Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Craving Narrative: Why we will always need hymns & psalms

Last week I finally penned some thoughts on trends I see in the modern church's singing habits.  Today I want to follow that up with a simple contrast of two songs' narrative structure (or lack therof, as we shall see.).

I was in a church service several months ago and we sung two songs back to back:  "Hosanna in the Highest" and "Jesus Paid it All."  I was so struck by their dissimilarities that I made a note in my phone!  Here they are:

Hosanna in the Highest

"I see the King of glory coming on the clouds with fire
The whole earth shakes. (x2)
(Yeah)  I see his love and mercy washing over all our sin
The people sing (x2):
  [Chorus] Hosanna Hosanna Hosanna in the highest [x2]

I see a generation rising up to take their place
With selfless faith (x2)
I see a near revival stirring as we pray and seek
We're on our knees (x2)

Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like you have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks yours
Everything I am for Your kingdom's cause
As I walk from earth into eternity

Ok... so first off, what this song DOES have going for it is a singable, catchy, distinctive melody based on an interesting chord progression (many of them minor, for those who care).  Can't say that about all Hillsong songs.  Well... that's about it.

It's a very small amount of words considering that most churches will sing this for 5 minutes at least (there will be a lot of repetition).  Beyond that, there's really no "theme" to the song, no bottom line that sums up which aspect of Truth this is trying to help us remember and understand... there isn't any story, any logical connective thread running through the song.  What's the song about?

As we were singing it, I was trying desperately to make sense of it.  First off, we start off with a serious, thought-provoking image of the Second Coming:  the King of Glory returning and the earth shaking.  Great.  Maybe the next line ("I see His love and mercy washing over all our sin") refers to how all the redeemed will marvel as He forgives us at the Final Judgment, and it makes sense for all of the people to then sing "Hosanna!" like the children in Jerusalem at His First Coming.

Well... then what?  Suddenly we're singing about a completely different vision-- a generation -- past? present? future? who knows!-- rising to take their (grammatically, it should be "its") place with selfless faith. How does that connect to the image of Christ returning?  Or even the cry of "Hosanna"?  And then we're talking about a "near revival". What does that even mean?  I know what revival is-- a rending of the Heavens and God's power descending on His people... but a near-revival?  Is that like a near-miss?  Or does it mean a revival near to us?  And then we're on our knees, I guess singing/praying "Hosanna"-- so are we the generation rising to take our place with selfless faith?

Now we're to the bridge, which seems to be 4 pleas to God, all good ones-- and we close with a line "as I walk from earth into eternity"-- is that supposed to tie together the first and second verses?  The generation rising in faith (earth) going towards the Second Coming (eternity)?  If so... why do we sing it at the end, not connected with either?  Aaaaaand now we're again singing "Hosanna."  Why?

So there you have it... a string of lines and thoughts-- each one (more or less) true, and appropriate to worship, but following no easily discernible cohesive thought.  What will I take home with me into the week?  What could the Spirit call to mind to help me fight sin and temptation?  Maybe the line "Hosanna in the highest"-- a praise to God... Maybe the image of Christ returning, maybe the plea "break my heart for what breaks Yours"?  But would I really learn anything singing this song? Would I realize anything new?  Probably not... there's just not much there to chew on.  It's a collection of individually true statements that don't mean any more together than they do separately.  Your English teacher would mark this type of "poem" with a giant red question:  "WHAT IS YOUR POINT?"


Now let's take the next song we sang:  Jesus Paid it All.  (This isn't even one of my favorites!)

"I hear the Savior say:  “Thy strength indeed is small; 
Child of weakness, watch and pray; find in Me thine all in all.” 

Refrain:  Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe; 
Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow. 

For nothing good have I whereby Thy grace to claim; 
I’ll wash my garments white in the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb. (Refrain)

And now complete in Him-- my robe His righteousness, 
Close sheltered ’neath His side, I am divinely blest. (Refrain)

Lord, now indeed I find Thy pow’r, and Thine alone, 
Can change the leper’s spots and melt the heart of stone. (Refrain)

When from my dying bed my ransomed soul shall rise, 
“Jesus died my soul to save!" shall rend the vaulted skies. (Refrain)

And when before the throne I stand in Him complete, 
I’ll lay my trophies down, all down at Jesus’ feet. (Refrain)

If I were to ask you "what is the bottom line of this song?" you could tell me without much thought:  that Jesus paid everything (as He declared on the Cross-- "It is PAID"), and that therefore, I owe Him everything.  This hymn carries this theme quite simply and logically through a Christian's whole life, starting with conversion-- when the Savior first whispers to him that He is weak on his own, progressing through life-- rejoicing in God's grace, His nearness, and His power to change him, culminating in the Christian's death-- even then, we will owe Jesus everything, and looking forward to his "glorification" in Heaven, when STILL it will be all about Jesus' work, not our own.

As I sing this song, my mind is putting myself into the story, wondering if I really am living as if I'm sheltered beneath Jesus' pierced side, or if I'm rejoicing in His power to change me.  I'm thinking again of all the various ways that Jesus HAS "paid it all"-- this song touches on all aspects of the Gospel-- how Jesus saves us, gives us a new identity, changes us, and one day will make us perfect (big words: regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification) and addresses each stage of a Christian's walk, whether we are in a place of stony-heartedness, or are trying to somehow work our way into God's favor; whether we're weary and longing for Rest, or are working hard in His strength and rejoice to see Him working through us.

I remember very clearly hearing Keith Getty (a modern hymn writer whose works I LOVE) explain hymn-writing in his lilting Irish voice-- "everyone loves a good story-- tell 'em a good story, and they'll keep singing for hours!" 40% of our Old Testament is pure narrative; 27 books of the Bible are largely stories, and all the poetry & wisdom literature fit into the stories told in the narrative section.  It's the most common type of writing in our Scriptures.  We love stories.  We crave them.  We tell them-- just think of how much of our conversation involves our own life story, retelling of plots of favorite movies or books, anecdotes from our day (or our children's days), or stories about other people (often known as "gossip").  Stories.  We occasionally discuss ideas or argue points of view... but most people relax around a good story.  I've never failed to calm a room full of children-- even middle school boys!-- with a well-read story.

Biblical Models
If you thumb through your Bible to the first hymnal, the Psalms, you'll see that many Psalms follow a logical story form:  the author often begins with a crisis, a grief, a desire, then progresses through remembering how God has dealt with His people (or  the speaker) in the past, looks forward to God's promises, and ends praising God, often looking forward to the Ultimate Day when all will be made Right.  There's often a specific personal story (Ps. 73, for one example), or a retelling of a moment in Israel's history (Ps 99).

