Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People is a play by Oscar Wilde. First performed on 14 February 1895 at St. James's Theater in London, it is a farcical comedy in which the protagonists maintain fictitious personae in order to escape burdensome social obligations. Working within the social conventions of late Victorian London, the play's major themes are the triviality with which it treats institutions as serious as marriage, and the resulting satire of Victorian ways. Contemporary reviews all praised the play's humour, though some were cautious about its explicit lack of social messages, while others foresaw the modern consensus that it was the culmination of Wilde's artistic career so far. Its high farce and witty dialogue have helped make The Importance of Being Earnest Wilde's most enduringly popular play.

The successful opening night marked the climax of Wilde's career but also heralded his downfall. The Marquess of Queensberry, father of Lord Alfred Douglas, an intimate friend of Wilde, planned to present Wilde a bouquet of rotten vegetables and disrupt the show. Wilde was tipped off and Queensberry was refused admission. Soon afterwards, however, their feud came to a climax in court, where Wilde's homosexual double life was revealed to the Victorian public and he was eventually sentenced to imprisonment. Wilde's notoriety caused the play, despite its success, to be closed after just 86 performances. After his release, he published the play from exile in Paris, but he wrote no further comic or dramatic work. (Wikipedia)

In my husband’s life as a pastor, he has occasions to visit people in the prisons, and at times, I accompany him. Once we visited a young woman who was accused of assault and burglary. When we visited her, she gave us her side of the story, and was quite upset that her ex- husband was the one who sent the police to put her in jail  for entering his new girl friend’s house. Another young woman in jail was there because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people, who were caught with drugs. What were the steps leading to their incarcerations?

Oscar Wilde was a successful author, yet his private life was his downfall. When what he did in private was exposed publicly  it ended his career in 1895.  Fast-forward to 2012. Homosexuality is openly exalted and biblical marriage is openly criticized. Evil is called good and good is called evil. “Shacking up” has become accepted as normal, instead of commitment to marriage for life; and many Christians trust the public school to teach their children good morals.

When I was a young mother, I was distressed when one of the ladies in the church we were attending said she and her husband did not teach their children the Bible because they wanted their children to discover Christianity for themselves! That was 40 years ago! Even recently, my husband heard a mother say she did not use Scripture memorization as a tool in training her children because she wanted them to discover it on their own! How many families in how many churches believe the same thing? How many churches are “teaching Fluff and Stuff” in Sunday School? (See Answers in Genesis for chronological Sunday School curriculum for all ages.)

The Victorians in 1895 put Oscar Wilde out of business for his pagan, anti-biblical personal views. Where is the church today? Openly flouting God’s condemnation of fornication, adultery, killing the unborn and homosexuality! Sadly, we know non-church “Christian” groups that overlook fornication and adultery among their members and officers!

Some blame the change in our culture upon the government removing the Bible from public school. But where were the churches and pastors who did not teach God’s command for parents to teach their children about God and His commandments? Where were and are the Christian parents to teach the ways of the Lord?

Deuteronomy 6:4-8 ¶  Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:  And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.  And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:  And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. 8  And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.

Not only are parents to teach their children about God and His Word 24/7, they are even  to decorate their homes with God’s Word! They should teach God’s word not only to their own  children, but also to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Psalm 78:1-8 «Maschil of Asaph.» Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.  I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, showing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children:  That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:  That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:  And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God.

In the New Testament, Paul encouraged Timothy: But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;(II Tim 1:5  When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.)  And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:  That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. II Timothy 3:14-17 

Sadly, we see even in homes where the Bible was taught morning, noon and night, far too many of the children of these homes denying God, turning to the world, and some even embracing homosexuality!

The Importance of Being Earnest , A Serious Command for Trivial Christians
“Earnest”– [noun] something of value given by one person to another to bind a contract;
[adjective] with sincere intent, grave, sedate, sober, solemn; one’s dearest wish, devout wishes for their success; purposeful, goal-directed.

Pr 13:22 A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children:
1Pe 1:15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;
1Pe 1:16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.

Are we leaving a godly or an ungodly heritage to this and the next generation? Are we earnestly doing all we can to pass on practically lived out Biblical Christianity? Are we in the world but not of the world? Let us walk in the light as Christ, who is the Light; and may we walk in such a manner that there will be no mistaking who our Father is.

To God alone belongs the Truth and the Glory– let us pass it on to thousands of generations!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Why Are We Missing Opportunities to Make a Difference in the World?

This year has been one of great turbulence in our lives here in West Virginia! The year started out with the death by miscarriage of one of our grandchildren, and our lives went "topsy-turvy." Pain and sorrow can completely deprive us of energy and willpower, while at the same time make us deeply aware of the uncertainty of life and the need to live each moment with God's purposes in mind.

Instead of blogging on this site, my husband and I spent many days visiting our children and grandchildren in Pennsylvania and Ohio many times, hoping to make joyful memories that would last beyond our lifetime. We also made the decision to visit our ten grandchildren in Kenya before we got too old to make the trip so far across the world.

In order to be able to travel by mid-September, we had to plant our garden early and pray for the veggies to ripen quickly so we could preserve them for next winter before we traveled. God supplied an abundant harvest and we worked over four months almost non-stop, getting everything done in time for our flight to Kenya.

