Thursday, April 17, 2014

Resurrection!


Life after death.  Hope after despair.  Freedom after bondage. Forgiveness after condemnation. Acceptance after rejection. 

Grace after judgment.

Is it any wonder this is my favorite time of the whole year, of my whole existence?

I’m so grateful for Jesus, and how He went out of His way during His life time on earth to demonstrate what His attitude would be toward me as a woman and an individual before I was even born.

I’m sure we can agree nothing Jesus did during His three year ministry was without significance, so consider a few examples.

The first person Jesus told He was the Messiah was a woman.   And not a super-upright uptight upper-middle class woman in Israel, but a wrong-side of the tracks social outcast living with her boyfriend.  He told her He was the Messiah before He told His own disciples.  According to His culture, He shouldn't speak to her at all, he should cross the road and not even look in her direction, and yet He boldly looked her in the eyes, engaged her in conversation and trusted her with his most important revelation. (John 4:1-42)

Jesus publicly stood up for a woman condemned to death for adultery by religious law and saved her from being stoned.  Then He humiliated the men who were pointing fingers at her, and openly offered her mercy and forgiveness. (John 8:3-11) Culturally men did not stand up for women at that time. (And rarely in this.) 

Jesus also made a point of showing that He valued women as individuals, and not for their domestic role.  Two women, Martha and Mary competed for His approval, one by doing housework and cooking meals and another by sitting and talking with Him. Jesus expressed preference for the one who used her mind to listen and learn, and her heart to have a relationship with Him, over the one who could keep house and cook a mean roast lamb. (Luke 10:38-42)

And most amazingly...

Jesus revealed Himself first to women after His resurrection. He chose women as the first eye-witnesses that He was alive, and appointed them as the first evangelists.  He trusted them as reliable, and put them first, in a culture that didn't trust them, and put them last.  (Matthew 28:1-10) Under Jewish law at that time, a woman was not even considered a reliable witness in court. 

Jesus showed that in His kingdom, unlike in the ones on earth (both past and present, both secular and religious), women could be trusted, could be forgiven, were worth defending, were valuable and worth having a relationship with, and finally, were individuals whose testimony and witness of the gospel could be trusted.

And so, when it was my turn, Jesus welcomed me. When I was rejected, when I was judged, when I was abused, when I was deemed not worth standing up for, when I was labeled not good enough, when I was lied about, when I was condemned, when I was mistrusted and maligned, when I was told my value was limited to a domestic support role, Jesus had already contradicted all those lies over 2000 years earlier.

And most of all, when I was told I could not hear from God myself reliably to obey and follow Him, that I needed to be “under a covering” or I would surely be deceived and get it wrong- Jesus said differently.

He says I can give a reliable testimony of His resurrection and freely share the good news.

And so I do, and boldly. 

Jesus is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!!
 






Monday, March 17, 2014

Why What Happened in the Bill Gothard Movement Matters Part 2 (And How Becoming a Midwife Temporarily Saved Me From It)



Since I wrote Part 1, I’ve been a little surprised at the number of visitors to my little blog.  There are many other websites that provide a more wide spread and comprehensive forum for ATI survivors to share their journeys.  What seems to have struck a chord was how much the doctrine that came through Bill Gothard’s Basic and Advanced Seminars and the ATI curriculum spread and affected those who were not an actual part of the movement, like myself.

The homeschool movement itself has been a huge current into which many branches have fallen and affected those of us who were swimming in the river.  While homeschooling itself was just an educational choice, those who chose it were often more “extreme-conservative” in their lifestyle choices, and that very much flavored the whole stream for a very long time.  IBLP and ATI were two of the biggest branches that were log-jamming the whole thing.

This is why at homeschool book fairs it became common to see a large majority of young people and their parents dressed in jumpers and button down oxford shirts. This might be because they were ATI , or it might be because they were influenced by the general current philosophy that flavored the stream that Christian home education, traditional roles in the home and more traditional dress (women wearing skirts and dresses exclusively) were a package deal.  Booths at these fairs might include a large one from ATI, Vision Forum, Above Rubies, and multiple other small ones with everything from dress patterns, to coming of age and courtship books, to cookbooks, that fit into the conservative healthy lifestyle.  Even the images and illustrations in so much of the Christian curriculum on display (Rod and Staff, Christian Liberty Press) would show women dressed very conservatively, children obediently smiling, and everyone in traditional roles - to the point that these things were all melded in our minds as indistinguishable.

So, back to my story, which is really the only one in which I can to speak with any kind of authority, and why I am telling it.  My motive in sharing it is that it may help others on their own road of sorting and healing. 

 My family and I jumped into that off-mainstream-road into the homeschooling-stream in 1981, when I was 11 years old.  It was not the typical diving board. I had been doing fairly well going to public school in our small town, but then when I hit 5th grade I had a slightly imbalanced male teacher who would occasionally get verbally and sometimes even physically abusive with the kids in the class, besides not doing a very good job of teaching.  My mom was furious, couldn’t get support from the other parents to get him removed, and finally decided it was easier just to take me out.  She didn’t know anyone who was currently homeschooling, but had read about it in an article sent to her by her sister about the humanism coming into public schools (mainly the teaching of evolution) and how to help your kids navigate it.  In the final paragraph there was a brief mention of home schooling as an option.

(You will notice I keep mentioning my mom but not my dad.  My dad was a dysfunctional alcoholic mostly absent parent who had very little influence over me at this point. What I didn’t realize about my mother at the time was that along with an on-going battle with depression she also had borderline personality disorder.  This causes a person to see situations and people as either all bad or all good, nothing in between.  Hence her quick jump to all-bad public school= we must homeschool. )

My mom latched on to that idea, ordered some Abeka books from Christian Liberty Academy (because that was one of the few companies providing curriculum at the time- Bill Gothard had not started ATI yet), and bam, we were homeschoolers.  My only sibling was a brother, six years younger and autistic, who had only gone to a church kindergarten, so she started him in first grade.

