It was my birthday, and among many gifts received, three were remarkable and rare: a letter from a dear aunt (letters are so much more personal than email or phone calls) and two video renditions of Vivaldi’s four seasons: one a full orchestra in formal splendor, the other an a capela sextet. Both of the musical presentations lifted my spirit while pulling my heartstrings as they reminded of the beauty of the earth and wonder of the skies. Vivaldi is not known for being conducive to worship, nor is my aunt known for Christian piety (though she’s got an enormous blend of zest for life and common sense), but they made my day and caused me to say “Thank you, God”.

Yesterday I read an article for ministers about the tension between pastoral excellence and a life of scholarship, and it struck a full ring of keys. I am not a pastor, nor am I a scholar, but as a Christian who enjoys thinking and cannot but write, the pull of ordinary, everyday, intellectual integrity, and hunger for beauty and excellence, while present and constantly remaining barefoot, true, and coherent in what I think with what I do.

Used to think such tensions were part of adolescence, later conceded that they came with being a woman but would dwindle with maturity. Now I’ve had to admit that “golden years” may bring increasing pains of aging, dwindling mobility and white hair, but maturity is still elusive – I may be getting old  but am far from being wiser or more settled. Oh, I’m okay with my spouse whom I love more than ever, and with myself though there are areas I can’t begin to plumb. We’ve carved out a good life and reached many of the goals of our youth.   But there is so much more I want to understand, be, develop, do, produce, expand… I have time on my hands because no job and no kids at home allow me to “do whatever I want”. My husband’s health has improved to no longer need to care 24 hours a day—he is returning to thinking and doing many creative, productive tasks that don’t require my help.

But I have no time for getting one single thing done as planned. Writing deadlines are seldom reached – well, I write in the dead of night and cross lines every day between writing ordinary, even superficial stuff, with deep insights into God’s Word and people’s worth. This Garland blog, for example, has been dormant for months – and I can’t get my keyboard unstuck. My proposed second novel has been waiting with question marks from chapter eighteen on, for the last eighteen months. The planned book on changes in life from the Biblical lens of Paul’s letter to Philippians is still in the planning. Nothing’s changed since before Lau was hospitalized. Joyous to be home, I get some weeding done, scatter seeds in my garden, but procrastinate the dreaded total revamping of my back yard. Hands and back ache too much! Walk through the orchard and verify that macadamia and persimmon will be producing, got lemons galore, got tired of so many chestnuts and still am hopeful for our peaches, passion fruit and jaboticaba. Planned to sit down and put my collection of recipes and home-cooked stories on paper for publishing by February—not 2016, but last February. It is still simmering in my imagination, though I’ve enjoyed scores of Nigella and Jamie Oliver and Barefoot Contessa and Bel Gil and Rita Lobo on TV these past months. Get real, Beth! Gonna have to speak to the Rock in the desert for the water to flow?!

Yes, must speak to the Rock, drawing near and keeping my eyes focused on Him, listening to Him more than to the sounds of multiple screaming tidbits of demands that that burst like soap bubbles as soon as you attend to them. Wanted to study more, prime my thought-patterns for sharing with friends who seem hungry for the Word (which I profess to aim to communicate). Only managed to publish one article in academic paper, two years (or was it three?) after I researched and wrote it. Get some likes on my facebook communiqués, but even dumb blonds’ posts (pardon the pun) get liked on facebook. In what is my life making a difference?

When I went to the Moody Write to Publish conference in 1988, my room mate was an eight-plus lady who had published years ago and then bemoaned her article about “how to date and get a husband” being rejected by a Christian woman’s magazine. I was forty, at my prime writing period, and was bemused at this lady’s not having a clue as to why such things occur. Lord, keep me from being that way today! Keep me renewed in writing every day—even when I reach Edith Scheaffer or Elizabeth Eliot’s old age (well, now both my mentor writers are in God’s presence living what eye has not seen nor has ear heard!) and I’m still in my sixties.

