I realize that I've been hinting around at a conclusion Ben and I have reached sometime over the past three years since our marriage. I'm not sure exactly when we reached it, but it's been several years in the making and firming. Thing is, we haven't said much about it. Why? Because it's controversial and we don't like to rock the boat, that's why. Because this point of view makes us strangers among the strange. It's disconcerting to be isolated this way, but it's even more disconcerting to be attacked.
Which basically makes us cowards. And you cannot be cowardly about truth. Jesus said that if anyone is ashamed of him - the Living Word of Truth - he'll be ashamed of them. Because we've found ourselves so reluctant to speak about or admit our own conclusions to others, we've also learned we need to take a deep breath and say what we believe to be true when there is an appropriate opportunity.
This has been really illustrated to us lately as several people we know came to similar conclusions totally independent of us and then when they found out we had thought that way for a long time said to us, "Why didn't you say anything?! It would've helped us to know others were asking these questions and making these decisions!"
We are so reluctant to stir the pot that we don't bring out things that perhaps it would've helped those around us to at least hear we were thinking of and may even have been instrumental in helping them see a similar truth - and a truth is always a blessing even though real truth has a tendency to get a person in big trouble. Ask Paul about that one - how many times did he say he was stoned?
Here is the conclusion we have reached:
Every part of the Bible is still valid. Every word God has ever spoken is good and applicable to anyone who wants to follow him.
If we want life - Eternal Life - we can't live by the traditions of men but must exist on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
God's Law has therefore not been abolished.
It seemed so clear at first when we read Paul's writings that the Law of God had been annulled...but once we began realizing certain parts of the Law were, to use Paul's words, "by no means!" annulled, we began wondering what allowed us to pick and choose what to honor. Where was the dividing line? We heard a lot of theories on where that line was, but when we would go back to the Bible and examine the discrepancies and difficulties, most of these theories failed to hold up.
In the past two years, I have spoken to a surprising number of Gentile Christians who were convicted as we were that the Sabbath was important to God still. Once you come to that conclusion, I've discovered, you open up a huge question: if the Sabbath is still valid, what else have we overlooked?
The elephant in the room at this point really becomes Paul and his intricate writings (which are easily misunderstood and twisted, to quote Peter in 2 Peter 3:15-18).
It's very hard to ignore Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles as he called himself. He is brilliant, learned, called personally by Jesus as a missionary, zealous for the things of God and like a bulldog with a bone when he has a point to make. If we had never heard of Paul, I believe there would be no question about following God's Law. But Paul had a big thing to explain to the heathen Gentiles just coming to know Messiah and he tackled it headlong. He did not want these new believers falling into the same errors as he himself inherited as a young man. He did not want them to misunderstand their place in the Covenant or to misapply the laws of God or to be taken in by centuries of tradition that had blinded so many of his own people to the true Messiah when he was standing right in front of them. So Paul wrote deeply philosophical, passionate explanations to his beloved converts order to teach them what he had learned over many years of study, error and correction.
Just after our marriage in 2011, Ben began really grappling with Paul's letters, trying to get a clear understanding of the seeming contradictions they introduced. In order to come to a conclusion about honoring God's commandments, we had to reconcile the contradiction Paul created by seeming to flatly state they were dead and useless and completely irrelevant to Christians.
Ben started painstakingly translating Paul's epistles from Greek to English while searching out and re-inserting the whole Bible passages Paul refers to. This also ended up requiring translation from Hebrew since Paul didn't draw Scripture from the Greek writings of what we call the New Testament, but from the Hebrew writings of Moses and the Prophets of God. He also began carrying forward the subject of each line of reasoning into each succeeding paragraph since it turned out to be easy to lose sight of Paul's point as it worked it's way sometimes through a page or more of logical argument. We counted at least seven different things Paul referred to as "Laws" in this process and it turned out that whenever Paul says "Law" in a verse, you have to back up and figure out which law he was talking about. The Law of Sin and Death, for instance, was not the same as the Law of God. This has been like a long treasure hunt, consuming many, many hours and evenings and car rides.
What began to emerge from this process was pretty startling, at least to me.
We found that Paul's letters are composed almost entirely of references to Scripture. Some are obvious because he treats them as quotes (although Greek is difficult because it doesn't use a lot of punctuation cues and Paul's letters are apparently not even written in very good Greek). Some of Paul's references to Scripture aren't obvious and can be read as his own words, but as Ben dug in he found that more and more of what Paul said was coming straight from Scripture. He would speak in Scripture verses as we often do in quotes from movies, just a quick reference denoting much longer thoughts. When we would go read the whole chapter he'd refer to, a very different Paul than the one we had been taught began to take shape.
Paul never forsake the Law. He never stopped keeping it. He encouraged others to learn it and keep it. He revered the writings of Moses and the Prophets as instructions inspired by the Holy Spirit and he never stopped calling himself a Pharisee. He still believed in sacrificing in the Temple, in circumcision (though not adult circumcision as a prerequisite to salvation by God) and in the necessity of keeping God's appointed days.
There is no contradiction. One truth cannot contradict another. Paul could not contradict God and remain a Prophet of God we should respect and listen to. And in the end, we discovered that he had not indeed contradicted God. By no means. He had merely done his best to teach others to "rightfully handle the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).
I had a hard time with this at first. I couldn't wrap my mind around it.
In spite of the fact that my family had kept the Sabbath and Biblical dietary commands for a number of years, we tended to take each issue (Sabbath, diet, holidays, wearing tassels, circumcisions, etc.) as it's own question rather than looking at the commands of God as a cohesive whole and determining whether we should take it seriously or not. So when Ben began becoming convinced that Paul never advocated abandoning God's Laws, I resisted at first. It made no sense to me that the Law was anything but a memory of something God commanded his people a long time before Jesus. A good memory, I was ready to admit, but not one that really was applicable to us Christian Gentiles. Even with my conviction that we should keep the Sabbath, I looked at it as something instituted at Creation, not at Sinai. I'm not Jewish. In my brother's words, it seemed "presumptuous" to think all the words God spoke to his people could really apply to me. And besides...how could we keep the whole law anyway? There IS no priesthood anymore or a place God has chosen to set his name, making it impossible to rightfully keep the laws of sacrifice...and why would we need to offer sacrifices for the atonement of sins when Jesus did that once and for all? Wasn't it pretty clear that trying to take on the commandments would result in curses rather than blessings? Wouldn't we be blatantly ignoring what God had done in sending his son to save us?
But Ben asked me one very important question: does God change?
He had me there. If there's one thing we know about God, it's contained in his name: he is Yehovah. The God who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. The God who is Goodness in every facet, the standard of what is holy and right. This unchanging God who created us does everything for the good of those he loves.
This unchangeable good God, therefore, never gave a direction that was evil. Never. And anyone who follows him is subject to his standards of good because he loves his people and wants good for them. We don't always see things God's way when it comes to good - we often think things are bad that God plans for our good - but God is always good.
