Archive for the ‘Marriage’ Category

You should see what is under my bed. (Part II)

Friday, April 9th, 2010

I keep one special book under the bed:  my dad’s Bible.  It is an old leather black Bible, expensive leather, worn now, with the edges exhibiting light brown cow leather intruding out of the faded black.  The cover has “Holy Bible” and “Billy Stobaugh” written in gold letters.

Inside the Bible in my Mammaw’s handwriting is “1939. To Billy from Mother and Daddy, 8 years.”  My dad was born in 1932 and apparently this was his 8th birthday present.  When my dad died on Father’s Day in 1982, when he was only 49, my mom gave me this Bible.

I imagine Dad got other things for his birthday.  Toy soldiers?  A pop gun?  I will never know.  But I know he got this Bible.  If you found your deceased dad’s Bible what would you do? I immediately looked for evidence that he read it.  I looked for a mark, any mark, that would evidence that he read it, studied it, applied it to his life.  Nothing.

Nothing.  Nothing in the family register.  Nothing next to John 3:16.   I know my dad knew God loved him.  I heard him say it a few hours before he died.  But no marks in his Bible.

I know I have lots of marks in my Bible.  I can’t keep up with Karen though.  She is the “master marker.”  Her Bible is full of underlines.  Her Bible underlines are straight and neat.  I can’t do it.  My lines inevitably invade other verses.  I gave up drawing straight lines under verses—I now put squiggly lines.  I once asked Karen to show me how she made straight lines under her Bible verses—sometimes without even a straight edge.  She ignored my question.

I don’t have my dad anymore but I have his Bible.  And there is nothing written in it.

I wish my dad wrote in his Bible, the Bible I keep under my bed.  I would like something—anything—that reminds me of him.  I am 56 now and it is 28 years since he died.  I can hardly remember what he looks like now.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2: 3-5—“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? We don’t need letters of recommendation to you or from you as some other people do, do we?  You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone, revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us,   written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts.”  My dad’s life is written on my heart.  It gives me pleasure still to read his Bible.

But, parents, write in your Bible!  Even if you use squiggly lines.  Your kids will thank you someday!  But more important, write your lives on their hearts.  That someday, perhaps one cold night, as they wait to go asleep, they will read your Bible, see your marks, and, more importantly, remember that day, long ago, when you wrote your life on their lives.

Meet Peter Stobaugh – Part 2

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Guys, we all begin the same way. This decision to marry is a silent stirring, not quite palpable, but very present and very pleasant. Excitement and nervousness comes hand in hand with treading this unknown land. Select moments we embrace it with written notes and time wasted just talking. At times we want to repudiate it. Proclamations of “no way” or “maybe someday” are tranquilizers to coup de grace the beast within that is about to shred our singularity with a four letter word: Love. When it’s out, well, as they say, it’s out. The beast then begins to pull you.

Being pulled in some unknown direction is the origin of where humans begin to dig their heals in and decide to take the ride or leave. Like a child in line for the fantastic roller coaster, the three-hour wait has seemed to take half a lifetime, but now it is time to get aboard. Anticipation has fully blossomed after narrowly clearing the height requirement by illicitly rocking up onto his toes. Standing, watching as person after person sits in the mouth of this steel monster and is spewed out minutes later. Some excited, some green, some wrought in pure terror, all stumble for the exit. But, now reaching the end of the wait, lies before him a cold seat with a smooth bar overhead that is about to about to clamp down on his reflectively frail life.

Marriage is a roller coaster. We see our parents, grandparents, and peers reach the end with many different feelings. Some still in love, some broken, some with everything, some left wasted with nothing. Analogous to my engagement, making rings conspicuous, making commitment-laden decisions has accentuated Rutherford’s, Wilson’s, and my different lenses to view this decision. This is a story of what I’ve witnessed. (Peter Stobaugh)

Meet Peter Stobaugh

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

As some of you know, I am recovering from an operation and I asked my son Peter to share his journey with you on my blog! Enjoy! Jim Stobaugh

In March 2009, Peter Stobaugh, Karen and James’ youngest of four children, joined full-time in the ministry. Peter graduated from Grove City College in May of 2008 with a degree in Entrepreneurship. He immediately moved overseas to South Africa to work with the Xhosa tribes. Upon returning to the states, Peter felt God leading him to take a larger role in running For Such A Time As This, enabling Dr. Stobaugh to focus on writing and teaching his distance learning students.