The pull between having, ambition to be well-pleasing to God, with excellence as goal – and being an ordinary, barefoot, clean-faced older student/writer is a see-saw — or roller coaster—for the young and daring. How dare mature ladies like me venture on such a tilt-a-whirl?

My consolation is that such tensions are common to many human beings like me (“common to man” is the biblical expression). The great Reformers, Calvin and Luther both had bouts of doubt and deep frustration. The greatest writer-pastor-apologist  in Christian history wrote:

I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… I know that nothing good dwells in me… I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Romans 7:15-25

And yet to those at Philippi, Paul wrote:

I press on to make it my own, because Jesus Christ has made me  his own… forgetting what lies behind and straining forth to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

Garden trivia and writers’ block, living in a home that always needs fixing and fixing furniture and décor one day at a time all remind me of the exquisite beauty of Four Seasons and the common grace of a great letter from Aunt Cindy, because though we wage an inner war that spills outward, we run a race that Jesus has already won for us. Hands on in working! Hands raised in praise. God is not through with me yet.
Elizabeth Gomes



On the lookout for stories that change lives? One need look no further than the incredible true tales narrated by Dr. Luke in two books of the New Testament: the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles. In both books dedicated to a “person who loved God“ (Theophilus) he shared “a narrative of the things accomplished among us” (Luke 1.1) and continued the sequel with what happened after Jesus ascended and the Holy Spirit was given to the church, from the first days through the apostle Paul’s journeys throughout the known world.

The book of Acts is a fascinating, action-packed backdrop for Paul’s epistles, and since the letter to the Philippians is the subject of my next book, I wondered how the church at Philippi got started. Like many wondrous things that happen in life, this church began with an impediment and a change of plans. Paul had spent some time in Antioch teaching and preaching, and after sharp disagreement with his old mentor Barnabas over letting Mark go with them or not, chose Silas and departed for his second missionary journey, still in Asia Minor, through Syria and Cilicia, the Derbe and Lystra (where Timothy was added to the missionary team), and then Phrygia, Galatia and Mysia. The plan was to go to Bithynia—but their well-though-out plan was interrupted by a huge impediment: “The Spírit of Jesus did not allow them”. So they passed by Mysia and went on to Troas—where a vision came to Paul: “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” Here Luke continues the narrative as “we” instead of “they”: “Immediately we sought to go on to Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them”.

From Troas to Samothrace, Neapolis and Philippi, about eight miles inland--  “a leading city of the district of Macedonia”—founded over two centuries before Christ  by Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, and after Rome conquered Persia, a Roman colony. Their first stay in Europe.

Remaining in the city some days, on the Sabbath Paul and his companions sought a place of worship. There was no synagogue, but there would be a gathering of the faithful “by the riverside”. Since the time of Ezra, Jews in Diaspora would gather to worship by the river in whatever city they lived, (Ezra 8:15; Psalm 137:1). Not even enough men for a minyan—but there were some women who worshipped God. Lydia was an expat from Thyatira (near Tarsus from  whence Paul had been born). Convert number one in Philippi: Lydia, a businesswoman who dealt with an expensive product: purple dyed fabric, cloth and clothes fit for royals. Today she might be comparable to a director of the House of Dior or Givenchy. Whether she was a Jew or Gentile, she was “a worshipper of God” whose heart was opened to “pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16.14). After being baptized with her entire household, she “urged us saying, If you have judged me faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay”. So the first convert became hostess for at least Paul and Silas, Luke and Timothy.

The second narrative “as we were going to the place of prayer” tells of an irritating and constant interruption.  Every time they went to the prayer meeting, a demonized slave girl went after them, calling out loudly: “These men are servants of the most high God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation!” What she said was absolutely true, but annoyed Paul because the affirmation was instigated by an evil spirit of divination (Leviticus 19:31: “Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out and so make yourselves unclean…”). Fed up, Paul turned to her and commanded the spirit to come out of her in the name of Jesus Christ. The girl was freed from the evil one, but those who owned and used her “gifts” were furious because “their hope of gain was gone”.  Convert number two in Philippi: an unnamed, tormented slave girl who lost her devious ability to read the future by the power of Jesus Christ.