Other Psalms are meditations on a theme-- for example, Psalm 104 unpacks its first line "Oh my God, You are very great!" and we all know the poetry of Psalm 23 portraying God as a shepherd.  (I've heard one theory that all the Psalms are meditations on verses from the Pentateuch, which would be Genesis- Deuteronomy... it's pretty cool to try and guess which Psalms came out of which passages.  I think Psalm 23 came from Jacob's words in Genesis 48:15... tangent, sorry!)

Yes, there are Psalms (like Psalm 136) that involve a lot of repetition, perhaps choruses or times where one group of or all the people sang in responsive style, but even those repetitions serve to reinforce a specific point, a theme around which the Psalm is built.

It seems far more beneficial to me to sing songs that logically "take" someone somewhere... or, at the very least, drive home a point.  Cohesive and logical always "sticks" better than disjointed and random, no matter what the subject.  The lines in a work of true poetry mean far more together than they would apart; they build on one another-- each word is meant to be there.  Let's sing songs whose words matter. It isn't just about "the mood" or "the feeling" or "the sound" our music evokes-- it's about the Truth it conveys.  Our world was created through words; our Scripture came to us as words; our Savior is the Final Word... words matter to us.  Let's sing like we actually know that. My guess is that in Heaven, we won't sit around proclaiming nuggets of unrelated Truth to each other-- instead, I think we will probably tell Stories.  I'd almost bet we'll sing them, too.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

What Are We Singing? Thoughts on music in the modern church.

If you were to meet me out and about today, and were to start talking to me, chances are you'd pick up on my passion for children, orphans, tongue-tie prevention, breastfeeding, advocacy & support during childbirth for every mom, health, critical thinking, good literature (literacy), and an active imagination.  I sure hope you'd notice that I deeply love Jesus and think He comes to bear on every single one of those issues; that I think they each matter because of Him.  But we probably wouldn't discuss one of my other passions, because it's so out of the sphere of my daily life nowadays:  good music.  I mean "good music" like I mean "good literature;" art that is well-written according to well-established, time-tested standards.  There are books I read and enjoy that I know aren't particularly well-written; I wouldn't call them "good literature."  Similarly there are plenty of songs I'll belt out or turn on that aren't particularly "good."

That said, I do care a lot about good music; it was beaten into my head for 4 years as a vocal student at Furman University, and then I took my own turn beating it into my students' heads for two years as a middle & high school choral director after I graduated.  My degree was in Music Education, with an emphasis on Vocal/Choral Methods (as opposed to orchestra or band).  We spent a long time discussing what made music "good," especially as it pertained to singability.   We were trained to conduct choirs of varying talent levels, and dabbled in orchestra conducting as well, and we were also trained in leading church music.  When leading congregational singing, you are in many ways a choir director leading a very untrained choir.  The goal isn't a great sound so much as enabling 100% heartfelt participation before a very real, very Holy, God.  There are "rules" about melody, instrumentation, and pitch (what key a song is sung in), to allow the most number of people to comfortably & confidently sing along.

Congregational worship through music has been on my heart a lot for a long time.  In high school I started helping to organize the music portion of youth group services-- sometimes playing guitar or singing, but mostly intentionally picking the songs, arranging them to be most playable/singable, and compiling them into chorus books.  I sang in the church choir high school-college, and in college choirs and ensembles throughout my 4 years at Furman.  Also at that time I became very involved in my church's adult worship service (I was an intern for 2 summers), helping to select hymns, choruses, old and new songs, and trying to order the service in a way that effectively led the congregation through worship (realizing Who God is), self-examination, grief, confession, exaltation at our forgiveness, joy, and going forth with a mission.  We also usually tried to reinforce the theme of the sermon.  We often selected passages of Scripture to read responsively, or aloud, and tried to keep the rhythms of prayer and meditation.  In college I also served on the RUF music team, again learning how to craft a service that draws a person's own story into the greater Gospel Story-- reminding them of God's holiness, their own sinfulness, His great Love, Christ's perfect sacrifice & victory, their new life in the Spirit, God's faithful nearness now through joy and sorrow, and our hope of Heaven.  (Gotta love those Presbyterians and their Orders of Service.)  I interned for one year in our school chapel too, where, guess what-- ordering the service was again a prime responsibility.

Through all of this I became enamored with the Indelible Grace movement; a movement to take forgotten hymn lyrics and put them to new music for congregational singing today.  Some of the hymns they re-did also were hymns with tunes that were difficult to sing or somehow mismatched (for example, I far prefer their amazed, upbeat "O Love that Will Not Let Me Go" to the traditional somber tune).  I grew up in a church where we sang many hymns; good, theologically solid hymns; also Scripture songs and praise songs ("Lord I Lift Your Name on High," anybody?).  We sang them joyfully & well. To this day the Trinity Hymnal remains my favorite. :)  I remember discussing the merits of non-hymns or hymns sung in new ways with older congregants. A bit ironic to be the old fogey now... But I'm getting ahead of myself.

My church in KY had excellent music.  Our main worship leaders for the bulk of our years worshipping at Immanuel --first Nathan F.& later Ben B.-- were extremely gifted, both musically and spiritually.  Worship was joyful and genuine without being flippant.  The leaders did a great job selecting songs that were both singable and helpful; deep and relatable.  Our services had a rhythm.  Music was varied; old Gospel-style hymns, old hymns with new tunes, new hymns with good tunes, some "praise choruses," but always well-done.  Occasionally a guest leader who would go off on solos that left the congregation a bit confused, or would attempt to get the congregation to repeat phrases several times too many, but these were not the norm and always reminded me just how blessed we were in our "regular" leaders!  (Really good blog post here on good leaders.)

All right, all right... now that I've given a [cough, long-winded, cough] explanation for why I care... I'm getting to the point.  As we have visited churches over the past few years-- in SC or wherever we travel-- I've been so discouraged at the music most churches are singing.  Whatever has happened to good hymns (stories)?  Whatever has happened to keys the congregation can sing along with?  Whatever has happened to embracing the hope of Heaven (which includes the reality of death)?  Whatever has happened to songs giving people space to mourn, confess sin, and grieve?  Whatever has happened to songs about the character of God?  And, my BIGGEST question: Whatever has happened to songs with a cohesive theme or general point?  

I have three main thoughts on this topic... they all relate to this one truth:  The average human thrives on familiarity and controlled change: in two words, on rhythm and narrative.

