Dresses

As I studied the Scriptures and wrestled with the implications of feminine attire only, I realized what most of us already know:  the Bible is not self-interpreting.  I don’t care what theologians say, if the Bible was self-interpreting there would be no need for commentaries.  So, with that understanding now in hand, I started asking around to other people.

The first thing I found is that this subject is totally uninteresting to most people.  Whenever I would bring it up the reactions ranged from thinly-veiled boredom to looks of outright puzzlement and even annoyance, on occasion.  Now, granted, I can be annoying (just ask Blake), but it’s hard to realize that NO ONE was interested in this.  I mean, after all, we’re talking about abominations here.  Everyone’s willing to discuss them in regard to the books of Daniel and Revelation and the End Times, but what about the ones in our daily lives?

There were some reactions of wonderment that I would waste my time on something so frivolous as clothing when there are babies being aborted, a world headed to Hell and souls to save.  However, I recall that God struck down Aaron’s sons for getting creative with the incense recipe for worship.  Apparently, little things do matter to God.  Often the reaction would be something like, “Well, God looks on the heart.”  Yep, and man looks on the outward appearance and that’s what God’s talking about here.  God never condemned us for looking at the outward appearance, that’s all we’ve got.  He was simply pointing out to Samuel not to get over-awed by good looks.  Only He can judge the heart and, apparently, our outward actions (including how we dress) reflect something of our hearts.

I ended up searching online for people’s views, finding out what Elisabeth Elliot thought, and talking to women who wore dresses all the time.  After all, these were women who had thought about it and concluded to live contrary to the current culture as a result.  What I couldn’t find was anyone who had studied this issue and come to a different conclusion.  Anyone I found who had studied it had ended up going to dresses full-time.  So, in April 1997, I went to dresses as well.

It was a hard change in some ways simply because of some of the looks I got.  It’s very hard to swim upstream when everyone else is going the other way.  I also struggled with why most women involved in public ministries didn’t have this conviction or ever mentioned even considering it.  It was also hard because I wanted to be sure I didn’t get a “holier-than-thou” attitude, yet it was hard not to be perceived as having one because I was obviously doing something so different from everyone else and it was due to the desire to be obedient to God.  Therefore, if I believe this to be obedience, then by default, they must be being disobedient.  I didn’t actually feel that way, but continued to struggle with the whole issue for a long time.  At one point I came across a pamphlet from a Mennonite publisher called, “Others May, You Cannot.”  It was very helpful in explaining that there are times when God calls some people to lifestyles and practices to which He doesn’t call everyone.  That gave me a lot of perspective and helped me to accept my own “oddness” and become comfortable with my own convictions even if they weren’t the convictions of others.

One question I think some may wonder is, where was Nolan in all of this.  First, let me clarify that Nolan has never been a heavy-handed husband! 🙂  He’s always had a lot of respect for me and my own walk with God.  Second, at that time Nolan was pastoring full-time as well as driving for a local cement plant full-time for nine months of the year.  He was busy, he was tired and it wasn’t his area of interest.  When I decided to wear dresses only, he was fine with it.  He admired me for sticking by my convictions.  He did say, though, that since this was my conviction and not the family conviction, I wasn’t to require our daughters to wear dresses only.

As I was studying this issues, I was also studying other issues: head-coverings, divorce & remarriage, women in ministry, women in the church, Bible versions, and many others.  I had the sense that there would come a time when we would leave Rudyard and probably the evangelical church.  I figured we were going to end up conservative Mennonites.

Starting a Family

As everyone knows, everything in life ties together.  Although we may try to compartmentalize our lives in some respects; such as keeping work issues at work and home issues at home, we know we’re not able to do that completely.  A bad day at work will affect your home life even if it’s just feeling a little “down” when you get there.  In the same way, there are so many things that overlap in my life and one thing affects another that, to some extent, I feel I must mention the “bunny trails” in life too even though the focus of this blog is why we’re Catholic.  One of those side trips I’m going to make is the starting of our family.

