28 February 2006

A Facing of Difficult Questions

Yesterday, there was a comment made that asked so many questions I didn't know what to do. Here it is in its entirety:
Interesting thoughts. I appreciate your willingness to put your ideas out there. How does this thought process relate to those God has allowed to be unable to produce? If birth can be controlled by fertility monitors, ovulation predictors, and typical birth control, where does this leave those who God has allowed to be infertile and who have no method of controlling birth? Are they not fulfilling God's design for marriage? Are there cases where God keeps a couple childless to serve his purpose as those he has kept single? Is the only fruit of a marriage measured in children {which could possibly mean we should never stop having them}, or are there other biblical fruits from a God designed marriage? Thanks for tackling this subject.
I've never devoted an entire post to answering a comment before, so here's to a new format! My plan is to break down each question {or related question set} and try to give an adequate answer...
How does this thought process relate to those God has allowed to be unable to produce? If birth can be controlled by fertility monitors, ovulation predictors, and typical birth control, where does this leave those who God has allowed to be infertile and who have no method of controlling birth? Are they not fulfilling God's design for marriage?
Yesterday's posting was regarding people who wish to remain childless. It was never ever intended to make statements about couples experiencing infertility. I am very wary of discussing infertility, simply because I know that it is a very deep sadness and grief with which I am unfamiliar in my own marriage, and I would hate to be misconstrued as trying to speak for those couples.

With that said, one of the areas where God has been stretching me lately is submission to my design--as a woman, as a wife, as a mother. And one thing that I have learned thus far is that I am only responsible for my submission, not for the outcome. In the context of this conversation, it is easy to observe that the marital act does not always produce children. It does not demand children.

What science has discovered concerning fertility is that healthy women, whose bodies are functioning normally, are still only fertile a little less than one month out of an entire year, or about two days per month {unless the wife is nursing a baby, which tends to delay fertility}. Procreation must not be the sole purpose of the marital act, or women would be fertile every day.

To consummate the marriage but fail to conceive could never be considered rebellion to the design unless conception is purposely avoided. {As an aside, true Natural Family Planning is the only form of "birth control" that works with God's design, by helping couples identify their fertile days, and then having them abstain on those days. The only reason I have never endorsed the method is that I cannot reconcile it with I Corinthians 7:3-5.}
Are there cases where God keeps a couple childless to serve his purpose as those he has kept single?
I cannot think of a single verse that specifically answers this question, and so my answer must be that I do not know the mind of God.
Is the only fruit of a marriage measured in children {which could possibly mean we should never stop having them}, or are there other biblical fruits from a God designed marriage?
There are three {four if you include the giving of money in Romans 1} basic references to fruit in the Scriptures {other than actual fruit on a tree}. The first is, of course, in the beginning of Genesis, where the first marriage is blessed and told to "be fruitful and multiply," a blessing that is repeated to Noah and his sons in Genesis 9. The use of "fruit" here means children. I think that this tends to correspond to the use of the word "seed" throughout the Old Testament. Typically, "seed" deals with the lineage of Jesus, and yet there is an implied "fruitfulness" about it since fruit is seed-bearing, and seeds tend to grow up and become trees which bear fruit. {To state it simply, it is all part of the same word picture, "fruit" being children in general and "seed" being the lineage of Jesus.}

Another Scriptural concept of fruit is the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 {connected to the Fruit of Light in Ephesians 5:9, neither being an exhaustive list}. These fruits are basically the good intangible qualities made possible by the inner workings of the Spirit of Christ.

The last example of fruit is disciples that have been made. {I actually think that this is why some ask the question of how the Great Commission fits with the Dominion Mandate.} This is the most indirect of the three examples here in that all believers are not exactly referred to as being "fruit," but rather the first believers in a geographic location tend to be called the "first fruits" {i.e., I Corinthians 16:15, James 1:18, Revelation 14:4}. It seems to me that all who follow after are necessarily "fruit" if those who precede can be called "first fruits."

While studying these passages, I noticed two things about fruit. The first is that fruit is always a good thing, and not being able to enjoy fruit is a bad thing {i.e., Lamentations 4:9, Ezekiel 25:4, etc.}. The second is that fruit is a result of submission. Children are a result of submission to our design {i.e., if we consummate the marriage as we should--see I Corinthians 7:3-5--and do not interrupt the process by artificial means, children are sometimes the result}. Fruit of the Spirit is a result of a submission to Christ and His Spirit. Fruit in the form of disciples made is a result of submission to Christ's command to go and make disciples.

Children are a fruit that is unique to marriage. This does not mean that living within marriage cannot produce the latter two fruits. When we are submitting to the Spirit, we should naturally manifest the internal fruits of the Spirit and the external fruits of disciple-making, no matter our marital status. But it is marriage that was intended for the rearing of children. {Yes, I know that single people can and do have children. But this is not as the Lord intended. Please read near the end of this post where I explained my stance on attempting to discover what is normative by reasoning from the exceptions.}
Is the only fruit of a marriage measured in children (which could possibly mean we should never stop having them), or are there other biblical fruits from a God designed marriage?
God has designed a beginning and end to fertility, though it lasts much longer than the average modern mind prefers. A girl does not become fertile until she begins her monthly cycle, which tends to commence sometime between the ages of eleven and sixteen. There is only a span of about thirty or thirty-five years where she remains fertile. During part of this fertile time, she is typically unmarried. {I, for instance, spent 12 of my fertile years unmarried.} Later, even without birth control, a woman will become infertile due to breastfeeding or health issues. The cycle of fertility ends naturally around the time that grandchildren are beginning to be born.

I know this is obvious, and yet I think, in this post-Industrial culture, it is easy to forget that God has designated a time for bearing the fruit of the womb, and a time not to. To say that one should never stop having children tends to overlook that all women must stop having them eventually, even those with the highest levels of fertility. With the advent of birth control, it has become very easy to think that one must put a stop to childbearing, because man has set himself up as gatekeeper of life and birth. But in the beginning, it was not this way. And God designed a beginning, and an end, to the time for bearing children.

27 February 2006

When a Person Wishes to Remain Childless

There are some who will best fulfill the part they play in the Great Commission without a family to care for. These people are called to singleness. We learn in I Corinthians 7 that Paul wishes that all would remain single, but those who cannot exercise the necessary self-control should marry. Paul explains that there is no shame in a singleness that consists of undistracted devotion to the Lord {and I am sure he would frown on the pejorative "Old Maid"}.

Paul explains that those who are married are "concerned about the things of this world." I find this to be true! I am, as Paul wrote, concerned with pleasing my husband. Paul doesn't say that this is a sin on my part, but rather that this is the nature of marriage. And the natural outcome of marriage is children, who require much time and energy. And because the nature of marriage is so, he offers the suggestion that those who can remain single.

With the advent of birth control {I know, I know...I really need to quit bringing this up!}, there arose a Third Option. I use the word option loosely, because I think we need to be careful when considering something to be an acceptable option simply because we can {see I Corinthians 6:12 & 10:23}. The Third Option is to marry, but use some artificial means to remain childless for the entirety of the marriage. What was once a "honeymoon use" of birth control for the purpose of enjoying two or three years of alone-time with one's spouse has become, for some couples, a pursuit of an entire married life without children.

I am not sure we are free to take the marital act and use technologies to separate it from its consequences. I was once taught that this is not unlike certain ancients who, influenced by Epicurus, would purge during meals to avoid the consequence of becoming full so that they could further indulge in their gluttony. It is rare to find much that is noble about separating any action from its consequences.

We are free, however, to practice chastity in singleness. This is the method chosen by Paul, and he says that a man who encourages this in a daughter does as well as a man who chooses to have her marry {I Corinthians 7:37 & 38}. In other words, marriage and singleness both serve their purpose and one is not superior to the other.

There is a certain beauty in a fruitful marriage that offers a loving and hospitable home to their children and those who have need. There is a similar beauty in a chaste singleness spent in a wholehearted devotion to serving the Lord. As I wrote before, God didn't as much command marriage to produce children as much as He simply created it in such a way that children tend to be brought about, from time to time, when one lives according to His design. The Third Option brings in an unnatural state, where one is not single, and yet holding on to some of the aspects of singleness by purposely avoiding the fruit of the marriage.

