In my last blog, I wrote about how God is unchanging and how that has led us into the belief that his instructions for living are not cancelled but still valid.
I think God's unchanging nature is really the core question to grapple with in coming to this decision, but I recognize there are some obvious objections. How could Ben and I have arrived at such a different determination than what the New Testament seems to so adamantly say?
We actually didn't arrive here by studying different languages. That came much later. What came first was the concept of God not changing, followed by the question "Did Jesus really come to preach a NEW religion?"
As Christians, we state with unshakable confidence that we are under a New Covenant, a totally different Covenant than the one God made with his people at Mount Sinai. That is why most Christians are either ignorant of God's Laws or treat them as relics. I heard one man say recently that if we keep any part of God's laws, we are turning our backs on the gift of salvation through grace and are therefore condemned to eternal death. I was shocked because I've heard plenty of people give reasons why we don't have to pay attention to God's Instructions...but saying we'll be blotted out of God's Book of Life for not murdering someone? How can the New Covenant be so completely different from the Old? Where is the dividing line? How do we know what changed?
Are we followers of a totally new religion; and if we are, is that really what Jesus came to bring about? What does a "New Covenant" truly mean when the New Testament writers refer to it? Does the New Covenant differ so completely from the old that it is an insult to God to pay attention to his commandments?
I want to stress something very important here: I do not want to cast doubt on the Bible in any way. The Bible should be read with the confidence that if there's a question about a point, it can be truthfully answered with the Bible itself. I do not think you have to have any special knowledge of languages or histories or anything complicated to do this. The Bible is all about God and God doesn't contradict himself. As Jesus put it, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."
Our Bibles might have translation issues here and there, but the real barrier to knowing God's truth tends to be our own assumptions. When we think we know something, we're often blind to any other thought or point of view. In seeking to know God better all the time, we have to begin testing our assumptions, especially those that seem contradictory to God's own words. Paul advises, "Do not despise prophecies, but test everything and hold fast to what is good." (1 Thess 5:20-21)
It's easy to overlook contradictions and stay with our traditional understanding of things God says, but if there was one thing Jesus taught over and over, it was to rightly follow God and ignore those commands of men that get in the way. Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, we are learning to say, "no matter what the consequences, we have to follow God rather than men." We want to leave behind the traditions of men and learn to truly know God so we can love him with all our hearts and souls and strength. We want to think his thoughts and do his actions, just as our Teacher and Savior Jesus did.
Building on the understanding of God's unchanging nature, we've begun to notice God's way of thought and action is unfamiliar to our way of thought. God's mind is not like man's anyway, but our culture has even drifted away from God's general pattern and Ben and I are no different. We think like Greeks, not like Hebrews. Greek thinking is linear. Hebrew thinking is circular or cyclical. And it is God's ways that formed the basis for the Hebrew understanding of the world represented in our Bible. We've been discovering that many difficulties that show up in understanding exactly what the Bible says comes from trying to read a Hebrew-style thought from a Greek-style viewpoint.
Greek thinking is the philosophical basis for much of our modern Western way of seeing things. It is founded in the idea that we are always moving forward and changing into something we have never been before. It says every day is a "new" day, and by "new", it means "completely different". We fervently believe in the philosophy of "all new!": a better, made-from-scratch, reinventing-the-wheel-every-time-we-build-a-wagon kind of "new". Every situation is it's own, every event floats in space as an isolated unit, and we are always inventing things that have never been seen before (we think). Everything has infinite possibility to morph into something completely different that bears little or no resemblance to it's former self. Ultimately, we believe in evolution: a cell can turn into a fish, which can turn into a monkey, which can turn into a human and humanity is always advancing, leaving our old outdated ways behind never to be seen or heard from again. As Christians, we believe we've completely evolved out of the old Jewish ways and moved on to the improved Christian ways - that is how we interpret the change from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.
But this isn't the way God thinks. It isn't the way our universe works. It isn't the foundation for how the Bible came to be written. Solomon summed up the real state of the world in Ecclesiastes: "I discovered there is nothing new under the sun. What has been will be again, what is now has been before." (Ecc 1:9-10)
Take the example just of our weather: the seasons are always changing, but they are always changing into something they have been before. Spring to Summer to Fall to Winter, seedtime and harvest, rainy seasons and dry seasons. They are always new but have always been before pretty much the same way they are this year.
What God has done before he will do again because he sets patterns and maintains them. Everything in Nature testifies to this. Everything in history witnesses to it. While there are small changes, things are very much as they have always been. People are still people, recognizable in thought and action from the beginning of time until now. And God is still God. What he values now, he has always valued. What he has always hated, he still hates. The pattern of his actions is unchanging. The end of all things is mirrored in the beginning of all things. God's patterns are recorded in the Bible multiple times so we can understand them and be able to learn to view things the same way he does.
Against this backdrop, we have the enigma of God's Covenant with Man.
What was the Old Covenant? God summed it up this way: "For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’" (Jer 7:22-23)
"If you love me and obey me, I will be your God and you will be my people."
What is the New Covenant? Jesus spoke the essence of it in John 14:20-21, though it's repeated other places: "In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him."
In other words, "If you love me and obey me, I will be your God and you will be my people."
That's it! That is the Covenant, old and new. The only difference between them is that one was sealed with the blood of animals and one was sealed far better by the blood of God's Son. Both of them were intended to cause God's ways to be written on our hearts. Both of them were intended to make it possible for man to walk with God again. Both of them were meant to bring us out of slavery to sin. Both were given as a great gift from God to his people.
God set a pattern and he returned to it. He is no different today than he was when he made Adam and Eve or spoke to Abraham or when he came down to Mount Sinai. What commandments was Jesus talking about? Was he coming to start a new religion totally separate from the one he was walking in every day? Or was he the living embodiment of the Word of the Unchanging God and his commandments for living a Godly life were therefore the same ones spoken to his people centuries before and recorded by Moses?
If you think like a Greek philosopher, you think Jesus was a new creation come to start a totally new religion completely different from the old. If you think like a Hebrew, you believe God always returns to the same patterns. Jesus is Adam as he was meant to be. What God wanted from man at Mount Sinai was what he wanted from man at Creation, what he wanted from man at Calvary, what he wants from man today and what he will want from man tomorrow.
And this is what God has always wanted from Man: children. He wants his Kingdom populated with offspring, loving children living the way he created us to live! And if we come to God in loving obedience, he will become our shield and shelter and provider and we will be his children, living in his household - also known as the Kingdom of God. He made us in his image and likeness on purpose. He wants us to fulfill that destiny and be imitators of him; and his Covenants - Old and New - were designed to make that possible.
