Navigating Motherhood and Work

Mom-shaming is real. I hate opening this post with that statement, but it is sadly true and needs to be said. It begins as soon as you announce you are expecting and continues even into your children’s adulthood (or so I’m told…I’m not there yet, but I don’t doubt it). I, personally, have been criticized or was subject to listen to unconstructive (er, destructive?) criticism of: hospital vs. home birth, C-section vs. natural delivery, breast vs. formula feeding, public vs. private school, vaccinations, allowable screen time…just to name a few. I get it, though. We love our kids. We want what’s best for them. We want better for them than we had for ourselves. Therefore, we make these decisions based on our convictions and can become passionate about them. The danger, though, comes when we impose those passionate convictions on others.

One area in which I experienced the most mom-shaming was my decision to continue working after having my two daughters. I was not prepared for the very personal, intrusive questions and accusations that came hurtling at me – from people both in and out of the church – at a time when I was sleep-deprived and literally trying to keep my babies and me alive.

I had to defend to many my decision to continue working as a speech-language pathologist (SLP), in a hospital, where I treat mostly elderly patients who have had strokes, or were suffering from head and neck cancers or forms of dementia. I heard myself saying things like, …But I help people… It’s not just for the money…I worked hard for my advanced degree and license to practice…My work is also my ministry…I want to be an example to my girls so they see that they can work to sustain themselves and their families. Even if it was never explicitly said, the probing questions people asked made me feel as though I was being judged for not putting my family first, and that hurt.

I examined Scripture and found that the infamous and well-lauded Proverbs 31 woman did, in fact, work. She works hard both for her family and at her job .  The authors, Solomon and Kings Agur and Lemuel wrote these wise sayings of Proverbs as a wisdom textbook for all people. King Lemuel described this beautiful and industrious model of a woman as being good to her husband (v. 12), a wise shopper (v. 13,14), a manager, investor, farmer, realtor, manufacturer, seamstress and merchant (vv. 15-24). She takes care of herself in exercising and being healthy (v. 17), is generous to the needy (v. 20) is kind, wise with her words, and fears the Lord (vv. 26-31). Let’s also be realistic. Biblical scholars (and I) don’t believe that King Lemuel was describing a singular woman, able to accomplish all these things day in and day out. More likely, Proverbs 31 is a composite rendering of an ideal Christ-loving woman. In sharing my understanding of this passage of Scripture, I was able to share with others how our American Christian image of motherhood isn’t entirely in line with Biblical truths. My role is not defined by complete domestic subservience; rather, being a wife, mother and a professional all have places in God’s purpose for my life. And even for the woman who chose or chooses not to work outside the home, she is industrious in many other ways that serve her family and her community.

I have since made a couple of transitions so that I can be available for my family while still remaining a professional. I switched to working part-time and became an adjunct professor at a university. With this transition, I get the unique opportunity for my kids to be a part of my work during the summer when they help our graduate students out with a camp for kids with special needs. It is a thing of chaos and beauty when my two worlds collide. My kids get to see me, not as mom but as “Professor,” while my students observe how I balance work with parenting in real-time. It has elicited great frank conversations with both parties about work-life balance and what it can look like while also maintaining a personal walk with Christ and a marriage. I’m very honest about the messes and challenges, as well as the joys and victories.

In supporting those of you who are Christian working moms or considering it in the future, here are some things that I and some other working moms I interviewed hope you find helpful:

Make a schedule with your family that you can all agree to.

On the days that I work, my family knows that means: All hands on deck! Everyone needs to be awake and out of bed at a certain time. We work as a team to keep each other accountable. This also means preparing outfits, lunches and readying backpacks so that there is as little last-minute scrambling as possible. Meal-planning for the week also helps. Sometimes we’ll cook large meals on one night so that we have leftovers for a couple days.

Enlist help from others.

The old adage that it takes a village to raise a child is pretty accurate. If you can enlist the help of a nearby and capable grandparent (that is, your parents or in-laws) or another relative, friend or neighbor, do it. More likely than not, someone has offered you help at one point and you refused it for fear of imposition or losing face (I’m Asian-American and this is very much a thing). You will be surprised to find that there are people who would love to help pick up your child(ren) or run an errand for you because it blesses them to bless you. God sends others as extensions of Himself to show us how loved we are by Him.

Be proactive.

