rotating header

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Reflections on 60, and the paradox of shadow and life, grief and gratitude again.

 60 is a reality sort of birthday. When one comes as close to death as one generally can and still retreat, at 59, then 60 carries layers of sober joy. We have a new puppy, and are back home in Uganda after weeks of travel to our company conference. I went on an hour long dawn walk this morning through sleepy village homes with a crescent moon hovering over the mountains. With the person who means the most to me, and has been my absolute survival coach to make it to this point. I remembered the name of a neighbour we greeted on the road we hadn't talked to in years . . but I also have to focus on balance and vision just to stay intact. Our team here celebrated with us at our usual Thursday night pizza, by baking pies and making homemade ice cream, a relaxed fellowship with people we live with in community and care deeply about. But several were sick, one of our team kids has malaria, last night we got a call because refugees from DRC who were on their way back to the border reached too late and needed to camp out in our church across the road overnight, and this morning when we walked back to our gate one of the most aggressively notorious alcoholics in our village was waiting in a severely inebriated state to demand...chocolate (we refused, haha). So reality, the beauty of a celebration embedded right into the brokenness of the world. That's 60.

And if I wanted to take a day away from such reality, the breaking news on my birthday eve that the Supreme Court released a decision that overturns Roe v. Wade, which sent our home country into yet another conflagration of despair and disagreement, makes that even harder. It's a 213 page document that I've only read about 10% of, and begun to think about, so a birthday post is not going to do that justice. Except to note the same theme: life is full of nuance and contradiction, paradox and murkiness. As a doctor and a Christian, I see something holy and unique about the human embryo that makes care and choice weighty, different that other medical decisions. But the court decision (as far as I've read) doesn't even address that; instead it justifies throwing the questions back to the voters, who would in our 2022 democracy would vote against a full ban on all abortions if put to a popular vote. But because we have a fractured state-level disparity, we seem to be entering a time of local rules being different in each place. Which means that we aren't "protecting" life, we are hiding behind privilege and unknowing and feeling self-congratulatory and tribalistic as we distance ourselves from the truth: child-bearing is fraught with powerlessness, risk, disappointment, chance, surprise, grief, thrill, longing, fear. No one gets by without cost. Both extremes of the spectrum of opinion would like to create an unassailable hill of what feels like unassailable logic: it's all about a woman's right to decide what happens with her own body; or, it's all about the value of a child's life which is no less in the early months of gestation than any other time. Except in real life, all human interaction and love involves compromise of power over one's being, and everyone has grey areas in their thinking about human rights. I realise for me, some of the darkest times in my 60 years were the months after losing three pregnancies at the end of the first trimester, and that grief makes it hard for me to listen to strident arguments that imply those losses were just my tissue. However, I also have lived with the reality that the loss of those babies was NOT perceived equally to the loss of a 2-month old or 2-year old or 20-year old, not even by the pro-life church. And the reality that my experience is true of a significant proportion (30% or more) of all conceptions, gives a different big-picture view of the universe. Very little of the dialogue seems to stem from love. And I guess that's what I'm listening for in my 60's. If we people of faith devote ourselves to showing love for others, listening to their sorrows, protecting girls from sexual exploitation, giving them confidence and value, modelling respect for women so that boys expect to take responsibility for their actions, investing in the social fabric that enables children to thrive, ensuring that health care and jobs and parenthood are not mutually exclusive choices, well it seems to me that those are better ways to protect the unborn than having six judges go back on their word to overturn a 50 year old law supported by the majority of Americans . . . and calls into question accepted medical procedures for ectopic pregnancy or infertility.  

So yes, my birthday this year carries shadows of death mixed into the light of life. My family of origin gathers for their annual reunion today, the post-COVID revival of the tradition that began in 1946 to thank God for the safe return of 5 sons from WWII. The Aylestocks of Sago gave me a strong foundation. After our Serge conference, we visited Scott's sister in Norway--I briefly thought we could pull off Scott's mom's 90th, my 60th, and our daughter-in-law's 30th for a triple crown of 2022 celebratory togetherness there, but it was only possible for the two of us to visit her. And those are the memories I want to end this post with. Yes, this life is full of hard griefs, and this year has been a doozy. But we had a few days of immersion in the rugged beauty of the land of water and mountains, rocks and trees, endless solstice sunshine, that gave rise to the Myhres. We did some steep hikes by the fjords that a few months ago I could not have dreamed of reaching, chugged up the spectacular inland waterways on a ferry, and visited the church Scott's ancestors built and the farmland some distant cousins still manage as a dairy. Those men and women who took their name from the wetland could never have imagined their son would spend 29 years as far away as Africa  . . . but they wouldn't be surprised to know that seeking justice and practicing love have kept the family anchored for generations.

