Whenever I am tempted,
Whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing,
When hope within me dies,
I draw all the closer to Him;
From care He sets me free:
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.
"Please have a seat." Pastor Philip Paulson glanced at his wife Cora in the first pew a moment before launching into the sermon. "My friends, the events of this past week have called to mind some of the most potent truths in the Bible, and we're now called upon to manifest these truths before all the world. When President Trump took the oath of office this past Friday it represented a great victory, yes, but not a complete victory against the forces of evil in the world today. He's a great man, but not a godly man. He's divorced many times, and the Lord hates divorce. While he's obeyed the Lord's commandment to be fruitful and multiply, he's done so in sin. He's fathered at least one child out of wedlock, he didn't homeschool his children, and he's allowed his daughters to work outside the home and in sinful occupations, like modeling. No, my brothers and sisters, this is not a victory, but the first step toward victory."
Michael Bloodstone in the third row sat up straighter as the pastor glanced around at the congregation, gauging their alertness to what was coming. As if they didn't already know. His sermons were essentially the same from week to week, though he was railing against feminism a lot less this morning than last week.
"My friends, the Lord God said to be fruitful and take dominion over the earth, but we are failing. It's true that 75% of Americans call themselves Christians, but 24% of those are Roman Catholics. It's true that Evangelical Protestants are the largest Christian group in America and the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant church. It's true that the SBC is the world's largest Baptist denomination, but it's also true that membership is falling so it's a church in decline. I would say that most of the quiverfull churches are in decline, and as the church falls, so does America. God is calling on each of us to save the country, and the planet."
Here it came, and Mike tried to stifle a yawn. At twenty-three he was hardly a boy, but his father believed in eternal submission from children and wouldn't hesitate to humiliate even Mike in front of others if he spotted any of them yawning in church.
"God gave us the answer, my friends. It's the duty of us all to produce warriors for the Lord's mighty army. Children are like arrows in the hand of a mighty man; blessed is he whose quiver is full of them. He shall not be shamed when speaking with his enemies at the gate."
Ho hum. The pastor was probably going to pitch the teen retreat now, Michael guessed, and he was right. Pastor Paulson really needed to update his sermons.
"My friends, it's a well-known fact that fertility decreases after age twenty. In the Bible it was typical for women to marry as early as twelve, and the mother of our Lord Jesus was fourteen. Her husband Joseph was around thirty, old enough to provide a good home for his wife and growing family. Let us emulate the parents of the Lord and marry off our daughters as early as possible. As soon as menses begins the youth is old enough to be given in matrimony, and it's our obligation to see that these young women are married while still pure. “But what of love?” you ask. “Her father and mother married for love; why should our daughter have no say in her own future?” I say this: you have been poisoned and deceived by the evil of feminism, my friends. The only love that matters is the love of our Lord. Love means duty and living a life entirely in the service of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. A young woman in her teens is more pliable to the will of God and man; less likely to have a will of her own. Marry them off, my friends, before they're old enough to develop sinful, rebellious natures. The church is sponsoring a marriage retreat next month for only $1500 per family. This includes three days of networking with other parents so you can find the perfect helpmeet for your child. Let us now pray for its success."
Mike stood and bowed his head with the others, but his mind was elsewhere. His father could never afford $1500 for the retreat, but it was high time he married. As a petty officer in the navy he could support a wife and child. There was no need to wait until he was thirty to marry Elsie Dinsmore. Good gravy. No, he had someone entirely different in mind. A grown woman of eighteen and the most beautiful girl in the parish.
Heavenly Father, hear my prayer and let me marry Eve Summerfield, that we may serve You forever in holy submission in a home of our own. Amen.
Good gravy, his father needed to shave his head.
If the bastard insisted on playing Yul Brynner in The King and I, he needed to shave his freaking head.
King Mongkut; that was it. That was who the old man reminded him of at times like this. Hollywood's idiotic interpretation of the monk king, although the Yul Brynner version was infinitely more likable than Michael's dad.
This whole scene reminded Mike of The King and I, when King Mongkut claps his hands and everyone in the palace has to drop to the floor and grovel. Mike wondered whether his old man had ever seen that picture. Probably not, he thought. Luke Bloodstone didn't allow television or entertainment of any kind in the house.
No, this was likely his own script.
Luke called his family together. One ring of the bell and that was it; they'd damn well better appear immediately or there'd be a whipping for each of them, including his wife, who was forty-five now, and his eldest son Michael, who was twenty-three.
