Author Beth Lindsay Templeton originally created her screened porch as a sanctuary for herself. With its shabby furniture, potted flowers, and tinkling wind chimes, the porch soon became a haven not only for her, but also for other women who craved a sacred refuge to nurture their spirits. It is in this way that powerful conversations with thirty women from the Bible came to Templeton's pen; these women gracefully share their stories of faith so others might listen anew in their own worlds.
As different women visit Templeton on her porch, Scriptures come alive in fresh and insightful ways. The conversations she shares with Eve, Huldah, Mary, Lydia, and others not only address issues of women and of the world in general, but also demonstrate that biblical women's stories and insights are as vital and important today as they were when their stories were first told. Conversations center on such common challenges as blame, forgiveness, grief, joy, conflict, sacrifice, trust, hope, courage, wisdom, and above all, living in the power of God's love and grace.
Conversations on the Porch shares the refreshing and courageous voices of ancient women as they encourage others to embrace life as a child of God and continue the inspiring conversations.
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Conversations on the PorchAncient Voices—Contemporary Wisdom
By Beth Lindsay Templeton
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Beth Lindsay Templeton
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEve—Blame and Grief
Eve was the first woman in history, wife of Adam and mother of Cain, Abel, and Seth. She ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil at the urging of the serpent. She gave some of the beautiful fruit to Adam, and they both saw things they had not noticed before, such as the fact that they had no clothes. The Lord God was displeased. Adam and Eve were exiled from their homeplace.
* * *
The need to rock on the porch that afternoon was painfully strong. A friend's grandchild had just been diagnosed with cancer. She was devastated by the potential loss of a beloved three-year-old granddaughter. Her grief was raw in those early days of the diagnosis. I went to the porch to soothe my own feelings of helplessness as I thought about her fear. While I was rocking, I remembered a time when my own family lost a child to death.
It shouldn't have happened. My brother should not have been born dead. If the doctor ... if the nursing staff ... if my mother ... if, if, if. My brother should have been healthy. He was fully formed and beautiful. My mother blamed herself. The open windows in the houses on both sides of ours allowed the torturous sounds of babies' crying in the night to come into my mother's bedroom. She was extremely depressed for a year.
My brother's death happened when I was six years old. At that time, life as I had known it was over. Death had entered my family and taken away my carefree mother. Now, as an adult, I tried to imagine what my mother's feelings had been when she realized that her precious son would never reach out to her for sustenance. I remembered my own miscarriage; the pain of women who lived in poverty and whose children were condemned to inadequate medical care; and the grief of women who experienced a child's unexpected or untimely death. Even though I tried to connect in my heart with my mother's pain, I knew that I barely touched her feelings of grief.
As our family learned to deal with the tragedy of our loss, I became increasingly responsible around the house. When my last brother was born two years later, I was called "little mother" because I was so involved in his daily care. I enjoyed the responsibility most of the time. However, as I rocked now on my porch, I remembered a perceived wrong when I was held responsible for something my brothers had done. I had to admit I had spent a lot of personal energy in other instances in my life declaring that I was innocent. If he had only ... When you ... I did not ...
As I tried to wrap my thoughts and feelings around this collage of memory being stirred up, I realized that I was no longer alone. I had not heard anyone come onto the porch. I thought the screen door was locked. As I looked more closely, I was shocked. The person sat down in the rocking chair beside me even though I knew I had never met this uninvited "guest." I had no idea who this ... woman? ... was or how she'd gotten there.
I decided that the best course of action was to pretend that no one else was on the porch with me. Maybe then I'd realize I was dreaming and that I was not, really, I was not crazy!
I closed my eyes. After a minute or two of hearing only the birds in the tree, I peeked with one eye open. She was still there!
Since Plan A of pretending nothing had happened did not work, I went for Plan B and the confrontational approach. "Who are you and what are you doing here?"
She replied in a melodic, yet throaty voice, "My name is Eve."
"What's your last name?"
"I am Eve, wife of Adam. You know, in the Bible?"
