Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Male and Female God Made (Most of) Them: Part 4

'Cracked glass' photo (c) 2011, amber {♚} - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

Aside from the Scriptures that do discuss eunuchs, which include intersex people, the Scriptures that perhaps need most discussing are the ones that are silent on the matter, the Scriptures that seem to ignore them and cause us to scratch our heads. 

Foremost among these Scriptures is Genesis 1:27, which Jesus himself quoted in Matthew 19 prior to discussing eunuchs.
"So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."
How we grapple with the existence of intersex individuals in light of Genesis 1:27 will probably differ depending on our broader theological leanings. I take Creation and the Fall very seriously, at least in terms of systematic theology. They are central concepts to how I view creation, man, and sin today. Because of that, I believe there is a Life As It Should Be, and I believe that this is not it. I also believe that we are all Fallen, sinners from birth simply because we are human. I believe in complete depravity apart from the grace of God. I know not everyone shares these beliefs, but they are fundamental to me.

So the first question presented to us is: Before the Fall, when Creation was untarnished by sin, did God intend for all people to be either male or female? 

Whew, that's a doozy of a question. And the answer depends a lot on how we read Genesis 1-3. Because the genres and authorial intentions of Genesis 1-3 are so hard to identify, many avoid making interpretations based on these first chapters of the Bible at all. But given the example of Jesus in Matthew 19, I'm not sure that's the best option. If Jesus uses Genesis 1-3 in his teachings about God's intent in "the beginning" (19:4-8), then I think God does intend for us to use Genesis 1-3 in a similar (though cautious!) manner.

My answer, based on Genesis, is that yes, before the Fall, God did intend for people to be either only male or only female. He intended for us to know Him fully, know each other fully, and know ourselves fully, and to experience perfect harmony on all counts. I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility that others could read Genesis differently, but as I attempt to place intersex people in Eden, my mind has to make bigger leaps than I think Scripture supports. (But I welcome those who might succeed in this regard since I have not been able to do so. Please feel free to share thoughts on this matter!) 

And that leaves me with the stomach-wrenching conclusion that individuals who are intersex are inherently broken in regard to their sexual biology. This conclusion is not stomach-wrenching for me theologically. I believe that all people are broken, physically and otherwise, because of the Fall. It would be dishonest of me to exempt some people from the reality of sin in all of our lives. For me to believe that we are all broken means that I cannot or should not say, "Oh, except for those poor, innocent people; they're perfect just as they are." That would be insulting. To most nonChristians, I have found that the concept of being inherently broken is shocking. Many people I know live in a world that I find incomprehensible, a world driven by the believe that people are perfect just as they are. That, to me, takes a bigger leap of faith than to admit that you are broken. 

I can imagine how horrible it must be to hear/feel that you are broken when the concept is new to you, especially when it regards a part of you that is so central to your identity. (That, however, is a BIG part of the problem that I will address soon!) And I know that there is a difference between acknowledging that we are all broken generally and pointing to certain characteristics of a person and saying, "Those parts of you in particular reveal brokenness." I see that. I have felt those accusations myself, even ones I still adamantly disagree with in regard to my giftings as a woman.   And that is the part of this conversation that makes me uncomfortable. 

But I do not believe that everyone else's brokenness is simply generalized. I believe it manifests itself in specific and uncomfortable ways for all of us. I've talked about my own specific brokenness in regard to fertility, for instance, and that is easier for me to point at. But it's hard for me to point at areas in others' lives, especially when I am unable to even pretend to understand their stories. 

This is where I've landed. I feel uncomfortable continuing on until I sort out this conclusion with you all. If it helps, I still want to address the belief that God "knits us together in our mothers' wombs" in light of the reality that we are all born broken. I don't think enough Christians wrestle with that conundrum. But I don't want to continue on to that conversation without feedback about where things stand now.

So, have at it; give us your thoughts and feelings about my conclusions. But please, let's remember to be full of dignity, respect, and love for one another. 


Next: Male and Female God Made (Most of) Them: Part 5
The final installments: Part 6

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Male and Female God Created (Most of) Them: Part 3

'Ethiopian Eunuch' photo (c) 2011, Ted - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Read part 1 and part 2.

The reason I started this blog series was because Matthew 19:12 caused the topic to resurface inside of me:

"For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can."" 

To understand the people Jesus was talking about, I did a little digging. This post might be a little technical for some readers, but I think it's an essential part of the journey as we continue on.

In the Bible, the word eunuchs was used to refer to two distinct groups of people: 1) Palace officials, and 2) Men who lacked sexual potency in some way.