When Nolan and I were engaged we talked of how many kids we wanted.  He wanted two, I said, “No way–too boring!”  He asked how many I wanted and I said more than two and no odd numbers.  You see, by then I had enough woman’s intuition to know that sometimes you just don’t say what you’re really thinking and just let time develop the situation.  So, for those of you who didn’t know it was possible, I DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING!!  (I want to be sure to get credit where credit is due–besides, I got my way in the end anyway! 😉 )

My real dream was six kids.  Mom came from a family of six and so did Pop.  Then I met this incredible guy who was the fifth of six kids too (as were Mom and Pop, btw).  I mean, c’mon, it was meant to be.  Just because he didn’t see that yet didn’t mean I couldn’t have it figured out already.  So, after a year or so of marriage, we decided to give it a try.  And, voila!, we got pregnant!  Baby Peanut was due March 1994.

The first couple of months were great.  I wasn’t nauseated and lived on Cloud Nine.  My dream of being a wife and mother had come true and we were headed into the grand adventure of life.  It was almost like the end of a movie where they ride off into the sunset to live their happily-ever-after that you know is going to be incredible.  Except, in our case, incredible didn’t happen.  Miscarriage did.

In the third month the doctor told us he should have been able to hear the heart tones by then and sent us for an ultrasound.  The scan showed a nice, developed placenta, but no baby.  The doctor said to give it a week to see if my body would handle it on its own.  A few days later, on my 25th birthday, I started cramping.  As it turned out, my body didn’t handle it and I had to have a D & C procedure.  From what the doctor could tell the umbilical cord didn’t develop properly, so the baby hadn’t grown much.

As anyone who has suffered a miscarriage will attest to, it is very, very painful.  It isn’t just the loss of the baby, but also the loss of dreams and hopes.  There also settles in a fear, “What if it happens again?  What if I can’t get pregnant again?”  You’re a mom, but no one will ever see your baby.  Empty arms are painful.  So are the questions to God.  “Why?  You could’ve fixed the cord, why didn’t You?”  I would say my attitude at the time toward God was one of demanding from Him an explanation; almost an attitude of, “How dare You!”  As you can see, I had a lot of growing-up to do.

The doctor recommended we wait a couple of months before trying again.  The following January, once again, that nifty little test showed pink and one fear was set to rest:  We were able to get pregnant again!  Due date for Spud was September 1, 1994.  This time things were a lot different.

Nausea and exhaustion characterized the first three months.  I couldn’t walk through the canned food section of the grocery store without getting queasy!  Ugh!  In addition, I lost five pounds (without ever throwing up).  “Great!” I thought, “Finally lose weight when I’m not supposed to!”  However, Spud had a great heartbeat and there never was a more beautiful sound than that little heart going woosh-woosh!  By the time I was halfway through the fourth month I felt great and being pregnant entered the enjoyable stage.  In the eighth month things got uncomfortable as Spud decided he needed more exercise and started tap-dancing on my bladder while doing The Bump with my stomach.  He seemed to think my ribs were a little confining as well, so he’d try to move those over too.

By the time I was nearing the end of month nine, it looked like I’d be having this baby on time.  But, Spud was in no hurry to leave his custom-made gymnasium.  September first came and went.  No baby.  And I was good size.  They’d already determined early in the pregnancy that it wasn’t twins, but simply larger-than-usual measurements.  But by the time due date came and went, the doctor decided I’d better have another ultrasound to be sure baby was headed in the right direction.

Now, at that size, babies are pretty hard to see in an ultrasound.  You can see parts, but not the whole baby and the machines can’t tell give you any weight guesses either.  However, it did give us the information we wanted and that was that the head was, indeed, down.  After looking at the picture of the baby’s head I told Nolan, “It’s a boy.”  “You can’t tell that by looking at the head!”  “Honey, the baby has your head and if that’s a girl, she’s going to be one ugly child!”  (I know, that sounds mean, but what girl wants the head of a football player?!?)

Well, finally the doctor said we’d waited long enough and he was concerned the baby was going to get too big.  I would have to be induced.  So, on a lovely Sunday morning we got to the hospital and they started all those marvelous works of modern medicine to convince a baby to be born.  And, at 11:56 PM on September 11, 1994, Daniel Arthur Spenst came into this world with a yell!