If your church has only or mostly daytime activities for women or kids, ask those responsible for those ministries if they might consider evenings. Small groups, kids Bible studies and even vacation bible school (VBS) can be offered in the evenings to accommodate working parents. If you don’t voice the need, it is likely your church’s leadership isn’t aware of it. You can have a kind and considerate conversation about these things with your church leaders.

Let go of perfection.

Braids might be lopsided. Socks might end up mismatched and P.E. clothes may get left behind. That anticipated Instant Pot/Crockpot meal may not turn out. You forget to sign that slip for UPS to leave your package on the doorstep. You had to get take-out for dinner…again. We’re human, and things happen. Give your family and yourself grace.

Not all the plates need to be spinning at once.

Have you seen the acrobats who can balance and spin plates on dowel rods? It’s fascinating. One mom said to me that working moms are expected to accomplish this kind of act—keeping all plates spinning simultaneously. The truth is, one plate will inevitably wobble and thus need more attention. It’s okay to put the plates down sometimes. Your health and well-being, your family, a close friend…will sometimes need to take priority over work and housework and it’s more than okay. It’s good and healthy, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of!

Written by Joyce Young

3 Ways to Care for the Hurting

For most people, August 3rd is just another day. But for me, it’s a date I can never forget.

It’s not like someone’s birthday that you would really love to remember but somehow forget. This is a day that’s always full of emotion for me. Sometimes sad, happy, or even angry.

As this August 3rd approaches, I remember that, 14 years ago, I lost my best friend – my mom.

Many people have heard my story of losing my mom to kidney cancer when I was 15. It was a life-defining moment and one that still continues to shape me. I’m so grateful that it forever defined my relationship with Jesus. It doesn’t really get any easier. I mean, maybe some days.

But then other days, it feels as fresh as it did 14 years ago. My heart still longs for her and wishes she were here. I dream of what life would be like. What kind of person she would be like. What our relationship would be like. I’ve changed a lot since I was 15. In some way I’m a completely different person–one my mom never really knew.

Reflecting on the life I had with my mom is not always sad. In fact, I enjoy talking about her. It helps me remember her. Telling funny stories about her helps make her relevant in my life today. I was a total mommy’s girl, and I always will be. She’s who I get my humor and my determination from. She’s who I get a lot of who I am from.

As I think about the impact August 3rd had on my life, I also think about the many days and years afterwards. There were so many people that walked through this journey with me, people that God used to help shape me and heal me. When someone is going through a crisis, they need people to lean on and support them. That’s really the beauty of the Church and what God intended it to be – a place where people can do life together, as they try and grow more in Him.

There are a few ways God used people to help me through one of the most difficult moments in my life.

Be Present

I became an emotional wreck when my mom died. I was always angry and easily annoyed. Even when I was in the worst of moods, my aunt was always present. She never gave me an excuse for being angry and bitter. But she never left. I never became too difficult for her or too much to bear. I was not an easy person to love at this moment in my life. You would have never guessed it by how she loved me. I couldn’t get rid of her no matter how hard I tried.

She was relentless in her determination to just be present for me. Sometimes that meant advice, a hug, or even just sitting next to me in silence. Looking back, that was one of the things that got me through. Her willingness to love me even when it hurt and even when I didn’t know what I wanted.

What a beautiful picture of how Jesus loves us. In spite of all our ugly, He is still there with us. And that’s the same love we are called to have for other people. The love with which He loved us we are to pour out to others.

Being present when it’s hard and it hurts you is one of the greatest actions of love. It is one of the greatest ways to comfort someone in the midst of their crisis.

Be Practical

Our church family was absolutely wonderful and made me fall in love with Christ even more. When my mom was really sick and visitors became too overwhelming, our church found new ways to be there for her. I remember some of the members from our church playing worship songs outside of our house for her to hear. They never asked to come in, knowing it was too much for my mom at that point. She absolutely loved hearing them lead her in worship. It was beautiful.

Everyday we had different families delivering lunch and dinner to our house. They didn’t insist on staying and visiting. They just dropped off the food on our doorstep and would check-in to see if we were low on food.

I can tell you story after story of our church family helping care for our practical needs. They even went so far as to pay for our electric bill in the dead of summer, so my mom could be as comfortable as possible.