I had briefly thought about taking an online course in Swahili so I would be more prepared to interact with Kenyans, but that did not happen! As it turned out, Kenyans go to school and learn Swahili and English, thus speaking at least three languages, including their tribal one. And we think it is hard to learn to speak (poorly) one extra language in the US, if we even do that!

We thought we were prepared for what we would see in Kenya, but we were surprised. We expected that being about one hundred miles below the equator the land would be very tropical, but Nairobi city is on a plateau 6,000 feet above sea level with a very temperate climate. Traveling there during their spring time was not much different than being at 2000 feet in West Virginia during the autumn! We had wonderful sunshine for two weeks until the spring rains came during our last week, when we had to put on our sweaters and even light a fire in the fireplace!

The most surprising thing to us, however, was how we had unconsciously stereotyped the people. Contrary to our idea of poor people without work depending on others for their sustenance, we found there were indeed poor people, but they were very hard working people, finding whatever they could do to support themselves and their families, even if it meant using a hammer to reduce stone blocks into gravel for sale! On either side of most roads we traveled, there were people making furniture, weaving baskets, making jewelry, carving wood and making metal garden ornaments like birds, giraffes, frogs and other animals, and selling pottery and foods. Along the edges of the main roads even, there were "nurseries"-- rows and rows of plants in black bags, blooming profusely, making me wish I lived there to be able to purchase every flower I fancied!

Our daughter and son-in-law have staff, employed to help them clean, cook, do laundry, plant gardens and drive their van. The staff are lovely people we adopted as part of our family. They are Christians who love working and serving our children and grandchildren, and for that, we bless them. I spent hours with many of them talking about their lives, families and goals for the future. The van driver told me he and his wife pray for our children, and thank God for the opportunity to serve them!

We were surprised by the many churches we saw, and by the many buses and other vehicles with Bible verses and Christian sayings painted on them. When Kenyans say they are Christians, they mean it. Many Kenyans were proud to claim President Obama as one of their own-- until he proclaimed to support gay marriage. Then they were shocked and said, "But he said he is a Christian! How can he support what God condemns?"

My husband and I spent some time with a missionary couple who have ministered in Kenya over 40 years. They are so dismayed and discouraged that churches in the U.S. do not care enough about the wide open opportunities for the Gospel in Kenya and Sudan to come and help plant doctrinally sound churches throughout Kenya and Sudan. There are many churches who do not preach and teach how to live out God's Word, but are content to just give the people a "superficial" religion of piety with no passion for putting the Bible into practice in their lives.

We felt the deep sorrow the missionaries expressed. They have spent 40 years training new pastors, but they feel alone in doing that, and they seemed frustrated that they may not have much longer to work toward a vital Christian Kenyan nation. By knowing English, the Kenyans have so much theological material available to them, but so few pastors to train them. Why are churches in the U.S. not investing in building Christian nations in Africa? Pagan China is spending time and money building the roads in China, but there are few Christians taking advantage of those roads to spread the Gospel.

Needless to say, Ovid and I came away with renewed purpose to support in whatever way we can, the growth in biblical living for Africa, and Kenya in particular. We do not know how many years of life God may have for us on this earth, but this year He has opened our eyes to the possibilities of many things we may be able to do in the time left to us.

The death of our grandchild at the beginning of the year was the event that has stimulated our thinking that short as life may be, there are still many opportunities every day to use our remaining energies toward Christianizing the nations for the glory of God. We must work toward the future! "Work, for the night is coming!"

Please pray with us that God will send workers into the fields, for the fields of the world are ripe for harvesting!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Never Again is Happening Again

Never again is happening again - savethenuba.com

Please pray for all the men, women and children who are being exterminated by Northern Sudan. There is power in the collective prayer of Christians! Pass the word!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Birth of a Baby

For several years it was my privilege to be a doula and midwife assistant, attending many births, including the birth of eight of my grandchildren. I was even privileged to "catch" three of my grandbabies! What a wonderful miracle is the birth of a baby! I know several women whose husbands have either delivered or assisted in the birth of their own children.

As we celebrate the birth of our Savior in the humble stable in Bethlehem, I wonder how Joseph and Mary felt. Did Mary have anyone to assist in the birth of Christ besides Joseph? We do not know. What we do know is that Joseph willingly took on the role of husband to Mary, though he was not the biological father of her Son.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS. Matt. 1:18-25

Mary humbly and gratefully accepted her pregnancy and motherhood of the Son of God who would be her Savior.

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. Luke 1:46-55

Michael Card's song about Joseph pondering how he could be father to the Son of God has always been one of my favorites:

How could it be this baby in my arms
Sleeping now, so peacefully
The Son of God, the angel said
How could it be

Lord I know He's not my own
Not of my flesh, not of my bone
Still Father let this baby be
The son of my love

Father show me where I fit
into this plan of yours
How can a man be father to the Son of God

Lord for all my life I've
been a simple carpenter
How can I raise a king, How
can I raise a king

He looks so small, His face
and hands so fair
And when He cries the sun
just seems to disappear
But when He laughs it shines again
How could it be

May we also welcome and rejoice in God's gift to us, Jesus Christ, Lamb of God, our Savior, who was born to die for the sins of many. May we welcome all the little ones whom God places in our wombs, as Mary did. Our children are the heritage of the Lord, and His wonderful Blessings to our families.