However, the super-slo-mo went something like this:  Baby has emerged, doctor says, “It’s a little boy!  No, it’s not!”  I’m thinking, “C’mon, boy or girl, you only have two choices!” while doctor continues, “It’s a BIG boy!”  They just about broke out into a round of applause for me right then and there!  The final tally?  TEN POUNDS, ONE OUNCE AND TWENTY-TWO INCHES LONG!!!!!  (Did I mention his head was 14 3/4″?)

My dream had come true!  I was a mom with a baby to show for it!  And now, since Daniel was now born, Nolan and I could prepare to move to Rudyard, Montana, where Nolan had accepted the position of pastor of the Calvary Evangelical Church.  My dream had come true and Nolan’s was about to–it just doesn’t get any better than that!

The Beginning of Ministry

It is somewhat hard to say exactly when we started “ministry” because Nolan and I had always been involved in our home churches.  We each taught Sunday School, helped with youth programs, church camps, etc.  For the first year or so at college we attended Fellowship Missionary Church in south Fort Wayne.  Pastor Dave DeSelm was the senior pastor there and was a powerful speaker who really brought the Scriptures right home to your heart.  (BTW, he is still the senior pastor there.)  That’s probably the only church we didn’t actually do anything in except attend.  However, Nolan was required to do a practicum in an area church and so we got involved with Pine Hills EMC (part of my church conference) which was on the north side of Ft. Wayne.

Pine Hills was pastored by Bryce Winteregg (since retired) and he was a wonderful mentor for Nolan.   Nolan had opportunities to preach and work side-by-side with Bryce to learn the ropes of pastoring and what he might anticipate in the future.  Bryce was very relaxed with Nolan and gave him a lot of freedom.  His vote of confidence in Nolan was very encouraging to us and Bryce, with his wife Karen, have a very special place in our hearts.

While at Pine Hills we taught Sunday School, AWANA, VBS, and helped in other ways.  We got to know lots of people there who loved the Lord and loved us.  One Christmas we received a bag of groceries from someone–and it included steak!  We hadn’t seen steak in a long time and hardly knew when to plan to eat it!  (Hamburger Helper was a staple for us in college which is why, consequently, I can’t stand the stuff now!)  Many people went through difficult circumstances–the battle of MS in two families, brittle bone disease in another, miscarriages, sudden death, heartaches of all kinds.  Two families were foster families and their example of loving the kids placed with them was inspiring.  When you walk with people in their pain and heartache, it draws you together as nothing else does.

Probably the experience that meant the most to us was teaching jr. high Sunday School.  The boys’ and girls’ classes were separated, so I got the easy girls while Nolan got some pretty challenging boys!  We really fell in love with my girls.  One time we took them camping while another time we had them for an overnight and major snowball fight at our apartment!  Those girls were a blast!

It was at Pine Hills that we also got to know some homeschool families up-close and personal.  The Johnston’s girls were both in my class and were just great girls.  We enjoyed their family a lot and also saw in them the example of ministry.  Linda was the church secretary and they were very involved in Pine Hills.  However, they were also involved in ministry in Russia and other places through homeschool affiliations.  They really taught their girls the importance of serving others and that lives on in Rachel and Katy even today.

We were loved by the Pine Hills church and we loved them.  When Nolan graduated and we left for Montana, it was the hardest good-bye we experienced.  It was like leaving our family and only the knowledge that we were called by God to go elsewhere pulled us away from Pine Hills and Fort Wayne.

Summit-part 2

The biggest part of my Summit experience was Nolan.  However, since our courtship isn’t exactly in keeping with the purpose of this blog, I figured I’d put Nolan stories in their own category.  So, if you want “The Love Story,” you have to go check that one out.  I’ll add to it as I get the time.

For those of you unfamiliar with Summit, it may help to know that it was a small school dedicated to training men and women for service.  Whether you planned to be a pastor, teacher, counselor, missionary, etc., Summit was a good place to be educated.  With a small student body of about 400-500 students,  it was also a great place to make friends.  The average age of students at the time was twenty-six, which indicates the number of older adults who attended.   It was a great mix between young and not-so-young that gave a balance to the campus atmosphere.

