Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Creating Children with God

In Genesis 4:1, Eve gives birth to her first son, Cain, and she says, "I have created man with God."  The Hebrew word for "create" in this verse is the verb Cayana, related to the noun Cayn, or, in our English Bibles, Cain.  Cain is given his name, because, as the story goes, when his mother looks upon him, the first child ever born to a human mom, her mind focuses upon the miracle that she, with God, has created a man.  I don't typically think of myself as my daughter's creator.  I'm inclined to think such a thought is potentially blasphemous.  And yet this verse has made me reconsider the serious roll I am playing in her creation.  Last week she wouldn't lay flat in the swimming pool.  Yesterday she was not only laying flat but kicking and reaching...  because my husband and I had taken her to the pool almost every day this past week.  Every moment of every day I make a decision to stay at home with her, to work with her, to enjoy her, to love her.  When she was in my womb, I carefully monitored my diet for her, and to this day my body continues to give of itself in ever new ways for her sake.  It would be silly for me to think I have had nothing to do with her creation.  And thinking of myself as working with God in her creation helps me to see what I am doing as ministry.    

Friday, April 25, 2008

Deeply Loving Hands: Basket, Ark, and Church

While reading Genesis, I recently discovered that the Hebrew word for "ark" in the Noah story only occurs one other time in the Old Testament - it is the word used for the "basket" Moses' mother places him in when he is found by Pharaoh's daughter.  There are numerous other similarities between these two stories.  Both stories participate in ancient Near Eastern imagery of water as deadly and symbolic of chaos - the flood in the Noah story and the river for the killing of babies in the Moses story.  In both stories, Noah and Moses are delivered from this water through this vessel.  

The Christian church tradition associates the ark in the Noah story with the church.  Like the ark, "in" the church we are saved from death.  Seeing the similarities between the Noah and Moses stories, I was considering the Moses story from the perspective of the basket he is placed into as the church.  The church, in this story, is that vessel, crafted carefully by deeply loving hands with those materials which happened to be available, to deliver the smallest and most helpless of humans - a baby.  And in so doing, this vessel becomes an instrument of salvation for many, many, many more.

What if our churches viewed themselves as Moses' basket?  Thanks be to God for his deeply loving hands.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Kissing God

My 19 month old said, "Love you" to me today for the first time.  I was so deeply, deeply touched.  And it reminded me of a speech I heard a number of years ago at a missions convention.  The speaker was talking about the first time his toddler gave him a kiss.  For years he gave her kiss after kiss, eagerly awaiting the day when she would kiss him back.  Finally, one day, during the Barney theme song ("...with a great big hug and a kiss from me to you..."), she gave him a peck.  He said the skies opened, lights came down from heaven, and his heart soared.  It really wasn't much of a moment in her mind, but it was huge to him.  He used this as an image of the love God constantly gives to us, despite our general indifference, despite our taking his daily tender care for granted, eagerly anticipating the day when we kiss him back.  Later in the conference, the speaker and his wife brought their daughter onto the stage.  She wasn't more than 2 or 3 years old, and they held her sandwiched between them.  The two of them gave her a kiss on her cheeks, constantly glancing at her adoringly.  The daughter, for her part, was just kind of looking around, more interested in this new view of the auditorium than in how elated her parents were with her.  In light of all he had said, it was hard not to think about these adoring parents as giving to this toddler the type of love God shows to us.  The speaker concluded with words to his daughter, "You are an inspiration to all these people here." And though she didn't even know it, she was.  Not because of anything she had done, but because of what her father had done through her, despite her not even having a clue.  I hold that picture in my mind, and I wonder how often it is this way with us - God gazing at us with parental adoration, kissing us daily, using us despite our complete lack of ability to comprehend what is going on as we just stare in curiosity at the odd circumstances surrounding us.  Why not take a moment to worship and kiss God back?  

Friday, April 18, 2008

Deeply Wanted

I once read a ritual used for the receiving of an adopted baby into a new community.  It included a part in which those within the community who had themselves been adopted were to come into the center of a circle, and then the words were to be spoken to them: "As we welcome this new baby and celebrate his birth and his new parents, may this day symbolize for you that you are deeply wanted, that you were always deeply wanted.  And from now on, no matter what happened to you in the past, may you know how meaningful your birth was, and, seeing how deeply wanted and blessed this child is, claim the same thing for yourself." (Christine Northrup, Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom, Bantam 2002, 441).

I believe this holds true for all of us who, as Christians, have been adopted by God through the payment of Christ.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hope for Children

I just wanted to bring attention to a blog written on April 5 by the Garcia family, a missionary family adopting from Haiti their 4th and 5th child.  I have been touched beyond words as I have followed their journey.  This past week, this was one of their entries.  

