Closed Womb

I usually restrict my blog topics to areas in which I have some level of personal experience. In this post, I am venturing way outside my comfort zone to a topic on which I have no personal experience…and very limited medical knowledge.

In my last post I talked about closed paths.  I shared a story of my horse, Knockout, searching for alternate paths home because he didn’t realize the opener and closer of paths was right there with him.  Knockout didn’t need to find an alternate path home.  He simply needed to wait on my timing and follow my direction.

I used that story as an analogy to show how we sometimes do the same thing with God. Sometimes, I try to help God out by searching alternate paths to my goals, when what I really need to do is remember the opener and closer of paths is right there with me.  I don’t need to search out alternate paths.  I simply need to follow His direction and wait on His timing.

In that post, I did not give any specific examples (either personal or biblical). The biblical example that came to mind was the story of Abraham and Sarah wanting a child…an heir.  They had gone out from the land of their people on a promise that God would give them numerous descendants and a vast land for their heritage.

Years passed without those promises coming to fruition. They remained childless nomads, wandering homeless in a land populated by foreigners.

So, they decided to help God out by finding an alternate path to their goal. First, Abraham made plans to leave everything to his servant, Eliezer, as his heir.  But God told him Eliezer would not be his heir and promised Abraham a son.

As more years passed with no child, Sarah gave Abraham her maid servant, Hagar, as a concubine…a slave wife…a surrogate mother of sorts. Hagar conceived and bore a son named Ishmael…which led to strife between Sarah and Hagar.

Eventually, the promised child was born to Sarah…long after menopause…long after she had given up hope of ever bearing a child.

And that vast land promised to Abraham and his heirs? Never in their lifetime did they ever own any land other than a plot purchased for use as a family cemetery.  Yet, God’s promises were fulfilled many years later when the descendants of Abraham’s grandson, Israel, were led out of Egypt to conquer the promised land of Canaan.

You and I come into this story as well.

The fullness of God’s promises to Abraham and his seed was realized in Abraham’s descendant, Jesus Christ.  Through covenant relationship with Jesus Christ, you and I are invited to become heirs of the covenant God cut with Abraham.

God’s promises to Abraham and Sarah were much broader and deeper than they could have imagined. His plans for their lives were much fuller than their own limited vision.  While they were stressed over a child not being born soon enough, God was already working out the redemption of the human race through the faith of Abraham and Sarah.  Although their faith sometimes looks pretty fragile and limited from our perspective, God used it for His glory and to work His purposes through their lives.

This morning, I am reading a book titled, “The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules,” by Carolyn Custis James.  Thus far, it is a very well written book in which Carolyn James does an excellent job of lifting the veneer of theology through which we tend to view this familiar Bible story, to help us see the depth of human tragedy…the grievous loss and sorrow through which God works out His story in the lives of ordinary people.

This morning, I read these words, “Medical charts of barren women in the Bible bore this cryptic notation, ‘The LORD had closed her womb.’”

As the import of those words registered, my mind flashed to my previous post about God being the opener and closer of our paths, and the need to follow His direction and await His timing. Simultaneously, I was reminded of the story of Abraham and Sarah…and the fact that their story of infertility was the beginning of a much broader and deeper purpose than they could have imagined.

I have never personally experienced infertility. I have wept with and prayed for friends who were experiencing this sorrow.  I have seen God perform mighty miracles.  I have watched as children born to couples on the verge of giving up have grown to adulthood as godly men and women.  I have witnessed bureaucratic red tape miraculously resolving for adoptions to go through.  And I have witnessed couples finding contentment in a life with no children of their own.

Every story is deeply personal…and every story is unique.

If you are facing infertility, my message for you, today, is simply that God knows. God knows your pain.  God knows your sorrow and frustration.  God knows your hopes.  God knows the deep desires of your heart…and God knows His plans for bringing the fulfillment of those desires to fruition in your life.

For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

God knows…

Unplanned Blessings

Last week we learned Heritage Academy, a Christian school in Hagerstown, Maryland, is refusing to allow graduating senior Maddi Runkles to walk in their commencement ceremony because she is pregnant and unwed.