This goes to the root of absolutely everything. This begs a decision be made about foundations, about the very core of faith. The question becomes no longer about eating pork or keeping the Sabbath or circumcising our sons: it becomes about the very character of the God we believe in. This question asks us to go down to the very beginning and test what we believe to be true.
It's not "should we keep the law?"
It's "what kind of God do we believe in?"
That is how my mind began to change. I began to notice every time the Bible mentions how God is unchanging, his statutes are everlasting, he commands something to exist for generation after generation or forever, he makes promises that he says will last forever, he does not think like we do, he is steadfast even through the passing away of the heavens and the earth. If the heavens and the earth are still here, even more surely are the words of the Lord still standing.
I realize that there are three years of "what ifs" I am glossing over in making this statement, but I want to keep explaining. Maybe part of me needs to keep explaining this way because I write much better than I speak. If I tried to write everything into one blog post, it would be impossibly long. So that is why I am beginning with Bible passages about God and his unchanging, everlasting, steadfast, eternal nature. There are so many it's really hard to choose or list them.
God described his character - and the character of his covenants - to Noah:
12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”
Abraham described God:
33 Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God.
God described his character to Moses:
6YHVH passed before him and proclaimed, “YHVH, YHVH, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
Moses (the man who was God's friend and spoke to him face to face) described God to his people:
9 Know therefore that YHVH your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, 10 and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them.
Balaam - speaking under the control of the Holy Spirit - describes God:
19 God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
Samuel repeats this description to Saul:
1 Samuel 15:28-29
28 Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you. 29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”
Isaiah describes God:
8The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.
28Have you not known? Have you not heard?
YHVH is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
Jeremiah describes God:
10 But the LORD is the true God;
he is the living God and the everlasting King.
God speaks of his own character through Malachi:
6“For I YHVH do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed."
Paul describes the character of God:
20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse."
These are just a few and I could keep going, but the overwhelming evidence that God testifies about himself is that he is unchanging and resolute. What he calls good today, he does not call evil tomorrow.
And that is the foundation. That is how we began to be convinced that everything God says is still good.
I was going to post about our last few weeks all at once, but it got to be very long and I thought it might be better to break it into three parts and give myself a few days between parts.
Grandma Lila died June 9, 2014.
Even though we all knew it was coming, it was kind of a shock that it actually happened. For one thing, when we brought Grandma home from the hospital, it looked for all the world like she only had a few days left with us. She was nearly unresponsive, wasn't eating or drinking anything, and was doing steadily worse by the day.
Then she bounced back. She was more herself than she'd ever been, clear-headed and rational and wanting to eat. We could still tell she wasn't really on the road to recovery, but for a week or so there we were honestly doubting the doctor's opinion and even began making plans how to help her get better for a time.Things did go downhill from there. First there was a kind of happy delirium in which Grandma acted like a happily intoxicated person most of the time but was pretty clearly not rational. This continued for about two months until suddenly a week before she died she became very, very sad. I think some part of her knew she wasn't going to get better and that she didn't feel well but she wasn't really able to express those things anymore because her mind had become very much like that of a little child. She compared herself to Abigail all the time, spoke "baby talk" and had a list of needs that was pretty simple: "Squatch my back!", "I'm hungry", "I want to get up" and "take me to the bathroom" became her nearly constant litany. What became difficult about this the last week was that she became desperate about those things and didn't recognize when they were being given to her. She would say, "I want water! I want water!" and would continue asking like that even with the water in her hand or even on a sponge in her mouth. She didn't seem to be able to understand that she had been given what she required because I think she knew she needed something else but couldn't really identify what.
I have always had difficulty with what I saw especially in Hospice situations as the tendency to tranquilize a dying person right into death. I have a different perspective now that might help any other "me" kind of people reading: when we finally made a decision to begin giving Grandma stronger tranquilizers, we did it because of her desperation and how badly she was feeling. It was like watching someone in great pain only she wasn't really in pain. Her mind wasn't able to tell her what was going on. Causing her to become sleepy gave her relief much like giving pain killer would and while it felt a little wrong to do in some ways since we knew we weren't going to have many more days with her, her last few days were much more peaceful than the week that had gone before. Her last drowsy conversation with Ben went something like this:
Ben: "Hi Grandma. How are you feeling? Would you like the windows open?"
Grandma: "Yes...I'd like that."
Ben, after opening the windows and then stroking Grandma's head a little: "There, Lila. We're taking good care of you."
Grandma: "You sure are..."
Ben: "I love you, Grandma Lila."
Grandma: "I love you too, Ben..."
The next night Ben was up most of the night with her since she kept crying and calling for help. We couldn't tell what was wrong, but we did notice she was having a much harder time breathing since her skin was getting bluer and we were giving her oxygen for the first time. By morning, she didn't seem able to talk anymore and we gave her some medicine hoping to help her breathe easier. She eventually fell asleep to me reading Abigail stories while I sat next to her and never woke again. She slept all day and we could tell her time was very short since her breathing became very rapid and shallow and her color kept getting duskier even though we had the oxygen up as high as it could go. She was still much more peaceful than she had been all week, no longer trying to climb out of bed or making frantic requests we couldn't grant.
Later in the afternoon, I called the Hospice nurse and told her that I didn't think Grandma had much time and asked if they wanted to come by or if there was anything they needed done for their benefit, since they arrange calling people and taking care of things after someone dies. The nurse on call was a lady we'd seen once before and really liked and she came out to the house around 5:00 to see Grandma and assess what was going on. She told us that Grandma's heart was still pretty strong considering the condition she was in and that her breathing was at what was considered a normal rate with no pauses, so we were probably looking at being up that night with her but she agreed Grandma did not have much time with us. Mom called Jenny and told her what was going on and Jenny decided to stop here on the way home from work and I started the barbecue since it was time for dinner and it looked like we'd better feed everyone since it was going to be a long night.
It was a beautiful warm summery evening and we had all the windows open in the house since we don't have air conditioning yet. Jenny arrived and came in and rubbed Grandma's head and said hello to her even though Grandma was sleeping. Mom and the nurse and I were going to clean Grandma a little since she was having some issues with her insides and we wanted her to be as comfortable as possible, so Jenny took Abigail for a walk on the path in the backyard we call "Lila Boulevard" since we built it to easily get Grandma back and forth from our house to Mom and Dad's. As the weather had gotten warmer and the dandelions bloomed, Ben taught Abigail to pick them and bring them to Grandma, since in her delirious state she would make a big deal about the "pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty flowers" that "the little girl with the curly hair" brought her - she would even make up little songs about it. When Jenny and Abigail came back, Abigail ran to me with a dandelion held out proudly. I thought she had brought it for me, but Abigail pointed to Grandma's bed and said, "Wa-wa?"
"You want me to give this to Grandma Lila?" I asked her.
"I do," she said - lately if you ask her a question she wants to answer "yes" to, she says "I do".
"Grandma's sleeping right now, but I'll put it right here on her lap so she'll see it when she opens her eyes," I told Abigail.
