Thursday, October 27, 2011

When Wives are Submissive

In 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention painted a bright red target on its back, becoming the focus of much public derision when it revised the Baptist Faith and Message to include the words "A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband..."

I remember it quite well. Newly empowered with a bachelor's degree, halfway through my master's and a blossoming career unfurling at my very touch, I was furious that a bunch of men found it necessary to pull out one verse in all of Scripture guaranteed to stir up a feminist and media firestorm.

Sure, the concept was Scriptural. Yes, Ephesians 5: 22-23 said the same thing. But that wasn't the point.

Overnight, my faith had become a very public joke. And as expected, the critics quoted only the part about submissive women, conveniently leaving out the rest that included the phrases "She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him" and "A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church."

But it wasn't just the covention's wording that bothered me. I knew the entire passage, of this mutual giving of self to the other, but still, God's Word telling me to submit seemed contrary to who I was. Why should I submit if I was right and my husband was wrong!?


These three little syllables have always projected in my mind images of soft pastel, fuzzy Victorian women, images of weakness, lack of backbone, indecision, lack of intelligence.

Mousey women are submissive, and I am no mouse.

My childhood was directed by a mother who ran shovel, axe, band saw, electric drill, and hammer as well as the needle and thread, sewing machine, wooden spoon and mixer. Because she valued our family's time with my father, she never waited for him to do something she could possibly do.

I am my mother's daughter--too capable for my own good. Too resourceful to say "I can't," too creative to say "I don't have what I need." If I can, I do, even if it takes me three times as long as it would my husband to do the same task.

Because of who I am, the early days of marriage were a struggle with submission, especially since husband was still a student in law school and I was the primary breadwinner. Then in 2009, I read Thomas' Sacred Marriage and learned what God intended a marriage to be. Life changed in this household.

I have learned to ask husband's opinion even when I can make the decision myself. By now, I do it unconsciously I hardly notice it, and my marriage benefits in the closeness of these simple exchanges. Husband meets my submission with his love and respect of me as his equal, his wife.

This past Saturday, God sent me a gentle reminder of the importance of this submission. I had planned one meal for Sunday, but husband wanted pork steak instead. Yes, I completely disagreed but simply said he could do as he pleased...and he did, going out on the back porch to dig through the deep freezer for frozen meat.

A few minutes later, he came back in with "good news and bad news." The good news was that everything in the freezer was still frozen solid. The bad news was that it had somehow tripped the breaker and the freezer was off.

Had I exerted my will, I wouldn't have checked the freezer again until several days later and would have likely lost all the contents within. Spine tingling, this God of no accidents whom I serve.

Submission cannot be forced. It is not a sign of ignorance, indecision, or an invitation for one's husband to mistreat her. Likewise, submission is not weakness. Submission is a wife's choice, one that shows her love and obedience to God as well as her love for her husband.

Sometimes, it takes more inner strength and self control to submit to husband's will than to force my own. But when he and I both seek to fulfill the roles God gave us, a holy sense of harmony and loving unity results. Peace.

Image: The Back Pew comics.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In Shades of Grace

Don't you wish it weren't so difficult to live life as a child? For there to be no need to make such an effort to see as they see, to do as they do because it still comes unconsciously? naturally?

I envy my three, their lives uncluttered with duties, calendars, and concerns.

A bucket of sidewalk chalk and any semi-smooth surface becomes an impromptu canvas for creating abstract art. A flower petal headband becomes a "pointy" waistband, good for becoming who you are not.Especially when I am crunched for time, when there is work to be done, it is more difficult for me to stretch my mind beyond the literal, the physical here and now.

During last week's trip, I was scurrying around the hotel room, hurriedly shoving PJs in the suitcase so it could be repacked in the van, dressing children one piece of clothing at a time, and painting on just enough make-up so as not to scare the gas station attendant. To make it to Johnathan's by supper time, we had to move. Now.

The children? "Hurry" was not in their vocabulary. The three of them crowded behind the room darkening curtain, looking out from their second story cows. A field of cows. Important stuff.

With me out of sight, they were suddenly in a world of their own, holding a somber conference about cows and hay.

And me? I am the one who interrupts their world, who drags them back from the majestic mountains of imagination to the unending plains of reality where running isn't allowed, all toys must be picked up because someone might get hurt (like mommy), and nap time is still required.

As I write this, the boys are laying a single line of track over my head from their bedroom door all the way across the foyer to my bedroom. Sounds of wooden track clanking together and murmured exchange of plans as to where to put this curve or that bridge drift downstairs.

I tiptoe up the first few steps, just enough to see over the ledge to the world I am not invited to be part of.

