Leaving Home: Escaping the Stay-at-Home Daughters Movement (by Samantha Field)

When I was doing my research for A Year of Biblical Womanhood, I encountered the stay-at-home daughters movement within fundamentalist Christian circles.  People often describe such staunchly patriarchal movements as "fringe," but what many fail to realize is that, though movements such as these certainly veer from the mainstream, they are immensely popular within certain subcultures, generate quite a bit of revenue and create their very own "celebrities," and have profoundly affected the lives of many thousands of women across the country. 

So today I’m pleased to share with you an eye-opening and powerful guest post from Samantha Field.  Samantha grew up in the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement and was deeply conservative until she started asking questions about faith and God and religion that her friends and professors couldn't answer. After three years as an agnostic theist, she eventually found her way back to Christianity; today she blogs about the intersection of theology and feminism, and works to educate young Christians about sexuality and consent.

***

My freshman year in high school, I mentioned my dream to become a marine botanist to my best friend, our pastor’s daughter, and she laughed.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said. “You can’t be a scientist. You have to be a keeper at home.”

Keeper at home. 

It’s a phrase from the King James translation of Titus 2, and we interpreted it to mean that it was against God’s laws for women to be employed. Our church, however, took it one step further: if all a woman was allowed to be was a “keeper at home,” then it was utterly pointless for her to try to be anything else. Pursuing an education, or longing for a career could do nothing but harm her with shattered dreams. For that reason, young women in our church were asked to be “stay-at-home daughters.” 

I gave up my dreams. I sacrificed them on the altar of biblical womanhood, fervently believing that the only way I could be blessed by God was to follow the clear guidelines laid out in Scripture. I was committed to remaining at home until I was married, when my father would transfer his ownership of me to my husband, giving me away at the altar with his blessing after a brief, paternally-guided courtship.

Occasionally, a snatch of a dream would intrude. No, Samantha. My inner voice would be harsh, echoing my Sunday school teachers and pastor’s wife. Do not be tempted. That’s just the Devil trying to trick you away from God’s plan. I looked to the other women in my life for inspiration—the other girls were filling their hope chests, meeting together to learn new recipes, learning to crochet and knit and sew. 

I tried sewing. I almost broke my mother’s machine. 

I learned how to crochet, but hated the feeling of yarn scraping around my fingers.

I took up cross stitching, but gave up when all I got was a snarl of silken tangles after weeks of trying.

I became a halfway-decent cook, but my heart was never in it.

As for cleaning-- I perniciously avoided laundry, dusting aggravated my allergies, dragging around the canister vacuum was torture, cleaning toilets made me gag, and dishes? Dear Lord, I hated anything having to do with dishes! Learning to enjoy housework, to “take pride in the homemaking arts,” was a complete and total bust.

The one thing I was good at was playing the piano. I’d started lessons when I was six, and was playing congregationally by thirteen. I devoted myself to becoming a pianist, and my mother joked that she couldn’t tear me away from the piano with a crowbar. They did everything they could to support my fanatical interest—buying a piano at a time when they could barely afford one and paying for lessons with the best piano teacher in three counties. 

My senior year in high school, my piano instructor asked where I’d applied to college. When I told him I wasn’t going to college, he stared at me, dumbfounded, the lesson jerking to a dead stop. “What do you mean you’re not going to college?! Of course you’re going to college! Talent like yours can’t be hidden under a bushel.”

I haltingly tried to explain about being a stay-at-home-daughter, a keeper at home, but that just seemed to confuse him more, so he dropped it. I couldn’t stop thinking about his reaction, though. I knew he was a Christian, but he didn’t seem to have heard of being a stay-at-home daughter; while I knew our church was more conservative than most, I assumed that a concept as plain as “keeper at home” would be obvious no matter what church you went to.

The fact that it wasn’t clear to a person I respected, who I knew had a deep faith and was incredibly intelligent . . . bothered me. 

It didn’t stop bothering me until I decided I was going to look into this. I typed “stay-at-home daughter” into Google, and found my way to a review of the documentary "Return of the Daughters," a film I’d seen and that was exalted by most of the women I knew. What I read gobsmacked me—in the review and the comments, hundreds of conservative Christian women lambasted the principles taught in the film, arguing against the Botkin’s narrow interpretation of Scripture. Arguing against my interpretation of Scripture.