Recently, I’ve made one of the most impacting choices of my life. I asked a cute redhead to marry me. And in case you’re wondering if she fulfills every sort of stereotype for redheads, well, possibly. I’m thinking of integrating t-shirts into our wardrobes that say “Mr. Right” and “Mrs. Always Right”. Just kidding!

What’s funny about being engaged is how I can’t walk by people without glancing to see if they are wearing a ring or not. Playing into such girly tendencies is not my normal protocol. It’s compulsive for things of myself to glare so brilliantly in the lives of others, the good and bad. “Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck from your eye; and look, a plank is in your own eye?” – Jesus Christ

Similar to the ring, I’ve begun to observe my peers around me and discover how difficult it is for my culture to make any decision encumbered with even a minimal level of commitment—much less a commitment to be married!

Two of my closest friends, Rutherford and Wilson, and I, are all in similar stages in life: graduates of college, establishing ourselves in a workforce, and all have that special someone we are considering for marriage. Each of our upbringings and life experiences all are rather common relative to each other and to our culture.

We three grew up in middle class homes spending our summers in the woods and winters plummeting down treacherous hills on flimsy sleds. High school made each of us stars in our own realms on the varsity soccer field. It was then that things began to change. We each began developing our own sets of beliefs and lenses to view the world. Going to separate colleges we began growing more unique from one another but still, all three of us were struck deep and hard by special ladies.

“At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet.”- Plato


Friday, December 25th, 2009

I chose the coward’s path, I know, but it seemed judicious at the time. I opted for full sedation so I literally slept. It felt like I was traveling back in time to the earliest beginnings of the world.

The operation was a success that is good. But the pain was beginning!

That is also the time, it seems when, the miracles begin!

The time in the hospital—three days was mercifully short, and, in its own way, was rehabilitative. Now I am home recovering.


Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Father Mapple: Delight is to him who coming to day him down can say, “O Father, mortal or immortal, here I die. I have striven to be Thine, more than to be this world’s. Yet this is nothing. I leave eternity to Thee. For what is man, that he should live out the lifetime of his God?”—MOBY DICK

That was why, as I stood with my cell phone I cried. Not afraid of the pain exactly, and, of course, I am only joking about Karen—she has a short memory with me and always is my greatest supporter. I was frustrated and mad, mad with myself for picking up too many boxes and mad with God for letting this happen.

Like He caused it. Whatever.

I wish I had a little more idealism when I arrived at the hospital Tuesday morning December 8. But I knew what I was facing.

I was grateful when the anesthesiologist started the IV. “I am a doctor too,” hoping that credentialing myself would somehow impress the good doctor to go light on me. “Give him another stronger shot nurse.”

And I fell asleep.

Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine. The long stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of overshadowed distances.—HEART OF DARKNESS, Joseph Conrad


Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Starbuck, first mate: To be enraged with a dumb brute that acted out of blind instinct is blasphemous.

Captain Ahab: Speak not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me. Look ye, Starbuck, all visible objects are but as pasteboard masks. Some inscrutable yet reasoning thing puts forth the molding of their features. The white whale tasks me; he heaps me. Yet he is but a mask. ‘Tis the thing behind the mask I chiefly hate; the malignant thing that has plagued mankind since time began; the thing that maws and mutilates our race, not killing us outright but letting us live on, with half a heart and half a lung.

I was stumped.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want the surgery—I didn’t—I had done the darn thing before—and may I be honest?—it hurt. Really hurt. Let me be candid: in my darkest nightmare, in my worse dream, I never dreamed I would experience the pain I did twelve years ago.

Until you are too sympathetic, however, I have a confession. During the last recovery period, I was languishing with 6 or 8 old men (they were all 20 years my senior—and I am 56). It had taken us 2 days to finally walk on our fragile knees and hips. But we congratulated ourselves for making our first steps.

Until Alice joined us. Alice had had two—not one—but two knee transplants. We were prepared to offer her sympathy—she joined us on the second day and we were prepared to say “Alice, it is ok. We were there! Just move a few toes or something. We will pull you along.”

She sat in her chair, heard the physical therapist give her instructions. “Move a little this or that” sort of thing. Nothing too ambitious.

But, when she heard what we were doing she asked, with some irritation, “Why can’t I do what these men are doing?”