1. We crave comfortability:  The average congregant is not a virtuoso nor a rock-star.
- If a song is in too high a key, most of the congregation will drop an octave to try and sing along... this means they're going to be rumbling along, which makes it both hard to hear them, and hard for them to actually sing.  This article has great tips for pitching a song.  (Transposing is much easier for a guitar and chord-style piano than for a full orchestra, I know).  If you pick up a hymnal it's easy to see that most of the notes of the melody stay "inside the staff"-- they stay in the average range of the average Joe.
- The melody itself (the "tune") is a big deal:  most people do not know how to hear or sing harmony.  They want to get a clear picture of "the tune."  In evaluating whether a song's melody is strong or not, ask "could I hum this tune and people recognize the song?"  Many modern choruses aren't so much a tune as a collection of the same four note pattern sung over and over again; and many sound alike.  However, you know "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing" the second the pianist starts banging out the first chords.
- Also make sure this melody is CLEAR.  I've heard way too many songs sung by praise teams where it was almost impossible to tell what the main tune was-- the guitar was playing chords, the violin was doing some cool lyrical lines, three vocalists were singing but none more loudly or prominently than the others.  By all means have instruments doubling the melody, and/or have a vocalist only singing the melody for the first several verses, and even after parts (harmonies) are added, make sure that melody is the loudest.  I would also not recommend having any harmony above the melody until the congregation is very familiar with the song, and even then would make sure it was soft & understated!
- Sing familiar songs the same way.  If you must change a tune or words --even slightly-- to a hymn or song most people know, you absolutely must warn the congregation of the change!  There's nothing more discouraging to an enthusiastic, engaged worshipper, than singing the song "wrong."

2. We crave narrative:  tell us a story to draw our story into the Great Story.
- This applies to both the order of service and individual songs.  I plan to write another post entirely on this topic, as it's so far-reaching.  Basically, a good hymn tells a story; usually the same one most psalms tell:  someone is struggling (often especially in light of Who God is), they remember or encounter God's grace, it transforms them, and then they go forth in praise to tell others who are struggling, looking forward to Heaven where we won't struggle ever again but will see God as He Is.  In shorthand, we call this The Gospel.
- The order of service tells this story, too, usually following the pattern: Call to Worship, Confession, Praise, God's Word Preached, Response, Benediction/Sending.  Do you see the rhythm?  We're going about our business of life as we walk into church, and then.... we remember.  We remember who God is, we take a good look at who we are, and we are undone.  However that undoing leads us to confession, which reminds us that we are forgiven!  And that leads us to joy, to praise, and into a frame of mind where we now can hear God's Word and take it to heart.  After the message has been preached, we need a reminder of His empowering so that we can go forth and live in light of everything we've just remembered... until next week, when we come in again, having forgotten so much.

(If this sounds to you like the story of your own conversion, it should!  When we were saved we followed that same path of realizing, despairing, calling out, meeting God, rejoicing, hearing, being empowered, and joyfully obeying.  WE NEED TO SING THE GOSPEL!)

3. We crave variety:  remind us of all the facets of Truth lest we get sick of one part of it.
- Sometimes, we are really joyful.  We are walking in victory perhaps, seeing God answer prayer, or maybe have just been forgiven in a huge way.  We love singing songs about the joy we have in Christ.  However, other times, our grandfather just died, our child is very ill, we just miscarried (again), our sibling has rejected Christ, our neighbor is destroying himself, our marriage is failing, our sin seems hopelessly entangling, and our body is broken.  Those times we want to sing about the Man of Sorrows, the Friend of Sinners, and about Heaven, where all the sadness will end.  Sometimes we are self-focused and we need to remember that others are around us, and sing songs of fellowship and encouragement ("Brethren, we have met to worship," "Soldiers of Christ in Truth Arrayed" or "O Church, Arise" come to mind).  Other times we are looking everywhere but at our own hearts and need to sing songs of confession and entreaty.  And many times, we have forgotten who God is and we need to sing about Him.
- This applies to styles of singing, too.  Let us sing some hymns in their familiar glory-- no syncopation or extra chorus.  Let us also sing some refreshed hymns, with a stirring chorus or more singable tune.  Let us sing some simple choruses so we can just latch onto a simple phrase when we are too tired or sad to do anything else.  Let us sing some fast, some slow, some upbeat, some mournful. But it's frustrating to only ever sing one style of song.  (Good blog post on this topic.)  (I promise, it's possible to sing a hymn without adding a chorus Passion-style.  Really.)
- We want to be left with Truth stuck in our head.  What will we leave singing?  Is it something meaty enough to sustain us through whatever comes our way?  Or is it too vague and emotional?  Are we singing about God or just about how we feel about Him? We need the Gospel.  In every song.

Lastly, this should go without saying, but... let us always be reverent... and let's avoid cheesy metaphors that detract from the serious joy of our worship.  When we sing, we are praying to a God who is described as "a consuming fire."  It's only because of Jesus our High Priest that we can enter into His presence without the fear that we will be like Nadab & Abihu, or Uzzah, all of whom God struck down with Holy Fire.  Somehow "sloppy wet kiss," and "living on the inside, roaring like a lion," don't do Him justice.  ...And if my "heart turns violently inside of my chest" then I'm calling a paramedic, because that sounds like a serious health problem.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

On Eating/Drinking to Thirst/Hunger in Labor, vs. IVs-- an excerpt

These paragraphs from Optimal Care in Childbirth (Henci Goer & Amy Romano, 2014) are so good I had to share them.

From Chapter 11 "IVs Versus Oral Intake in Labor," pages 256-257:
(after several pages presenting empirical evidence in favor of allowing women to eat & drink as they desire during labor)
"Why Doesn't Evidence Change Practice?

Why don't clinicians abandon routine IVs and let laboring women drink and eat as thirst and hunger dictate?

One reason is that NPO (nothing by mouth) and routine IV fluids fit the medical-model of childbirth, which holds that labor and birth are pathological events in which something is likely to go wrong at any moment.  What therefore feels right, safe, and proper-- in this case, treating women undergoing a physiologic process as surgical patients-- will supersede science and logic, blinding pracitcioners both to the harms of their policies and the benefits of treating labor and birth as normal events.

Another has to do with the nature of research.  In order to alter care, new treatments must prove themselves superior to current care, the presumed "gold standard."  Eating and drinking at will have not been show to produce what medical-model thinkers would consider clinical benefits, ergo practice need not be changed.  But, of course, eating and drinking are not treatments but normal, spontaneous behaviors during a normal physiologic process, and withholding oral intake and IV infusions were never established as safe or effective before they became standard management.

Finally, as Robbie Davis-Floyd (1992) writes, NPO and routine IVs serve the symbolic ritual purposes of inculcating beliefs about the nature of society and the proper role of childbearing women within it:

To deny a laboring women access to her own choice of food and drink in the hospital is to confirm her initiatory status and consequent loss of autonomy, to increase the chances that she will need interventions, and to tell her that only the institution can provide the nourishment she needs-- a message that is most forcefully conveyed through the "IV" (p. 92).
The IV, she says, serves as an umbilical cord linking the woman to the hospital in the same way that her baby is linked to her within the womb.  In this way, she receives the message that we are all dependent on society's institutions for our lives and that the institution, not she, is the giver of life.