Amelia quietly sits, driving the train up and down a hill. The boys set up trees, a stop sign, and sword-wielding knights within "crashing" distance of the track.

I descend the steps, unwilling to interrupt this shadowy gray world of play where dragons still exist and must be seriously pursued and slayed with Nerf sword and shield, where carnivorous dinosaurs peacefully coexist with Strawberry Shortcake girls, where a paper girl's lunch time prayer over plastic corn and carrots is as important as giving thanks for real food...where it's difficult to tell fact from fiction.

Their world is wonderful, but it isn't easy to navigate, what with its rules being different from the one where I live, where black isn't always black and white isn't always white.

Wyatt's loud "smack" heavenward in church? Upon seeing my stern face, he leaned in and whispered too loudly, "I was blowing a kiss to God." That strong push Emerson just gave his brother? NO, he didn't push Wyatt--he pushed the monster.

Black is not so black.

But maybe motherhood is bending my definitions, too. This mother who always tells the truth? Just last week, I told Wyatt the green flakes in his soup were parsley, consciously choosing to leave out the part about some of the green actually being broccoli. White isn't so white for me either, it seems.

It's not just the children who have turned my two-toned world into one full of color variances. Time in God's Word has done the same. Just last Thursday during prayer walking, I presented my pastor with my most recent head scratcher from the book of Ezra. The Scripture just didn't jive with what I had learned this past summer in my study about God and how He regards covenants. Conveniently, none of the commentaries attacked that passage either.

Shades of gray.

Before children, before seriously beginning to examine the mysteries of God's Word and not just brush over what I didn't understand or add up, life used to be so black and white with everything being clear cut, good or evil, wrong or right.

The more I learn from my children, the more I study His Word, the more I learn how unclear so much really is, how I must choose to live not in the black in white, but in shades of grace...

Grace for my children. Grace for others. Grace for myself.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Wanted: One Sister Penguin

My smallest shadow doesn't want to go outdoors. It's too cold. It's too hot. It's too windy and messes up her hair. She wants to be inside with me...folding laundry? Really?

And so Amelia feeds her dolls, fills Noah's Ark with Little People, makes her "paper girls" say their mealtime prayers, brings me tea, or simply follows me around chattering and singing. Other times, she sits in the school room and flips through book after book, looking at the pictures and sometimes reading aloud whatever words she's memorized.

Even when she brings me books to read, if she's not an audience of one, she still sits mostly to the side, quietly flipping through another book in the stack while I read aloud another to the boys.

Oh, and did I mention that her every little injury is worthy of a torrential flood of tears, not to be quenched by Boo Boo?On our trip last week, I watched her interact with four little girls. It was so different.

She sat on the floor in a ring of four sisters and just smiled as each gave her their dress shoes to try on. None of them said too much as they played together. And there was definitely no sword-wielding, dragon-chasing, monster-finding, dirt-throwing physical games like her brothers dream up. Just lots of whispering and grinning.

As I watched , my heart ached for her to have the near impossible--a sister of her own to share secrets with, to play with this way using her God-given maternal instincts versus having to be "one of the boys" when interacting with her rambunctious brothers.

But perhaps the ache I feel is not for her alone. Perhaps it is mine as well because I always wanted a sister, too. In high school, I had a friend who was as close as one, but somehow with marriage children, and a country between us, that sisterhood stretched too thin, leaving the gaping chamber empty.

One glance at Amelia's face and mine in the mirror is all it takes to see myself in a smaller vessel. I know how lonely it can be without that female sister-friend to call daily just to chat a few minutes, to share a laugh with. I find it so difficult to make friendships deep with other women who are just as busy raising a family as I am. I don't want that for her.

For now, though, perhaps forever, I will be her mother, her sister, her friend, helping to cultivate what she loves. Now, that's not too hard.

I let her wear my old childhood dresses as she plays barefoot around the house.Take her to fairy parties at the library so she can soar in knee-high covered coat hangers (uh..."wings") and eat icing-laden butterfly cookies.
Put on that $2 thrift store Princess Belle dress for the thousandth time. I know one day she'll be a teenager and will need someone besides me to confide in. But maybe God will somehow send a sister friend whose heart will knit with hers like a penguin--for life.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Absence Reminds the Heart

My toothbrush sank into the porcelain bathroom cup, its base barely touching my husband's blue one. If objects could talk, those around would hear an audible sigh as both rested together, inhaling the comforting familiarity in the other's scent.

Absence can be a good thing.

Time apart from loved ones makes the heart grow more tender, even if that same person were making me roll my eyes in frustration when I last saw him. Eight days later, that same person greets me with freshly washed sheets, pork loin in the oven and broccoli cheddar soup on the stove. The time apart has reminded us of the others' best.