May God richly bless you as this season reminds the whole world of Christ's birth!

Joy to the world-- the Lord is come!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Feeling Like Fine China

Lately I have been feeling some sadness at growing older. After living a very active life for over sixty years, emotions similar to “empty nest syndrome” have been creeping in. Nothing really desperate, mind you, just thoughts like: “Is this all there is to life at this age? Why am I already feeling lonely, as if I were truly alone, as when a spouse dies?” My husband and I enjoy each other’s company, and we are busier than ever this summer, with the garden overflowing; but there is a longing for something else. I ask myself if I am being discontented, which I consider a sin, or if there is something about aging that I am just discovering for myself.

When my first husband and I were married long ago in North Carolina, we received a beautiful set of china from the church members. We packed them away carefully and took them with us wherever we moved. One year we moved five times! When we finally settled down long enough, my husband told me that whatever of our possessions we did not use in six months would be discarded– except of course, seasonal items like winter clothing, etc. Not wanting to break our expensive china by constant use, we had kept it in its packing box, but my husband said if we did not use it within six months, out it would go! So we used it often. Even after my husband died I used the china many times. Four years after he died, I began to feel like the packed box of china– someone with an abundance of valuable life experiences which were not being used or shared with others. I spoke of this to my pastor and his wife– “Is this all there is to life, now at this stage?”

I remember when we had to take the car keys away from my parents (who lived next door to me) when they became too incapacitated to drive safely. That was a traumatic moment for them, and a sad one for me, to admit that my parents were really getting too old to perform some tasks that had been second nature to them. I laughingly told them that now we could pretend they were very wealthy and could afford a chauffeur– me! I believe my parents probably felt that was the beginning of the end of their lives. Am I at that stage of aging where I begin to think life is past and there is little reason to live, too? (My hips are now bad enough that I can no longer ride a motorcycle with my husband. "Old" has set in.)

Not wanting to resort to psychology, I began wondering what God’s Word has to say about my encroaching “swamp of despair.” Does God have anything to say about what women feel through the various stages of their lives? I did not know for sure, but I was willing to search. And so, I went to the beginning– Genesis.

Genesis 2:18-24 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

Aha! Of course! Adam needed a wife! Eve was needed. That is what I am feeling– a need to be needed. But I know my second husband needs me– he tells me every day that I am the perfect wife for him. Do I need any more than him? (Proverbs 31:10-31 describes a perfect wife and how her husband and children praise her.)

“Children.” My husband and I have five– three of mine and two of his. God’s Word also shows the biological urge in women–the need to have a baby. In Samuel 1:2-20, Hannah yearns for children. In Genesis 30:1, “... when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.” (A desperate need to have children!) God did answer both Hannah and Rachel by opening their wombs. Psalms 113:9 He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the LORD.

Another way women are needed is stated by the Psalmist: Psalms 22:9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. Psalms 22:10 I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly. A baby needs its mother for sustenance– in the womb and for nursing. After weaning, most mothers yearn for another baby. Women love being needed!

God’s Word also tells us children need mother and father to teach them about God and His Word: Deut. 6:7 And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. Parents are to teach children every minute of the day how to love and obey God.

Okay! I have been there and done that! But does the Bible say anything about “empty nest syndrome?” Every empty nest woman needs to be needed, but her children are gone and no longer need her. God does address the issue, though not as I thought. Husband and wife are to maintain their own relationship of marriage throughout the child training years. I saw that a woman needs God’s Word to be implanted deep in her life. Here is God’s plan for husbands and wives:

Eph. 5:15- 27 See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

I Tim. 5:8-10: But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.

Families are to provide for their own households in physical and spiritual ways. My first husband and I maintained our relationship during the child training years by having “date nights” when we would spend time together assessing the spiritual and physical needs of ourselves and our children. When I was 52 years old, he was killed, and I was at a loss. No one was left at home who needed me! That was when I spent a lot of time with my pastor and his wife for encouragement in the Word. Then I discovered how an overlooked passage in Titus could apply to me:

Titus 2:3-5 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.

I discovered a new need I had --older women need to pass on life skills to younger women. I was to be like the good widow in I Tim. 5:10. What a blessing God has given older women in meeting this need! I have had many years happily encouraging younger wives and mothers, even having young ladies sent to me by my sister in Brazil for “mentoring.” Sadly, many churches do not avail themselves of this plan of God for encouraging their younger women. Some younger women think they will be looked down upon if they are not “super-woman,” so they do not ask for help or advice from the elder women. And even more sad it is that many older women shun this plan of God. They say, “I have done my share of taking care of house and children, and am going to take care of my needs now!” How they miss out on the blessing that comes from encouraging other women in righteousness, so that God’s Word is not blasphemed!

Another blessing is thrown away when children no longer need, or value their parents in their own lives and in the lives of their own children. Dear friends of ours lament the fact that their children have no room in their lives for them, except as guests at Christmas to bring gifts to the grandchildren. These friends are missionaries who have rich experiences which may bless their children and grandchildren, but their own offspring deny them the chance to visit more than once a year! The children “take out the good china” only at Christmas! They are content to be “an island unto themselves” the rest of the year.