Then I went and got Abigail some raisins. Our family was all sitting in Grandma's new bright room with the windows open, since we had kind of gathered together to hear what the nurse would have to say. We were chatting about how Grandma's last year has been, since earlier in the day Mom had been keeping her company and putting pictures in an album from the past year and it had been amazing all the things Grandma had gotten to do and participate in. Suddenly Jenny said, "You know, Grandma's head has been moving with every breath but it's not moving now. Is she breathing?"
I looked at Grandma, who didn't really look any differently than she had all day and said, "Um...I think so. Maybe her breathing has just gotten more shallow?"
But after a few more seconds, I realized I really couldn't see any sign of Grandma breathing. I got up off the floor where I'd been sitting and feeding Abigail raisins and went over to Grandma and put my hand on her chest. I couldn't feel her breathing, but I thought I could feel her heart beating. The nurse came back in the room from having made a phone call and I looked up at her and said, "I can't tell if Grandma is breathing but I think I feel her heart."
The nurse came and put her stethoscope on Grandma's chest and listened for a little while, then looked at me and shook her head a little. "I can't hear anything," she said quietly. "She's gone."
So Grandma left us on a warm summer evening with her whole family sitting around her visiting and talking about her life of the past year while her great-granddaughter who had never lived in a house without her laid on the floor by her bed humming and peacefully eating raisins after having brought a dandelion in especially for her. It was the kind of way a lot of people might ask to die if we were given the chance to make that request.
People have asked me over the past few weeks what I thought of Grandma's view on death and if she believed she would be with God someday when she died. I was never really able to tell exactly what Grandma thought, partly because she wasn't necessarily clear-headed enough to discuss it due to medications and forgetfulness issues and partly because I just wasn't able to really tell what she thought. I know she was very afraid to die, mostly because I think she was afraid it was going to hurt. Honestly, in the end I don't think it did. Most days Ben would ask her how she was doing and she would cheerfully say, "Oh, pretty good!" which is better than she usually said when she was actually in better health.
Whatever Lila thought, however, I do know God loved Lila very much and gave her some pretty incredible blessings in her life, especially in the part of her life I was present for. As we realized months ago when we realized Grandma was "dying", a person actually lives right up to the second they die. The question always is...what kind of life are they living right up until that second?
Grandma lived a special and comfortable life full of things and people she loved right until the second she left us. That was evidence of how much God loves her. Not only was her life very blessed with good things, but there were also bad things she was always afraid of that never came to pass. She always thought she was going to get cancer or that she would have another heart attack - she was terrified of those things. She was also afraid of being put in an institution somewhere until she died. One of the reasons she came to live with us in the first place was because our family decided together that we would do whatever we could to fulfill one of her most firmly-held wishes: to never, ever end up in a nursing home. That became one of our goals, that whatever we had to do to care for her, we would strive to do from home. In the moment that Grandma died, for me there was an incredible sense of peace because together our family had accomplished something good we had set out to do and we had not failed. It was like finishing a race for everyone and that meant we could all rest when Grandma rested. We were privileged to be given to each other and we were given the strength not to abandon each other.
So in a few seconds on the evening of June 9th as we sat together peacefully talking around Lila's bed, the number of days God had given her - a little over 91 years - came to a very gentle and quiet end.
Dad had visited the farmer's market a few days earlier and brought back some rhubarb with the request for a pie and I had made it the day before forgetting Dad was leaving overnight for a fishing trip. I hadn't had enough rhubarb for a straight-up rhubarb pie, so I used strawberries from the freezer and made a strawberry-rhubarb pie instead, then saved the whole pie when I realized Dad wasn't going to be there to eat it. Over the course of the day Grandma died, Mom happened to hear on the radio that June 9th was National Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Day and we had gotten a chuckle out of the fact we just happened to have one to share. After we had gone through all the formal things that had to be done after Grandma's death, like disposing of her medication and signing paperwork and making various other arrangements, we took the pie next door and sat on the patio together sharing pie and ice cream and talking about Grandma and Grandpa. Sort of like people would do after a funeral when there's a meal and people are no longer crying. Mom says this is probably going to be a new tradition, where we have strawberry-rhubarb pie on National Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Day and remember Grandma Lila dying so quietly and peacefully that beautiful June evening in 2014.
As a tradition remembering the end of someone's life goes, I think Grandma Lila would've liked that one. She surely did enjoy her ice cream, especially the last few months of her life.
Sleep well, Grandma Lila. We love you.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
I learned these verses seven years ago when I made it a project to memorize the book of James. They're actually James' first words after his greeting, which leads me to believe James was writing to some people having a tough time. Of course, "tough time" is relative - what these guys were dealing with was on a scale of "tough" I've probably never even imagined in my lifetime. Hebrew believers in Yeshua of Nazareth as the Messiah were being harassed on a scale that we have a hard time identifying with, being kicked out of congregations they didn't want to leave, imprisoned by those who claimed the title of "holy" and losing families, homes and livelihoods.
James, the son of Joseph and Mary and one of Jesus' younger brothers, looked at the situation and said, "You know what, guys? This is good for us! Consider this time a joy because it's an opportunity for us to become what God made us to be."
There is a school of thought which says that true faith in God doesn't really strive for anything, that all we need to do is rest contentedly wherever we are and God will just cover everything in our characters he doesn't like so he doesn't see it anymore. Whenever I hear this, I'm reminded of James with his reminder to be "steadfast". Being steadfast is not an easy resting all the time. Our faith - our conviction of the truth that God is good - gets tested all the time. It can get very tempting to start thinking that while God is in control, he doesn't always have our good in mind. The Israelites ran into this out in the desert when they got scared by the lack of food and water and said, "Weren't there enough graves in Egypt that you had to drag us out into the desert to die out here?"
They believed God was there, they just weren't so sure they believed God is actually good.
One of the hardest things for any believer to do is to keep giving up our idea of good and trusting that what God is doing is truly good. To remain steadfast despite whatever circumstances are going on.
For me, it's been a rough time on the grandmother front. Two of my four grandmas (biological and in-law) are dying and my situation is such that I can't be with one of them much. Another is really struggling and my family is stretched right now trying to figure out how best to care for her from day to day. The grandma who is doing well is a bit neglected with all the drama going on with the others and we know time with her is just as precious, but we aren't able to see her anywhere near as much as we'd like. There are a lot of times when I'm wanting to ask, "Lord, why does this all have to happen at the same time?"
If I were planning my idea of "good", this wouldn't necessarily be it. But if I remain steadfast in my conviction that God is good and all he does is good, I know this is the case even now. This is one way God is, among other things, encouraging me to grow the character to be "perfect and complete, not lacking in anything". He's not doing it for me, but he's certainly giving me the chance to do it. To remain steadfast. To not get discouraged.
As a Grandma Lila update: we continue to wait with her and do our best to keep her peaceful and comfortable. We had a doctor pay us a visit this week and explain a lot of what we were seeing that was confusing. The most interesting thing is that Grandma's mind has changed quite a bit. For the first week, she was nearly unresponsive, but then she had a week of being extraordinarily clear-headed and able to converse and reason at normal speed - which was amazing because I've never known her in that capacity - but now she isn't usually rational like most people would be. Now's she had a week where she hasn't been unresponsive, but she hasn't been clear-headed either.
