The Bible. Should I Bother?

GQ magazine recently released a list of 21 books you don’t have to read. The Bible was on it. Reason being? “It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.” Now, I don’t take the GQ editors as the final word on this, or even an authoritative word on much of anything aside from perhaps men’s fashion, but this made me realize what some people think of the Book that has stood the test of time and influenced societies for centuries.

All scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another. — 2 Timothy 3:16

I cut my teeth on wooden church pews then drew stick figures on offering envelopes during many church services until I was old enough to attend Sunday School. I was then taught Bible stories by felt-board-character-carrying-hard-candy-giving-“bless-their-heart”-saying church ladies. Verses were memorized. Songs were taught. I even attended a Bible college. I thought I knew what was in the Bible … until I decided to read it … like reallyread it … cover-to-cover.

Do you know what’s in there?

Stories of disobedience, lies, blame, lust, murder, mass extermination, idolatry, greed, incest, and child sacrifice. And that’s just in the first several chapters.

The church ladies never covered that!

No, the story of temptation, disobedience, and shame was played out by the very first human beings — a naive man and a misled woman who made a simple mistake by eating a delicious piece of fruit. They would immediately regret their actions, of course, and place the blame on the despicable snake, then dress themselves in leaves. Never mind the whole entrance-of-sin-into-the-world thing, the punishment of humankind, the curses dealt to earth, and the expulsion of humans from paradise.

And the story of mass extermination? Those church ladies brought out a small wooden boat, some stuffed animal couples, and taught us the catchy song, “The Lord told Noah to build him an arky, arky”. My biggest concern upon first hearing this story was that Mr. Elephant was missing his wife because some toddler chewed off her ears. (Never fear … she was repaired by Mrs. Smith, the church’s resident knitter-extraordinaire, and returned safely to the ark.)

As my first cover-to-cover journey through the Bible deepened into the Old Testament, I got more and more disturbed. I kept getting this icky feeling. I’d had it before. Yet I couldn’t place it until it dawned on me one day as I read the morning news. I realized then the Bible reads like the stories of today: death, destruction, illness, misogyny, slavery, racism, genocide, rape, torture, betrayal, murder, natural disasters. It’s the headline of every newspaper in every country every day on this earth.

I continued to read the Bible … because Hope. I knew it had to be there, because that’s all I had known previously. I had only focused on the good stuff. The redemptive stuff. The easy stuff. I skipped the hard parts. I didn’t want to ponder life in the valley. Yet it is there. And I finally began to see it … and feel it … and recognize it … and name it … in my own life as well.

Redemption.

It’s one of my favorite themes. It’s also one of God’s favorite themes and an overarching theme of the Bible. There are valleys and peaks. Mistakes and remedies. Sins and forgiveness. God loves to show us light in the darkness. He delights in directing us out of the briars and onto the path. His angels rejoice when we place one foot in front of the other towards Him.

The Bible is a collection of stories meant to encourage us. It’s mysteries? They challenge us. It’s diverse group of writers is meant to appeal to all of us. It’s God’s way of revealing his heart and mind to us.

Please don’t take my word for it though. Or the words of the GQ editors. Read it for yourself.

Don’t Be Surprised By Death

Not long after the birth of our first child, my husband and I decided we needed a will. It seemed like the responsible adult thing to do. We wanted to make sure we had a plan for our daughter if … God forbid … anything should “happen” to us. Prior to our meeting with the attorney, our discussions centered around guardianship and asset dispersement (if any). Of course, these events were contingent upon something “happening” to us … i.e. our deaths … yet that wasn’t a consideration until we sat side-by-side at a dark mahogany table with advanced directives in front of us. 

“What are your wishes should you be faced with a terminal illness or injury?” asked a kindly, gray-haired gentleman in a dark suit, white shirt, and tie.

“Pull the plug,” I immediately said, signed the document, and pushed it across the table to the attorney.

“Whoa! Wait. Really?” my husband looked at me in shock.