This conversion resulted in “the owners” seizing Paul and Silas, dragging them to the marketplace before the rulers, and accusing them of being Jews (anti-Semitism laid bare) and “disturbing the city”, advocating “customs that we Romans cannot accept or practice”. Adding insult to injury, the rabble joined in attacking them, and the magistrate tore the garments off them and ordered them beaten with rods. After inflicting a severe beating on the messengers of salvation, they threw them into prison, telling the jailer to guard well the disturbers of the peace.

This takes us to the jail, scene of conversion number three. Tortured, beaten, falsely accused, Paul and Silas did not mention their privileged citizenship status, and instead, did what they always advised the brethren: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4) —praying and singing hymns to God. The prisoners were listening to them when an earthquake shook the prison foundations and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone`s bonds were unfastened. Freedom for the prisoners meant death to the jailer, so the jailer`s reaction was to attempt to commit suicide instead of undergo the shame of capital punishment by the authorities above him. Paul saw what he was planning to do and intervened: “Don`t kill yourself! We are all here!“ He called for lights, trembling with fear, and fell down before Paul and Silas asking what he must do to be saved. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household.” The hardened prison warden took them in and washed their wounds, and he was baptized with his entire family. Then he brought them to his home and gave them food and “rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God“.

People in leadership positions, such as Lydia and the Warden, were saved and included their entire households in this gift of new life. The slave girl, whose sole identity lay in what she produced for her masters, was saved individually,  receiving a completely new identity—and caused an uproar in town because “These men are disturbing our city”. Each person saved in Philippi became a believer through unique means, as they were unique persons – pious  and wealthy God-worshipper, an impudent, wild, demon-possessed fortuneteller, the civil servant jail warden who went from attempting suicide to aiding and abetting his maximum security prisoners --were each and all saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

After everything that happened, the magistrates sent the police to release the apostles, but Paul spoke up: “They beat us publicly and threw us into prison, though we are Roman citizens, and want us to leave quietly?! No, let them come themselves and take us out.” When the magistrates realized that they had mistreated Roman citizens, they were frightened, and went to Paul and Silas with apologies, asking them to leave the city. The apostles left prison and went to visit Lydia. When they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.

Years later, when Paul wrote to the strongly established Philippian church, commending them for their “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now“ (Philippians 1:5) told them that they had been given the gift of not only believing in Christ but of suffering for his sake, “engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have“(1:30). He goes on to write the most encouraging text for Christians of all ages, social and political situations, of all eras, about the mind of Christ:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father Philippians 2.



What does one have to say about marrying young? First, though older than many of my readers, I think of myself as being young for a longer time – though I have to consider that through living hard and never easy, there are benefits to learning  through hindsight! Yes, I married younger than most people I know today. I was just eighteen and still in school. Forty eight years my husband, Lau still tells me daily that he loves me more today than yesterday, and less than tomorrow.  I repeat the same mantra to him, and mean every word.   When someone looks at our old wedding snapshots (yes, snapshots in black and white—we had no professionally-crafted gorgeous album like the ones young friends share today.)  Our few pictures are unforgettable, as were some of the incidents that surrounded our wedding.

The day before our  wedding, Lau drove three hours plus  to São Paulo to look for the justice of the peace who had forgotten to sign the petition for our civil wedding (in Brazil of those days, one had to have a civil wedding with a justice before celebrating  the religious wedding in church). After trying three or four restaurants, he found the judge and gave him the document, which he signed, and returned to Araras, where we were married.