A key part of my story is that at this point my family was not ultra conservative nor legalistic. In fact we were enjoying some positive fruits of freedom from the Jesus movement that surged throughout the 70s and influenced the way we lived as Christians.  We went to a healthy non-demoninational evangelical church, attended women’s Aglow meetings, listened to enthusiastic bearded guitar playing Christian artists like Don Francisco, came up to Dallas to hear speakers at Christ for the Nations, and read the Last Days Ministry newsletter from Keith Green. Other than the fact that my mom was strict about TV and kept me on a steady diet of PBS shows like Mr. Rodgers and Sesame Street instead of letting me watch the Dukes of Hazard, Happy Days and Saturday morning cartoons, I was kind of a normal late70s early 80s kid who dressed and ate and watched and read somewhat consistently with my time period in America. 

And then homeschooling changed all that.  When we jumped into the stream my mom picked up various bits of flotsam that she adapted to her fancy.  We weren’t nearly as specifically legalistic as the ATI family mold, but my mom soon developed her own quirky version as we floated along.

Clothing, for example.  We didn’t go all exclusive dresses for gals, and I never heard the term “eye trap,” but it was decided that pants with zippers were “men’s clothing.”  By the time I was 13 (1982) I had to find pants and jeans without zippers.  Anybody want to guess how hard that was?  Also the pants were carefully scrutinized not to be too tight (Mom’s definition: showing any curve from my seat down the back of my leg), so I was usually forced to buy at least a size bigger than necessary.  Swimsuits usually had to be specially made for me and resembled more of a mini dress. 
Food, for another thing.  My mother read the book Sugar Blues by William Duffy (published 1975) around the time she was pulling me out of public school.  It was actually quite ground breaking and gave her some excellent dietary keys to helping my brother’s hyperactivity that were way ahead of the curve.  Unfortunately, not eating sugar and white flour quickly became, not just a healthy lifestyle choice, but one more sign that we were more spiritual that the people still eating sugar because our bodies were temples of the Holy Spirit and we were keeping ours cleaner than theirs.

These were relatively minor -although not at all minor in my teenaged mind- I didn’t want to dress provocatively, just be like everyone else- wear jeans and eat candy bars- uh huh, gotcha! - that was exactly what I was NOT supposed to want, you know. But minor compared to the stronger previously mentioned mandates in Part 1 that quickly crept in and instructed me not to have dreams for myself beyond getting married and having kids.  No jobs. No dating. No college.  No goals. 

(What do you think?  Was the individualized legalism my mother developed for me any less quirky and random than the laws developed for the ATI students?  I thought this post was one of the best I have ever read at pointing out the inconsistencies, and it helped me more clearly see the ones in my story as well: 

http://homeschoolersanonymous.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/the-many-valuable-lessons-i-learned-in-ati-lauras-story/ 

Did your family develop random extra-Biblical or inconsistent legalistic rules for you to follow that affected you?)

This is where I would like to make another important point.  Remember I mentioned that my mother had chronic struggles with depression and had borderline personality disorder.  It wasn’t until much, much later in my adult years that I realized she picked both lifestyle and doctrine that matched her dysfunction. 

It was much easier for her to stay home with me that go out and take me to school and deal with people.  As a young person she had felt traumatized when her family expected her to go to college and get a job, and had suffered emotional breakdowns as a result.  In her mind, when a Christian doctrine came along that said that shouldn’t have been expected of her to go to work and go to college in the first place, it totally justified her reaction- and she was ready to pass that all on to me.

Her borderline personality did well with the “us and them” mentality that existed between homeschoolers and public schoolers in the 1980s, and well into the 90s.  In general, Christian homeschoolers espoused that if you were a real Christian who cared about your kids getting raised right and turning out right, you had to homeschool, because public school would absolutely ruin your kids and destroy all the traditional values you worked so hard to put into them.  Christians who had their kids in public school generally thought the homeschooling parents were weird and overprotective and their kids would turn out to be un-socialized misfits.  Needless to say, their kids didn’t hang out together much.  This was a mentality greatly fostered in ATI as well, I noticed- you either were, or you weren't, in or out, a good ATI Christian or a not that great worldly one.

As I mentioned in part 1, I think the majority of Christian parents choose homeschooling for the right reasons.  But there was a significant minority of parents who choose homeschooling, and perhaps also ATI, because it fit in with an already present co-dependent or dysfunctional lifestyles or unhealthy emotional tendencies.  I think depending on the day, my mother could have been in either category. 

However as I got older, it was more in the dysfunctional category.  I was not allowed to have opinions that differed from hers without being labeled rebellious. This came both from the growing submission to parents teaching in the stream and her BPD which interprets all disagreement as betrayal. 

My father’s drinking worsened, and he began to get more and more violent, sometimes coming home in a drunken rage and throwing knives around in the kitchen.  (He had already been unfaithful many times.)  My mother, worried about our safety, took my brother and me and moved out when I was 14, hoping it would cause my dad to get help.  He didn’t. The divorce was final two years later.  (For the record, I’m glad whatever she was reading at the time didn’t tell her to stay and submit to that.) However we were never allowed to talk about what happened in front of other people– I’m not sure how much of that was shame, how much was control, or how much of that reminded my mother we weren’t the perfect Christian family she still somehow tried to keep up the appearances of.

In the meantime, we kept homeschooling.  By the age of 15 I tested out of all my curriculum and received an Alpha Omega high school diploma of completion.

So now what?  I was interested in midwifery, but deemed (rightly) too young to start an apprenticeship. I started helping a lady in my church clean houses for money.  (I brought the money home to the family.)That job was deemed acceptable since it was in homes.  Then I got a temporary office job with a doctor in my church.  (I brought the money home to the family.) That job was deemed acceptable because it was with someone from the church.  Then I got a job at a grocery store. (I brought the money home to the family.) That job was deemed acceptable because God gave it to me.

Because I was simply grateful to be let out of the house, I didn’t realize that I was experiencing evidence that exceptions could be made to “women shouldn’t work outside the home” rule when it was convenient to do so.  As with many laws made by man, the ones in my home could also be reinterpreted by man when there was a necessary end to a certain means.  (I’ve seen the same pattern in some of the testimonies from those recovering from ATI, particularly those who worked at headquarters.) My mother did not choose to reinterpret it for herself however.  She stayed home and homeschooled my brother.