Yesterday, my parents, children and I returned home from 2200 mile round trip driving marathon from Louisiana to Washington D.C., four days' driving for a simple, four-day visit with my brother and his wife.

Honestly, it was much better than this Chicken Little mother expected. No roadside stops for children who couldn't wait for the next restroom. No incessant, "Are we there YET!?" No wailing fits about wanting to go home.

Before we left last Tuesday, I had told my brother and his wife a few things I wanted to see while in D.C.--like dinosaur bones at the National History Museum, bites of deliciousness at Georgetown Cupcake (yes, worth the hassle!), and Mount Vernon. They did all the rest...and it was unexpectedly pleasant.

Typically, when I plan a vacation, I'm borderline psychotic, spending weeks with papers spread across the living room floor, highlighting the Fodor's Guide, and reading online reviews and hours of operation/cost updates. Then, there's the infamous daily spreadsheets with every activity, sometimes down to the hours allotted per activity. And finally, I put numbers on a map of where we're headed, each number corresponding to an activity on the daily spreadsheet, corresponding public transportation stops labelled.

With me, the woman who doesn't want to miss seeing anything but who is terrified of getting lost, this is just my pattern. My husband would tell you our trips are not mere times of relaxation. A trip is a mission--to see a location or to see family.

This time? I planned nothing save how to fit eight days' worth of clothes for four people in one suitcase and how to arrive with three live, happy children and my sanity still intact. Each day, I followed the plan set out for me, ate where and what was on the menu, took the passenger seat versus the comfortable driver's role.I loved and laughed and enjoyed time with family whom I only get to see a couple times a year. Even with weekly Skype sessions, our physical absence from beloved Uncle and Aunt, son and daughter, brother and sister--it makes our hearts long for visits such as this one.

We still had one day left remaining in our trip when my oldest came up to me and said, "I'm going to miss Uncle Johnathan when we go home." The twins parroted the same refrain about Aunt Liza.

"That's a good thing," I said, trying not to choke on my own emotions. "If you didn't love them, you wouldn't miss them." Wyatt shook his head. Later, I heard him parroting those same words; even at almost five, he understands the connection between loving and heartache.Yes, we will miss them. We already do. But when the longing grows too great, we will all pile in the van again and drive cross country to where our heart lies...with our family.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

When Did The Boy Become a Man?

It's hard to think of my brother as an adult, with a wife, home, friends with children, and career of his own. I guess that's just the way it is, growing up with the boy, leaving home before the boy becomes a man.

Yet, when my family pulled in the drive of my brother and his wife's home yesterday evening, I only had to walk through the front door to be confronted with proof that he was no longer a boy playing house.

At the bottom of the stairs hung his coat with its two Lieutenant's bars on the shoulder and his white-topped hat, its metal Navy seal speaking maturity, importance. In the dining room on the hutch lay his white gloves, all part of the everyday uniform he wears as chaplain at Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C. where he conducts over 400 memorial services each yearI guess it's a lot like watching my children grow; even though I see them each day, I never notice their growth until their pants are too short, shoes too tight.

With Johnathan, I went to his wedding. I Skype him every Sunday afternoon. I love on him in person each Christmas. I know the man who is.

But I also remember the boy who was small enough for me to sit on, who hid his broccoli behind the kitchen canisters, who loved creating complex layouts with Robin Hood Legos in the bedroom, who mastered video games when I failed to pass even the first level.

This same boy turned young man was the one who helped care for my husband when he sliced open his leg with a chainsaw in post hurricane cleanup, who built a greenhouse in the back of our old house.

And now? I look across the room and watch as my brother plays Candy Land with my brood, listen as he teaches my oldest son to follow instructions to create his first Lego structure. As he slowly explains each step, I wonder where he learned such patience.I wonder if he feels like a grown up, or if he's like me, wondering when I crossed over into the realm of "adult." Even with three children of my own, I still don't feel like I thought a grown up would feel, some days even still feel like I'm playing house with my own kids.

Perhaps this is just how God created us, with a soul so built for eternity that the body's decay seems almost incomprehensible, a soul that doesn't age and never feels old. Maybe I'll be eighty one day, look at the scars of time on my body and still wonder how I became this old when my heart still skips with the joy and laughter of a child.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lions, and Tigers, and Toddlers--oh my!

The Cowardly Lion in Dorothy’s Oz has nothing on me. The Great Oz behind the screen has no chance at making me brave, either. God, on the other hand, could grant me the gift of bravery, but no. He made me to be brave only through enough sustaining grace to make it through one day at a time, despite my fears that seem to always be knocking at my heart’s door.