I didn’t have to remain at home until I was married. I could go to college. It was too late for me to become an marine botanist, since I had abandoned any study of science or math in high school, but I could do something. I could get the piano performance degree my teacher was encouraging me to pursue. 

As a compromise, I applied to a fundamentalist Christian liberal arts college not that far away from home. I should not have been surprised by the reaction I got when I announced my acceptance at church, but I was. I was hurt by their vindictiveness. I wasn’t ignoring what I’d been taught. I wasn’t selfishly chasing what my “deceitfully wicked heart” wanted. I just … wanted to study piano, to eventually become a housewife who taught piano lessons out of her living room. Was that so wrong?

I went anyway, ignoring the pleas of my best friend and nearly every woman I’d ever respected not to do something so totally opposed to “biblical teaching.”

I went, and I blossomed.

My sophomore year I decided to switch to a secondary education degree because I realized I didn’t want to spend my entire life at home. I wanted to be able to get a job. I spent the next few years fighting with nearly everyone back home about my decision, ignoring all the packets and booklets offering me more “biblical alternatives” like taking “at-home college-level courses in biblical homemaking.”

My senior year I completed a teaching internship and realized that I loathed almost everything about being a teacher. I woke up, brutally aware that I’d spent thousands of dollars and four and half years earning a degree that I’d never actually wanted, all because the people I’d grown up with had told me I couldn’t be anything else except a housewife who could use her teaching degree to homeschool her children.

So I found an English graduate program that would accept my credits and applied. When I told the people from my childhood who were still in my life, they tsked. One told me that she would be praying that I would be “led back to God’s true will for my life,” and that he would use my “errant heart to teach me his ways.” Another accused me of openly rebelling against God.

It hit me the hardest that my parents, who up until this point had fought for my right to go to college if I wanted, suddenly and inexplicably withdrew their support. When I showed my mother the university I wanted to attend, her only response was a solemn “you’ll need to ask your father.” My father’s answer was disheartening. He did not like the idea of me going to a college so far away from home, so far away from the “umbrella of his protection.” Why couldn’t I stay at home? Take online courses if I wanted a master’s degree? My attempts to explain online literature courses aren’t what I want were met with more reservations and protests. It wasn’t fitting for an unmarried daughter to live on her own.

I was accepted into the program, but they didn’t have any spots left to become a graduate assistant. Without any way to pay for it, I went home. I didn’t give up, though. I started taking online courses and began pocketing away all of the money I could—I would get to grad school, one way or another. Eight months later, the director of the GA program called me: a spot had opened up, was I interested?

So nervous I was sick, I called my father—and after eight months of him watching me work and save and study and read and write, he’d changed his mind. I wanted a master’s degree, and that was enough.

Graduate school was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Being thrown into an environment so different from what I’d known as a fundamentalist Christian was overwhelming at times, and I spent those two years catching up on everything I should have learned but never had the opportunity to.

In that time, my parents also left Christian fundamentalism and the stay-at-home movement—my mother even got a job, working “outside the home,” and she loves it. It’s been a bumpy road at times, but we’re the better for it, I think.

Today, when I hear stories about young women forgoing college in order to “serve their fathers” or “study to be a good wife,” my heart breaks. I had people in my life who pushed me into considering college, but not every stay-at-home daughter has that.

For most of my life I was utterly convinced that staying at home was what I wanted, a personal conviction that I had. It took me six years and two degrees in order for me to fully realize that it wasn’t something I ever would have chosen for myself if I’d been truly allowed to consider any other option.

Looking back at everything I went through, I realize now how important it is for women to be able to explore all of who they really are, to claim their spiritual gifts and God-given talents. 

***

Be sure to check out Samantha's blog for more! 

comments

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/samantha-field-stay-at-home-daughters

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.

Church Stories: A Plea to Engage in Racial Reconciliation (by Grace Biskie)

Today I am pleased to welcome Grace Biskie to the blog for a guest post on the difficult topic of racial reconciliation. Grace serves with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as the Regional Coordinator of Black Campus Ministries in the Midwest. After twelve years in ministry, she is transitioning to a new role as Program Coordinator for a foundation serving high school students in NYC and Kalamazoo, MI. Grace is working on her first book, Detroit's Daughter, a memoir about surviving her father, her brother, abuse, racism, Christians, boys, and poverty, while growing up in Detroit. She is married to Dave, and raising two sons, Ransom, 6, and Rhys, 2. She loves speaking, writing, social networking, photography, fashion & swiss cake rolls. She hates horcruxes and human trafficking. You can follow her adventures in trying to lead a purposeful, grace-filled, beautiful life on her blog, Gabbing With Grace, or on Twitter.  