In order to understand God better, we have to get rid of our Greek way of thinking, the way of thought that ultimately assumes God himself is evolving. God used to be harsh and unloving and saddled his beloved children with an evil set of rules designed only to torture them into realizing how much they needed a Savior, but now his only command is to 'love', our Greek-style minds think. We fail to notice the pattern of God's thought and behavior when we assume that "new" means "totally different" and that good instructions can become bad instructions or bad instructions can become good instructions.
If we want to know God better, we need to learn to change our mindset, to recognize the end in the beginning, to see the patterns of God's actions. It's time to stop thinking like Greeks and start being "imitators of God, therefore, like dearly beloved children" (Eph 5:1).
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.
The book is called "Holy Cow! Does God Care About What We Eat?". I began reading it this week because I was interested in seeing if the author came to the same conclusion Ben and I had. It's written by a young woman named Hope Egan who was raised in a modern Jewish family and who came first to believe Jesus is Messiah and then to recognize the validity of God's words for everyone who believes in him.
In the first chapter of the book, Hope summed up the quandary any believer feels when they try to read the Bible from start to finish in the belief that it really is the Word of God and is to be looked to and regarded as authoritative.
"I eventually committed my life to Jesus, but my journey was filled with confusion," she writes. "Whenever I asked questions, my friends always turned to the Bible as the ultimate information source. Their reverence for this book seemed extreme, but their wise ways of dealing with life's toughest issues hooked me. Since the Bible was the foundation for that wisdom, I was compelled to read it."
That is a powerful thing for a young Jewish woman to state, by the way. She was drawn to read the Bible because the Christians she knew had wise ways of dealing with life's issues.
What threw her for a loop was the fact that most of the things God spelled out that he wanted anyone who followed him to do were actually being ignored. All the instructions for celebrating Passover were right there in the Christian Bible just as in the Jewish Bible she'd grown up with, but none of her Christian friends - who seemed to be looking to the Bible for direction about everything in life - even mentioned Passover or seemed interested in God's way of living. When she asked why, she got what she termed "confident answers" saying things like "Jesus fulfilled that law so we don't have to". This was extremely confusing to her. In the end, her confusion boiled down to one big question:
Does committing our life totally to God mean turning over everything to his direction and control...or are there some things he gave directions about that we can safely disregard?
"Committed to doing God's will in all areas of my life," she writes, "I took the plunge and decided to give up pork and shellfish. Since the other areas that I'd submitted to Him (like money, work and relationships) had always turned out beautifully, I trusted that the pork thing would too."
She came to the conclusion that if she was going to say God was her Creator, Redeemer and Lord...she'd better place everything in her life under his control. Up to and including her favorite barbecued pork ribs.
"This book is not about doing something (or avoiding something) so that we can have a relationship with Him or be "saved"," she continues. "Rather, exploring this topic is a response to our faith. It arises naturally from our longing for obedience to God. Because we already have a relationship with Him, we respond to His love for us by seeking His will and wisdom in all areas of our lives - including what we eat. As redeemed people, we bear the most fruit when we submit our whole selves to our Creator. In other words, dietary issues are not the core of my faith, but they are the main focus of this book."
This is beautifully simple overview of something I have been trying to describe for years. In a few paragraphs, Mrs. Egan is pointing out the dilemma of what to do with God's commandments once coming to the belief that Jesus is the Messiah and the solution of following those ways out of love and gratitude. The question of whether to obey or not obey is not one of salvation. It's one of practicality: does God really care about all aspects of our lives coming under submission to his will?
And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.
When I read this recently, this sentence jumped out at me. When Jesus spoke it, the word of God did not include the writings of Paul. Or Peter. Or James or Jude or John or Luke or Matthew or Mark. When the Seed was sown, it was the seed of what we call the Old Testament. The seed was sown to produce fruit in us, the fruit of love for God and obedience to him.
Jesus was teaching his disciples about what we today abhor and call "the Law".
"The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved."
According to Jesus, God detailed his ways for us so we may absorb those ways - write them on our hearts! - and be saved. That is the foundational characteristic of all God's words: to save us. Sometimes God's words have been given to save us from physical death - as he saved Noah and his children. Sometimes God's words are given to save us from bad things like sickness and strife and sorrow - like his commandments governing Human marriage relationships. Sometimes God's words are given to save our very souls - the essence of our beings that he has promised to make immortal if we will only come to him in complete trust and believe he is God and his son is our Savior who has become the way we can get to him in the first place. He is the Human personification of the Word of God, as if we took those Torah scrolls Moses wrote to God's dictation and manifested them into a Man who could walk and talk and eat and explain what God was really saying.
More from Jesus' explanation of his parable of the different soils:
"And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.
These people are not willing to submit everything to God. They don't devote all the space of their heart to God's seeds growing and bearing fruit. They want to withhold the cares of their everyday life, to keep their lives separate from their salvation. I would go so far as to say these two soils are examples of those who believe that because they are saved, they are free to go and concentrate on anything that seems good to them without regard to the seed of God's Words. They believe having the seed is enough and are not interested in submitting to the responsibility of nurturing and caring for it.
The only way for God's good seed to grow in our hearts is to give up what we would do and seek after what God would do! That's the way we water the seed so it will grow. It's the way we clear the weeds out of the ground so there is room. When I don't eat my favorite clam chowder because I believe God wanted something different for those who follow his ways, I'm turning away from a pleasure of this life for the sake of watering the seed that God in his grace and mercy scattered onto my heart. It's not enough for me to just have the seed: I want it to grow. I want to be a fruitful soil. Does this mean I can do anything to be good enough to receive the seed? Nope! But it does mean I can strive to do everything in my power to help it grow in me without choking it by going my own way.
Jesus finished by describing the kind of garden I want to be:
"As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience."
God, the Creator of the Seed, the Speaker of the Word, the Living Word, wants every single part of my life to be clear and fertile ground for his seed to grow in. He is a jealous God. He wants every part of my life devoted to him. That's what it means to be a slave to righteousness. It's what it means to love God with all my heart and soul and strength. It's what Jesus himself stated when he looked up to his father and said, "Not my will but yours be done."
So...does God really care what we eat? Absolutely! He cares about everything we do, because everything we do reflects what's in our hearts. He cares about every single action we take or don't take because everything we do betrays whether we are more concerned with what we want...or what he wants for us.