When my brother rejoined the Navy as a chaplain, I knew that would mean traveling to see him. It’s just what family does. Ever since the twins turned two and were no longer able to ride in our laps on the plane, I’ve been dreading the requisite road trip to see the family. In the past year, I haven’t driven them anywhere over an hour’s drive away from home. I know…pathetic.

This week, though, I’m doing just that—driving from Louisiana to Washington D.C. with my parents and children to see my brother and his wife, our beloved Uncle Johnathan and Aunt Liza.

My cowardly side appeared again yesterday evening before our morning departure. “What are you thinking!?” Then, that nagging fear took hold, coming up with so many reasons why this was a bad idea. Wyatt has allergies or a cold, and if it’s the latter, it could get worse. In cramped quarters for two days, everybody is likely to catch it. Bad!!!

Then came the children who were so crazy excited, I had to send them to the grandparents’ house just so I could get everything ready. How could I survive two solid days in a van with three children I couldn’t stand for one hour before bedtime!? I sure didn’t’ know. But, I told God I was going to need a lot of help.

At breakfast this morning, Wyatt kept watching the digital clock atop the stove. “It’s 7:30,” he recounted, then with every minute Mama and Granddaddy were “late”, he continued, “It’s 7:31, 32, 34…”

It’s been a long day. I still think I’m crazy as a loon. And I can’t even think about tomorrow’s second day in the car or the return trip without feeling short of breath. As three very noisy eyes and mouths look at me while I finish typing this, all I can think is that Willie Nelson's lyrics "I Can't Wait to Be On the Road Again" show he obviously never traveled with three preschoolers...or he was in too altered a state to care. But so far, it really has been okay, albeit very tiring as always. Every bathroom break has been met with, “Is this Liza’s?” The kids have watched Mary Poppins, Veggie tales, and other vintage Disney movies they’ve never before been exposed to. Emerson has played with stickers. Amelia has played with my mother’s 1950s Besty McCall paper dolls. Wyatt has played with his dinosaurs.

And me? I’ve crocheted a little, read a little, written a little. But most of all? I’ve enjoyed the view of the Smoky Mountains I haven't seen in years. They've definitely lived up to their name today, misty rain and thick foggy clouds hovering just high enough to seem within reach if we had only brought a ladder with us.

To a flatlander like me, a dump truck load of dirt dumped in the back yard becomes a mountain, my children screaming “King of the Mountain” most every time they run up it’s two feet height. Real mountains jutting up out of the depths and stretching high above my head, the roads cut through solid rock so we can drive between them—it’s just beautiful, reminds me of how majestic is this God I serve who created both the depths of the Louisiana swamps and the heights of the Tennessee mountains.

When you pray, remember us this week—for traveling grace, lots of patience, an extra spoonful of kindness, good health, and restful sleep.

Photos: Our Librarian's "Barkley" (like Flat Stanley) playing paperdolls with Amelia while Wyatt watches "Milo & Otis," and Emerson rearranges stickers.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Faith, Love, and a Third Grade Education

Great Grandma Maggie was born in what she referred to as "oh three"--1903, not 2003. Although she only had a third grade education, that didn't mean she was ignorant. She read her Bible and any other religious books the traveling salesmen brought to her door. When she didn't agree with an author, she would not only mark out the section but would also write in the margin what he should have said according to her knowledge of Scripture.

She was a rather severe-faced, big boned woman with thin strands of grey swirled around into a makeshift bun and loosely held in place by dozens of hair pins. Although there is a picture of her in a polyester navy church dress, white buttons straight up the front, I only remember her in thin checkered house dresses, two strong trunks sticking out beneath the hem.

Grandma's house was as wonderfully odd to me as she was, her front lawn hoed to dust inside the rough-cut cypress fence because she had no lawn mower. Outside the fence by the cast iron cattle troughs ever-brimming with water lived her yard chickens and roosters. Each visit, I collected and kept those iridescent feathers.

Inside, her house was always dark, even the sitting room lit by a single table lamp. On her dining room shelf was the big white Bible with the picture of Jesus on the front cover, the captivating paintings of hell, the Garden of Eden within. In her kitchen were tea cakes made from scratch and without a recipe, always tea cakes, whether she knew we were coming over or not.

It was this Grandma who filled my head with stories of a world beyond this one, stories of sitting up nights when people were ill unto death, of seeing the light of angels around the person's head when he breathed his last. After Grandpa Calvin died, she often recounted the story of when the mantle clock suddenly started playing music, then Grandpa coming through the front door and walking to get his pipe tobacco. When she spoke to him, he vanished. Grandma wasn't one for fabricating stories; she spoke only the unvarnished, blunt truth "as Maggie saw it," so I listened intently to stories I might have otherwise laughed at.