The dating one was not reinterpreted though.  That one was unchangeable.  And I thoroughly internalized that one, and kept it as one of the Ten Commandments, believing that it would ensure me the happy marriage of my dreams, and not a broken one like my parents had.  My mother had nothing to worry about on that count.

When I was 18, I was allowed to start a midwifery apprenticeship.  This involved moving out of my mother’s home into the birthing center where I was working.  This was deemed acceptable because it was in a house instead of a college campus, the owner was a Christian, and my mother would rent a house right down the road where I would go on weekends.

*Insert Snoopy hyper happy dance here.*

I have to say it again:  Midwifery was one of the absolute best things that ever happened to me.  It was like getting on jet skis after spending my whole life floating on driftwood wherever the current took me.   My training finally gave me a purpose and (shhh!)a goal to achieve. But that was okay because I was called by God to be a midwife (actually true) and midwifery was deemed intrinsically a godly calling and appropriate for stay at home girls.  Whatever.  It was 1988, and I was brought into a place that had not been influenced by the teachings of Bill Gothard or ATI, into a profession where independent adult decision making skills by women (the midwives) were of paramount importance.  Although as an apprentice I attended the births of homeschoolers, and even some ATI families, I also attended births of every ethnicity , Christian denomination, religion and demographic present in the DFW area at that ime.  I rubbed shoulders with a lot of very strong independent opinionated women in an environment where those traits were defined as good and not bad.  It was a true 1980s sub-culture.

Not only that, but midwives had to study and research and think for themselves on intimate and controversial topics, and then pass that information on to clients for them to make informed decisions- that might differ from mine-but that was okay too.

In conclusion, becoming a midwife was the antidote to almost every lie I had been told about what I couldn’t and shouldn’t do up to that point.  There would be other lies later, so strong that even being an independent thinking midwife wouldn't be enough inoculation to save me from believing them.

But for that year and a half, from 1988-1990, I thrived.


To be (further) continued…

(Sorry about dragging it out, but hey, I'm a busy working midwife and homeschooling mom, I can only write so much at once.  Stay tuned, if interested. And please. Comment and tell me your story too.)







Saturday, March 8, 2014

Why What Happened in the Bill Gothard Movement Matters (Even If You Weren't In It)




Conservative Christians circles in the USA are currently very much abuzz with the drama happening at headquarters of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) – a Christian non-denominational para-church organization that has heavily influenced Bible churches, the home-schooling movement and conservative Christian culture in America since the 1970s. The president and founder of IBLP, Bill Gothard, resigned two days ago, amid extensive allegations of sexual harassment spanning several decades.  


For years, the worst Bill Gothard and his teachings had been accused of publically of was being “legalistic,” and of taking scriptures out of context. But gradually, personal stories about oppressive emotional and spiritual abuse both at IBLP headquarters and among some of the families who subscribed to his teaching began to come out.  Beyond that, lots of the kids who grew up under his teachings had to struggle well into their adult years to comprehend grace.  It wasn’t until the internet provided a wide spread forum, and the stories started to include many accounts of sexual harassment by Bill Gothard himself, that he was finally was forced to resign. 


So who is Bill Gothard, and what’s the big deal?

One of the biggest of Bill Gothard’s influences was his Advanced Training Institute (ATI) which, for many, was the flagship curriculum of Christian home-based K-12 education along with some college alternative components.  Another huge part of IBLP was its Basic Seminars and Advanced Seminars that taught the many Basic Life Principles promoted by the movement.    


 
These were purportedly all based on Bible scriptures, but often took scriptures out of context.  ATI materials did a great deal of sub-texting, and expanded, explained, interpreted, illustrated and “wisdom searched” verses so far beyond and apart from the original text and context that it created an entire very complex counter-culture among those who followed its hundreds of extra-Biblical laws.  Seven principles. 49 character qualities. Lots of wisdom booklets.

Basic Care Bulletins took general information about disease, preventative care, nutrition and health and mixed them in with Old Testament laws for Jews originally designed by God to show that righteousness by keeping rules was impossible.  These were "cherry-picked" and applied out of context to modern Gentile Christians living in the dispensation of grace.  This in turn led to a long list of dos and don’ts from what you could wear and not wear, eat and not eat, watch and not watch, listen to and not listen to, read and not read, think and not think.
The materials had a palatable form of godliness, containing a mixture of solid Christian doctrine and Bible verses, basic textbook knowledge in all subjects, woven in with lots of extra-Biblical materials and Bill Gothard’s opinions.  Since it was packaged all together as Biblical principles, they were often applied as such without question.
Why did so many Christians buy into it?  Two main influencers were timing and fear.  Bill Gothard’s principles hit the scene at a very crucial time in American culture.  Following the permissive 60s, conservative Christians in the States were afraid of losing their children to a secular culture that was increasing taking a path away from Biblical values. Being the independent pioneering people that Americans are, a few brave Christians decided they would fight this trend by educating their children themselves. They went against mainstream culture although they had little support, and few tools or curriculum available to help them accomplish their goals. (My mother was one of these.)
Into this void came Bill Gothard and his Basic Life Principles. He assured Christian parents they were doing the right thing to home-school if they wanted to be truly committed Christians and have their children turn out right.  He promised that if parents followed his pattern, applied his principles, kept his rules, did these things, (but not all these other things), their goals for their children and their families would be accomplished. He offered them hope.
By the way, in case you are wondering, the Bible doesn’t say you have to home-school to have godly children.
There were few alternative choices or voices, and the seeds of the Bill Gothard influence gradually began to grow and put down deep roots in the conservative non-denominational “come-out-er” type circles.  In the greater evangelical protestant Christian circles, not so much.  Those American Christians who were less fearful and less concerned about protecting their children from the evil world, and more concerned about going about their middle-class lives working, paying their bills, paying off their homes, taking care of their families, going to church on Sundays and getting their kids a good public education looked on some of Bill Gothard’s doctrines and practices as rather bizarre and unnecessary when they crossed the paths of those following them.
But many others, many conscientious parents, many fearful parents, many parents insecure in their own ability to raise obedient kids, many good parents just “wanting to do it right”, many first generation Christians wanting to make sure their kids didn’t go wild like they did, got pulled into Bill Gothard’s teachings and heavily influenced. This was along a few really unhealthy parents and people who latched onto this movement and its teachings for all the wrong reasons. (My mother was one of these.) 


