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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thoughts on parenting, vaccines, sex, and the desert

We are the student health doctors and as such, we've had some emails this week about a controversial topic:  HPV (human palliomavirus) vaccines for early adolescents.  In Pediatrics they are considered routine adolescent anti-cancer vaccines (virtually all cervical cancers are caused by HPV).  For once there is a cancer that is completely preventable if a person is never infected with the HPV virus.  The rub comes when parents with very strong Christian beliefs assume that their child will never be infected, because he/she will never have a sexual encounter until their wedding day, and will marry someone who also remained celibate until that moment.  I fully believe that is healthy, and best.  And possible.

But far from a guarantee.  We live in a broken world.  Even Adam and Eve, who were created perfect and then parented directly by God and had daily intimate communication with Him, succumbed to the temptation to do the one thing they were forbidden.  Christians sin.  All of us.  Pride, gossip, laziness, cruelty.  And sometimes, being led away by passion to make a physical commitment beyond readiness for a full-life commitment.  There will be consequences emotionally and physically.  There will be grace, and healing.  But I would hope that if we could prevent one consequence, that of death by cancer in one's 30's, by a simple vaccine, we would do that.

Secondly, the broken world means that even if a particular kid is faithful and abstinent, she may be harmed by the sin of another.  Nice girls can be naive.  They can have something like valium slipped in a drink.  They can wake up to find themselves raped.  More than half of young adults in past decades ended up infected with HPV, so chances are pretty high that a rapist would transmit the disease.  Again, there is grace and healing, but in this situation we'd all opt for preventing AIDS or cancer if we could, wouldn't we?

Thirdly, even if the child walks down the wedding aisle having made perfect choices, and having been protected from all harm, there is a good chance his/her spouse will not have had the same advantages.  Some wonderful people become Christians later, after having made choices that left them with scars.  There is such beauty in that.  In fact the whole book of Hosea is about God asking one of His servants to marry, love, protect, redeem a former prostitute.  When your kid is 12, you have no idea what path God has for him/her in the decades to come. We are surrounded by a world where the Fall means that disease and death abound.

In this context I read with my team yesterday the story of Hagar and Ishmael.  Remember her weeping in the desert, thinking her son was going to die?  There she was, at the end of her resources, facing the worst thing imaginable for any of us as parents.  Helpless.  And what put her there was a mixture of her own choices (taunting Sarah), the sin of others against her (she didn't exactly choose to be a bondservant most likely, and having Abram's baby may not have been her choice either, let alone being sent into the desert), and the general brokeness of a world of deserts without water, of distance, heat, and exhaustion.  Yet at that moment, God hears, sees, comes.  He provides.  He rescues.  Even if she sinned and others sinned and the world is a mess, He still saves the boy from some of the consequences.  He does not add up and inflict upon us exactly what we deserve.  Because the deepest part of God's nature is love.  For us and for our children.  I find this extremely encouraging, that if God hears the prayerless despair of a foreign servant friendless and alone in the desert, He also knows how to provide for us and our children.

So, parents, I am opting for vaccination.  I truly hope none of my children need that extra margin of protection.  I hope they experience only true, faithful, exclusive love in their lives, and so do their spouses.  But if they, like Hagar and Ishmael, find themselves beat up by this world through their own choices, or the choices of others, I have the small comfort that cancer may not be one of the dozens of things that need healing.  And the large comfort that NOTHING can separate them from the God-who-sees.  That Love is suffusing the hot desert winds, and will provide and oasis.


9 comments:

lisa said...

Thanks for this thoughtful post. I really appreciate the combination of expert medical opinion and deeply committed faith. I'm blessed to have you as a friend.

Lee said...

Very good and thought out post Jennifer. Thank you for your blog and your faithfulness all these years.

Rinnie said...

Thanks for putting in clear and gentle words the thoughts I've had about this vaccine as well.

Jill said...

Thank you for your thoughts! I probably need to hear this. My problem with the HPV vaccine has always been that the manufacturer does all of the advertising and educating and I just don't trust big corporations of any sort to present the truth to me. I'm a product of American over advertising blow back perhaps? I know that the vaccine is expensive and even though covered by insurance, it is still being paid to the pharmaceutical company. See how cynical I am? Lord help me. Am I willing to risk my daughter's life because I think the company is only out for money? I vaccinate them on all the big diseases just so you're not worried. :D Thank you for bringing this up. My beautiful girl is turning 12 soon...I know it will be coming upon me to make a decision. Good food for thought.

Kristi Nykamp said...

Thanks Jennifer, so well said and I agree completely. We opted yes, too.

Anonymous said...

Can't tell you how pleased I am that such sensible, thoughtful people are the student health doctors for RVA. Keep up the excellent work.

Judith said...

Carefully thought through, wonderfully stated recommendation of a loving Christian response that protects all of God's children. I thank you for your caring and courage. Judy in HMB

Anonymous said...

I came to your blog via the ebola post and then kept reading. I came to the same conclusion about the HPV vaccine as you. I have to say that this is the most encouraging quote about the pitfalls of parenting I have ever read, "Even Adam and Eve, who were created perfect and then parented directly by God and had daily intimate communication with Him, succumbed to the temptation to do the one thing they were forbidden. Christians sin. All of us." HPV aside, life with teenagers is scary business. It is so easy to think that if we just do all the "right" things on the Christian Parenting Checklist, our kids will be faithful Christians. Not so. This thought from you was such a blessing to me today, in the midst of having one child at college and another teen at home. Thank you.

Leah Colleen Worley said...

Ditto to what everyone else has said. A deeply thought-provoking post.