Ch 8: Treasure in a Clay Pot
Ray Stedman was not just a pastor; he was also a husband and a father. And during the sixties, the two-story Stedman home on Wellsbury Way in Palo Alto bustled with the busy lives of his four daughters: Sheila, born in 1948; Susan in 1950; Linda in 1954; and Laurie in 1962.
Because of his own experiences as a child--abandoned by his father, emotionally distanced from his troubled mother, and adopted by his loving aunt and uncle--Ray was devoted to his wife and daughters. Yet these childhood experiences and their resulting emotional effect on his life also ill-equipped him to deal with many of the demands of being a husband and father. Ray tended to be emotionally disconnected with the women in his home. Consequently, it was in the family arena, more than anywhere else, where Ray experienced the truth of the New Covenant--that God's strength could be perfected only in his own weakness.
In many ways, the Stedmans were a typical suburban family of their day. They lived in a comfortable home, their daughters attended decent schools, they enjoyed family vacations, and they endured the normal squabbles associated with seven people and three generations living under the same roof (Elaine's mother lived with them until her death in 1983.) But it was the underlying foundation of God's love and truth that held the family together.
Good Times as a Family
RAY'S DAUGHTERS HAVE ESPECIALLY fond memories of camping trips with their father. Because of her weak back, Elaine usually did not participate in these adventures, and with good reason. It was never enough for Ray to simply find a convenient campsite with all the usual amenities. Instead, he drove a borrowed Jeep or Land Rover off-road to the highest lake or remotest river in the area. Ray loved to scare the girls by making his own roads up the side of a mountain or driving as close as possible to the edge of a cliff. During the night, as the girls snuggled in their sleeping bags, Ray would playfully scratch on the outside of the tent and growl like a bear. (Susan and Linda Stedman, interviews by author, July 14, 2001, Grants Pass, Ore., tape recording.)
Ray's sense of humor took various forms. On one camping trip, he stood shaving with his electric razor plugged into a tree that looked as if it might have been struck by lightning. He convinced the girls that if they ever found a tree that had been hit by lightning, they could stick an electrical plug into it and get electricity. Ray collapsed with laughter when, on their next camping trip, Susan announced she was bringing her curling iron to plug into one of those trees! (Ibid.)
Ray's love of adventure and risk was revealed clearly during these outings. His daughters remember him as fearless, possessing an unshakable faith that no matter how bad a situation became, everything would somehow work out. And Ray always seemed able to escape tough situations unscathed. On one occasion he took Elaine and Laurie out in a small boat on San Francisco Bay on a Sunday afternoon. In the middle of the bay, the motor hit bottom, severing the shear pin and leaving them powerless. The wind blew so hard that their small paddles proved useless. They wondered where they would end up, and if they would ever get back in time for the Sunday evening service. It was not uncommon for people adrift in the middle of the bay to spend the night on the mud flats! Finally, the direction of the wind changed and pushed them back close to the west shore, where Elaine's brother picked them up in time to make it to church. To the girls, this was just another example that their father could escape any situation. (Laurie Stedman, interview by author, July 15, 2001, Grants Pass, Ore., tape recording.)
Ray's daughters also remember their father's love for music. Ray was not a musician, but he loved music and he taught his daughters to appreciate good music. Unfortunately, this did not keep Ray from singing Scottish songs and cowboy tunes in an off-key voice at the top of his lungs. Together the Stedman family sang everything from hymns to songs they learned on their favorite television program, Sing Along with Mitch. Ray's love for music deeply influenced Susan, and she was accepted into the Wheaton Conservatory of Music after high school. (Susan, Linda, and Laurie Stedman, interviews by author.)
Ray's unpredictable ways carried over into his spending habits. While Elaine was very frugal, Ray was an impulsive buyer. When he wanted something, he rarely shopped around or waited for a bargain, but would race to a store and buy it. Ray was also extremely generous and enjoyed purchasing impractical gifts for his family. Valentine's Day was often an occasion for him to get red roses for Elaine and new dresses for the girls. Ray had exquisite taste, and they were never disappointed with the gifts he chose for them. (Ibid.)