In Case You Ever Wonder

... if the needs are real.

This little boy, Kelly, was abandoned in the yard of the Real Hope for Haiti clinic in Port-Au-Prince one year ago. He suffers from severe autism and seizures, and just today suffered another seizure which resulted in an injury. His caregivers are praying that someone might love this little boy enough to add them to their family and to provide for his special needs.

And in case you ever wonder if the care these children receive makes a difference ... look at Kelly now:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Child Birth and the "Curse" of Eve

As I approached the due date for my baby's delivery, I was not a little scared with regard to the pain of labor. I wanted to deliver the child as naturally as possible, but it just looks so much more painful than anything I had ever experienced. Could I do it? And then there is the story in Genesis 3, in which Scripture affirms that delivering a child will be necessarily really painful and difficult. At one point, in the middle of a contraction, I remember praying, "Oh God, I am so sorry for the sin of Eve..."

The funny thing to me here is that the word "curse" is never used in God's punishment for the woman. It is used in the punishment for the snake ("cursed are you," Genesis 3:14), and it is used in the punishment for the man ("cursed is the ground in your toil..." Genesis 3:17). But the woman stands alone with no "curse" language. What is more, the Hebrew word used with regard to women in labor, translated "painful," could also be translated "with great toil" and such (3:17), and it is the same word that is used for God's punishment of the man in the very next verse: "with great toil/labor/pain you will eat from it (the ground) all the days of your life." Finally, as a Christian, I believe that in Christ, we are new creations - the old has gone and the new has come. And so I'm not sure that it would be faithful for a Christian to wallow under the weight of the punishment of our sin when, well, the second Adam (Romans 5) has redeemed us from it. This does not mean that all the consequences of sin are abolished now - death still remains (see 1 Cor 15), but spring is coming and the trees are already blossoming.

My point is that I don't think that, at least for Christians with a New Testament added to the Old, Genesis 3 should be read as giving an inevitably terrible description of a woman in childbirth, anymore than it describes an inevitably terrible life of labor for a man. We are not a cursed people. In Christ, we are free and we learn to live into our freedom. I wonder what childbirth feels like within the peace of the cross. I don't know - I was so scared that I took the epidural.

... Years later, I will now add that I did give birth naturally to the child with whom I was pregnant when I wrote this blog post two years ago. There was physical pain. And my body did not recover very quickly. But there was also plenty of natural pain relief. At the very end, when I seriously considered it, I suddenly realized just how well my body was handing the contractions. I was all but falling asleep in between contractions, there was so much natural relaxation and relief. I was like, what do I need an epidural for? And by the grace of God I delivered into the world a wonderful, snuggly, sweet little boy. =)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Out of the Waters: Adoption as Giving Birth

I had never really noticed how much creation imagery there is in the beginning of the book of Exodus.  It is especially apparent when you read it in the Hebrew.  The book begins with a description of how "fruitful" the sons of Israel were.  It says, "The sons of Israel were fruitful, they swarmed, they multiplied, they became very much exceedingly numerous, and the land was filled with them" (1:7).  This echoes Genesis 1, where, when God creates humans, he tells them to "be fruitful and multiply" and to "fill the earth."  I am reminded of my cousin who has five kids and wants to buy a six acre property to fill it with her children and, one day, grandchildren.  But even more than her, this family was bursting at the seams, obeying God's call to continue the process of creating new life.

After I gave birth to my daughter, I remember thinking that I could never adopt a child, because I needed those maternal hormones released at birth and through nursing in order to care for this child round the clock.  I read Exodus chapter 2, and I greatly empathized with the mother there.  She conceived, she gave birth to a son, and "she saw that he was good."  Again, this echoes Genesis 1, where, after creating each of the things God created, "he saw that they were good."  When I saw my daughter, the overflowing sense of how wonderful, how beautiful, how precious she was took over every piece of my being.  I very powerfully "saw that she was good," and I was set to protect her.  In Exodus 2, this mother, though, was faced with the promise of immanent death for her child.  Because, even thought is God's good desire for continued creation, there are forces in the world that desire to kill, to demolish, to enslave and make life bitter for the good creations, as seen in this story through Pharaoh (Exodus 1:8-22).  And so this mother placed her new, good, beloved creation into a basket made with the materials of her slavery and placed him in the waters.  In the ancient world in which this story was written, waters often symbolize chaos and death.  The Bible begins in Genesis 1 in an uncreated universe in which there is nothing but waters, nothing but chaos.  But God's spirit hovers above this uncreated, watery, chaotic void, and speaks order, presence, creation into existence.  So in this story, the forces of destruction call for the drowning of all sons in the river (Exodus 1:22), the uncreating of them, the return to chaotic nothingness.  