The youngest children arrived first, terrified of the belt, and lined up according to height as their father insisted. The older children followed, and soon the entire Bloodstone brood stood in the living room awaiting further instructions, although they knew what the bastard wanted. It was his time of the month again; he was PMSing and needed to reaffirm his superiority.
Sad that men are such insecure creatures, one of his daughters thought, but she'd never dare voice her opinion. Luke had no tolerance for any opinion but his own, especially not the opinions of females or children. Women existed solely to serve men, as Eve had been created for Adam. They weren't here to be companions or equals. His children also existed solely to serve him, and he regularly tested their obedience.
Like now. He clapped his hands.
Instantly the Bloodstones dropped to their knees before him as if he were a god. His wife had trouble getting down; even more trouble getting up again, but he cut her some slack. She was obviously trying, not rebelling. "There'll be no rebellion in this house," he decreed.
Another decree was happening under his radar. His eldest son had now had enough of this shit. On his honor as a God-fearing evangelical Christian, this was the last time Michael Bloodstone would ever submit to this humiliating submission.
Never again. So help me, God.
Never again. He was twenty-three now. It was his turn to rule, not serve anymore.
The phone rang and Mike headed into the other room to pick it up. He knew who it was. He'd asked Eve Summerfield's father for permission to court her. This had to be Eve's dad calling him with the good news. His problems would soon be over. He'd marry Eve, buy a home, and from then on he'd be King Mongkut.
"Michael? This is Dave Summerfield. I spoke to Eve. I'm afraid she isn't interested in courtship with you. I'm sorry. You know how women are. Heh."
Dave hung up the phone while Mike stared at the receiver in his hand. Eve wasn't interested? Good gravy. What the hell was this? What kind of father would allow his daughter to reject a man he'd picked out for her? You don't ask your daughter to court someone unless you've decided in your own mind that the suitor is acceptable. With my daughters it'll be different. I'll tell them who they're going to marry, and that'll be the end of it.
Probably the creeping liberalism from outside that poisoned so many Christians these days. In the navy Mike was exposed to worldly people every day, but he'd never let them brainwash him like other people did.
Other men are so weak. Weak as women.
Was that why Eve had rejected him? He was too much man for her? Maybe she wanted one of those touchy-feely metrosexuals who were easy to dominate. Mike laughed. What she really needed was a good whipping.
God was surely testing him. Not everyone in the congregation was as devout as his family; obviously the Summerfields weren't. He'd have to find a helpmeet who understood Biblical gender roles. He started a list.
Ruth was seventeen and submissive, but unattractive. She'd bring him no glory. Deborah was twenty and too headstrong. Sarah, eighteen, had failed to honor her future husband by allowing herself to get fat. Hannah, nineteen, was thin and beautiful, but he'd have to test her submission. Judith, Esther, Naomi, Rachel and Rebecca were between eighteen and twenty-five; not pretty, not ugly. He knew nothing about them beyond that.
None of these women were even remotely as gorgeous as Eve. Why hadn't she accepted him? My life would be perfect if she had.
The other men in town must be lining up to ask Eve's father for her hand. She was beautiful, so her father could afford to be picky; probably holding out for the one with the most money.
No, it's Eve making the decision. No father would suggest a courtship if he didn't approve of the prospective son-in-law. It was Eve, not Dave who'd rejected him, pure and simple.
Michael crushed an empty drink can in his hand; a drink his wife should have brought him. God was testing him; surely that was it. Testing his ability to suffer and wring victory from defeat, like Jesus did on the cross.
He'd show her. He'd find the ideal Proverbs 31 wife and they'd have perfect, well-behaved children. A lot of them. They'd be rich like the Duggars and everyone in the congregation would envy them. Every woman in town would wish she'd married prosperous, well-respected Michael Bloodstone, especially a certain worldly sinner named Eve.
Woe unto the wicked, for it shall go ill for them: they shall reap their just reward. Isaiah 3:11
Then all peoples of the earth shall see you are called by the Lord, and they shall fear you. And the Lord will grant you plenty of goods, bless you with offspring, multiply your livestock, and increase the crops of your field. The Lord will open to you His good treasure, the heavens, to bring the rain to your land in its season, and bless all the work of your hand. And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above and not beneath if you heed the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and are careful to observe them.
— Deuteronomy 28:10-13
Mike couldn't understand it. The Lord had promised to make him prosperous, so why was he still the tail, not the head? Like Adam, Mike was meant to rule in paradise, but had been laid low by a woman.