While I viewed my decision as brave and unselfish, minimizing the burden on him, he viewed it as weak and inconsiderate of him and our child. Our polar reactions are representatives of the fuel needed to heat up the recent debate on end-of-life decisions sparked by the announcement that Barbara Bush (God now rest her soul) would no longer seek medical treatment for her terminal illness, but instead opt for comfort care.

Was she giving up? Was her family and doctors failing her? Or was she just tired of suffering, and therefore her family saw it as the most humane request to honor?

Quite frankly, it’s none of our business, am I right? Perhaps it makes sense to be more concerned about our own decisions. Because guess what? We all will die. 100% of us. While dying is an experience we all will share, Americans are reluctant to speak of it. We don’t like to face our own mortality. Modern medicine has provided us a shield of protection that we think will guard us from ever needing to address this topic. 

We have become so focused on life at all costs that dying can cost us dearly.

During the summer that my mother was in hospice care and actively dying, I read the book Being Mortal by bestselling author and doctor Atul Gawande. 

Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set by genes and cells and flesh and bone. Medical science has given us remarkable power to push against these limits, and the potential value of this power was a central reason I became a doctor. But again and again, I have seen the damage we in medicine do when we fail to acknowledge that such power is finite and always will be. We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being.

I had never prayed for death before the summer I watched my mother die. Her well-being was compromised in more ways than one. She had reached the limits of modern medicine. We as a family knew that comfort care was the right decision, yet, even then, it was the most difficult and painful experience to navigate. I can only imagine how many times more the heartache of a family is if there is no end-of-life decision in place.

So, what to do?

  1. Think about your end-of-life wishes no matter your age or health and share your wishes with someone you trust. 
  2. Honor your loved-one’s decision. You may or may not wholly agree with them, but if they have made their directives under sound mind, then the most loving thing you can do is carry out their requests.
  3. Finally, please don’t judge others’ decisions. People are completely capable of questioning their own decisions without getting unwanted feedback from those who aren’t intimately involved.

I felt like Dr. Death himself when I prayed for my mother’s death … for something to “happen” to her. In reality, many things “happened” to her. I couldn’t have prevented them if I wanted, but I knew those “happenings” needed to stop. And I knew we had the power to stop them. We could ease her pain and suffering and provide her a dignified death. Choosing comfort care freed up our family to soothe her and console each other, and to prepare for her last breath … so in the end, we wouldn’t be surprised by death.

Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash.

Women, You Are Worth It

He danced so delicately around the subject that I nearly missed the misogynistic undertones. In curiosity, I left the interview feeling devalued and disturbed that my womb, and how it might affect my graduate student performance, became a topic of conversation.

It wasn’t the first time I felt confused that my gender was seen as a hindrance, my femininity seen as a weakness, and my abilities were undermined by the absence of my body carrying a Y sex chromosome. 

And it wouldn’t be the last. Sadly, I know I’m not alone. 

We have a sisterhood of women spanning the globe being battered and bruised solely based on their gender even though God sought to break this pattern over 2,000 years ago. 

Women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. – Sarah Bessey

Jesus crushed societal norms during a time when the culture was decidedly patriarchal. He refused to treat women as inferior. He broke customs often by speaking to women in public, for example in his interactions with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-26). When he addressed the woman with a bleeding disorder as “daughter”, we see him treating women … even those most shunned and detested … with the utmost respect (Luke 8:48). He met in the home of Mary and Martha, again balking customs by teaching women alongside men (Luke 10:38-42). Jesus also recognized women’s talents, gifts, and means, like those of Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, who supported Jesus’ ministry out of their own resources (Luke 8:3). When Jesus was arrested, many of the male disciples were said to have fled for fear of their lives, but the women … namely Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, Salome, as well as “many other women” … stood firm and followed him to the cross (Mark 15:40-41). And it was to a few of these very special and chosen women that he first appeared after his resurrection (Mark 16:1-7).