First, on palace officials: 

"In oriental courts eunuchs were used for roles in the royal court (initially, no doubt, because this made them ‘safe’ in relation to the royal harem, but then also to develop a cast who could devote themselves to public affairs on behalf of the monarch without the distraction of family). Over time this seems to have generated a class of people who were prepared for civil service by means of castration (mostly at a post-puberty stage?) and whatever training was deemed relevant.... So a first image for eunuchs is that of members of a class of castrated civil servants. There is a question, however, about whether the word srys necessarily continued to imply a castrated state, or whether it eventually came to be used of those who were exercising a role which in the history of the language had at an earlier time been restricted to eunuchs" (Nolland, 777). 

From the literature, there seems to be a consensus that the term eunuch came to mean a palace official in a general sense, so every use of the term cannot be assumed to inform us as to a person's sexual development. The first occurrence of the word in the Bible is found in reference to Potiphar (Gen 37:36). Most scholars doubt that Potiphar was a eunuch biologically because of the fact that he was married. (We could perhaps entertain some commentary here on Potiphar's wife and the reasons for her sexual prowess outside her marriage, but it would all be conjecture.)

However, the second group of individuals is of more interest to me for the purposes of this conversation. Unfortunately, what made a man a eunuch biologically was never clearly defined. We do know that it included both men born with incomplete reproductive organs and men who did not develop normally upon hitting adolescence. In addition, it included men who were physically castrated despite previous normal development (Schneider, electronic ed).

Because sexual potency was mostly valued in Judaism because of the call to procreate (Gen 1:28), it is also possible that eunuchs included sterile men. I have not found any literature about this specific subset of men. If they were included, their reproductive problems would not have been revealed until adulthood. Because polygamy was the norm in Ancient Israel, a man had the opportunity to reproduce with more than one woman, which would serve to show if he was infertile or one of his wives was.

In regard to Jesus' reference in Matthew, Jesus' reference to "eunuchs who have been so from birth" would have at least included, though not have been limited to, intersex individuals who lived as males. Then, "as now, children were occasionally born with defective genitals and subsequently would fail to develop male secondary characteristics as they grew up" (Nolland, 778).

Jesus' words are more interesting if they are viewed in light of the historical treatment of eunuchs in Israel. Other than being accepted as servants to royalty, they were excluded from the assembly of God's people. 

Deut 23:1 says, "No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord." The context, which is very interesting, lists those people who could not belong to God's people, including eunuchs made so by man, children born out of wedlock, Ammonites, and Moabites. 

However, later, the Lord allows these former outcasts in. Isaiah 56 is a beautiful chapter in which God speaks welcome to eunuchs, foreigners, and the dispersed of Israel. Now, in place of exclusion, we see these words about eunuchs in Isaiah 56:3-5:

Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say, 
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; 
and do not let the eunuch say, 
“I am just a dry tree.” 
4For thus says the Lord: 
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, 
who choose the things that please me 
and hold fast my covenant, 
5I will give, in my house and within my walls, 
a monument and a name 
better than sons and daughters; 
I will give them an everlasting name 
that shall not be cut off. 

We later see these verses of Isaiah 56 fulfilled in one man, the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8. A Gentile and a eunuch, this man converted and was baptized by Philip. 

The account of the Ethiopian eunuch is an important one in understanding the ways of the Kingdom of God. He was one of the first believers, not one of the last. As in the stories of the centurion with great faith, the samaritan woman at the well, the star-gazing magi, and the slave-girl fortune teller, the Kingdom of God is an upside down Kingdom, a place in which God shows that it is not earthly credentials but faith that makes you a member of His family. This is a pattern that is not unfamiliar to Bible readers: God gives names of honor to those who are considered the least of society, even in the Old Testament--the barren women, the foreigners, the younger brothers. And it is a pattern that I, as a woman, am grateful for. 

While there is much more that could be said about Scripture's reference to eunuchs, in this brief overview we can start to see a bit about their experience within Israel and the earliest days of Christianity. Hopefully these reference points will guide our conversation as we continue. I'd love to hear your thoughts or other Scriptures that inform us as we proceed. I will be discussing creation, the fall, and Genesis 1:27 at length in a future post, so stay tuned for that in Part 4. Also, read the final installments Part 5 and Part 6.

________________________

Schneider, Johannes. "εὐνοῦχος, εὐνουχίζω." in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Kittel, Gerhard, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds. Trans. G. W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964-1976.

Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Psalm 51: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

At the end of last semester, my Greek professor, who we are all convinced is truly The Most Interesting Man in the World, treated us to a song. He wanted to demonstrate how the early church, rooted in Jewish worship traditions, would have sung a psalm. He wrote out Psalm 51 from the Septuagint on the board and sang it to us. 