I was born in 1969.   Although I was homeschooled from 5th grade through high school, we did not personally use ATI materials. We did not join the BG movement, we weren’t an ATI family. (We wouldn’t have qualified even if we had wanted to. Small blessings.) I’m pretty sure we never even went to a Basic Seminar.  And yet, the things that leaked out of that movement into the lives and doctrine of my family and my heart would influence me as much as if I had been right in the middle of it.
Because actually, I was.  I am a product of the Bill Gothard generation.
This is why I’m writing this blog.  You see, like me, if you were alive during the Bill Gothard generation (which has actually now spanned more than two generations, 1961-2013), you were influenced by it.  If not directly, then very possibly indirectly through the lives of others you knew. There is an excellent chance you are interacting with the consequences in the lives of people around you now.  I certainly am.
Allow me to elaborate.
Before I was 13 I was told by my mother that I didn’t need to go to college.  Girls should live at home until they get married.  And then be a stay at home mom. 
Where in world of 1980s America did she get this idea from? This concept was first widely preached as a “Biblical” doctrine in America by Bill Gothard.  It was also heavily reinforced by a book called The Way Home, by Mary Pride that was written in 1985 that eschewed feminism and called for Christian women to return to more traditional roles. This idea which grew into a belief was quickly picked up by the growing home-school movement at large, into which Mary Pride was also a primary contributor with her books and magazine on homeschooling.  The idea was also promoted by others in the homeschooling movement that included other smaller conservative Christian “streams” like the Christian Quiverful movement, No Greater Joy Ministries (Michael and Debbie Pearl), and the family church movement.  Eventually, girls staying at home until they got married was commonly understood to be, in these circles, as absolutely “what the Bible says”.
Prior to that in American culture, girls (Christian and otherwise) often did live at home until they got married, and didn’t always go to college, but this was either by economic necessity or practicality- not as a measure of virtue or goodness or godliness or spirituality and certainly not as a practice of any Biblical doctrine.
Because actually (in case you are wondering) the Bible doesn’t say anything about going to college or not, regardless of gender.
Another thing I was told in my early teens.  Dating is bad.  Falling in love is a fictional fallacy. You need to let God just tell you who your husband will be when you see him for the first time. He will confirm His will to you through your parents.
This was the early edition of this trend, somewhat before the courtship movement was in full swing.  That developed a few years later in the progression of conservative Christian extra-Biblical doctrines . This was the idea that parents should pick a girl’s husband because arranged marriages are more godly.  It was heavily reinforced by the book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” by Josh Harris which came out in 1997.  Many young people were encouraged to vow that they would only enter marriage by courtship as a guaranteed way to stay pure and find a godly spouse.
This was strongly associated with and promoted by the Bill Gothard movement.  Prior to that in America dating had been a generally acceptable way to find a spouse for quite some time, and was not considered intrinsically “non-Christian” or worldly by the church.  How you were raised and what was in your heart was basically what determined how the dating thing worked out for you. 
Because actually (in case you are wondering) the Bible doesn’t say anything about dating or not dating.
Unfortunately dating had gotten a bad rap, partially because of all the promiscuity of the 60s, and parents who came out of that were trying to counter it with something, anything, to keep their girls from getting pregnant in the back seat of a car on a date.  The solution presented by Bill Gothard was like a life preserver to committed Christian parents trying to keep their kids on the right track- Let’s just not let them date at all.  Let’s supervise them at all times.  And actually, let’s just tell them who they can marry.  That’s how it was in the good old days after all when almost no one got pregnant out of wedlock and no one got divorces. That will fix this problem.  
Bill Gothard taught that dating was practice for divorce, but a marriage that was built on a courtship would last.  And because the last thing any parent wanted was for their kids to get divorced, they bought it.
Bill Gothard also made up an illustration called an umbrella of protection. It was an example he used to promote his teaching that the husband was the high priest of the home and everyone in the home should be submitted to him in order to be blessed and protected. 
But actually (in case you are wondering) the Bible never says the husband is the high priest of the home, and never mentions an umbrella of protection.
If you were taught this, you have seen this picture before- you know exactly what I am talking about.  If you weren’t, you probably think it’s weird and are wondering why the big deal is, and why it matters.
Well, for one thing, it matters if you marry someone from this background.  A pastor once made this interesting statement that caught my attention about someone he had worked with.  “The husband had an ATI background, and was trying to make sure it didn’t influence his marriage.”  When I asked him to elaborate he said, “The chain of command teaching in particular.  When only one (the man) has a special relationship with and direction from God and others listen to God through him, and ‘him’ is fallen and sinful, abuse can follow along shortly.”
And the flip side of that teaching is that it also sets women up to resign themselves to that abuse should it happen, whatever kind it might be.  Because if your authority is always ordained by God and you must submit to be blessed, you may have a hard time knowing when it is okay to question it, and stand up for yourself.  This concept was reinforced through books that were approved by Bill Gothard and making the rounds like, Me? Obey Him, by Elizabeth Rice Handford,  and, Created to be His Help Meet, by Debi Pearl .
This influence also matters when you work with women who were raised under the umbrella.  Bill Gothard taught that children should let their parents make their decisions for them and determine God’s will for their lives.  This essentially meant that no matter what someone wanted to do, had an aptitude for, or felt called by God to do, if their parents didn’t approve it, it wasn’t God’s will and should be given up in order to stay blessed and protected.  Keep in mind, this doctrine was directed to ADULT children as well as minors. This by default fell much more heavily on the young women than on the young men.  It led to a lot of adult girls deciding it was either too painful or too conflicting to think for themselves, and they stayed in the habit of asking their parents’ permission to do anything of significance long after their less conservative peers had moved out and gone off to college as the normal course of events.
This unnatural depending on parents to direct life choices after adulthood was crippling.  It means there were tens of thousands of ATI girls who came of age in the 80s and 90s and 2000s who were basically waiting for the next male authority (a husband) to come into her life and tell her what to do next. And if he didn’t show up (or get selected by their dad) at 18, 19, 20, 21?  They often didn’t have many acceptable options, depending on their parents. If and when they did enter some job or field, some of them had trouble making decisions in a working environment where they weren’t supposed to be subservient.
Since midwifery was sometimes deemed an acceptable “office” for modest young women (excuse me a moment while I digress and laugh- doing vaginal exams and pap smears and suturing and showing birth videos to couples and discussing reproduction, modest?) we got a fair number of them deciding to become, or being allowed to become, midwives.
I am a daughter of these movements.  I was homeschooled, never dated, and planned to live at home until God told me who to marry and my parents approved and blessed my marriage.  I read The Way Home, All the Way Home and A Full Quiver, and lots of Bill Gothard’s publications and I believed them all. And although I wasn’t allowed to go to college, I was allowed to apprentice to become a midwife.
Which, thankfully, turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.
To be continued…