I do not understand the official response to the quarantining of Nurse Kaci Hickox.
Here’s my understanding of the situation:
Kaci Hickox is a member of a group called “Doctors Without Borders”, a group of volunteer medical professionals who travel to very poor disease-ridden areas around the world to help those who otherwise would never get medical care. She recently went to Sierra Leone and freely disclosed that she had actually been working with patients infected by the outbreak of Ebola devastating small villages there.
Ebola, for anyone who doesn’t know by now, is a hemorrhagic fever that sounds related to that holiday-misery-maker Norovirus. Except as miserable as norovirus is – and let me tell you, for some of us it's no simple 24-hour flu bug as my sister who took a year for her gut to recover will tell you – it’s got nothing on Ebola. Not to be too ridiculously graphic, but how does the thought of dying in great pain while bleeding from pretty much everywhere strike you? Oh and by the way, first you’ll spend a while possibly with a high fever, but most certainly with intense abdominal pain, throwing up and having uncontrolled diarrhea. Yeah, I know I said I wasn’t going to get horribly graphic…but this is not a little sniffle bug we’re talking about here. This is a nasty, nasty disease, the kind you hear about in dystopian science fiction stories. And personally, to me the politics surrounding it right now sound straight out of the same kind of scary story.
After spending a time working with sick people in Sierra Leone, Kaci Hickox returned to the United States and expected to walk off the airplane in New Jersey and head home to Maine as if she had never heard of a hemorrhagic fever raging in the country she’d just left. A fever she’d been around multiple times. A fever other nurses were contracting. And incidentally, when Nurse Hickox got off the plane, it was discovered a few hours later that she was running a slight fever.
You or I under these circumstances would probably have done the same thing the folks in charge in New Jersey did: get this lady secluded FAST before anyone else gets sick!
In case you’ve already forgotten my earlier description, let me reference bleeding from the eyes while dying in great pain from a disease with a whopping 50% mortality rate. Influenza, by the way - that dreaded killer we’re all suppose to rush to our nearest drugstore to get immunized against or else we’re horrible people who want to start a world pandemic - has a 0.5% mortality rate.
Nurse Hickox is a medical professional. I assume she knows these numbers if I do. But when she was immediately placed under quarantine after getting off the plane with a temperature, her first actions were to insist that not only was she feeling fine and not ill, but her civil rights were being violated by being place in quarantine against her will. The White House immediately got involved and the next thing you know, Governor Chris Christie caved to pressure and ordered Kaci Hickox released from quarantine and sent home with apparently a promise to self-monitor. “Oh, she hasn’t gotten anything in twenty-four hours, so we’re letting her go,” was pretty much the conclusion.
As I understand it, when you have a disease with a twenty-one day incubation period, you can be fine for twenty days (or four-hundred-fifty-eight hours) and then come down with it on the twenty-first day, presumably exposing everyone you come in contact with from that point on. So to say someone is fine in twenty-four hours is kind of silly, though I guess if her temperature went back down and she tested negative for Ebola I can see why at that point it was pretty safe to get her back to Maine where hopefully she could just have some quiet time at home for a few weeks until she was sure all was well and she could resume being out and about as usual.
But Kaci Hickox is not sitting peacefully at home recovering from jet lag and taking it easy for a few weeks. She has gone on a campaign to deliberately violate the quarantine she was asked to maintain. She feels great, so she’s determined to go out and about if she wants to. From what I can see, her standard of concern about spreading a horrific disease ends with whatever “medical science” has determined necessary and apparently, quarantine is “not a medically proven” way to stop the spread of a contagious disease.
Let me say that again: according to this particular nurse – and her lawyer, and multiple political people – staying away from everyone until you’re sure you’re not sick isn’t medically proven to prevent the spread of a virus.
I guess I can sort of see why when she’s not sick she’s not particularly concerned about spreading anything. As far as we know, as with norovirus you can't spread Ebola if you don't have any symptoms yet. Still, for the peace of mind of her neighbors and relatives and just on the off-chance that a disease we don’t know that much about might be contagious before we think it is…why is she heroically defending her civil right to ignore a sensible precaution? More strangely yet, why is this such an important point that even the White House is insisting a quarantine not be used to prevent the spread of Ebola?
Because, our leaders postulate, to quarantine everyone returning from these countries would discourage people from going over there to help treat the disease. Because even if you’re courageous enough to go help people who are dying while bleeding from their eyes, you’re probably going to chicken out if you find out you’ll have to stay in quarantine three weeks when you get back, apparently.
Invoking images from the shameful behavior of citizens to our soldiers returning from Vietnam, the President sternly lectured us this week that we need to treat our returning aide workers “right” and not subject them to all this outdated and pointless posturing like routinely quarantining them to make sure they don't spread anything when they get home.
Unless you belong to the military, of course. Turns out the soldiers being sent to help in Ebola-ravaged areas are still being placed in mandatory quarantine until it becomes clear they haven't gotten sick. So medical professionals can freely come and go without any concern at all...but watch out for those soldiers because they might carelessly spread the plague around!
I cannot for the life of me figure out what is going on with the administration in charge. They haven’t wanted to ban travel to and from the countries affected. They haven’t wanted to give us accurate information about the disease. They haven’t wanted anyone to quarantine anyone who might be contagious. They didn’t even seem to take it seriously when a nurse who’d treated an Ebola patient wanted to travel even though she already had a fever and one of her co-workers was also sick and suspected of having the disease. Sure, they responded with heavy-handed force once the traveling nurse tested positive – they stripped everything from her apartment and got rid of it even though the Ebola virus has proven to live only a few hours on surfaces – but the whole saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” seems to have been tailor-made for our officials in this situation. They have pretended the issue didn’t exist at all and act annoyed that anyone would be worried about it during the ounce of prevention stage, that’s for sure.
The really paranoid black-helicoptor-sighting part of me says it’s almost as if they WANT there to be an epidemic of Ebola here. I can’t figure out why that would be beneficial to anyone, but their actions are certainly not those of people who want to prevent the spread of sickness. They took the Swine Flu thing last year a whole lot more seriously. If I had a nickel for every time I heard or read the word “pandemic”, I would be a lot richer today…and we don’t even own a television.
Maybe that’s what has me worried. Why is it that we’re pressured every which way from Wednesday to get the flu vaccine but we’re not supposed to worry about Ebola unless someone has already tested positive for it? Why is the White House putting heavy pressure on the states who want to quarantine aide workers? What could they possibly gain by it?