***

Transient

I grew up in a home where my older, white brother called me a "stupid little nigger" more times than I can count, and where I countered with "ignorant, loser honkey!" more times than I care to admit. My brother had grown up in an all white neighborhood until White Flight swept through in a little under two years. He was thrust into being the only white kid among black kids who stole his bike and beat him up. Outnumbered on the streets, he took it out on me at home.

I learned from blacks, at a very early age, that whites were manipulative, selfish, always out for "their damn selves" and NOT to be trusted. I learned from whites, at a very early age, that blacks were violent, stupid, unacceptable human beings who were less important than themselves and most of all, "not safe." I learned these things from my family, my church, my friends’ parents, and my private, Christian school. The racism was across the board. It came not only from the "poor folks of Detroit,” but from the Christians, the Muslims, the poor, the rich, the educated, even the homeless. It seemed like everyone had a bad opinion about white, blacks, or Arabs.

Eventually, the racism swirling around me became a part of what I believed to be true about the world: a few whites were great, most were tolerable, and the rest deplorable. These “truths” were seared into my brain like a brand on a baby cow. I'd been branded with racism.

Things came to a head for me on September 11, when I blamed the events of the day entirely on whites. The more whites talked, cried, formed prayer circles and sang Kumbaya, the more a war raged in my heart against them. It doesn't matter who flew the planes, they were provoked! By white people!

Then God began a slow and gentle process of healing that started with acknowledging the pain and devastation whites had caused in my life growing up. After many years of prayer, journaling, therapy and relationships, I was delivered from years of racism—my own and the racism of others against me. And yes, I came to see the events of 9-11 much differently.

But this is who I am: I am racially, culturally, spiritually, physically, ethnically black AND white. As an American Christian trying to live in the tension, I am as screwed as it gets. If there was a club for confused mixed kids, I’d be captain, head of the Department for the Racially Insane. For shits and giggles, God brought me a white husband. I'm a biracial woman who identifies as African-American. I grew up in Detroit, among urban, working-class blacks while my white mother sent me to a suburban, lily white, private Christian school and a large, white Baptist Church who denied me baptism in 1987 for being "half-black." Later that year, they passed a vote in which blacks were allowed baptism and therefore membership. The pastor who vehemently fought for me and other blacks to become members was maligned by his elder board and fired. Later, he committed suicide.  

For all these reasons and more, I have been unable to disengage with the issues that plague black and white Christians in our country.* I've tried to disengage. Lord knows I've wanted to disengage. But I simply can't untangle myself from the racist web into which I was spun.. And it's for these same reasons I feel terribly sad when I watch whites disengage.

To not know African-American history is to disengage.

To attend a large white church and never ask how the church got there or why it's staying that way is to disengage.

To never admit, let alone assess, your power and privilege as a white American is to disengage.

To not seek to understand why blacks were (and are) so angry about cases like Trayvon Martin's is disengage.

To decide to live in a mostly white community with no thought as to why it feels safer or mandatory for your family is to disengage.

To not read widely about racial and ethnic issues in our country is to disengage.

To allow yourself to be in places where everyone looks like you 90% of the time is to disengage.

To raise your kids to be color blind is to disengage.

I don't toss that list out lightly. Nor do I present it with judgment or condemnation. I am not looking to set you on a point-of-no-return guilt trip. None of that from me. Please consider this an invitation for you to love me, your neighborTo disengage is to fail to love.

I have been truly loved by many white people, most of whom I work with while serving in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. When I feel loved and cared for by a white person it's because they've done their homework and tried to understand my perspective. They know that they can read twenty books a day, but until they actually build a real relationship with someone who sees life differently, they are never going to get it right.

The hard days are the ones when I interact with whites that think they have the whole issue all figured out. They are quick to defend their white privileges and quick to point out their black friends. They make assumptions, and ask me to represent all blacks by answering that age old question, "what are black people so mad about?" That's not what engaging looks like. That’s what verbal self defense looks like.

