Category: Family

Parenthood changes with time

It hardly required a thought; it was more an impulse. I grasped the upper arm of my adult daughter, stopped her, and led her backward a step.

We had been in the midst of fevered conversation as only a parent and usually-away-at-college child can be. We walked through an H-E-B parking lot where even at night people zip and zag. The bright white backup lights of a large SUV came on as we approached its rear bumper.

Earlier in the day, a friend had asked prayer for a young woman run over by a SUV backing up in a parking lot.

A parent takes a lifetime of learning and continued learning and turns it into care for a child. In this case, an email prayer request turned into parental care when I took my daughter’s arm and led her backward.

Thirty-five years ago, I became a parent. I read books on parenting before becoming one, but my main source of preparation had been the examples of my own parents. Trese, my wife, brought a different set of experiences to the process to double our preparation as a couple.

Parenthood had been the primary life goal for each of us. We jumped in. And once you jump in, you stay in, even when your “child” is an adult fully capable of taking care of herself or himself.

The thing I miss most about the early years is the ability to hold a child fully within my arms, close to my chest, snuggled up tight. The holding, over time, becomes less complete, less all encompassing.

Some parents have trouble letting go. They’re called helicopter parents by college officials. But it’s best to let go. We let go gradually through the years, it being an almost imperceptible change.

Then one day you are reaching out to take your daughter’s arm in a parking lot. You wouldn’t have to reach out if she were still a child, but she’s not, and that is good. She can walk and run and work and play on our own. She doesn’t need you like before, but she still can benefit from your presence, your care, your watchfulness.

And then a day will come when she reaches out to take your arm and draw you away from danger and trouble and suffering. And there may even come a day when she holds you close, just like you did her decades before.

Parenting is such a loving process of care and being cared for. If you’re not a parent, you can be there for others and they can be there for you. There are plenty of people who need hugs and hand-holding and shoulders to lean upon.

Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us so God could touch us, literally touch us. And now we can be Jesus to others. And today I am especially grateful that my children, who are no longer children, are in my life to embody the love and care and touch of Jesus.

(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists website.)

The Bible and family

(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists web site.)

Family stands at the core of our social existence. In an ideal world, a family includes a man, a woman, and children. The ideal is lifted up even though we face the reality that some families break apart or never exist as a committed whole.

The Bible talks about some very dysfunctional families. Cain killed his brother, Abel. Abraham lied about Sarah being his sister instead of his wife. Jacob and his mother connived to cheat Esau out of his inheritance. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. David committed adultery and ordered the murder of the offended husband. Solomon had way too many wives. Martha complained to Jesus about her sister Mary hanging out with the guys and not sticking to the kitchen.

Family dysfunction is very real, but we keep on pushing forward seeking to do the best we can to make families work well. The Bible says some basic things about how families are supposed to work.

The first chapter of the Bible says the purpose of “marriage” is to produce a fruitful family.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it. . . .”(Genesis 1:28a, NRSV)

Fruitfulness produces relationships. Scripture says God created woman because “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18, NRSV). In other words, people do not need to be completely alone; they need others in their lives. Adam received a wife and then children; they all had each other.

The Psalmist spoke of this blessing of family in this way:

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; (Psalm 127:3-5a, NKJV).

Parents receive this blessing of children today in different ways. Some give birth naturally, while others adopt or provide for children as foster parents.

Family brings blessing, but it also involves responsibility – for parents and children. Parents are to teach, to discipline without provoking, and to be an example for their children.

  • Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9, NRSV)
  • And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4, NRSV)
  • Uzziah was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. … He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done. (2 Chronicles 26:3-4, NRSV)

And children are to honor, to obey, to receive instruction from parents, and to care for parents with needs.

  • Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12, NRSV)
  • Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. (Ephesians 6:1, NRSV)
  • Hear, my child, your father’s instruction, and do not reject your mother’s teaching; (Proverbs 1:8, NRSV)
  • If a widow has children or grandchildren, they should first learn their religious duty to their own family and make some repayment to their parents; for this is pleasing in God’s sight. (1 Timothy 5:4, NRSV)

And then there is a broader responsibility to family and relatives.