Saturday mornings often found her calling my daddy at 6:00 to come down because Lucky had trapped a possum or raccoon under her house. Sundays always found her at church, her personal faith leaving behind a spiritual legacy for my family.

Although she had little money, one time when I was sick, she cut the cover off an old card she'd kept and taped it over someone's well wishes to her, then added her own well wishes to me. Even at age nine, I knew her grammar wasn't right, but that didn't matter. The card was precious because it was from her.Towards the end of her life, she stayed a week or so on the fold out sofa bed in my home. At my mother's prompting, I would crawl up on the bed each day and "interview" her, recording on cassette stories from her childhood. The plan was to transcribe them and surprise the family with a book of her stories for Christmas.

But, the cancer was aggressive, and she didn't make it to Christmas. My mother couldn't bear to listen to that voice we all loved so dearly, and so the stories were tucked away in the safe.

It's been close to three decades since Grandma Maggie died of cancer and went to be with her Jesus. Since then, no one has been able to duplicate those tea cakes, not even my aunt who wrote down the ingredients as Grandma Maggie measured them. Since then, no one has listened to that voice again on tape either.

Perhaps it's time to remember the stories I have long ago forgotten from a woman I can never forget.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

No Oprah Bashing Here

I honestly don't remember a time when Oprah wasn't a household name. An elementary school child during most of the eighties, I wasn't allowed to watch her early-on outrageous talk show and its parade of dysfunction, but that didn't mean her personality, her ideas, her face didn't filter into my life anyway.

I didn't need to be a fan to see her image plastered across the grocery store checkout aisles, especially when her weight (and hair size) ballooned or shrank. Then, there was the oft-repeated image of Tom Cruise jumping on her couch and of shrieking audience women from her "favorite things" episodes. To this day, the catchy lyrics "It's 4:00, where's everybody gone?" still stick in my head.

Perhaps this background of Oprah is why the title of Stephen Mansfield's newest book intrigued me: Where Has Oprah Taken Us?: The Religious Influence of the World's Most Famous Woman.

The first two chapters gave a basic biography of Oprah's life, from childhood to present, all to form the groundwork for exploring where her present approach to religion and spirituality came from. While this part was less than thrilling to read for non-Oprah fans like myself, the whole book is not about Oprah, nor is it an attempt to bash Oprah.

Mansfield's biographical information is intended to provide an explanation for how a woman raised in a Christian church by a very religious extended family made the leap to the modern New Age spirituality she now claims. By understanding this, the reader can understand how Oprah's turning to spirituality versus established religion has affected American culture as a whole as well as how her choices reflect her entire generation in general

It is this part of the book that is extraordinarily interesting, when Mansfield analyzes the historical events in America that led to the baby boomer generation separating itself from the confines of established religion to explore the New Age spirituality that began permeating America post World War II.

Most importantly, he shows how Oprah and post-WWII America have taken Eastern religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism and refashioned them for an American culture that revolves around the self and self fulfillment as being the focus of life itself, not a God.

The American notion of karma? of reincarnation? of maya? Mansfield explains how these ideas as we Westerners understand them look nothing like what they actually are in their native Eastern religion. Instead, these concepts have all have been "sanitized," secularized, and reinvented for Western culture, resulting in an entirely new religion that is, at best, a hodge podge of misunderstood pieces of Eastern religions and, at worst, contradictory trendy concepts falsely presented as ancient beliefs that cancel each other out into meaninglessness (p. 185).

In short, through the New Age movement of experimental spirituality, America has
merely shaped a religion they want to be true.

My one criticism of the book is actually a big one, that Mansfield does not make the final leap to critique Christianity or any other established world religion in America, even though even the established world religions such as Judaism, Islam, or Christianity all have seemingly the same problems of ego-ism, of piecing together a modified gospel just as the New Age spirituality demonstrates.

Mansfield's only mention of this concept is in passing with only the faintest of echoes of David Platt's Radical: "Christian churches have created a Christianity of therapeutic preaching, me-oriented worship, self-enchanting theology, and ministries desperate to meet every social need of their parishioners. This is a far cry from the kind of Christianity created by the Jesus Christ who commanded men to lay down their lives for God" (p. 188).

Oprah fan or mere cultural observer--this book is definitely an eye-opener concerning how a falsified version of Eastern religions has permeated American culture over the past fifty years and how it continues to infiltrate the American household and church even today.