The problem with disengaging is that it's not what God intended for us. I believe God expressly asks us to love people who are different than us. He especially desires for us to love those who would be considered our enemies. Take a look at Revelation 21; we know how this ends: We live in that not-yet-but-all-ready-here Kingdom, where God will bring together every tribe, every tongue and every nation, all of us speaking our own language, wearing our own cultural garb, eating our good cultural food. I'm talking about the day when Jesus' redemption brings total shalom to all peoples, complete peace between all people and God, all people to all people. In this partay of ALL partay's, the Hutu’s and Tutsi's will have a glorious celebration together. That final picture includes African-Americans and white Americans together…with no funky attitude problems.

No under-the-breath judgments.

No wealth gap.

No opportunities stolen.

No lynchings.

No death.

No gang wars.

No tears.

No blame game.

No race cards to be pulled.

No "shit black people think (white people think) about black people" YouTube memes.

If this vision excites you, know that your engagement in pursuing peace and health between African-American and white Americans is exactly what Jesus was talking about when he told us to pray like him: Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

If this vision doesn't excite you, I might ask if you’re working toward building God's Kingdom at all.

I don't feel badly asking whites to engage on issues of racial reconciliation, because I'm asking you to be obedient. I'm asking you to play a deeper, fuller role in bringing about God's Kingdom. I'm asking you to follow me as I follow Jesus…right up to that cross. You don't need a Masters in urban planning or relocation into the heart of Detroit to have a shot at being a life-changing, Kingdom-building reconciler. Yes, those who have the power to change things systemically should. But the rest of us are regular Joes. If you find yourself paralyzed by lack of cataclysmic, life-altering options, take a deep breath. There are lots of ways

Here's one: How about starting by displacing yourself? Go somewhere where you are the only white person for miles. Attend a black church or go grocery shopping in an all black neighborhood. This one small step can work wonders. Displacement allows us to identify, understand, and walk in the shoes of something African-Americans face nearly everyday in America. Facing a little fear under the tush never killed anybody.

Read stuff. Two of my favorite books include Being White: Finding our Place in a Multi-Ethnic World by Paula Harris and Doug Schaupp, and More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel by Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice.

My relationships with whites have been beautiful and ugly and everything in between. The man who caused me the most pain, my white brother, was redeemed by my husband, a white man who has become my knight in shining armor in all things racially related. I have watched him read widely and displace time and time again in order for the gospel to move forward among black college students when no one else is willing to "go there." I’ve seen this journey cause him tremendous pain, but I’ve also seen it lead him to the greatest blessings of his life. It's not just him, though. I’ve witnessed many other whites seek to understand and engage, when I know they could walk away. I have been flabbergasted by white colleagues within InterVarsity Christian Fellowship who have time and again sacrificed in little and gigantic ways to bring others to the table. I came to the Lord through InterVarsity as a college student; being a part of reconciling whites to blacks and blacks to whites is my heritage, my honor and my hope.

Trust me, I understand your desire to disengage, to worry about many other things in life. But I need you. The world needs you. African-Americans need you. And whether you like it, know it, accept it, or have yet to fully live it, you need African-Americans.

***

Tell me, have you ever been invited by an African-American Christian to think more deeply about these issues? What do you see as the major problems the Church needs to address regarding the division between African-American and white Christians? What are your joys and triumphs in pursuing racial reconciliation between white Americans and African-Americans?

*Note: I acknowledge there are many other racial and ethnic issues to be addressed by the Church regarding ethnic groups living in the U.S. However, I am primarily speaking to the issue I know and live while trying to respect the fact that only so many things can be discussed in one blog post. Please know I am not trying to ignore the issues that exist for our Asian-American, Latino-American, Native American, etc. brothers and sisters in Christ. I acknowledge that much more could be said on any number of issues. 

***

See our other church stories:

Church Stories: Embracing Faith as an Aspie (by Erin Thomas) 
Church Stories: Cursed Creed (by David Henson) 
Church stories: Facing my brother’s addiction (by Rebecca Howard) 

Church Stories: Being the Change We (by J.R. Goudeau)

comments

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/church-stories-racial-reconciliation

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.

Church Stories: Embracing Faith as an Aspie (by Erin Thomas)

What’s it like to live with Asperger's Syndrome in the Church? Today we find out from the talented Erin Thomas. Erin is a self-styled mix-up. Advocating for the end of the modern slave trade, she hopes to open a small intentional community retreat for exploited youth in Canada. Her blog, The Underground Railroad, is a small rag dealing with human trafficking and other justice issues. When she’s not writing creative non-fiction, short stories, and poetry, Erin spends her time working on her Masters of Arts in Urban Studies online through Eastern University, fighting for the last carrot in the house with her two rabbits, Bug and Sage, and enjoying mentoring time with local youth both in and out of church settings.