No matter how big or small, the practical things matter. When the people closest to us suffer and experience crisis, we can be helpful. There are practical ways we can be there for them. It doesn’t always have to be a financial cost–even just lending your time to watch kids, helping do laundry, or running errands. These very tangible forms of love make a world of a difference.

Be a Friend

I had many women who tried to comfort me by giving advice and even trying to empathize by sharing their own stories of loss. There may be moments when that’s needed. But it is less than you think.

It grew frustrating to hear other people’s stories of how they lost their mom when they were 35 or when they were 7. It made me feel as if what I was struggling with was ordinary and mundane. Even people sharing advice on what was a healthy way to grieve didn’t help.

What I really needed was not a counselor or doctor, I just needed a friend. Someone I could be shopping with one moment and in tears with the next. And she would understand.

I felt far more comfort and peace with someone who was more interested in being my friend than they were being my counselor. God uses those friendships to bring healing and joy. Just having a person to have fun with and remind me that life didn’t need to stop when my mom died allowed me to deal with what was going on.

When someone you love is going through a life altering moment, they are probably in need of a friend more than a counselor of doctor. A true friend will know you. Even if they don’t have the right thing to say, they are a source of comfort.

We will all experience moments of crisis or tragedy. But God can use others to bring you through it.

Written by Tamara Chamberlain

5 Things Nobody Tells You About Missions Trips (& 1 Thing They Do)

Earlier this year, I was called into fulltime ministry.  But before that happened, God was at work preparing and equipping me for it.  One of the ways that He did that was through short-term missions trips, which is pretty much the same thing as fulltime ministry except way more intense and physical. I’ve had the privilege of being on four separate missions teams – in college I went to Mexico and with EFree I went to New Orleans twice with a trip to Russia sandwiched in between.

Missions is hard. It’s unglamorous, it’s rigorous.  It’s sweaty, it’s dirty. It’s spiritual warfare. It’s tiring. But the joys of it are unmatched.

You don’t always agree with your teammates all the time.

People are people. We’re messy. We say things that we don’t mean at inopportune times. We’re emotional creatures of habit designed to feel feelings. And once we’re out of our normal environment, these emotions are escalated. It’s so important to be gracious to your teammates and vise-versa. Have a concern? Talk through it and let go of your desire to be “right.” This takes humility!

You sleep where you can, when you can.

Trains, planes, vans, airport chairs, the ground… anywhere is fair game to catch a few minutes of shut-eye. On missions trips, I’ve had my own room, slept in the same bed as Jeanne Hopper, and have also roomed with 20 other women.

Sleep is so important on missions trips. You’re often exhausted from jet lag, the time difference, and a hard day’s work. So when you have the opportunity to sleep, take it! Don’t let the enemy use your lack of sleep and energy to cause you to be irritable and diminish your ministry. I don’t ever take sleeping pills* but on a missions trip I’ll purchase the smallest box of them that I can find and take them with me. I’m a light sleeper and even more so in a new environment, and I don’t want a lack of sleep to be the reason I can’t focus in the morning.

Things you take for granted at home may not be readily available on the field.

That facewash you use calm inflammation? Take it with you. Tampons? Stock up and take them with you, especially for international trips. Even if I don’t need them, I’ll pack them anyway because there are other women that do.

Food is one of the defining factors of culture and it’s different even from city to city. Especially if you’ll be serving in a new environment, it’s good to know how your body reacts to different types of food. For example, I can’t eat a chili pepper without having 50 gallons of ice water on standby, yet for the most part I can fall asleep after drinking half a cup of (regularly caffeinated) coffee. If we know ourselves and our limits well, it’ll help us be an asset to our teammates.

Bathrooms. On one of the teams I served on, “bathroom” = the woods.

Spiritual attacks are real.

Any time you do something for Jesus, you can expect spiritual attacks because the opposition doesn’t want us to even remotely glorify God. There was spiritual warfare even as I was determining the topic, writer, and content for this week’s blog. Even as I was writing this post, the enemy robbed me of a significant amount of time. I had set aside specific nights that were “blog writing nights.” One of those nights began as I was leaving work and my car wouldn’t start at all. Even though Stephen King wrote a novel about Christine the car, Christine the human is terrible with cars. The warning light that radiated on the dashboard of my car didn’t match the issue underneath the hood of my car. That caused confusion. Thankfully my mechanically gifted coworker had the know-how to help me out. But I digress.