A more appropriate model for childbirth than the presurgical analogy is a prolonged, demanding athletic event that poses a small risk of serious injury.  A sports medicine physician would be horrified at the thought of depriving an athlete of foods and fluid in such a case.  And as for risk, until such time as we require "nothing by mouth" and "just in case" IVs for downhill skiers, football players, and, for that matter, drivers entering the freeway, we should not require them of laboring women."

They go on to give recommended strategies for optimal care, which include encouraging laboring women to eat and drink as they feel the need-- not overloading on fluids nor making themselves eat, and reserving IVs for those times of dehydration or other medical indication.  Also, they recommend infusing "physiologic volumes of fluid"-- that is, giving fluids in amounts that would be similar to what a healthy person would or could intake on their own.

They just summed it all up so well!!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Potential Vaccine Schedule (Selective & Delayed)

EDIT:  April 16, 2014
I continue to get a fair bit of traffic on this post, and several folks have asked me for an update. I leave this original post with all its edits as a testatment to my own "journey." It really has been a journey, one of growth & movement, not of stasis.

I've gone from "vaccines are awesome and make us so much healthier" to "wow... 40 vaccines in two years really seems intense, and giving more than one at a time kind of seems a bad idea" to "I think we'll wait until after their brain and immune systems are more developed (so after age 2)" to "vaccines are less important to health than gut health, proper nutrition- especially fat-soluble vitamins-and a strong immune system, and don't work as well as they claim to, so let's focus on the latter" (where I was as I wrote the above posts) to "vaccines have really dangerous side-effects that are far more common than ever thought- including ADD, ASD, asthma, allergies & other auto-immune failures, and wow, are they adequately safety-tested?" to "vaccines actually assault gut health and immune systems and are pushed by biased people who stand to gain from vaccine adoption, and why aren't they truly safety tested at all." As it standsI veiw vaccination is a last resort, even then it would be with MUCH precaution (vitamin loading, detoxing, and PRAYER). Most probable are the mumps & varicella vaccines before puberty if we can't find the natural diseases somewhere. (Interestingly there was a recent outbreak of mumps at Rutgers University... all of the young adults who got it were fully vaccinated.)

In your own journey, you may want to think through the role of hygiene & nutrition in the decline of "vaccine-preventable illness" as WELL AS the decline of diseases that aren't vaxed against (if vaccines are so essential, why did cholera & typhoid also decline at the same time as diptheria?); to read the vaccine failure rates (80% of kids with whooping cough are fully vaxed- the flu shot has a dismal 1% improvement rate-- vitaming D has 8%); also to read the vaccine clinical trials and assess whether you find their "control" group acceptable (never is the "control" group of children given a saline injection or a sugar pill; they are ALWAYS given another vaccine, making it very difficult to assess true effects, and the trials are seldom blind. Double-blind controlled studies are "the gold standard" in science.). You may want to research conflicts of interest in our own CDC... honestly, do we really trust our government in the health field at all? they've had fat & sugar all wrong for the past 50 years and sure look down on nutrition & herbalism! Lastly, two more books to read are Gut & Psychology Syndrome (Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride) and Healing the New Childhood Epidemics (Dr. Kenneth Bock) which come at vaccine risks from oblique angles. Both doctors are still pro-vaccine by the end of it, but they say they should only be administered to healthy kids, and by their own standards, we really don't have very many healthy kids in the US!!

Vaccines are the "sacred ow" of the medical field right now. I don't think most doctors are actually taught about vaccines-- more along the lines of "vaccines are awesome; moving on." (I have yet to meet a pediatrician who understood any of the many reasons why parents might object to our current schedule; no, it's not just about "that one crazy Wakefield guy whose autism research was totally disproved." Sigh.)

The more I read about vaccines, the more I find them to be the absolute opposite of everything we know about caring for our bodies: they are the complete antithesis of natural. We NEVER get diseases injected directly into our bloodstream; much less falsely weakened diseases paired with heavy metals, antibiotics & known poisons. Our bodies are primed to screen pathogens through several "barrier levels:" skin w its protective bacteria & acid mantle; mucous membranes with their legions of white blood cells; stomach with its HCl; gut with its probiotics galore. And then we are programmed to fight disease quite effectively, if properly supported; and once we get one disease, it's usually the last time we ever will. By contrast to vaccines, the more I study herbs, the more impressed I am that this is the route we SHOULD be pursuing; using natural elements that our bodies recognize, taken in ways that our body can use-- aroma, contact, ingestion-- NOT injection. I keep seeing studies pop up along these lines-- curcurmin in turmeric being more effective than the Pc at preventing lung disease; vitamin D from food & sun being more effective than the flu shot... Why aren't we pouring our efforts into studying THOSE! Seems like the classic egg v. egg-substitute or butter v. margarine mistake. We keep thinking we can out-do God instead of figuring out how to better use what He's already given us.  

As a final resource, I highly recommend Rachel Weaver's books "Be Your own 'Doctor'" and "Be Your Child's Pediatrician"-- she's a master herbalist/midwife. We've seen simple herbs cleanse our son of parasites we didn't even know he had (and suddenly end his constant congestion) and heal the eczema our daughter been fighting for years in a matter of 2 weeks. I've seen a friend's baby come back from the brink of death (intubated in the hospital) with the application of herbal extracts (essential oils) -- he coughed up the mucus that was choking him to death within seconds of application, and was extubated & heading home the next day. It's just amazing. God is so much smarter than us; the best we can hope to do is figure out how to use what He's made-- the glory of God to conceal a matter; the glory of man is to seek them out, as Proverbs puts it!

Today (originally 11/16/10), I'm putting up an acceptable (to me) vaccine schedule.  As a bonus, you get to see my reading list.

Tomorrow, I'll put up an explanation for why we are thinking this way, with questions for you to consider as you make your own family vaccine schedule.

Then, on Friday, you'll be able to read (if you want) a detailed "paper" of sorts going in more technical/ medical detail.

That's the plan- short & sweet, then a "Questions to Ask" guide, then finally the full shebang which you are under NO obligation to read. :)  It's written mainly for my own peace of mind (I actually like writing papers), but our family doctor will be getting a copy, and I *might* try to do more with it if I think it's good enough.  EDIT:  this became my 3-part series on Keeper of the Home.  I have uploaded the full Q & As on chicken-pox & polio, and abbreviated ones for all the possible shots.