I hope you learn as much from her perspective as I did! 

***

Transient

It’s my faith that marks me as peculiar.

Oh I see the looks when I stand off by myself—(thou shalt not interact unless thou art commanded to come)—but my interpretation skills can be a little off, so that group of women at church I see as a minefield might actually want me to come and chat. Seriously? This is making friends? You’ve got to be kidding me.

I tremble at night when my synesthetic mind brings to life eternal torture… damnation… how the flames of Hades are seven times hotter than the hottest fire on Earth – seven times! I learned these things during a week of Bible camp when I was nine. But I played by my unwritten rules—(thou shalt believe the Bible as it is taught so thou shalt avoid God’s eternal wrath). The night terrors began soon after; the fixation on paganism, Satanism and witchcraft after that; and the hallucinations by the time I was twelve—(thou shalt believe what thou perceiveth with thy senses; they are measurable references proving truth). 

Break the rules?

Never!

To ask an Aspie to break her rules would be to ask her to stop breathing. Often, not even she knows her own rules, much less the game being played.  And on a daily basis, Christianity is most definitely a game – and the players play for the win, or burn in hell. There is no second place. Evangelism is critical, with the blood of the unredeemed on our heads—(if they die because I have not shared the Gospel, I am to blame.)

Make relationships.

Build relationships.

Cultivate relationships.

Nurture relationships.

Initiate relationships.

No matter which way you play it, Christianity is a social extrovert’s game and no amount of self-help preaching of “accept thyself” will change that—(thou shalt shake every hand of every person entering the church building in order to be a devout Christian).

Do they know? Do they know that small talk is next to impossible for me?

Oh sure, I want to know about your views of social justice within the first five minutes of meeting you, but your name? I will remember it about as easily as your face—for shame! A good Christian knows names and faces so people always feel welcome. 

Do people know how long it takes me to recharge after social functions?

Do they understand the guilt and shame inherent to losing the Christian game day after day?

Do they perceive the confusion they cause by saying “You don’t look like someone with Asperger’s…”, or “everything you experience, NTs go through too. You’re only labeling attention-seeking behavior with a flavor-of-the-month name”, and “Jesus has the power to heal your mental illness.”

1. Anyone who knows anything about the autism spectrum knows that like NTs, no two Aspies are exactly alike,

2. If I was seeking attention, I would strip naked in a bar on $3 Mojita Night; besides, I had never even heard of Asperger’s Syndrome until my diagnosis, and,

3. Asperger’s Syndrome is not a mental illness. It’s a neurobiological condition, a PDD – Pervasive Developmental Disorder. We are born this way. We can learn to be socially bilingual, but we are out of the spectrum of “norm” (who’s Norm?). Even so, we are your engineers, inventors, poets, artists and dreamers. The need for support is great, but the need for healing as Christianity defines healing isn’t.

We Aspies are notorious for literal thinking – taking at face value what is said, read or written. Thus, it is often recommended that we not participate in organized faith practices because we are too vulnerable to depression, severe anxiety, and even suicidal ideation because of faith-based guilt.

Maybe if my parents had known this growing up, things might have been different (not that they preached the hell-&-damnation Gospel, despite taking us children to evangelical churches). I was clinically diagnosed when I was 30 years old, after months of investigation, careful study, and gentle probing.

Yet faith had already literally rooted itself into my life. Was I now to let go?

No.

As logical as it seems to stay away from teachings that cause such debilitating fear (so much so that the thirteen-year-old me created escape plans for the inevitable AntiChrist Army that would march down our street to shoot me after the rest of my family had successfully been raptured), it would be even less logical to believe that God would create a group of strange people created to be forever distanced from Jesus because we can’t know Him in the right way. 

Processing the world differently, stilting about awkwardly in social groups, saying things at the wrong times or not saying anything at all can be hallmarks of being an Aspie. However, my three-dimensional visions of faith in Jesus Christ stamp me as more odd than any PDD. 