Washington Post (May 24, 2017) reports, “…Heritage Academy in Hagerstown says that senior Maddi Runkles broke the school’s rules by engaging in intimate sexual activity. In a letter to parents Tuesday evening, school principal David R. Hobbs said that Runkles is being disciplined, ‘not because she is pregnant but because she was immoral. … The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her morality that began this situation.’”

The referenced article reports that when the school was first informed of her pregnancy, in February, “Initially the school told Runkles that she would be suspended and removed from her role as student council president and would have to finish the rest of the school year at home.” On appeal, they decided she could remain in school, but could not walk with her class in commencement ceremonies.  I expect they see themselves as being very gracious and understanding in having made this concession.

The school’s position is wrong in so many ways, I find it difficult knowing where to start. It’s not just a wrong course of action, it is an action chosen based on a very unchristlike paradigm…a legalistic paradigm all too common among Christian churches.

Let’s start with the principal’s statement that Maddi is being disciplined, “not because she is pregnant but because she was immoral.” What a load of malarkey!  If principal Hobbs believes his own statement, he is the only person blind enough to be fooled by it.  Hobbs’ statement is both dishonest and disingenuous.

If Maddi were not pregnant the school would never have even learned of her sexual activity and there would have been no disciplinary action.

Let’s imagine for a moment a completely different scenario. Let’s imagine a boy from Maddi’s graduating class had privately approached the principal and confessed in confidence that he had sexual intercourse with an 18-year-old girl who was out of high school and had never attended Heritage Academy.  No pregnancy, STD or other consequence had occurred as a result of the unwed sexual intercourse, but he was very sorry for his misconduct, begged forgiveness, and prayed he would have the strength to resist future temptations.

What action might we expect the principal to take in such a scenario? Would he have threatened to kick the young man out of school?  Would he have forbidden him to walk in commencement ceremonies?  Not likely!

I expect in such a scenario, no official school disciplinary action would have been taken against the penitent young man. In fact, I expect the principal would have had some very encouraging words for the young man.  He likely would have used the boy as an anonymous example of godly behavior at the next school assembly…an example to be followed by any other students with unconfessed sin.

So, yes, make no mistake about it, Maddi Runkles was singled out for ostracizing punishment, not because of her sexual activity, but because of her pregnancy.

Moreover, the nature of the punishment chosen clearly indicates the school was much more concerned about their own embarrassment than about what was best for Maddi. The ostracization was not inspired by a need to ensure Maddi understood the gravity of her mistake…I don’t believe anyone doubts Maddi’s pregnancy more than suffices to ensure she understands sexual intercourse is serious business that should not be approached casually.  Nor was Maddi’s punishment inspired by a perceived need to ensure other students understand the gravity of sexual intercourse…in fact Maddi’s pregnancy in itself provides a compelling example of the serious nature of sexual intercourse.

To the objective observer, it is very clear Principal Hobbs’ decision to keep Maddi out of the school commencement program is motivated by a sense of embarrassment in regard to the school’s reputation. This decision is not about what’s best for Maddi nor what is best for the rest of the student body.  It is about the school’s reputation…about the potential embarrassment of having an unwed pregnant student participating in the graduation ceremony.

And Hobbs’ sense of embarrassment is, itself, based on a false paradigm…a belief that an unwed pregnancy is cause for shame…an undesirable consequence of sinful behavior.

The Bible provides a drastically different perspective:

Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,

The fruit of the womb is a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,

So are the children of one’s youth.

How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;

They will not be ashamed

When they speak with their enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:3-50)

Children are a gift of the Lord…a blessing…a reward…not a source of shame.

Pregnancy is not a sin nor should it be a source of shame. Children are a blessing from the Lord.  Therefore, pregnancy is a blessing from the Lord.

If unwed pregnancy were a sin, Jesus would have been conceived in sin. Let’s be very clear on this point.  Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, God incarnate, Immanuel, God with us, our Redeemer and Deliverer, was conceived and born of an unwed mother.

Obviously, God considers unwed pregnancy to be neither a cause of shame nor a state of uncleanness, since he chose it as the means of bringing Christ into our world.