24 February 2006

The Dominion Mandate and the New Covenant

And they went out and preached everywhere...{Mark 16:20}

IIt was easy for me to entertain the thought that perhaps the New Covenant in Christ shifted the emphasis from procreation to evangelism when Jesus gave us the Great Commission. Raised on weekly doses of Dispensationalism, I am often prone to see Jesus in the New Testament as being in conflict with the Father in the Old Testament. I have found this to be a personal handicap. As much I as try, what I was taught by my church in my youth makes it difficult for me to comprehend that Jesus did not abolish the Law, but fulfilled it. His message was not that all the old ways were wrong, but that all the old requirements were impossible to meet apart from Him.

Recently, I wrote about the Dominion Mandate being primarily descriptive of our design and function. After thinking and reading about the issue, I do not believe that Jesus' presence on the earth changed an intended function of the marital act. If anything, His Spirit allows us to truly embrace our children, rather than to bring them forth and raise them out of a sense of duty to Law.

The Jesus who commanded us to go and "make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you" {Matthew 28:19}, is the Lord of Paul, who wrote that young women are to be encouraged to "love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored" {Titus 2:4 & 5}.

I know, I know...Titus 2 doesn't literally mean I am to be at home all the day long, every day of the week. However, I can tell you from experience that effectively loving my husband and children means I must be at home a lot more often than my friends who are unmarried or married without children. And when I bring a new baby home, due to nursing difficulties, it is typical for me to be literally at home for the first ten weeks. Family life is very time-consuming for a wife and mother.

The Jesus who told His followers, "You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" {Acts 1:8}, is the Lord of Paul, who wrote that fathers are to bring their children up "in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" {Ephesians 6:4}.

The methodology Yahweh ordained for training children in this manner was a continual process. He commanded fathers to teach His words "diligently to your sons and...talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up" {Deuteronomy 6:7}. This is a time-consuming process for a father.

I do not wish to be misinterpreted to mean that parents do not have time to obey the Great Commission. Actually, I think many people {like me} do not have the time because they do not make the time. I'm not sure my time spent considering the Great Commission and working to fulfill it has changed much over the years, though I am ashamed to admit it.

What I do think is that instead of seeing parenthood as in tension with the Great Commission, we should see it as an opportunity. The Great Commission can be fulfilled as a family working together. We know a young family that took a baby as young as eight-months-old along in a stroller while they evangelized the poor. They considered it an honor to serve Christ in such a way {as a whole family} and never intimated to us that their child was a hindrance in their service to God. And serving together with him when he is older will allow them to talk with him "while they walk by the way" and explain God's teaching to him. What better way to train a child properly than to involve him in our service to the Lord?

Jesus did not eliminate aspects of the created order when He gave the Great Commission. In fact, He is the Word Who created the order in the first place. Parenthood, making disciples, keeping a home, being a witness, training a child, preaching His message--these are not at war with each other. Rather, they are different facets, which, when put together correctly, make brilliant the gem of a life lived in faithfulness to the Lord.

22 February 2006

This Day in 2005

One year ago today, at this very moment, I was enjoying a dose of post-surgical morphine and a little bundle of joy. It is very hard to believe it has been a year already. Here is a mother-daughter photo. I try to avoid the new digital camera as best I can, but Si loves to use it, especially when I am without makeup. Like the outfit? Rebecca made sure the little angel was appropriately attired for Valentine's Day this year. {Hi, R!} Just in time for the party {Friday night}, she is toddling all over the house. She has also learned to yell at her brother, which comes in handy when defending her territory. This is usually accompanied by the Death Grip, holding fast to whatever it is he is attempting to steal from her. We anticipate that she will refuse to show off her tricks once the crowd has gathered, and Si and I will be there, insisting that she knows how to eat solid foods/walk/say "please" or whatever else we have asked her to do. She can be a stubborn baby. She is surely a gift from God, and has blessed this house with her presence, starting the very first time she slept through the night! {Just kidding...she was a blessing, even when she made us very tired.} It is amazing to me that we previously lived our whole lives without her, and yet now we cannot imagine them differently. She was certainly a "perfect fit" for our little family.

On the Dominion Mandate as Normative

When questions of birth control arise, they must always be considered in light of this fundamental and undeniable truth: children are blessings from God. Do we believe this or do we not? And don't be so quick to say that you do if you don't. If your concern is about the health and wellbeing of the mother, that is one thing. If it is about how much money you will have to spend on all the stuff that will be destroyed with this world, that is another thing. (Pastor Rolf Preus, posted by Caspar as a comment at Lutherans and Contraception)

It has taken many years for Si and I to arrive at the place we are now, where I can honestly say that we believe children to be blessings. I have alluded to our journey a few times, mainly here and here. It is somewhat sobering to know that in the past, someone could have asked me if I believed children were blessings, and I would have replied with an emphatic and resounding, "Yes!!" And had they followed up by asking if I was open to more at that very moment, I would have replied with an emphatic and resounding, "No!!" And I would not have noticed a bit of inconsistency in my logic.

But there was an inconsistency. If God offered to bless me with more money or a nice house or a free meal at a nice restaurant, I would have accepted it happily and without question. The fact that if, during those times, had He offered me another child I would have accepted the child grudgingly reveals that I did not at all consider children to be blessings. Or at least I did not consider all children to be blessings. And especially not that child that I would have considered to be "too much" for me.

My attitude at that time was sinful. I now call this the Sin of Disagreement. God said that something is a blessing, but I disagreed with Him, and could offer up a very long-winded explanation of why I was right and He was wrong. As in the Garden, that ancient serpent whispers in my ears that I know better, or that God didn't mean what He said. And there was a time when I believed and thought myself to be wise because of it.

In reading and rereading Genesis 1:28, I could not get away from the idea that what we call the Dominion Mandate is not really a mandate at all, but rather a description of how things are, or at least how they are created to be. God takes His children in His arms and blesses them and tells them what life holds for them. I soon learned that this is not a new thought.
For this word which God speaks, 'Be fruitful and multiply,' is not a command. It is more than a command, namely, a divine ordinance which it is not our prerogative to hinder or ignore. Rather, it is just as necessary as the fact that I am a man, and more necessary than sleeping and waking, eating and drinking, and emptying the bowels and bladder. It is a nature and disposition just as innate as the organs involved in it. Therefore, just as God does not command anyone to be a man or a woman but created them the way they have to be, so he does not command them to multiply but creates them so that they have to multiply. {Martin Luther, works, vol. 45, The Christian in Society II, The Estate of Marriage, pp. 15-18, emphasis mine}

It is the nature of marriage to produce children. In most circumstances, we must interrupt the natural order if we are to avoid creating children.

Are there exceptions? Of course. In the past, I have used nonhormonal birth control due to the fact that I was taking a medication known to cause birth defects. We did not consider this avoiding a child, but rather protecting a potential child from harm. We have known couples who decided not to have more children because of a disease in the mother that is aggravated by pregnancy. Some decisions are quite difficult to make.

But the fact remains that one must not attempt to decide what is normative by reasoning from the exceptions. {Carmon recently pointed this out to her readers, and I cannot for the life of me find the link.} In fact, exceptions can only truly be called exceptions if there is a norm from which to deviate. That accepted norm was once that one married and produced children. In the absence of birth control, there is a created order that prevails most of the time.

And the man said,
"This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man."
For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. {Genesis 2:23 & 24}

The man saw his wife, observed her design and its significance, and for this reason they cleaved together and became one flesh. Not much has changed in the last six thousand years or so. Women and men are still born with great resemblance to these original parents. And this still encourages the awe and the desire to cleave and become one flesh. I will reiterate Luther's words, as I find them far superior to mine. God didn't command me to be a woman, but rather created me so that I must be a woman, that I cannot be anything but a woman. Likewise, God didn't command marriage to produce children, but simply created it in such a way that children tend to be brought about, from time to time, when one lives according to His design.

21 February 2006

On Resources as a Biblical Hermeneutic

The most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it. (Margaret Sanger, 1920, thanks to Amy for the link)
As I began researching the Dominion Mandate issue, I discovered that the abortion lobby tends to be the "source" of many of the overpopulation claims. And I also discovered that there are segments of Christianity who have accepted these claims and limited their childbearing, or forgone it altogether.

This troubles me for a couple reasons. Actually, "troubles" is too mild a word. It grieves me.

The first is an issue of semantics. I like to analyze how we say things, and what meanings are implied. I think it aids in the understanding of an issue to think about how the issue is framed, and what language is chosen to convey the thoughts that surround it.

