On our way to worship with the church in Hermiston, Oregon, we explored the ruts in Baker City made by many of the 53,000 people who traveled about 2,200 miles 184 years ago to live where I was so blessed to be born. Everything that the pioneers went through to live where I happened to be born has always helped me never to take the beauty of Oregon for granted. I find their courage, strength, and endurance, especially among the female pioneers exceptionally inspiring. That pioneer spirit that causes one to “just keep going” is amazing and humbling, and what they went through makes me grateful every time I think about all the advances that made our first 28,000 miles of our journey so comfortable. I may not have the endurance of these strong women of the Oregon Trail, but what a happy traveler I am. After almost a year of travel, I loved it more than ever and felt that as long as God gives us strength, I could live on the road forever. Indeed, "Happy are the people whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage" (Psalm 84:5), even if my pilgriming to Zion through the fruited plains of America is a spiritual trek, rather than a physical one of which that Psalm was originally speaking.
After exploring the Oregon Trail in Baker City, we drove to Sumpter to stay the night at Mark’s cousin Linda’s house. Linda is Mark’s father's, sister's daughter, and in the course of our visit, we learned about another female traveler we are related to: Mark's paternal grandmother who had come from England in the early 1880s almost lost her parents and sister when they decided to go back to England to visit relatives. Of the White Star Steamship Line options they had to choose from, for their return voyage, they decided against boarding a new ship in the line called “The Titanic”, in favor of an alternative vessel. Mark's father was born by this grandmother three years after the Titanic sank, and 26 years later his father barely survived the attack on Pearl Harbor. My husband was born 17 years after his Dad was awarded his Purple Heart and we have among our belongings a piece of a Japanese airplane that Mark’s father helped shoot down in May of 1945 at the raid of Yontan Field in Okinawa, Japan. I'm thankful for all the near misses Mark’s father survived, and that God made it possible for my husband to be given life so that he could give life to our one surviving daughter.
After our visit with Linda, we drove through the lovely wheat fields toward Heppner, Oregon, because there was a special couple there that worshiped with us at Beaverton in the mid-nineties. It had been about twenty-five years since Mark met with Jeff and Christine Bailey, to study the word of God together. Christine was already a Christian and over time Jeff, too, was overwhelmed by the wisdom and logic of the scriptures and was moved to also give his life to Christ through faith in the blood of Christ, turning from his sin and being immersed in water — the point at which God says we are “born again” (John 3:5). Over time, Jeff was promoted in his career, and moved their family to Heppner, Oregon, to take a position as a bank president.
When we arrived in Heppner, it was so good to see the Baileys again after so long and to exchange news and reminisce over a wonderful home-cooked meal. Their son, Justin, was such an encouragement, as was his sweet girlfriend who often drove up from Prineville, to worship with the Baileys in Hermiston. Their continued faithfulness, in a part of the country where churches are few and far between, was inspiring. After dinner, Christine and I took a nice long walk up around the hill to a cemetery at the top, passing a vast view down below of the little town of Heppner. In our deep conversation, she talked about how much she is learning and growing from Gary Johnson, who has been preaching for the congregation in Hermiston for about three years. Our lovely evening ended with a late-night chat among the four of us by their cozy little fire feature on the deck, with a view toward the east of a steep hill with a white cross atop it that was lit up memorializing the Willow Creek flood victims.
The next morning we took the hour-long drive the Baileys have been faithfully taking all these years, to worship with the Christians in Hermiston. Mark preached both sermons, but Gary led the Bible class on the topic of what God says about male and female roles in the church. He did a good job on this very relevant topic and inspired me to also share some encouragement along the lines of keeping one’s “proper domain'' (Jude 6), especially to encourage my female readers.
The kind of “proper domain” I’d like to address in this entry is something worlds deeper than merely who’s cooking dinner. I’d like here to address what God says regarding our roles within the house of God, the church. There are presently feminists within some churches that are seeking what the Pharisees sought in the first century — to be first in the kingdom of heaven and to take what they see as seats of honor within the church (Luke 14), by disregarding what God says about women leading public worship (1 Timothy 2). I love to teach, but I’ll be quite content with the divine assignment of publicly teaching during worship gatherings ¾ of the population in the world; that is women, girls, and male children. In a spirit of love, I’d like to warn anyone who disregards God’s holy instructions that men are to lead public worship and labels such as “using one’s talent” to please take notice of the angels in Jude 1:6 that did not keep their proper domain, but abandoned their proper abode. It didn’t go well for them, and I love you enough to warn you not to make the same mistake.