As we get older, we need to be needed by the younger generation, especially the grandchildren. We hear of so many younger people professing their need for the older generation for the financial aid they can give, especially for “college”. There is certainly nothing wrong with needing financial aid, but the need to be needed goes much deeper than “money.” Praise the Lord, my husband and I have children who welcome our interaction with our grandchildren! Psalm 78: 1-8 is one of my favorite “multi-generational passages:

Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.

So where does all this bring me to at this time in my life? What about my desires to be needed? Granted, I am needed by my husband, though we are not part of a bustling family life like I yearn for as I remember my childhood. So what does God say about where I am right now? I am finally brought to:

Ecclesiastes 3:1-14: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth? I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it. He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God. I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him.

There is a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing. God has made everything beautiful in His time. Though I need and desire the companionship of our children and grandchildren, my greatest need is my need of God’s presence, in whom alone all my needs are met at every season of my life, to God be the glory!

"My sin, o the bliss of this glorious thought; my sin not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul."

(Note: The china above was hand painted by my mother-in-law on Bavarian china! A truly talented woman!)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Communication Woes

Amos 3:3 Can two walk together, except they be agreed?

Many of us have experienced times when true communication seems impossible and frustrating.

Take for example, discussions about abortion, where opposite sides try to claim the higher ground in defending a "woman's rights." Though both sides claim to be championing what is best for the mother, when the pro-life side brings in biblical arguments, the pro-abortion side refuses to accept any religious stance.

Or try discussing politics, where each side comes from very opposing world-views about the purposes of government. When they try to define what they believe, they usually come to no common ground of language on which to agree.

My first husband and I were very much on common ground when we married, and continued so until his death. However, at six years into our marriage we hit a stagnant period when we wondered if the bond we had was really all there was to unity and joy in marriage. Some friends encouraged us to attend a "Marriage Encounter" weekend, and they even kept our children overnight while we stayed at the hotel for the conference.

One of the first sessions was about definitions. We were each given the assignment to spend ten minutes in different rooms writing a short essay on our definition of "joy", using color, sound, and feelings to describe "joy." Then we were to come back together in our hotel room, exchange notebooks, read and discuss each other's definition for ten minutes.

What an eye-opening experience! My definition of "joy" was "quietly sitting beside a tranquil lake in the golden dappled light coming through pine trees, listening to the wind whispering through the trees, and being mesmerized by the sun glistening on the water."

My husband's definition of "joy" was "rockets blasting off, fireworks splashing the night with color, and heart-bursting exuberance." We were both shocked at how differently we looked at the same word! My joy was full of peace and quiet, his was full of activity and noise. (Maybe that is part of the difference between men and women!)

There were several additional sessions of "ten and ten" as the leaders gradually gave us harder questions to ponder. Then came a "ninety and ninety" session. In our hour and a half apart, we were to write about our greatest fears; then exchange notebooks and read and discuss what each had written for the next hour and a half. I cannot remember all the details, but mine involved my fear of not being able to do all I wanted to do as a mother in rearing our children. My husband's was his fear that as I often asked him to pray for me and our family, his prayers would not even reach to the ceiling, and God would not hear him.

My husband's fear was greatly relieved when I told him I never depended on the effectiveness of his praying, but depended only on God who alone knows our deepest need. My fear about being able to teach our children all they needed to know by the time they left home never fully went away, but was greatly abated by realizing that only God could hold onto our children and teach them. We must do our part to biblically train them, but above all we must trust them to God's care, and never stop praying for them. We thought ninety minutes would be a long time to spend talking about one topic, but the discussion we had that day continued throughout our marriage.

Our communication views were changed after that "encounter" and our marriage took on new depth, as we learned not to take for granted our sometimes differing ideas on word meanings. Instead of expecting each other to know us well enough to read our minds, we needed lots of communication time, which can be difficult when you are rearing children. My husband and I continued our "ten and ten" times for many years after the Marriage Encounter. We would sit on the couch and tell our children that mommie and daddy were unavailable for fifteen minutes and they could play quietly in their rooms and not interrupt us. When they tip-toed through the living room on their way to get frequent glasses of water, they watched us holding hands, looking at each other and talking. I am not sure what they remember of those times, but for us, it was crucial to take the time daily to communicate our feelings and define goals for ourselves and our family. (Night time was not the best time, because we were usually exhausted.)

We took a whole day off once, leaving the children with friends, while we talked about God's plan for our family and in what areas our children needed special attention. We felt that our family goal should be to show the world the unity of the Godhead through our family-- five totally different people cheerfully demonstrating unity of spirit to the world around us. To do that, we needed to learn how to honor each other and how to handle differences biblically. We kept our list simple: Instant obedience to parents, no hitting, no biting, no name calling, no tale-bearing to each other nor to those outside the family. We had frequent "family conference" times to check up on our progress implementing our family goals.

Our son once called his younger sister a donkey (word changed to less objectionable one), and for his punishment, he had to clean her entire bedroom to her specifications. After several hours cleaning the room and dusting all his sister's miniature animal collection, putting each one back in its particular place with his sister following his every move, our son said he would never call her a bad name again-- the penalty was too much for him! And to my knowledge, he never dishonored her that way again!