The word "overpopulation" disturbs me. The literal meaning is, "too many people." The implied meaning is that there are some people who are here and don't belong. Maybe they should not have been born? Maybe we should murder them?

I have observed that couples who parent large families often encounter this mindset at a very personal level. If they are brave and leave their houses with enough children that the "surplus" is evident, they will be stared at {which is normal since it is rare these days}, and also asked impertinent questions like, "Don't you know what causes that?" And, "Are you done yet?" {And these questions are usually asked in front of the numerous children.}

The literal meaning of these questions is, "Don't you know how to use birth control?" The implied meaning is that there are "too many children." And the lingering question is, "Who doesn't belong?" Or perhaps, "Who should we get rid of?"

The term "overpopulation" is born of an exceedingly secular mindset, and it tends not to acknowledge or place any value on the imago dei.

When I looked the term up in my trusty Dictionary.com, it was defined as, "Excessive population of an area to the point of overcrowding, depletion of natural resources, or environmental deterioration." Now, obviously there are cities to which this word applies. And typically, there are some families in an overpopulated city that might be better off if they moved. Notice that there is no necessity for them to die or to never have been born. The city will either expand its limits, or some of the population will relocate.

But when we apply the term to the whole world, then some people need to die or be murdered, and others need to never be born. Some people don't belong, while others do, and I'm not sure who has the authority to select the surviving population, though I am well aware that in some countries it is the government {i.e., forced abortions in China}.

My second concern is that of using the issue of overcrowded cities or strains on resources as a biblical hermeneutic. There are those within Christianity who believe that the Dominion Mandate has been fulfilled because they read statistics that told them that the world is overpopulated and that there are so many people that our resources are strained. As you all know, I tend to question this information in the first place, being that one of the major sources for these types of studies (the infamous Planned Parenthood) has a vested interest in killing babies.

But let's just say it's true. Let's say that though there is enough space for people, and though there is a surplus of food every year, other resources are becoming more difficult to procure. So now what? Is this the means which we are to employ when interpreting Scripture? Is it true to say that since a culture has built itself on a sandy foundation of nonrenewable resources that now the Dominion Mandate is fulfilled? Is this the criteria God gave for determining the fulfillment of the Mandate? Did He give any criteria at all? If so, what are they? And if not, why?

Though I addressed my views on fuel sources {and my belief that there is great hope and ingenuity out there}, I want to make clear that even if all the oil were to run out tomorrow, and even if life were to become quite hard, I do not think it appropriate to change my view of marriage as presented in Genesis 1:28.

I believe that the question, "Are we overpopulated?" is the wrong question to be asking of the biblical text. I believe the right questions are along the lines of, "Is the Dominion Mandate still in effect? If not, why? If so, what does this mean for my marriage?"

If we believe the Bible is true, then we are obligated to live accordingly {and can consider it a joy to do so!}, no matter how difficult it may be, no matter that it may require some fuel-related {or other} creativity on our parts.

18 February 2006

A Guiding Ethic

I have thoroughly appreciated the discussion stemming from the ProLife series. And I do anticipate much thinking in the next few days. I am trying not to say too much until I have more thoroughly studied the issue, as I have no desire to be caught speaking the words of a fool. But don't worry...we will continue "putting the pieces together."

I didn't want to chase the Dominion Mandate rabbit trail without first reiterating a couple points from the When a Church Embraces Life post. I began the post with this statistical summary, which I think is very important to remember:
In the U.S., 137 Million people claim to be Christians. If only 1% of U.S. Christians made a choice to adopt one child, there would be no more children waiting to be adopted in the U.S. foster care system, and a million orphaned children from other countries would join an American family. {Families of Promise, emphasis mine}
When I began my research into public adoptions, I became somewhat overwhelmed by the number of children in need of homes. Sometimes, in desiring to save the whole world, I forget that it is enough to simply do my part. And doing our part is always a great thing.

Within what some call "Contemporary Christian Culture," there are a number of celebrities. And these celebrities seem to make huge dents in eliminating the world's major difficulties, and still have time remaining to rear children and write books about it all.

I may feed a tired family with a brand new baby, but one of these celebrities will feed 40,000 tsunami or hurricane victims in a day. I may visit a friend who is sick, but one of these celebrities will start a ministry where every sick person in an entire city is visited every Wednesday and Saturday. If a celebrity is a guiding example of greatness, then I am very, very small.

Remember this verse?
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. {Proverbs 3:27}

I think this is a much better guiding ethic than the example of any celebrity I can think of. The measure of greatness is not determined by the number of people who know what you have done {which is what celebrity is all about, whether those being celebrated desire the fame or not}. Jesus taught us that greatness was found in the small, daily acts of service that were prepared for us to do.

Each of us have our own "good works" that are in our power to do. I cannot rescue every child in California from foster care, and if I try to, I will be greatly discouraged. But I can try to get able families in my church to adopt one. And as we learned before, if 1% of Christians in the US adopt one child, the US problem is solved, and there is a great impact internationally as well.

We do not need one person to rise up and do something huge and great while the rest of us applaud him. We need all of us to do the small things, and then no one person need carry the bulk of the burdens in this world.

17 February 2006

My New Favorite Zucchini Bread Recipe

Teaching Little A. to eat solids has been an ordeal. She has a gag reflex that is unbelievable, though she is much improved compared to December. {In December I was convinced she had a birth defect!} I'm convinced she'll grow out of it, but for now getting veggies in her is a challenge, especially since we tend to mostly eat them raw and uncooked, which makes them impossible for her to chew {though she does like to teeth on raw carrots}.

So...when I discovered this recipe at AllRecipes, I couldn't resist. It has as much zucchini as it does flour! And it is a very yummy dark loaf. Here is the link, and here it is, the way I modified it to fit our tastes and no-choking needs:

Ingredients:

3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 cups grated zucchini
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup wheat germ

Directions:
  1. In a large bowl, combine eggs, oil, sugar, zucchini, and vanilla. mix well. Add flours, baking powder, soda, salt, wheat germ, and cinnamon; stir to combine.
  2. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 1 hour, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

16 February 2006

Beyond ProLife: When a Church Embraces Life

In the U.S., 137 Million people claim to be Christians. If only 1% of U.S. Christians made a choice to adopt one child, there would be no more children waiting to be adopted in the U.S. foster care system, and a million orphaned children from other countries would join an American family. {Families of Promise, emphasis mine}
If I preach to myself too many days in a row, I end up filled to the brim with conviction! {Sometimes, my husband tells me I should stop blogging because it causes too much life-change in the family!} Off and on since I began the ProLife series, I found myself compelled to propose a ministry to my church where our members are encouraged to adopt, to reach out to the children and bring them into homes where they can be taught the ways of the Lord.

And then I wondered if anyone out there was already doing this. You know what they say about reinventing the wheel...

My searching was delightfully short on time required and long on reward. Readers, may I present Antioch Adoptions. This is a truly comprehensive ministry in a way I could never have dreamed of. First of all, they work with mothers pregnant with what they call unintended pregnancies {I love this word usage so much more than unwanted}. They are seeking to "champion" adoption because their research told them that some mothers would rather abort than give up a child for adoption because it is rarely presented in a positive light.

Secondly, they work with adopting families through the whole process. There is an introduction class, pre-screening, training weekend, specialized classes, home study, child placement, staff visits after placement, and the finalization of the adoption. They are fully funded, making the adoption free service, made possible by donors.

Antioch Adoptions seeks an answer to this most important question: What would a world look like in which every child who was free to be adopted actually was? Currently, their services are only available in western Washington state, but other churches could easily follow their lead and begin rescuing foster kids and unintended babies in their own areas.

Families of Promise is a ministry that exists to help churches start a radical ministry such as this. Antioch Adoptions is one of a handful of churches Families of Promise is supporting in their endeavors to care for orphaned and abandoned children.

My hope and prayer is that the Church rises up, and instead of foster children growing up to be the untrained, unparented bane of society {I know that is not absolute, but studies show that 4 years out of foster care, only 1 in 5 are completely self-supporting, with 1 in 4 having been homeless at least one night}, they become a generation of children who come to know Christ because they are reared by godly parents.

