When I received my latest issue of Above Rubies I was truly looking forward to it. Everyone raved about this magazine that has been “Strengthening Families Across the World” for 32 years. It is a much anticipated event due to the sporadic publishing of the magazine. You see, AR only publishes when enough donations have come in to make a complete distribution of their full color 32 page periodical. I never really had the opportunity to read AR consistently but I had picked up an issue here and there. It was never an earth moving experience.
The entire issue seems to have a common theme running through. The pages are stuffed full of testimonials about various ailments that had been cured…yes, I said cured, through child bearing. And I don’t mean your typical child bearing. I’m speaking of the repeated and continuous Quiverful type child bearing. We aren’t talking about sciatica pain either. The ailments include panic attacks, migraines, fatigue, poor marriage, depression, chronic pain (from adhesions), nosebleeds and aging. And these aren’t just silly little clichés like “Children keep you young.” These are multi paragraph articles proposing the answer to all your problems is just having more babies. The second half of the magazine has a large spread on V-BAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) births and how successful they are.
As I perused the pages of this latest AR installment my eyes settled on an article written by Nancy Campbell’s daughter herself, Serene. There she is with her beautiful family. Everyone is smiling. They look so happy. I eagerly began reading the article written by Nancy Campbell’s own progeny. Surely, this serving should be savored morsel by morsel. After all, who else would have a better grip on how to live this Above Rubies life than someone that grew up in it?
Before I finished the first paragraph I found myself forced to go back and reread what was written. Did she really just say that due to poor plumbing this story is set during a time when she had no running water? I’m already sympathetic toward her. Wow, it’s hard to live without running water but to do so with 8 little blessings would be doubly hard. I’m already looking forward to the happy ending.
Instead I read about how this family, whose oldest child is 12, is first forced to haul water from the stock tank (after breaking the ice), then fetch water down the hill and back up again in 5 gallon buckets, survive in a freezing cold house, then suffer as smoke billowed out of the wood stove, then wear goggles to keep smoke out of their eyes, then lay on the floor while the children opened doors and windows to air out the place. Finally, to escape the smoke, they went outside in freezing weather to run laps around the house to stay warm. And poor Serene cried.
This is not the worst part of the story, nor the reason I felt compelled to write this review. We all have bad days. We even might have bad weeks, months or entire years. I think we can all relate to someone who has had a “smoke billowing into the living room” day even if we have never even seen a wood stove in person. The part that really had me shaking my head was that throughout the description of this event Serene interjects chastisement for herself. She cries after finding the only way to breath in her home is by laying with her baby on the floor and she says “I didn’t try to be a big coping girl anymore.” She expresses displeasure at running laps with a baby in the freezing cold but her reproof to herself is that she “popped their [the children] bubble with my tirade of negativity.” I’m not sure who told Serene that children are brainless idiots but I have no doubt that her little blessings already knew that they were cold and tired.
The answer for Serene, she decides, is to create a mind game to get through future situations. And I must interject here that it appears there will be many many “future situations” as Serene never mentions fixing any of the problems or how her loving husband is rectifying the mess. She goes on to explain about her “Inanimate Filter”. The premise is that if something doesn’t have a “soul or spirit” then it isn’t worth worrying about. “Don’t waste good energy” her advice goes. There are several things wrong with this theory. Sometimes events are important even though they have no soul because they effect someone who does. Serene is promoting lying. She is participating in asceticism (the doctrine that a person can attain a high spiritual and moral state by practicing self-denial, self-mortification, and the like). She is being a bad witness for Christ. And this type of behavior is not sustainable.
When you are in a difficult life sometimes you have to lie to yourself to get through the day. But then the question becomes “Is lying to yourself and your children still lying?” We all know it’s a bad idea to lie to other people. When Serene tells her kids that all is well in spite of their frost bite she loses credibility with them. And lying to yourself? That’s not cool either. When you lie to yourself you are basically saying that what you truly feel, see and hear is wrong. This leads to more confusion about what is real and soon you end up relying on other people to tell you how to respond in any given situation. That’s a set up for abuse if I ever saw one. Lying is unscriptural and I argue that lying to yourself is just as bad as lying to others. The fall out is worse. If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?
While we will have times that we suffer there are a group of people that believe in suffering for the purpose of being more Godly. This is called asceticism. Self denial and martyrdom run rampant in these individuals but only for the purpose of becoming more holy. While the scriptures tell us that we will suffer for being Christians I would hardly consider living in a run down house a mission field for Christ. It’s not like she is on the mission field in Africa and has to live in a grass hut to reach the people. No, Serene is suffering because her husband and family refuse to do the things that would make her life comfortable and Serene herself doesn’t have the power to make it better. She comforts herself with the idea that she is being “refined” and “sanctified” when in reality she is just being neglected and abused by everyone around her.
What sort of witness is she for Christ? What do people see when they look at this poor mother of many shivering in the cold? They see a woman who is denied basic care. She is not allowed to make her predicament better. Her husband is comfortable forcing her to live in these conditions. What’s worse, at the Campbell compound a large portion of the family all live on one parcel of land. So, Serene has family nearby. What did they do to help in the moment and what ongoing action are they taking to make long term changes for her and the children? It is disgusting to think that there is a permanent problem with the water pipe and everyone around her just shrugs. No one takes her husband to task. These leaders in the patriarchal movement turn the other way when their own daughter is suffering. How will the unbelievers “know we are Christians by our love” if we eat our own?
This type of avoidance of the truth can only last so long. When the truth of standing on the snow with 7 children and a baby slaps you in the face for the 5th time in as many seconds it is impossible to forget the “Inanimate” things. Lies can not stand. It’s no surprise that her “grumpiest face” kept reappearing. That is because she was having trouble lying to herself. God, himself, gave her feeling in her fingers so that she might know when she is cold and have the good sense to go someplace warmer. What Serene needs is a better answer to her cold, smoky, waterless house. Something she can hang her hat on like the knowledge that because people care for her they are in the process of fixing her house to make it livable again. She may still have her bad days but the bad days are so much easier to bear when you know change is coming or at least someone cares!!
In the P.S. to this story Serene adds a little update that since the story of the smoky, freezing house they had some severe flooding that destroyed her downstairs flooring. She congratulates herself for keeping her “Inanimate Filter” in high gear during this time and she didn’t throw a big fit. They now live completely upstairs and she feels no occasion to be concerned that her situation is very difficult and may not change. She has completely disassociated from reality. What does her future hold?
The only answers Serene offers are lies, lies and more lies. Is this the lesson she has learned from the matriarch of self denial and martyrdom? As I look at the examples presented in the rest of the magazine I see that this is true. With the exception of 6 pages of ads for the AR products, the entire focus of this piece of literature is to convince you that your horrible situation is ok, fine, comfortable, not as bad as someone else, tolerable, pretend, all your fault and just plain great. It’s not. It’s a falsehood to say differently. Above Rubies applauds women who manage to delude themselves with statements about how they should have tried harder and their feelings are invalid. Above Rubies is a magazine of lies.
“Ima Wakenow” is a former Quiverfull mom of many.
Discuss this post on the NLQ forums. Comments are also open below.