“Because,” we said, “Miss, you don’t know what you are saying. Move those little pinkies and be grateful.”

“Hey guys,” she smirked. “Out of the way.”

“You think this is pain? I have had 3 sets of twins. This is a walk in the park. Give me my walker!”

Our excuse is that we never had any kids, thankfully, but Alice certainly shamed us!

No childbirthing but on November 30, 2009, and even later, pain may be relative but to this man it was something I wished to avoid.

The thing that maws and mutilates our race, not killing us outright but letting us live on, with half a heart and half a lung. For a moment, just for a moment—because I am a dedicated Christian with all the right theology—for a moment—I doubted God knew what he was doing.

Captain Ahab: By heavens man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and fate is the handspike.

I knew our funds were ending. Two months left to convention season—what was I to do? ; My son Peter, thankfully, had already agreed to take over the ministry/business part of this and let me do the speaking and writing. But when December and January arrived and I needed money I could get a part time job—subbing or something—I had already done this before.

But that was not going to happen. No lifting the way I had forever. No more hip banging jobs breaking up fights in public school.

My life as I knew it was over.

Ishmael: [seeing Moby Dick for the first time] Is it real? Do you see it, too?

The Manxman, a sailor: We all see it. That don’t make it real.


Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

The surgeon did not laugh when he saw the x-ray pictures. But I did—it looked like somebody’s match house had lost its right corner. I guessed this was a warning to me about what my hip MIGHT look like some day. It could not be my hip. I mean it looked like something Victor Frankenstein put on his monster.

“What is that?” I laughed nervously.

“Your leg,” he smirked. “What did you do, Mr. Stobaugh?” He said—the same way Deborah says it to Raymond on EVERYONE LOVES RAYMOND. “Whaaaat did you do????”

I looked closer. It was not a picture of some poor slob’s hip, it was my hip. My poor pathetic hip!

The whole hip had shifted—”the way my life seemed to be shifting too.

I hoped the surgeon had placed the picture in a twisted way—the man obviously need to move the picture around–and it was all a mistake. My hip was headed to Dallas and my femur was headed to Baltimore. I was in big trouble and I knew it.

I also knew that I had been a bad boy, and, even worse, Karen had warned me. I don’t know what was more frightening the impeding surgery or Karen’s “I told you so!”

For 12 vendor seasons, 240+ conventions, 480 loading and unloading sessions, the old custom made hip thing was shot.

Funny thing. There is about $400,000 worth of technology in the thing but it all depends upon a round piece of hard plastic rotating on a Teflon ball. And that plastic thing was cracked or soon would be. Worse, it was depositing toxic plastic flakes into my right femur cavity thing. I knew there was space there—I had seen the old move INCREDIBLE JOURNEY—but I was unprepared for the pile of plastic in my leg piled next to my femur like parmesan cheese.

Something had to be done.

“Surgery, you need surgery quick.” He said. “You do not want this plastic cap to crack more or you will be begging me to operate.”

I believed him.

Well, one good thing: I met my deductable. And on Dec. 8, 2009, I went under the knife.


Monday, December 21st, 2009

I went to the doctor on November 30, 2009, for the noblest reason: Karen told me I had to go. Six weeks earlier, returning from a long SAT seminar road trip, I had dropped a full, heavy crate of COMPANIONS TO 50 CLASSICS on my right foot and ankle. After a Christian exclamation—I don’t remember exactly what I said—I cried in pain. But, even in this moment, I knew there was nothing I could do.

When I left my teaching job I obtained sorry health insurance with a $2 trillion deductible. So I could not afford a doctor’s visit so I did the next best thing—I whined and complained to Karen until she made me go to the doctor’s office.

I went. I went to an orthopedic surgeon in fact. The Harvard educated surgeon actually laughed as the x-ray of my foot and ankle, which, by the way, had visited a similar (but not the same) Harvard surgeon on September 11, 1975 (I kid you not, September 11) packed in dry ice next to my compound fractured right hip in a ambulance headed from Possom Fork, AR, to Pine Bluff, AR. I remember it looked like some fish bait or something—but I know that sounds gross.

For the next two months I languished in a tiny Pine Bluff, Arkansas, hospital between life and death. I kept the foot though and the new surgeon was laughing at it now.

“Mr. Stobaugh, really, there is nothing I can do. Maybe six weeks ago [sardonically] perhaps—but it is November 30!!!!!”