There was a day when each one of us was outside the fold. Our relationship to the Father is described as adoption {Rom. 8:15 & 23; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5}. When Jesus walked among men, He graciously extended His arm outside the Jewish family and welcomed all who would have faith, to follow Him in love and obedience. Through Him, we are adopted as sons. How appropriate that some of those who are adopted, who were once outside the family and are now within, adopt the orphaned and abandoned in this world, and bring them home.
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. {Proverbs 3:27}

15 February 2006

Beyond ProLife: Operation Unwanted Child

Samaritan's Purse has an annual service opportunity called Operation Christmas Child. My church does this every year. Participants pick a category {girl or boy} and then an age range {if I remember correctly} and fill up a shoebox with appropriate gifts. These shoeboxes are then collected and delivered somewhere around the world to children we will never meet or touch. It is an amazing ministry.

I've seen an Operation Christmas Child video a time or two, and for some reason, I was reminded of it when I saw this website {hence the title of this post}, where you can browse photos of kids here in California who need a home. I wanted to include a photo of one of the children, but there are security measures that prevent me from doing so. Suffice it to say that there are children in such desperate need of a home that you can shop for them online.

About six months ago, I learned that a relative of a relative of mine {complicated, I know} had adopted three or four little ones over the course of the last five years, and each of the children's paperwork cost less than $500 apiece to complete. I had never heard of such a thing! An old boss of mine had adopted his children for about thirty times that amount, which told me that no matter how heart-wrenching the idea of a needy child was, helping them was something out of our price range.

Apparently, there is a major difference between a public and private adoption. Private adoption agencies tend to work with the more "wanted" babies. What I mean by this is that there are long lines of people waiting for a beautiful {usually caucasion, statistically speaking}, college-bound unwed mother with few vices and a clean genetic background to choose them as the adoptive parents. There is a huge demand for perfect babies.

During the Birth Control as an Idea discussions, my genius father made the observation that those "unwanted" babies Margaret Sanger would have liked to see eliminated are generally born. Some of them are taken home and reared by their own parents. But some are abandoned in hospitals when the parents discover a heart problem or other defect. And some are taken away because they are born with drugs in their system. And some are taken away later when parents prove neglectful or dangerous. And some children become orphans and simply have nowhere to go.

We have a fully functioning foster care system, I know. But have you ever met a full-grown foster child before? Someone who has known nothing but the system? I remember a girl I met once. She went to college when she turned 18 because she had no where else to go. Her foster parents were the type that were in it for the stipend {kind of like the perpetually pregnant welfare moms}, and at 18 they cut her loose. She was alone for every holiday, and had no real family in the world. Frankly, this made her a very difficult person because she was so damaged by it, and, sadly, it was hard for me to imagine her ever marrying and being able to create a family.

The foster care system is a great short-term solution, but it really shouldn't be considered acceptable for children to never have a permanent family.

There was a point in time where Si and I felt called to open our home in just this way, but it didn't work out. But I remember what drove us to it. We thought of our own precious children, and how our hearts break at the thought of them being alone and raised by strangers who have no regard for our Lord. And then we thought of the child who might need us, and there was a great burden of conviction and an overwhelming willingness to love him like our own.

In my Save a Snowflake posting, I brought up James 1:27, which says that pure religion is expressed through caring for widows and orphans. If adopting a snowflake is a life-giving act, then one may rightly call adopting an unwanted child a life-affirming act.

I do not believe that all are called to the same front in the prolife war. Some will counsel mothers considering abortion and help them choose life, and they may be very different from those who adopt the children. Some will save a snowflake, and they may be very different from those who adopt a gaggle of foster babies into a stable and permanent home. But all of these will be said to have fought the war.

Think of how powerful it could be if members of the Church rose up and took in these cast-off, downtrodden children. Our Savior was here on earth, and he reached out to such as these:

  1. Lucas is a sweet little baby boy with blond hair and blue eyes. Lucas is a medically fragile child, but is currently recieving very specialized care. He likes being held and cuddled. Lucas responds positively to others and smiles when smiled at and spoken to softly. Lucas enjoys viewing the activity of the room around him and he looks to see his caretaker for reassurance. Lucas needs a family who is able to care for a medically fragile baby.
  2. Christopher is a toddler boy with some special medical needs that will require a strong family. He has had a strong, positive attachment with foster parents, especially adult females. He has an age-appropriate difficulty with separation and may seem "clingy." After a time, he readily seeks and interacts with familiar adults and peers in the home. Christopher enjoys playing with toys which he often throws and retrieves. He also enjoys participating in this activity with other children. Christopher enjoys watching Nickelodeon and similar children's television shows. He walks independently and has adequate gross motor skills. Christopher is reported to have developmental delays in the area of language and social development. This wonderful little guy would benefit from the stability and nurturing of a permanent family.
  3. David {age 7} is an intelligent boy who watches Sponge Bob, likes pizza, and has a "can do" attitude. Healthy and developmentally on track, David is doing very well in school. This bright boy is very good with younger children and takes pride in acting like a big brother by explaining things to them. David would do well in a warm and nurturing family capable of meeting his emotional needs, particularly in times of regression. David will need a family who has patience and the capacity to set firm limits. The adoptive family should also be loving and provide him with support so that he can reach his full potential. David is a wonderful kid who would be a beneficial addition to any worthwhile family.

14 February 2006

A Brief History and Application of St. Valentine


I think perhaps the History Channel best summarizes the most popular legend of Saint Valentine in this excerpt:

Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men -- his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
If this is the case, then the exchanging of cards and fine jewelry hardly seem to do the Day justice.

Now, some would say that Valentine's Day was yet another papal attempt to christianize a Roman holiday. Nevertheless, I find it appealing to have a day that celebrates not my marriage, but the institution of marriage itself.

My celebration of this day has varied over the years. When I was single, I bought Valentine cards for my girlfriends, to let them know how much I appreciated them. One year, we threw ourselves a ROTIC {ROmanTIC without the MAN} dinner to mark the occasion {does anyone remember that??}.

My favorite Valentine's Day of all time occurred in 2000. Si bought me a card and filled it with the most wonderful thoughts. {Have I ever mentioned what a great writer he is?} We were "just friends" at the time, and yet, when I read what he wrote, I knew we would eventually marry. It was such a strong feeling, that the only word I can use for it now is conviction.

And, obviously, we did marry. Fifteen months later, to be exact. What a glorious, life-changing day!

As I reflect on Valentine's Day, I cannot help but note what it has become. Some sarcastically call it "Singles Awareness Day," which is about as far from its intended meaning and origination as one can take it. Others seem to believe it to be a celebration of fleshly lusts for the young and beautiful. Awash in the sea of culture, the priest who gave up his life in order to uphold God's institution of marriage can easily be forgotten.

Many of you know that Si and I are coleaders of a Newlyweds Ministry at our church. On Sunday, our teacher suggested that the couples discuss their expectations for special events like Valentine's Day. The more general topic of the day was the effect that unspoken expectations can have upon a marriage, and Valentine's Day was a specific application of the larger principle.

I heard murmurs around the room, whispers of gifts and jewelry and dates and flowers {no chocolate anymore--too fattening is my guess}. And as I thought about that ancient martyr, it all seemed strangely out of place. Is that what he died for? So that the members of a culture with a 50%+ divorce rate can shower each other with stuff?

Don't get me wrong. I bought Si a little something that he's going to love. He never buys himself anything, so he's a joy to buy for. I was referring not to the stuff itself, but the focus on the stuff.

It seems like there should be more to it. Perhaps a pause, a silent remembering of how one man defied the authorities in support of the right of young love to be satisified within the bounds of marriage. Perhaps a reflection on the importance of marriage within a society. {And I do mean real marriage; not all the mockeries our culture insists on pretending are the real thing. And I do mean the lasting type of marriage; not the sort that ends when the feelings do, but the sort that is broken only by death.}

And it seems like there should be less to it. Less of the clutter, fewer demands, hearts satisfied not by diamonds and champagne, but by nothing less than the beauty of a pure and steadfast love.

13 February 2006

Beyond ProLife: Save a Snowflake

Recently, I wrote a posting entitled Beyond ProLife, where I explained my desire to develop a more comprehensive vision of what a culture that values the sanctity of life really looks like. Today, I decided that, rather than wait around until I've figured it all out, I will try and put pieces together as I go along.

Snowflake Adoption is one of the pieces. And first one must understand what a snowflake actually is.

Essentially, a snowflake is an unwanted embryo, along the same lines as an unwanted baby. As IVF {in vitro fertilization} becomes more popular in our country, an interesting side-effect has occurred. It seems that, even in the realm of fertility treatment, where one would expect patients to be decidedly pro-life, children are viewed as a choice {see the Birth Control as an Idea postings}.