The professors were committed, faithful Christians who loved teaching.  I don’t remember a grumpy, dissatisfied one among them at all.  They were there because they wanted to be and they treated us students with respect.  At the time, Nolan and I found it interesting that there was represented among them both Armenian and Calvinist beliefs–rather opposing theological views–but it gave us students a wider view of the differences Christians can have and still work together.

Interestingly, at the time, it didn’t make me wonder who was right and who was wrong because I still subscribed to the view that we agreed in essentials and the rest was just to be accepted as differences.  Each view was valid and each Christian should pray, study the Scriptures and discern which one they were in agreement with.  It wasn’t until a few years later that I began to question that idea.

My first year at Summit I was an elementary ed. major, but switched to Biblical Studies when Nolan and I planned to get married.  Since we both agreed that I would stay home once we had children, there didn’t seem any point in running up a huge debt for a college degree I had no plan to use.  In addition, after one year on the el. ed. program, I knew that wasn’t how I wanted to spend my life anyway.  However, I wanted a degree and since that was the one I’d wanted in the first place, that’s the one I pursued.  I graduated in 1992 with an Associate’s Degree in Biblical Studies.

I loved that line of study!  I loved delving into the Scriptures and learning about the deeper meanings and historical connections, then bringing that knowledge into the present-day and seeing how it applied to my own life.  Dr. Wes Gerig and Rev. Ronald Scharfe were the principle teachers, each with different viewpoints and styles in teaching.  It was great!

Although Dr. Wes was a crusty old professor who was picky about how assignments were done, I learned a lot from him.  As any FWBC/Summit grad. knows, you had to list out at least ten answers and if you found more they had to be in increments of five (in other words, you couldn’t list 13, it had to be 15 or leave off the other three you’d found) and always, always in NOUN FORM!  The other area of distinction Dr. Wes was known for was his role in helping with the translation of the New International Version of the Bible.

Rev Scharfe was a quiet, gentle man who was careful with his words.  One phrase he used so much that I have always remembered was, “We do not stand in judgment of the Scripture.  Scripture stands in judgment of us.”  He taught us a respect and awe of Holy Scripture–God’s own words given to us for all people and all time.

Other professors were instrumental in my formation and many of the things they said stay with me to this day.  I remember during a discussion in music class with Dr. Jay Paladi in which he used the symbol of the rainbow to illustrate a point.  He noted that the New Age movement had hijacked the rainbow as their symbol and there were many Christians who would no longer use it because the New Agers were.  He said, “It’s OUR symbol!  I say we take it back!  Don’t quit using something of God just because someone else uses it!”

Class discussions, chapel speakers, special  conferences and oodles of studying challenged me to grow in my faith, understanding and ability to apply the Scriptures to my life.  Those were great years!

Adulthood

After graduating from high school in 1987 I wanted to attend Summit Christian College (formerly Fort Wayne Bible College) in Fort Wayne, IN.  When financing just wouldn’t work out I went to work while still living at home.  I worked retail and in a warehouse for a time, however it was time for me to be on my own and I took a job in Elkhart, IN, at the Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission (AIMM) as their secretary.  I worked at AIMM for a year and a half, but, truth be told, I was a lousy secretary!  In addition, I ended up very depressed as I couldn’t find a church to fit into nor any friends my age.

I spent most of my time in my apartment.  The staff at AIMM did all they could and were wonderful people to work with and be around, but since they were old enough to be my parents or grandparents they weren’t people I spent much time with outside of the office.  The few friends I made were older and professionals–definitely out of my league even though they were very kind to me.  Any hopes of a dating life were not great either.  I dated a guy for awhile, but it ended up nowhere.  I wanted to get married and have a bunch of kids, but that seemed like a crazy idea after awhile.