While my future husband was going through the rat race to get everything ready, one of my childhood friends, who was also engaged and had come to see us tie the knot, asked me, “Do you ever have doubts about whether you should get married or not?” I told her, “If there were any doubt, I’d never get married.  We’re still in school, have no money, have nothing but each other…” Shortly after we returned from our three-day honeymoon, I got a letter from that friend telling us that she had broken their engagement.

One of the reasons many Christians marry young is the pressure of sexual attraction – a very normal fact of life. Non-Christians don’t see that as a problem, because premarital sex is a given. Like almost everything in this post-modern world, non-believers believe they are entitled to sex whenever they “feel it’s right”, and so they often “feel good” about having sex without responsibilities or commitment. Many times over. But Christian young people who want to live according to God’s standards are pressed to bursting because the Bible warns to flee promiscuity and sexual sin, and they want to be true to the Word of God. Or else, they live a double standard, saying they obey biblical principles, while in practice, they live exactly like their non-Christian friends. The world preaches that “safe sex” is using protection to avoid pregnancy, STD’s and AIDS. The Bible teaches that safe sex is married sex with one partner to whom one is committed for life: a triple marriage pact between a man, a woman and the God they serve.

Some couples manage to let God rule their hormones and practice chastity until the Lord gives them the green light after the wedding, but many more flounder and almost drown, repent and start again on the path of sexual purity. But that is just one of the aspects that push people toward early marriage.

They say that the teenage years are the best years of one’s life, but if your life is any way like mine was when I was a teen in the sweet, psychodellic sixties, we take issue. Teen years often suck. My parents were at war, stifled by life and so broken they could not see their daughters’ pain. They finally divorced, but my sister and I were never what we would have been, if only .… (that’s one of the myths often dreamed: the idea that if we’d only had better circumstances, better opportunities, less stress, we could have become president of the USA, or a singing actress, a sports super star, or Bill Gates, or at least queen of the prom).  Keeping balanced between what you dream and how your life plays out is no easy task—plus, you seesaw both academically and socially in school, between dreams of successful , good-money-paying work and realities of delivering pizza or babysitting, in relationships where the all-important  “all or nothing” stand leaves you stranded, often alone, with nothing to it.

In one way, teens today have it worse than ever:  their expectations far exceed their realizations, and the result is general, unbridled frustration. You can be anything.  Just do it. Go for it.  Follow your dream. You deserve it – and discover you are just one among the millions who heard the same clichés and took them to heart as personal prophecies – unfulfilled.

Over three thousand years ago, the writer of Ecclesiastes said, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come” and despite all the problems of youth, young days are the days where what we think, dream and decide will have repercussions all the days of our life – and to eternity. My decisions to follow Christ, to study and to work for Him, were made in my youth. Wadislau and I made our decision to love each other, for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, for better or worse, when we couldn’t imagine all the twists and turns life would present. But we had a couple of things in our favor.

We married in the Lord. We didn’t just love each other, think it felt right, hope it would work out, or do the best  we could under the circumstances – from day one, the Lord Jesus (and not our growing/ fleeting/sink or swimming love) was the foundation for our marriage. Whatever our lot, we were in it together and no one would pull us apart.

 Jesus reiterated the creation account of Genesis, saying: Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother, hold fast (King James version says ”cleave”) to his wife, and the two of them shall become one flesh.  So they are no longer two, but one flesh (Matthew 19: 5-6).

The first verb in this affirmation is leave his father and mother. That implies maturity to live independently, no longer under the same roof, financial responsibility or paternal/maternal authority. One has to be mature enough to start a new home – have a job that takes care of basic needs of the couple, and the two join forces and incomes for one good: their home. The home isn’t the house or apartment you buy or rent and set up—home is you and your spouse together, wherever you are.  If we aren’t ready to leave home, we are not ready to marry. Leaving is not abandoning or rebelling, it is leaving well and settled!  If someone leaves his or her parents in anger or bitterness, she or he continues to be influenced by the home of origin and has never “left  home” in fact. It is a matter of growing up emotionally, socially, professionally, financially – undergirded by spiritually.