Confusion – the enemy likes to confuse and he’ll do that sometimes through vehicle issues (which has happened to me on a missions trip) but more often than not through miscommunication between teammates. He’ll use whatever he can to distract you from serving Jesus – it could be a delayed flight, missing baggage, a language barrier, a restless night, discouraging words, anything! Spiritual warfare happens at the most inopportune times. And nothing can prepare or equip you for it better than Jesus can (Ephesians 6).

Prepare to prepare and debrief.

There are usually a couple of months’ prepwork that go into each missions trip. You pray a lot, meet your teammates, bond with them, get to know the ministry site you’ll be serving at, read up on missionaries, send support letters (this part is especially humbling), write ‘thank you’ notes, and so much more.

After my Russia trip, we were essentially ‘on tour’ for a month. There were report letters to send out to our ministry partners, Q&A’s, ministry events to attend which support the ministry that we were part of, and we also gave verbal reports and presentations of the trip. I also did an ice bucket challenge for the ministry. These were things that I found myself wanting to do. I wanted other people to experience what I experienced because what I experienced was God on a deeper level through His people on the other side of the world. I wanted them to experience and support the ministry because I got to experience first-hand how great it was.

 

The endgame is beautiful.

As Christians, we live for a purpose that’s far greater than ourselves. Especially on a short-term trip, we may not always get to see the full fruits of God’s work through us. But one day in Heaven, we’ll see these fruits and oh what a joy that will be!

Words & photo by Christine Hu

*note: even though OTC sleeping pills are safe for me to use, they are not for everyone. Before starting any medication at all, please consult your physician.

Empowering Women in Ministry

As Director of Women’s Ministry, I hold tight to the conviction that the primary responsibility of my job, and indeed of my life, is to equip women of God to do God’s work. If I were directing a women’s leadership teaching, this is point when I would ask those in attendance to stop and read through the whole of Ephesians 4.  If you have ten minutes, I think I will ask you to do the same.

There is simply nothing like reading biblical truth to set the stage for a paradigm shift into biblical thinking.

Ephesians 4: 11-12 states that “He (Jesus) gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ…”

Essentially, God gave His people gifts of teaching, shepherding, and of leading those who do not yet know Jesus toward Him, for the primary purpose of preparing and empowering those who do know Jesus to serve well and build the church well. As you read this verse within the context of the entire chapter of Ephesians 4, it is easy to see the beauty of the Gospel laced through charge of equipping the people of God. Paul is beseeching the Ephesian church, and every other follower of Jesus that would ever walk on solid ground, to do things that most express the honor of being made in the image of God, and of being loved and saved by the Son of God. He is compelling woman and man to honor their salvation by walking worthy of this sacred gift. Paul is seeking to aim the follower of Christ at unity, by encouraging us to use our Holy Spirit infused God-given gifts to build one another and the church. Taken in the context of the entirety of the Gospel, we can hear the rhythms of the commissioning of Matthew 28:18-20 in every verse. We are dignified by being designed in the very image of God, and again by being “saved to the uttermost” by the rich blood of the One true Savior Jesus Christ. Within the safety and beauty of our redemptive state, we are given gifts from God intended for the purpose of encouraging ourselves and those we walk alongside to love Jesus, love people well, to serve well, and to lead well.

Love Jesus. Love Well. Serve Well. Lead Well.

I recently heard someone say that all those who choose to follow Christ will naturally find themselves leading in some context. We cannot share Jesus well without living lives that lead others toward Him, so whether we are naturally bent toward leadership is of little concern. We seek to lead well because He leads us well. As Paul so aptly stated, “Follow me as I follow Him.” (1 Cor. 11:1)