In our daily communication, my husband and I discovered the great importance of agreeing together about word and concept meanings. It was not enough to say, "We need to be more generous." We had to come to an agreement about what generosity meant to each one of us, and how to apply that to our family and finances. It was not enough for my husband to tell me he wanted me to take care of the checkbook-- I needed to know if I would be just carrying the checkbook in my purse all the time, or if I also would be writing the checks for all the bills, doing the banking, etc. We had to agree on all aspects of our finances, otherwise, I would be surprised by some expectation of his that I had neglected, or I might surprise him by some decision I made about our finances without his input.

We had gone into our marriage denigrating the "50/50" definition of marriage. Our lofty goal was to give 60% and only expect 40%. After several years of marriage, we came to the conclusion that, biblically, marriage is 100/0: give 100% and expect nothing in return. We were both 100% committed to our marriage and our family, and whatever division of labor we agreed to, we discussed the job descriptions in detail, so we knew what should be done.

Because of our commitment to be with our children, we decided I should always be a stay-at-home mom. When we realized our children should not be taught by public schools, we began teaching them at home. That was another topic of discussion which needed defining and re-defining as the years went by.

When our two older children were in college, we had a family conference to evaluate our family goal before they returned to classes in the fall. My husband and I thanked God for enabling us to accomplish our goal of demonstrating unity in a family of five distinct personalities, and giving us loving friendship with each other. We five became our own best friends

My husband was an elder in our church, and we often were called upon for marital counseling. As we counseled couples, we came to see that one of the biggest killer of marriages and other relationships is "expectation!" We encouraged the couples to define their goals for their marriage– “If you do not have a goal, how do you know when you have reached it? And how can you avoid being disappointed in each other because of some undefined expectations you should have defined?”

When we found ourselves with resentment against each other because we held to vague expectations, my husband and I would go to a private place away from the children and hug each other while we confessed our sin and renounced selfish expectations. Then we prayed for each other. It is difficult to hold resentment when praying for the one you resent. And it is difficult to resent someone when you are free of expectations.

Job 42:10 ¶ And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. 12 So the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning:

Job was “captive” by his expectations of consolation from his friends. We also become captive to expectations which may even cause us to become bitter.

Hebrews 12:14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: 15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;

May we be sensitive to our susceptibility of picking up offenses when none were meant. May we be free of expectations from others in matters that only God can satisfy. May we be like the wise man who “defined” his plan before he began building a tower!

Luke 14:28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?

May God give us wisdom to define our words in such a way that others will have no uncertainty about our communication! May our communication be clear, and filled with love and kindness.

I Cor. 13:4 ¶ Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 8 ¶ Charity never faileth:

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Midwifery Student's Paper

My Calling, My Heart

Growing up, I loved babies, but there was a mystery surrounding pregnant women. I think I was too naive to notice their growing bellies. To me a baby just appeared; I did not know from where. I am the youngest child in my family so I never saw my mother in her childbearing season of life and we never lived near family so I never saw my aunts or other female relatives in that season either. Our church culture was such that it was not obvious to me, as a child, how God perfectly planned and made women to carry and bear children. I simply do not remember ever seeing a woman go through her childbearing year or having a relationship close enough to a woman in her childbearing year for me to understand the process of new life through her example.

Growing up, I was the little girl who played with dolls. Most of my friends loved toy horses or Barbies but I cared more about taking care of my babies. Consequently, whenever I saw a real baby, I was severely interested and fascinated. I remember thinking they were so adorable and sweet and innocent. It horrified me when they cried and I wanted to comfort them.

With babies came mommies and I remember the comments and, sometimes, whispers that told of how a baby came into the world. I readily gleaned the fact that it was quite an expensive process considering those gleaming white hospitals which must have taken a lot of upkeep. The OB/GYN lingo that went with "doctor" seemed to hold a lot of weight with those new mommies, too. One thing I knew for sure was that it involved a lot of blood and pain, but as long as there was a healthy baby, the process was secondary.

As the youngest in my family, I always wanted younger siblings. Because of that longing, I planned and looked forward to having my own children. But whenever the process was mentioned, I became so confused. How could such a beautiful, blessed baby be the product of such an excruciating and merciless process? In my young mind things did not line up. How could the loving God I knew place that determined fate on all womankind? If that was my future with children, I quickly thought that maybe adoption or no motherhood at all was for me instead.

A few months ago, I found a journal dated to March 2006. I was fourteen at the time. Among other things, it said, "When I grow up, I want to be a dressmaker or a midwife." I find this to be a complete mystery because I wrote journal entries so rarely I have no remembrance of keeping them. It also brings many questions to mind because I do not recollect moving from the concept of labor and birth as a medical event to an entirely different scenario with a midwife. I remember my mother speaking highly of midwives but not actually having them with her during labor and birth because they were off duty. Maybe that had an impact on me, leading me to think midwives were one of the answers. I will not ever know.

When I was fifteen, I stayed with a woman whom I had never met for a little over a week. I think my mother talked to her on the phone once and we e-mailed back and forth a few times before I stayed with her. I had things planned to learn from her and different reasons for visiting, but when I look back, she taught me some other important things quite unintentionally.