The only reasonably possible explanation I can come to (after I consider maybe some bizarre form of population control or racial overtones saying the United States has a guilt-ridden duty to help black countries no matter what the cost) is that this is an election cycle. There’s a big election in just a few days. Rule of thumb is that when people get scared during an election year, they kick out the party in power if that party can’t show strong leadership and present an immediately effective solution to the problem.
I think no one in charge really has much of a solution for Ebola right now, so the official stance is to try and keep people from getting scared. Hence… “Ebola? What Ebola? Oh, that Ebola. Why, that’s nothing. Nothing at all. Don’t worry about it. Remain calm. And when we do have a solution, we’ll proclaim it loudly and all will be well.”
It's about their images. It's about people not getting scared and acquiring a "vote the bums out!" attitude even more than they already have given the chaos our entire healthcare system has been thrown into. It's about the same thing it's always about when it comes to some kinds of officials: looking good, not looking for real answers.
But to be honest…I still don’t understand.
I really hope Kaci Hickox remains in excellent health.
I read an article today about a teacher who spent a few days "shadowing" two high school students in order to have a better understanding of what challenges those students faced learning the material the school taught.
She noted students spent their days passively sitting and being told things without really being given a chance to exercise thought. She called it not grappling with the information being presented. Rather than wrestling with ideas and testing them and pounding out an understanding, students spent their days sitting and trying to stay awake. Sort of like the workplace conference that never ends – one of those nightmares that goes right up there with realizing you’re standing up to make a speech in your pajamas.
Worse than the sitting, though, was the sheer lack of interaction. Students were not valued for their own thoughts, nor were they encouraged to do anything but pay attention and not interrupt. Teachers have even gotten into the habit of constantly reminding their students to shut up and listen.
This attitude radiates out into our whole culture, though, doesn’t it? We emerge from childhood (school) conditioned to passively open our brains and let someone - pretty much anyone! - pour information in rather than seeking to gain understanding. We watch the news and whatever we see tends to be what we believe. People in conversations are adept at small talk but haven’t had a whole lot of practice “grappling” with any kind of deep thoughts. We go to church and listen to someone else do all the talking. Who stands up during service to ask questions? That’s just rude and disruptive!
It’s all about molding rather than learning. There are a lot of people interested in molding anyone they can get their hands on but not so interested in really training minds to think.When you make a mold, you create a pre-set shape for soft material to be poured into so it can harden and retain that form. We have several institutional bodies interested in being molders, popping out citizens who have been mind-numbed for the most part into being whatever the current political fad says they ought to be. And heaven help us, current political fashion is just plain stupid. No one in their right mind should even entertain half the notions getting spouted off day after day, but somehow we do. From believing global warming is our fault to declaring we should vote for someone simply because he appears "presidential", we the people - at least the majority of us - accept as fact things that we are told without ever testing them because we are trained from infancy to sit and absorb rather than to learn.
Even when it comes to things as fundamental as our religious beliefs, it’s not easy to get at the root of why we believe what we believe. It is not easy to think rather than to just spit out our opinion. I was asked the question recently “what is it that makes you sure Jesus is the Messiah?” and I basically had to sit with my mouth closed because I had no clue what proof I really had to back up this belief. I believed it because I did. I mean, I can point to Bible verses here and there which state categorically that Jesus is Messiah, but truthfully? What proof is that for someone seeking the truth of a claim? You have to first establish the validity of a witness before you can accept testimony from them.
Just like everyone else I accept what I believe to be true simply because I believe it. When my daughter looks up at me and says, “Mommy, why is Jesus the Messiah?” I’d have to essentially say, “Just believe it because it’s true and I told you so.”
That is NOT a good foundation to build a life upon! It would be no surprise with that kind of answer if eventually she went looking for a better one. Hey, it wouldn’t be a surprise if she went looking for any foundation: “because I’m Mom and I said so” is not going to last a lifetime or have any impact on my grandchildren.
I want my children to ask questions instead of just stuffing information into them. I want them to grapple with information and seek for the truth of everything they hear. I want them to never take what they’re told for granted, not even when I’m the one telling them something. I want them to have a love of discovery, a joy in gaining an understanding mind.
If I want them to do it, then I really better be doing it.
Only a very few of us discover. We often just take in what others say and adopt those things as our own. That's why you can have people seeming to fervently believe one thing and then as soon as they pick up a new circle of friends, they think something totally different. That's why we are so insistent on finding groups to belong to, boxes to put ourselves in, names to identify ourselves by: because we generally believe in absorbing and regurgitating information rather than testing, thinking, applying, and discovering what we ourselves REALLY think.
Which is, of course, why I was bound to answer the question about why I believe Jesus is Messiah. Because if I can’t set the example in questioning everything I think I know to make sure I’m really thinking, I certainly can’t expect Abigail to. If I can’t test what I believe, even if I’m successful in teaching my children to mimic me for a while in the end I’ll be just as guilty as our school system of turning out a molded person instead of an understanding one. And those kinds of beliefs can’t hold up.
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. - Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)
I remember a long time before I met Ben, I had conversations with a few other young men to see if it was a good idea to get to know each other better. I was pretty serious how I approached those conversations. I believed there were a lot of surface things it wasn't worth getting bent out of shape about and I wasn't even looking for our views to exactly match up. I was looking for a very specific kind of man to marry: one who wasn't interested in loopholes.
Yeah, that's a pretty enigmatic statement. Let me explain.
It seems like there are two different kinds of people in the world: ones who want to absorb and implement ideas and ones who just like to do what they have to in order to get by. Anyone who's ever taken a written exam has faced this. There are the people who want to know the material and view the test as a way of examining their knowledge to see if they've grasped it. Then there are the people who constantly ask, "Is this on The Test? Do we need to know this for The Test?"
These attitudes carry through to life. I believe they are the two basic ways people approach living a good life.
I wanted to marry someone interested in Good. I really, really wanted to. In fact, it was my primary "list" item when it came to marriage. What I found in my various conversations was very discouraging, however. Even seemingly sincere Christian young men were not interested in what God wanted: they were interested in what they had to or didn't have to do in order to get into Heaven.
That was it. Heaven was the end goal and everything was about whether or not you could get excluded from Heaven if you did this or that while you were alive.
Everything was being viewed through the lens of whether it was an actual "sin" to do or not do...and since our salvation or promise of Heaven is something granted, not earned, every time I brought up some idea or thought I was told, "Well, that's not necessary for salvation. See, Paul says here and here and here that it's actually sinning for us to do anything like that because we would be trying to EARN salvation!"