Eve, Hannah, Judith, Esther, Rachel, Rebecca, Ruth, Deborah, Sarah.
One by one Mike asked the father of each girl for permission to court his daughter, and was refused nine times. They were the only available girls over fifteen in the whole congregation, and there was only one left. Naomi Newman was five years younger than Mike, and plain as a Shaker table.
It was forbidden for women to wear makeup or fancy clothes in keeping with Peter 3:3 that they "do not wear elaborate hair, jewelry or expensive apparel," yet Eve looked so beautiful even without adornment. Naomi could spend the day at a salon and still look like a frump. She'd bring him no glory, and a godly man deserved a beautiful wife.
Worse yet, he'd already been refused by some who were even less attractive. What if Naomi's father rejected him too? He might have to seek a bride outside the congregation. A worldly wife.
Maybe that was God's plan all along. God wanted him to seek a beautiful, sexy, worldly wife and bring her out of the darkness of atheism into the radiance of His salvation.
Mike pondered this until the phone rang.
"Michael? This is Fred Newman. Naomi has agreed to meet you."
Michael's family went to Fred Newman's home the following Saturday. Mike had twelve brothers and sisters; Fred had ten children. There wasn't enough room in the house for everyone, so they had a backyard barbecue.
Mike's mother helped Mrs. Newman make potato salad and deviled eggs while the children played outside. At first the Bloodstones played stiffly for a while, then loosened up once their father had clustered around the barbecue grill with the other men, ignoring them.
Mike watched Naomi. She wasn't pretty and she wasn't ugly; she wasn't fat or thin; she was boring. He could never get worked up over her the way he did with Eve. She had a lot less spirit and personality than Eve, but a lot more than Mike's mother and sisters. Evidently Fred Newman was less tyrannical than Luke Bloodstone.
Michael didn't get a chance to speak to her until after dinner, when Fred suggested he sit with Naomi at the end of the picnic table where they could have more privacy. There was actually no privacy, for the four adults sat at the same table, but privacy was one of many things good Christians never had.
"Hello," Mike began, for Christian women never spoke first.
"Um...hello. Nice to meet you."
Mike had no idea what to say next. He'd never spoken to a woman before; not even to Eve, and he'd had a crush on her since childhood. He asked Naomi about her beliefs.
"Yes. I mean about men and women," he said quietly.
"Um...I'm not sure what you mean."
Mike looked at her in surprise. "I believe men are God's representatives on Earth."
"Yes, my family has always believed that too."
"That means men speak for God, and women shouldn't argue with anything a man says. No disagreements about anything, large or small. No backtalk."
Naomi looked down, and Fred announced it was time for prayer.
Mrs. Newman called the children over, and Fred led a prayer of thanks for the food, the fellowship, and for the future success of Naomi's courtship. When it grew dark, the Bloodstones thanked the Newmans for inviting them, then piled into their Ford Transit. The families would meet again in two weeks for dinner at the Bloodstone house.
On the ride home, Mike pondered Naomi. If she stopped wearing her hair in a pony tail and let it hang loose like Eve did, she'd look more attractive. She could certainly do with a nicer dress. When they were married, he'd tell her what to wear, what to say, what to do, how to think, how to vote, how to bring him glory. Women existed to exalt men.
"Quis ut Deus?" Michael asked the serpent. "I am," he answered himself.
For several weeks, Mike and Fred stayed in weekly telephone contact. Since it was her father's duty to protect her purity and determine the fitness of a potential spouse, Naomi was excluded from these conversations, but one night Fred called her into the room. "I think Mike wants to ask you a question," he said with a wink, and handed her the receiver.
"Hello, Michael," she said, hoping her voice sounded cheerful.
"Hey. I think it's time we tied the knot."
"Are you asking for my hand?"
"No, I'm telling you we're getting married."
Married? Naomi had no idea what to do. Mike's father was a tyrant, a bully and a heartless, selfish bastard. His sons would likely grow to be like him, just as Rehoboam grew to be like King Solomon and became one of the Old Testament villains. Michael looked like the type to employ the rod of Solomon instead of the compassion of Jesus.
But what would happen if she said no? No one would ever again ask for her hand; it was this or nothing. She couldn't spend the rest of her life in her parents' house, laughed at by the rest of the parish. There was nothing worse than being a spinster. Women weren't complete without men, although men were complete without women.
But I don't like Michael. How can I spend the rest of my life in a loveless marriage?