As it is Ash Wednesday, many of us are reflecting more deeply upon our need for God. I urge you to watch the video of his casual performance (which I cannot embed, sorry), and read either the English or Greek as he sings (both below). The video starts in the middle of verse 4 in the Greek, which is verse 3 in the English. He sings very slowly, so he ends around verse 10 (verse 9 English). 

While this is not part of my current series, I believe reflecting upon our transgressions will certainly not hurt as we proceed in the conversation.

Psalm 51
Prayer for Cleansing and Pardon
To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. 
1 Have mercy on me, O God, 
according to your steadfast love; 
according to your abundant mercy 
blot out my transgressions. 
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, 
and cleanse me from my sin. 
3 For I know my transgressions, 
and my sin is ever before me. 
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, 
and done what is evil in your sight, 
so that you are justified in your sentence 
and blameless when you pass judgment. 
5 Indeed, I was born guilty, 
a sinner when my mother conceived me. 
6 You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. 
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; 
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; 
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. 
9 Hide your face from my sins, 
and blot out all my iniquities. 
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, 
and put a new and right spirit within me. 
11 Do not cast me away from your presence, 
and do not take your holy spirit from me. 
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, 
and sustain in me a willing spirit. 
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, 
and sinners will return to you. 
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, 
O God of my salvation, 
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. 
15 O Lord, open my lips, 
and my mouth will declare your praise. 
16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; 
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. 
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; 
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 
18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; 
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, 
19 then you will delight in right sacrifices, 
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; 
then bulls will be offered on your altar. 


Εἰς τὸ τέλος· ψαλμὸς τῷ Δαυείδ, 2 ἐν τῷ ἐλθεῖν
πρὸς αὐτὸν Ναθὰν τὸν προφήτην, ἡνίκα εἰσῆλθεν πρὸς Βηρσάβεε.
3 Ἐλέησόν με, ὁ θεός, κατὰ τὸ μέγα ἔλεός σου,
καὶ κατὰ τὸ πλῆθος τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν σου ἐξάλειψον τὸ ἀνόμημά μου·
4 ἐπὶ πλεῖον πλῦνόν με ἀπὸ τῆς ἀνομίας μου,
καὶ ἀπὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίας μου καθάρισόν με.
5 ὅτι τὴν ἀνομίαν μου ἐγὼ γινώσκω,
καὶ ἡ ἁμαρτία μου ἐνώπιόν μού ἐστιν διὰ παντός.
6 σοὶ μόνῳ ἥμαρτον, καὶ τὸ πονηρὸν ἐνώπιον σοῦ ἐποίησα·
ὅπως ἄν δικαιωθῇς ἐν τοῖς λόγοις σου,
καὶ νικήσῃς ἐν τῷ κρίνεσθαί σε.
7 ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἐν ἀνομίαις συνελήμφθην,
καὶ ἐν ἁμαρτίαις ἐκίσσησέν με ἡ μήτηρ μου.
8 ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἀλήθειαν ἠγάπησας,
τὰ ἄδηλα καὶ τὰ κρύφια τῆς σοφίας σου ἐδήλωσάς μοι.
9 ῥαντιεῖς με ὑσσώπῳ καὶ καθαρισθήσομαι,
πλυνεῖς με καὶ ὑπὲρ χιόνα λευκανθήσομαι.
10 ἀκουτιεῖς με ἀγαλλίασιν καὶ εὐφροσύνην·
ἀγαλλιάσονται ὀστᾶ τεταπεινωμένα.
11 ἀπόστρεψον τὸ πρόσωπόν σου ἀπὸ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν μου,
καὶ πάσας τὰς ἀνομίας μου ἐξάλειψον.
12 καρδίαν καθαρὰν κτίσον ἐν ἐμοί, ὁ θεός,
καὶ πνεῦμα εὐθὲς ἐνκαίνισον ἐν τοῖς ἐγκάτοις μου.
13 μὴ ἀπορρίψῃς με ἀπὸ τοῦ προσώπου σου,
καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιόν σου μὴ ἀντανέλῃς ἀπʼ ἐμοῦ.
14 ἀπόδος μοι τὴν ἀγαλλίασιν τοῦ σωτηρίου σου,
καὶ πνεύματι ἡγεμονικῷ στήρισόν με.
15 διδάξω ἀνόμους τὰς ὁδούς σου,
καὶ ἀσεβεῖς ἐπὶ σὲ ἐπιστρέψουσιν.
16 ῥῦσαί με ἐξ αἱμάτων, ὁ θεὸς ὁ θεὸς τῆς σωτηρίας μου·
ἀγαλλιάσεται ἡ γλῶσσά μου τὴν δικαιοσύνην σου, 17 κύριε.
τὰ χείλη μου ἀνοίξεις, καὶ τὸ στόμα μου ἀναγγελεῖ τὴν αἴνεσίν σου.
18 ὅτι εἰ ἠθέλησας θυσίαν, ἔδωκα ἄν·
ὁλοκαυτώματα οὐκ εὐδοκήσεις.
19 θυσία τῷ θεῷ πνεῦμα συντετριμμένον,
καρδίαν συντετριμμένην καὶ τεταπεινωμένην ὁ θεὸς οὐκ ἐξουθενώσει.
20 ἀγάθυνον, Κύριε, ἐν τῇ εὐδοκίᾳ σου τὴν Σιών,
καὶ οἰκοδομηθήτω τὰ τείχη Ἰερουσαλήμ.
21 τότε εὐδοκήσεις θυσίαν δικαιοσύνης,
ἀναφορὰν καὶ ὁλοκαυτώματα·
τότε ἀνοίσουσιν ἐπὶ τὸ θυσιαστήριόν σου μόσχους.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Male and Female God Made (Most of) Them: Part 2