If the two lovebirds are mature and ready to leave their parents and live independently, the second aspect of Jesus’ admonition is cleave to your spouse.  If you are like we were when I was eighteen and Lau twenty-one, “cleaving and becoming one flesh” was our dream of dreams. Sometimes we forget all it entails: 

besides the obvious and marvelous  working out of a robust sex life – which takes work and practice and doesn’t happen as  a once and for all magic moment – one grows and becomes a loving couple when both invest 100% of all they’ve got.

my spouse is my very best friend – no one else shares our intimacy, our plans or our problems more or better that the two of us. My buddies or mom or whoever do not determine our life together.

we don’t bicker over who earns more or who gets to spend his/her own money on what we want independently. we are one flesh – we decide together what we will do with ourselves, with our money, with our plans. Our goal is “the common good” of the couple. Sometimes one in the partnership is better than the other at administrating, and the other more prodigal at spending, but we have to both agree about what we will do with what we have (or don’t have). Maybe we have to set a limit on what and how we spend – many people sink in a sea of debt before they learn that their money (like their name!) doesn’t belong exclusively to one of them. If I can afford to spend X on lunch money I can’t go out and splurge at a restaurant and expect everything to smooth out miraculously.  Any major financial decision must be weighed by both together!

Becoming one flesh is much more than enjoying sex. Casual sex is a horrid lie because something deep and meaningful can never be casual if it is going to last. And good sex was not made to be forgotten or despised.

Today, most articles about marriage focus on the wedding, and many couples spend way more than they can afford to put on a memorable show, but do not invest anything in their marriage as a leave-cleave-one-flesh one of a kind affair.

 Even if that is not the case, many couples who take too long to get married do so because they want to start out life with all the perks their parents have now – a well-furnished house and maybe money in the bank. One of the advantages of marrying young is that you work together toward your joint goals. Every goal you achieve together draws you closer. That means you work hard and know you won’t immediately have everything you dream of, but both know the cost of things and the value of being together over getting rich.

In the same way, many (if not pregnant when marrying) postpone having kids till they’ve landed their dream job or bought a house. They know they can’t afford having a baby. But one of the reasons God gave us marriage is to have kids! He said “be fruitful and multiply” and children are a blessing from the Lord. Even unfertile couples are blessed by a generous God, and can adopt, or at least help friends with children who struggle by voluntarily babysitting or taking a kid to a ball game so their mom and dad can have a date.  Willing to have kids is a must. Being married means you can be parents – so you’d better prepare for that!  Some of the most wonderful people in the world are products of an unplanned pregnancy, and Christian couples have to plan for the possibility that their love will multiply into a little spit ‘n image of them both, who will grow up to be a person unique and  as  different  as each of you are. So if you are planning to get married, you imply that you will accept the burden and blessing of children with no complaints. That’s part of the package. Of course you will plan, use acceptable birth control – but know that the only one totally in control is the God who made you, and He just might think a kid will temper your life with gladness!

I’ve mentioned matters that are very private and I or any other person, young or old, do not have a right to barge  in or manipulate or tell another human being what they can or cannot do. We are not God. When Lau and I married, we were still in school, yes, but we had left our original homes and were independent and responsible for our own livelihoods. We worked when weren’t in classes – often early morning (at four AM Lau had to get milk freshly milked on a farm!) for the seminary students’ seven AM breakfast. I often was cooking some treat to sell or giving remedial English classes to colleagues until late at night – and we had a commitment to each other and to God (and to those who were going to invest in our missionary support when we graduated) to keep our grades and spirits high. We worked hard! And we stuck together! (And I got pregnant immediately!)

I know life is not the same as it was almost fifty years ago, but neither are we! We often groaned as we became grown, but God in His mercy saw us through and is still working on us. Yes, being old and decrepit does not make us any wiser! What makes Christians—young and old, men and women, well-educated or fairly ignorant—wise is what Proverbs calls “The fear of the Lord”. That is what makes us able to say “I am not afraid of what man (human beings, male or female) can do, for I will trust in Him. Obey Him. Live for Him, whether single or married. That is absolutely the best state in which to live!