Jesus set an example of equality to be followed, yet somehow we still struggle to receive the respect we deserve.

A few years after I accepted a position in a research lab down the hall from where I experienced that belittling interview, I used that apparently pesky womb to birth my first daughter … then went on to complete my PhD. I now have two delightful daughters, for whom I pray …

I pray you know your value and worth and that those who surround you recognize and respect it as well.

I pray you know that you have been gifted with talents special to you.

I pray you will never forget whose daughter you are … when the world fails you, you will always be His.

I pray that when you gain your voice, you will speak up for your sisters who have none. 

I pray that when you gain your footing, you will help those sisters who have stumbled. 

I pray that you join hands with the sisters beside you, knowing that there is strength in numbers.

I raise up my voice – not so I can shout, but so those without a voice can be heard… we cannot succeed when half of us are held back. – Malala Yousafzai

Mothers, inspire your daughters. Yes, teach them to cook and clean … to stir up the gift of God, which is in them (2 Timothy 1:6), and to clean up the shards after they shatter the glass ceiling.

Sisters, let us encourage each other in the Lord, recognizing we are diverse and beautiful creations of God. Let us lift each other up, sharing each others’ burdens and boosting each others’ strengths.

Women, do not shy away from your God-given gifts, or hide your face, or quiet your voice. Know that society does not determine your worth. God determined that long ago on the cross … the very same cross where women wept and become our heroines and mentors.

A Footnote

The traditional Easter greeting took on a footnote for me this year.

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

The phrase, known as the Paschal Greeting, has its origins in the ancient church. In fact, the custom emulates the first disciples who said, “It is true! The Lord has risen,” (Luke 24:34) after recognizing the risen Savior. It is a phrase bubbling over with joy, relief, comfort, and hope. Nothing can overshadow the meaning of this phrase, yet when I saw it spelled out this Easter season, I couldn’t help but also think of our own little Christ.

And that leads me to the footnote …

At just 3 weeks after his bilateral amputation, Christ has indeed risen. I am amazed at the resilience of kids! I complain of a hang nail or a stubbed toe for days, but Christ was smiling the evening of his surgery. Dr. Abbott said everything went as planned and confirmed his satisfaction with Christ’s healing at his two-week post-op appointment last week, when we left the hospital with nothing but a single bandaid over a tiny portion of one incision that was still a little raw.

If you would have told me that a child would be released from the hospital just 24 hours after a double amputation, I would have met that statement with a significant amount of skepticism. Yet, that’s what happened! He slept much of the first day and night, then eased back into his usual routine over the following few days. We used the stroller in the house for several days until it was clear he wasn’t having it any more. On day 5 post-surgery, we gave in. He was not going to be kept down.

His bandages were to remain on his stumps until his two-week follow-up appointment, but he decided to take them off around day 10. I had a bit of a flashback panic moment … the time when Ma took out her prosthetic eye for the first time. Like then, I just started screeching, “Don’t panic. Nobody panic. It’s totally fine. We’re not panicking,” as I obviously panicked. But like then, there was no need to panic. I whisked him to the first aid kit only to observe a very clean and boring-looking sewed-up incision. Boring is good. We like boring when it comes to medical stuff.

Christ’s attitude throughout all of this has been amazing. Generally speaking, he is easy-going and pleasant and seems mostly unfazed by his surgery … except for the day last week when his bandages came off for good. He kept pulling up his shorts and looking for the rest of his legs, then looking at me for answers. This is where the communication barrier grows taller than Trump’s proposed wall.

Just as I was feeling terrible about his predicament, I was reminded by a friend that this is why he came. His parents knew why they were sending him. And his doctor knew that this was the best course of action, his best chance at future mobility. And if that reassurance wasn’t enough, I had three different people share personal stories with me about how the choice to amputate a limb was the best choice they or their loved-one ever made … easing them of pain and frustration, and opening the doors to mobility and a normal life.