'Sun Lomo' photo (c) 2006, Paul Carroll - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Male and Female God Made (Most of) Them: Part 1

I don't remember when I first learned that some people were neither male nor female, but I do remember that "hermaphrodite" was whispered in the dark at slumber parties. We spoke in the dark about things we didn't understand--boys, ghosts, menstruation. I didn't learn much of value, only that some people had "both boy and girl parts." 

It wasn't until I hit college that intersex individuals were talked about in the light of day. I went to NYU where we didn't talk about anything in the dark. (Well, okay, maybe we talked about our secret societies and our Republican, pro-life leanings in the dark, but that was about it.) Thinking of majoring in Gender and Sexuality Studies, I took an intro course. During that class, I learned and unlearned a lot. A LOT. 

But beyond what I learned was what I saw. Those who had formerly been spoken about only in whispers were spoken about with dignity, respect, and love. Non-intersex people, who did not pretend to understand the intersex experience, were advocating for there to be a place in society for everyone who was an outcast. I saw a lot of anger for past injustices, but I also saw hope.

I wish I had seen those things in the Church, or that even my professors had been Christians. But they were far from it. That was the year I realized that the Church had A LOT to learn from nonChristians. I used the phrase, "I still like Jesus, but I'm not sure I would call myself a Christian" frequently. (Not that I would support that phrase at all now, but I did use it.) My loss of faith in God's people was directly related to the fact that I found out that "the world" was not as evil as Christians made it out to be. The nonChristians I knew seemed more Christlike than a lot of the Christians I knew.

Fortunately, I also took a Sociology class that year in which we read The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark. That book single-handedly kept my hope in the Church alive. Without it, I'm not sure where I'd be. Stark explored the earliest days of Christianity and how it rose from being viewed as a local cult to a respected religion. He gave many reasons, but one of them, boiled down into colloquial language was, "Christians cared for people no one else cared for."

Just writing that phrase brings me to tears now. That is the legacy Jesus left with his disciples, a legacy we should still carry: care for all people--women, victims of attempted infanticide, the elderly, those suffering from plagues, prisoners. The early church was truly a ragamuffin bunch because these people were not only taken care of, but they became members of the Body of Christ. They were grafted in, given a place at the table, and given a mission. In short, they were valued.

We can talk about if or when this legacy became uncharacteristic to many Christians. In my experience growing up, Christianity was not for the outcasts, it was for the in-crowd. I now know that the Christians I knew growing up did not/do not represent all Christians in the world. I have since learned that the roots of the abolitionist movement, women's rights, and civil rights were found in the hearts and minds of Christians. I have learned that without Christian churches and missionaries, many around the world would not have food, clean water, medicine, or education. It turns out that our legacy has not been relegated to the food bank closets in our churches; it is living, breathing, and changing the world.

So I say, "Hallelujah!"

But I also say, "Brothers and sisters, there's more work to be done."

If I believe the Church must work to bring dignity, respect, and love to intersex individuals (which I do!), then I believe we must begin by not talking about them in the dark. We must acknowledge that they are fully human, that they matter, and that the Gospel is for them, just as it is for you and me. We must also acknowledge how they affect us--why they make us uncomfortable, what sins in our own heart they illuminate, and what they say about God. And we must examine what the Bible says. 