A couple going through IVF may have any number of embryos fertilized during the process. I will say they have eight, for the sake of discussion. Now, the average family has 2.07 kids in the US. If an IVF couple decides that their family is complete after creating an average family, there are approximately 6 leftover embryos {unborn babies}.

Now, the abortion advocates, in order to be consistent in their thinking, tend to believe these embryos should be destroyed {murdered}. The health research special interest groups would love to get their hands on these babies in order to experiment on them (there's that murder idea again) and try to save the lives of very important actors like Michael J. Fox.

Now, there is a third option. And this option is just as pro-life as protesting abortion, if not moreso, because it not only values the life of the unborn, but it actually gives them the chance to live.

Si and I first became familiar with this concept in 2003 when he discovered an agency down the street from his workplace that pioneered the concept of snowflake adoptions. For more specific information on adopting a snowflake, here is a FAQ sheet. I'll give the answers to two major questions now: the overall live birth success rate is 37% {including thawing}, and the total cost to a family living outside Southern California is $6800-$10000.

Now, one can also go through a process known as embryo donation, which is a bit different. First of all, it differs legally because fertility clinics consider the embryos to be property that, when undesired by the current owners, may be legally transferred to new owners. This is the only legal form of human trafficking in the US. Snowflake adoption, on the other hand, is just what it sounds like--a true adoption which considers the embryo to be a child and is governed by adoption laws rather than property laws.

There are a number of benefits to adoption vs. donation, perhaps the most important being that adoption affirms that the baby is just that--a baby. Also, donated embryos are often given to couples who have been diagnosed with double infertility, a process that can even mean prior IVF failure(s). But anyone can adopt, even those who have their own children already. In other words, snowflake adoption is more readily available to the average couple who simply wants to rescue an unwanted child.

I have hinted before that there are better uses of one's "extra" cash than to waste it on trinkets. It is my opinion that, in light of God's view that true religion is to care for widows and orphans {James 1:27}, a superior use of one's savings is nothing less than a life-giving act like snowflake adoptions.

There are many life-giving acts, and snowflake adoption is only one. It is not for everyone; it is not for me {with my past pregnancy-related hormone problems}. But it is important that some in the Church rescue these babies before they are destroyed, discarded, or experimented upon.

I will leave off with this quote from the adoptive father of twin snowflake babies:
Human embryos are not leftovers, an un-valuable cluster of cells. Human embryos are human and have value because of this. We must protect this value. These embryos were human at the moment of conception, containing all genetic material that self-corrected their development. Embryos were human when they divided to the two-, four- and eight- cell stage. These embryos were human when they were frozen in liquid nitrogen for six years. These embryos were human when they were thawed and transferred to their mother’s womb. These embryos were human when they became blastocysts and were implanted in the uterus. These embryos were human as they continued to develop over six, 12, 24 and 36 weeks. And these babies were human when they were born. These embryos and developed babies are now 11 months old and are named Caleb Joshua Mason and Jordan Michael Mason, the joy of this father’s life.

10 February 2006

True Virtue is Timeless

I'm not very good at picking out clothes. At least, I don't think I am. Even when I think I'm getting a timeless classic, it ends up being trendier than I expect, and next thing I know, I looking down my nose at an item and wondering why I ever bought it. Sometimes something can appear to be lasting when it isn't.

And sometimes I think that some of the good qualities I've admired aren't really embedded in the soul, but rather a mock-up of virtue that was popular with the cool kids and so the whole culture followed suit for a time.

I have lately been disappointed in old aquaintances, who I thought had genuine Christian spirits, only to learn they wallowed in compromise after we parted ways {and continue to do so}. And then there are others who have been pleasant to my soul as I find they continued the race set before them without much wavering.

Tell me, what do the following four fictional scenarios have in common?
  1. A young woman dresses modestly throughout her youth, even when it was uncommon for her age. She meets a man and gets married. Shortly after, she begins to wear clothes she would never have considered before {yes, I mean out in public}.

  2. I am surprised to discover that my dear sweet old Grandma*, whom I have adored my whole life, and has been a widow for a number of years, has recently moved into a retirement community and is living with an old man without being married. {Note: This is more common than you would think as women lose spousal Social Security benefits if they remarry.}

  3. Si and I work hard to manage a tight budget. We often do without the things that most people would consider necessities. Then, we win the lottery. The next time my friends see me, I'm driving my new Porsche Cayenne luxury SUV.

  4. A couple we are acquainted with is also on a tight budget, and they, too constantly pinch pennies. They never give away money, not even a tithe. As a result of a death in the family, they inherit millions. They begin to give away more than 10%.

Situations like this occur in real life all the time {except the part where Si and I win the lottery}. For the last 20 years, there has been a huge push in the culture for children to be taught values, which is not at all the same as virtues {though I do believe that many considered them to be the same thing}, and now we see that values change, while virtues remain the same.

This is most easily illustrated through using the word as a verb rather than a noun.

When I was young, I valued a car that was cute and could seat a couple girlfriends and kept me safe with automatic doorlocks. When I had E., I valued having four doors {easy access to car seats} and one of those remotes {to unlock the car when my hands were full}. Now, with the imminent third baby looming on the horizon {no, not pregnant, just being realistic}, I value something with room for strollers and playpens and three car seats at minimum.

My values change based on time, circumstance, finances, life stage, etc. Moral values can be good qualities that we possess, but they are subjective, often based on convenience, peer approval, or life-stage, and therefore changeable. Virtues have external, absolute definitions, and, I believe, are only achieved through a work of the Holy Spirit. Virtues are not instilled, they are brought forth from a reborn soul.

When one considers the four scenarios I mentioned above, it can easily be seen that it is possible for values to masquerade as virtue for a time. And then times change.

Modesty is a virtue that transcends childhood and girlhood and womanhood, as well as singleness and matrimony. Chastity is a virtue that transcends age and race and finances and marital status. As I said yesterday, frugality is a virtue that transcends both wealth and poverty. Generosity is a virtue that transcends the number in the check register.

One is not truly modest unless one is always modest. One is not chaste unless one is always chaste. Si and I are not frugal if we only pinch pennies out of necessity. One cannot rightly be called generous if one only gives away money one has no earthly use for.

It is my hope for those that I love and cherish that all of the amazing qualities I see will be there when the next stage of life {whatever that may be} comes along. I hope there will be modesty when it is most inconvenient or undesirable, chastity within marriage and without, frugality when rich, and generosity when poor.

And I hope the same for Si and myself, that any good qualities we may have will be proven to be of the Spirit, not values, but rather virtues.




*This is fictional. My *real* grandma did not actually do this.

08 February 2006

Lessons on Virtue: Humility

Yesterday, while the children were napping, I worked my way through the latter half of the study guide for Chapter 15 of Raising Maidens of Virtue. The majority of my study focused on the first half of I Peter 3:7 {you know, the infamous "weaker vessel" verse}. Here...I'll quote it, for people like me who haven't finished memorizing it:

You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
The author asked a question that was along the lines of, "How does being called a weaker vessel make you feel?" I'm sure the question was born out of decades of feminism trying to redefine womanhood and make it synonomous with strength. If we are influenced by that line of thinking, then Scriptures like this one make us uncomfortable at best, or offended at worst.

Sometimes I think that, considering how influenced the culture is with feminist doctrine, we'd do well to spend a couple moments approaching ourselves in an "understanding way."

Do we really understand ourselves? I don't mean in that mystical I'm-gonna-go-out-and-find-myself type of way. I mean, do we understand our position in creation, that it is beautiful and simple and life-giving, and that our job is one of service and sacrifice, and it is honorable and lowly all at the same time?

I live with my dishes in an understanding way. This means that though my heavy-duty pots go in the dishwasher on the bottom rack and are cleaned using the "scrubbing" cycle, my delicate crystal and china and silver is polished by hand. The way I treat an object reveals my understanding of it.

Likewise, I know that, as a woman, I am physically weaker, I am also much more emotional, plus, I can carry babies inside of myself for extended periods of time. My husband's care of me is to be delicate and kind--and this is actually an honor to me to have him treat me appropriately. There is an implied protection of the woman, not disdain for her.

But women today are rarely honored, cherished, or protected as they should be, and I think this can be directly linked to the new definition of "woman" I mentioned above.

