I picked up my Bible and hurled it out the tiny window of our basement apartment. The thin pages wrinkled. The leather cover folded.  But there it hung, caught between the iron bars of our city window. “I can’t succeed at anything, I thought, not even throwing my Bible away.”

I was at the end of my rope. Finished. Disillusioned. We were church planters in a foreign country, in a global city, in a language not our own. The sun’s rays reached into our 800-square foot apartment only 45 minutes each morning before passing behind a building. Our three children shared the master bedroom, their bunk beds stacked over the crib. Makeshift clotheslines crisscrossed the apartment during cold damp winters, threatening to entangle unsuspecting guests.  The children and I invented games to wile away the hours while John held Bible studies in our living room.

The pressure had been building for years. What was wrong with me, I thought. How did other women do this? Why conferences on ministry and church planting but not on the interplay of marriage, ministry and mothering? And why, when I mention this need, does every man look at me like I’m speaking Greek?

Fifteen years later, my denomination asked if I would develop a ministry for women married to church planters.

In the years between my disillusionment and their request, I learned that even though I could speak gospel lingo, I had no idea of the underlying idolatries of my own heart. I was hell-bent on proving our worth by how successful we both were in ministry. Looking back, my disenchantment with ministry was the best thing that happened to me. It led us to get help for our marriage. It led me to seeing I was using the law as a weapon to beat us into holiness. It led me out of hiding my brokenness from others and myself. But most importantly, it brought me into the arms of my heavenly Father to taste his free and perfect love.

Now that I saw my attempt to save others or myself wasn’t needed, I was clueless at living life.   Everything I had previously poured my life into suddenly wasn’t so important. As I began to let go of duties and man-made obligations, I slowly began discovering a joy and delight that was life giving. I became less demanding. I had more time for people. As I allowed the real Shari to shine, even strangers started asking me about who I was and what I believed. My nine-year-old asked if I had just become a Christian.

Ministry became fun. Oh, I don’t mean there weren’t and still aren’t heartaches, but I found a freedom to minister in ways I enjoyed and that benefited others. My husband and I began to let much-needed church programs fall when no one was there to lead. He stopped urging me to pick up the slack when others dropped the ball. And slowly, I stopped using the law to shame us into obedience.

After further research and collaborating with educators, pastors and counselors, a ministry that comes alongside church planting spouses—Parakaleo—was born.  After eight years of fleshing out our training tools with other planting wives, Parakaleo is now opening our resources, training, and coaching to the broader church-planting world.

At times I’ve been cautioned to not tell my story. “No one will want to go into church planting when they realize the hardship,” one leader told me.  I smiled back, “But it’s totally worth it to discover the gospel is not just something we tell others! It’s for us, it’s for me!”

I want others to know this good news—that in the hardships and heartbreaks and challenges and victories  of church planting, the gospel is for fully flawed Christians—people like me!

Shari Thomas