Not keeping one’s domain by honoring the biblical roles of male headship within the church is rebellion. We must return to God’s way of doing life, both in and outside the church, or we will perish. Instead of using the church to get human recognition, let’s be in our generation what God created the church to be: the pillar and support of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15).
It’s wise to step back every now and again, and reflect on why we do what we do so that we can take inventory on the value of how we are spending our daily lives. There is a world of choices, after all, of which responsibilities, functions, activities, habits, and positions women can choose to spend “…all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:9). For most God-loving individuals, the reasons we’ve embraced the roles we have been divinely assigned, have nothing to do with not having other options, or a forcing of an old school religious culture, or the suppressing of opportunities to choose, or burying our dreams, or allowing ourselves to be victims of misogyny, as some are disposed to imagine. The truth is, even when it’s a struggle, living out the role we were created to live, simply brings the most long-term fulfillment for anyone whose heart is set on growing the gorgeous fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5, that is, love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control, as well as the virtues of 2 Peter 1, which are diligence, faith, moral excellence, knowledge, perseverance, godliness. The imagery God uses of fruit is a reminder of how the sweet life is found in these delightful, life-enhancing qualities.
When one examines the role God gave Adam’s “helper suitable”, and the oneness they were to enjoy (Genesis 2), and when one observes the activities of the ideal woman of Proverbs 31, as well as the instructions given in the New Testament to women about their responsibilities (Titus 2:3-5), it becomes apparent that almost everything revealed about the role of women relates either directly or indirectly to their relationships. The primary role of women is to plant, grow and enjoy relationships; and anything a woman allows to distract her attention from fulfilling this role will eventually leave her with regret.
God, in His mercy, has freed women from the responsibilities of church leadership (1 Timothy 2:12, 3:2), and heading up the family (Ephesians 5:23) and for that we should be grateful to still have immeasurable influence, without the pressures of having the final say in very consequential decisions. If you resent not being entrusted with a more visible position or role, you’re frankly underestimating the opportunities available for a woman who chooses to live within biblical bounds, and you are over-valuing our present-day “seats of honor”. Look into the critical roles the women of the New Testament played during the ministry of Jesus and the early church! And you’ll see what real power looks like.
Listen. Women hold the key to keeping civilization intact. Even if all men wanted to be immoral, they could not ruin civilization without our cooperation. We have in our control what they care most about, and if we uphold upright standards and expectations in order for them to obtain what they care most about, our culture stays afloat. One generation of women exhibiting conduct like this, and most social problems, including abortion, poverty, pornography, adultery, etc. are prevented because they essentially evaporate. That’s powerful. And upholding civilization-preserving standards fulfills the woman’s role to plant, grow, and enjoy relationships.
The source of my ability to water my relationships depends upon the strength of my own spiritual root system. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord... For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8). God has made it very clear how we must build our relationship with Him— intently listening to His written word and responding with heartfelt obedience (John 14:15), and with intimacy casting all our cares upon Him (1 Peter 5:7).
When a woman has this strong root system, she is better able to help others plant, grow, and enjoy their relationship with God (2 Corinthians 5:20). The social skills that come natural to many women give them a special advantage in this most important task. Even believing female executives would agree: sharing the power of the gospel and making an eternal difference in someone else’s life, trumps the power of climbing the corporate ladder any day.
When a woman finds creative ways to make her marriage all it can be, she is fulfilling her primary role to plant, grow, and enjoy her relationships. Gary Smalley is right when he says that many women often have a “built-in marriage manual.” Most women, he says, can tell you with accuracy on a scale of one to ten, how healthy their marriage relationship is, and can even tell you what it would take to make their relationship “a ten”. If you are female, use your built-in marriage manual and decide what you can do today to make your relationship even better. If you’re a male, you might want to ask The Manual you are married to what it would take to bring your relationship up to a ten.