I was ok with that. I needed a handy sympathy getter for my wife who detests hyperbole and whimpiness. Seriously, do you know how many curb side garbage visits I had deterred through that old ankle? Since I passed 50 and learned occasionally to say, “Oh, it is ok, honey, a little pain builds character anyway” Karen had sighed and done some of my chores. Or maybe she made me do more chores—perhaps she thought I needed more character. I am still sorting it out.

To young people reading this blog: It is true: home school moms have this sixth sense—the gift of discernment?—to know when spouses and offspring are, shall we say, “exaggerating the truth to gain personal gain?’’ It amazes me how my 4 home school kids got away with NOTHING with that lady, but, here is a news flash: MOMS DON’T LOSE THIS GIFT WHEN THE KIDS FINISH HOME SCHOOLING. If anything, it is sharpened and focused on one object of dedicated attention—ME! My wife, the only love of my life, still keeps me on the straight and narrow with aplomb and vigorous realism as surely as she moved my children forward.

Anyway, my new doctor suggested, “why don’t we take a picture of your right hip—the one that was replaced 12 years ago?”

“It does not hurt at all,” I said. But what I was thinking was, “How much will it cost?”

“Let’s look at it anyway.”


Friday, December 18th, 2009

America needs the church to reclaim its systemic importance. Early in its history, the church was the major conduit of social welfare. Several historians have emphasized how critical the church was to the social welfare of the city. In circa 1830 Utica, New York, after a Charles Finney Revival, the women’s welfare society at the local downtown church was the strongest social welfare system extent in the city. And it was extremely effective! Its budget surpassed the city’s social welfare budget–an impressive $3000. With no cost to the city and in the name of Jesus Christ, before the New Deal the downtown church was taking care of the poor and the needy in churches all over the country.

With the collapse of the positive liberal state, and the abandonment by state and federal governments, the city needs its churches again. We who seek to serve God in the city must do social work without being social workers. We must remain the Body of Jesus Christ but we must not flinch in the face of social problems.

William Julius Wilson in The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy argues that Roosevelt’s New Deal, and Johnson’s The Great Society failed because they ignored the most fundamental need of all disadvantaged people: employment. The downtown church is in a strategic place to affect this problem. With our often under-utilized church bureaucracy–secretaries, office managers, and their equipment–we are able to stimulate and to create many small businesses. For example, in my former church, we started a small business that employed forty seasonal employees. Furthermore, we were able to do this business/ministry with no cost to the local Church. It is through these creative ventures/ministries that the Church will reclaim its proper place in the community.

I am not naive. I know that the women association, as laudatory and important their work may be, will not end homelessness in the South Bronx. But working with government, the church can help. Or tongue in cheek–dare I suggest–working in spite of the government, perhaps the church can do the job. Illegitimacy is only one of the many social ills undermining American society. It the government is really serious in its drive against illegitimacy, it perhaps should abolish the welfare system rather than reform it! This is suggested by authors like Charles Murray and Charles Krauthammer. Essentially, personal accountabliity and social responsibility simply cannot be passed on to the state.

Two public policies, according to Charles Murray and William McGowan (a journalist)–welfare for unwed mothers and racial and ethnic quotas–are moving us toward dystopia, a condition in which the quality of life are dreadful.”

As a point in fact, a church in the poorest part of the country, New Horizon, Mississippi, has started a vigorous and successful social welfare intervention in its congregation. Ronnie Crudup, pastor of New Horizon Baptist Church, has shown that churches had make a greater impact than government with less cost to the taxpayer. Clearly, though, to Crudup, spiritual nurturing is a vital part of welfare reform. His church has “adopted” 10 welfare families. New Horizon helped with monthly grocery money, finding employment, caring for the children’s Christmas needs via the church’s Angel Tree project, and meting any back-to-school expenses. In return, the church asks permission to counsel families with drug habits and requires them to attend church. It is working.

Most people agree, that, in the foreseeable future, single family numbers will increase. And most are female led. But, instead of enabling problems–as the government seems to do–the church should encourage families to grow stronger. A mom may be the key.

Most family therapists agree that a mother is critical to the success of a family system. In fact, family counselors are taught that if they can shore up the mother they can probably help the whole family.

Israel needed a mother in the time of Deborah. The city needs mothers. In fact, as we urban pastors know all too well, it is the mothers in our innnercity neighborhoods who hold together the very fabric of our society. The Cotton Patch Gospel interprets Judges 5:7 as “Things were bad until a woman arose . . . we needed a mother!” In 1995 we need a lot of good mothers!