So, without further ado, here is it is: (DTaP 4 doses, Pc 2 doses, Hib 1 dose):

12 mos--DTaP Dose 1 (can provide partial immunity against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough/pertussis)
15 mos--  Pc Dose 1 (can provide partial immunity against meningitis)
18 mos-- Hib sole dose (can provide partial immunity against meningitis)- no further doses needed if given after/at age 15 mos.
2 yrs- Pc Dose 2- no further doses needed if first dose given at/after age 12 mos.
3 yrs- DTaP Dose 3
4 years- DTaP Dose 4 (no further doses needed if given at/after age 4)

10 years- MMR & varicella vaccines, separated by at least 6 mos, only IF our kids don't get chicken pox (varicella), and rubella (German measles) naturally.  We're hoping to catch the live versions, so if you have a kid down with any of those, invite us over!! :)

(We do not plan on getting flu, Hep B or A, rotavirus, HPV or IPV vaccines.)

**Edit September 2011- because of sickness, we have held off on several vaccines and will be even more delayed; I'd rather not further tax my daughter's immune system when it is already fighting off a virus, even if it's "just a little cold."  I am also seriously considering completely skipping the DTaP completely with our next child(ren), due to the danger & relative uselessness (if the current epidemic is any indication) of the pertussis components  (don't really care so much either way about the diptheria elements).  However, because tetanus is a real danger and there are no vaccines available before age 2, I am making myself aware of which hospitals/treatment centers have TIG (tetanus immune globulin) on hand in the event of an accident before my children are old enough to get the single tetanus vax.  Proper wound cleaning & care is the best defense against tetanus... and keeping an eye on my baby while at the park.

Reading list:
The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child (Sears Parenting Library)-by Bob Sears (though he has an alternative schedule, he is fundamentally FOR vaccines)
Vaccinated: One Man's Quest to Defeat the World's Deadliest Diseases- by Paul Offit (essentially a biography of the man who made many of the vaccines still used today- gives a lot of insights into his world view, motives & motivations)
Vaccines: What Every Parent Should Know-Paul Offit & Louis M. Bell (try not to let its oversimplified tone insult your intelligence so much that you throw it away after one chapter)
CDC Vaccine Guide

The Vaccine Guide: Risks and Benefits for Children and Adults- by Randall Neustaedter
The Virus and the Vaccine: Contaminated Vaccine, Deadly Cancers, and Government Neglect-
 by Debbie Bookchin & Jim Schumacher
Make an Informed Vaccine Decision for the Health of Your Child: A Parent's Guide to Childhood Shotsby Mayer Eisenstein
"A User-Friendly Vaccination Schedule" by Donald W. Miller, Jr.
"The Danger of Excessive Vaccination During Brain Development" by Russel L. Blaylock
"The Challenge to Mass Vaccination" by Barbara Loe Fisher
"How We Are Making our Children Sick," by Sean Manning, in Pathways, issue 20
"A Personal Perspective on Vaccination,"by Jean McAulay in August/Sept 2008 of Today's Chiropractic Lifestyle

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Life in Crazy Land

This captures my day so well
In case you hadn't heard, our lives are crazy full right now over Chez Szrama.  In addition to our own precious kiddos growing and getting into all sorts of fun, we are hosting two extras kiddos (from within my extended family) while their mama gets some stuff sorted out.  V just turned 6 and is in kindergarten, while A is 3 and a half.  I also still nanny for L, who just turned 2, 3-ish days a week.  So, what's life like with 5 kiddos underfoot?

Well, it's busy.

But I'm living my dream. :)  Since the time I was very small, I dreamed of running a house full of children, especially children who needed extra love.  As a teenager I wrote imaginary Christmas newsletters updating my future friends on all my imaginary children year to year. (Ryan still hasn't read these.  Babe, you knew I wasn't normal when you married me, sorry.)  Working with children is something the Lord keeps leading me to; I've been told I'm good at it, and it brings me great joy.  So I'm over the moon.  Having kids simultaneously napping all over our house also kind of makes me feel like I have my favorite super power of sleep-induction.  Maybe I should see a psychologist.

In all seriousness, one of my favorite Bible verses is Psalm 68:6-
"He sets the lonely within families; He leads out the prisoners with singing, but the rebellious shall live in a sun-scorched land."  
I love being a part of fulfilling that verse, whether it was by bringing home college friends for Sunday dinner, sharing the Gospel with hurting people, welcoming old friends to our family table no matter what our food budget was, or now by tucking in two more at bedtime.

Also, we knew this was something God wanted from us.  When we became aware of the girls' situation, both Ryan and I immediately wanted to say "yes."  When Ryan and I agree on anything, that's kind of a divine sign. :)  (Especially if it involves me saying "yes" to anything... Ryan's usually my "let someone ELSE say yes-- you can't do it all!" coach.)  And as countless before me have experienced, when He calls, He enables.

Even youths grow tired and weary; young men stumble and fall.  But those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength; they will rise up on wings, like eagles.  They will run & not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  Isaiah 40

Our day to day routine starts like this:
6:45 ish- roll out of bed & into my bathrobe, get downstairs to start making V's lunch and commence breakfast.
7- rouse V and get her to start dressing herself through any manner of threat and coersion  (Of course on Saturdays this is reversed and she wakes up raring to go.  God's sense of humor is kind of sick sometimes.) As she eats, I do her hair, cook breaskfast for everyone else, make my coffee, pack her lunch, write her a little note, and review our memory verse.
7:40- Ryan takes V to school, which is mercifully 5 minutes away from us on foot.
8- the other prisoners (ie Eowyn, William & A) are allowed out of their beds and begin munching.  Usually during breakfast L gets dropped off.  (If you're wondering at what point I take my shower and get dressed... ummm, yeah... I haven't really figured out how that fits in, either.)

Since Classical Conversations is over for the school year, we are settling into a homeschool routine that we like.  I aim to do "circle time" with everyone 3 days a week, followed by a math lesson (A kind of tags along and the boys make general mischief).  I get the girls at the table to work on handwriting (E) and number/letter/color/shape recognition (A).  Wednesdays we head to dance for E, during which I get to Zumba (the other kids try it too), then library story time, then lunch at Nina (my mom)'s.  E & I do one lesson in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons about 3-4 days a week.  E is enjoying experiments with TOPS Get a Grip math supplement... during lunch we work on Bible verses from My ABC Bible Verses.  There is a lot of playing.  E is LOVING having sisters!  The little boys absolutely adore each other and come up with games of their own invention (such as the "ow" game, where they pretend to knock their heads against a hard surface, intoning "owwww" and laughing uproariously).  Another favorite is "Jump," in which case one or both of them hauls any object-- stool, book, beanbag, anything else Mom hasn't yet confiscated-- to the middle of the floor, and they jump off of it.  Repeatedly.  We head to parks pretty often, too.