Sunday, February 9, 2014

Why I Don't Hate Valentine's Day



Lots of holidays bring an accompanying set of struggles for single women and single moms, but for this single mom at least, Valentine’s Day isn’t one of them.

I like Valentine’s Day. Always have.

(Okay, there was that one year some overly efficient person scheduled me to babysit for the couple’s Valentine’s Day banquet at my church.  That was the bad exception.)

In spite of very few, if any, positive romantic associations with this day in my 45 years, I generally don’t dread its advent, as so many of my single friends do. (Okay, I DO get a little sick of all the sappy posting on Facebook, but that’s not the same as disliking the holiday itself.)

So, noticing the contrast, I started asking myself why.  Since I do sometimes struggle at other holidays, why are most of my associations with Valentine’s Day positive? 

As I thought about it, I realized it started because of my mother.  During my younger years, she did a little something each Valentine’s Day to make it special for me and my younger brother.  It might be a little box of chocolates next to our plates at breakfast time, a small inexpensive gift of some school supplies, or a Valentine’s Day card with some affirming words. 

I quickly picked up the tradition, and it continued through my teen years.  We always exchanged Valentine’s cards in our family, put a red candle on the table, bought some fun candy for each other, or maybe baked a treat to share.  I always sent cards to my grandparents, and they sent cards to me, so it was also one of those special times I got mail.  It was a break from the ordinary, a bright warm sweet holiday to look forward to in the middle of the cold winter. 

One of my favorite Valentine’s Day memories was the year I was 18 and working at my first “real” job at a grocery store.  We blew up tons of helium balloons to sell, and at the end of the day, there was a surplus.  I took home all the extra at an employee discount.  I was involved in nursing home ministry, and that evening happened to be visitation night.  I took the huge cluster of bright shiny foil balloons and passed them out to the residents at the facility.  On that date, by chance it happened to be at one of the less affluent locations that didn’t get many visitors.  I will never forget the delighted response of all the seniors who received a balloon, and my last glimpses of them happily holding them as we left.




Somehow over the years, in spite of all the media and advertising hype, I rarely experienced the feeling that I was missing out on the romantic aspects of the holiday.  It seemed just as valid as a day to celebrate parental love, grandparent love, sibling love, and friendship love.  It was a day to bring a plate of chocolate chip cookies to work, to give a rose to a friend, or to send cards to relatives.

Last Valentine’s Day a sweet girl-friend totally exemplified this when she showed up at my house with cookies and a balloon.  The rest of the day was spent with my kids and their friends putting together first-aid packages for Africa.

I also enjoy re-reading and sharing with my kids the traditional story of St.Valentine from 269 AD who performed secret marriage ceremonies. Totally precedes Hallmark.

And there’s always the greatest love story of all, the original, the one that is completely non-exclusive. It’s the one about a king who left His kingdom to find His one true love. Us. I John 3:16- “This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed His life for us.”

So, consider, romantic love isn’t the only kind there is to celebrate on February 14th.  It’s only one of many, and not always the most lasting.  Why not pass some other kind of love along this year?

For me, tracking down this life-time positive association reminds me again how important the little things we parents do for our kids can be.  So yes, my teens will also have a treat by their breakfast plates come February 14th, as they have since they were small.  I hope that it also gives them good Valentine’s Day memories and associations each year throughout their lives, whether or not they happen to be in a happy romantic relationship each February.  

‘Cause there are so many kinds of love in this life to experience, express and celebrate.

Happy Valentine’s Day!





Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Good Versus Evil

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Romans 12:21

In 2013 Evil gave Good a run for its money.   You could say that Good had a huge fight on its hands this year, as it fought to defeat the many ways Evil tried to pummel it out of existence. 

And the result?

Here’s my good versus evil story: I entered 2013 still throbbing from the pain of disillusionment and sadness over the loss of my church family a few months earlier.  I went from that into what I didn’t realize would be my final trip to Liberia- the most awesome mission trip ever where I worked my tail off, experienced amazing breakthroughs in relationships and local acceptance, poured my soul into a people that embraced me back, and a birthing clinic I was prepared to spend the rest of my life working in. Within one week of returning it was all shockingly turned upside down, and my time with that ministry abruptly and painfully ended.

From these two experiences, the entire year, in a deeper sense, has been an attempt to overcome one of the ultimate evils- becoming bitter and cynical.  And God gave me plenty of help with that, by blessing me with good things expressly for that purpose.  I experienced the love of a best friend who, in spite of being a pastor’s wife, flew all the way to Texas from Washington on Easter Sunday, to be with me for no agenda other than friendship.  I experienced the love of a local pastor and his wife who have interacted with me regularly and had me in their home on more than one occasion.   These two persistent high-quality relationships in particular pretty much kept me from legitimately being able to spew hyperbolic venom about how all pastors and Christians in leadership or ministry are hypocrites.