We're getting there, friends. But for now, let's all pray for dignity, respect, and love to rule in our hearts as we proceed.

Male and Female God Created (Most of) Them: Part 3Part 4Part 5, and Part 6

Monday, February 20, 2012

Male and Female God Made (Most of) Them: Part 1

Raised as a boy, Georgie, Lady Colin Campbell wrote a memoir about being intersex.
***Caution: Links with an asterisk* may contain graphic images***


There are some things that the Church, in my experience, does a really bad job talking about. However, there is one topic I have NEVER heard addressed by a pastor, Bible teacher, or any other representative of the Church: intersex* individuals. (Intersex people have previously been referred to as hermaphrodites. I choose not to use this word since it is largely considered derogatory and has been replaced by the term intersex.) 

This silence is, in my opinion, terribly sad. 

That being said, this silence is understandable, not meaning that I agree with it, but I understand why the topic is difficult to talk about. It is beyond comprehension for those of us who believe in strict male-female roles, which many people in the Church do. It is even a difficult topic for those of us who break male-female roles, but are still clearly male or female biologically. Some people are simply not aware that intersex people exist; hearing of them is akin to someone suggesting that unicorns are real.

Sadly, in place of the silence about intersex individuals, I have often heard a blatant falsehood from the mouths of Christians: "People are either male or female. That's it! God said, "Male and female I created them." What's so difficult about that?"

The reality is that anywhere from 1/1000 to 1/60 people (depending on the measure*) are intersex, meaning that they are not fully male nor fully female. And guess what? Not only do some intersex individuals show up in the Bible, but Jesus even speaks of them himself in Matthew 19:11-12:
11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."
Here, the eunuchs made so at the hands of others or themselves were probably males who had been castrated. But "eunuchs who were born that way" is clearly a reference to those who were intersex to some degree. 

After speaking of divorce and remarriage, the Gospel writer of Matthew includes these few lines that appear in no other Gospel account. What they mean is up for debate. 

Some say these lines are completely metaphorical, but I find that interpretation unsatisfactory. People who are born intersex have been members of human existence since the days of creation myths (lines 75-78). Why would Jesus not have actually been talking about them? I find no good reason to jump to metaphorical interpretations right away. Of course, everything Jesus said probably holds infinite levels of revelation for us, but we needn't gloss over the most obvious ones.

To me, these verses offer tremendous validation to the presence of intersex people, not only in the world, but within the Church. Jesus 1) recognized the existence of those who are biologically ambiguous and 2) failed to condemn them. It is even arguable that Jesus was advocating for them.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Old Wives' Tales and Thoughts on Finding out the Sex

Our little one at 9 weeks, about 3 weeks ago.
When I first saw our baby, all I was paying attention to was its little beating heart. (Well, to be honest, I was also thinking about how badly I needed to pee. Pregnancy isn't all romance.) 

Once we got the above printout, I said, "Look, it's a little dinosaur!" and I proceeded to point out the little dino shape to my unamused husband. He was still staring at the sonogram too seriously and lovingly to make jokes. 

Since then, I have stared at Blueberry, as we are calling it, every morning and night as I brush my teeth (the sonogram is taped on our bathroom mirror), and I have wondered, "Are you a boy or girl, Blueberry?"

Nearly everyone who has shared their prediction with us has guessed girl. We, however, are both leaning boy. Only time will truly tell, but until then we certainly have heard our fill of old wives' tales. 

Thus far, the results are mixed.

My hands are very dry (boy)
I prefer my left side when sleeping these days (boy)
Cheesy things are one of the few things I find myself wanting to eat (boy)
I've been sick (girl)
But I haven't been too sick (boy)
I have been eating a lot of fruit (girl)
The heartbeat was 154 bpm (borderline, but probably a girl)
My pillow faces north (boy)
I have pregnancy acne (girl)
Chinese predictor thingy (girl)
A necklace held over my wrist swung like a pendulum, twice (boy)
And most importantly, my mom has inexplicably been buying boy clothes (Grandmas always know best, right?)

The gender predictions are all in good fun, but they've left me feeling a bit like an angry feminist. Or, perhaps what I'm feeling is the beginning of being a frustrated sad protective mother who realizes she's bringing a kid into a world that isn't quite perfect.

I don't quite know how to articulate what I'm feeling.

We are going to find out the baby's sex before the birth, if possible. That I'm looking forward to. However, I'm dreading the reveal. Why? Before he or she even takes a breath, people will assume they know my child based (nearly) entirely on its sex. I can feel it starting already, the gender role programming, and I DO NOT like it.

