Marriage is Hard, Guys

Before we get started: We have been thinking that, for our 11th anniversary, we want to write about how hard marriage is. We want to be vulnerable. We want to write about what we believe marriage is for and why we’re determined to stick with it, in spite of how difficult it is. What we don’t want, in any way, shape, or form, is for someone to read this as a judgment against them. We’re writing from our particular context. Our marriage is not anyone else’s marriage, and if you or someone you love is divorced, we do not presume to judge your decision or the reasons behind it. We love you, and we hurt with you for what may have been lost. Please know that the purpose of this post is not to pass judgment, but to share our reasons for being/staying married, and, God willing, to encourage others.

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At DoubleShot last month.

Today, we celebrate our eleventh wedding anniversary. Last year, we wrote about our celebration of the sacrament of marriage on our tenth wedding anniversary, when we were crowned. This year, we decided to sit in our favorite Tulsa coffee shop (thanks, DoubleShot!) and write about how difficult marriage can be, and how, because of what we believe marriage is, those difficulties are actually an important part of what marriage is, and will potentially (God willing) lead us closer to Christ and to one another.

We met at the Church of Christ University Center in Stillwater, OK, while Kristen was working as a hairstylist and John was in vet school. We got to know one another through a mutual group of friends, and spent time together, but neither of us wanted to have a serious relationship. John graduated in 2005, and was subsequently stationed in Vicenza, Italy; in the fall of 2006, Kristen moved to Chicago to work in a salon there. We stayed in touch during this time, but shortly after Kristen moved to Chicago, John realized that he wanted to spend his life with Kristen, and spent the next six months convincing her that this was a good idea. We got engaged in March 2007, when John was in the States for training. Kristen visited John in Europe for two weeks that fall; this was the only time we were able to see one another during our engagement. We did marriage counseling with an Army chaplain, over the phone. We met in Copenhagen, Denmark on May 29, 2008; Kristen had arrived two days early, but John arrived that morning, in his Army dress blues. We met at the hotel, stored our luggage, and headed to city hall, where we were married. We spent the next three weeks making our way south by train to Vicenza, where John finalized his move from there to Naval Station Great Lakes, just north of Chicago.

We both remember the first six months of married life in Chicago as going well. We were learning how to settle disagreements, and to reconcile when things got heated, of course, but everything still had that newlywed glow. At least, that’s how we remember it 11 years later. However, in the fall of 2008, John was informed that he would be going to Iraq for a year, and that he had three weeks before leaving. He left on November 29, on our six month anniversary.

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Seeing They Might Be Giants in Chicago shortly after returning from Iraq (2009).

It would be difficult to exaggerate the impact that this deployment would have on our marriage and our lives. John was a veterinarian, taking care of military working dogs; he was not a direct combatant. Still, being apart for that year was extremely difficult. When we did speak on the phone (Skype/FaceTime weren’t readily accessible), we often got into arguments over what, in retrospect, were usually silly things. When John returned in the fall of 2009, we felt extremely disconnected.

This was compounded by the fact that John had been exploring the Orthodox Church in Iraq, and becoming more and more convinced that it was the best place for us. Kristen was not at all comfortable in the Orthodox Church. The year following John’s return from Iraq was incredibly difficult. We fought about everything – how we spent time; how we spent money; whether to drive or take public transportation; where to go to church; whether and when to start being open to having kids…

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Hiking in Iowa on our eighth anniversary (2016).

We didn’t fight well, either. We have very different ways of dealing with conflict, and while it’s gotten better over the course of 11 years, we still struggle with this. The first few months after John’s return, during particularly heated arguments, Kristen would ask if John wanted or was thinking about divorce. At some point during that time, at a time when we were not fighting, we sat down and agreed that we would not allow divorce to be something that we talked about or considered, either individually or together. We agreed to unequivocally trust one another’s commitment to our marriage. This was probably the single most important conversation we’ve had as a married couple.

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At a friend’s wedding, November 2018.

Meanwhile, our growing involvement with the Orthodox Church (including Kristen’s slow but steady acceptance of and appreciation for it) led us to a deeper understanding of what Christian marriage is. We discuss this in part in last year’s post, by examining the prayers found in the crowning service. In terms of learning to work through (and even benefit from) our struggles, we’ve been thinking a lot about marriage as martyrdom. Ultimately, the mystery of marriage is tied to the mystery of Christ’s relationship with his church, as Paul explains in his letter to the Ephesians. We are called to imitate Christ’s love for his church in our love for our spouse – to be willing to give up everything for the other, who in all honesty does not deserve this sacrifice on our part. We do this in order to participate with Christ, to become ever more like him; to be ever more united to him. This is the true purpose of marriage: salvation.