"Oh," I squeaked, as if biblical women appeared on my porch every day. I rocked and rocked, back and forth. Neither of us spoke. I tried very hard to listen to my internal sense of guidance, and still I rocked. My experience with spiritual imagination had sometimes taken me to very provocative places in my understanding of holy connections. I decided to allow my imagination to explore with this woman who called herself "Eve."
So I said, "Hello. May I call you Eve? Mother Eve?"
"Mother Eve sounds nice."
"Oh, okay, Mother Eve. What do we do now?"
"Dear child, I wonder if you have any questions you'd like to ask me."
"Huh? Well, since you're here, I do have a question for you. I know that you have wisdom born from eating fruit from that tree in the garden of Eden as well as from your life journey. What can you teach me from your experiences for my own life? What path would you call me to walk?"
To my astonishment, this is what she said:
"My child, thank you for seeking my insights. Many damn me for my part in displeasing God. Some people wish that I never existed. Women curse me because of the pain they suffer in childbirth. Men curse me because they must labor hard to earn a living. People of faith blame me for bringing sin into the world. With so many people shunning me, I am delighted that you believe I have something to offer.
"In the beginning, God created Adam and me, so I'll start there. In one of our conversations as we were exploring our relationship with each other, Adam mentioned to me that he had chatted with God about the animals. He delighted me with tales of deciding names for all of them. Don't you think penguin and aardvark are funny? He told me about a tree in the garden that had fruit he could not eat because he would die. I trusted that my husband had indeed conversed with this God, but I, to that point, had never had any direct contact with the Creator.
"Adam and I spent a lot of time together, obviously, since there was no one else around. When he was not in a talkative mood, I was left with no one to share my thoughts and dreams. That infamous day when the serpent showed up and began talking with me was thrilling. Not only did I have someone to talk with, but the conversation about God and the root of knowledge was stimulating and thought-provoking. How was I supposed to know that the snake did not have my best interests at heart? After all, my experience in these things was rather limited, to say the least.
"The serpent was engaging and made the fruit appear tantalizing, so I ate. I offered some to Adam that he willingly ate. When God found out what we had done, Adam blamed the Creator for giving me to him, and Adam also blamed me for giving him the fruit. I, I'm not proud to admit, blamed the snake for our folly.
"I urge you to learn from my mistake. Take full responsibility for your decisions and actions. It is true the serpent encouraged me to do something I knew I should not do—eat forbidden fruit. However, I felt justified making the decision even when it turned out badly. I now know that I had a choice. I had an option. The snake did not pick up the fruit and put it to my mouth, make me bite it and eat it. The snake did not give the fruit to Adam and force him to eat. I—I picked the fruit. I put its beautiful shape, color, and taste to my lips. I savored it. I enticed Adam to share this delicious nectar. He willingly bit into the fruit's flesh. Adam and I ate of our own choice. God did not make us do it. The serpent did not make us do it.
"Accepting responsibility is not an easy thing to do. It seemed far easier to us to try to hide. We should have known that we could not hide for very long from God, for heaven's sake. We could not even hide from ourselves. Let me save you some time and grief. Just accept responsibility and do not spend your energy denying and avoiding your decision or action.
"Things went downhill from there. Don't get me wrong. We did not fear that we had been cast from the love of God. God could have just killed us right then and started all over with a better, more perfect design. For some unknown, convoluted, yet holy reason, God kept working with us. I know that we tried God's patience.
"God explained to us that from now on, our tasks on the earth would be hard. For me, as a woman, childbirth would not be easy. Was that an understatement! And Adam would have to work in the heat, cold, drought, and flood to put food on the table. Neither of us had a magic potion that we could use to get what we wanted. We were growing painfully in maturity.
"We did not appreciate what we had had before our betrayal of God, because the garden with all its bounty had simply been handed to us. Now we appreciated everything—our three children, our food, our clothing, and our home. Make sure that you appreciate your blessings. Offer thanks for the people and things in your life, no matter how insignificant they may be. I never thought that a handful of moss soaked in cool water could feel so good until I was drenched with the sweat of birth labor. Adam thanked God daily for earthworms that helped him break up the packed soil of his fields.