So, what does all this have to do with empowering women in ministry? We live in a society that enshrines achievement, individuality and competition. As such most of us have been trained to win, and to be constantly glancing sideways to compare ourselves to the pace and process of someone else. As a young unredeemed woman, I saw every woman I encountered as my competition, and I always believed I had to be the best at everything. This mentality caused me to miss out on deep relationships, on focusing on honing my natural God-given gifts, and made me believe that success was scarce and I had to “get mine.” The sideways glance of comparison and what author and speaker Lysa TerKeurst refers to as the “scarcity mentality,” in which we believe there is not enough for everyone, leads us to an inability to be satisfied in who and what we are, as well as a propensity to be unwilling to build and encourage other women. Think back to Ephesians 4. The entire purpose of our God-given gifts is so that we might build up other people, rather than step on the heads of others to get where we want to go! Upside-down thinking! To add to the directive of being women who build, we find the beautiful truth that as we seek to use our God-given gifts to build others, we in turn find joy, relationship and a deep sense of purpose and satisfaction. It is the rule of reciprocity – the “give and it shall be given” of growing and empowering others. It never diminishes us to empower another woman to use her gifts and skills to spread the love of Jesus even if her gifts and skills seem similar to those we have been given.  We can stand confident that each of us have a particular purpose and are uniquely designed to fulfill that purpose. As we embrace this understanding and live in the Gospel light of Ephesian 4, we will find that there is great satisfaction in calling out the gifts of another woman, and in helping her to hone and use her unique skills to the building up of the body of Christ.

Written by Stacey Monaco

Community: Is It Worth It?

It was the best of times and then it became the worst of times. It was something beautiful and then it turned into something ugly. It was a season of love and marriage and then a season of  dissension and separation.

About three years ago, I was part of a church community that had shared many milestones with each other. We were working professionals in the prime of our lives, loving Jesus, passionate about causes, and connecting in community. Many of us had journeyed together for almost a decade, from singlehood to marriage to parenthood. But like a Jenga puzzle, it began falling apart as one by one, two by two pulled away.

Some of us had discussed after the church had closed down that it would be difficult to find that type of community again. It was special and in the season of life when we were discovering ourselves.

To a certain extent, I would agree. I will not find that same community again ever. However, I have changed over the years and others have too. And hopefully, as we have learned to love others, our capacity for loving more & different types of people has enlarged.

And even though it brought much pain and grief when the community broke apart, it was truly wonderful when it was thriving and that makes finding community a worthy risk and investment.

Why should we be in community?

Jesus surrounded Himself with community. He walked with his disciples, doing life with them. He told them and us to “love one another” (John 15:12). The early church also gives us an example of community: they had everything in common and were worshipping and eating with other believers day by day (ref. Acts 2:44-46). Many bible passages detail how we interact with other believers, which is done in community. Here are a few:

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” Colossians 4:12-16.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” Ephesians 4:32.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” Hebrews 10:24-25.

When is the right time to find community at a new church?

A wise woman of God at EFree recommended that my husband and I should visit EFree at least three times before deciding that it is our home church. So a good time to find community is right after you decide on the church.

How do you find community?

The easiest way is to join a life group or a Rooted group. Both of these groups are already designed to allow members to share their lives together. However, there are other ways: Serve in a ministry. Go on a short term mission trip. Attend a women’s event.

Who could be in your community?

We may naturally gravitate toward people in our own life stage and age group because we would share many common experiences with them, but don’t limit yourself only to that. There is much to be learned from different life stages and the older can teach the younger (ref. Titus 2:1-8). I love observing how parents of older children teach them in the ways of the Lord. By being in life group with these parents, we see examples lived out in front of us week to week, which leaves a much stronger impression than hearing instruction or reading about parenting.

What does community look like?

Authenticity. In the very first life group meeting we attended, members were asking for prayers regarding their struggles. When we heard that, we knew immediately that we were in the right place. In Rooted groups, each member shares their life story which makes everyone feel a little closer in a short amount of time. Knowing one another, accepting each other as is, praying through each trial, confessing to one another, keeping the sharing confidential, rejoicing together, grieving together, encouraging, exhorting, challenging, affirming, forgiving and even correcting in love — all are marks of true community.

A final note: Yes, it takes some measure of courage to put yourself out there. It may be awkward to attend an event or join a group where you don’t know anyone. However, it is only uncomfortable for a little while. The benefits of finding community far outweigh any self-conscious feelings you may have. It’s worth it.

Written by Lisa Wong

Encountering Everyone as Needing Jesus

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” – 1 Peter 3:15.

Whenever I would visit my kidney doctor, the same male nurse checked me in. We talked. We laughed. We shared about life as much as we could in the time allotted for a check-in. He got my numbers, and I asked how he was. As our relationship was building, he shared with me that he and his partner were in the process of adopting 3 teens. The more we got to know one another at each appointment, the more I was trying to muster up the courage to witness to him. However, I never could seem to find the right opportunity to witness to him. I was determined that this time was going to be different. I was going to be bold, and I was going to do it. I wasn’t going to let another opportunity slip by and wait until another appointment. Or so I thought.