We all understand the science of fertility. We understand that in most cases there is a cause and effect relationship between sexual intercourse and pregnancy.  Certainly, not every occurrence of sexual intercourse results in a pregnancy.  Nor is every pregnancy the result of sexual intercourse…the Christian faith celebrates at least one notable exception.  But, yes, in the vast majority of cases pregnancy is preceded by sexual intercourse.  So, it is understandable for people to view an unwed pregnancy as substantive evidence of unwed sexual intercourse.  Fine…in most cases the pregnant woman is unlikely to deny sexual intercourse took place.  That intercourse may or may not have involved sin on her part…date rape is all too common in our society.  So, in many cases a woman may be shamed for something beyond her control that did not involve any sinful behavior on her part.

But…even more important…even in the instances where the unborn child was conceived through unwed consensual sexual intercourse…it would be wrong to view the pregnancy as an undesirable consequence of sin.

Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,

The fruit of the womb is a reward.

Children are always a gift of the Lord…always a blessing. In the biblical context, it is not at all unusual for God to bring great blessing out of very imperfect circumstances.  In fact, the biblical narrative is filled with examples of God bringing great blessing out of very imperfect circumstances.

A pregnancy in which the mother wants the child and plans to carry the child full term should always be treated as cause for celebration! That child is a gift of the Lord!  No exceptions.

If any readers of this post are pregnant with a child conceived out of wedlock, be encouraged in knowing your child is a gift of the Lord. Any readers who are parents or grandparents of a child conceived out of wedlock, be encouraged that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, was also conceived out of wedlock.  The single greatest blessing of the Christian faith was a child conceived out of wedlock…and God says all children are a gift from Him…a reward…a cause to not be ashamed.

Maddi Runkles, I don’t expect you’re likely to read this post. But if you do, I want you to know I’m proud of you and rejoice with you in this wonderful gift the Lord has bestowed on you!

Blessings to you and your family!

Fundamentals

texas sunset

Sunset over Texas Hill Country

The horsemanship clinic began with the clinician asking us to lead our horse around the arena while requiring the horse to remain at the end of the lead line.  If the horse started creeping up on us, we were to prompt him back to the end of the lead line again.

Once that was going well, he asked us to work on stopping and expecting the horse to instantly freeze in his tracks when we stopped.

After that, we spent some time backing the horse to the end of the lead line…then reeling him in…then backing him up…then reeling him in…all while working toward a smoother response on a lighter touch. Then we got even more particular, asking for exactly two steps forward followed by exactly two steps back…then one step forward followed by one step back.

Altogether, we spent over an hour just working on having the horse go forward or back on the lead line, in one form or another. After that, we started working on shoulder turns and hindquarter turns…being very particular about making sure the horse really reached out with his hoof…and very particular about separating front laterals from hind laterals.

We didn’t actually mount and ride until late morning.

If I had known in advance we were going to spend the first few hours of the clinic just doing groundwork, I probably wouldn’t have been very impressed. Frankly, I thought my horse already did fine on the lead line and wasn’t much in need of training in that area.

I was wrong in that assumption.  Like so many areas in life, we don’t know what we don’t know until we learn better.

joe on knockout

By the end of the clinic, Knockout was relaxed while I swung a rope from the saddle

Later that afternoon, I realized my horse was more relaxed and more responsive than he had ever been under saddle.

In the weeks since the clinic, I have been amazed at how much difference those simple lead-line exercises have improved my relationship with each of our horses.

The exercises require both the horse and rider to really pay attention to each other…to really listen to each other’s body language and relative position…and to develop precise timing of response. It requires the horse to walk in sync with the rider, moving as the rider moves.  And it builds confidence.  The horse gains confidence in the rider’s leadership, as well as in his own ability to properly respond to the rider’s cues.  The rider also becomes more confident as a leader and in the horse’s response.

Going forward and back on a lead line sounds a little dull. The idea of making it part of a regular routine sounds a bit stifled and unspontaneous.  Most people acquire horses for the adventure of riding, not to move the horse back and forth on a lead line.  Frankly, it could be dull and not very helpful if approached with a poor attitude.  If the rider treated it as some mindless routine to drudge through, or some requirement to rush past, it would probably yield little benefit.