It is my understanding that Christ will go home in another month or so with compression sleeves for his stumps. They like to wait several months after surgery to ensure healing is complete, swelling has subsided, and pain is absent before moving onto prosthetics. In the meantime, he will work on gaining strength and motion … something that was previously hindered by his lower limbs.

Our little Christ is rising strong. He is rising strong indeed.

One. Two. Three.

You have until the count of three.

I said I’d never do it. I would train my kids to listen and obey the instant they were asked to put on their coats, or to leave the playground, or to stop throwing food across the table.

I was so naive.

My parents used this tactic. Yours probably did too. And if you are so blessed to be a parent yourself, you most likely have found yourself walking down that same path … even adding the fractions … 2 and a half … 2 and three-quarters. You know when you’ve gotten to 2 and 77/100, you’ve already lost, right?!?

One. Two. Three.

Three moments to choose whether or not to listen and trust your parent, your teacher, your coach, your guide. Three moments of uncertainty, not knowing whether it’s worth continuing on your own path, or believe in the guidance to another path. Three moments also to consider the consequences of your actions.

It’s not long. Three moments. Yet, I imagine to the disciples on this day nearly 2 thousand years ago, 3 moments seemed like an eternity.

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. – Matthew 12:40

Jesus warned them he would endure unimaginable pain and suffering. He told them about his impending torture and execution. He also made it clear that on the third day, he would rise again. Yet, the disciples struggled to understand how the prophecies would be fulfilled. They had heard what he said, but failed to fully grasp its significance. I can relate.

Every year on Good Friday, heaven starts to count to three. We are offered three moments to focus solely on Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Three moments to weigh the event’s significance on our lives. Three moments to decide whether to take God at his word … that his Son’s sacrifice paid the ultimate price for our lives.

Today, Heaven has started to count. God is patient. I’m sure he’ll even get into the fractions while counting. But it’s up to us to decide. Will you follow him when he gets to the count of three?

Prayer: Today, I solemnly remember your sacrifice and eagerly anticipate getting to the count of three.

Darkness fell, his friends scattered, hope seemed lost; but heaven just started counting to three. – Bob Goff

Bananas

Bananas. Just bananas. This perfectly describes life at our house recently.

Christ joined our family two weeks ago. He is absolutely the sweetest, most chill little boy you’ll ever meet. Seriously. And the cutest. I just wish I knew what was running through his sweet little head. Let’s review: 1) he bid goodbye to his mom, dad, and sister; 2) boarded a plane from Burkina Faso, Africa, to Paris, then to the States, escorted by lovely American Airline workers who donate their days off (bless their souls); 3) was met by our family in Columbus, OH; 4) driven to Ann Arbor, MI; then, 5) met at our house by an overly excited dog.

No wonder he shut his eyes and fell asleep for 12 hours! Isn’t that what you would have done?

Shut. Out. The. World.

When he woke up the first day, he just covered his dark brown eyes with his arms. His bottom lip quivered. Our hearts just melted. He didn’t know if he wanted to be held or left alone. Could he trust us or not? It’s heartbreaking to witness. Yet, these kids are resilient.

So, so resilient.

Over the first week, we saw him open up. Make eye contact. Even smile. A few words in French helped, though it appears he only understands Moore, his local language. Once in school, he will learn French, the official language of Burkina Faso, but for now, only Moore. The only word he’s spoken in the last two weeks is “Mama”. And it wasn’t for me … though I responded as though it was.

Sweet little man.

He sleeps now right beside me on the couch … next to the fluffy dog who cleans up his Cheerios and chicken and rice. Eating. We’ve branched out. This first few days it was only bananas. Just bananas. Now it’s yogurt, and chicken (bone-in, of course, because that’s the only way), guacamole, peanut butter … on bread or off … doesn’t matter. He’s a messy eater. Probably used to eating outside and spitting gristle from the chicken and seeds from the fruit on the ground. But that’s ok. We have a dog who is happy to clean up. (And I’m currently monitoring the dumb dog for any adverse affects of eating a whole chicken drumstick).