Actually, as we enter the fourth week since bringing her home from the hospital, the closest way to describe her usual frame of mind these days is like someone who's getting a little whiskey all the time with the chocolate ice cream she so enjoys tasting. Apparently as a person's mind begins closing off everything but it's most important functions, their awareness changes and their mind no longer perceives accurately what's going on around it, sort of like what happens when a person drinks a lot of alcohol. Just as when a person drinks, it's not as if the actual personality of a person changes but their inhibitions go away. So what is inside is plainly visible because the person no longer has the capability or desire of masking it. In Grandma's case, she pretty much says whatever she's thinking all the time and clowns around happily saying things like, "Mm, this lemonade is pink ambrosia!" Sometimes she gets very sad and weepy for no apparent reason, but most of the time the last several days she's just been like...well, a very happy drunk. Or at least the way happy drunks are portrayed in movies.
Mom and Dad Turner have been here faithfully every day in the afternoon and evening, while Ben, Elizabeth and I do the morning and nighttime shift. The usual roles are: Mom being in charge of keeping Grandma company (she's the one Grandma really wants there most, so just being here makes a huge difference in taking care of what Grandma wants) and finding new musicals for Grandma to watch; Ben being in charge of medicine and gets up at night if Grandma calls; and I've got cleaning and bandaging and general personal care (and Abigail). Dad and Elizabeth are the support team and fill in with all different things, including meals and cleaning and Abigail entertaining when the rest of us are doing Grandma care (like baths). Ben's sister Jenny comes by often and entertains Grandma and Abigail, often at the same time.
One of the things that's happened with my other grandma who's struggling is that she came down with a stomach virus from the assisted living home where she'd moved to and my mom caught it, which meant for the safety of several fragile people my family has been quarantined until further notice. Elizabeth happened to be the sister staying here (Anna and Elizabeth have been taking turns) when this happened, so as she was outside the quarantine she is here with us for the duration. We've been enjoying her presence quite a bit, especially as she is using the opportunity to try out some very tasty Pinterest recipes that would be tougher to make on the scale of my family's size and tastes. Yesterday, for instance, we had poached salmon with spiced cream sauce, red potatoes and roasted lemon green beans. This is gourmet on normal occasions, but lately our dinners have degenerated quite a bit and that makes this kind of thing extra special.
And so we continue to wait...
Since Grandma Lila has first lived with us, I've become aware of a unique quirk of her philosophy and belief that I don't think I've ever encountered quite so strongly before. She is very deeply aware of the difference between those of her blood and "everyone else" who isn't.
To her, while a person may be very fond of adopted children or in-laws, they exist on a slightly removed plane from those of her blood. It's such a basic understanding that even as she's gradually forgetting so many things that used to be second-nature to her, she remembers this. There are those who are blood-related to her and those who aren't; and those who aren't blood can never be family. Not really.
It took me a long time to put my finger on why this was disturbing to me. There was the obvious reason that I wasn't blood and Grandma just doesn't quite believe I'm a member of her family. I was not, am not, and probably will never be a granddaughter in her mind. This is partly due to the difficulty of not being able to remember who I actually am. But it's partly because I'm not blood and that's that.
There was more to it, though. I've finally realized what it is: I believe in adoption. I believe there is something much greater and stronger than simple relationship through blood, as powerful as that is.
I believe it's possible to become family with people I wasn't born blood-related to. I deeply believe that although I wasn't born one of God's Chosen People, I can be adopted into God's family as seamlessly as if I really was blood of their blood. Without this belief, this hope, it would be a pretty depressing thing to read the Bible. I would always be cut off from really being able to take part in God's promises to those he calls "my people". This doesn't mean I think I'm actually a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because I've just decided I am - it means that I believe I've been grafted in to the family of his promise "you will be my people and I will be your God" just like any person who has faith in him.
Adoption is a thing that if done correctly is an amazing outgrowth of love. Love creating a family that isn't bound together by blood at all - a family that didn't have to be one, but chose to be one. The love of a parent for a natural-born child is a pretty spectacular thing; but true love of adopted family is extraordinary. Even supernatural. You're biologically geared to love flesh of your flesh. Not so much someone who doesn't originally belong to you at all. The bindings this kind of love can create can often be stronger than the love of a biological relative, though: that's been proved over and over. Ask military men about the bond between people in combat situations, for example. As Proverbs says, "There is a friend who is closer than a brother"; and Jesus, "Greater love has no man than he who lays down his life for his friends."
Marriage is a kind of adoption: a decision to become one person and to have lives bound together that otherwise would be totally separate, a decision that another person's family is going to become yours and your children will be part of them as well as part of the family you grew up.
If those who weren't family can't actually fully become family, then there's not much point to a marriage, in my mind. My family would always be closer than the husband I live with and I would always want to be with them rather than here. How terrible would it be if Ben and his family could never measure up to my family in my mind, so I always held them a little further away than my family? I bet you've seen that happen in some marriages before. It's devastating to everyone involved.
But God created marriage to be good. He said it was good for a man and woman to leave their parents and "cleave" to each other. To stick to each other, to become true family as if bound by the closest ties blood could create. He's enabled us to love those who were never born of our blood just as tightly and completely as if we had always been together.
I know he's done it because he made us to be like him. And God himself tells us the spirit is stronger than the flesh. Love is stronger than blood, not contingent on it.
I've been trying for a week to think of how to write this blog post.
A week ago yesterday, we buried one of the most wonderful men I've ever known.
I've struggled to try to explain what his life has meant to mine since the moment I realized he was gone, early in the morning on the day Abigail was coming into the world just a year ago. The impact he had was so enormous that in trying to play the "what if we had never met" scenario I'm not sure I can even comprehend what my life would be if he had never come into it. It's almost like trying to imagine what would've happened if one of your parents had never been born. You simply wouldn't exist, that's what. In a way, without this man, I wouldn't exist.
I know. It sounds melodramatic and ridiculous and might even sound like hero-worship. It's not. God used this man in a way men very rarely allow themselves to be used and the results have been - and will continue to be - tremendous.
Joe was not a very imposing man. In many ways, he would seem at first glance very average. But he wasn't because he believed a very simple concept about himself and about God: he believed - still DOES, since God is not a God of the dead but the living - that God created him in God's image. It wasn't that he thought he himself was so great, but he believed in a great God. He believed more that God was greater than anyone else I've ever met. He believed God was so great that God created all things to be good and therefore all things had the potential to be good. They were made to be good, redeemed to be brought back to good, and therefore could be good.
Stop and think about that a moment.
A lot of people will say that God created everything.
Fewer but still quite a few will say that God is good.
Even fewer will say that God made things - including us - to BE good.
And out of all those, very few at all actually believe any of it.