Do you remember the Secret Deodorant commercials from when we were young {those of you who, like me, were allowed to spend limited time watching TV}? Remember the old tag line? Strong enough for a man, but Ph.-balanced for a woman. Have you noticed the new tag line? Strong enough for a woman. It's been almost two decades, but it's finally happened. The woman is the assumed strength.

Feminism, at its root, is a self-elevation of the female out from under headship of the male. It is the arrogant insistance that woman is the strong one, woman is the valuable one, woman is the assertive one, or even that she must be all these things. {You know how different ideas and concepts are personified as women in the book of Proverbs? It's like that. I can envision her stamping her feet, not unlike a two-year-old throwing a tantrum.}

Cloaked with the perceived intent to bring about gender-equality, feminism has achieved nothing less than giving women of the world a gender-superiority complex.

And then there is much whining and complaining when men no longer pay for dates, no longer ask girls out, no longer pursue a woman, no longer open a door, etc. The list could go on for miles. Chivalry is dead, I hear. I think perhaps NOW killed it.

If a woman is strong, she can earn her own money and pay for her own dates. If a woman is strong, she can ask a guy out just as much as he can ask her. If a woman is strong, she can pursue a man {which makes him lazy, by the way}. If a woman is strong, she can get her own door. The feminist propaganda produced the kind of strong woman who has no need of a man to play his role in creation.

Humility is part and parcel of the Christian life, and it is also part and parcel of being female. I do not mean this to say that humility is not part of being male, for we are all subject to Christ. But the female struggle was not born in the 1960s. Woman is rooted in the earliest chapters of Genesis, and we are still tossing our heads back with haughty pride while we attempt to take the reins of the world.

We are called to be doubly subject, for we submit not only to Christ, but also to a man {either our fathers or our husbands}, and it is perhaps this that makes us feel lowest and tempts us to raise our fists against it all. But the heart condition that causes us to rebel against our fathers in our youth, brings rebellion and condescenion in regard to our husbands in our adulthood if left unchecked. And then it can very likely give birth to an uprising against our Lord as well.

A woman brings forth life in this world by pouring out her own. We are conformed to Christ's image as we learn to willingly and lovingly submit, just as Christ did to His own Father. And perhaps the greatest part our generation can play in the restoring of all things is to rediscover what our Creator meant when He created us, and then learn to submit to His plan, and revel in the role given us, a unique role which a man can never play.

By being other than a man, rather than much like one {as the true feminists would like us to be}, we begin to again display the resplendent glory of variety in our Lord's creation.

07 February 2006

Hindsight is 20/20

I'm hoping that this post will be more interactive. In fact, I hope you all answer the question because I am interested in your individual answers.

I guess the basic question goes something like this: What would you change? To make it longer, I would ask you: Given what you know now about who you married {or didn't marry}, what your career is {and isn't}, how you spend your time, who your friends are--basically, given what you know about your life right now, what would you change about your past? I'm not talking deepest, darkest secrets. I'm talking more about the practical stuff.

I suppose this question was inspired by this posting {which, by the way, is the place to be if you are at all interested in debating the merits of sending a daughter to college}.

I will give you an example by answering my own question. I really do hope you all follow suit!

So...given what I know about my life today, one thing that I would change about my past would be my time in graduate school*. I would completely eliminate it. I don't even know where to start when I talk about it, but I consider it to have been mostly a waste of time and money and energy. A minor criticism would be that I hardly think it qualified for the title of "graduate school," since the reading level in most of the classes I took was probably the 9th grade or so.

But really that isn't the point. The real reason that I wouldn't go back and do it all over again is because there are other things I wish I would have spent that time doing and learning. If I would have known when I enrolled that I was just under two years from motherhood, and about five months from getting engaged {well, I suppose I suspected that one}, and if I had the attitutde then that I have about things now, I would have studied up in preparation for the life God was about to give to me, instead of studying subjects I wasn't going to use or could study on my own for about a tenth of the cost.

Now, I don't want you to think that there was nothing redemptive about my time there. I met encouraging professors, was introduced to a few new thoughts, and made some friends.

But I wish I had learned to sew, learned to garden in such a way that the poor plants actually survived, studied motherhood, and basically spent some undistracted time perfecting the womanly arts required of me when I became an at-home wife and mommy. I've managed to learn most of super-important mommy stuff {still don't know how to sew, still not allowed to have house plants}, and it's not that I'm angry about it or anything. But I just think it would have been nice to spend a couple years in preparation for my true calling.

I short, I wish I had had an undistracted devotion in my approach to my future.

*Note: Many years after I wrote this, I discovered that graduate school wasn't such a mistake, after all, and that though I do wish I had been more prepared for my roles as wife and mother, I am glad that I went.

06 February 2006

Unnecessary Dates and Vacations

I have mentioned this before. I'm running the subject through my mind on occasion, trying to iron it all out. But for now, my original thoughts still stand:
As much as everyone will advise that having a regularly scheduled date night will (statistically speaking) add to our chances of marital bliss, the fact is that "dating" as a concept didn't really exist until just under 100 years ago, and people have managed to get married and stay married for thousands of years without going on dates of any sort. Now, making sure that we have uninterrupted times devoted to nurturing our love is, of course, quite important. But really, a "date night" {where we spend money on babysitting and gas and food and entertainment} should be distinguished as a luxury item.
{Okay, so I feel kind of silly quoting myself, but I feel really silly repeating myself verbatim, not mentioning that I'm repeating, and then being caught by a reader. So I choose the former to avoid the latter.}

I have begun to mentally put date nights and vacations in the "luxury item" category. Part of this is due to the fact that, in my personal history, my craving for both of these things has been a sign of discontent. And it's that discontent that signals to me that these things, no matter what the sirens of culture want us to believe, are not needs.

At the beginning of the year, I made a resolution to cultivate such a love for my home, such an enjoyment in the simple things in my life, such a contentment in my average day, that I never felt the need for a vacation. I wanted these things to become unnecessary not only in the reality of my brain, but in the fulness of my heart.

There was a time when our marriage was less than it is now, and I spent hours nagging and begging Si to take me out {which, by the way, is the most ineffective way to inspire a man to do this}. I had bought into the culture, and truly believed that the flaws in our marriage were due to inconsistent date nights. But during this time, when he would finally bow to my pressuring, the dates became unenjoyable on a number of levels, and usually ended in frustration.

We were not lacking in dates. Really, I have never sat down and analyzed it enough to know exactly what we were lacking because, to some extent, it all just faded away with time. {I'd like to pass it off as a stage, but experience tells me there was sin in the camp somewhere, and through further growth in conviction and submission to the Lord, we were healed.}

Yesterday, I read this, written by a very wise woman:
It's vitally important to spend time alone with your spouse. It is not at all necessary to spend that time doing something that costs you money. In situations where money is already tight it will actually more stress to your marriage. I'm not telling any readers that y'all are bad people if you go out to eat- so do we sometimes. I am saying, and saying firmly, that going out to eat is not a need. If you 'need' something that means you could die without it. You won't die if you don't go out to eat. Eating out belongs firmly in the category of 'stuff you want to do but could live another 75 years and then die of old age without ever doing it again.'

When I was harrassing Si about dates, it was not dates that we were lacking. And when I feel overwhelmed in my life, it is not a vacation I am lacking. I have learned that both are expressions of my desire to flee from my own discontent rather than submit it to God.

And I have now discovered that the best dates and vacations {and we can afford few} are the ones that are experienced in a time of rich contentment. They are an opportunity not to make up for where we are lacking, but to express to each other {or our whole family if we bring the kids!} the fullness of love we are experiencing.

04 February 2006

The Darndest Things {02/06}

This is the February running list of the cute and silly and even bad things my kids {mainly E.}say and do. Kids really are quite amusing. I tried a notebook, but the blog is an easier place to keep it all together. This, like the January list, will be linked to the sidebar in the near future.

28 February 2006: E. Asks Another Profound Question
E.: Can you hear the clouds moving?


28 February 2006: A. Learns About the World
Today A. walked up to me carrying a couple oversized letter magnets from her big brother's collection. I got down on her level to discuss them with her, but she wasn't much for conversation. Instead, she slammed the magnet against my forehead to see if it would stick.