But I wasn't talking about salvation. I was wondering whether they wanted to go an extra mile out of eagerness for God or whether they just wanted to pass the test and get rewarded.
The response of, "Oh, that's not necessary for us to do" was discouraging because I was trying to picture being married to someone who didn't care about doing things to make me happy either. They could just as easily say, "Well, you swore a vow until death do us part regardless of what I do, so this is what we're doing and you just need to be a good wife and follow my decisions." (One young man told me point-blank that it was my job to be a wife and submit and not hold onto my own dogmatic views so it didn't matter that we had a difference of opinion. I ran the other direction as fast as possible.)
Life - especially life when you believe in God - is not supposed to be about the loopholes. It's not supposed to be about whatever you can get away with and still be considered "okay". We're given lifetimes to do something with them and according to the great men and women of faith who were spoken about and who wrote the Bible under the influence of God's Spirit, the thing we're supposed to do is not sit back and say, "Well, we've fulfilled the minimum requirement...guess we're good now!"
We're in a race, running a marathon, and we're supposed to be loving God with ALL our hearts, souls and might.
The writer of the book of Hebrews - often thought to be Paul, though it was written to Hebrew people and therefore reasons quite a bit differently than the letters Paul wrote to newly-converted pagans - put it this way: "Even if it's not an actual sin, cast off everything that hinders you in being just like Jesus!"
Lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely.
That's a pretty broad statement. It doesn't leave room for loopholes. It means there is no easy list of sins you can just tally up and avoid. It means everyone has to be keeping a sharp eye on their own hearts and minds to understand what's hindering them in doing what God wants. It means that one person might be able to play Tetris in their spare time but someone else has to avoid it completely because they get so distracted playing Tetris they don't pay attention to what their small children are doing.
It means if there's a suggestion that God is pleased by something, someone interested in casting off everything that hinders rather than just fitting through the loopholes will immediately be interested and sincerely investigate. It means perhaps doing or not doing things that seem to have no bearing on whether a person has been saved or not. It means asking "Is this good?" rather than "Do we gotta?"
And this thought process is what has led Ben and I to the conclusion that ALL of God's Law is still valid. It is all still good. It is not done away with. It was not an evil thing God saddled us with that we have a loophole into avoiding but rather a good thing we have every opportunity to be blessed by.
Because in the end...I found a man who wasn't interested in loopholes. He was and is interested in good. That is why I am now doing things I never even thought "applied" to me, such as celebrating God's special days. Because we asked the question "Is it good?" and were willing to cast off anything that hindered - including our preconceived notions of who we are and what God wants from us.
So there you have it. We are camping out in October in our temporary dwelling because God said he wants us to do it and we believe him. And it is very good.
One of the things I'm coming to understand in life is the very, very great power of words.
So many times people say things that they think exist more or less in a vacuum and don't mean anything. They believe in speaking their mind and letting the chips fall where they may. Some people are honestly shocked that anyone would be hurt by their words and others couldn't care less that they've spoken badly of someone. Because in the end, people don't believe their words have significance. They're spoken, they disappear, end of story. This is a trait of Mankind, of all humans.
Let me tell you: words mean something.
Our entire universe and everything in it came into being when God spoke words.
At the end of our lives, we are going to be called into account for every idle word we speak.
God planned for his people to be blessed simply by speaking his name, a word that translates essentially to "He that was and is and is to come."
Our Savior who came to restore us to what we were made to be is called "the Living Word".
By words countries rise and fall, relationships are built and broken, and the entire course of history can be changed. It's no mistake that when we make up fairy tales, it's common for there to be an element of the "magic word" that contains great power. Depending on the spirit in which a word is spoken, words DO have great power (though obviously not the kind portrayed when the fairy in Cinderella says nonsense words like "bibbity-bobbety-boo").
Ben and I have been taking an online class in reading Biblical Hebrew because Ben has been working through the Bible for several years making his own translations so he can better grasp what is actually said. When God broke our ability to communicate at the Tower of Babel, he did more than just confuse the languages: he seems to have made it so even if you learn the basic form of another language, you may never be able to accurately transfer concepts entirely from one language to another. At best, the results are often approximations of the original. The fact that we have a translated Bible at all is nothing short of a miracle, since the literal translation of the Bible is like a collection of gibberish in English. People who understood concepts in both languages had to piece together the meaning from the original ancient manuscripts and that was no small feat. God is God and he shines through regardless: but language is still a barrier. Words mean things and using the wrong word can change everything.
I'm going to take what seems like a slight tangent, but bear with me. I really want to write about speaking words and what it means to speak evil words, but I want to first address what Jesus called the Second Greatest Commandment, quoting from God's Ways (usually called the Mosaic Law): "You shall love your neighbor as yourself".
Setting aside whether or not someone believes God's Law is relevant for Christians today, we're often told that the only commands that count are the ones Jesus gave. You can't get much more direct than this one Jesus referenced.
Leviticus 19:9 - 18 (modified ESV - see paragraph below)
9“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am Yehovah your God.
11“You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. 12You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am Yehovah your God.
13“You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 14You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God:I am Yehovah your God.
15“You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. 16You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am Yehovah your God.
17“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am Yehovah your God.
These verses are incredibly important. God signed this piece of his law dealing with the relationships between his people with his Name FIVE times. Our Bibles translate his personal name and title as "the LORD your God", but in Hebrew it's his actual name - a very powerful Name - and title. I've added that in here because it's so important. When God signs something with his name it's as if he is underlining, italicizing and saying "PAY ATTENTION! THIS IS IMPORTANT!" Jesus calls this one of only two nails on which the entire Law and the the words of the Prophets hang.
We often hear the phrase "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" and Jesus' accompanying explanation "don't do anything to your neighbor you wouldn't want done to you". We don't often hear some of the details God explained about what that looks like. Being scrupulously truthful and just to each other. Reasoning frankly with each other. Not dealing falsely. Jesus further explained part of this verse by saying, "If you have even called your brother a fool, it is as if you murdered him in God's eyes".
Words mean something. They are powerful. We are not only to deal justly with each other in our actions, but in our words.
The word translated "slander" (pronounced phonetically raw-keel) in this verse is literally translated as "someone who travels bad news", or a scandal-monger. The root word is "merchant", which makes sense - merchants were the early news-bearers and an unreliable news-bearer could really do some serious damage to someone's name in a wide-spread fashion if they so chose. Sort of like Internet communication today. The Internet is where people today go for information and to buy things, just as people used to go to traveling merchants.