Ray's generosity also translated into hospitality. "We would always have a big meal after church," remembers Laurie, "and my parents would always invite somebody home who looked like they didn't have anyplace to go. Usually it was my dad who invited someone. If it was getting close to the time to leave the church, I would remind my dad to invite somebody. I loved having people over. I looked forward to that. We would also have people over on Sunday evenings after church." (Laurie Stedman, interview.) As a result, a variety of characters came through their doors, and many stayed for more than a meal. When J. Vernon McGee preached at PBC, he stayed with the Stedmans, and the girls have never forgotten his bright colored pajamas. As mentioned earlier, Luis Palau stayed with the family for two months when he first came to the United States in 1960, and his Latin sense of humor brightened their home. When former Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver professed to becoming a Christian, Ray opened both his church and his home to him and his family, precipitating a media frenzy in the Stedman front yard. (Ibid.)
Ray and Elaine also created an atmosphere in which learning and thinking were highly valued. Ray prized reading so much that he paid his daughters to read books, including the Bible. When the girls were teenagers, he asked them to present him with a written outline of his sermon after they had listened to him preach. Although they resented it at the time, they say, it taught them to think logically--a skill they used in school and later in their careers. Ray also loved to play chess, and he rarely lost. When he was not beating a fellow staff member or the computer, he played with his daughters, often giving them a handicap so they had a chance to win. (Susan and Linda Stedman, interviews by author.)
But one of the greatest legacies Ray left his daughters was the model of a strong marriage that lasted forty-seven years. Though Ray and Elaine were reserved in their outward expressions of love for each other, their commitment to each other was unquestioned. Every morning when Ray was home, he and Elaine began their day together at the breakfast nook, reading from a devotional book and praying for the family. Ray and Elaine were partners in every sense, freeing each other for the work God had for each of them and thus allowing the Lord to use them in a deeper way.(Elaine Stedman, interview by author, July 15,2001, Grants Pass, Ore., tape recording.) Ray's one-sided authoritarianism, which characterized their early years of marriage, eventually mellowed into servant leadership. As the years passed, their marriage became even more of a mutual partnership as Ray recognized Elaine's tremendous gifts. This truly came to the fore in 1975 when Elaine distinguished herself as an author with her book, A Woman's Worth. When Ray read the manuscript, he was stunned and delighted by Elaine's insight and encouraged her to use the gifts God had given her in both speaking and writing.
The deep warmth and love between Ray and Elaine is reflected in many of Ray's letters to her when he was away from home, speaking or teaching. In October 1968, he wrote to her from an airplane en route to Saigon: "
All day my thoughts have been running back to twenty-three years ago in Honolulu. Sometimes it seems very close in time, and other times it seems worlds away. I'm grateful for this almost quarter-of-a-century the Lord has given us together, for our family and friends, and the ministry we have shared. By nature we both tend to be reticent about our feelings but I think it's appropriate on this day to tell you I love you very much and feel the Lord has fulfilled all His promise of marital happiness which lay unfolded on that wedding day so long ago. You have done well as a wife and mother and now that we see our first-born about to leave the family nest for good it is good to realize that the years ahead will be different but not empty. (Ray Stedman, letter to Elaine Stedman, October 22,1968.)
DESPITE THE FOUNDATION OF love in the Stedman home, through the years the family experienced some great heartache. At different periods of time, each of Ray and Elaine's daughters went through a significant season of rebellion; at times the relationship between Ray and his daughters was strained or even fractured. Because of Ray's visibility, and his and Elaine's deep mutual desire for their daughters to follow Christ, these periods of family discord caused them tremendous pain.