This woman has three children and twenty-four grandchildren (and counting!) of whom she speaks with pride. Her grandchildren are all rather young at present but her children are scattered over the world leading inspiring lives for the Lord. As usual, I cannot remember how the conversation came about, but she told me quite enthusiastically of how her children and grandchildren came into the world. She is a magnificent storyteller in the first place, and always has a captive audience. Her birth stories were no exception. One of her daughters loved to use a birthing stool, while, for another, she recounted how her daughter put her arms around her husband's neck and moved her hips in circle motions and all used midwives. This woman even caught several of her grand-babies. Where were the shiny hospitals, lab coats, blood, and pain? They were not mentioned to me. I was only impressed by how highly she talked of the process, how it drew couples together, and how rewarding it sounded. There was trust and hope. I was supposed to be learning some practical skills like cooking, sewing, and gardening that week, but I was blessed even further by the impressions I had from her stories. I did not realize the impact these stories had on me. I just knew I liked what I was hearing compared to what Hollywood and the culture in which I lived had always told me.

Gentle birth without fear and violence was new to me but I knew it was what I wanted. I wanted it for my sister and those I loved most. I mourned for those who experienced less than this. Without knowing it, I thought every woman deserved such a birth. It was the best. How could I want less for anyone? But how to become a midwife? How did that work? What exactly did they do and how did they learn it all? How could I go through the process myself so others would gain the same vision and have a gentle, safe birth without fear? I did not have the answers to anything, but I knew it was a calling I had to answer. Who else was going to do it?

From the woman who introduced the idea of gentle birth to me, I was given a name. The name was of a woman who was a doula (I had no idea what that was yet!), childbirth educator, and aspiring midwife. I did not know much about her but I e-mailed her anyway, hoping she could answer some of my questions.

Doran e-mailed me back and filled in a lot of blanks for me. She told me about a couple of Christian programs that train doulas and childbirth educators. One of them was Charis Childbirth. I was impressed by the clear ministry goals that they had and the option to study further in their midwifery program following their doula and childbirth educator program. A lot of the other certification programs only trained doulas and childbirth educators. I was pretty sure I should just be a doula but had not completely cancelled out of my mind the idea of being a midwife. I wanted the midwifery option "just in case." What is more, Charis seemed to be the most organized in how they presented the material and I got the impression their academic criteria would be challenging, which appealed to me.

Doran also recommended several books I could go ahead and purchase now but would also benefit me in any future program. I remember receiving several of those books for Christmas that year and being excited yet overwhelmed. How would I learn everything and, more importantly, how would I ever be able to look at a placenta without feeling queasy?! I did not know how this could be my calling if I still found it to be rather gross. That was about six months before I was to graduate from high school and I prayed, first, to find a school that was academically challenging and taught from a Christian worldview. My second prayer was to attend a birth before graduation so I would know I could "take" what birth entailed. I see now that is one naive prayer to have prayed!

Two months later, with my parent’s encouragement, I contacted Charis, received a warm welcome from the founder, and scheduled a phone appointment. Kristin answered my few questions and I knew God had answered my first prayer. This school was for me and I was so excited about starting in the fall after I graduated.

As other things changed in our lives, we also had worshiped with a new pastor and different congregation than from a few months before. The congregation was made up of mostly young families, and our pastor and his wife were expecting their third child. Many other families were expecting children. I noticed this because it was so different from our previous congregation, although I do not remember thinking anything of it at the time. I was graduating that year so most were curious about what I would be doing after high school. Midwifery was my answer (still did not know a doula and midwife had very different roles), but I never went into too much detail as I was still uncertain myself.

One day at church, Lisa, my pastor's wife, came up to me to say she and Mike had been praying about it and felt lead to ask me if I wanted to come to their baby's birth. She made it quite clear I did not have to come if I did not want to, but she also understood I was uncertain about my calling. She offered that if witnessing her baby’s birth would solidify my intentions, she was very willing to have me. She was genuinely thinking about God's calling on my life and wanted to help me in this way. I never told her about my calling. I only told her I was considering it, and I respect her so highly for being led by the Spirit and acting on his guiding. If she had not, I am not sure if I would be writing this today as I may have never set out on the journey to be a childbirth professional. My second prayer had been answered and I knew God had made it quite clear what He wanted for me in the near future. Now I knew it was up to me if I was going to trust and act on it and step out in faith.

I am an analytical person. I love it when things are black and white. I did not know how I was going to be a doula and childbirth educator, but I knew without a doubt it was what I was supposed to do. He had answered both of my prayers! At the time, I could not fathom why anyone would want me at their birth, know why home birth was such a wonderful option, and certainly could not imagine getting up in front of people and teaching a class! I was reminded that God equips the called, He does not necessarily call the equipped.

This quote from Ian Thomas comes to mind, "The Christian life can be explained only in terms of Jesus Christ, and if your life as a Christian can still be explained in terms of you- your personality, your willpower, your gift, your talent, your money, your courage, your scholarship, your dedication, your sacrifice or your anything- then although you may have the Christian life, you are not yet living it."

With laying out my “fleece” and having both of my prayers answered, I knew I had to answer the call. He had answered me so clearly. How could I not do the same? When I think I cannot write another word for that never ending paper or read another paragraph with yet more words that I do not understand, I am reminded that God called me to this in the first place and promises blessing. Knowing that my life is not dictated by me or what I am equipped with in the present, is such a comfort to me. Nothing is impossible and the blessings are unfathomable.