The hardest part , though, was the church-hunt.  I tried the church most of the staff attended, but really wanted to branch out on my own instead of working all week with the same folks and then going to church with the same folks.  I found another Bible-believing church and tried to find a niche there–no luck.  I went to a charismatic Mennonite church (yeah, go figure!) and found that one waaayyy outside my comfort-zone!  And, to be honest, extremely distracting from worship.  Everyone was just sort of doing their own thing–walking around with arms raised, kneeling in prayer, sitting and listening, whatever.  It wasn’t what I thought of as worshiping as a corporate body of believers.  I did find a church eventually, but it turned out to be soon before I ended up moving home before finally going to college.

I came to the conclusion that what I really wanted was to go to college and no matter what kind of funding it took to get there, I was going.  At the time I was dating a guy who thought it would be a waste of my time to go and, for whatever reason, that irritated me and I left!  Sometimes God works in weird ways…

August 25, 1990, I finally arrived at Summit Christian College in Fort Wayne.  I was glad to be there, but ready to forget chasing dreams and finding Mr. Right.  I was there to get a degree in elementary education and work as a teacher for missionary children.

(Does it seem strange that I remember the exact date I arrived on campus?  Not really, you see, I met Nolan that night!  It seems that whenever I give up on my wants, God finally has the chance to direct me to where He’s been wanting me to go.  And, obviously, His ideas have been far superior to mine!)

My next post I’ll talk about Summit.

Grace EMC

When I think of Grace Evangelical Mennonite Church, I have only happy memories.  I’m sure there were negative things that must have happened, but they were apparently not significant enough for me to remember.  I loved going to church and being involved in the various activities as I grew up.  We had good pastors and very dedicated people who taught the Sunday School classes and Wednesday night youth programs.  It was (and still is) a very active church with something always going on.

It was at Grace that I learned my Bible so well.  Not only were there Sunday morning services and Sunday School, but also Sunday night service, Pioneer Girls on Wednesdays, youth choir, high school youth group, Bible quizzing, and vacation Bible school in the summers.  There were also two camps each year, a week-long summer camp and a weekend retreat in the winter.  We drove all the way up to Miracle Camp in Lawton, Michigan.  It was a long drive from Morton, so it was an adventure, of sorts, just getting there.  There were special services held when a special speaker would come or a video series would be shown with the intent of helping Christians to grow in their faith.  Each activity had as its focus the goal of knowing and serving Jesus Christ by learning His Word, the Bible, and living the life He has called us to live.

Grace had an emphasis on missions as well.  We were always hearing about and from missionaries in the various countries around the world.  We prayed for them, donated to them and attended the special services held for them when they came back for visits.  The emphasis was to bring God’s Word and the message of salvation to the world so that all people could know Jesus Christ and accept Him as Savior and Lord.  There was a lot of emphasis on recruiting missionaries as well.  I think I was one of the few who never went on a short-term missions trip (something I regret and hope all my kids will take the opportunity to do).  We were always encouraged to consider missions as a possible ministry.  I remember being told, “Aim toward missions until God tells you that’s not where He wants you to be.”  We were also encouraged to be involved in the social issues around us: picketing abortion clinics, door-to-door witnessing, ministry at the Peoria Rescue Mission, involvement in Project Angle Tree and many others.  All of these things were wonderful and helped me to grow as a Christian, but I don’t think Grace would have had the impact on my life except for the leadership and shepherding of Pastor Milo Nussbaum.

Pastor Nussbaum was one of the first pastors, if not the founding pastor, of Grace.  He and his wife Violet were a loving, nurturing couple who truly loved all of us.  Vi was like a grandmother to everyone, always smiling and with a friendly word to say.  She was energetic and busy with a chatty disposition that she was careful to keep in check.  Pastor was calm, deliberate and firm, but gentle in his admonishments.  I loved his eyebrows and his hands!  I had the joy of seeing him again last spring at Pop’s funeral visitation and he hasn’t changed.  Unfortunately, Violet has passed away now, but after suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease for many years it was a blessing.  Pastor said that even though she eventually lost the ability to do anything else or remember anyone, she never forgot how to say, “Thank you.”  Whenever anyone did something for her, she would say, “Thank you.”  That’s the example I had to study in my pastor and his wife all my most formative years.