There were other friends too, those whose good relationships were a part of the rope that kept me from going over a cliff of depression and losing hope.  A life friend I’ve had since I was 19, my boss (that I’ve also known since I was 19) and other beautiful midwife colleagues and apprentices at work, a Wycliffe missionary couple married almost 50 years, still going strong in respect for each other and both dedicated to a life of integrity in missions, a faithful weekly prayer partner, and numerous other meaningful moments with various friends spent over food or coffee, were all relational strands that held me and kept me from going over the edge.

My dear grandmother went to heaven this year, and that also was a deep sorrow, accentuated by the small turn out at her funeral and limited interactions with those there.  Juxtaposed on this pain was the overriding joy of many high points with my children as my closest family members now becoming older, more supportive, and more fun.  They have defied all statistics by turning out remarkably well in spite of being born into some pretty screwed up circumstances that weren’t their fault.  And by the way, so do my beautiful nieces and nephews on my ex-husband’s side of the family.  For the second summer in a row some of us got to meet in San Antonio for a mutual vacation.  I never cease to wonder at and appreciate the close family culture my kids have maintained with their cousins- that happily often includes me- in spite of two divorces that could have split us forever.  A visit from my “sister-in-law twice removed” all the way from Switzerland was more balm of goodness in the wounds of lost and missing relationships.

 

And of course, there was the goodness of attending thirty births as the primary midwife or supervising midwife.   Every time the light of life comes into this world, it’s another moment of hope for the planet.  Witnessing that ignition of a baby’s first cry, has often fanned into flame what was but a smoldering ember of my own struggling life energy.

Others besides myself have battled this year not to let their good be overcome by evil.  A birthing center being painstaking build by a small NGO in the Philippines was mostly swept away in a landslide, on the heels of a typhoon that flooded most of their homes.  Even as these individuals- ill from being attacked by water-borne disease- struggled to rebuild, another, larger typhoon hit their country.  And this brave little NGO (Mercy in Action: www.mercyinaction.com) fights back against the great evil that tried to overcome their good, with an even greater blow of good. They went into the disaster zone and set up a free birthing tent to help the victims.

They are there doing that good now.

 

You probably have your own 2013 story, of how Satan’s evil tried to overcome God’s good in your part of the world, in your circumstances, in your family, in your relationships, or perhaps most dangerously, in your heart.  Maybe you aren’t sure at the moment who won.

Hang in there.  It’s a new year.  Join me in making Romans 12:21 a verse to live by in 2014.  Let’s be intentional, by our behavior, our words, our attitude, our investments of our time and resources, and most of all, our belief and trust in a God who is ultimately good, to not let evil win in us, or around us. 

As it says in the Message’s translation of this verse: “Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.”

If you need help getting started, that whole chapter preceding that verse- Romans 12- has some great ideas.

“Give your bodies to God…be a living and a holy sacrifice…let God transform you…don’t think you are better than you really are…speak out with as much faith as God has given you…serve well…encourage others…take responsibility seriously…don’t just pretend to love others, really love them…hate what is wrong…hold tightly to what is good…never be lazy…serve the Lord enthusiastically…be patient…keep on praying…practice hospitality…bless those who persecute you…don’t curse…be happy with those who are happy…weep with those who weep…live in harmony with each other…don’t be proud…don’t think you know it all…never pay back evil with evil…do all you can to live in peace with everyone…never take revenge.” 

With God’s help, let’s do it. 

Let’s knock out evil in 2014.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

An Unexpected Birth


 
A couple of weeks ago Bilbo Baggins and a company of dwarfs made off for the second phase of their epic trek toward the Lonely Mountain, Smaug the dragon and their long forgotten gold.  To be more exact it was the much publicized Hollywood movie version of Tolkien’s classic story of the famous hobbit’s journey.

The film was long and breathlessly awaited by the Andersons.  Tickets for the midnight premier showing were duly purchased weeks in advance.  Arrangements were made to arrive early and wait in line.  And just as we settled ourselves with the other fans on the dusty carpeted theater floor behind the velour cords and tarnished brass posts, the texts started coming.  

A client. Contractions.  And other details my kids would classify TMI. Some back and forth, some waiting, some confirmation of more signs, much more obvious than any moon rune on a Middle Earth map.

In fact, things accelerated so quickly that, not unlike Biblo, I went flying out the door on my adventure, forgetting not just my pocket handkerchief but also my coat.

As I drove down the dark highway, shivering in the not yet warmed up mini-van, I reflected on the difference between Hollywood filmed adventures and real-life ones. My kids were back in the warm theater, putting on 3-D glasses to view spectacular images and professionally choreographed action scenes.  They were seeing amazing acting, and listening to sound through huge speakers.  But in all its epic explosive glory, their journey was still – pretend.

And then, there was my real adventure.  A first baby.  A difficult journey.  Facing challenges greater than the getting out of Mirkwood, overcoming fears bigger than dragons, being innovative beyond the cleverness of hobbits, exhibiting a fighting spirit beyond the bravery of warrior dwarfs and elves, enduring pain greater than an Orc’s black arrow wound. And then, when all hope seemed gone of completing the journey, the explosive triumph of birth, quickly followed by the concern of needing to resuscitate. Believe me, never did a last minute tear jerking come back to life scene on Hollywood match the joy and tears of relief of parents and midwives upon hearing a baby’s first delayed cry. 

I love adventure stories, and the films that tell them well.  But for me, they will always pale in comparison to the real adventures I get called to take part in.

Today:  I stand in church, my eyes closed, holding the elements, reflecting on Jesus’ birth and death.

I feel my phone vibrate silently.  I glance at the screen.  It’s a text.

About contractions. 

I finish my moment with Jesus, and slip out of the church.

I’m off, on another adventure.

 


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

One poem

It's pretty rare to have a poem written about you these days.  If you do get one, it's usually from a smitten boyfriend or girlfriend, and badly written.

I'm glad my one poem was written to me as a midwife, and not as a lover. 

I'd like to thank Jenny for this gift.  We were friends before I was her midwife, and have been ever since. 

