Vi Nussbaum, Becky Smith, Joy Habeggar, and many of the other pastors’ wives whom I’d known.  I thought of Julia and Grandma Ewert, pastors’ wives in Nolan’s family.  And I thought of one who was an embarrassment to her husband and fervently prayed I would avoid those kinds of mistakes.  It was comforting to know I knew only one like her and hoped that the example set me by the others would win out.  (Since my mouth often goes into gear without my brain, it was/is a real concern.)

I prayed as I sat there that God would give me the knowledge and ability to be a good wife to Nolan, a good pastor’s wife to whatever congregation we would end up in, and a good example to our own daughters someday.  I desperately wanted to be a woman of God.  (And still do.)

At that time I began my search of Scripture and reading books written by Christian women I respected.  Elisabeth Elliot has been a favorite speaker/author of mine since jr. high, so I read again her books on living a godly life.  She has been the one woman I would always go back to for counsel.  In high school I had written her a letter to tell her how much her books and tapes had meant to me.  I received a personal letter in return!  I still have it and treasure it.  She is still one of my spiritual mentors (It was a great surprise to me when I started studying the Catholic faith to find that her brother, Dr. Thomas Howard, is also a convert to the Catholic faith.  His book Evangelical Is Not Enough, was very meaningful to me as he gave a name to some things I struggled with but hadn’t been able to define.)

In the fall, Nolan and I returned to college.  Studies and graduation, then finding full-time work occupied much of my time.  I was satisfied that I was on the right track, so I was content.  Not until Emily was born did I start to question if I’d really delved deep enough into the subject.

Rudyard

After Daniel was born on September 11, 1994, we prepared to move to Rudyard, Montana, so Nolan could begin pastoring the Calvary Evangelical Church.  We packed up a moving truck, said good-bye to our friends at Pine Hills EMC and headed to Morton to see my folks.  After spending a few days with them, we drove to Langdon to see Nolan’s folks as well before heading off across North Dakota to Montana.

We crossed the line into Montana and drove through Wolf Point.  After awhile, we looked at each other and noted that we had not passed another vehicle for half an hour.  Having lived in the city for the past number of years, it was a very strange feeling indeed!  After that we started to pay more attention and see how long it was between seeing another vehicle. (I say “vehicle” most of the time because cars are not the most common form of transportation in this area–pick-ups and SUV’s are far more practical here.)  As we drove it became obvious that the farther west we went, the fewer vehicles there were.

After many hours of driving we finally arrived at a sign that said, “Rudyard–596 Real Nice People and 1 Old Sorehead!  Rip-snortin’ and Rarin’ for Business!”  We turned north and drove over the railroad tracks into a town that looked like something out of a 70’s western movie.  It had a Main Street with a couple of gas stations, movie theater, grocery store and a few other miscellaneous businesses.  It was October and it had been a dry year, so things were dusty and there were, of all things, tumbleweeds blowing around.  All we needed was the theme song from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” to play in the background!  (That’s an exaggeration; however, there is just something about a tumbleweed blowing across the road in front of me that makes that tune come to mind.)  We found the church and the house and it wasn’t long before a number of people showed up to welcome us and help unload the truck.

There was already a couch in the house, so I took baby Daniel and sat down to get my bearings after we’d done the walk through.  It was one of those times in my life when I all of sudden felt the wind go out of me.  The excitement of a new baby, a move and a new life had suddenly all come together and were now done.  The next phase of life was about to begin and I had a sense of let-down after an adrenaline high.  It took some effort to get up and get moving, deciding where to put things and how to unpack.  I’ve now moved enough times to know that this is my normal thing to do and, also, that arranging a house is not my favorite thing, especially one I’ve never seen before.  It felt like all the wind had gone out of my sails, so I sat for awhile and just tried to remember who everyone was and try not to panic.

Eventually everything was moved in, the truck returned and we started life in ministry.  Nolan and I started getting names, kids, locations, occupations, etc. figured out.  We found the usual mix of people there that you find anywhere.  In fact, I’ve now lived in enough places that I tend to get people confused with people from places we’ve lived before.  Although each person created by God is unique, we do have some similarities that make it hard to keep people straight sometimes!

We lived in Rudyard for seven and half years.  In that time I have to say that we were always treated very well by the folks there, whether they attended our church or not.  The Calvary people took good care of us and were patient as we learned the ropes of ministry.  They encouraged and supported us as we tried different things.  It was rare to have people complain even when we made mistakes.  They also prayed for us, especially through the losses we experienced by miscarriage.

As I think back to Rudyard, I remember it as being a good place.  The pain I feel associated with it was having to leave and knowing how deeply hurt they were by our leaving.  Nolan never intended to move from Rudyard, feeling strongly that rural communities needed long-term pastors.  His goal was to nail down the furniture, so to speak, and stay a lifetime.  I wanted to feel that way, but there have been too many changes in my life that came in “never-change” situations to know that there are no such situations.  But it hurt, nonetheless, when we had to leave.

However, that’s getting quite a ways ahead of the story!  We would not have left Rudyard after such a short time if it hadn’t been for a spiritual journey that began with me.  So, I guess I’d better finally get to that journey!