GNO with Jane Ellen Mark: Reading, Counseling, and Jane Eyre

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I blew in from Kansas (Wichita) but count Saint Louis home–44 years.  I’m married to Bob (also 44 years), we have four married daughters, who are my favorite people, four wonderful sons-in-law (love those guys), and eight awesome grandkids, most all of whom live in Saint Louis, too.  I love my church family as well (Central Pres.) and devote a good bit of time to them.  You will usually find me with knitting AND a book in tow–how to choose?!   

What advice would you give to a young woman just starting college?
College, as everything else, is a different deal in 2014 than it was when I started in 1966. But I often feel that my college years were wasted—largely because I chose a major that I felt my father would approve (he imparted to me a very distorted view of higher education and of a genuine pursuit of knowledge) and not one I had a genuine interest in/passion for. I was an excellent student from grade school through my freshman year in college; after that, my studies began to slide a bit—I wish I had studied in college more of what I truly enjoyed (English, literature, French). 
But today I think a huger issue is a moral, spiritual one—commit to not getting sucked into the cultural expectation of a young woman that she will be sexually active outside marriage. This is far more important than you can begin to realize! This is a counter-cultural idea in 2014; but it is most definitely a biblical idea—mandate. Your life will be fuller, richer, more rewarding, and by far less messed up in your adult years if you commit to pre-marital celibacy. You have no idea the harm this does to you, damaging the core of your being as a woman and a person. (I could elaborate on all the reasons why but this is not the place for that.) God has a perfect plan for you; wait on him; his ways are higher than our ways and are for our good because he cares about us and truly wants what’s best for our happiness. Find friends and groups in college (campus ministries are a good place to start) who will support you in this.
What advice would you give a young bride? a new mother?
Read! This may sound odd, but as I look back on what I’ve learned, the skills I’ve gained, the jobs I’ve done (even as a wife and mother), reading has been key. When you are first married (before then!), read good books on marriage (and sex!) and share them with your husband.  Learn together. When you are preparing for parenthood, read good books on how to parent well. I could share titles—if you’re interested, let me know. But we don’t come equipped with all we need to know—much of anything we need to know, actually—about marriage and parenting before we are married and before we are parents—so read!
Watch friends who have godly marriages you admire, and families you admire, and learn from them—cultivate mentoring relationships/friendships with people who have wisdom and experience. We laugh now, but when our “big girls” (the older two, Melanie and Mary Catherine) were young, friends invited us to go on a Current River float trip. I had never canoed—so I checked a book out of the library on canoeing! That’s a little crazy, I know, but it’s imbedded in me—read, learn, enjoy. (And read good literary fiction while you’re at it. And biographies. And theology. And history. I have so much I want to read and am making such slow progress!  Time—agh.)
Both marriage and parenting are simultaneously the most rewarding and joyous as well as the most difficult and painful experiences we have in life. God instituted both in creation and declared them good; but our sinful nature makes both hard. But I know this is his primary growing ground for us as married women/mothers. Commit to a binding marriage.There are four “A”s that could warrant divorce—adultery, abuse, abandonment, and addiction; but outside of those, and sometimes by God’s grace even inside those—seek good counsel!, commit with your spouse to never letting go. The “d” word is generally not an option. 
JE with her husband, Bob.

Which leads me to share another “best” piece of advice, for marriage, for parenting, for life—good, Christian therapy (counseling) is a great idea! Don’t shy away from it. We all come to marriage and parenting hauling baggage, some of us carrying heavier and more numerous bags than others (and ones we didn’t even realize we owned). When issues and circumstances conspire to pull you down, seek the help of a trusted counselor—and I mean professional. We can’t walk well through painful places and/or crises in our life without a coach. Someone who asks questions we don’t even think of. Someone who can help us discover our blind spots and shortcomings. Someone who can encourage us in godly wisdom. Someone who can give us a right perspective on who we are in Christ. Someone who can help us sort out our past (that is not fruitless or self-indulgent navel-gazing, it’s important in growing towards truth and freedom).  Can it be expensive? Yes—but it is money very well spent, and worth sacrificing other things for, to have for a season.