Want to support an Aspie in faith? Stop playing the game. We want to be a part of family, but for that to happen, we need to help create new rules. Who knows? Your weirdness might find a home in the Aspie world.

comments

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/church-stories-erin-thomas-aspie

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.

Women of the Gospels: Elizabeth – A Curious Woman (by Enuma Okoro)

Transient

Today we continue our Women of the Gospels series with a guest post from the amazingly talented Enuma Okoro.Enuma writes from Durham, NC...until she can relocate to Paris full-time! Her spiritual memoir, Reluctant Pilgrim: A Moody Somewhat Self-Indulgent Introvert's Search for Spiritual Community (Fresh Air Books, 2010) was a winning finalist in the 2010 USA Best Books Award and received the 2011 National Indie Excellent Book Awards Winning Finalist in “Spirituality and African-American Non-Fiction.”

Enuma is also co-author with Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove of Common Prayer: Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, (Zondervan, 2010). Her writing has been featured on ABC’s Good Morning America, The Huffington Post, Sojourners, Her.meneutics, the Christian Century and more. Her next book ,Silence, will be released this September 2012. She blogs at Patheos. Follow at Tweetenuma

***

“After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived , and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, ‘This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.’” 
- Luke 1:24

Elizabeth, what a curious woman. 

We usually flicker past her storyline as the old barren woman who gave birth to John the Baptist; the convenient character that propels the drama in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. 

Elizabeth, what a curious woman. 

She’s the gray-haired pregnant lady whom Mary went to visit after the Annunciation, after the Angel Gabriel said his famous lines about virgin births. 

Elizabeth, she is a descendant of Aaron. She is the wife of Zechariah of the priestly order of Abijah. 

We read of her always in relation to someone else. We pick up her story only when it is pertinent to the storied lives of other seemingly bigger characters.

We easily forget that she was a woman with her own full and complicated narrative. We forget that she was a woman who knew something about unceasing prayer, about unmet desire, about humiliation, about deep sorrow and pain. 

We forget she was a woman whose body couldn’t seem to perform in the most significant way women’s bodies at the time were relied upon and given any public affirmation of worth. 

We forget that her barrenness caused her time and again to painfully question whether or not the God she worshipped had chosen to curse her.

We forget that when Elizabeth prayed she did so in her barren body. She prayed with that which she yearned for God to bless and touch. She could not confront God without being bodily reminded of God’s silence.

We forget that we do not know the details of the years in which Elizabeth was barren. To be barren does not simply mean to be unable to conceive children. It is rarely that clean and sterile. The truth is we do not know how many, if any, miscarriages Elizabeth had. We do not know how many times she endured the pain and sorrow of her own lifeblood being discharged from her body. We do not know of the messiness of her pain.

Elizabeth, what a curious woman.

Her own “thorn” was lack of children but who knows what her undocumented experience might speak to so many women today with their own respective “thorns.” 

I have always wondered about Elizabeth; what it was like to live that long with her unanswered prayers and still cultivate the sort of faith that made her “righteous before God.” 

I have wondered how her prayers bore open her heart to God in deepening vulnerability, and what she did with her longing each time she failed to conceive.

I have wondered what shape the practice of lament took in Elizabeth’s life. 

I have wondered what was happening each exact morning, or evening of afternoon in which she decided to drop her hands and let her tattered threads of hope flutter to the floor. “She was getting on in years.” Surely she had dropped hope and picked it back up more than once.

I have wondered about her inner dialogue the minutes after she discovered she was pregnant. I have wondered if she was thankful for the months of silence, when her mute husband could not interrupt her own thoughts and musings. 

I have wondered if Elizabeth cultivated a “room of her own” long before Virginia Woolf made it popular. 

I have wondered how long it took for Elizabeth to trust that this pregnancy would actually take. 

I have wondered if she kept a quiet but firm grip on a thread of commonsense in her pocket with each day she left foolish hope grow just a little more.

Like so many women today, Elizabeth’s story is only partially told. You have to dig for the whole truth, and even then you come up short. 

You have to look behind the seemingly happy ending, and remember that she was a woman whose life was probably shaped by sorrow, discomfort, doubt, pain and yearning. 

But who wants to hear that part of the story? 

Isn’t it great that we get the happy ending? Isn’t great that we get the woman barren woman who is suddenly pregnant and we hear her praising God?

Who wants to catch echoes of any painful refrains, of any “Hannah-like” sobbings except without the answer, of any midnight bargaining and heart-wrenching pleadings? 