Yes, I might have a son who likes trucks and guns. That will be perfectly fine. But I also might have a son who wants to play music and help me in the kitchen. And that will be just fine, too.

Yes, I might have a girl who likes princesses and high heels. That will be perfectly fine. But I also might have a daughter who wants to catch frogs and wrestle her dad. And that will be just fine, too.

I don't yet know how to respond graciously to the dozens of people who are going to make frustrating comments about my baby based entirely on its sex. I'm glad I have a little time to prepare myself for the, "Oh, a girl! She's going to get so spoiled!" or the "Oh, a boy! Prepare to never have a clean house again!" remarks. I know they're coming, and I hope I handle them well.

And I don't want to sound ungrateful, but to be honest, the thought of sitting through a baby shower with either all pink and ruffly things or all blue and sporty things drives me a little batty. Ugh, the frustration I feel building!

This anticipation of having to protect my child before it's even born (and well into its childhood) from well-intentioned, box-embracing people leaves me with two conclusions in this moment:

1) Having some like-minded support in this regard is going to be vital, not just emotionally, but practically. Luckily, our friends are pretty awesome. But I can tell it's not going to be easy figuring out this parenting thing.

2) My parents are awesome. I grew up in a house of three girls, and the more I think about how non-girly we were forced to be, the more grateful I am. We had plenty of dolls and we watched plenty of Anne of Green Gables, but we were encouraged to play sports, play outside in the dirt, and dream big dreams. I am so, so grateful for them. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Trying to Conceive on a Budget

'Multimedia message' photo (c) 2007, Doug McCaughan - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/The road to parenthood can be a very expensive journey for some couples. In fact, I think some people feel as if they need to prove their readiness to have a child by spending lots of money. But I'm all about saving money when it's possible and responsible, even when the money is being spent on important things.

However, even when people desire to be responsible with their money, saving money when trying to conceive is a topic a lot of people don't want to talk about because, frankly, most of the time you don't want lots of people knowing that you're trying to conceive.

(Either that, or you don't want to hear the completely annoying "Well, if you don't have money to spend on getting pregnant, maybe you shouldn't" comment. Oh, that comment drives me batty. If people are trying to save money, maybe it's because they're responsible, not because they haven't planned ahead! Okay, small rant over.)

So in an effort to share the information I have, I am sharing my two biggest tips for how to save money when trying to get pregnant:

1) Don't buy traditional pregnancy tests.
2) Don't buy traditional ovulation predictor kits.

Those two things can run you hundreds of dollars, especially if you do not get pregnant quickly. In addition, the emotional angst of "I just used a $10 test and it was negative" is unnecessary stress.

So how should you buy these things? Buy the cheap strips on Amazon. It's that simple. I bought 50 pregnant tests for about $5 when we decided to start trying. Now, 50 tests are about $10. But still, that only a dime per test instead of $10.
This is a positive pregnancy test. If it is negative, only one line will appear. They are quite small, but very sensitive. My first pregnancy was detected at 12dpo and my second at 11dpo using these strips.
Here are the links to the pregnancy tests: 50 count or 25 count

Ovulation predictor kits are also very expensive, and when you have long cycles, the money can add up quickly. Just as there are cheap pregnancy tests available online, so too are there cheap ovulation predictor strips that work quite well. These are even valuable to use if you are practicing the Fertility Awareness Method or Natural Family Planning to avoid pregnancy.
Unlike pregnancy tests, the ovulation tests will nearly always have two lines. When the two lines are equally dark, as the test on the left, the test is positive, meaning that your hormones are indicating that ovulation is impending. Without these, we very well might have missed our window for this pregnancy. 
Here is a link to the ovulation tests: 50 count (You'll likely need more of these than you need pregnancy tests.)

So those are my two big tips. Below are links to the other products we have used, and I'm happy to answer questions about them if you have any. But the strips are really something everyone who is trying to conceive (or simply paranoid about getting pregnant) should know about! And the added bonus is that you'll minimize the amount of times you have to hand pregnancy tests to the teenage boy who is checking you out at the store.



Pre Seed- You shouldn't use normal lube when trying to conceive, so this is the one to buy. It's expensive though.


Prenatals (See how I got 4 months of DHA softgel prenatals for $3 at MoneySavingMom's blog.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Redemptive Pursuit: All Things New

All Things New
by Laura Ziesel
February 13, 2012
 
Scripture:
"He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so."" -Matthew 19:8

Reflection:
Divorce can be a lightning rod issue dividing people, creating a surplus of judgmental attitudes. In the Gospel of Matthew there is a story in which the Pharisees confront Jesus about the legality of divorce (Matt 19:1-9). The Pharisees were strict rule-followers, and they wanted to see if Jesus knew the laws Moses had delivered from God. Jesus replies by quoting some lines from Genesis 1, and caps it off with his famous line, "What God has joined together, let no one separate." But this reply was not what the Pharisees wanted because the Mosaic Law allowed men to divorce their wives. They reply to Jesus by essentially saying, "Wait! But Moses said we could divorce our wives. Are you calling Moses a liar?" 