Marriage is still hard. We still fight about lots of things – how we spend time, how we spend money, how to raise kids… We still have very different ways of dealing with conflict, and we continue to strive to learn how to navigate conflict and to reconcile in service to one another, and to give ever more selflessly (something that having children has helped us learn, without question). However, as we continue to struggle, and to discover new struggles, we do so with the understanding that the struggles are opportunities for us to learn how to die to ourselves every day (usually multiple times a day), to love the other selflessly, and (by means of his grace) to unite ourselves to Christ.

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Veterinary Antimicrobial Usage in Central Ethiopia

In this post I’ll summarize a recently published paper out of Addis Ababa University’s College of Veterinary Medicine on one of my primary areas of interest in veterinary research: antimicrobial stewardship and resistance. But first, an exciting update:

Welcome to the Party, Easton Elias!

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On Friday, May 17th, Easton officially joined our family, as Easton Elias Coatney. He will be baptized Elias, probably at the same time as boy #4 (aka Quartus). Elias is the Greek form of Elijah, who (after Moses) is arguably the most faithful and powerful prophet in the Old Testament. Two of my favorite stories concerning Elijah are his role in God’s victory over the prophets of Baal, and God’s revelation of himself to Elijah when he was hiding from Ahab and Jezebel, the wicked rulers of Israel.

Easton is three years old, and will turn four in August. He enjoys sharks, singing, and basically anything that his big brother Charlie is interested in. We’re grateful to God for the opportunity to add Easton to our family, and for what he is teaching us as adoptive parents.

The finalization of the adoption removes one of the major hurdles keeping us from moving to Mekelle as soon as possible. Now we can begin slogging through the process of obtaining the necessary documentation to prove that the Easton is ours for visa purposes in Ethiopia.  The other major hurdles are the birth of Quartus and completion of the month-long training that we had to cancel in April due to the passing of my father.

Veterinary medicinal product usage among food animal producers and its health implications in Central Ethiopia

I’ve decided that I’ll summarize these veterinary papers utilizing the research paper format, so that (hopefully) my summary is easy to follow. My intent is to distill each section such that someone with only a basic understanding of veterinary science (i.e., can tell the difference between a cow and a horse) can understand what they’re reading.

This article (see the photo at the top of the post for bibliographic information) was published in BMC Veterinary Research by researchers at Addis Ababa University’s College of Veterinary Medicine (commonly referred to by it’s location, Bishoftu in Oromiya, or Debre Zeit in Amharic), Utrecht University and Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and Kansas State University.

The abstract states that the purpose of the study was “to assess knowledge, awareness, and practices related to drug use and resistance in food animals among the farmers in and around Bishoftu town.” Questionnaires and visits to local pharmacies were the primary means of investigation. The abstract concludes: “there is a general lack of awareness among food animal owners about the correct use of antibiotics [drugs to combat bacterial infections] and anthelmintics [drugs to combat parasitic worms].”

Background

Here the authors explain why it matters whether or to what extent local livestock producers understand the relationship between antimicrobial stewardship and resistance. They discuss the fact that most antimicrobials (this is the catch-all term that includes antibiotics, anthelmintics, and any other drugs that fight bacteria, viruses, and parasites) used in animals are also used in humans, and that the development in resistance in livestock can result in resistance in humans as well.

The article assumes an understanding of how resistance occurs. For those who aren’t clear on this and who are interested, here’s a very brief (and, necessarily, oversimplified) primer: Every antimicrobial drug has a “mechanism of action;” that is, it kills the microbe in a specific way. Maybe it attacks the cell wall, or it stops the microbe’s DNA from replicating, or prevents the microbe from producing the proteins it needs to live or reproduce. However, some microbes may possess the means to “defeat” a particular drug’s mechanism of action. For example, if a drug that attacks the cell wall needs to bind to the cell wall in order to attack it, then a bacteria that is able to prevent that binding can’t be attacked, and is therefore “resistant” to that drug.

Bacteria may inherently possess this resistant characteristic, or it may be the result of a spontaneous genetic mutation, or the gene responsible for the resistance could be easily transferred between bacteria (for example, on a piece of genetic material called a plasmid). In any case, when a drug “works,” and kills off all the susceptible bacteria (maybe 99% of the total population), and the signs of illness/infection disappear, that one percent of resistant bacteria that are left reproduce, filling the void that the susceptible bacteria left, so that when the signs of illness/infection reoccur, the drug that worked previously no longer works.