Elizabeth Gomes



La donna è mobile, cual piuma al viento… “My! How you’ve changed!” “I can’t believe you’re doing that!” “Never know your mood.” “With her, I never know what to expect!” Many times we’ve hear those refrains, probably uttering similar comments ourselves. Change is good, change is bad, nothing changes, she’s changeable as the weather—we are delighted, frustrated, overjoyed, instigated, exasperated, feel overcome  by warmth,  are struck cold as ice—change in others does all of this and more. In ourselves, we long for positive changes in life, finances, affections, circumstances, and decry the downhill slide which often characterizes the changes we longed for. All of us are moved by change—none of us enjoy the pain that goes with it. We want to move on—we wish to go back to when…

Guess one of the richest gifts of maturity is retrospective memory.  I love to remember the beauty and clumsiness of youth, the fresh perspectives of expectations that were surprisingly fulfilled in ways never dreamed, frustrated hopes and multiplied renewals in life that scraped and shaped me. We will never return to “the way we were”—though in some ways--in germinal ways--we always were what we are now, and our future holds incredible turnings even though we will (in some ways) always be tomorrow who we are today.

Thinking of Biblical women who were familiar with more than skin-deep change, I always go back to Priscilla. If older women are to teach and model piety and righteousness to the younger generation, according to Paul’s vision of women’s roles in letters to Timothy and Titus, the wife of Aquila is a “Teacher of the Years” example to me and millions of Christian women over two millennia. Priscilla appears in Luke’s narrative of Paul’s stay in Corinth after his watershed sermon at the Areopagus in Athens. The Jewish couple had “recently come from Italy… because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome”. So they were refugees, displaced persons, exiles in a strange land. Originally from Pontus (Northeastern region of Asia Minor on the shores of the Black Sea), these (Turkish) Jews left their home and everything they had built in the Capital of the World to re-settle in Greece. There is no mention of children or other relatives—I imagine them as a middle-aged or older hard-working couple who had enjoyed some prosperity but suffered tremendous loss and upheaval right when they thought they would be settled.

Their tentmaking trade was essential for wandering Jews and unstable Gentiles alike. From the Orthodox who “had their tents carried before them” for any Sabbath travel, to Gentile merchants and tradesmen of all nations around the Mediterranean Sea, Aquila and Priscilla would always have clients. Today we call bivocational missionaries “tentmakers” because, like their colleague Paul, this godly couple  worked leather and sturdy textiles into transportable shelters, and simultaneously sheltered the Word of God that dwelt in them, sharing their know-how and knowledge with any who would listen. Paul stayed and worked with them and was “occupied with the Word” in the synagogue every Sabbath. After Silas and Timothy joined the apostle and Jewish opposition increased, Paul left the Aquila-Priscilla household  and moved to the home of a Gentile believer, Titius Justus, next door to the synagogue. There, Crispus, president of the synagogue and his family all became believers, and Paul remained in Corinth for eighteen months. Certainly Priscilla heard about Paul’s vision and took those memorable words to heart:

Do not be afraid, but go on speaking
 and do not be silent, for I am with you,
 and no one will attack you to harm you,
          for I have many in the city who are my people.

 Paul suffered united attack by the Jews, who took him to court—where the Corinthian magistrate refused to judge religious matters. The angry Jews beat Sosthenes in front of the tribunal, and Gallio “paid no attention to any of this”. After staying “many more days longer”, Paul and his entourage took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, “and took with him Priscilla and Aquila”. Now the tentmakers were colleagues in foreign missions—a creative, productive solution for people who realize that above all, they are pilgrims in a strange land. Many ports, many towns were their stopping places. In all the region of Phrygia and Galatia Paul went on  “strengthening all the disciples”. Priscilla and Aquila decided to stay longer in Ephesus—especially after hearing Apollos speak, and weighing the opportunity to minister in his life. They did not badmouth the young preacher for his errors, but “took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately”. From Acts 18 through 19, it looks like Priscilla and her husband were adept at mending and tying loose ends in the lives of people they touched, risking their lives, putting in practice the doctrine they learned from their rabbi Paul.