I was in the waiting room, and my name got called. To my surprise my name was called by a new nurse. I asked her where my nurse was, and she said he moved to another office. I couldn’t believe it. I missed my opportunity. I let my fears get in the way.

I started to get to know my new nurse who was very sweet, but during my check-in I was disappointed with myself. I waited for my doctor and felt heavy in my heart. However, things turned around at the end of my appointment with my kidney doctor when he said, “When I give you news and not so good news, you seem to take it all in stride. You always share how you have faith that God will take care of everything, and a lot of  people are praying for you. Well, I have prostate cancer and I was wondering if you and those that pray with you can pray for me?” I was pleasantly surprised and said, “Of course!”

All along I thought I was preparing to witness to my nurse and I was actually witnessing to my doctor without words. Well, he was listening to what I was saying, but he was also watching my response to things. I didn’t go to my appointments with the intention of witnessing to my doctor. Lesson learned.

God opened my heart to not overlook anyone. The world of doctors and science need to see living faith. The tables were now turned in my appointments, and I found myself asking my doctor how he was doing. Well soon thereafter, we changed our insurance so I no longer saw him. To this day, I wonder how he is doing. It was a lesson from God. What I realized back then was that you are always sharing your testimony. It may be planned out with words. It may be spontaneous. It may even be unspoken in how you react or respond to life’s ups and downs. You don’t know who is watching, so you need to be ready to share about the hope that is in you. And the hope that is in you must be lived out so that it is seen.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” – Matthew 5:14-16.

I just read an article as I was wrapping this up that said, “ A friend of mine calls this ‘living a lifestyle that demands an explanation.’ No matter where we live or work (or spend most of our time), may we in God’s strength live out our faith today—always ready to reply gently and respectfully to everyone who asks the reason for our hope.” So may we encounter everyone as an opportunity to live out our faith and hope.

Written by JoAnn Park

Countercultural Parenthood

Five years ago, when my older daughter was in the first grade, she got into my car in the pick-up line after school and without so much of a hello declared, “My friends and I were talking about our moms today and we all decided that you are the most strict out of all of them.” I was dumbfounded. To be honest, my first emotion was hurt. I longed to be considered the cool mom. Now I was the strict one? And were a group of 6 year-old girls really sitting around the playground griping about their moms and rating their strictness? And what did my own daughter say about me that made them come to that conclusion? My heart sank a little, but when I discovered what my infractions were, I stopped feeling bad. My offenses included: not allowing my girls to listen to most original versions of pop songs, but favoring cleaned up kid versions, not allowing them to watch YouTube videos without adult supervision and not allowing them to say any version of the phrase, “Oh my g—-,” even if the word “God” isn’t being used. Okay, big whoop. So I didn’t want my young kids to learn swear words and innuendo and hear/see things that are frightening or use God’s name in vain. If those are crimes, then I’m guilty as charged.

I later shared the story to a few other mom friends of mine—of varying ages and stages of mom-dom. The reactions were interesting. The younger moms gasped and sympathized with my initial hurt and asked if my daughter gave examples. The older moms laughed, patted me on the back and congratulated me on a job well done! I was later able to laugh about it as well and chalk it up as funny things kids say.

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 This verse is very frequently referenced in sermons, books and studies related to child-rearing. Before kids, I found it as a comfort. Later, while in the thick of parenting, I felt a sense of pressure and urgency. Like trying to diffuse a bomb before it detonates. When my girls leave home, will we have done enough to seal their faith and trust in their Creator and God? Or does faith become something they believe to have belonged to only their parents?

One of the biggest challenges, without a doubt, is parenting a child in a world that teaches kids that “God is dead” or doesn’t exist and that you should “live your truth”–that ‘truth’ is relative and there are no absolutes. And that if the “Universe” wants something to happen for you, it will. But for a Jesus-follower, we know that none of that is actual truth and belief in such ideologies leads people away from God and into folly.

My goal in the past 11 years has been to model the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deut. 6: 5-9)

Over the years I’ve attempted to relate their personal experiences of failure, disappointment, rejection, envy, love, forgiveness, gratitude and joy towards the Word. But I’m also very human and thus very imperfect and suffer from missteps and trials just like everyone else. Many times, I fail at giving thanks in all circumstances and praying without ceasing (I Thess. 5: 17-18). And that’s when I tell them about God’s grace…of which I could not live without and rely on day by day. I recently told my girls that Jesus is the only thing holding me together, which is true. They watch me cry while I pray and when I worship. They ask if I’m okay. I tell them I will always be okay. The world tells me to be strong for them, and to show them that I am a wonder woman who can do it all if I find the strength inside of me. I tell my girls that my strength comes only from the Lord.