Come to me, all who are weary and over-burdened, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
— Matthew 11:30
When a burden was heavy, it came from Satan. This particular burden was the heaviest ever. It would be like marrying the devil.
But her parents were counting on her. How could she disappoint them? There'd be no prosperity for them until the children moved out of the house. Her father's boss was a congregation member too, but he'd never given her dad a raise, ever. He too was a quiverfull, and had to watch every penny. The Bible promised that children brought prosperity, but every child meant things actually became tighter, not more prosperous.
If God wants us to have so many children, why doesn't He give us the means to support them? Am I ready for children of my own?
She must be, or God wouldn't have handed her this bitter cup to drink. It was selfish to avoid it. Her parents needed her to become someone else's financial burden. It was forbidden for her to support herself with a career. A woman's place was in the home.
Love meant putting up with someone you hated for the greater good. Somehow God would help her carry this cross.
"Um...okay, Michael. Whatever date you choose for the wedding is fine."
Everyone in the congregation came to the wedding, and a few of Mike's navy buddies served as groomsmen.
Even Eve attended. She wore a beautiful blue dress with matching shoes that made Naomi look dowdy in her flowing white wedding gown full of tulle. When he found himself staring at Eve, Mike focused his attention on his in-laws, forcing a laugh when Naomi's father told a joke.
His despair reminded him of a family camping trip when he was ten years old. While returning home they stopped in a McDonald's. It was the first and last time he'd ever eaten in a restaurant. Speakers in the ceiling boom boom boomed a pop song he'd never heard before or since; his father forbid the children to listen to anything but gospel. The title, artist and lyrics totally escaped him; he knew only that the song was magical. He knew he'd never hear it again and would have to hold the memory of it in his brain. His family repeatedly interrupted, however, and the song was lost to him. He remembered now only how much he'd loved it, and how his family had taken it away. He never listened to music anymore.
How many times would he get to see Eve again? Not many. She'd belong to someone else soon. She couldn't escape her fate forever. Like all women, she was ordained by God to be the servant of a man. He'd have to hold the memory of her beauty in his head forever somehow, but his parents and the congregation repeatedly interrupted his thoughts.
"Are you ready, Michael?"
"What?" Mike turned toward the pastor with a lost look.
"Are you ready for the foot washing?"
"Oh, yeah. Sure."
The traditional Baptist ceremony was followed by a reception and prayer reading, and then the bride and groom washed each other's feet. It would be the last time Mike would ever reciprocate anything equally with Naomi.
For the honeymoon, they spent three days at a cheap motel in Savannah, Georgia. Mike shouted Eve's name on the wedding night, and punished Naomi for mentioning it afterwards. She'd have to learn not to complain or correct him; it was man's place to judge women, not woman's place to judge men.
One of these days he'd have to make a list of things she needed to improve. Like her attitude.
"Naomi, sweetie, now don't take this the wrong way, but it might well be that no one but Mike is ever going to ask for your hand. There aren't that many eligible bachelors in the whole church. You'd have to wait for someone a lot younger than you, or a lot older. Is that what you want?"
Her mother had said that, and Naomi had been swayed to accept Mike Bloodstone's offer of courtship. It's all a mistake. Dad said Mike was a godly man, but he's not godly at all. Unless godly meant something different than she'd always believed. Jesus had been kind, loving, compassionate. Mike was none of these things. He was authoritative, severe, tyrannical, cruel. Nothing like her own father, who ruled the Newman house with a cheerful disposition and a great deal of forgiveness, like Jesus would.
For the honeymoon, Mike checked them into a motel with a kitchenette, then took Naomi to the supermarket across the street for groceries. She spent her honeymoon cooking and washing dishes, for Mike insisted on evaluating her skills for some sort of list he was putting together.
That was nothing compared to the wedding night, however.
Naomi knew nothing about sex; had never kissed anyone before the wedding, had never even held hands, for that was a violation of purity rules. The only advice her mother gave her was to comply with whatever Mike wanted to do, no matter how odd it might seem.
After dinner, Mike told her to take a walk with him through Savannah. That sounds romantic, she thought, but he never once held her hand.
Clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp. Naomi watched the back of Mike's legs since he refused to slow down for her. He marched her through back streets and dark alleys, not knowing his way around. She couldn't blame him; he'd never been here before, but why was he too stubborn and arrogant to ask for directions? Men don't like to look weak asking for directions, but their fear of looking weak makes them look even weaker. Men were freaking stupid. She wondered whether her mother ever felt that way about her dad. Probably not. Dad asks for directions. How come her father was strong enough not to care what other men thought, but Mike wasn't? She'd never met a tougher bully than Mike.