Who wants to know what it did to seasons of her marriage, to seasons of her identity as a woman?

Who wants to know about the envy or angry or guilt and possible repentance after each new announcement of some other woman’s pregnancy? 

Who wants to know about the complicated details that added up to somehow making Elizabeth the kind of woman who when we do eventually meet her in Luke 1 can grasp after hope one more time after years of bitter disappointment. 

The complicated details that add up to making Elizabeth the kind of woman who can speak of God’s favor when her prayers are finally answered long past her own convenient timing. 

Who wants to hear about the complicated details that add up to making Elizabeth the kind of woman who after years of wondering if God hears her, if God cares for her, If God has even cursed her, can still name her child,  John; “God is Gracious.” 

Who wants to know about the strength, the fortitude, the courage and the incredible resilience of a God-fearing woman? 

***

Want more? Check out Enuma's blog.

comments

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/women-gospels-enuma-okoro

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.

Women of the Gospels Series: The Widow’s Mite by Laura Turner

We continue our series on the women of the Gospels (now on Saturdays) with a guest post from the delightful Laura Turner.   A graduate of Westmont College, Laura lives in LA with her husband Zack.  She is pursuing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction writing at Seattle Pacific University, and is passionate about Church life.  Laura is a fantastic writer, with a background in publishing, so I recommend subscribing to her blog sooner rather than later. You can also follow her Twitter. Enjoy! 

 ***
 

"Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, 'Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” 
- Mark 12:41-43

***

Transient

“Spend it all. Shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place…give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things will fill from behind, from beneath, like water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
—Annie Dillard, The Writing Life 

Annie Dillard is writing about writing here—about the tendency writers have to hoard clever words for a rainy day when we might need them—but ever since I first read this bit, I cannot help but hear an echo of the story of the widow’s mite in Mark 12. 

We enter the scene with Jesus and his disciples in the treasury, the place where religious people gathered from far and wide to make their donations to the temple. The treasury was in the inner part of the temple, and the coffers placed around the room were shaped like trumpets, each with a different purpose for contribution. According to tradition, some of the trumpets received sin-offerings of burnt pigeons and turtledoves, some for contributions for incense, and some for general, voluntary offerings.  (I kind of wish it was still encouraged to burn pigeons for sacrifice. Stupid animals.)

“Many rich people threw in large amounts.” But this story is not the story of many people. This is not the story of large amounts of money, or of someone doing something flashy and noticeable. This story is about one of the least noticeable things in the entire New Testament. There are no angels winging around the throne of God; no demons being cast out into a flock of pigs or man being lowered down from a roof to receive healing. There is this woman – this small, unnoticed, uncared-for woman who hardly counted as a person in her society. And there were two coins. 

‘Mite’ is not the actual name for what the coin was. It was a term in use when the King James Bible was being translated in the early 17th century, and it was the equivalent of a few minutes’ work. ‘Lepton’ would have been the word used for the smallest copper coin in Israel at the time; this is the story of the widow’s leptons. And this story was probably going unnoticed for years.

We don’t know how long the widow had been going to the treasury with her two coins, but we can assume that when her husband was alive, she would have had more. Not much more, necessarily, but she would have had resources to live on. Poor and without resources or power, she came to the temple and walked among the crowd who gave a lot of money mostly to increase their sense of stature in the community.  And she came with the most meager of amounts to drop in the trumpet, and she did not draw attention to herself as she gave, but her story lives on as one of the most powerful examples of generosity and radical trust that we know. 

Because Jesus saw the treasury then, and he sees it still today. Jesus knew this simple truth: How we behave in the treasury is a direct reflection of the internal reality of our heart. This woman was a hero of our faith. This act of giving was not foolish and was not undertaken lightheartedly. She gave all that she had because there was no other way for her to give, so convinced was she of God’s faithfulness to her and his character. There is a beauty and strength to his care for us that goes far beyond our comprehension, but still we can absorb it and be transformed by it.

Where am I giving from, and what am I holding back? Am I giving from abundance? And if so, why I am I holding on to so much when I know that everything I hold back from God is exactly what separates me from him? All of these people, these rich people giving large amounts of money, they were all holding something back in their abundance. The blessed life is the life of the widow, the life of she who gives, and she who trusts.  

Hold nothing back, and everything is yours.

comments

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/laura-turner-widows-mite

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.