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
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?! Garland
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.
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.
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
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. USA
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!
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 . The Jewish couple
had “recently come from Athens Italy…
because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave ”. So they were refugees, displaced
persons, exiles in a strange land. Originally from Rome 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 .
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. Greece
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
for eighteen months. Certainly Priscilla heard about Paul’s vision and took
those memorable words to heart: Corinth
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
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 . He had appealed to Caesar and was a
prisoner in Tarsus —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 Rome Troas --
2 Tim 4:13). And continued to be
disciples, as they also continued discipling
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
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.” Israel
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—
Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, ,
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
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.