Several factors probably contributed to the difficulties in the Stedman home, and one major factor was Ray's devotion to his ministry. Like most evangelical leaders of his generation, Ray traveled extensively, seldom counting the cost to his family. "Billy Graham said that if there was one thing he would have done differently, it would have been to spend more time with his family," says Elaine, reflecting back to those times. "I think Ray really felt that way too. But that was the way that we were trained to think about ministry; that ministry was first and the family came in wherever they fit in. We both thought that way, so we did not object to it. It was tough though. The hardest things that happened with the girls happened when he was gone." (Elaine Stedman, interview by Wade Whitcomb, November 17-18, 1994, Grants Pass, Ore., transcript.)
Another factor was the spirit of the time and place in which Ray and Elaine raised their daughters. During the sixties, traditional Christian morality was not only questioned but mocked, and nowhere was this more evident than at Cubberly High School in Palo Alto, which was known as the local center of the hippie movement with all the attendant activities: antiwar protests, drugs, and sexual experimentation. Ray's three older daughters all attended Cubberly, and Linda remembers that the students basically took over the school. "During those days at Cubberly there were groups of people smoking pot in the parking lot with no intervention. Most teachers simply avoided the area. The bathrooms were filled with cigarette smoke during breaks. Many students had some sort of venereal disease. Students seemed to be protesting everything they could think of." (Linda Stedman, interview.) Being Ray Stedman's daughters, the girls felt pressure to conform to their parents' standards and the church culture of which they were a part. At the same time, they desperately wanted to fit in and "be normal" in a school environment that could not have been more different from their home and church.
It is ironic that a church that became a haven for the Jesus People was the very place Ray's daughters felt they could not be themselves and work through their struggles as normal teenagers. But in the sixties, the evangelical culture in general and PBC in particular were not always as accepting as they would later become in the Body Life services in the early seventies. Both PBC and Ray Stedman experienced a process of maturation in this regard. But for much of the sixties, PBC was a typical evangelical church and Ray was a strict pastor and father. "Dad would not allow me to date a non-Christian," recalls Sheila, "and so I was limited to the guys at church, which didn't appeal to me much. . . . I wasn't allowed to go to school dances, or any movie not created by Disney, and of course never a secular party." (Sheila Stedman, letter to author, August 26, 2002.)
And without doubt, people in the church expected more from them than from other young people. "They got some pretty hard knocks," says Elaine. "Things that really derailed them. I don't think Laurie [the youngest] did, because after Body Life, things changed so much at PBC. It was a different atmosphere and a different way of looking at things. But before that it was very traditional and more was expected of them. People would say things like, 'How could you do that when you have such wonderful parents?' But the girls knew their parents! They knew we were just people." (Elaine Stedman, interview.)
Another factor was that although Ray was always affectionate with his girls, one of his weaknesses as a father was his inability to relate to them on an emotional level. Elaine believes this was a handicap inherited from his upbringing. "He loved his kids. But because they were girls, he felt awkward with them at times. He didn't quite know how to handle their emotional outbursts. . . . He did not understand the female. He did not grow up with females. He had two brothers. He had two male cousins. He didn't relate well to his mother at all. He didn't have a close relationship with his aunt. . . . It was a good relationship, . . . But there was no closeness, no real intimate sharing. He never learned that kind of sharing and intimacy of communication." (Ibid.)
Susan, Ray's second daughter, agrees. "The one thing I felt was most lacking from my dad was an ability to relate to me emotionally. He was so mental, and so logical, that anything that operated on the emotional level would just throw him. He had a real hard time with that. . . . And I think part of that might have been from his childhood, and his mother being so overemotional." (Susan Stedman, interview.)
Ray's weakness in this area made it especially difficult for him to talk with his daughters about the temptations they were experiencing. Sheila remembers wanting to talk with her dad about her struggles, but feeling unable to do so. "I was always seeking approval from him, so I decided it wasn't safe to tell him of my dilemma. I wanted badly to tell him, but the few times I tried he would tell me it was wrong to think that Ray and that it hurt him to hear such things. I think that was the biggest 'wart' with Dad back then because he unknowingly blocked me from sharing my pain and kept me from being honest with him." (Sheila Stedman, letter.)