And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8, NRSV)

The instruction from Scripture is so practical and so straightforward. The words guide Christians even as they are difficult to consistently follow.

We struggle on with our wills bent toward pursuing God’s good purposes for our lives and for our families.

A primer on biblical marriage

(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists web site.)

A pastor friend told me recently something like this: “Ferrell, in my ministry I deal with a whole lot more heterosexual sin than homosexual sin.”

The truth can hurt. Sexual sin is widespread. In confronting sexual sin, it is important to consider marriage. Here’s a little primer on biblical marriage.

What we call marriage today began as an act of creation. The Bible tells of God creating male and female persons. But God did not simply create them and put them in the garden; God told them to do something.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28, NRSV).

This first marriage had as its God-given purpose the desired end of fruitfulness — children. This marriage and those to follow are to reproduce and to take on a responsibility for the whole of God’s creation. Many couples give birth biologically, others take on the responsibility of fruitfulness by means that value the lives of children who need parents, such as through adoption and foster care.

A man and woman’s togetherness does not and does not come without cost. Each must leave something behind in order to pursue their purposes together.

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh (Genesis 2:24, NRSV).

Jesus referenced these words about one flesh and added,

Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:6, NRSV).

Sex, of course, is part of marriage because it is required to fulfill God’s purposes, to help a couple bond, and for basic pleasure in one another. The Bible is not shy about sex, and it also deals with the importance of fidelity within marriage. The following verses speak from a man’s perspective, but similar words could be written from a woman’s view.

Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
May her breasts satisfy you at all times;
may you be intoxicated always by her love.
Why should you be intoxicated, my son, by another woman
and embrace the bosom of an adulteress? (Proverbs 5:18-20, NRSV)

Marriage in the Old Testament, however, did not always measure up to the standards God established. Wealthy and powerful men in the Old Testament often reflected the reality of the broader world culture in that they had multiple wives and even concubines.

Despite what was, there always has been what ought to be. The Apostle Paul talked about the value of being single in order to do God’s work, but he was also practical. If a person could not resist temptations to sexual immorality, then “each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2, NRSV). Note the singular husband and wife.

Paul also spoke of how a man and a woman should relate to one another. In Ephesians, Paul compared the relationship of a husband and a wife to the relationship of Christ and the church. He spoke of love and submission. Specifically, he said men are to love their wives and women are to submit to their husbands, and he then adds the following:

This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband (Ephesians 5:32-33, NRSV).

The writer of Hebrews expressed the value of marriage and the dangers it faces in regard to sexual matters.

Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers (Hebrews 13:4, NRSV).

As our nation faces the issue of same-sex marriage, it is good for all of us to think again about God’s ideal for marriage. Gender difference is a definite part of godly marriage, but faithfulness and fidelity between a husband and a wife also are critical.

Feeling guilty & wonderful

2014-04-12 Ferrell reading IMG_0292 smallGrowing up in my family, no one sat around all day reading, especially not on a beautiful spring day. The adults occupied themselves with work around the yard and house, visiting with neighbors, fishing, shopping, working cows or building fences, etc. The kids occupied themselves with play or the same things as the adults.

Today, as I have on other occasions, I have broken with family custom and read and read and read. I’m now in the midst of This Far By Faith: Stories from the African American Religious Experience, by Juan Williams and Quinton Dixie. I am so loving it, but it is hard to because I keep feeling guilty that I’m not doing something physically productive (mowing) or physically engaging (cycling). There simply is no way to escape my past completely.

Mom has always been a book reader, but she only gets to do so in snatches. Dad has always been a newspaper reader, but the television is dominant. My sister is a big-time book reader and may have spent some long days reading during our growing up days, but I was primarily watching my parents and still compare the adult me to the adult them, and we are rather different even though we all love and enjoy one another.