Everyone naps between 1 & 2 (well, E naps every other day or so-- the off days she picks a quiet activity and plays ALONE as long as others are sleeping).  Usually that includes me.  Ryan brings V home around 3, and she goes straight to the kitchen table for a snack and homework.  I often make us some tea to share and she's starting to learn how to tell me about her day.  Her situation has made her quite behind academically, so we started at the beginning of TYCTR and have done one lesson each school day.  Then I coach her in handwriting, drill some sight words, and if E isn't napping, we do a number or word game together.

By this point usually some of the kids are awake and if it's remotely sunny they are clamoring to go outside.  This is where my life is much easier in some ways than it used to be. THEY ALL PLAY TOGETHER!!  Outside they troupe, usually first to ride bikes/push each other in the stroller/ pull each other in the wagon, and then they transition to some form of story-play.  Last week they've been poor people looking for a home, mother birds sitting on nests, Easter bunnies hiding eggs, mommies visiting each other, or cafe vendors selling smoothies & coffee.  Liam just wants to play basketball.  I try to interact with them a bit-- reading books aloud to everyone, playing, pushing or pulling on bikes, doing sidewalk chalk art, acting out a fairy tale (we really like the Three Billy Goats Gruff).  L's mama comes around this time and whisks him away; often we chat for a while (or a long while =D).

I make dinner... I've learned to get the kids started cleaning up earlier so it's done by dinner time.  They clamor to help me set the table and I let them.  We try to eat by 6:30 but we often are late-- either I haven't gotten my act together or Ryan works late.  Dinner is chaos... between our anorexic, highchair-hating-toddler (that would be Liam), an incredibly slow eater, kids still needing various degrees of help, trying to hear about everyone's day and a sudden advent of eye-ball-popping-out and poop-related stories... dinner is not for the faint of heart.  And just about every night amidst all the craziness and me giving someone the evil eye my heart just melts and I tell Ryan "oh please, when can we have some more?"

Dinner is swiftly followed by bed time.  That is one thing that DOES take longer the more kids you have!! Right now we are preparing for Easter with our Resurrection Eggs, which I love doing with the kids.  I am amazed at how much Liam loves them!  He begs to open "eggies" throughout the day, squeals with delight as each is opened, and is a generally enthusiastic nuisance the whole time they are out.  Hopefully he's learning something.  The girls are certainly starting to grasp the narrative of Passion week, and I pray that the reality of the Atonement sinks in.

Once eggs are opened and closed, Ryan takes over.  He supervises teeth-brushing, PJs & final potty-ing, and then reads them a Bible story.  We are into the NT in The Jesus Story Book Bible.  He sings & prays with them.  Meanwhile, I take Liam & get him into his PJs and we have our own little bedtime routine.  He asks for "che-che" and "Bobo" and I tell him "no!  Che che is yuck!"  He laughs and says "no!  che che is NUMMM!!!" (his version of "yum), or he will tell me "Mama, che-che is yuck" and then laugh and correct himself.  Once he's all dressed and holding as many lovies as he can cram into his arms, I settle into our glider to rock and nurse him to sleep.  I love the chance to snuggle him and smell that sweet little-boy smell.  He is getting so big and I know these days are numbered.

Once he's drowsy or asleep, I plop him in bed (well.... sometimes I might read an extra article online or comment on FB...) and make the rounds of kissing the girls & tucking them all in. Usually they're all waiting up for me.  E usually has some minor medical emergency like a hangnail or toeache or scratch requiring a band-aid...

That's pretty much how it goes!

they played "Doggy" in their self-made "cage" for hours
Don't get me wrong; there are times when I basically just tell everyone to sit down and stop talking... when I tell them that the next person who tattles gets to live outside... when I realize I've been ignoring "Mom! Mom! Mom!" for about 10 minutes... when I realize it's been a week since I opened my Bible... when I just want to be by myself for a whole 5 minutes... when I call my sister and add a topic to our "Least Favorite Ways to Spend My Time" list... when I lose it and shout and sin against my children... when I realize I've made the wrong call and need to backtrack... But overall, this is a good life.  It's a busy season, but it's one I'm enjoying.

We are being blessed by so many others, too.  Our extended family helps with the kids in countless ways; pitching in to get them to and fro, keeping them overnight so Ryan & I can get some us-time, bringing us meals, helping with chores.  We also have been so well-served by our brothers & sisters in Christ -- for the first three weeks after we got the girls, my cooking consisted of re-heating meals others had made.  People have brought over bags of hand-me-downs, given us bikes & toys, welcomed us with all our craziness, and come over and helped us clean.  It's so cool to be at the center of God's plan for His people to serve women & children in need ("widows & orphans")... you get a lot of tangential blessings, to put it geometrically. =D

And let me close with a "plug" for the Daddy of this crazy family.  If our family "tone" is of welcome and friendship, it's because he leads in it.  He excels at entering into people's stories and loving them in them.  He's also been amazing at doing lots of dishes and making sure I don't go insane.  I married a keeper.  =D

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Thoughts on the "Parents, You've Been Lied To" Articles.

My thoughts on the back-and-forth
A pro-vaccine article has been circulating lately; you may have seen it, entitled "Dear Parents, You Are Being Lied To."  Hosted on the Illustrious "I F-ing Love Science" page, authored by "Anonymous," you can tell it's a real winner... a friend asked for my thoughts on it, so here are a few thoughts as well as some links you can check out to do your own research.  [An excellent, well-supported (full of links!!) rebuttal can be found here:  "Dear Parents, you are being lied to."]

- The article title begs the question-- who, exactly, is doing the lying?  The article never says... because makes no sense. There is no organized "they" who is financially or otherwise served by sending out lies... People who are cautious about vaccines or doubtful that they are worth their inherent risk (all drugs have risk & side effects) have either seen negative effects of vaccines first-hand or they've been researchers who changed their minds as they read for themselves. People who don't view vaccines as the modern savior are generally challenged at every turn & very much in the minority. On the flipside, there is a very strong bias-pressure to love vaccines, with our own CDC almost completely composed of men & women employed by vaccine manufacturing companies. There is a definite group of people who stand to gain by encouraging vaccines. Parents who choose not to face many obstacles, and health professionals who speak out face even more.  Here is a great article comparing the vaccine-SIDS question to the x-ray-cancer question a generation ago.