Linda recalls that her father himself often would react emotionally and resort to bribes. "He tried to send me off to L'Abri in Switzerland in order to bribe me not to get married." (Linda Stedman, interview.) Ray once even threatened to leave the ministry. "Dad made the mistake of threatening to leave the ministry because of me," recalls Sheila, "so the guilt was piled on and I felt I had to escape even more." (Sheila Stedman, letter.)
What Ray's daughters did not know was that the threat to leave the ministry was anything but a bluff More than once Ray doubted his own fitness for the ministry enough that he actually approached the PBC elders about resigning. He felt he was no longer qualified to serve if his children were out of control. But the elders convinced him that since the daughter in question was already out of the house, he should not take responsibility for her actions. In one particularly moving meeting, all the elders shared communion and prayed for Ray. This event, and particularly Ray's transparency and integrity, left a deep impression on several of the elders.(Jim Heaton, interview by author, March 15, 2001, Gleneden Beach, Ore., tape recording.)
One can't help but wonder about the role of the Christian's adversary in all of this. Scripture says, "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world-forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12 NASB). Luis Palau believes that many of the difficulties in the Stedman home were the result of spiritual warfare.(Luis Palau, interview by author, September 9, 2002, by telephone, tape recording.) Although Ray never publicly spoke about his daughters' experiences, his book Spiritual Warfare reflects many of the insights he must have first applied to his own battles.
Remember this--the aim, the goal of Satan in all this clever stratagem, by which he has kept the human race in bondage through these hundreds of centuries, is to destroy, to ruin, to make waste. That is his purpose toward you and me. A young man I know, who had been raised in church, though he is only twenty-one years old, has already become a mental and physical wreck. Why? Because he has turned aside from the truth and followed the philosophy of Satan. Satan is accomplishing his aim, destroying this life which God loves. That is what he is attempting to do with US. (See Ray's message Spiritual Warfare), Chapter 3: "The Strategy of Satan.")
But as with so many of Satan's tactics, they backfired when it came to Ray. "I really believe that Satan's favorite inroad to attacking Dad's ministry was through his daughters," says Linda. "However, I think our rebellion challenged and strengthened Dad's faith more than any other events in his life. It brought him to his knees time after time." (Linda Stedman, e-mail to author, September 1,2002.)
Internalizing the New Covenant
IT WAS ON HIS knees, because of his sense of inadequacy as a father, that what Ray called the New Covenant became more than just a doctrine to him. In 1975 he wrote Authentic Christianity as a clear explanation of that covenant, the essence of which is that Christians are vessels designed to contain the life of Jesus.
But the Christian is more than an empty vessel. He has something within or, more accurately, Someone within. We have a treasure in our clay pot! And more than a treasure--a transcendent power! That is humanity as God intended it to be. The clay pot is not much in itself, but it holds an inestimable treasure, beyond price, and a transcendent power, greater than any other power known to humanity. (See Ray's book Authentic Christianity> [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Discovery House Publishers, 1996], 122.)
Ray had come to learn that the life of Jesus dwelling in the believer would not exempt him from experiencing hardship and heartache. Indeed, it was these experiences that allowed for the experience and demonstration of the life of Christ within:
Undoubtedly, one of the greatest misconceptions held by many is that being a Christian means that life should suddenly smooth out, mysterious bridges will appear over all chasms, the winds of fate will be tempered, and all difficulties will disappear. No, Christianity is not membership in some red-carpet club. All the problems and pressures of life remain, or are even intensified. Christians must face life in the raw, just as any pagan will. The purpose of the Christian life is not to escape dangers and difficulties but to demonstrate a different way of handling them. There must be trouble, or there can be no demonstration. (Ibid., 125.)