In our world, there are mothers and children who experience this everyday.  Out of the water of the womb comes a new, created, good life, but there are forces in the world which make it impossible for the mother to nourish that life.  But she cannot bear to surrender this little creation to those forces.  And so, though she must depart from him and place him back in the waters, she puts him in a basket with hope, because she, his mother, cannot bring herself to drown him.

The story doesn't end there.  A rich woman from another culture, a safe woman, Pharaoh's daughter of all people, finds the basket, opens it, and when she sees the child, "she is filled with compassion."  She draws the baby up out of the waters, out of the river of death, and he becomes her son.  Twice now he has been drawn out of the waters.  First out of the waters of his mother's womb and into existence.  And now out of the no less real waters of death and into the safe arms of his adopted mother.  Her compassion gives him new life.  And with this life, God delivers all of his family in the remainder of the book.

So now I see adoption differently.  And I see creation differently.  God's call to "fill the earth" with new little creations is not just a call at the beginning of Genesis to populate the planet.  It is also a call to work against the forces of the watery chaos that seek to destroy the good creations that which God makes.  It is a call to obey that impulse of deep compassion, like Pharaoh's daughter, that God puts inside of us when we a baby, a child, a teenager, a young adult, a co-worker, an elderly widow within the waters of death, to draw them out of the waters and, in so doing, give birth to new life.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Fruitful Life

Today I turned 30.  I know to a lot of you out there I'm still really young, but last night at midnight, when I suddenly realized I was in my 30's, I had a moment of real shock.  It was like I had to totally rethink my self perception.  I've been in my 20's for, well, 10 years, 1/3 of my whole life.   I rolled over in the bed and whispered to my husband to see if he was still awake.  Well, he was then. "It's midnight.  I'm 30," I whispered.  "Happy birthday!" he whispered back and hugged me.  We talked for a little while.  He was so kind, so generous, so loving.  I rolled back to my spot on the bed and thought through memories, realizing how close my experiences from childhood and onward have stayed with me, the good and the not so pleasant.  The love of my husband and my child, in her crib close by, produced a warm and safe ambiance in which I could explore my experience of this transition.  

As I thought through my memories, I had the sudden thought, "Did I accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish in my 20's?"  At first glance, I realized that the answer was yes.  I got my masters, entered a really good Ph.D. program, got married, had a baby.  I'm right where I hoped I would be.  But as I kept thinking about what I really hope to do with my life, I realized that none of these things, in themselves, are what I really wanted to do with my 20's.  I wanted to lead lots of people to Christ.  I wanted to help people grow closer to their Maker.  I wanted to be really, really fruitful.  It is a lot harder to quantify that kind of "accomplishment," to run through a check list and say, "Yep, two thousand souls saved!" or something like that.  None of us really ever know the full extent of the fruit of our lives.  And as I laid there in contemplation, I realized how little of my life has been "accomplishment," and the real fruit I seek has happened more in the in-between time, the saying a prayer in traffic, the soft lullaby sung to young ears, the kiss to my spouse on his way to work, the hours and hours spent in thought - sometimes constructive thought and sometimes self-centered thought that edifies no one.  So, yes, I had a really productive 20's in terms of education and career development and family life.  And I'm set up really well to go into my 30's.  But if I want to avoid a midlife crisis in another decade or so, I don't know how much this really matters.  In the words the famous song: "Life is what happens while you're making other plans."

In one year and 2 months, my husband will turn 30.  I don't know how he will experience that.  But I do know that the warmth of the love that he chose to give me last night when I woke him up at midnight bore good fruit in my soul, and that is what life is all about.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Two Births

There is an African proverb that says that two births take place at the moment of delivery - that of the baby and that of the mother.  After a lot of thought, I can see what the proverb is getting at.  Life is never the same again following the birth of a child, and even physiologically the woman is transformed through the process in ways that will not be reversed, from hip size to brain chemistry.  The simple fact is that before I had a child, there were things - biologically, psychologically, even spiritually - I just didn't need.  And once it is time for child to come, I entered into a new reality in which the old me wasn't sufficient for what is happening.  In that moment of transformation, God has it set up so that everything I needed suddenly became available.  I've noticed that these new provisions continue as the child gets older.  I know moms who say they were never any good with this or that age group, but then when their child got to be that age, they suddenly were able to work with kids that age.  Likewise, things I can do now, like nurse, I won't be able to do anymore once the child no longer needs it.  