Christ had an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon last week. It was determined that he has caudal regression syndrome. You can look it up, but there’s not much info. It’s pretty rare. It’s a congenital disorder that impairs the development of the lower half of the body. As a result, his best option for future mobility is to amputate his lower legs.

Bummer, I know.

But I get it. And I’m confident it’s the right decision after discussing all options with his doctor. His lower legs are “just getting in the way,” as his doctor stated. Once they are removed, he’ll be able to walk on his stumps, gain hip and upper leg strength, then be fitted for prosthetics. No more needing his hands for mobility.

So when’s the date? Tomorrow!! His doctor is going on a missions trip to Kenya later this week, so he wanted to fit Christ’s surgery in before he left. They say it’s a pretty straight forward surgery … though I questioned that as well. Barring any complications, he will spend a night or two in the hospital. Once his incisions heal properly (about 6 weeks), he will most likely go home to his family for they typically wait 6 months before fitting for prosthetics. And he needs to be with them. Not us.

Christ and his big sis.

A complete whirlwind! Right?

Please pray for comfort for Christ. For wisdom for his medical team. For peace for his family. And ours. We are grateful for the team of people who are lined up to help us this week in running the girls, feeding us, and filling in for our normal responsibilities. We couldn’t do this without our people. We so appreciate all of you sending your love and prayers.

Cover Each Other In Love

In a nation that has, at best, lost its civility, and, at worst, become a caustic environment, never before have we needed to shroud ourselves in compassion and cover each other in love.

Hatred starts fights, but love pulls a quilt over the bickering. – Proverbs 10:12

Nothing says warmth and love like a quilt. My husband may be partial to afghans, my kids to fuzzy fleece blankets, but I will always snuggle under my tattered quilt. Pieced together with time, effort, expense, care, and thought – quilts contain all the ingredients it takes to truly love a person well. The opposite then – laziness, neglect, disregard, indifference, and ignorance – must be a recipe for hatred.

When I enter the world of social media, I do so with trepidation, for I am most certain to find myself gawking at clashes between two friends, acquaintances, or even strangers. The most heart-breaking is when the argument is between two people claiming to follow Christ. Sure, no one is physically hurt, but they’ve come to virtual fisticuffs, blaming the other and claiming no responsibility for the incident themselves. Bystanders pick sides, lobbing insults at the other. Feelings are hurt. Walls are built. Lines are drawn. And all involved move further away from each other and closer to isolation.

If we can’t model love and acceptance amongst ourselves, how can we be a light unto the world?

Last week, we lost America’s pastor. Rev. Billy Graham modeled for us what it looks like to cross political lines and join together under one agenda – love. He famously quoted,

It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.

While we witness some Christians getting snagged by politics, partisanship, and power, Mr. Graham managed to stay true to himself and his calling to preach the Gospel without polarizing parties. He know when to pull a quilt over the bickering.

You know what’s beautiful about a quilt? It’s sewn together with a variety of fabrics. Interest is made by using pieces of different shapes and sizes. Textiles of varying colors and patterns add a kaleidoscope quality. The middle layer provides warmth. The backing provides stability. If any piece is missing, the quilt loses its beauty … and its function.

Christ brought us together through his death on the cross. He repealed petty rules and strangling regulations that hindered more than they helped. We need not bring them back. He brought together people once at odds with one another. He gave a fresh start for everyone.

Shouldn’t we then find every opportunity to live at peace with one another?

Let us bring out the quilt. Mend what is torn. Patch what is missing. And pull it over our bickering. Let us model Christ’s love for one another so that the world can see light in the darkness. Let us make time for one another. Care for each other. Listen and strive to understand one another.

The world needs us to bind together. They need to see Christ in our actions. We may have lost a great role model this week, but each and everyone of us can continue to learn from him, to carry on his legacy, to stand in the middle … showing love and respect to all.

(First published on the 2|42 blog.)