Our other pastors were also men of integrity and dedication to ministry.  There was usually an associate pastor and a youth pastor who worked with Pastor Nussbaum.   As I think of where those men are today, I’m happy to say they are still men of integrity, dedication and leadership.  These men and the host of other people at Grace who taught in the various youth activities are, to my knowledge, still faithful to their calling as Christians.  They continue to teach others about Christ and teach them His Word just as they did to me as I grew up.

I would not be the person I am today if it had not been for Grace EMC.  Having always been a kid who “had to be right,” I was taught at Grace that being right only worked if it was true.  My personal responsibility as a Christian to take as many people to Heaven with me as I can was learned there as well.  If I started listing off all the things I learned at Grace, I’d be here all day!  Grace EMC was one of the greatest blessings of my growing up years.

 

Where do I start?

It’s always a challenge to answer the question, “Where/when did this start?”  There’s an old saying (Chinese, maybe?) that says, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  However, after 642 steps, sometimes it’s hard to say exactly when the journey began.  Perhaps, like a lot of things, it’s just the journey of life and we really don’t know where it will take us.  For those of us who’ve committed our lives to God, those decisions are His and we try to be faithful.  But it’s not like He sends angels on a regular basis with instructions and a road map.  We walk in faith, trusting that He will guide us even when we’re too dense to get it.  My faith journey has been one of seeking answers to questions.  However, before I delve into those questions and where they led, I think it’s practical to start with my own background so people will know where I’m coming from in the first place.

I was born August 27, 1968, in Peoria, IL, to a single, college-age mother who placed me for adoption.  At three-days old I was adopted by Ross and Barbara Nettell and brought home to my excited big brother, Blake.  Excited until he saw his new little sister was a red and blue screaming pest sent to tag along after him and irritate him just so he could grown in virtue!  (And since he’s turned into a virtuous man, I do feel some satisfaction in a job well done!)

We lived in Morton, IL, and I was baptized at the United Methodist Church where Mom sang in the choir and Dad taught Sunday School.  After a time they started going to the Presbyterian church and we remained Presbyterians.  About the time I was five or six, Dad was transferred by Caterpillar to Melbourne, Australia.  While we lived there we attended the Presbyterian church down the block from our house.

It is from there that I have my first real memories of church.  The pastor would have us children come sit in the center aisle while he would give a Bible lesson.  I remember how pretty that church was with the light streaming through the stained-glass and the pastor in his robes stretching out his arms in an all-encompassing gesture.  One time as he taught about communion he had one of the older boys and himself each break a loaf of bread to explain it as we smaller children sat in two long lines between them.  I knew it was something important.  (I also remember falling asleep on Mom’s lap and the old lady with an ear horn, so not everything was ethereal and spiritual!)

Part of the time we lived there I attended an all-girls school run by the Anglican Church.  We had chapel every week along with prayer in the classroom.  It’s always been the school I’ve looked back on as my favorite.  However, after two-and-a-half years in Australia my parents marriage could no longer take the strain of two people poorly matched and they divorced.  Mom, Blake and I (I was seven) returned to Morton while Dad remained in Melbourne.

I don’t recall attending church when we came back until Mom started dating Bill Moschel.  He attended the Morton Apostolic Christian Church and we joined him.  I think what made the biggest impression on me there was how close everyone seemed to be.  Although we were “outsiders” in the sense that we weren’t members, I felt accepted and longed to be a part of them.  I especially loved the Sunday School when we all joined together to sing.  Since the AC churches don’t use instruments in worship, all the singing was done  a cappella and I loved it.  (To this day, it’s still one of my favorite styles of music.)

We attended there until Mom and Bill decided to get married and found that the AC churches do not marry divorced persons.  This was a hard thing for them since Bill had attended there for 30 years, even though he’d never joined.  They went to a judge to get married.  Sometime around then there were special services held at Grace Evangelical Mennonite Church and they attended them.  After that we started going there and that’s the church in which I spent the rest of my growing up years.

I’ll write about Grace EMC in another post or this will get incredibly long!