Done well, though, it is an incredible communication tool! Lead line training provides an opportunity for the rider and horse to work together on really listening to each other, to work on improving timing and balance, and to sync their movements.  The movements are simple enough to allow both horse and rider to remain relaxed…to make it a lighthearted low-pressure game.  It provides a relaxed environment of open communication for building mutual respect and trust…for building muscle memory of cues, responses and timing.  Like a choreographed dance, the rider cues…the horse responds…the rider releases…the horse completes the move…the rider cues…the horse responds…the rider releases…the horse completes the move…

I think similar tools can be applied to other relationships.

I love engaging my family in humorous banter.  I notice a potential word play on something said in conversation and feign misunderstanding.  Sherri starts to correct then glances up to see my smile and catch the humor.  She, in turn, plays off of my joke to escalate the nonsensical tangent…and we both crack up laughing.

It’s just playful silliness that may appear pointless.  But it requires paying close attention to each other…to really listen to what the other is saying…to watch body language to realize it’s a jest…to catch the double-meaning of the word play…and to respond in kind.  It is lighthearted playfulness that sets the mood for improved communication and building mutual trust and understanding.

I also value my daily quiet time with God for how it helps build relationship.

Similar to the lead line work, a daily quiet time can sound stifled and unspontaneous.  There have been times in my life when the discipline of a daily quiet time became something of a dry, legalistic chore.  I understand why some may struggle with such a commitment.

Like the lead line training, though, it is all a matter of attitude.  I now view Our quiet time as a time of intentional communication, where I practice listening and responding to the Holy Spirit’s cues…a time of getting in sync with His movement…and a time of building my confidence in Him and in my ability to hear His voice.

Good communication requires intentional focused listening…and important relationships are worth investing the time and effort to improve communication.

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)

Your thoughts?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

War Room

war room movieMy wife and I have been hearing about the movie War Room for months and finally made time to watch it together, this past weekend.

There were things I liked about the movie, as well as areas of concern.

My favorite theme was the focus on prayer and God working through the prayers of His people.  I also liked the depiction of prayer tending to first change the heart of the person praying.   I have certainly found this to be true in my own life.

Another favorite theme was the need to focus on right relationship with God and total dependence on Him, rather than focusing on human relationships and trying to fix other people’s dysfunction.  This powerful truth was portrayed well in the movie.

My primary concern with the movie is its perpetuation of the false and dangerous myth that all marital issues can always be resolved through prayer.  While one could argue the movie depicted a single scenario without explicitly stating it applied to every situation, this is a very common theme in most Kendrick Brothers movies, and the repetition reinforces the myth.  A survey of movie themes leaves a strong impression Kendrick Brothers is highly committed to this unbiblical myth and very intentional in proselytizing others to embrace their perspective.  Whether intentional or not, this is certainly a primary message most viewers will receive from a Kendrick Brothers movie.

In a nutshell, this perspective tells a troubled spouse that if they will just pray fervently enough, believe deeply enough, humble themselves lowly enough, and love sacrificially enough, God will always miraculously heal their marital relationship.

Frankly, that’s a lie!

It is a very dangerous lie holding too many abused spouses in bondage to their abuser for too many years. Click To Tweet

Yes, God does answer prayer in miraculous ways.  Yes, God will bring healing in relationships where both partners are committed to seek Him and pursue His heart.  However, God will not violate human free will.  If one spouse is determined to go their own way, rebelling against God in violation of their sacred covenant vows, God will not conquer their heart by force.

If prayer, faith, humility and love were guaranteed by God to always result in healed relationships, the Apostle Paul would not have instructed the Corinthian Christians to allow an unbelieving spouse to leave the marriage (1 Corinthians 7:12-15).

God has not promised to heal every human relationship. Click To Tweet

Jesus made it very clear He did not come for the purpose of healing every relationship.

Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.  (Matthew 10:34-36)

I was also disappointed by the unrealistic reconciliation portrayed in the movie.  The husband was depicted as being very antagonisticly aggressive in interactions with the wife and daughter.  Yet he converted to a completely repentant change of heart without any boundaries having been defined or enforced by his family.  And, he had no further episodes of abusive behavior…no temptations to slide back into old patterns of behavior…just a completely new humble godly character.