You can tell by the fruit their life bears. If a tree says it's an apple tree and bears oranges, you can't believe a word the tree said about it's identity. With humans, their beliefs dictate what kind of tree they are and what kind of fruit they bear. You can say all day long that you're a hippie and a free spirit, but if you voluntarily wear a suit and tie to work every day, cut your hair short, believe in keeping all the laws you encounter, and love authority and structure...no one can or should believe that you really believe what you're saying you believe. If you say you believe in a God who created all things good and say you serve him but have all the same troubles and problems as people who don't, then you don't either.
When Joe said he didn't believe in Terrible Twos because his beloved children were created by God to be good and Terrible Twos sounded like nothing God would look at and say "it is very good"...his children were delightful two-year-olds and just kept on getting better with age. Not only that, but his grandchildren were (and are) wonderful two-year-olds too. This was often the first thing that attracted other people to him: his children. His wonderful, happy, blunt, imaginative, humorous, creative, industrious, obedient children. Then teens. Then young adults. Then married with their own children. He understood and valued love and marriage and fatherhood like no other (he was asked to leave a very conservative church because they said he "valued fatherhood too much") because he believed whole-heartedly that God made all those things good and God himself was the original after whom husbands and fathers were modeled. He held himself to those standards not as a rigid authoritarian but as an enthusiastic, gentle and joy-filled leader; and it was impossible to talk to him without getting at least a sense of this.
To him, God is a person, a father, a leader, a Creator who - even though he is so much greater and more than we can even imagine - still wants to live in our homes with us and interact with us as a father does with his children. God is wonderful and he was interested in a wonderful God. And he made the same wonderful God attractive to other people when they kept coming to him over and over and saying, "Tell us how you're doing what you're doing!"
Peter advises his readers in 1 Peter 3:
"Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame."
Joe was the best evangelist I've ever met, not so much because of what he said as how he lived. His life brought God glory because when other people looked at him and wanted to know how to have what he had, the answer was he had what God is always ready to give. He really possessed the peace that passes understanding and the joy that only God can give; and it was very, very, very attractive to anyone who really had a chance to see it. People would think, "Boy, if this is what the God you serve can do...tell me about your God!"
My parents were like that. They first began really talking with him when they were 24 and I was about 6 weeks old. He was only a little older than Ben is now, but there was something about him and the God he loved that was so attractive that they were drawn to what he had. And when he began describing the things he'd learned about God that had brought him to where he was, they listened. They were already afraid to put me in school because of things they were hearing from the teenagers they were teaching at church. They looked at Joe and realized he'd done the unthinkable: he'd been afraid too, so he'd simply removed his children from school. Who does that?
Well, he had and it was clearly working. Because he believed God gave children to their parents and they were therefore fully equipped to raise those children to be the kind of men and women God was looking for. If school got in the way, then school had to go and it would be a good thing that it was gone.
I'm not sure my parents would've ever had the courage to take me and my siblings out of school without being able to see positive proof that it could be done and it could work really well. So without Joe, I would probably have gone to school.
That would already make me a totally different me.
When my sister was born and died around the time I was four, much of my parents' ability to weather that kind of storm - one that tears apart a sickening majority of marriages - came from reliance on the God they'd come to know so much better through Joe. It also came from his encouragement, advice and example. Without him, there is every possibility my parents would not have had the faith and fortitude to bring their marriage through Elaina's life and death. This would have made for a drastically different me. I would have been one of three children from a broken family, educated in the public school system and bounced between my parents' households.
And it only goes on from there. My peaceful growing-up years that left me with a profound trust of my parents and love for my siblings. My understanding of how to see a good man that meant I found Ben so wonderful. My view of marriage and children and family which means Abigail exists and Grandma Lila doesn't live in assisted living. My belief in a God so wonderful that I can be at peace with my baby dying because I believe God is good and does not do anything evil. That same belief which leads Ben and I to do things even other Christians think odd simply because we believe God has always worked for the good of his people. All this came because God sent my family a very good teacher. And that teacher was Joe.
I was talking to Ben about this last week. He looked at me soberly and said, "Joe saved your life."
He did. And my life is what it is because God decided to save it; and he used Joe to suggest and model the things first my parents and then I needed to know about God and God's ways so that my life could be saved. Not saved just in the sense that I can hopefully go to Heaven instead of Hell when I die someday: saved right now so that Ben and I and our children can live in God's Kingdom during our lives too.
In a way, this post has been about Joe, but ultimately it's really about God. I've had occasion to reflect on these things, on what my life is and what it would've been without God's intervention, because Joe was able for the first time to stand face-to-face with God sometime in the morning of Ben and Abigail's birthday, January 28th, 2014. It wasn't the easiest funeral to go to because we were feeling the hole left behind when a good man isn't around to see and talk to anymore. But it was the best funeral I've ever gone to because I have never been as certain with anyone else as I was with him that he is delighted to be finally in the presence of the God he spent his whole life loving so faithfully and completely. It was a good day. And his children and those who loved him were singing while the dirt was put into the grave.
God is good. He is very good. Joe's life was a good gift to us. And I'm overwhelmingly grateful for the life I have because of his.
This has been a truly amazing week.
There are some times in life you absolutely should look back on for months and years to come. Miracles leave an impression if they're examined and acknowledged. Unless you deliberately keep those memories alive they disappear; but if you keep them alive, they go into a folder in your brain that sticks around for a long, long time.
I have a friend who calls certain events “God's fingerprints” because they're something you can point to and say, “I saw God here today”. Many times when people ask a Christian person to talk about God, we're tempted to pull out the Bible and point to all the reasons why God is and why we should respect and worship him; but God himself urges us to look at the things we ourselves have seen God do and to pass those memories on to our children. It makes a huge difference to say, “This is what I saw God do” compared to, “This is what God did for some people a few thousand years ago.”
Please don’t get me wrong: I don't want to sound in any way like I'm devaluing anything God has done, whether it was two minutes ago or two thousand years ago. But an eyewitness is nowhere near the same as something from history.
The friend who looks for God's fingerprints suffered full cardiac arrest while out shoveling snow this week.
He is only 69 years old and was obviously feeling healthy enough to grab a shovel and start clearing the front walk in sub-zero weather; but while he was out there working his heart suddenly stopped and he collapsed on the ground practically in mid-sentence of a conversation with his daughter-in-law.
Before this story goes any further, there are two important things to point out: the first is that people who have a cardiac “incident” of this kind outside a hospital or without EMS already on the scene have a bad, bad, bad chance of ever recovering. I think the statistics were something very dreary along the lines of 2% - 9% discharge from hospital. This is because a person's brain begins to die the second it's deprived of oxygen: by 7 – 10 minutes, there is so much damage the person may never even regain consciousness.
However, the second important thing is what changed this particular man's chances drastically. It's his philosophy of life, the basic understanding that drives his outlook and therefore the decisions that have shaped him and his family.
One facet of this philosophy is the absolute belief that God looked at man and said, “It's not good for man to be alone.”
It sounds simple enough. I doubt you’re going to find very many God-fearing folks who'd disagree God said this. It's right there in the first chapter of Genesis, right at the founding of the Human race. It was the understanding that prompted God to create a woman for the man he'd just made. However, most of the same folks would look at that passage and conclude it was good for a man to be married.