'The Ten Commandments' photo (c) 2008, George Bannister - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Jesus then replies with what was surely a surprising principle; Matthew 19:8 says, "He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so."" The principle Jesus argues is essentially, "Moses gave you the law because of your sin, but in the beginning there was a better way." His reference to "in the beginning" is a second reminder of life in the Garden of Eden, life before the Fall. 

This is profound, and it has many implications for those of us who seek to obey God, yet see how often we fail.

Jesus does not say that the law is bad, but he does say that it is not God's best for us. God didn't give us the law because he wants to watch us play a game in which He keeps score; He only gave us the law because without it we would do even more harm to ourselves and to one another. Our sin made the law necessary. But His ultimate desire for us is that the whole world would return to "Life as it Should Be." 

We're not there yet, which is why we still have the law. To be frank, life just plain sucks a lot of the time, even for Christians. Our kids say they hate us, our spouses leave us, we are disowned by parents and loved ones. Death and disease steal lives every day. And our sin is still alive and well. Becoming a Christian doesn't make our problems going away. In fact, sometimes it makes us more aware of them. 

But, we have a God who recognizes that this is not how it was meant to be. He tells us to look beyond the now, which is a slave-creating world in which we feel we are defined by how we measure up to God's standards and to the world's standards. He points us to the beginning of time when we lived in perfect communion with God and each other. And he reassures us that yes, we were made for something more.

And one day He will fully restore Eden and we will finally be at home. I don't know when it will happen, but Revelation tells us that God is making a New Heavens and a New Earth. John explains his vision of our future home this way: "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”" (Rev 21:3-5) When you read that, does your heart not long for it?

Because God is making all things new, we can each take a deep breath. God's ultimate desire for you is bigger than this world. He wants to make you into the woman he envisioned from the beginning, a woman who is not weighed down by guilt or perfectionism or sadness. A woman who freely loves others, herself, and God without need for the law. And one day, you will be that woman. So look backward to the beginning, look forward to the end, and then rest in the fact that He WILL accomplish all that He has promised. 

Prayer:
God, our creator and sustainer, I confess that my vision is too weak, too narrow to see things as you see them. I confess that I think like the Pharisees think, being concerned with performing well in life. I ask you to help me as I try to take my eyes off of myself. It is so easy to be consumed by the right now in life. I ask that you would give me eternal vision so that I might be grounded in what you have done and are doing for the world. I long for the day when all is finally as it should be. Until then, thank you for Christ who allows me to know you and your plan while I am still a work in progress.

________________________
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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Why Do We Sing the Songs We Sing?

'Night of Worship' photo (c) 2011, beccafawley - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Studies prove that humans remember music more easily than lectures, discussions, or even projects they’ve worked on. Right now, I could recite a few dozen scripture verses from memory. But songs? I could sing hundreds. I know TV theme songs, pop music, and hymns.

Now think about your worship service. How many minutes are devoted to each component? At most churches I have been to, the total minutes given to the combined musical elements have been equal to or greater than the minutes spent listening to the sermon. I am more likely to leave church with a worship song stuck in my head than a quote from the preaching pastor.

I don’t think this is a problem; I actually think this is great! I think God desires that we use the arts during our worship services to open our hearts to Him. But given the lasting impact music has on us, I do have a serious question about the worship time at your church:

How and why are songs selected?

In my experience, the selection of songs is not as highly valued as the writing of the sermon. But I would argue that the same time and consideration should go into both, as well as into each element of a worship service. Though it is possible to quickly choose a few worship songs, perhaps the process should be structured to optimize musical discipleship. As I wrote recently, worship disciples our hearts either negatively or positively.

Moreover, I would like to challenge the great disparity in expected credentials between worship leaders and pastors. If music deeply impacts us theologically, should we not expect musical worship leaders to have some theological and biblical training? Most of us expect that from our preaching pastors, but it seems the people who lead us in musical worship are not expected to have formal theological education. At least, that is my impression of the churches I have been to.

So what credentials should be used to choose a worship leader? Should it simply be someone who is gifted at leading a band? Someone who is charismatic and energetic? Someone with an advanced degree in theology?