23 February 2006: The One-Year Word List
Well, she doesn't say much. But what she says, she says pretty well. A. is officially one (and a day!) and here are her words: moma, dada, bobble {bottle}, bite, peas {please}, E--{her brother's name}, up!!!, bye, hi, bat {bath}...This is her regular fare. I've caught her attempting other words, but these are the ones she uses almost daily. Oh! Almost forgot...before she said a word, we taught her to sign "more" and "done" so as to decrease the crying during meals.


22 February 2006: A.'s Birthday Suit
In honor of her birthday today, A. undressed herself down to her onesie during her "nap." What we found interesting was the she seemed to view it all as a big joke. When I came in, she looked at me, looked back at her overalls and socks in their little pile, looked back and me, and when I finally realized what she had done and commented on it, she burst into her little baby laughter.


20 February 2006: E. Analyzes a Song
E.: Run to Jesus! Give Him your heart!...Mom?
Mommy: Yes?
E.: But then I won't have a heart!!

13 February 2006: A. Gives Herself a Bath
This afternoon, Little A. escaped while the adults were preoccupied. She was discovered, leaning over and splashing around in the toilet!

11 February 2006: A Monumetal Day
Today started out with E. having remained dry overnight for the second night in a row. He's been daytime potty-trained for over a year, and even made it through naps for the last month or so, but he's such a heavy sleeper that overnight is a real challenge. And now it is a challenge that he has risen to! He and Si are out celebrating his success with a $0.75 ice cream cone as I type!

A., on the other hand, discovered a method of putting herself in mortal danger by climbing up onto the couch without assistance. Now it is officially unwise for me to leave her in the living room unattended. Good job, Little A.!

10 February 2006: The Crying Game
Today at lunch we played a game I liked to call Everybody Cries. A. cried because we tried to feed her ourselves. E. cried because we wouldn't feed him and told him he needed to feed himself. The grass is always greener...even when you're a baby!

7 February 2006: A Valentine First
E. is participating in the Awana Cubbies program at our church. Every Wednesday night, he proudly recites his verse to his teacher, who happens to be the husband of a friend of mine. Last week, he brought home a paper telling us that the class would be exchanging Valentines. We decided that, since all of life is school to us, we'd make it fun. Yesterday, I tried to shop around for a basic kid's Valentine set, but they were all so commercialized. It was Bob the Builder, Batman, or Kim Possible sporting her little belly button. Since E. doesn't watch any television, he doesn't even know or care who any of these characters are.

So I went to Michael's and bought a couple supplies, and we made our own from scratch and attached little candies to the front. It ended up being a fun craft for the two of us together, and Si even gave him a lesson on Saint Valentine's support of marriage and love.

It was a good day, and a chance for me to talk with him about each person in his class. Apparently, he doesn't like most of them, which was interesting. He wouldn't really say why, he just doesn't like them. So it was an opportunity to remind him what we had learned about loving our enemies and those we don't like, and that the Valentine was a practical way for him to show his love for them.

6 February 2006: A. Has a New Word
It's not much, but when you're eleven months old, it's a big deal to your mommy.
A.: Up.

6 February 2006: My Own Personal Christopher Robin
Remember when Christopher Robin put on his adventure boots and took the whole crew {including all of Rabbit's friends-and-relations} on an "expotition" to discover the north pole? Remember the feeling it all had, the beautiful combination of boyhood and innocence? E. reminded me of that today when he wandered our huge, weed-filled backyard in his bright red galoshes.

5 February 2006: The Future Theologian Strikes Again
Daddy: What did Jesus do when He saw the blind man?
E.: He hit him.

4 February 2006: 8pm Wild Man Dance
Back about a week and a half ago this smiley-face balloon showed up on our doorstep {attached to Granmama, of course}. E. was sick, and the balloon was supposed to cheer him up. Well, this is the gift that keeps on giving. You know how most helium balloons are kissing the floor within 48 hours? Not this balloon. This balloon is invincible.

And now E. has developed this odd habit in regard to the balloon. Every night at 8pm sharp, just as our devotional time has ended and he is supposed to be heading to the bathroom to finish preparing for bed, he grabs the balloon with much enthusiasm and begins to shriek loudly and run through the hallways and in and out of various bedrooms. It's amusing, to say the least.


Birth Control as an Idea {Part IV}

The very name of "Birth Control" is a piece of pure humbug. It is one of those blatant euphemisms used in the headlines of the Trust Press. It is like "Tariff Reform." It is like "Free Labour." It is meant to mean nothing, that it may mean anything, and especially some thing totally different from what it says." {G.K. Chesterton, 1927, courtesy of Rahime}

Perhaps if we renamed contraceptives "Pregnancy Avoidance Devices," "Race Reducers," or "Life Preventors," we would have a different feeling about them. And this is probably the major point I want to get across today, here in what I would say is my final analysis {or as final as it can be, considering I shall be always learning more in the future}.

What we call something, the words and titles that we use for things and situations, not only reflect how we think about things, but reinforce how we think about things. So we should be doubly careful to analyze the language we choose to use, no matter how forcefully the culture presents its preferences to us.

I very much doubt that marriage, family, pregnancy or the raising of children were talked about formerly the way they are talked about presently. For instance, I would say that my son E. was an "unplanned" baby, while my daughter A. was a "planned" baby. Within a perfectly functioning Biblical worldview, I would never speak of my son in such a negative way {we all know that "unplanned v. planned" tends to mentally translate into "wanted less v. wanted more"}.

And might one justly suspect that the use of the word "planned" itself is a reflection of Planned Parenthood's influence on the culture? The organization specializes in dealing with the crisis of the unplanned, therefore unwanted child. The attitude surrounding an "unplanned" child is born of the embrace of contraception.

I had considered reiterating some of my previous micro-conclusions and expanding on them {for instance, the idea that our country's birth control legalization was never voted on by the people, but rather legislated from the bench, which opened the door for more legislation from the bench}. But I think that most of them, simple thoughts though they may be, really speak for themselves. I never claimed to be an expert, after all.

So let me stick to my mostly unsupported extrapolations.

Ideas have consequences. When marriages began to accept contraception into their beds, the result was a mental separation between the marital act, and the conception of children. When we separate sex from children, an interesting dynamic follows: the separation of marriage from sex. In fact, we cannot rightly discuss the marital act with the words "marital act" because more than half the people involved in it are not married. {Hence the need for the more descriptive term.}

I think it's no secret that Margaret Sanger would qualify as a "loose woman." And perhaps some of her motivation for pressing the contraception issue was a desire to remove the consequences of her own actions. Married twice, and an affair with the greatly esteemed H.G. Wells somewhere in there (the short list, I'm sure), marriage and sex, though not necessarily mutually exclusive, weren't fundamentally intertwined either. We, as Chesterton once put, "escape from the nature of things."

And then we see the progression continue. As I mentioned a couple days ago, contraception does not prevent pregnancy 100% of the time. The result, then, was that some women found themselves unmarried and pregnant. {I am not so naive as to believe that this never occurred before contraception, but we all know the unwed mothers statistics skyrocketed after the Griswold and Roe decisions.}

Unmarried and pregnant women who do not marry do one of two things: have an abortion, or have a baby. If they have a baby, they become a single mommy. Or the daddy can have the mommy declared unfit, and be a single daddy. One then feels compelled to extend the definition of family a bit more than previously because one doesn't know what else to call the single parent/little baby relationship.

Enter initial breakdown of family.

Fast forward a bit more, and soon there are scores of career women who have used birth control up until the point of natural infertility.

Enter major breakthroughs in fertility treatments.

Fast forward to today {actually, two days ago on the front page of MSN.com, but I can't find the article any more}, and a man is no longer necessary to have a baby. I told you the feminist movement was rooted in contraceptive freedom! It's true!

Enter the Baby-as-Purse mentality.

You see, with all this talk of control and the nonmarital/marital act, the baby is left behind in the dust. If the baby is not the natural {or adopted!} result of a love-filled marriage the majority of the time, then the baby necessarily becomes an accessory, not unlike a purse.

You've all seen the Baby Purse, probably without realizing it. You've seen the mommy {not necessarily married--it's a toss-up!} in her perfect suit with her perfect nails and perfect hair. She's at Target picking up some supplies with her designer baby, who has been at daycare for the last 10 hours. Baby looks perfect, too, in her pretty-pink-dress-with-matching-everything. Baby needs to be extra cute, because baby is a purse.

And that mommy will go home, play with Baby Purse a bit, and then put Baby Purse to bed so that she is well rested for her "Care Provider" the next day.