It is good for a man to have a wife; but sometimes he had a wife and lost her, and sometimes he’s not old enough to have a wife, and sometimes it’s been difficult to find one, and sometimes he has a duty in life where it would be better for him not to be married. All these situations exist: but God did not say, “Usually it’s not good for man to be alone, but in some cases…”
Nope: God said, “It's not good.” Period. And when he made a woman, he actually ensured that no man ever has to be alone. Because the woman meant children. Children meant a family. A family is made up of grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins and second-cousins and eventually a huge network of men and women all capable of preventing any member of the gigantic Human family ever being alone. It's not good for us to be alone, whatever our marital status may be.
Because this man believes God and thinks about God probably more than anyone I've ever met, the outcome of his life has been different than anyone else I've ever met. Because he has this firm foundational belief, here is what we understand was his situation the day he collapsed out on the front walk: his daughter-in-law and another woman who's become a daughter to him were standing out with him having a conversation, which is the usual way he does any activity including weeding the garden. I'm not sure I've ever seen him do anything where he was just working on something. He is always with someone talking about something while he's doing the most basic tasks.
Not only were his daughters with him, but two of his three adult sons were working on constructing a house probably less than a hundred feet away, with their families spending the day in an RV parked on site so the children could take naps and live normal daily life close to their fathers. When he collapsed, one of his daughters ran to find the sons, who immediately ran back and began doing CPR on their father.
As near as they can tell, CPR began within two minutes of his collapse. Perhaps within one minute. He began breathing again almost immediately, which doesn't usually happen in cardiac arrest outside of hospital because there often isn't anyone around to respond, let alone this quickly. It’s not good for man to be alone.
Meanwhile, an EMS crew was only one mile away and was able to reach him within four minutes. They were able to shock his heart into a normal rhythm when it arrested again and he reached the hospital – one of the best heart hospitals in the state that “happened” to be only a few blocks away – with his heart already returning to a normal rate.
It's been a long week as we waited for news. He's been unconscious for most of it, since one way to allow the body to heal from such a shock to the system is to be sedated and kept very cold for a time until healing can take place. We still don't know how long he'll take to recover or what his full condition will be when he does, but right now the signs are extremely hopeful. It looks as if God did a miracle and is preserving this life -- and this mind -- for us (though I think that was a kindness to the rest of us more than to him or God, who would be delighted to be together). There have been many “small” miracles over the course of the week, like the first time he opened his eyes and smiled in recognition at his son.
There were other beliefs and truths that played into the situation and created their own miracles, such as that a complete reliance on God really does impart a peace that passes understanding. While our friend was still unconscious and no one knew for sure if he could even wake up, his wife – who loves him very dearly – peacefully took a turn being home and was met bringing the laundry upstairs for folding with a smile on her face. If that isn't peace that passes understanding, I'm not sure what is.
However, a huge part of the miracle of this life being preserved happened long ago and in tiny steps leading to that moment in the snow. The real miracle was the revelation that God really meant it wasn't good for any of us to be alone. It was the tenacity of belief, the conviction of this truth, that created a situation where the nearly-unsurvivable became survivable. And it's a big reason why this has been a very amazing week. Because we got to see the fruit of this belief one more time: and it's good and beautiful and very desirable for eating. It was a fingerprint of God, the mark of his hand on someone's whole life.
We are very privileged to have witnessed it; and we do not want to forget.
I notice that for the first time since beginning this blog, there's a month that doesn't have a single blog post in it. So much for my continuing wish to find time to write. I have greater and greater respect for moms of multiple children who maintain any kind of regular blog, let alone a thought-provoking one. It seems like I should have more time with only one child, but perhaps I just haven't learned to manage it properly!
I'm probably busier right now than I've ever been. It often feels to me like I have ADD or what people describe ADD being like, because I often can't spend more than a few minutes on a project at a time, so I have to keep switching my concentration from thing to thing to thing. If laundry needs to be done, I do it in ridiculously small steps. One minute I have a chance to take the laundry downstairs, but it might be a few hours before I have another few minutes to sort it. I keep sort of a running list in my head of the things that I'm trying finish each day and how many steps still need to be done for each task. This is quite a workout for my brain and the rest of me too - I'm finally down to my pre-Abigail weight.
In the process of this busy-ness, I have had quite a few thoughts that I'd like to put down, but I wonder if many of them might just wait until a time when I have more time. I'm sure there is going to be such a day, simply because I notice older moms I know do eventually have time to do things like knit or write or quilt again. It's an amazing thing how becoming a wife and then a mother really does change many things about who I am. It's not just a status change. It's a big change in how I function, what I think about, even what I find enjoyable or what bothers me.
For instance, this week Abigail has had a cold. She's only had three viruses in her life and really sailed through them with flying colors: even the six weeks she spent recovering from RSV when she was two months old didn't include any trips to the ER for bad croup, antibiotics for an ear infection (we took her in but her ears were fine), or much medicinal help beyond saline drops in her nose. Those are pretty invaluable for keeping a kid from getting bronchitis or ear infections, by the way. At any rate, this week we ran out of her saline drops, so Ben and I took her for a short ride in the car to the drugstore to buy some drops. It didn't take us longer than five minutes to find the drops, but we found ourselves wandering around the entire store, looking at everything from shampoo to discount candy. When we were standing in front of the rack with all the travel-size products, we looked at each other and said, "What are we doing here again?" and Ben grinned and said, "This is just what we do when we go out." And it was fun looking at the stuff in the drugstore. I found it very enjoyable.
Something that bothers me that didn't used to is how to raise Abigail in such a way that she loves good. I suppose growing up I became very confident I knew what it took to raise a child so that when they were an adult they would believe in what is good and do what is good. The older I'm getting, though, the more I'm seeing catastrophic failures in people I grew up with, things happening with them I never thought would and would never, ever want to see happen with my beautiful baby girl. I'm not sure these things would be seen as catastrophic by everyone, but to me they are frightening. What I'm seeing is that there is a huge difference between really loving good and looking good and unless you know what to look for, they can look the same for a long, long time. And I have discovered much to my concern - my fear, really - that I don't see people all that clearly. Ben sees much more clearly than I do, thankfully, but that doesn't change the uneasiness of beginning to realize how much I don't see and how much I don't know or understand. And if a person doesn't see clearly, they'll end up somewhere they don't want to be.
Actually, raising Abigail to love good IS simple: Ben and I have to love it. Because children follow after their parents unless their parents send them away. So maybe what is fearful about recognizing I don't see clearly is that if I don't see clearly, I don't love good as I ought to.
There are a lot of other thoughts going on, some serious and some simply curious (is it really possible that the Titanic isn't the ship at the bottom of the ocean? What do you get someone for their birthday if they don't think they're going to be around much longer? What if we translated every verse in the Bible that said "the Law" as "God's Ways"?) but if I'm going to write anything in the blessing book tonight, I should wrap this up. If you've missed the past few months of Abigail's pictures since I haven't posted the link on this site, September's pictures are here and October's pictures are here.