Understanding how resistance works in reality is much more complicated than it is in theory, particularly because there are so many variables. Every drug works differently; every species of bacteria/virus/etc. might respond differently, and different means of resistance will occur even within the same species. Every drug and every microbe will potentially act differently in different species of animals, so that we really can’t understand how resistance to a specific drug in a specific type of bacteria in a cow will affect resistance to that drug in that bacteria in a human without studying that specific combination.

We do know enough to be concerned about these interconnections, though, such that we recognize the need for good antimicrobial stewardship, and that we do all that we can to minimize the development of antimicrobial resistance – particularly in drugs that are important in human health.

Materials and Methods

The authors interviewed 120 dairy, beef, and poultry owners around the city of Bishoftu. These farmers were selected randomly and interviewed face-to-face in the local language. Another 100 animal owners were interviewed at veterinary clinics or pharmacies in the area.

Results/Discussion

A lot of interesting data was collected in this paper; see the paper itself for the details. The most significant results include the following:

80% of the respondents were unable to define what an antimicrobial is or its purpose. Only 14% of respondents were aware of the existence and consequences antimicrobial resistance, and of that 14%, only 9% were aware that irresponsible use of antimicrobials in animals could lead to resistance in humans.

66% of those purchasing antimicrobials received counseling on usage from animal health assistants; 10% from veterinarians; 6% from non-animal health professionals, and the remaining 18% received no counseling on the proper use of antimicrobials.

70% of owners did understand the information they received from drug dispensers, and were unable to read/understand the drug labels, which were in English. Often the farmers identified the drugs they used only by color.

Antimicrobials were used indiscriminately, without adequate diagnosis, and treatment failure was extremely common. Withdrawal times (allowing for the drug to leave the animal’s system before its meat or milk is consumed by people) were ignored. Antimicrobials were frequently sold without prescription papers, and illegal drug vendors who improperly stored drugs were common.

Conclusions

The primary public health concerns based on the results of this study include the failure of medications, development of antimicrobial resistance, and occurrence of drug residues in food animal products (which may cause hypersensitivity/allergic reactions, damage to genetic material, or increase the risk for certain cancers in humans). The authors encourage the Ethiopian Veterinary Drug and Feed Administration and Control Authority to improve its surveillance of illegal drug vendors, and to raise awareness among livestock owners about the need for better antimicrobial stewardship.

This paper is useful to me as a researcher because it gives me support for potentially creating programs that will improve antimicrobial stewardship in Ethiopia. A key part of any veterinary college’s research program is extension: the application of cutting-edge research among practicing veterinarians and producers.

I’m excited to get started helping the Ethiopian veterinary community in whatever capacity I’m able.

Origins of Ethiopian Civilization (Ephraim Isaac)

As I mentioned last time, I’m going to be providing more frequent updates here, followed by a summary/commentary on books/articles concerning either the Ethiopian Orthodox Church or veterinary medicine in Ethiopia. I’ll use headings so that readers can quickly skim the portions that interest them (if any). 🙂

Update

We were notified this morning that we have a court date where E.’s adoption will be finalized! I’ll definitely be giving more details in my next post! The baby’s still due June 13. If the baby comes early enough, we’ll try to get into the summer session of MTI in Colorado Springs, but it seems unlikely that the baby will come early enough (although you never know) and that there will be an opening (these courses tend to fill up pretty far in advance).

Meanwhile, I’m spending a lot of time at DoubleShot Coffee, trying to write and keep up with the day to day recurring tasks associated with our work. I rarely spend a full day working on these things, though, as doctor’s appointments, E.’s counseling appointments, and Charlie’s pre-K schedule require lots of breaks most days. I try to take advantage of this time in our lives in which I’m able to spend this much time during the day with the boys, and with my mom. Honestly, though, my first reaction when I’m pulled away from my “work” is usually to be grumpy and resentful. Thank God that Kristen is patient and willing to put up with me.

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Ancient stelae from the Axumite empire. 

Chapter 1: Origins of Ethiopian Civilization

As I mentioned in the last post, I’ll be working through Ephraim Isaac’s The Ethiopian Orthodox Täwahïdo Church, published in 2013 by Red Sea Press.

Front Matter

Before I summarize the first chapter, I’ll mention a couple of things about the front matter of the book. In the preface, Isaac states that the book is “a modest attempt to give a brief and purely objective description of the interesting history of the Ethiopian Church, its beliefs and practices.” Now, I’ve spent enough time studying hermeneutics to know that there’s no such thing as a purely objective description. It’s apparent in how Isaac approaches his topic that it’s driven by his interests and priorities. There’s no problem with this approach (in fact, it’s unavoidable), but it shouldn’t be called purely objective.