While I hesitate to call anything impossible when we’re discussing the miraculous, to say the least the portrayed scenario is way outside the norm.  Most antagonistic aggressive character disordered people will never change without first running up against very strictly enforced boundaries.  Even then they are unlikely to change, and if they do, it will be over an extended period of time with strict accountability.

You know what I’d really like to see Kendrick Brothers produce? Click To Tweet

I would love to see them produce a really good movie depicting a realistic scenario of an abused wife learning to see past the lies, deceptions, and manipulations of her abuser.  The movie could show her learning to understand how much God loves her and how highly He values her.  It could show God redeeming her from that abusive marriage, protecting her through the divorce, and delivering her from the false doctrine that held her in bondage for so many years.

Now that would be a realistic movie with a solid Christian theme!

What do you think?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

The Bibliophile

the bibliophile

The Bibliophile

My oldest brother, Jonathan, recently posted this picture of himself, taken in 1972.  To my knowledge, I had not seen this particular photograph before, but it has captured my attention.  I keep thinking about it and browsing back to look at it, again.  Since when does an old photograph so move me and why this one in particular?

First and foremost, the picture is so genuinely Jonathan.  Perched on a narrow plank, elbows resting on knees, he is contentedly at ease so long as he has a good book in hand.  And the expression on his face…both relaxed and alert…attentive and absorbed…the look of a man who is reading the words on a page while seeing the pictures described by the words…a man completely immersed in his book!  That was Jonathan in 1972 and that is Jonathan today.  His love of books and joy of reading has not lessened with time.

That same pose, though, would also be typical of Jonathan’s son, Samuel.  In fact, one could easily mistake one for the other.  As we say here in the south, Sam is the spi’t’n image (spirit and image) of his father.  Then I think how often I’ve seen my own son, Timothy, in similar pose, book in hand.  I’ve not thought of Tim and Sam looking that similar, but with book in hand the body language is the same.  And where do you suppose Tim gets it?  Yep!  In this aspect at least, my son is the spi’t’n image of his father.

The posture would, in fact, be typical of most men in my family.

Those hands, though…those hands are so uniquely Jonathan!  Those are my brother’s hands.  Much larger than mine and longer of finger…nobody else has hands quite like Jonathan’s.  In 1972, Jonathan was 19 years old and I was 9…still young enough to think of my big brother as quite a hero.  I remember those hands as being strong enough to split an oak log in a single axe stroke…agile enough to palm a basketball in mid-dribble…yet delicate enough to create wondrously detailed sketches.

Look how gently he holds the book in his large hand…such a loose grip…almost a loving caress.  I don’t recall anyone else holding a book quite the way Jonathan does.

But wait…something tugging at the corner of my memory…of course…my father!  Papa’s hands were smaller…more like mine…but the way he held a book was similar to Jonathan’s…as though each book were a fragile treasure to be handled with delicate care.

How many times have I seen Papa’s hands gently cradle a book?  How many books did he read to us children in the evenings?  …First a chapter from the Bible then a chapter from another favorite book.  Through Papa’s voice I was introduced to Dickens, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Longfellow, Tolkien, Lewis, and so many more beloved authors and poets.

I recall how Papa opened a new box of books recently arrived in the mail.  Cautiously he would run a knife beneath the tape, careful not to penetrate but a fraction of an inch for fear of harming the books.  Gently, he would lift the first book as the tantalizing odor of fresh new books wafted from the box.  Placing the book upright, spine resting on the table, he would carefully fold each cover flat on the table.  First from the front of the book, then from the back, Papa would gently fold down a few pages at a time, carefully running his fingers along the binding to press the pages down.  The process continued until the book lay open to the middle.  Then he would close the book, place it aside, and lift the next book from the box.  Papa explained he did this to “break the book in well” so as to minimize stresses on the binding, helping it last longer.

Yes, to Papa, a book was a treasure to be lovingly cared for.

A few years ago, when Google was first becoming popular as a search engine, I ‘googled’ my own name just to see what would happen.  Since I had no social media presence at the time, I didn’t show up on the first listing page…but my name did.  Apparently, I share my name with a distant ancestor, a book binder who lived in Eton, England (1704-1787) and is known as a pioneer in bundling collections of books into a single volume so as to make them more affordable.

It seems the Pote Family has a long history of loving books.  It’s part of who we are…a family of bibliophiles.