I keep having ideas of blog posts I want to write, but these days it seems like the time I have in which to write usually falls somewhere around midnight and I'm not sure it's the wisest use of my time. For all I know, however, this may be normal for many years to come and I should probably just take advantage of the fact that I actually have time.
I think it might be finally sinking in to Ben and I that we have our own family and we only get one shot at forming a good marriage that produces good children. Sometimes I'm not sure my mind can even properly grasp what a huge undertaking this is and as solemnly as we took it on, it doesn't seem like we could've possibly been solemn enough for how gigantic a thing it is. I can say it's a matter of life and death without being melodramatic at all. Both physically and spiritually, we are in the process of making decisions that will either bring us life or kill us. And it only takes very small errors of thought to end up with a complete family catastrophe.
As someone I know once said, this is not the time for sloppy Godliness.
And it has been sloppy of us to think that we could pick and choose which of God's commands we should keep.
As Abigail has begun testing us to find out if she should really listen when we tell her not to touch something or come when we call, a passage I've heard in Deuteronomy since I was only a little older than she is keeps coming to mind: Moses, addressing his people on the day of his death, said, "I set before you today blessings and curses. Choose life, so you may live!"
When I see Abigail making a beeline to stick her little fingers in an electrical socket, I find myself saying to her, "Choose life so you may live, Abby!"
And then I find myself wondering if that's exactly what God thinks. When he set out all his "commands, judgements and precepts" before his beloved children, he wasn't doing it to cause them grief or harm. He was laying out for them how he intended for them to live, warning them of dangers and placing his understanding and view of the universe before them so they could keep their fingers out of electrical sockets and live. That's why failure to obey brought curses, just as Abigail runs a serious risk of bringing serious consequences on her head if she doesn't listen even if those consequences are not things I'm actively bringing upon her.
It's such a simple, enigmatic statement. At first glance, it's like a facepalm-simple phrase. Who doesn't want to choose life? Well, aside from the troubled individual here or there...but for the most part it seems like we all fight pretty hard to live. Babies are blessed right from the beginning with loud obnoxious voices and the tenacity to make sure their parents can't sleep or ignore their cries to be fed so they can get the food they need to live.
But I don't think God was just talking about the physical. He included it, of course - God's very practical commandments are not set on some weird mystic spiritual plane in which our bodies are something to be ignored as worthless - but when he was saying to "choose life", he was talking about REAL life, something Jesus called "life abundant", life that was more than just eating and breathing. In God's eyes, I think most of us are overall like people in a vegetative state: alive, but not vitally. Existing in a coma while machines breathe for you is not really much like the life we're used to living. Life outside of God's ways is pretty much the same.
God's version of "Life" does not include sickness, hunger, miscarriage, defeat, famine or anxiety.
For some reason, I had always thought that a lack of those things could only exist in Heaven. I was overlooking the fact that God's promised blessings on his people included freedom from these curses. Those people were all still living! God's version of Real Life - the life he said his people could choose - takes us out of a vegetative state and gives us an existence in Paradise right now. This is not for after we die because after we die we're dead, not alive. God's commands - the ones he gave to people who were still living and promised the above blessings if his people strove to follow them with all their hearts and minds and souls and strengths (Jesus quoted Moses in that famous verse).
God's version of Life, the life he wanted his people to choose, was to love him so much that they would keep his commandments. When Jesus described to his disciples what it meant to love him, he said, "If you love me, keep my commandments."
Life is in God's commandments because his commandments are so much of him that we draw closer to him by obeying him. If we want to love God with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength and if God is unchanging and if Jesus is God's Word and was with God in the beginning...then choosing life means choosing to live the way God laid out for us to live.
I want Abigail to choose life by obeying our commandments. God wants the same for us. I don't tell Abigail anything that's too hard for her. It isn't hard for her not to stick her fingers in the electrical socket or to come to me when I call her. It isn't hard for us either.
What's strange is that even after keeping the Sabbath and coming to the conclusion to not eat things God said not to eat, I still somehow in the back of my mind held to the understanding that God's commands were not really for me and I was somehow being particularly careful by picking of few of them to pay attention to. I had forgotten so many things that I've heard all my life, things that were completely clear. When Jesus said he didn't come to abolish the Law, he said he didn't come to abolish the Law. When he chastised the Pharisees, he told them that if they had only listened to what Moses had written they would've known him because Moses was writing about him. That means God's true commands - not ones with extra additions, but God's actual commands - give us the gift of recognizing God himself. God said the reward for calling his Sabbath a delight was to find our joy in him. When John called Jesus a light shining in the darkness, he was calling God's Word a light in the darkness.
Lately we have become aware of darkness around us to a degree we never even imagined possible. It's as if the more we look, the darker the darkness becomes. So if anyone really wants to know why we'll be sleeping out in a shelter next week instead of our house...it's because we want to love God with all our hearts and minds and souls and strength and he said if we love him, we'll listen to what he told us to do. And next week, he said he wanted us staying in shelters instead of our houses so that's what we're going to do.
Because we want to choose life so we and our children may live.
After the recent news of Detroit declaring bankruptcy, there's been a fair amount of discussion at our house. We say things like, "How did this happen? How did such a big thriving city turn into what it is?" Ben and I spent some time a few evenings ago looking at pictures of some of the iconic buildings downtown, contrasting what they must've looked like even as recently as the 1960s and what they look like now. The place looks like a ghost-town, as if some plague came along and stole away the people right in the middle of their daily lives. There are dentist offices in one of the big empty skyscrapers that still have all the equipment sitting in the fully-furnished rooms, hotel rooms with their furniture still neatly arranged and moldering away like a time capsule of the 50s, giant office buildings with graffiti covering the stairwells and all the wooden handrails lying in a heap on the first floor after the wrought-iron spindles have been stolen away as valuable scrap. There are prairies growing where there used to be neighborhoods and big grand old mansions are falling into heaps with trees growing through the roof. Old apartment complexes sit abandoned with their windows broken out; Ben pointed out one beautiful complex full of interesting architecture and complicated brickwork and said, "I saw these same apartments in Chicago - they were expensive and they were completely occupied. It's so weird to see the same ones sitting empty like this."
There are a lot of reasons why it got this way, of course. The decline of the American car manufacturers, the rise of thoughtless unions, the terrible rift between different ethnicities, the pervasive idea in our culture that government should provide all, the meddling of the "social justice" movement that decided to mix up the neighborhoods instead of allowing people to live where they wanted their children to go to school, the uniquely Detroit concept of forcing people to pay an extra tax for the privilege of working there, the insidious corruption that gradually made it nearly impossible to do work without bribing someone...all this and more. It all adds up.
But there's been one factor that hasn't been discussed much and it's kind of hard to even put into words exactly what it is. It has to do with prosperity and how when people become prosperous, they have a tendency to forget God - to forget what is good. When things are easy, it becomes easy to reject what is good and right. It doesn't mean prosperity is evil, because prosperity is a blessing. But as Moses said to the Hebrew people before they went into the Promised Land, "When you're sitting in homes you didn't build and harvesting from fields you didn't plant, be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God!"