With that understanding under my belt, I started the doula and childbirth educator program in October of 2010, just as I had planned. I enjoyed it immensely, and was challenged and encouraged by my coach and what I was learning. I still could not fathom teaching a class or knowing everything in my books but, as I was reading a biography about a missionary named Lillian Trasher, I was moved by her childlike faith. She was a missionary to Egypt and opened the very first "faith" orphanage there. She did not get very many donations but lived each day by faith. This excerpt is from a time in her life when her health was declining because of her self-sacrifice in putting all of the orphan children before her own needs:

As she lay in the hospital bed, thinking about the toll that being Mama to so many orphans had taken on her body, Lillian had no thoughts of self-pity. She knew she would have given more if she'd had any more to give. Her walk of faith in Egypt reminded her of the fable that Egyptian children learned at school. It was a story about a boy who had to cross a vast desert. There were no watering holes along the way, and so, whenever he needed a drink, he had to stop and dig a well with his bare hands. After he had dug several of these watering holes, his hands were cut and bloody, but he went on. When he finally got to the other side, he was completely worn out.

A month later this boy watched as another boy walked out of the desert. The second boy had taken the exact same route as the first boy, but he looked fresh and happy, skipping along with a huge bunch of flowers in his arms.

"How could you cross the desert and look so fresh and cool?" the first boy asked. "And where did you get those flowers? I didn't see a single one when I crossed just a month ago."

The second boy answered. "Oh, the way is beautiful. There are many small wells brimming with cool water along the way, and around each well there are flowers and shady bushes. It was easy to cross. Didn't you see them?"

The first boy looked down at his scarred hands and smiled. He knew that his own suffering had made the desert an easier place to cross for those who followed after him.

Like the first boy in the story, Lillian was content knowing that God had called her to dig holes in the desert and that many flowers would bloom as a result of her toil. (page 161-162 from Lilian Trasher: The Greatest Wonder in Egypt by Janet and Geoff Benge.)

Lillian went to Egypt not knowing what her plans for the future would be. She went feeling God calling her there but her future was not guaranteed safe, comfortable, happy or secure. She went because He was leading her there and she never looked back. The hymn written by John Elliott based on scriptures Romans 11, Isaiah 40 and Job 41 and Jeremiah 23 reminds me of Lillian and her life. I believe, the only way she could begin a life so uncertain must have been because she had these truths planted so deeply in her heart:

“Oh, the depth of the riches, the wisdom of God

How unsearchable are His ways.

How profound are his judgments, so high above our thoughts,

And His pathways no man can trace.

For from Him and through Him,
And to Him are all things!
To Him be glory forevermore!
To Him be glory forever!
Amen! Amen! Amen!

Oh, the depth of the riches, the wisdom of God
How magnificent are His ways.
Who has been His advisor And who has counselled Him,
All He gives us who can repay?

Oh the depths of the riches, the wisdom of God
How immeasurable is His grace!
How unfailing His kindness, so far removed His wrath,
And His mercies are new each day!”

From this hymn and Lillian’s life, I have realized that even when we are not sure why we are called, it is still from Him and He still has a purpose for it. Truly, His ways are unsearchable and when it is for Him and through Him and to Him, He reveals himself in ways that we cannot even fathom. I did not know why I had this calling at the time, but it is amazing to see His hand and His purpose behind it now.

The last part of my journey might be rather predictable. It seems to have been obvious to everyone except myself. I was asked often in those first few months of my studies why I was going to be a doula and not a midwife. I do not remember having a very good answer except I felt more comfortable in a supportive role that could take a back seat during birth if necessary. It was just comfortable knowing I would not have excessive amounts of responsibility. As I went along in my studies, my coach honestly asked why I was in the doula program and not the midwifery program. She noticed all the work I was putting in and did me a favor in telling me that a lot of that work could go towards the midwifery program.

I had finally started getting comfortable with the idea that I was to be a doula, and then she brought up the question I was avoiding! I wanted to create a network of doulas so hospitals and crisis pregnancy centers in my area would be able to provide doulas for every mother who wanted one. I really thought that would take some time and effort! Teaching childbirth classes at the same time seemed quite a bit for me to handle. I also saw myself training other doulas after a while, and the suggestion I instead go on to be a midwife really put a wrench in my comfortable plans! Becoming a doula did not seem easy to me, but at least I had a plan to reach my goals. I had it all figured out, or at least I thought I did.

With my coach's prompting and encouragement, I realized she was saying exactly what I needed to hear. I did not want to hear it at first, and I think I just laughed at the idea. I asked some questions to be kind, but the more I asked, the more she told and the more I realized she opened up something in my heart I did not know was there! During that time I came to realize, even in Virginia, there were huge pockets without access to a midwife who was trained in out of hospital birth. Virginia is rather kind to midwives compared to other states and I really thought the situation was better than it is.

The more I came to face reality, I also admitted to myself that the United States is one of the richest countries in the world and if a "good" state is like this, I could only imagine what other states were like, let alone third world countries. Starting out, I was moved because nobody else was stepping up to the plate to be a supportive person in the form of a doula or a teacher in the form of a childbirth educator. How could I not step up to the plate when I had the resources, the time, and now the knowledge that there simply are not enough midwives?