After an hour of slogging through side streets, Naomi told him her feet hurt. He glared at her. "Now that we're married, there won't be any disagreements or arguments about anything. Understand? No backtalk. I don't want a rebellious wife."
"Rebellious?" Naomi had never rebelled in her life, but her feet hurt. Would it kill him to let her rest a moment? To keep a slower pace? What would life be like fifty years from now when she was a crippled old lady trying to keep up with him? It was doubtful Mike would ever care about anyone but himself.
Eventually they returned to their motel room, and Naomi took a long bath to soak her sore feet. When she emerged in her nightgown, Mike threw her on the bed and took her from behind. There was no foreplay, no lubricant, no love.
"You're hurting me," she wept, but Mike only thrust harder.
"Let's get one thing straight," he said. "Sex has one purpose only, and that's to make babies. It's not for pleasure. Understand? Certainly not for the woman."
There was no such thing as marital rape. The pastor said so.
"The wife hath not power over her own body, the husband does. 1 Corinthians 7:4"
"Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Colossians 3:18"
"The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. Do not deprive each other. 1 Corinthians 7:3-5"
Blah blah blah.
If it was ungodly to derive pleasure from sex, then why did Mike cry out, and why was it Eve Summerfield's name he shouted? Had there been something between them? Was Eve no longer pure?
Naomi didn't know, but it had been a mistake to ask. Mike ripped off her nightgown and slung her over his knees. He then paddled her bare backside with his hand as she fought to get away from him.
"Just as I thought; you don't really understand headship and submission," he said. "We're going to have to lay down some rules."
The spanking seemed to excite him, and he took her again, this time more gently. Afterward, he caressed her bottom and soothed her to sleep.
A few days later, Mike gave her a wedding gift. "This will help you become the perfect Proverbs 31 wife. When you submit properly, speak rarely, obey me at all times, and never question or argue with me, then you'll be a proper helpmeet to me, and incidents like this will never need to be repeated."
It was a subscription to Beyond Jewels magazine.
Naomi had read Beyond Jewels before, but never had a subscription. Money was tight in her father's house, and they couldn't afford frivolous things like magazines. Some of her friends bought it, though, and often lent her an issue.
The title came from Proverbs 31:10 — Who can find an industrious woman? Her value is far beyond jewels. The articles answered Naomi's questions about how to can peaches, how to submit to a man, how to blanket train your children, how to bring peace and order to a large family. What it couldn't tell her was how the editor/owner could be female, since publishing was an occupation forbidden to women. It wasn't the first time she'd asked that, for the women who'd signed the Nashville Statement were theologians, another occupation denied to women. Strange that so many free women were willing to sign away the freedoms of their imprisoned sisters.
After returning from the honeymoon, Mike gave Naomi a list of flaws she needed to improve. The first was her sense of economy. Her father had always emphasized that God would provide for one's needs; fear for the future meant a lack of faith in God. Mike continually worried about the future, and insisted she use less detergent, less toothpaste, less Lysol, less everything.
"My paycheck only goes so far, so don't be wasteful. We need to watch every penny."
Naomi countered with Deuteronomy 28:10-13, as her father would do:
The Lord will grant you plenty of goods, bless you with offspring, multiply your livestock, and increase the crops of your field. The Lord will open to you His good treasure, the heavens, to bring the rain to your land in its season, and bless all the work of your hand. And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above and not beneath if you heed the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you today, and are careful to observe them.
Mike responded with another spanking, both for arguing with him and for quoting scripture.
"Women can't have a relationship with God, ever. You need me to intercede for you, so don't quote scripture to me as if God is on your side. You need another lesson about headship. Come here."
Women couldn't have a relationship with God? Beyond Jewels encouraged women to pray; for that matter, so did Mike when he led her in prayer. What was the point if God wouldn't listen to women?
Thus Naomi began to question complementarianism, especially when it seemed Mike's soul needed saving far more than hers did. He was cruel, selfish and tyrannical, not gentle and meek like Jesus. How could a good and compassionate God place a thug like Michael in charge of her? And if God was not good and compassionate, was He worthy of worship? It would be better to worship Baal.
"I will show mercy to whom I show mercy, and I will have compassion for whom I have compassion." Romans 9:15
She pinned all her hopes on Mike changing once the baby was born, but it only got worse. Mike bought a paddle specifically for her, and hung it from the nail on his closet door.
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