Of most importance, I would say, is the Gospel. If not for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, no amount of works or penance could earn us a place in eternity with God. And talk about counter-cultural—most 21st century intellectuals believe the Gospel to be complete garbage, going against science and man’s innate need to believe that he is good enough and doesn’t need a savior.

American society largely encourages us to befriend our children, and put them first.  Whereas, my children are reminded that they definitely come in second to our marriage. Honoring our covenant in marriage brings honor to God and does the ultimate good for our families as a whole. NCAA basketball coaching legend, John Wooden, famously said, “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” This contradicts a societal trend that allows people to be guided by their emotions and how they feel about a person. Rather, love is a choice. God chose to love us and sent Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice to bridge the divide that sin tore between us. Likewise, marriage is a choice to love, honor and cherish until one dies.

For this blog post, I asked my girls what growing up in a believing home means to them. This particular season is challenging for them because they will transition this fall from private Christian school to public schools. The older one is entering middle school. The anticipation is mixed with both excitement and anxiety. They said they have learned that being a Christian will make them stand out because they resist peer pressure to swear, gossip, and will do atypical things like stop to give thanks at lunchtime, and want to be kind to kids who may seem lonely. One thing that my tween said was that she is okay with not being popular because she knows she won’t always do what everyone wants her to do or say. She would rather do what is right in God’s eyes. Even as adults, it’s difficult for us to stand so firm in our convictions.

I am now comfortable with whatever conversation starts in the car after school because I know I am not in it alone. And neither are you.

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Written by Joyce Young

The Art of Noticing

When the editor of She is Dignified asked me to write a blog post on the topic of marriage I quite literally responded with the word “Arghhh.” It’s my pirate word. The word I use when I loathe something, especially something that I am called upon to do that feels out of my wheelhouse. Marriage feels very much out of my wheelhouse, as my journey has included widowhood and divorce. Not exactly what we dream of when we think of the beauty of Christian marriage and how we want our marriages to reflect Christ and the church. Still my life reflects the beauty of a God who sees me, and was gracious enough to redeem the brokenness of my past, applying forgiveness where I had stumbled and mercy where life visited pain upon me without my consent.

Widowed at 34 and then divorced at 41, God took me on a seven-year journey of singleness and healing that led me to my husband who I lovingly refer to as “The Hubby Man.” Coming to faith in his forties, this man I love has also walked the broken path of divorce and widowhood. We came to each other wearing our grief on our sleeves, and many more than one time have we wiped the tears of the past from each other’s eyes. Ours is not a perfect marriage, but a union in which we both understand that to have a committed married life that overcomes the brokenness of our past we must both fix our eyes securely on Jesus, and on noticing each other.

To notice and see other’s with care and concern is a quality that comes straight from the character and heart of God. In the Old Testament one of the Hebrew names for God is “El Roi,” which is translated “the God who sees me.” This particular translation is found in the story of Hagar as she is wandering lonely and feeling forsaken in the desert lands (Genesis 16).   God sees her there and meets her needs in a personal and sustaining manner. Psalm 139 attests to the truth that God has known and seen us even from the womb. Luke 12 speaks to the truth that God pays such careful and detailed attention to us that he knows every hair on our head.  And Jesus coming down as man, arms spread in surrender for our every fault and failure is the ultimate act of noticing and seeing the true need of another.

The Art of Noticing within my marriage personally has taken shape in many different ways. I love listening to the little clues my husband gives me in every day conversation. They indicate ways that I might choose a thoughtful gift for an upcoming holiday. They also give insight to his needs and concerns which help me pray for him. Gift-giving has become an adventure in the bucket list he didn’t even know he had. As for the hubby-man, he notices in the little things such as getting my drink at Starbucks correct, and reaching out to hold my hand often after I shared that a recent study I read indicated that holding hands reduced stress and increased intimacy.