- The "measles outbreak" that caused such a hubbub was at the time of the outbreak, 8 kids... none of whom died. The totals for measles the entire year for the entire US last year was under 200... hardly the panic-worthy epidemic the media implies. Measles IS very mild in healthy kids; comparing it to measles in malnourished kids is totally unfair. It's documented that a Vitamin A deficiency (a fat-soluble vitamin, so one lacking in any starvation, carb-heavy, diet) makes measles far more serious. In normal kids it's usually about as "serious" as a cold...
"Several recent investigations have indicated that vitamin A treatment of children with measles in developing countries has been associated with reductions in morbidity and mortality. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) issued a joint statement recommending that vitamin A be administered to all children diagnosed with measles in communities where vitamin A deficiency is a recognized problem and where mortality related to measles is ≥1%. [...] Vitamin A is a necessary substrate for preserving epithelial cell integrity and in addition plays a role in immune modulation." (Study: "Vitamin A Treatment of Measles")
"Vitamin A deficiency is a recognized risk factor for severe measles infections." (Study: "Vitamin A for Treating Measles in Children") 

- As far as safety tests go, there are NO-- literally zero-- vaccine studies where there is a vaccine-free control group. All required shots are tested against another shot, never against a placebo (with the exception of the flu shot). So these tests can only say that a shot is more or less safe or effective than another shot... a true double-blind study with a control group is the "gold standard" of science. Also, vaccines have never been tested in conjunction with one another; they are tested one at a time, though they are administered 5 at a time (or more), and in quick succession (within a few short months of each other-- we'd expect someone who had a cold and then got the flu and then got strep to react to each differently than a person who just got strep). There is no safety data at all on the type of administration that is the recommended norm here in the US.  Two recent studies have found correlations in infant death and vaccine numbers:

"The US childhood immunization schedule requires 26 vaccine doses for infants aged less than 1 year, the most in the world, yet 33 nations have better infant mortality rates (IMRs). Using linear regression, the immunization schedules of these 34 nations were examined and a correlation coefficient of 0.70 (p < 0.0001) was found between IMRs and the number of vaccine doses routinely given to infants. [...] These findings demonstrate a counter-intuitive relationship: nations that require more vaccine doses tend to have higher infant mortality rates." (Source-- this study examined infant deaths relative to number of total vaccines recommended) 

"Our findings show a positive correlation between the number of vaccine doses administered and the percentage of hospitalizations and deaths reported to VAERS. In addition, younger infants were significantly more likely than older infants to be hospitalized or die after receiving vaccines. Since vaccines are administered to millions of infants every year, it is imperative that health authorities have scientific data from synergistic toxicity studies on all combinations of vaccines that infants are likely to receive; universal vaccine recommendations must be supported by such studies."  (Source-- this study examined infant hospitalizations & death relative to number of simultaneous vaccines received)
- As to WHY there are no studies comparing vaccinated & unvaccinated kids,vaccines are considered so essential to safety that to withhold them -- even on tests intended to ascertain whether they are indeed essential to safety-- is seen as "unethical." Talk about the cart before the horse! However, many parental groups have offered up their members as volunteers, because they already intend to not vaccinate.  Populations who refuse to vaccinate for religious reasons, such as the Amish, would be valid control groups, or for a new vaccine, even children otherwise vaccinated but receiving a placebo for that new shot (which is clearly not proven to be effective or safe!) would be acceptable. Or, start with a retrospective survey of matched groups of children, controlled for other variables, with the variable being full vaccination or no vaccination... so long as the study participation was in no way tied to the government (due to fear of punitive action over differing medical opinion being viewed as "parental neglect"-- Justina Pelletier, anyone?), most parents who have foregone vaccines would jump at the chance to participate!!  If I can imagine three scenarios for true placebo-controlled studies, why can't professional researchers who make scientific investigation their full-time jobs come up with even one?

-  Funding for studies coming from a vaccine manufacturer tends to bias results.  As an example, a recent Cochrane review of all the data on flu shots found that studies sponsored by vaccine companies tended to be more favorable than those done by independent parties. Third-party-researchers do exist-- or teams made up of both "special interest" (vaccine-cautionary) and pharmaceutical (pro-vaccine) representatives could do it. There are a hundred feasible ways that fair testing could be done.  While all researchers SHOULD be trying to disprove their hypothesis, in reality most are likely to attempt to affirm their own beliefs. However anything that comes up with a vaccine-cautionary bent will face much more scrutiny than anything done in "support" of the majority opinion.

"This review includes trials funded by industry. An earlier systematic review of 274 influenza vaccine studies published up to 2007 found industry-funded studies were published in more prestigious journals and cited more than other studies independently from methodological quality and size. Studies funded from public sources were significantly less likely to report conclusions favourable to the vaccines. The review showed that reliable evidence on influenza vaccines is thin but there is evidence of widespread manipulation of conclusions and spurious notoriety of the studies. The content and conclusions of this review should be interpreted in the light of this finding." (Source-- Cochrane Review on Vaccines for Preventing the Flu in Healthy Children")

- Speaking of funding... does it not strike you as odd that drug companies only agreed to make vaccines (drugs) if they were financially shielded from any safety-related lawsuits?  If an automobile maker would only sell a type of car under the condition that they didn't have to pay any damages if it malfunctioned, we'd probably assume there was something wrong with the car!  This piece makes the excellent case that, in the words of pharmaceutical companies themselves, vaccines are "unavoidably unsafe."

- A final word regarding specifically the investigation of a link between autism and vaccines.  It is lunacy to say there is "no found link."  Just read a few of the studies amassed here (a fairly exhaustive list of research done on vaccines & their long-term effects, specifically ASD).  There is research on many aspects of this issue, and none show "no link."

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Breastfeeding Past A Year?

I guess I grew up knowing that the normal way women fed their babies was to nurse them.  My mom did it, my aunts did it, and it was enough of a non-issue for me that I don't remember ever thinking more about it than that.  I thought bottle feeding was super-cool, because then I got to feed the babies and rock them and burp them and tote them on my hip... but I never really thought about what was in the bottles (expressed milk or formula or cow or goat milk).  When I found myself pregnant with Éowyn I set out with a general idea in mind of nursing "at least to a year and hopefully beyond."  We got through a bit of a rocky start (we both were drowning in milk) but never looked back and were both very pleased with our nursing relationship when we weaned painlessly in the spring of 2011 (E was 21 months old).  I didn't really keep nursing to prove a point or out of any conviction; I could just tell it was good for her, our pediatrician recommended it since we were following our own vaccination schedule, and it was convenient & simple (what can I say, laziness is a powerful motivator for me, hehe).  As I went I started noticing that more than one factor seemed to point towards a natural weaning age of two -three years instead of closer to the American mentality of 6 mos -1 year.  Liam is now 18 months old and I hope to nurse him at least 6 months more-- with a summer birthday I have a feeling he'll be glad to wean right around the 2 year mark (hot & muggy SC summers don't encourage snuggling).  I have already gotten the "why are you still nursing?" question, and I'm sure as he gets older I'll get it even more.  So here are a few of the reasons I've catalogued for nursing on through the second year of life (and into the third if you both like!).  This is in no way a critique of moms who did not nurse until one, or two, or three, or any arbitrary age, rather by choice or circumstance.  Any breast milk is better than none! And I'm not arguing for an arbitrary "nurse until" date here; I'm trying to see what hints we get from our biology regarding when a "natural" weaning age range might be.  Basically, it boils down to this:  there seems to be way less of a difference between an 1 year old & and an 18 month old than there is between a 2 year old & a 2.5 year old.