Deal with your issues! I have been blessed with a godly husband who loves me dearly and who is committed above all things earthly to our relationship. I know that is a gift that everyone doesn’t have, and I am humbly grateful. But after 44 years of marriage, I can honestly say that we are better friends, have more fun together, enjoy one another, and love each other more deeply than we ever have. (And I think he is a handsomer and sexier man than ever!)  BUT—that did not come without sometimes hard and painful places. I’ve talked about therapy, and that has been huge for both of us. When things come between you, talk about them! I know love covers over a multitude of sins, and there is certainly a place for that. But we are also human—and sins divide us. Be honest, speaking truthfully in love, when your spouse offends you or you know you have offended him—and work it out.  Repentance and reconciliation are beautiful things. Keep empty accounts so that you can be one well.
What advice do you have about beauty?
First of all, recognize that God created woman with inherent beauty, strength, and dignity; don’t allow yours to be compromised. (That’s the foundation.)
Secondly, physically (and other ways, too), what you eat/drink and how you exercise (or don’t) will shape who you are and who you become. Pay attention and grow in lifelong discipline concerning these issues. In my 60s I realize it’s far more about fitness and health than about beauty—but beauty and how you feel about yourself (and how your clothes fit!) is a rewarding by-product of fitness and health. We will live forever in glorified bodies eventually, but enjoy your life now and in the remaining earthly years God gives you by staying fit. Don’t get it out of balance—being a gym rat is NOT a good idea, but do something regularly to get and stay fit.  It’s hard to be consistent, I struggle with that. But quality of life—and future quality as we age—is important. And as you age, stretch-stretch-stretch!
Thirdly, stay out of the sun! And/or wear sunscreen—melanoma is a serious threat, and sun damage done in younger years can’t be undone.
A helpful tip? Probably everyone knows this, but clean/polish your wedding rings with toothpaste/toothbrush every few days. My mother taught me this, and taught her granddaughters.They will sparkle and remind you of the beauty of a good marriage. (And, our jeweler tells me, that’s OK, just be sure to rinse them well.)
Jane Ellen and Bob’s daughters

What has God taught you about trusting him?

This may sound trivial, but if we, as Reformed Christians, believe wholly in God’s sovereignty  (that he is in charge of all things), then he is King over all the daily details of my life. He has planned, he knows, my future—even the next few hours, days, weeks as well as years. I have seen this so often especially in times of great time pressure—usually in preparing for a trip and feeling (knowing!) I have way more to get done than I think I can manage. I have seen him often in those times working out the details and schedule so that it happens—and I know he is there and caring for me, even in things that matter only to me. Practice seeing his hand in your life.  Know that it is the Lord who works all things together for your good if you love him. I have seen him in big things, too, and there have been many. But see him in the “little” things and know he is always with you and for you.
How has God given you understanding of your identity in him?
Wow, that’s an ongoing process (lifelong), do we ever really get it? I think not before we see him face to face. BUT—  I come back to therapy (mainly Doug Samsel, formerly at CrossRoads), and good teaching/Bible study over the years (especially Gospel Transformation), and a husband who loves me truly as Christ loved the church—and models that love for me, so that I see more clearly my identity as a daughter of the King and all that means day-to-day. My identity as a girl was not focused on, valued, or nurtured by my parents; indeed, in light of what I know now about good parenting, I grew up somewhat of an orphan emotionally. But I was able to sort all that out in therapy and understand that God doesn’t waste anything. He rescued me in beautiful ways; and I, in some ways, am a rescuer—it’s part of (when used wisely) who he made me, kind of like God giving you a new name? But I’ll say again, we have to keep exercising all the spiritual disciplines to keep this understanding of our identity in Christ ingrained in us. Old tapes play for me sometimes, and I have to preach the gospel to myself and reorient myself to whose I am. 
What fictional character inspires you as a woman and why?
My all-time favorite novel is Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. She (Jane) is remarkable in her integrity and devotion to God, to the point of denying her most passionate longings when fulfilling them would not be in keeping with God’s will. I still remember where I was sitting and how I felt as I finished reading that book for the first time (years ago)—it is a thrilling, totally engaging story—if you haven’t read it, you must. 
Your friend,
Jane Ellen

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