So, after being in the doula and childbirth educator program for all of 5 months, I switched to the midwifery program with hesitation but enough conviction to not look back. My main concern was that I would not be able to offer doula services as some women might need because of the responsibilities which come with being a midwife. I also wondered if I would be able to offer childbirth classes like I felt my community needed.

Through time, I have come to realize I will be able to be a doula and teach classes for some time while I am a student midwife. I have also come to understand that as a midwife, I will be better able to teach and support than with just a doula and childbirth educator certification. Training others will also be easier to make the ripple radiate even more. The idea I will not be working alone anymore but with a new generation of aspiring midwives and doulas excites me. It also gives me hope because with more hearts beating for the passion of one goal, the easier and more fulfilling the crossing will be for so many expectant moms, and more healthy babies will be the result.

When I switched to the midwifery program, you could say I jumped in with both feet but did not actually know the pool that I jumped into. I had fairly serious hesitations but knew that from a financial standpoint, it was better to start the midwifery program sooner rather than later. I also knew that I could switch back to my first plan if I really felt I was going in the wrong direction. Logically, there was no reason for me to not be in the midwifery program, but I still doubted this new responsibility and adventure was to be my own personal future. Unlike the doula program, I had not laid out a “fleece” to confirm the steps I was taking. I do not know what made me say “yes” then but I know now why I say “yes” each day. The more I study from a historical perspective, the more I know about midwifery and its history. As I learn, I come across midwives of the past that seemed to have done their work as a duty, responsibility and passion. In A Midwife’s Tale, Martha Ballard is pictured and her life is drawn out and described through her diary. This is one expert:

"What took Martha Ballard out of bed in the cold of night? Why was she willing to risk frozen feet and broken bones to practice her trade? Certainly midwifery paid well, at least by the standards usually assigned women's work. Martha cared about her "rewards," and she kept her midwifery accounts carefully. Yet money alone cannot account for her commitment. Nor is it enough to say that serving others was her way of serving God. She interpreted her work, as all of life, in religious terms: God rescued her from the spring flood, sustained her through difficult deliveries, preserved the lives of mothers and children, and gave her the strength to continue her work. (Even such a prosaic end-of-the-year summary as "I have Lost 42 nights sleep the year past" was a kind of spiritual accounting.) Yet religious faith is also an inadequate explanation. Midwifery was a form of service and a source of material rewards, but even more than that it was an inner calling, an assertion of being. Martha Ballard's specialty brought together the gentle and giving side of her nature with her capacity for risk and her need for autonomy.

The Fathers who fetched her in the black of night leaned on her skill, offering her the command of their horses and bedchambers, bestowing lumber credits and teapots for service. The women who circled around her at the height of travail respected her caring and sustained strength. The women who reached for her in the anguish of travail extended her motherhood in their own. Martha Ballard needed her patients as much as they needed her."

I have come to learn, just through Martha and her life, that while midwifery could have been seen as an income alone, it was also a commitment she dutifully kept to her community around her. This commitment she had cannot be described as anything less than a calling, a calling that revealed the “gentle and giving side of her nature” and one that she kept as a service toward her Lord. Through her diary, it is also revealed that while doctors and other educated people came into her community and attended women in birth, she still kept on with her calling until her death. I have to ask what made her continue through her entire life even when others clearly thought their new ways were better than her traditional ones. I have realized that midwifery, while an occupation to most, is also a clear cut state of mind and way of care. It differs from all other occupations that look for the potential pathological problems in women’s health. It sees pregnancy and birth as a normal life process and seeks to help instead of hinder this process by keeping unnecessary interventions statistically low. With this trust, comes respect for the woman and her unborn baby. The sanctity of human life goes hand in hand with this respect and it is obvious to me that Martha Ballard’s calling was to this trust and respect just like my calling is to the same. I feel as though I have just seen the tip of the iceberg as far as midwives of the past. Truly, aspiring midwives have a high standard to live up to that cannot be lowered.

One of my favorite authors said this about fellow believers, "They relinquish their lives and hand them over to their beloved Mighty Commander. This isn't how their journey on earth ends; rather, it is how their journey begins. Their dreams, their ambitions, their plans are given up for the dreams, ambitions and plans of their Beloved." Indeed, this is exactly how my journey began. I was drawn to midwifery because of child-like romanticism but it has grown into a passion because of the knowledge I have gained through the doula and childbirth educator program, midwives of the past and facts of the present. He answered the prayers I had in the form of a “fleece” and has prompted me to trade my ambitions for His upon entering the midwifery program. In the end, all I can say is that the dreams, ambitions and plans of my Beloved are so much more exciting, exhilarating and fulfilling compared to my own. At the time of this writing, I have only been in the midwifery program for one month, am working on catching up on assignments since switching programs and have still only seen one birth in my short life.

"I die daily" and look forward to what the future holds! All so "THAT I MAY KNOW HIM, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings…” (Philippians 3:10)

Bethany Stricker

Charis Midwifery Academic Course

Coach - Susan Oshel

Module 1: Writing Assignment: My Heart

April 5th, 2011

(Bethany has come to our home several times as an "intern", learning about sewing among other things, and we are delighted that she is studying to be a midwife! May God call many other young women into this service for His glory!)