Glad to be part of both families, the Aylestocks and the Myhres. Glad to have just spent two weeks with our Serge family, pouring into the rising generations. Glad to know my own family of five kids just spent a week together in Utah, supporting each other. And mostly glad to reach 60 with Scott, who is my heart's family until death. Which thankfully has been delayed another year. Cheers. 


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your insights and ramblings ...always meaningful and helpful in our own journey ...although I am 5 years ahead of you 🥰 much love and continued prayers!

Cindy Pfister said...

Beautifully said. Your thoughtful cogent words about complex realities are always helpful. Happy (fulfilling, hopeful, joy-infused, healthy, strong) 60th B’day!!

Martha Wagar Wright said...

Thank you for sharing so much of your heart and life, Jennifer. You are a gem. First of all, congratulations on reaching 60 and reaching these gorgeous places! Lovely, lovely pictures as always. I very much appreciate your comments on this current issue, and likewise I struggle with the complexities, the realities and consequences of these decisions. I hope this will lead to greater concern and care for mothers and children and will help to improve relationships between men and women. We can pray! Much love to you both from NJ.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing. I so appreciate your wise words as always. ❤️

Jericho said...

Happy happy birthday, Jennifer ❤️ You have given us the gift of your wisdom and words on your special day. I have been struggling with the complexities of the impact of this Supreme Court decision but haven't been able to put my heart or mind into words yet. So thankful for you. Your heart, your mind, and your words. Today and always.

Lisa Gramann said...

Happy Birthday Jennifer. Thank you for sharing your heart. I appreciate you and your thoughts. I'm so grateful for God's gifts in your life.

Anonymous said...

Weeping in solemn gratitude for this message, this pondering, Jennifer. It's a dear gift to us on your birthday.

Linda Berg said...

Happy Birthday, Jennifer! 60 looks so good on you! So glad you are still here to bless so many, to write, to enjoy creation, to walk and live with Scott, etc. Love the amazing pictures and love the way you express your thoughts, even when I disagree with (some of) the nuances of what you write, as I did in this one. Love your heart and your mind, which thinks through complexities and distills fractured, meandering reasoning into simple, clear thoughts. What a gift for logic, reason, and writing you have - along with your passion for the poor and for bring medical care and Jesus to those without. What a beautiful life you've lived and I'm glad you're my friend, and are still here to keep living it. I love what you wrote, partly because reading it helped me to codify more clearly in my mind why I am unashamedly rejoicing over the new decision.

Hope you won't mind me responding here to your post and offering a different opinion...because, here I go! :-)

Regarding this new Supreme Court decision, you wrote,

"Both extremes of the spectrum of opinion would like to create an unassailable hill of what feels like unassailable logic: it's all about a woman's right to decide what happens with her own body; or, it's all about the value of a child's life which is no less in the early months of gestation than any other time."

I agree that these are two of the main arguments stated (oftentimes, shouted) from each side. But another huge point on the pro life side is that the baby is not part of the woman's body.

You referenced your grief over your miscarried babies - which I share, as I miscarried two myself - and that in the grief of losing them, you found it difficult to think of it as just your own tissue that was lost.

Remembering that the fetus is not our own body tissue must carry some weight in the decision of the morality or immorality of intentionally harming or removing that fetus. The belief that a woman can do what she wants with her own body has always confused me. I would always defend a woman's right to do whatever she wants with her own body - but not with the body of someone else, even if that person's body is uncomfortably located within her own.

(part two in next comment! Gee, I guess I really like to write about this stuff!)

Linda Berg said...