When a mother “finds herself” by finding ways to love and serve her family, giving her children and those she loves best — the best of herself in time and energy, she is fulfilling her primary role to plant, grow, and enjoy her relationships. Motherhood is an opportunity to serve in humbleness with no regard as to how our service might lead to self-promotion. How powerful the influence of women whose schedules truly reflect what they claim to care about the most!
Within a congregation, a God-loving woman does not waste her powerful influence in the realms of gossip, strife, envy, or complaining, but instead loses herself in her primary role to plant, grow, and enjoy her relationships. She, like George Bailey of It’s a Wonderful Life, may be unaware of the positive impact her life has had on others’ lives. Who in your congregation most needs your encouragement today?
Even a woman’s relationship with her community fulfills her primary role. She uses her influence when she helps the candidate with the highest moral standard get elected or when she volunteers for disaster relief, writes editorials, or letters to her congressman, and gets involved in pro-life or other vital causes. I know a mom, who with her children, wrote their local grocery store suggesting “family-friendly” aisles free of indecent magazine covers. The whole chain has now adopted the idea. She’s using her power, and the power of a woman’s influence is priceless.
Your relationships are what you’d care about most if you knew the limit of your time on earth — not how much you earned, but how much you loved. Let’s love well. Here are some practical ideas of what that might look like, depending on one’s abilities and opportunities, and I share them to inspire my sisters to think of new ways to live well and loved well.
A woman whose confidence is in the Lord...
Has quiet strength, but not a “spirit of timidity”.
Introduces herself to visitors after worship.
Volunteers in the classrooms at school to “keep an eye on things”.
Never allows fear to prevent her from doing what she can.
Writes an editorial about moral issues.
Speaks up when she’s morally outraged.
Is not afraid to discipline her children for fear of losing their friendship.
Forwards the posts that make a difference to the morality of the country.
Meets with the elders to humbly discuss ideas, questions, or concerns.
Brings up the hard issues.
Loves the souls of men too much to feel a need to show too much skin to feel pretty.
Asks the one who has gotten themselves in trouble, how she can help.
Hugs people in pain.
Encourages her congressman to vote in favor of more godly legislation.
Learns to teach a new age-level of Bible class.
Admits her failures and weaknesses.
Talks to strangers.
Attends social functions even when her husband cannot.
Looks fear in the face.
Tackles what she’s been dreading.
Feels secure “anywhere with Jesus”.
Admits verbally when she disagrees.
Submits her mettle to her husband’s authority to the glory of God.
Confronts when necessary, but with a humble, meek, and quiet spirit.
Says what needs to be said, without being boisterous or coarse.
Is not afraid to give her heart away.
Is not afraid to not smile at the dirty joke.
Is not afraid to laugh at the clean joke until the mascara is gone.
Feels her sense of duty to be stronger than her personal preferences.
Admits gently to her neighbor that she differs with her spiritual ideas.
Takes needed goods to the Women’s Crisis Center.
Votes her moral conscience.
Laughs at her little mistakes.
Contacts authorities when she is certain a child is being abused.
Makes all decisions based on an informed conscience, rather than fear.
Manages well her time, family, finances, and anything else entrusted to her ...
Tries new things to improve herself.
Doesn’t compromise scripture to keep peace in her relationships.
Talks to the people that everyone else is afraid to approach.
Is not intimidated, nor overly impressed by the rich, powerful, or beautiful.
Wears her faith on her sleeve: t-shirts, social media, decor, and character.
Makes the hard phone calls.
Some of the things on that inspiring list are hard, but isn't everything that is worthwhile? After this first year on the road, I can tell you there are women in the church today that I’ve met who are as hearty as the women who walked next to the covered wagons that created the ruts I touched in Baker City. Some of these modern women have, like my friend Christine, driven two hours round trip for twenty-five years in order to be an encouragement to their church family and bring their children up in the Lord. Some of them do things 100 times harder than that. Faithfulness is difficult, but along the road of faith, it’s also beautiful. More beautiful, in fact, than the sunsets between Hermiston and Hepner, Oregon, that shine beams straight through the grasses until they light up, somehow turning the distant hills purple, bathing everything in between with a golden glow reminiscent of God’s own glory. Keep making it beautiful, Sisters!
Hermiston Church of Christ
930 Diagonal Blvd
Hermiston, OR 97838