1. molars--  most kids get their molars, needed for chewing grains and helpful in chewing meats-- between 13 & 33 months old. This is a very simple indication that a constant, consistent source of carbs & fat would be helpful (breast milk is mostly just that:  carbs/sugar and saturated fat).

2. brain development- a baby's brain grows incredibly rapidly through the second year of life, and by age 3 has reached 90% of its adult size.  The type of growth that particularly characterizes these years is synaptogenisis, or the formation of connections throughout the brain.  A toddler's brain actually makes way more connections than he will use, and by adolescence will have "pruned" away about half of these connections.  Also ongoing in the infant & toddler years is myelination, which is the coating of brain cells with fat to allow proper transmission of information across the synapses.  What nutrient is essential to brain growth & development?  Fat.  Specifically, saturated fat.  Even more specifically, cholesterol.  Breast milk is an amazing source of saturated fat.  While cow's milk (and this is an average which varies by breed) has about 8 g of fat, and 33 mg of cholesterol per cup, human breast milk has around 11.2 g of fat, and 43 mg of cholesterol per cup (this also can vary from mom to mom, and mom's diet is a part of that)!  Also, the brain is a huge consumer of glucose, which is supplied in breast milk in the form of lactose (carbs make up about 40% of the calories in breast milk).   A toddler's brain still needs lots of sugar and fat, and mom's milk is still the perfect source of those through the second year of life.  In fact, the longer a mom nurses, the more fatty & energy-dense her milk gets, providing more calories & fat per ounce!  (isn't that amazing!? breast milk really is designer custom-made food!)  Could this be why IQ scores go up the longer a child is breast-fed?

Most students of the brain note a difference between 2 & 3 years in terms of brain development, rather than between 1 & 2, whether one is studying Erickson's "Psychosocial," Piaget's "Cognitive Development,"or physiological "brain development" stages, or critical periods in language acquisition.

3. immune factors- this is a complex subject that is still not wholly understood even by experts... so please excuse this extreme simplification of the topic: it seems that there are 3 "arms" to a mature immune system: cell-mediated (Th1), humoral (Th2), and regulator (Th3) immunities.  Th1 tends to respond to danger in our cells with inflammation (white blood cells), Th2 tends to respond to danger outside our cells with antibodies, and Th3 keeps the other two in check.  As Dr. Russell Blaylock (MD) explains:
"If a virus invades, it quickly switches to the Th1 phase, which allows immune cells to secrete a group of cytokines that kill viruses. [...]  At other times, the immune system needs a whole different set of immune signals and cells, which are supplied by the Th2 phase. The Th2 phase favors the production of antibodies, mainly supplied by B-cells, but in general they reduce immune reactions." 
If left alone, babies start to make antibodies on their own around 6 months (artificially-fed babies do get antibodies earlier) and the mature immune system develops by age 3.  However at birth babies depend largely on their humoral (Th2) system-- this keeps them from being flagged as an invader by Mom's immune system pre-birth, allows good bacteria to colonize their gut, and also helps keep their brains growing without any inflammation to endanger it.  (Think of how rare, and therefore how serious, it is when a young baby gets an infectious fever-- babies just aren't wired to get fevers, which are a form of inflammation.)  So, how can a baby fight infection if everything in its system is trying to avoid inflammation to allow his brain & nervous system to develop as much as it can?  Breast milk again.  A mother's milk will be custom-made with antibodies for whatever germs she has been exposed to-- and with as much kissing and snuggling as moms naturally do with their babies, by day's end, she's been exposed to whatever he's been exposed to.  Continuing to supplement baby's immune system with maternal antibodies as long as his brain is rapidly growing and his immune system is still largely in Th2 mode (to protect that brain) makes complete sense-- that would mean breast-feeding for 2-3 years, not 1-2.

4. hints from other mammals- looking at the weaning ages in other mammals and adjusting them for various factors (like gestation, permanent tooth eruption, age of puberty, etc.) is a fascinating study, and indicates a "natural weaning age" for our species between 2 and 7 years.  Definitely not before 1 year.

5. child spacing- [[I'm not sure which is the "chicken" and which is the "egg:" if we naturally nurse 2-3 years and that helps us space our kids ideally, or if it's designed so that we generally have another child 2-3 years after the first, and thus wean around that time... either way God's system seems to have the two interrelated somehow.]] Much research indicates that the "ideal" spacing between pregnancies is 2 years, from a purely nutritional point of view.  In developing countries, breast feeding is an effective form of child spacing known as "LAM" (lactational amenorrhea), delaying the onset of ovulation for an average of 15 months, or even the duration of breast feeding in some women.  [Why doesn't this work in our own society?  My own theory is that it has to do with all the hormones we ingest constantly, from our food (especially milk, meat & soy, which is in most processed foods), water and even the plastics in our lives!]  While some women are able to "tandem nurse" (nurse through pregnancy and then nurse two children of different ages), many find pregnancy a natural weaning point, or choose to wean in order to "restock" before conceiving again.  It seems logical to expect 2-3 years of nursing one child before another child would naturally follow...

I want to restate that any breast milk is a gift.  To the moms who nursed to 1 year, awesome.  You gave your baby a tremendous start in life.  To moms who nursed to 6 months, yes!! You supplied your baby with antibodies until her body started making her own!  To moms who nursed 6 weeks; excellent.  Your baby got not only "liquid gold" (colostrum) but also got his metabolism correctly calibrated.  To the moms who nursed 3 days, you sealed your baby's intestinal wall and gave her a mega-dose of probiotics...  kudos especially go to those moms who persevered through pain and/or difficulties to get to whatever milestone you reached!!!

My own "takeaway" as I've waded through so many aspects of this topic has been to aim to nurse well into toddlerhood --whether that means 18 or 24 or 36 months will vary by situation, and by child-- just as each child learns to walk & talk at different ages, so they also get their molars at varying ages, their brains develop at different paces and their immune systems switch from Th2-dominant to a mature balanced system, all at different ages.  Follow your body, your child's body, and your own gut... and pray.  How many of us have prayed about when to wean?  But God invented breast milk, just as He controls immunity and molar eruption. :)