In Hebrew, to be a slanderer comes in three concepts: "lashon hara" (evil tongue), which means to use a previously unknown truth to damage someone; "rechilut" (gossip), which means to pass along falsehood to damage someone by inciting hatred or resentment; and "hotzaat shem ra" (spreading a bad name), which is the intentional destruction of someone's name to a wide audience using falsehood. We pretty much grasp these concepts in English by using the words gossip and slander, though I don't think those words are quite as strong to English speakers as the sort-of equivalents in Hebrew.
I wouldn't have ever considered myself as deliberately slandering anyone. But if you go by Jesus' explanation that calling my brother a fool is like murdering him, than even saying small hurtful things about people falls under the category of slander in this verse of Leviticus. It's one thing to report truthfully about something that is bad to protect innocent people from being hurt. It's quite another to wield truth maliciously in an attempt to hurt someone. God hates this. He hates even more when things are made up or when we pass along things we don't personally know to be true.
Let me say this again: God HATES this! He hates slander and untruthfulness and maliciousness and people deliberately attempting to bring down their neighbor's good name.
Proverbs 6:16 (modified ESV - re-entering God's name)
16There are six things that Yehovah hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
17haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
18a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
19a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.
If I'm really interested in doing things God loves - acting as his child, not like a stranger who doesn't care what he thinks - this thought should get me out of my chair and make my hair stand on end. This means that even the things I think are just small little words, a failure to really be scrupulously truthful here, being unguarded or indiscreet about some information there...these things are painfully bad to God.
God is a God of love. He is Good. He is kind. And there are some things he really can't stand. He wants us to be careful with one another, to guard each others' names and hearts, to not wound and destroy each other. Slander can so easily come out of our mouths and off our fingers and those words have power. They have power and they do not disappear. They can be forgiven, but they have the power to destroy both the person being spoken about AND the speaker. Jesus said the one sin that can't be forgiven is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and it seems to me that blasphemy usually involves words at some point.
I remember attending a funeral for a close relative who had not been on the best of terms with his wife at the time he died suddenly. One of the saddest things I have ever experienced was the moment when his wife hugged me and said, "Be good to one another". I think she said it to everyone that day. Her great regret was realizing how many cutting words had been exchanged and how much she wanted to take hers back.
Be good to one another. Don't even speak what seems like a casually deprecating thing about someone. Those words mean things and God hears them. If there is a time to speak something unflattering, there better be a very good reason, those words better only be spoken to precisely the one who needs to hear them for the benefit of that person, and it should be done after great thought, with great regret, and with scrupulous care for the truth.
James 3:1-12 (ESV)
1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life,a and set on fire by hell.b 7For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,8but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
I think I'm going to go tell my wonderful husband I love him.
I'm not sure our families were prepared for how Ben and Lauren might change once our responsibility for Grandma Lila was fulfilled.
There were a number of things we concluded over the past few years but weren't really able to put into practice, such as doing everything together. We've been doing this again lately and we're getting some questions about it, especially Ben and I going to work together and taking the girls with us. I think people had kind of forgotten that we used to go everywhere together or maybe they thought it was just a dating thing and we'd settle into normalcy once we were married and had children.
Nope. We still go to the office together and now we're streamlining things so this can be normal instead of a novelty. We have a very unique office situation and the man in charge is very understanding, so there is a good chance we can keep doing this until we have a business that allows us to work better from home.
That's just one example. There are some others that are beginning to crop up as we transition into being our own family.
I say "transition" because we're still having to readjust our thinking about what we can and can't do. We read a story recently about how circus elephants are trained so they can be trusted in the ring being led around with just a little cord around their neck. When the elephant is a baby, it's staked to a strong post with a sturdy chain. The baby tries it's hardest to break free but eventually accepts that it can't. Afterward the chain is replaced with a rope and the baby still accepts that when the rope is around it's neck, it can't get free. Eventually the now-full-grown elephant can be walked into a ring with a thin cord around it's neck and it believes it's still unable to escape even though there really is nothing preventing it from going where it pleases. The belief holds it tighter than any physical restriction.
We're sort of like that elephant. When we were newly married, we were held tightly to home and even though there is nothing holding us now, we still often don't think to do things like go to the park for lunch on a nice day or go visit people we'd like to see.
Hence, it is a very big deal that we are actually going to go camping for the Feast of Tabernacles in a week or so.
Since we were married, we've gone from a suspicion that we maybe ought to celebrate all God's sabbaths to being convicted that God's words are all still relevant.
We follow a Savior whose title includes "God's Word Made Man". Since God never changes and all the words he's ever spoken are good and since his son came here as God's Word made into a man who saved us from the law of sin and death that bound us, it makes sense to pay attention to what those words actually say. Jesus offered us a "light yoke" in exchange for being freed from slavery to sin and death, and that yoke is obedience to him, the Living Word. Not anyone else's words - not man's additions - but God's. All God does is good, and good never becomes evil just as truth never becomes a lie. So if God gave us his Word detailing the way those who followed him should live, that good way has never become bad. It is still good.
We've gotten a little flack over this. Someone told me it was a slap in Jesus' face to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles since he died so we didn't have to do stuff like that. Ironically, all the special days are double memorials: remembering the past because it's a pattern for the future. The Feast of Tabernacles is a time to remember how God led his people through the wilderness before bringing them into the Promised Land. For Gentile Christians, not only have we been adopted into God's People (Paul calls it "being grafted into the olive tree"), but during the Feast of Tabernacles we memorialize the time Jesus came and lived with us and look forward to when he'll come again. Not only that, but because God's Kingdom hasn't come on Earth yet, we're kind of in the wilderness waiting to be led into the Promised Land. The Feast of Tabernacles reminds us that God cared for his people in the wilderness before and brought them safely through. Since he doesn't change, he'll do it again. None of this seems like a slap in Jesus' face.
One of God's commandments regarding his appointed days is to hold a special gathering of believers. For us, it's not particularly easy to find believers interested in gathering on those days. Most Christians today think one of the greatest sins God's grace and forgiveness doesn't cover is following his commandments, so the idea of keeping the Appointed Times (the Sabbath, Passover, First Fruits, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Shavuot (Pentacost), the Day of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles) is intensely controversial. Even my family, who've been doing things like keeping the Sabbath every seven days for a long time, is not entirely convicted these other days are important to remember. So when we came to the conviction we needed to observe them we usually did it alone since any gatherings we found were usually at places and times we couldn't attend while Grandma was with us.