Isaac writes a personal note along with his acknowledgements that sheds light on his credentials in terms of writing about a church of which he is not a member. He discusses how, when growing up in Nedjio, Wallaga, Ethiopia, Orthodox clergy would often visit his father (a Jew from Yemen) and offer praise and admiration for his Jewish heritage. He goes on to say that as an adult, he was blessed with close relationships with a number of Ethiopian Orthodox clergy, many of whom he worked with in a professional capacity (as a Semitic language scholar), and that he even served as a mediator when a number of bishops disagreed about an administrative matter. He also emphasizes the doctrinal, liturgical, and historical unity of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches, and indicates that nearly of what he writes applies to both.

Chapter One

Isaac’s goal in this initial chapter is to demonstrate that while Ethiopia and South Arabia share a “common cultural sphere” since prehistoric times, the assumption made by many Western scholars that Ethiopian civilization is the result of South Arabian influence is based on “erroneous historical, linguistic, and archeological assumptions.” He then goes one to address five areas in which these assumptions have been made.

First, he argues that it cannot be assumed that Semitic languages (the language family that includes Arabic, Aramaic, Hebrew, and several Ethiopian languages) originated in the Near East. There is an assumption that the Ethiopian Semitic languages were brought to Ethiopia from South Arabian conquerors. He states that some, including Russian Assyriologist Diakonoff, propose an African origin for Proto-Hamito-Semitic (from which Semitic languages hypothetically derive), and that it is therefore possible that some Semitic languages may be indigenous to Ethiopia.

Second, he claims historical difficulties in the suggestion of a South Arabian migration into Ethiopia – primarily that during the time period in which this is suggested to have happened, there is clear evidence that different languages were spoken on the eastern and western sides of the Red Sea. If there had been a mass migration, the language would have been the same.

He also discusses here an important term in Ethiopian (and Eritrean) culture and history: habasha. This term refers to Ethiopians and Eritreans who share a number of cultural features, including Semitic languages (today, primarily Amharic and Tigrinya), religion (the Orthodox Täwahïdo Church), and food (e.g., injera). Habasha is word that gave rise to the Western term Abyssinia. There is a popular hypothesis that the name “hbst,” which appears in some ancient Sabaean scripts, is the name of the South Arabian tribe that migrated to Ethiopia; Isaac argues that this hypothesis is purely speculative. Interestingly, I was told by a tour guide in northern Ethiopia that the term “habesha” actually means “the color of coffee when milk is added,” indicating that Habesha have a lighter skin color than surrounding peoples (which tends to be true).

Third, he addresses evidence gleaned from ancient inscriptions found in both Ethiopia and South Arabia. Essentially, he argues that while these inscriptions share “a common cultural heritage,” there is no evidence that this indicates a South Arabian origin for the inscriptions found in Ethiopia.

Fourth, Isaac addresses the nature of the Ethiopic script, which he says is “a cursive form of monumental Sabaean.” His key point for this argument is that while South Arabians did not adapt and adopt the Sabaean script, adopting instead the Arabic script after the rise of Islam, “the manner in which the Ethiopians used Sabaean, with freedom and originality, hardly betrays the behavior of borrowers.”

Finally, Isaac spends the second half of the chapter addressing ancient literary references to the Sabaeans, especially the Biblical story of the Queen of Sheba. I don’t have space to discuss the significance of the Queen of Sheba for Habesha culture; for those who aren’t familiar, take a look at this. The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary states that the most plausible location for Sheba is the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula (present day Yemen). Isaac argues that this does not preclude the possibility that the Queen of Sheba was African. He provides arguments that show that Sheba may have been in the Horn of Africa from the book of Genesis. He points out that Yemen was “an Ethiopian domain over two thousand years ago,” noting that Homer’s Odyssey refers to Poseidon’s journey to “Ethiopia, divided in two” (i.e., by the Red Sea). He suggests that the mention of “all the kings of Arabia” in 1 Kings and Jeremiah suggest that there were no queens in Arabia at this time (one of my least favorite of his arguments). He points out that “Josephus, a number of the Church Fathers, and the Ethiopians themselves” claim that the Queen of Sheba was African.

He concludes: “serious methodological questions must be raised concerning theories that seek to reconstruct the origins of the Ethiopian civilization from South Arabia. . . . we would prefer to view, at least hypothetically, South Arabia as a common cultural sphere with Ethiopia from prehistoric times, and nothing more.”

Don’t Read This Post (Vol. I): An Exercise in Hubris

When I started this blog, my intention was that it be a place where we can 1) answer Frequently Asked Questions; and 2) provide more timely updates than are allowed for in our monthly prayer letter, which is written about three weeks before it is published.