Thank you Jenny. 
My Midwife
by Jenny Sevy


Suppressing chaos encompassed my being
A lilting pain twirled my limbs
Lord, I cried. Help me. I need your peace
A strong gentle voice drew me in
Look into my eyes,  breathe
I had a calm focus
I could feel the Lord's strength flooding my body
By His strength, I would pull through
Hazel eyes gazed intensely at me
Giving strength
Giving encouragement
Restoring my faith and energy
Swirls of green, gray, blue like healing waters
Flecks of gold reminding me of our Father's majesty
It is finished. Sweet relief
Praise the Lord for sending His sweet angel
She is my sister in Christ
She is my midwife

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Midwife. Natural Childbirth. True Story.



From the day I heard the word “midwife” spoken, I knew that was what I wanted to be.  Before I knew anything about labor, or birth, or life itself, somehow I knew that was my destiny, what I was created for.

I began attending births as an apprentice at the tender age of 18.  I was at my sixth delivery at Family Birth Services, that hot July of 1988, when I realized why my DNA had called out for this job.

We were attending a reserved Muslim woman of Arab decent, age 32, having her first child.  She had dilated efficiently enough, but then, because the baby was posterior, had trouble pushing her daughter out.  As the midwives did what midwives do- repositioning, encouraging, coaching, maneuvering, consulting, trying new positions- I ended up doing what the apprentices often naturally did at that time- taking the role of support person and doula. I ended up on the bed next to her along with her concerned husband, providing not just emotional support, but physical, as we got her into a variety of positions together in an attempt to bring her baby under the pubic bone.

As she pushed, she became less and less inhibited, and more and more desperate.  With her arms around my neck, her hand in a vise grip around my hand, and her sweat mingled with mine, she bore down in response to her midwife’s directions. I felt the pain and the anguish and the desperate desire for the baby to come right along with her.

When at last she triumphantly delivered her first born daughter after three hours of pushing, she and I together explosively burst into tears of mutual joy and relief.  As she grabbed my face and kissed me passionately in gratitude, my life’s calling fell into place.

I wasn’t able to define it at the time, but I can now.  Under what other circumstances would I been seeing, much less sharing the agony and joy of this woman?  She and I, and her husband, and the midwives, in that brief eternal three hours went beyond the veil of social, cultural, racial and religious boundaries that would have normally separated us, dropped all our inhibitions together, and brought her child forth.

The more I attended women, the more I noticed the uniqueness of that day or night when the outside world ceases to exist, creating a bubble of time within which a woman labors.  Inside this bubble, the rules change. Under what other circumstances does a woman lay aside her coverings- both literal and emotional and become so utterly without reserve, pretense or hypocrisy?

That’s why I love most about being a part of this special time of labor and birth.  You can’t pretend during natural childbirth.  You can’t act like you have it all together.  You can’t bluff your way through and act like it isn’t hard.  You can’t act at all. 

You have to be real.  And those who are with you when you birth share that moment of realness. Because un-medicated childbirth is as real and raw and honest as it gets in this life.

Now that I’m more than twice the age I was on that pivotal July afternoon, I’ve come to value honesty and transparency even more than I did then. I’ve learned that people have many motives for the things they do and say that aren’t fully honest, and many ways they act that are misleading.  I’ve come to despise insincerity above almost everything else short of a full lie.  And I’ve been told plenty of those too.

But when I go into the birthing room, I leave the insincerity and lies behind, and go to a place of ultimate realness.  This is the place I am most at peace, where I find the antidote for the superficiality that inundates most of the human experience.

The blue light of early morning slips in between the blinds of the same birthing room where I was sweating twenty-five years ago. Today I calmly sit in front of a woman from Nigeria pushing on the birthing stool.  My hands hold the head of her crowning child, and my eyes hold her eyes.  She tells me she can’t.  I tell her she can.

And her baby slips out into my hands.


 
 
 
True story.
 
 
 
Footnote:  The pictures I posted here are not from either of the birthing stories I wrote about in this blog- because there were no pictures taken at those births.  These pictures are from Sarah Warnick's birth, photo credits: Reflecting Grace Photography: http://www.reflectinggrace.com   I chose them because I felt they were an accurate "reflection" of the theme of this post.

Monday, September 2, 2013

One year



My daughter remembers the exact date.  It was one year ago, exactly, that we left the church where she had been since she was nine years old.  From ages nine to fifteen, that was the other center of her life, besides our home. My youngest was six when we started there, and hardly remembered going anywhere else.

 There are a couple of reasons for that.  One, we home school.  Church, for most homeschoolers, is more than someplace to go on Sunday to learn about Jesus.  It becomes the place you socialize, the place you learn to sit in a class of kids your age, the place you learn to respect and relate to other adults besides your parents, and the place you go for extra-curricular activities.

 At least it was for us.

 Another reason is, I’m a single mom.  When you have a single parent family, your church becomes more important to you- a family extension that fills in some gaps left by your broken home life. 

At least it did for us.

The us includes me, and my three children.  And since my church was my social hub and my family extension, I invested there.  Teaching in children's church, teaching Missionettes, volunteering at VBS, volunteering in missions- it was all very intentional on my part.  Because my kids were receiving there, I wanted to put back, and I did.

And it wasn’t perfect, but no one and no place is, and I knew that and accepted that, because we aren’t either.  We stuck it out through occasional individuals involved with church programs who were rude or hurtful, general personal slights, you know, real life stuff that happens everywhere, and you just have to get over.  And I always told the kids when they complained about someone or something, look, this is life, rude people are everywhere, even church, this is as good a place as any to learn how to respond in a godly way to negative people and circumstances.

Because there are good people everywhere too, and look at all of those- some of our best friends are here. Plus, if we accept people the way they are, imperfect and sometimes different from us, we can expect the same grace for us, because we need it too.  I was very firm on the fact that changing churches would not prevent people issues, and we might as well stay where we were and be faithful.  This is part of our identity in Christ, to be a part of a body of believers for better or for worse.

I did that for my kids (as much as for myself), to teach them about life and relationships and people and church.  And I think that message got across pretty well.

Up to a point.

I don’t want to go into details here of the events that led to us leaving our church.  What I do want to do is address leaders, pastors, and children’s workers and make a small point that might be helpful if your goal is to actually understand and care for people- you know, pastor stuff.