They did return home—a political change again made them resume residence in Rome, because when Paul wrote his letter to the Romans (around 58 AD), he greets Prisca and Aquila as “my fellow-workers  in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well” (Rom. 16:3).

When Paul got his wish and arrived in Rome it was not as a free Christian-Jewish academic and Roman citizen native of Tarsus. He had appealed to Caesar and was a prisoner in Rome—perhaps under house arrest part of the time, but most certainly under constant surveillance.  Priscilla and Aquila must have been frequent visitors who alleviated his incarceration with food and clothing and maybe  books (later he  would ask Timothy bring his coat, books and especially parchments he had left in Troas -- 2 Tim 4:13).  And continued to be disciples, as they also continued discipling others.

Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi: “it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear…” (Philippians 1:13-14) Paul’s prison letters (to people at Ephesus, Philippi, Colossus--Philemon was a member  of the Colossian church to whom he wrote personally in defense of the runaway slave whom Paul must  have met and evangelized in jail) are pregnant with life-giving doctrine  and life-living  joy.

 Joy was the theme of one who did not know if he would live or die, but learned to be content: “Making my prayer with joy”  (1:4); “”Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (1:18); “I will rejoice for I know that through your prayers…”; “continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith” (1:25);”complete my joy” (2:2); “I am glad and rejoice… likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me” (2:17-18); “Receive him with all joy” (2:29);”Finally my brothers, rejoice in the Lord”(3:1); “my brothers whom I love and long for, my joy and crown” (4.1); “Rejoice in the Lord, again I say rejoice”(4:4); “I rejoiced…”(4:10)

I suspect that Priscilla learned that kind of contentment throughout the months and years she and her husband were associated with the apostle. The words of the hymn “When I survey the wondrous cross” resound with Paul’s teaching: “My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride”. A woman who lived through many changes in life— living well through wealth and poverty, sojourner in tent without a roof over her  head, yet giving shelter to young and old, apostle and new Christian, possibly living the loneliness of childlessness, but anchored by a husband who was with her at all times and found refuge in Christ alone—going back to where she started, while that return will never be the same—you and I can relate to Priscilla’s changing status, moving circumstances and fluctuating feelings that accompany myriad changes. Like Israel of old that dwelt in tents under the shadow of the Almighty and the Pillar of Fire, gathering manna and quail in the wilderness.  “I have learned to be content”; “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.”

Like you and me, Priscilla was not a noblewoman noted for her strength or prowess. She was a working woman—a thinking woman, knowledgeable to the point of “straightening out” wrong ideas of a talented young preacher! Probably she cried and wrung her heart each time change meant loss—Pontus, Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, to the ends of the earth. But she learned to rejoice always and return, always being where God wanted her to be—wherever and under whatever circumstances they were.

I have made friends of all ages, all lifestyles and walks (or sprints) of life. When with children and grandchildren of friends of my youth, I must remember the freshness and vigor that opened the door to my heart, and look to them likewise. To aged friends battling their constant losses and disfranchising, I must share hope that “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me”. To those caught in the boredom of middle-years’ sameness, I can share the newness of abundant life. Many are the virtuous women whose stories flood the Bible with character and courage, and we women of postmodernity can learn from them. I hope to have learned a little with a woman sojourner and missionary called Priscilla, whose husband Aquila was both Eagle and Needle.  We are not wanderers lost and tossed by life—we are pilgrims with purpose and destiny, who enjoy (even if sometimes groaning!) each step of the way.

Elizabeth Gomes