A woman in Deborah’s day had no property or value herself without her husband. If she was infertile she could be divorced. And, in any event, most women died before age thirty. They were married about age 13 and delivered an average of sixteen children (but only five survived). In fact, most women died in childbirth. This was a terrible time to be a woman.

But God again chose the most unlikely candidate to do His work and I am convinced that He could do the same again. A person with no status, with no honor. He knew that she would be flexible in His hand. He knew that Deborah would be easier to use than some self-reliant person who was self-important. No, Deborah was willing to follow the Lord no matter what the cost. Afterall, what did she have to lose? She was unimpressed with the Canaanites because she was impressed by who God is. The Church needs to create moms who are not afraid to take on the whole world. Or, as Dobson is fond of saying, moms who “do not lose their nerve in the face of evil.”

In general Deborah’s community was prehistoric–writing was not yet developed. Traditions, history, and morality was maintained through legends, myths, stories, and songs. In early England these traditions and history were maintained by traveling minstrels, story tellers called Scops. Early English poems were memorized rather than written and were recited by scops, wandering poets who chanted their poems. These minstrels maintained English culture for several generations.

Communities–like churches–need minstrels, men and women of God who tell our story over and over again. When I came to my downtown church, I immediately looked for these minstrels, these preservers of history. I found them. A mother arose among them . . .

Deborah was a singer, a culture creator. But she also was a woman who understood power. Understanding that true power arises from God, not humankind, she led her anemic nation to victory. She was not to be deterred. We need to create these kind of moms in our society.

Today, we need Moms who will not be thwarted from raising their children in Godly ways. Who will not be impressed by the power in the world. Not overwhelmed by the obstacles that exist in our society, real though they may be. But will take control in the name of Christ of their children’s future. And teach them to be impressed and to respect power–but not power and rulers of this world–but God’s authority and His word.

Deborah encouraged her community to defy Baal. To stand against the forces of darkness and to win . . .”Souls are like athletes,” Thomas Merton writes. “And they need opponents worthy of them.” Deborah challenged her community to reach beyond themselves and to find the strength to be and to do all that God wanted them to do and to be.

In summary, as Robert Linthicum writes in his seminal work on the city, God deeply loves the city. Many scriptures evidence this fact (e.g., Ezekiel 16:1-14, Psalm 48). Linthicum, and other Christian writers, remind us that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities. In that sense, the church is an important system, or organization, in the city and it needs to act like it. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer urges the church in his last book, “I wish to see the city church return to the center of the city.”


Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Walter Brueggemann, in his book The Land, suggests that there is a pervasive “lostness” in American life. In fact this alienation from one another, threatens all aspects of American culture. The reestablishment of the two-parent home would go a long way to bring back stability into our culture.

In that sense, then, church programs must take into account the broken relationships, the loss of relationships, that an Ellen or Elizabeth are experiencing. For instance, in our church we have a Youth Club, intergenerational experience every Wednesday night. A sort of “family” night, everyone is invited. Everyone is part of a “family” at least once a week. The Church should never lower its standards. On the contrary the Church should unabashedly promote a Christian perspective of family–fidelity to Christian morality.

Likewise, the church must recognize that the actual number of Murphy Browns in America (single mothers by choice with incomes over $50,000 a year) is not even .1% of unwed mothers. The fact is, they need our financial support. They need free childcare provided or all events. And so forth.

But it is true, though, that nontraditional family numbers are growing. Single parents should not be discouraged. We all know inspiring stories of how single parent families have prospered.

Another group that needs our attention is blended families. Now that 46% of all American marriages involve at least one partner who has at least one partner who has been married before, we need to recognize that blended families need special programming and attention.

Next, the church must be unequivocable in its ethical stand that the Word of God must not be compromised. While we celebrate pluralism, without being moralistic or harsh, we need to recognize that not all family forms are right nor equal for the task of raising children.

Churches must accept openly and without prejudice the full range of single families, stepfamilies, and cohabiting families (while making clear such a life style is sinful!).

The church should challenge its families and young people to have higher standards than the world.

Our youth programs should emphasize preparation for life in the egalitarian postmodern family. Since one of the major trends of family life in America is the absence of fathers, boys and young men should be spoken to seriously about commitment and parenting.