When Ray wrote, "There must be trouble, or there can be no demonstration," he wrote out of his own life experience. Out of his personal sense of inadequacy and failure as a father Ray learned that "the surpassing greatness of the power" was indeed from God and not from himself Out of his own trouble at home came a demonstration of the life of Christ within.
Because of his suffering, Ray became a softer and more empathetic and "human" pastor and father. When he spoke of believers simply being "cracked pots" who held a treasure inside, people knew that he spoke out of his own brokenness. He became more compassionate, tender, and patient with those who strayed. People on his staff and in his church saw the change, as did his family.
Susan views her own rebellious years as a way of knocking Ray off the pedestal she and so many others had placed him on. "When I went through those rebellious years, I had to knock him down; and he was way up there, so the fall was pretty hard for him and for me.... It's taken me all these years to know my father as a human being, and accept him as a human being, and I don't ever want to put him on that pedestal again. Because it wasn't where he wanted to be, and it wasn't his place to be there, and I just love him so much more now that I know him as a human being and accept him for who he really is." (Susan Stedman, interview.)
And when his daughters began to experience the consequences of poor choices and needed help, they found their father--and their mother--waiting with open arms. "Over and over again. . . I pushed my parents to the limit," says Laurie. "But I always felt like they loved me. I never felt rejection. . . . There was always forgiveness." (Laurie Stedman, interview.) Each daughter experienced this forgiveness and has her own story to tell of a special "homecoming" with her father, when he became the channel of God's grace to her.
"Dad and Mom were so supportive through the years," Linda remembers. "In 1981, in the midst of a very difficult marriage, I left my husband and took our sons back to Palo Alto to live with Dad and Mom. They welcomed us with open arms. By then, I was desperate to find my way back to the Lord. My view of God was so distorted by my own sin and the worldly philosophies I had embraced. Dad quickly got me connected with a Christian psychiatrist--a preacher's kid himself--who helped me get a clear perspective of God's grace, and assured me that God loved me right where I was, in spite of all my sin and rebellion. It was the beginning of spiritual healing in my life." (Linda Stedman, e-mail to author, September 1, 2002.)
Sheila's "homecoming" took place after her father had already retired and was battling cancer. "On a visit to see Mom and Dad in Grants Pass, Dad found out he had cancer. I was in shock! How could that be? We had grown closer over the years, he had grown softer and sweeter, had retired from PBC, and was finally able to relax and enjoy less pressures of the ministry. . . . "
My son, Jason, had been living the party life in high school, was dating lots of girls, but lately had been dating a particularly sweet girl, Jennifer, and had found out, just weeks before the terrible news about Dad, that he was going to be a father. He and Papa had formed a very close relationship since his birth, being the first grandson and the apple of Papa's eye. When Jason heard the news, he rushed down to Grants Pass with Jennifer and told Dad how sorry he was for messing up his own life and now his treasured Papa was dying. Dad, in his gracious, loving manner, reassured Jason that it was not bad news at all, but great .news that he would be seeing his Lord soon, and that he, Jason, should realize that life is only temporary. That he should marry Jennifer and turn his life over to the Lord. And do you know, that was the turning point in Jason's and my life. . . . "
From that day forward, both me and my children have all come back to a real, personal, fulfilling relationship with our heavenly Father and it has a great deal to do with Dad's own example of who a father should be. He forgave us when we rebelled against him, and loved us in spite of our ingratitude and selfishness! When I look back on our life together I realize how incredibly blessed I was to be chosen to be my earthly and my heavenly Father's child!" (Sheila Stedman, e-mail to author, August 26, 2002.)
During the sixties and early seventies, PBC became one of the most well-known and innovative churches in the nation, and Ray became a Bible teacher and author of international renown. But it was in the context of his family that God was refining and conforming Ray into the image of Christ.
In the end, Ray Stedman was a portrait of integrity not only in the church, but in his home as well.
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