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We’re taking a cat nap! We’ll be back on September 7th. See you then! Xoxo.

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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