I’ve come to learn, though, that once the FAQ’s have been written, and now that we are in waiting mode (i.e., waiting for E’s adoption to go through, and for the birth of Quartus), the need for updates beyond what’s included in the monthly prayer letter have been minimal, and do not really warrant a new blog post. I’ve found that I’m hesitant to write, in large part because I’m concerned that I’ll be wasting my friends’, family’s, and other likeminded folks’ time.

However, my desire to stay in contact with those of you who are interested in doing so, and to provide more frequent, smaller updates, has overcome my reluctance. My plan is to write more frequently, beginning with any updates followed by my summary, followed by commentary on books and articles addressing one of two topics: veterinary medicine in Ethiopia and/or the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Hopefully it’s interesting to some of you, and for those who aren’t particularly interested (I get it), you can read the updates without having to slog through my ramblings.

Updates

The most significant update is that my stepdad, R.E. Peterson (I called him Pete) passed away on April 14th. I’ve known Pete since I was six years old, when he and my mom started dating. They married when I was 12, and we moved in with him at that time. To say that my world changed is an absolute understatement. Whatever work ethic, self discipline, and commitment to family that I have, I owe to him. Words cannot express how grateful I am for his unconditional love for my mom, my sister, and me.

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Mom, me, Pete, and Crystal, Christmas ~1993

His funeral was held on April 27th, when the Orthodox Church celebrated Holy Saturday this year. The vigil for Pascha (Easter) began at 11:30 pm that evening, and we got home just before 4 am Sunday morning. Holy Saturday celebrates Christ’s time in the tomb, whereby Hades was destroyed and he emerged victorious on Sunday morning. What a blessing that Pete’s funeral will forever be associated for me with the death and resurrection that gives such hope.

Pete’s death meant that we left Colorado Springs the day that we were supposed to begin our month-long training at Mission Training International, and that this (mandatory) training has therefore been postponed. It looks like Quartus will be too young for us to attend the summer session, and that we will therefore have to attend the fall session. This means that we will likely leave for Ethiopia in October at the earliest.

Meanwhile, we will stay busy with the adoption, the arrival of boy #4, the logistics of moving to Ethiopia (still working on the most cost-effective way to get my library over there), and curricula planning (Kristen with homeschool; me with infectious diseases and biblical languages), among other things.

The other item of note is the interview my friend Scott Elliott did with me on his blog, Resurrected Living:

Kristen says it’s probably worth watching; I can’t watch myself talk long enough to know if it is or not. Many thanks to Scott for his kind interest and consideration. His ministry is truly a blessing to me.

Intro to Isaac’s The Ethiopian Orthodox Täwahïdo Church

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I’ve decided that for the next few posts, I’m going to alternate between some Ethiopian veterinary articles I’ve recently read, and Ephraim Isaac’s book, The Ethiopian Orthodox Täwahïdo Church. Here, I’ll introduce this book, and in subsequent posts, I’ll work through it one chapter at a time.

Ephraim Isaac is an extremely well-known (especially in his Ethiopian homeland) and erudite scholar of ancient Semitic (particularly Ethiopian) languages, culture, and religion. He holds a bachelor’s degree and a PhD from Harvard University, and was the first professor of the Harvard University Department of African and Afro-American Studies. His translation of the the Book of Enoch (1 Enoch) is found in Charlesworth’s edition of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, arguably the most popular edition used in graduate studies.

Isaac himself is the son of an Ethiopian mother and a Yemeni Jewish father; he is not a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Täwahïdo Church (EOTC). The book reflects this in its emphasis on the uniquely Jewish character of the EOTC – something that certainly warrants elucidation and discussion, but is more thoroughly discussed by Isaac than in any other source I’ve encountered.

As a sort of preview, I give here the table of contents:

  1. Origins of Ethiopian Civilization
  2. Brief History of the Ethiopian Orthodox Täwahïdo Church
  3. The Judaic Character of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church
  4. Teachings of the Ethiopian Church
  5. The Bible in Ethiopia
  6. The Role of Fasting in the Ethiopian Church
  7. The Ethiopian Liturgy and Calendar
  8. The Church and Education
  9. Ethiopian Church Music
  10. The Church and Its Institutions
  11. The Church and Writing
  12. Church and State
  13. Church and Society
  14. The Ethiopian Church and Other Religions
  15. Ethiopianism – Significance for Africans and Afro-Americans

I read this book several years ago, and I remember then encountering a number of things that I questioned, and a few that I was fairly sure were incorrect. Hopefully we can explore these items as we take our time moving through this book.