"Now, child, I need to share with you something that a mother hopes she will never have to face. One of my sons, Cain, killed another of my sons, Abel. I ask that you walk with people who suffer that grief. Losing a child, for whatever reason—sickness, murder, war, starvation—is too horrible to grasp. I would not ask you to imagine what I went through. However, I can ask you to be aware of the pain that parents face when losing a child. Not only did I lose Abel, but also I lost Cain, because he was banished from our family. He was, thank God, under God's protection, even with all he had done. Cain married and had children, but I could not be blessed by having those dear grandchildren with me as I grew old. Therefore, the agony of my loss continued even after the devastating grief following Abel's death subsided."
At this point Mother Eve stopped talking, rocked rapidly, and wiped tears that slipped down her wrinkled cheeks.
"Sorry. I lost my train of thought as I remembered my yearning for my family. Where was I? Oh, right. When parents lose a child, they never totally close the hole in their hearts. Be present for those grieving parents.
"But since I am the mother of all humanity, I charge you to care for all the children of all the mothers of the earth. Every person who dies or is killed by human cruelty or neglect or ignorance is also my child. Please stop the killing and dying of children.
"Do you know the pain of a mother when one child dies? Do you know how it feels to have a child sent away from you to war, exile, death, or debilitating illness? How can you not feel the pain of all the mothers and grandmothers? How can you not see what is happening to all the children of the world?
"I apologize. I know that you are only one person, and you are not responsible for all the pain and torment in the world. I get carried away when I remember my losses. But you are one person and you can do something.
"Show me how you love me, Eve, your mother, by working to stop the killing, in whatever form it takes. Prevent anyone else from going through what I did. Please, I pray you, my daughter."
When Eve finished, I could only sit in silence and amazement. Then she said, "More women whom you know from your studies and reading of the Holy Bible will come. They are guides to share with you what they know from their experiences. Ask them for their wisdom and insights. Their ancient voices have current value, as you will soon discover."
And then I was alone, as if what had just happened had never happened. But my heart was full, my head was clear, and my spirit was soothed. If I was crazy because I was thinking that the past few moments had been truly, actually real, then I loved it! I'd just be crazy!
Eve's Call to Action
* Take full responsibility for your decisions and actions.
* Make sure that you appreciate your blessings. Offer thanks for the people and things in your life, no matter how insignificant they may be.
* Walk with people who suffer the grief of losing a child.
* Care for all the children of all the mothers of the earth. Please stop the killing and dying of children.
* Show me how you love me, Eve, your mother, by working to stop the killing, in whatever form it takes. Prevent anyone else from going through what I did.
Your Response to Eve's Presence
1. Do any of Eve's calls challenge you in your own life or community? If so, how?
2. Does her journey stir up a story for you? If so, what?
3. What did you learn from listening to Eve?
4. Does her story inspire you to action? If so, what? When? How? Why?
Somewhere in the world, a child dies of hunger every five seconds. That is six million children a year, 16,000 a day.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation has a database about the well-being of children that is organized by state and region. You can look up Kids Count on your search engine to find out what is going on in your area.
"To find fault is easy; to do better may be difficult."
Chapter TwoSarah—Promises and Joy
Genesis 12:1–13:1; 16:1–16; 17:15–16; 18:1–15; 21:1–14
Sarah was the wife of Abraham and the mother of Isaac.
* * *
I worked with a life coach for several months and found the experience, for the most part, to be wonderful and helpful. I began to identify some of the issues that were important for the next steps of my career path. I also claimed some of the fears that were hindering me from taking those next steps. I valued working with someone who tapped into my skills and inner knowledge, who gently questioned me in caring ways, and who listened to me, without interruption, for as long as I needed, within the framework upon which we had agreed.
My coach saw strengths and gifts in me that I could not. He challenged me to let my free spirit come out to play, unleashing creative surges that felt invigorating. However, I began to feel that it was my responsibility to make the next steps of my future happen. I became anxious that maybe I was not doing enough, taking enough risks, or pushing myself hard enough in order to live into my future. Not only did pursuing goals aggressively not feel comfortable to me, but forcing open the doors to my future did not correspond with my understanding of how God worked with me.