Don't believe me? In 1927, G.K. Chesterton also wrote this: "Given an attempt to escape from the nature of things, and I can well believe that it might lead at last to something like 'the nursery school for our children staffed by other mothers and single women of expert training.'"

Enter the loss of the essential nature of the word "family."

Ideas have consequences. And those of us who are Christians can have new ideas, with new, life-giving consequences. A few years ago, we had some dear friends {much older than us} whose lives first whispered to us that God's view of children and family was much different than that to which we were used. I remember the husband's reflections on his children as his legacy and the joy of bringing them up. This couple was unable to have children. But you could still see the power of that idea, because by the time we had met them, they had adopted not 2.1 children, but 6.
Blessed is every one who fears the Lord,
Who walks in His ways.
When you eat the labor of your hands,
You shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
In the very heart of your house,
Your children like olive plants
All around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
Who fears the Lord.

{Psalm 128:1-4, NKJV}

Now that's a different idea altogether.

03 February 2006

Birth Control as an Idea {Part III}

Pharaoh did not begin to fear the Israelites because of their culture, their politicians, their non-profit institutions, or even their religious leaders. No, it was the fact that God was blessing them and making them fruitful that caused Pharaoh to fear. The powerful nation of Egypt was brought low by Israel, not because they took over Egypt’s godless institutions, or worked incrementally for political power, but because God made them fruitful and preserved their children. God blessed them through the love of Moses’ mother for her son, and he blessed them through the faithful Hebrew midwives, who chose life rather than to obey a tyrant.

A people that refuse to reproduce themselves, on the other hand, are not a threat, regardless of their religion. {Chad Degenhart}
Up until today, I have focused primarily on the history of our own country's acceptance of contraception. I've hinted at some of the consequences, but I haven't really covered the biggest Consequence of all, what some would call the End of Western Culture, or rather the Triumph of Islam.

Okay, so I phrased it like that for shock value. I admit it. At the same time, this is a true threat looming over society whether we acknowledge it or not. I'll explain it in detail below. But first, I want to note that this is why I wanted to discuss birth control as an idea, and not a personal issue.

Sometimes, one can let certain issues get so personal, that one forgets that almost everyone else in the entire society is making the exact same personal decision. And now there exists a predicament in which all the personal decisions made by one's grandparents and parents have added up to something that can only rightly be called a trend.
When it comes to forecasting the future, the birthrate is the nearest thing to hard numbers. If only a million babies are born in 2006, it's hard to have two million adults enter the workforce in 2026... And the hard data on babies around the Western world is that they're running out a lot faster than the oil is. "Replacement" fertility rate--i.e., the number you need for merely a stable population, not getting any bigger, not getting any smaller--is 2.1 babies per woman. Some countries are well above that: the global fertility leader, Somalia, is 6.91, Niger 6.83, Afghanistan 6.78, Yemen 6.75. Notice what those nations have in common?

Scroll way down to the bottom of the Hot One Hundred top breeders and you'll eventually find the United States, hovering just at replacement rate with 2.07 births per woman. Ireland is 1.87, New Zealand 1.79, Australia 1.76. But Canada's fertility rate is down to 1.5, well below replacement rate; Germany and Austria are at 1.3, the brink of the death spiral; Russia and Italy are at 1.2; Spain 1.1, about half replacement rate. That's to say, Spain's population is halving every generation. By 2050, Italy's population will have fallen by 22%, Bulgaria's by 36%, Estonia's by 52%. {Mark Steyn, Opinion Journal, emphasis mine}
Margaret Sanger well understood the true meaning of population control. Something one won't see on Wikipedia is her disdain for the religious, the minorities, and the mentally and financially inferior. She once wrote, "It is a vicious cycle; ignorance breeds poverty and poverty breeds ignorance. There is only one cure for both, and that is to stop breeding these things. Stop bringing to birth children whose inheritance cannot be one of health or intelligence. Stop bringing into the world children whose parents cannot provide for them." She knew that the embrace of birth control could eventually bring about a race's suicide.

And her vision has, to some extent, come true. In order to pursue personal peace and affluence, many in this society wait a number of years after marriage to bear children {this was my plan!}, and limit the number of children they have {this was my plan, too!}. Birth control allows more of one's childbearing years to be devoted to the acquisition of greater wealth, intellectual pursuits, and simple indulgences such as travel.

What Sanger failed to realize was that, a world away, there was a Muslim culture with a very different set of priorities. And now, as the Western world's population is shrinking, year after year, our culture has Muslim enemies heading the list of top reproducers of the world.

In fact, "to keep the present level of pensions and health benefits the EU will need to import so many workers from North Africa and the Middle East that it will be well on its way to majority Muslim by 2035" {Mark Steyn, Opinion Journal}. This is already happening, and it's taken its toll on the culture, as evidenced by the Muslim riots in Paris last year. I know when I have dreamed of visiting London or France, the people spoke English or French and the women weren't dressed in burkas.

Like Pharaoh in ancient times, there is cause to shudder with fear at the "fruitfulness" of one's enemies.
Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate. {Psalms 127:3-5 KJV}
That image of a man's children being used as weapons makes a lot more sense when one thinks of demography being a primary means of fighting the culture wars.

For a more concrete example, imagine two men, Mark and Scott, and compare their influence on a small town over a couple generations. Mark and Scott both find a girl and get married around the same age, about 22.

Mark and his wife both work and acquire the house and the cars, spend some time traveling, and then decide to put down some roots at the ripe old age of 28. First they buy a dog. A year later, they have the first of two kids. Mark gets a vasectomy at 32, and spends the remainder of his 30s saving for college for the kids. He loves his kids, and spends a lot of time instilling his values in them. They're good kids, and college will get them great jobs.

Scott, on the other hand, has some religious convictions about birth control, so he and his wife have baby number one about 11 months into their marriage. Baby follows baby in their 20s, and by the time Mark has his first child, Scott already has four. Things slow down in their 30s, and at the age of 38, Scott's final child {his seventh} is born.

Mark and Scott, remember, live in the same small town, and it is not long before the next generation is born. Mark's kids follow in Mark's footsteps and both get the dog and have the two kids. So, on that second tier of the family tree are Mark's 4 grandkids.

Scott's kids follow in Scott's footsteps and have an average of 6 kids apiece. On Scott's second tier there are 42 grandkids.

While Mark's and Scott's grandkids are interacting, Mark's progeny find themselves surrounded by the influence of Scott's family's lifestyle, customs, and religion. Soon, Mark's grandkids are intermarrying with Scott's grandkids, and many of them convert to Scott's religion around the time of the wedding. In fact, because only one of Mark's grandkids is male, it turns out that most of Mark's great-grandkids have not only Scott's religion, but Scott's last name.

By the fourth generation, Scott's family is going strong, and no one remembers much about who Mark was or what he stood for. Remember the quote at the top? "A people that refuse to reproduce themselves, on the other hand, are not a threat, regardless of their religion." Islam may not be winning the demography war by virtue of being the religion that it is, but rather by being the religion reproducing at the fastest rate.

Many speak of the "lost generations" due to the Roe v. Wade decision. But how many children have never been because of the Griswold decision?

We hear a lot about the babies that have been murdered, how they could have been the next great composer or scientist. But there are gaps where children might have been due to contraception as well. How many families have 1, but might have had 3 or 4? How many have 2 and might have had 10?

Ideas have consequences. The proliferation of birth control, where one not only delays reproduction, but stops it before its natural end, has, only two generations later, contributed to the low birthrate not only in our country but throughout the Western world. Birth control appeals to a secularized, industrialized culture. Such a culture values technology and control in many areas, including reproduction. Our culture is filled with the Marks of this world. Unfortunately, Scott wins that war in less than 100 years, and he doesn't need a single gun to do it.

Ideas have consequences. I do not pretend that having numerous children is alone a solution to the Western crisis. It is much more helpful for Christians to decide to be fruitful and raise up godly offspring, than for the average secular parent to have 6 unruly children rather than 2. The idea of using less birth control, and not placing an artificial cap on the number of children we have, is better off being expressed within Christianity than the culture at large.

Ideas have consequences. Personal decisions are often based upon larger cultural values and norms {which is quite contrary to Romans 12:2, but that's another posting altogether}. The culture's accepted practices and ideas surround one in one's youth, and follow one into one's marriage and family. I firmly believe that now is the time to question the contraception idea, and the long-term survival of the Western world may rest upon how this culture answers the question.