So, I read. At some point I will get tired of sitting and reading and I will go for one of my book-walks (reading while I walk). In fact I think it’s time for that now. I don’t feel as guilty when I walk and read because I’m doing something with my body. It’s a compromise of sorts between me and my upbringing. I’m off.

Making memories to last a lifetime

Some days are more special than others. I think I always will remember Saturday, November 17, 2012, unless dementia robs me of it somewhere down the road.

Saturday night, one of my daughters, Tabitha, and I took two of my grandchildren to their first college football game. Baylor hosted number one ranked Kansas State in Waco.

It would have been a memorable night for Madison (8) and Tristan (5) no matter how the game went because it’s simply pretty amazing to be in a stadium full of 40,000 or so people for the first time. But then the game became a classic, with the unranked Bears defeating the previously unbeaten Wildcats.

I don’t know if Madison and Tristan had even heard of the Baylor Bears before Saturday, but they were screaming and giving high-fives as if the green and gold were a life-long passion.

Madison is not a big football fan; she’s more into the princess thing. But Saturday she found her inner-footballer and raised her Bears “paw” and shouted “Sic ’em, Bears” with the rest of us.

Tristan especially got into the game. The south side of the stadium would shout out “B-A-Y-L-O-R,” and our side would respond with “Bears.” Every time it was the moment for “Bears,” Tristan raised his clinched fist as if curling a bum-bell and yelled “Bears,” with a look on his face similar to that of former Bears linebacker Mike Singletary. He did it over and over and over.

The day after, my dad told Tabitha he didn’t think Tristan, at age 5, would remember the game. She responded that his son (me) remembered when his dad took him to his first big-time football game at age six–Dallas Texans vs. San Diego Chargers at the Cotton Bowl. Like it was yesterday.

Some things in life stick with us for a very long time. We wish we could get rid of some of the bad memories, so maybe adding some good ones is one way to crowd out the bad. It surely cannot hurt.

A football game is not very important in the big scheme of things, but just as Jesus took time to go to parties, it’s nice to take time away from the more serious pursuits of life and simply enjoy life with family and friends.

The Apostle Paul said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15 NRSV) I rejoiced with my Baylor friends Saturday; I’m afraid I didn’t weep with the Kansas State folks whose hearts were broken. But this is only football, and I’m still a work in progress.

‘I take thee and thee and thee . . .’

Many people could see it coming. The seemingly unstoppable redefinition of marriage in our culture to include same-sex marriage was bound to open doors to other forms of marriage, most notably polygamy.

Lisa Brown, in an online post for The Washington Post, lays out the basics of the debate very succinctly even though the headline is about an academic who is saying, in essence, that two is good, three or more is bad.

John Witte Jr., a scholar of religion and law at Emory University in Atlanta, offers four non-religious defenses of monogamy:

1) Unlike most other animals, “humans crave sex all the time, especially when they are young and most fertile. They don’t have a short rutting or mating season, followed by a long period of sexual quietude.”

2) Human babies are “born weak, fragile, and utterly dependent for many years. . . .  Most human mothers have a hard time caring fully for their children on their own, especially if they already have several others. They need help, especially from the fathers.”

3) Most fathers will “bond and help with a child only if they are certain of their paternity.”

4) Unlike virtually all other animals, “humans have the freedom and the capacity to engage in species-destructive behavior in pursuit of their own sexual gratification. Given the lower risks and costs to them, men have historically been more prone to extramarital sex than women, exploiting prostitutes, concubines, and servant girls in so doing and yielding a perennial underclass…who have rarely fared well in any culture.”

These conclusions by Witte are derived from the social sciences. For those of us who are non-scientists, Witte’s conclusions seem intuitively correct, although I’m not so sure about the third one.

If, however, one is going to accept the logic of his points, then it would seem one should see both polygamy and same-sex marriage as socially destructive. Witte makes the obvious, natural connection between the union of one man and one woman. That, it seems, is the way it should be whether one is looking at it from a religious or a sociological perspective.