Yet I knew there was more for me. I knew that God was leading me to something else. How, where, and when were the big unknowns. As I sat on the porch and tried to relax into my God-given future, whenever, whatever, and wherever it might be, I smelled the refreshing fragrance of the magnolia blossoms. I watched a housefly beat against the porch screening in its efforts to be free. I heard a lawn mower down the street. I rocked, I smelled, I watched, and I heard. Then I noticed that once again someone was sitting with me. She was very old but stately in her demeanor. I was not as shocked this time but was unsure of the protocol for greeting the women who appeared on my porch.
"Hello," I said.
"Greetings," she said.
"May I ask your name?"
"Certainly. I am known now as Sarah."
"Sarah, wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac?"
"The one and the same."
I rocked more quickly as I absorbed this information. Then I realized I wanted to ask Sarah for her wisdom and counsel as Mother Eve had suggested. I slowed my back and forth motion to almost no movement and said, "You journeyed far both in faith and in travel with your husband, Abraham. From your vantage point as Abraham's wife, what do you offer me? What can I learn from your legacy and how can I honor you?"
"My child, indeed I have journeyed far. As a young bride in Haran, my husband, known as Abram at the time, decided that his God was calling him, and therefore me, to leave everything we knew and go to the land that God was giving to us. When Abram announced this to me, I could not believe what he was saying. He was abandoning his family and his responsibilities in Haran; he was asking me to leave the comfortable life that I had always known; and he was expecting me to join him willingly and with a sense of excitement. He told me that his God had promised to make him a great nation and would bless him. His God had not told these things to me. I wondered if Abram was simply making this up or if he truly had had a direct encounter with the Holy One.
Excerpted from Conversations on the Porch by Beth Lindsay Templeton Copyright © 2011 by Beth Lindsay Templeton. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter One: Eve—Blame and Grief....................3
Chapter Two: Sarah—Promises and Joy....................10
Chapter Three: Hagar—Abuse, Forgiveness, and God's Presence....................16
Chapter Four: Leah—Settling for Less and Caring for Others....................21
Chapter Five: Rachel—Challenges and Rewards....................26
Chapter Six: Shiphrah and Puah—Doing What Is Right....................32
Chapter Seven: Miriam—Exuberant Celebration and Being Number Two....................35
Chapter Eight: Deborah—Resolving Conflict....................40
Chapter Nine: Levite's Concubine—Abuse and Sacrifice....................44
Chapter Ten: Hannah—Yearning and Promises....................49
Chapter Eleven: Bathsheba—Authority and Nurture....................55
Chapter Twelve: Tamar—Victimization and Accountability....................59
Chapter Thirteen: Huldah—Trusting and Speaking God's Truth....................64
Chapter Fourteen: Naomi—Perseverance and God's Goodness....................68
Chapter Fifteen: Ruth—Hope and Expectation....................74
Chapter Sixteen: Vashti—Claiming One's Power....................79
Chapter Seventeen: Esther—Acting with Courage and Wisdom....................82
Chapter Eighteen: Daughters of Zelophehad—Confronting the Status Quo....................87
Chapter Nineteen: Elizabeth—Claiming Your Dream....................93
Chapter Twenty: Mary—Pondering and Heeding God's Call....................98
Chapter Twenty-One: Anna—Knowing and Praising....................104
Chapter Twenty-Two: Mary of Magdala—Being Blessed and Truth-Telling....................109
Chapter Twenty-Three: Woman Who Hemorrhaged—Choices....................115
Chapter Twenty-Four: Syro-Phoenician Mother—Calling for What Is Right....................120
Chapter Twenty-Five: Woman Who Was Bent—Joining Jesus in Healing....................126
Chapter Twenty-Six: Woman at the Well—Crossing Artificial Boundaries....................130
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Sister Mary—Following Your Heart with Loving Acts....................137
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Martha—Hospitality and Faithful Living....................142
Chapter Twenty-Nine: Dorcas—Reaching Out with Your God-Given Gifts....................147
Chapter Thirty: Lydia—Networks of Support and Refusing to be Silenced....................152
About the Author....................161