Detroit became a very prosperous place. At one time, I believe it was the fifth most prosperous city in the United States. And if the penalty for forgetting God is that your land becomes cursed...anyone looking at the state the city's in now would be hard-pressed not to think much of it looks pretty cursed.
As a nation, the whole way we tend to think about things and approach them has taken a hugely different path from what characterized our nation even just fifty years ago. It's not too ridiculous to say that these days, what used to be bad is now good and what used to be good is now bad. If a woman promises in her wedding vows to obey her husband, that's bad; but if she wants to marry another woman, that's good (or at least more acceptable). This is exactly opposite from how such things used to be viewed. How does such a huge change happen?
It happened because what people used to call "good" just didn't look very good to their children. The problem today is not that women want to marry each other. It's that those who said they believed in God and the marriage he created between man and woman made that marriage look so terrible that people started looking for alternatives.
Everything began changing in the 60s. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what happened, but it came down to children rejecting the "old-fashioned" ways of their parents. The 50s were marked by prosperity and a seemingly upright moral culture that is pretty widely mocked today, a culture preserved in TV shows like "Leave It To Beaver". Everything looks so stable in those shows, with pleasant stay-at-home Mom in her apron cooking dinner and clean-cut dependable Dad coming home every night from work to his nice suburban home to spend time with his orderly family. Everyone pretty much went to church, children went to nice schools (without fear of being shot and not much fear of being bullied) and everyone had peaceful homes and pleasant childhoods.
But did they?
The truth is - and it's been pointed out many times - that much of the 50s culture was a facade. People did what they thought they were supposed to do to look good but had no peace in their homes. There was alcoholism and broken marriages that just weren't visible because the parents couldn't divorce easily, and a host of other problems. We were prosperous and had forgotten God, even though we were putting up a front of still believing him. And the children of this generation looked at their parents and said, "If this is what 'good' looks like, I don't want to have anything to do with it." So they began rejecting everything their parents said they believed in, even things it really was good to believe in.
In Detroit, that meant there was less and less regard for caring for things or even for people. Everyone was "looking out for Number One". There was less regard for authority - as proved by the riots. And there was great encouragement to rebel against standards and old ways of doing things and do it all a new way.
The problem is that good is still good. If it was good once - if it was ever good - it is still good. "Good" is not subjective. There isn't one good for me and one good for you. Good is good. There is a true definitive standard of good, just as there is definite truth. We may not always know what it is, but it exists. And that is what our society has totally lost sight off. We're swimming around in a sea of relativism, lost in the idea that, "well, that's good for you but not for me and what's good for me is whatever I think is good for me."
If that sounds bad, see my above comment that good is now bad and bad is now good.
As a society, we've abandoned "old fashioned morals". (That's code for abandoning God.) We abandoned them (and him) because the people who claimed to believe in them proved to be fakes. As someone I know said last night, "Children would be better off if their parents were honest about what they believe in, even if they were honest about not believing in moral standards. At least the children would have a chance to adopt those standards themselves instead of looking at their parents' hypocrisy and deciding to have none of it."
This is something that's affecting all of us. Good has been abandoned to the point that many don't even know what it even is. It's affecting all our cities, even those more prosperous than Detroit. And more personally, if Ben and I want Abigail to follow God, then we'd better really be searching for him and not just say we want what is good. Because if our life doesn't bear any desirable fruit, Abigail will abandon it for something better. And if we've had the gall to say we believe something that we don't, we will damage her ability to ever see those beliefs truthfully so she can at least succeed where we've failed.
When we first got married, it seemed like everyone had the same question for us for months: "So, how's married life?"
It was an awkward question to answer, honestly. The surface answer - the one that everyone wanted to hear and which was quite true even if not very descriptive - was "It's wonderful!"
And it was. It was and it has only grown more so.
But there was more to the story than that.
Saying "It's wonderful" doesn't really describe what it's when your husband can gently but firmly tell you, "I knew you lied to me when you told me you didn't believe in bad moods. What you were really saying back then was that you didn't WANT to believe in bad moods...but you still believe in them because you have one right now. This isn't going to get better until you fix your attitude."
I know. Some girls out there who might be reading this are probably saying, "Huh?! What kind of thing is that to cite as a wonderful romantic thing about your husband and marriage?"
But this is why I married Benjamin Paul Turner. Because a wonderful man who tells the truth honestly and lovingly is rare; and a marriage in which a husband can say this to his wife will have more happiness in it than one in which the husband brings his wife breakfast in bed every day - something that's often seen as romantic but doesn't have a lick of usefulness when it comes to real-life things like taking care of grandmas and new babies.
Saying "It's wonderful" doesn't do justice to what it's like to be part of a marriage in which two people genuinely want to be together all the time. The other day Abigail was being a pickle and I finally marched her out of the house and put her in the stroller so I could walk her up and down. I do this quite a bit, walking her back and forth on a stretch of sidewalk about five houses long so I can keep looking in the window to make sure Grandma Lila is okay. The difference on this particular day was that Ben was home and I marched out anyway.
Before we were married, Ben and I did nearly everything together. We both wanted a marriage where the husband and wife were together and we figured the best way to determine if we wanted to marry each other was to live our life that way so we could see each other constantly in "normal" situations and be comfortable enough with each other that we would be able to actually see each other as we normally were as opposed to on our "company behavior". It worked very well: we did decide to get married and after a year and a half (and two children) we've yet to be surprised by each other's character. Life together is in many ways very much as we expected when we got married.
However, one thing that changed after we got married is that we became responsible for Grandma Lila's care. Initially, we thought that would mean a sort of general presence which would include us making sure Grandma had her meals and the house was taken care of and she got medicine on time, the kind of general companionship you have when you live in a family. Since Ben only works at the office during the afternoon, we thought it wouldn't be too difficult for us to manage things in such a way that I would continue to do everything with him as we had before.
Things did not work out as we had planned. It was made clear to us that while it was obvious Ben had to go to work, it was not so obvious that Lauren had to be with Ben; and since someone needed to be with Grandma Lila, Lauren was the one who was going to stay home. That was to be Lauren's job.
Does it sound like I'm still a little sad about this? Well, I am. Not because of having Grandma with us - and not because she actually needs so much more care than what I described - but because it has meant a lot of separation between Ben and I; and the thing we were and still are afraid of in this is that we'd get used to it and the closeness we had anticipated, desired, and planned for would vanish as we lost the sensitivity of needing to be together.
The other day when I took Abigail out and began walking her up and down even when Ben was home was a product of us getting used to being apart. I've gotten used to doing this without Ben, so I had no red flags about doing it without him even when he was there.
Ben realized this and came out looking for me. "We have to be very careful," he said. "This is a little thing now, but pretty soon we can start doing more and more apart and the next thing you know, we'll have two separate lives like so many other people do. If it's good to take Abigail for a walk, I'm more than happy to go for a walk."
And that is why marriage to Ben is wonderful. Because having a husband who reasons with me and protects me is what I was hoping for when I married him.
Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
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