The Art of Noticing goes far beyond the construct of marriage, and in truth it has the power to transform your day-to-day perspective on God and humankind. To open our eyes to creation and to seeing God in our daily lives enables us to live a life of praise and gratitude as we open our eyes to the beauty of a starry night, or a cooling breeze. We begin to look for and see His hand in all of our comings and goings. I often ask God to help me to see other people through His eyes. As the Holy Spirit fulfills this prayer in my life, I find I am noticing beauty in others, or perhaps their needs which brings my heart to compassion and my hands and feet to action.

As I close this post I cannot not help but think about the words of Psalm 34:8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good…” The Art of Noticing is one of savoring. It is to stop and taste God’s goodness and beauty in your everyday life, and to look with intention at your spouse and others with eyes truly to see.

May our eyes be open to notice, and may we each see as our Father sees.

Written by Stacey Monaco

Father’s Day

Early 2016 was an extremely difficult season of life that left me with no option but to grow spiritually. At the time, I was serving in EFree’s youth ministry. We were covering 1 Corinthians 15.  The chapter is (to put it very loosely) about this eternal life, this eternal Hope on which we stand. It’s about Christ’s resurrection, the resurrection of the dead, and the resurrected body. I remember leading deep discussions about this theologically-heavy chapter. I remember being able to sympathize but not empathize with those who had lost loved ones. I remember calling 911 on a Wednesday morning, letting the firefighters and paramedics in, being in the ER that day, and driving to EFree to serve that same evening. After serving the youth, I remember bumping into Nancy Salvato at the church parking lot and asking her to pray as I headed to my car to go back to the hospital. A few days later, Jesus unexpectedly called my dad home and 1 Corinthians 15 became so real. Surreal.

Details. I remember layers upon layers, endless layers of detail surrounding that time, layers that I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to blog about. God’s love. I remember that too. It’s what got me through that difficult season and into one that seemed surreal but in the best possible way. I can say with full confidence that whether we are walking on hills or in valleys, God remains constant. And as our Heavenly Father, He’s ready to either bless us on the hill or carry us through the valley to find the blessing in Him.

It’s impossible to be completely shut off from blessings. As believers, we only need to look within our souls, to where the Spirit dwells to know that our mere existence and salvation is a blessing. Furthermore and as 1 Corinthians 15 emphasizes, our current condition is not our permanent condition. God created us to be this way with a soul built to house the Holy Spirit because He is Good and desires that connection with us. And as we celebrate or commemorate Father’s Day, let’s take a moment to reflect on our Good, Good Father.

God is Good even when we’re not.

In fact, even if we’re not good to Him, He will still be good to us. God in His nature cannot be anything but good. He desires good for you, and He’ll sometimes use trials in your life to grow you so that you can experience His goodness. The Parable of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15 perfectly illustrates His Goodness in the midst of our lack thereof. We were all once prodigals, running away from God even as He desperately sought after us. Even in our badness, in our rebellion, He is Good and His love for us remains constant.

Jesus loves you more than you’ll ever know.

God created you with a purpose. He knows the exact number of cells and atoms that make you who you are. In fact, He made these microscopic elements to create you! You are fearfully and wonderfully made, and you are absolutely worth everything to Him. He put a lot of thought into your life – more thoughts than we’re capable of thinking! What you’re going through matters to Him, so reach out to Him in prayer during your times of need and praise Him when you’re feeling on top of the world.

Despite what we go through, as believers we have a seat at God’s table.

Jesus not only raised people from the dead, but He overcame death. He knows what it’s like to be human because he’s 100% human and 100% God. Many times, we feel as if our prayers are not being answered because they’re not answered in the way that we want them to be. Even Jesus had prayers that weren’t answered the way He wanted them to be (Matt. 26). In the hospital, I prayed for my dad to be healed in this life and God healed him by taking him to Heaven so that he wouldn’t be sick anymore. Billy Graham famously said, “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.” Billy is no doubt fine dining at God’s table! And there’s no reason why we can’t leave a legacy like his! The same spirit that dwells within him dwells within us. Let’s pray for people to join us at God’s table!

And as we celebrate Father’s Day, let’s celebrate Jesus and praise Him for our earthly fathers! He’s given us our earthly fathers for a purpose, one which we may never know on this side of Heaven. Some of you may have strained relationships with your fathers or may not know them at all. Others have dads who are no longer with us. Whatever your relationship is with your dad, know this: your Heavenly Father loves you very much!

Written by Christine Hu