Particularly children.

You see, I don’t think you realize how deeply you are affecting the kids in your congregation. 

Particularly homeschooled kids, and kids from single parent or troubled homes.

When you, dear senior pastors, associate senior pastors, children’s pastors, women's pastors, elders, church administrators, small group leaders (have I missed anyone?) start having issues with a person or family serving in the church, stop for a minute and consider the effects of what is happening on their children.  You may not think the parent has the right vision, or the right doctrine, or the right DNA, or maybe they are high need or you have other concerns, but have you considered their children’s vision, doctrine, DNA, needs and concerns?  You see, YOU are in their children’s vision.  You are the embodiment of Christian doctrine to the kids.  They see you as representative of Christianity, and of Jesus' DNA.   And they are watching you, and what’s going on between you and their parents. 

In case you missed it, children and teens have an unerring nose for anything done for religious purposes or show.  They can tell real from performance in a heartbeat. They are not always, as someone more than once suggested to me, picking up the prejudices of their parents in their attitudes toward a pastor or leader.

No, they are making their own observations.  They notice if you can’t tell them apart from their sibling or remember their name after attending your church for several years. They notice if you have absolutely nothing to say to them but “my how you’ve grown” if you speak to them at all.  They notice if you gravitate to people dressed a certain way and of a certain status.  They notice if you ignore some people and chat up others.  They notice if you never just “hang out” with them or other regular people, or show any interest in sharing people’s lives outside of church events. They notice if you have time for doctrinal debates with their parents, but not to be there for them in a crisis.  They notice if their parents spend all their free time volunteering at the church, but then no one shows up at their house to bring a meal or help when someone is sick.

Mostly they notice how you treat kids, of all ages.   And that becomes the great measuring stick for them to determine your character. And frankly, that speaks louder to them than all your sermons, and means more to them than all your programs. 

In the process of discussing things with my leaders in my final year, of face to face meetings that I initiated to try to work things out, not once did my kids’ names come up.  The discussion was all about their church, their vision, their programs, their plans for church growth, and whether or not we were loyal and fit into all those.  There was no sense from them that it was our church too, and we as a family had something special to offer the body of Christ.

Their vision was not our relationship with Jesus.  Their concern was not our spiritual growth or health, or our emotional or physical well-being.  These things were never mentioned.

Finally, their deepest concern certainly wasn’t anything to do with a personal relationship or future with any of us.  Including my kids.

Sadly, much as I would like to believe otherwise, I really didn’t get the idea from anything that was ever said that the pastors considered how our family leaving the church might affect my kids, or their faith, or their friendships, or their daily lives. Does it matter to them that my daughter cried herself to sleep the night after our last service there and many times since? Does it matter that it impacted her so much that she still remembers the date? Does it matter that I’ve had to work very hard with all three of my kids on trust issues- and still do?

My prayer is that seven years of my efforts to teach my kids positive truths and principles of Christian relationships and respect for church leaders within the context of a local church haven’t totally been nullified by this end result.  Definitely, the kids are the ones hurt the most by the whole thing.

By the grace of God I'm not expecting it to happen in my family, but I know people who went through circumstance like these as kids who NEVER went back to church.

And this isn’t just an anniversary rant for me and mine.  Let me cite a few other circumstances I am aware of where kids are the silent victims in different churches situations.

There are doctrinal differences between one family and church leaders.  The results are that the family leaves the only church the children have ever known.  Shortly afterward, the father passes away suddenly.  The widowed mother and orphaned children are left without their father OR a church family to support them.

A children’s pastor is released or “shuffled” to another position in the church.  The child of a single parent loses the weekly interaction with the father figure in his/her life and grieves that loss on a level similar to that when his/her parents divorced.

The Sunday school teacher who has been faithfully serving for years and loves the kids is determined to be too old and out of touch.  She is removed in lieu of younger teacher who knows how to use the new media system, but has no idea about any of the kids’ personal histories or home life.  Some kids from troubled homes “fall through the cracks” because the new teacher isn’t involved at the personal level with the kids and their parents.

While reorganizing the children’s program, a decision is made to drop the middle school aged children’s church class because those kids are old enough to go into the service.  The fact is missed that some of these kids’ parents don’t even go to the church, and after they lose the security of a small relational group they feel safe with, they stop going to church altogether.

A church is too small to have a special needs class, but the volunteer children’s church teacher is willing to work with the one who is in her age group.  She has a heart for special needs, and the parents feel safe leaving their child with her.  However the church has no care system for their volunteers, and so when this teacher isn’t valued or supported in her efforts, she eventually leaves and goes elsewhere.  The new volunteer teacher they find to replace her isn’t sensitive to the special needs situation.  The parents eventually stop coming to the church because they don’t feel there is a place for their child.

All of these scenarios are real.  All of these decisions happened on an adult, leader, organizational, or program level, and yet affected kids and their families on a deeply individual personal level.

So my request is this:  Pastor, elders, church board members- think about how your decisions are affecting the least of these.  Before you hire that new children’s pastor who can take your children’s program “to the next level,” before you change Sunday School teachers around or restructure age groups in classes, or get a fancy new curriculum, or write the volunteer schedule for the nursery, or chose to let a family leave your church because of disagreements without really making an effort to work things out…. think about the kids involved.  Not the numbers of children, the actual individuals.  Think of faces, think of names, think of their personal circumstances.  Now think of how their lives will change as a result of your decisions.

You are an adult.  You have been through many changes by now, and “restructuring” is no big deal.  But for kids, it is different.  Even a small change is a huge shift in their universe. 

Please stop a minute before you say and do things that are going to rock their worlds.

I know these kids aren’t your “tithing units.”  But they have souls.  They matter to Jesus.  Saying you care about children from the pulpit isn’t the same thing as showing it on a personal, interactive level.

Oh, and by the way.  Don’t try to fake it.

They hate that.


Epilogue:  After five months of visiting churches, my kids and I agreed on one we all liked.  Since then we have attended there every Sunday. We sit on the back row and participate in the services.  We do not volunteer, nor do we have any interaction with any of the pastors or leaders. 

For now.