I don’t have much of a conclusion here. All I want is for us to think more deeply about how we choose our worship music and our worship leaders. And I want us all to realize that, for good or for bad, the songs we sing teach and train us as much as sermons do.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sabbathing When it's Hard

'resting' photo (c) 2009, Liber the poet - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/My husband and I take our Sabbaths pretty seriously. As two grad students, we don't have a lot of time together during the week. In order to make sure we continue to rest, worship, and connect, our Sabbath is essential. 

Learning to Sabbath did not come easily to us. We have had to discipline ourselves in rest, just as we have had to discipline ourselves in other areas. The most challenging time for us, in terms of Sabbathing well, was when we were in vocational ministry. Boy, there's nothing like working in vocational ministry to make you feel as if eternal lives hang in the balance if you take time off. That feeling of urgency is driven by lies, but it's there. 

However, I have discovered that communities rarely learn to Sabbath well if the leadership within that community does not Sabbath well. As they say, more is truly caught than taught, especially in terms of discipleship. So those of us who act as leaders in the Church must, I believe, learn to Sabbath well. I doubt I will re-enter full-time vocational ministry, but I know I will always be contributing to the needs of my church in some way. 

As such, I'm wondering how church staff members and others in ministry handle Sabbaths. As you work on Sundays, Sabbathing is usually out of the question that day. Does your church staff take off on another day each week? Is Sabbathing an expectation for all staff members, or is it an oddity that you have to defend? What guidelines are communicated about what a Sabbath is and is not? What boundaries are in place during Sabbath? I want exposure to different examples of how Christian leadership can model Sabbath well.

To show my hand, my husband and I now take Saturday dinner until Sunday dinner as our Sabbath. We do not do any work for school or income, and we only do household management work (laundry, shopping, cleaning) if we truly want to. We require each Sabbath to have an element of community with others, which is often church, but not always. (When I was in vocational ministry, I was an introvert who worked in community 6 days a week, so Sabbathing back then did not have to include community.) Most of our friends respect our day off and have stopped asking us to go over homework on Sundays, but sometimes we still have to reinforce the boundaries we have in place.

In addition, I predict our Sabbath will change dramatically when we have a child. It will probably be a bit less restful. :-) So, as I begin preparing for parenting, how do parents out there structure Sabbaths? What elements are included and which are desirable-but-not-gonna-happen?

Related posts:

Friday, February 3, 2012

10 Weeks, a Journey in Humility

'Toast!' photo (c) 2010, John McClumpha - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/I hit the 10 week mark this week. My due date has been moved up to late August, though I'm still mentally preparing for a September baby as the average first-time birther waits 41 weeks and 1 day. If that's the case, I'll give birth two days after the Fall semester starts. Yippee!

How are things? The past week has been the roughest, physically, of the pregnancy. I have been able to keep food down, but the nausea never seems to leave. I have an aversion to nearly every type of food, yet I must eat. I get dizzy easily even when sitting and reading a book. Honestly, I really want to crawl into a hole and forget about all of the things that need to get done. I want my mother to arrive, and I want her to bring me toast. 

Of course, physical difficulty brings emotional difficulty. I wish I was the type of pregnant women who was unaffected and could carry on with life as usual, but I'm simply not. I want you to give up your seat for me, 'cause the longer I stand the dizzier I get. I want you to excuse my lateness or my absentmindedness simply because I'm pregnant. In short: I want to be given special consideration. And I feel like such a horrible woman for admitting that. But it's the truth right now.

Admitting that I can't do it all and don't have it all together has been difficult, but less difficult than it would have been in the past. I'm a little relieved to notice that I have in fact grown in this area. 

However, where I really feel some anxiety is in the area of career/academics. I haven't talked much about my long-term dreams here, mostly because I try to hold them quite loosely. But our hope is that after my husband finishes his doctorate (2015) and I finish my masters (probably 2014 now), I will eventually continue to a PhD program. In order to get into one of the PhD programs I desire, I know that my grades and performance now are important. 

Yesterday, I was too sick to go to class and it was the first time I have missed class in graduate school. This area of what might be less-than-hoped-for-performance is the hardest pill to swallow. I want my professors to think highly of me, and I don't want to do anything to compromise my performance in their classes. And I certainly don't want to jeopardize my PhD application, which in turn can jeopardize my career. 

Blah.

You can see which idols are being challenged here. 

However, most days, all I can think about is getting through each day. Thinking about the future only happens during my better moments, when I'm not worried about my proximity to a bathroom. I am hoping that the second trimester brings a little more energy and a little less exhaustion-fueled angst. However, I'm sure come Fall, the exhaustion-fueled angst will knock at the door again.
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