Sometimes, when I look into the future - not necessarily with regard to being a mom, but just generally - I'm tempted to get worried.  Retirement income.  College tuition.  Job decisions.  Buying a house.  Having more kids.  The list goes on and on, and any one of these things is enough to hit my stomach with some force.  But then I remember that God has never, never, not once, left me without what I need in the exact moment when I need it.  Never.  In addition to the many times I have seen this throughout my young adulthood as I have followed Christ, it is one of the lessons of parenthood.  Two years ago, I couldn't make milk.  Today, it pours out of my body, because there is someone who needs it from me.  It is the way God has designed the universe to work.  Thanks be to God who gives us our daily bread.  

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Godly Hormones?

There is a sweet young girl I know who is about 13 years old and just started "developing" this past year.  And she seems a bit lost with what to do with it.  Gone is the little girl from the beginning of the year.  Now she is wearing tightly-fitting, breast-accentuating shirts and seriously short shorts, thick make-up coats her face, and she seems preoccupied with how "sexy" she believes herself to be viewed by others.  She wants to attract.  And this is, to some extent, understandable.  Her body is developing, preparing for the day when it may be her time to give life to another human being, and in getting ready for that her body is focusing her attention upon how much "attention" she attracts.  The sad thing is that she believes the lie fed to her by the media and friends at school that wearing these clothes and such is a good way to go about doing this.  

At the other end of things, when my time had come, I went to the hospital like I was in a life-threatening situation or something.  Doctors hooked me up to medication to control the contractions, even though there were zero signs of any problem with my body's own contracting ability, because that's just what they do in our country.  The contraction-inducing medication made it hurt all the worse, and so I ended up getting pain medication.  Then I was so numb that I couldn't feel the muscles that I was suppose to use to push the baby out, and so the doctor used a vacuum to pull the baby out along with my body's contractions.  Then they handed me the baby, and we began to bond.  Hormones naturally fly in a mother's first moments of contact with a baby.  Few medical professionals deny that the first hour is critical to the bonding process, which is critical to the necessarily incessant motivation on the part of the mother to care for the baby 24 hours a day and successfully breastfeed.  All of this bonding is facilitated in part by natural childbirth.  My baby and I had to work harder than necessary to develop the strength of bond that ought to have come easy, because people kept taking her away from me.  And I didn't trust my hormonal instincts that were screaming - give me back that baby!  I interpreted them as potentially selfish, certainly not a God-given instinct.  Why do we take it as just a given that depression rates in women following child birth are so high in our country, that breastfeeding is so often unsuccessful, that mothers exhaustedly try to care for their babies without the natural hormonal aids given by God?  (For the record, besides these issues, the United States has the highest mother mortality rate in the industrialized world, and the second highest infant mortality rate - and in most of the rest of the world all of this distrust of the mother's body when it comes to birthing is nonsense.  In fact, seventy percent of births in Europe and Japan are facilitated by a midwife.)

I've been thinking a lot about these issues recently.  And, in particular, I've been thinking about them from the perspective of how I think about hormones.  For years, since I was myself a teenage girl with a developing body, I was under the impression that hormones are "bad."  Female hormones, in particular, are really bad - they do things like make you have inconvenient periods and "mood swings."  There is nothing of redeeming value in them.  I learned not to trust them.  They might lead me to do something unholy.  Better to just ignore them as much as possible.

But when my time had come, and I held that baby in my arms at home, I discovered quickly that I could not nurture this little life day and night without them.  And as I have reflected upon my experience giving birth and raising my daughter, I've come to realize how holy hormones really are.  They are God's invention.  Eve's sin might have made childbirth painful, as the story goes, but Christ has redeemed that.  We don't live in that era anymore.  We are new creations.  Certainly we in the church ought to be able to affirm the inherent goodness of at least some of our hormones.  

I know it is not this simple.  There are issues of "the flesh" leading us to things that really are not holy.  But I think there is a real difference between hormones under the lordship of Christ and hormones gone nuts in the direction of an imitation, a substitute, something other than the God-intended use.  If my little 13 year old friend gives herself over to her hormones like her attractiveness is the source of her self-worth, there is going to be trouble.  When she gives herself over to fulfilling her desire to be attractive no matter what type of attention she is attracting and no matter what unhelpful thoughts she is provoking in the other sex's brains, there is going to be trouble.  If I try to use my natural high that comes from constant contact with my baby as a substitute for finding my ultimate satisfaction in Christ, there is going to be trouble.  But, at the same time, if "all things are sanctified through thanksgiving by the word of God and by prayer," the hormones themselves are not the problem.  Today, I thank God for them.