We'd gotten kind of used to this. So it was a strange realization that there was a gathering fairly near to us for the Feast of Tabernacles and we had complete freedom to go if we chose.
Granted, it is a week of living in a "temporary dwelling" in the equivalent of northern Michigan in October. Brr. But we're looking forward to it anyway, partly because for the first time we're beginning to be able to do the things we've always wanted to do. It's a different life to us, having freedom like this. It must be a little shadow of what others who've gone before us experienced, like the Pilgrims coming here and being physically in great distress at first but yet being so greatly relieved to worship God as they believed to be right.
It feels pretty good to us. But I think our families still think we are a little nuts and I don't know that the past few years have prepared them for just how nuts we really are. In some ways, it's similar to being newlyweds again, establishing who we are and what we hope our family will be like. We like to stay out late some nights. We like to play Bible in the house during the day. We will often just pick up and go places without really planning it out. We go to work together. We plan camping trips in October to honor the Feast of Tabernacles.
Yes, it's a different life than we were living just four months ago. I have so many thoughts on new blog posts that I've actually put off writing since I can't decide which to work on. In the meantime, I have new Susannah pictures up HERE and will be hopefully getting another facet of life back in order with regular blog posts.
I've done some website reorganizing and put pictures of both girls up for their one month and eighteen month birthdays. Abigail is here and Susannah is here - both tabs are under the "our blog" heading.
Abigail's slideshow is pretty long this time since it's covering six months instead of one...and what an eventful six months they were! She went from a crawling baby to a little girl who can walk, talk a little, feed herself, and now has curly hair. Not to mention becoming a big sister. Susannah's last six months have been just as eventful (hey, she managed to get big enough to survive on her own, which includes all her organs and such developing!), but since we have no photos of her for most of it, her slideshow is much shorter.
Both girls are doing well - Susannah is sleeping a lot, which is good because Abigail requires a lot of attention right now and it would be quite a handful juggling two busy kids at once. I'm a lot more relaxed with this newborn than the last one, something that comes from experience or just a different time in life (I don't worry Grandma is going to get upset about the baby crying this time...), though I can't really tell which. Whatever the case, though I am still getting quite a training in having patience, it is easier handling the two kids than I thought it was going to be. Though my state of mind on that does definitely depend on how many times the girls have gotten up before it was really time to get up!
We began sanding the wood floors at our house on Sunday, June 15th. Our goal was to get stain down by Thursday afternoon and allow it to dry over Saturday so we could put the first coat of finish on by Sunday morning, maybe even get a second coat on by that evening. The goal was to have the house airing out so we could get back in by the end of June. It was cutting things really close, but it seemed doable especially if the baby wasn't born until a week or so into July.
Then no one was able to work on the floor as anticipated, setting us back to staining on Friday - which would still work with our original schedule but we were a little concerned since we'd heard the stain sometimes didn't dry as quickly as it ought to. After running around looking for different (faster drying) stain, we eventually came to the conclusion that we should stick with our original color and type and accept the extra day. By Thursday we were doing the last sanding and moved next door to Mom and Dad Turner's house so that we wouldn't drop anything on the floor between the last sanding and the staining.
Friday morning we encountered a snag. One of the sanders being used on Sunday had apparently developed a problem with the drum and had been sort of bouncing during the sanding, which had caused a series of small trenches or divots in the floor. It wasn't very visible normally, but when we applied stain or finish it was going to be a big problem because both things would puddle in the divots and make them very obvious. After some debate, Aaron and Benjamin and Elizabeth spent a whole day resanding the floors. We were going to try to squeak in the coat of stain before sundown but eventually had to admit there was just not enough time. There was some talk about not doing the stain until Sunday or Monday, but I basically begged and pleaded for the staining to be done after dark on Saturday - which was no small request considering it was the longest day of the year and would mean we would be staining 900 square feet of wood floor starting around 10:00 at night.
It should be noted here that I was feeling very antsy about the time and concerned we weren't going to be done anywhere near in time for the baby to be born in the house. I was uneasy about the other options that we'd have to go with if we couldn't use our house. Ben began saying that perhaps it hadn't been a good idea to try to get the floors done, but at that point everything was moved out of our house and we were pretty committed; and there was still the issue of what we were going to do if we DIDN'T try to get the floors done. It could be another two months before we did anything and that would be two months of wear on an unfinished floor. I basically pushed the "what-ifs" out of mind and firmly decided the baby was going to be born on time or late. A person's mindset had a lot to do with what happened during labor or even when a person could go into labor, I told myself. And I was pretty determined not to have that baby if things weren't ready.
Thankfully, God had the timing of this all in hand. I was upset about an extra day of sanding. God was saying, "No really, let me handle this. You need to delay a day."
However, I wasn't really listening. I was pushing to get done. So on Saturday evening around sundown, I went next door and began doing the one part of the job I hadn't been banned from: using the swiffer to tack-cloth the floor one last time in preparation for staining. My family arrived around 9:45 and got to work, which included Benjamin running back to his house and cutting and preparing a lintel piece for the basement doorway since we'd forgotten it and it wasn't something that could be easily inserted after the staining and finishing was done everywhere else. Ben and I did a quick run to Meijer for snacks and more brushes since we didn't have enough for the number of people working. I was feeling very large and uncomfortable and tired, but that's par for the course at 9.5 months pregnant after having packed up and moved an entire household of stuff out of a house. I did not feel about to go into labor, though in retrospect I did have some clues that I ignored or chalked up to strain from doing a lot.
The stain was completed around midnight - and Ben was the last person out of the house in spite of the fact that it turns out he is unusually sensitive to the fumes from both the stain and the finish and he spent the night wheezing and coughing. We turned out lights and got everything set for the night and Ben said he hoped all the activity wasn't going to put me into labor. "I'm not going into labor," I said firmly. "I'm fine."
But I had a lot of trouble going to sleep since I was unusually uncomfortable. I tried getting up and taking some Tylenol and went back to bed, but by 3:30 knew that I was feeling a lot of achiness and cramping that had nothing to do with being tired and wasn't something benign like Braxton-Hicks contractions either. At that point I was so scared by the possibility of being in labor that I stubbornly closed my eyes and went to sleep telling myself that I was just tired and everything would be back to normal in the morning.
Abigail got up bright and early at 7:45 and climbed into bed to nurse, like she usually does. I was pleased and relieved to open my eyes and feel pretty good, even back to normal. "False alarm," I thought. "I really was just tired."