(part two)
Later, you wrote, "it seems to me that those are better ways to protect the unborn than having six judges go back on their word to overturn a 50 year old law supported by the majority of Americans" - To that, I would say, you are right! There are so many other, better ways to protect life besides reversing a ruling that rendered our state lawmakers unable to make ending unborn life illegal in their state.

Two problems popped up in my brain when I read your assertion, though. First, the statement, "it seems to me that those are better ways to protect the unborn than having six judges go back on their word to overturn a 50 year old law supported by the majority of Americans" is a false dilemma. If it is unconstitutional in our land to allow someone to take another's life, should we not seek all ways to protect life? We do not have to pick the only best way - but we can and should do all things that can help protect life, not feel a false dilemma that says we can do either this or that. We can value women, provide better access to health care, support poor women by giving supplies to them and offering free or reduced childcare costs.....and we can also support a Supreme Court ruling that overturns a faulty decision made 50+ years prior. Many ways to skin a cat! (Where on earth did that phrase come from, I wonder?? Ewww!)

Second, the statement "having six judges go back on their word" seemed to suggest that once a Supreme Court makes a decision, it is somehow wrong for it to "go back on their word" if it later concludes the original decision was wrong/unconstitutional. But if you think of it, I believe you may conclude that that is just not true.

Take, for example, the infamous Supreme Court decision we all learned about way back in Poly Sci 101 classes in college or even 12th grade high school government class: Plessy vs Ferguson of 1896. I'm sure you recall, that was the old "separate but equal" decision, which allowed racial segregation in schools, public places, etc.

Thank God, the Supreme Court went "back on their word" 58 years later and overturned that unconstitutional decision with Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954. I guess my point is, we as humans are fallible. We all make mistakes. The Supreme Court is supposed to uphold the constitution of our country. If, 54 years or however many years after a decision was made, the Court realizes it was made in error - then by all means, they should overturn their decision.

Even pro-choice jurists* have for years admitted that the Roe v Wade decision was weakly argued and did not prove its case as being backed in any place in our Constitution. That being true, it is only right that the faulty original decision should have been overturned, just as any other faulty Supreme Court decision, such as Plessy v Ferguson was.

* From - "Even some notable legal scholars who favor legal elective abortion as a policy have been willing to acknowledge this. Writing in the Yale Law Journal in 1973, the year Roe was decided, John Hart Ely of Harvard Law School (later dean of Stanford Law School) derided the decision as “bad because it is bad constitutional law, or rather because it is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be.”

And he is not alone. Writing in the Harvard Law Review in 1973, Laurence Tribe explained that “one of the most curious things about Roe is that, behind its own verbal smokescreen, the substantive judgment on which it rests is nowhere to be found.”

Meanwhile, Edward Lazarus, a former clerk to Harry Blackmun, the justice who authored Roe, explained that “as a matter of constitutional interpretation and judicial method, Roe borders on the indefensible.” And it’s worth noting that Lazarus describes himself as “utterly committed to the right to choose.”

Lissa Roberson said...

Happy Birthday, Jennifer! Your Six-Oh is a triumph after your scary brush with death last year. We do look at life differently when we find ourselves moving forward with new limitations, grateful, knowing that the outcome may have been so much different.
You and I share neurological fallout from our fifties, and grief over lost children (two for me, one that nearly took me with it). Thank you for conveying your own heart thoughts with such eloquence.
As far as the Roe vs. Wade decision, I know that contingency plans have been in the making ever since news of the "leak" surfaced. Those who choose to end their pregnancies will still have the option. What I hope for is the shuttering of Planned Parenthood clinics in minority areas, the return of the nuclear family, and an increase in compassionate support services -- all of which are impossible without a move of God. May those who rejoice also weep with those who weep, choosing to respond with the love of Christ rather than gloat over a court victory. My love to you and Scott --- Lissa

Anonymous said...

Happy Belated Birthday, Jennifer! What a wonderful post. Your reflections on turning 60 are so rich, with much food for thought. And the scenery photos from your trip to Norway are spectacular, a feast for the eyes. So good to see the ones of you and Scott, too. You remain in my prayers, for continued healing and recovery.

Anonymous said...

Also, praise God for how far you have come in recovering from your accident!