Then she started nursing and it triggered three very strong contractions back to back. Ouch. Not so normal after all.
I was still trying to ignore it, though. I finished nursing her and got up and got my bathrobe on and tried to get going on my usual morning routine. I didn't feel very good, though, and there was no denying I was having real contractions. Which, by the way, in my opinion are not the most painful thing I've ever felt but there's no denying they're uncomfortable. "I need to just take some more Tylenol and sit with my feet up," I thought. I'd had two episodes of false labor with Abigail and had tested it that way - and the contractions had stopped those times. So I tried it again this time. Ben realized something was up when he saw me taking Tylenol and got concerned when I had to admit what was going on. "Maybe it's just false labor," I said. "I'll just sit for a while and everything will probably just die down. I don't think I'm going to work on the yard today, though." (That'd been our plan for that day, since we couldn't do anything inside the house.)
"Do you think we should tell Mom and Dad?" Ben asked. I didn't want to. I really wanted the whole thing to just go away. But I reluctantly agreed that we ought to and I was relieved when Ben volunteered to take Abigail and make sure she got breakfast and was changed and dressed, etc. Ben brought me a pen and some paper and I began tracking the contractions. After about an hour, I finally had to break down and admit that with contractions every 7 - 10 minutes even after taking Tylenol and resting, this was no false labor.
At that point, plan B had to go into effect.
We'd prepared our room at home so that the birth supplies were organized and ready and the room itself was most ready except for the two large armchairs and the kitchen table, which could be easily moved. Ben and Dad went next door and began moving things around and putting paper down over the just-barely-dry floors. They opened all the windows and collected every fan they could get their hands on, including some from the neighbors, Dad went to the store and got an air purifier, and I called my mom and asked her to go to the store for the few things we still needed for our birth kit - including newborn diapers, which I'd planned on getting when we went grocery shopping that week but hadn't gotten yet. I had washed all the baby clothes and the covers for the swing and bouncy chair and so on, but we didn't have any diapers. Figures.
We also had to call our stand-by midwife, since our midwife still wasn't back from the short vacation she'd gone on. We'd thought there'd be plenty of time, but now it was clear there wasn't.
By the time I went back to our house - around noon - the stain smell in the house was barely noticeable and it was an absolutely beautiful Sunday afternoon. Part of me was actually a little regretful to be missing out on such a beautiful day since I was way too busy to be paying attention to it. Mom Turner didn't really believe me at first that I was having strong contractions, I think, because I was behaving relatively normally; but by noon things were starting to get serious and it looked like we were on track to have this baby much, much sooner than we'd had Abigail. As a matter of fact, by 5:00 we were just at the point of birth when we encountered the same problem we had with Abigail: the baby was stuck behind a bubble of the amniotic sac that refused to budge or break. At 9:30, after going through four hours of very strong contractions that weren't noticeably doing anything, I finally had to summon the gumption to work on forcing the birth to happen even though things weren't really cooperating. Someone took a picture about the time I was sitting in the birthing pool having to make that decision - I don't really remember sitting there with my head against the back and my eyes closed, but I do remember being so very tired and just wanting to lie down and take a good nap and knowing I had to have that baby first. I could hear my sisters talking to one of the midwives in the other room and had been fuzzily aware of most of the family sitting on the patio next door having pizza a few hours earlier. I thought, "Okay, this has gone on long enough. Time to be done now." It had been about 18 hours since I first started thinking I might be in labor.
Once I decided to work on having her - I had to break the water myself since it just wouldn't rupture and then had to really push her even though I wasn't having any urge to, which takes a lot more energy than normal - Susannah Mary Turner was born about half an hour later at 10:06 pm. My mom and sister Leah ended up being there when she was born, which we hadn't really planned but was pretty special; and then Elizabeth and Anna brought Abigail over right away. I somehow had asked Leah to get them without specifically including Mom Turner in the invitation so she was a few minutes later when we realized she wasn't there, but she was still present before Susannah's cord was even cut yet. By the time Susannah and I were all cleaned up and resting in bed, the room gradually filled up with a good percentage of our family - another unplanned but special event. Mom Turner weighed Susannah for the first time and she and my mom and Anna got Susannah dressed for the first time while Abigail sat on my lap and shared my oatmeal. Abigail had no idea what to make of this tiny baby who had just appeared but finally began pointing to her eyes and mouth and hair and saying, "Eye. Mouth. Hair." Generally acknowledging that Susannah was a person just like her, I think.
We still had the odd situation of having a completely bare house that was full of the smell of stain if the windows were closed and fans turned off. We came to the conclusion it was probably best for Susannah's newly-tested lungs to take her back next door to Mom and Dad Turner's house for the night. So once everyone went home and Susannah had nursed for a little while, we packed up our two little girls and walked very slowly next door at about 1:00 in the morning and went to bed. It was very early in the morning of the two-week anniversary of Grandma Lila's death.
And in a wonderful, special touch, Susannah's first few weeks were spent at Nana and Grandpa Turner's house, where we were spoiled and cared for and visited before we went to my family's house for another few weeks and were again spoiled and cared for and visited. What a welcome for our little peanut!
We're just able to think about getting back into our house now. Turns out Ben is extremely sensitive to the fumes from the finish. So if we were able to follow our original plan, there would've been a brand new coat of finish on the floor and Susannah would've had to be born on the patio next door or something. God made sure that silly sander didn't work properly; and he made sure Susannah was born right in the best time for us to be out of the house: while she's still in a newborn coma and I can rest and not be waiting for the moment when I could start thinking about packing up the house...in the middle of nursing all the time and still not being able to handle my normal workload. It was not what we had planned at all, none of it. Not Grandma getting sick, not Susannah being born two weeks early, not the house progress taking place as it did. But in the end, it all has worked together for good.
I've been continually reminded of a children's song I played often as a kid: "He gave us beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness: that we might be trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified."
God had all the timing perfectly worked out. He knew how we were going to handle having Grandma Lila and a new baby at the same time. He knew how it was going to work so we could finish our floors and have a new baby at the same time. He knew what we were going to need when and he made sure it all worked. All the things we couldn't quite figure out how to cram into the same period of time he already had planned, and in the end Susannah's birth was full of little things that made it very special and very wonderful, just as he took care of Grandma Lila and her gentle death. Thank you, Lord. You made things perfect, just as you always do.
Welcome to the family, Susannah! Yours is one birth we are certainly never going to forget.
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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