By / Jun 16

There are few issues more difficult to discuss in recent years than those related to race and justice. For families especially, it can be difficult to know what is appropriate to mention to children and how to introduce the topic in a way that honors God and his vision of kingdom diversity and is also cognizant of the current points of conflict and concern. That is why Helen Lee and Michelle Reyes’ The Race-Wise Family: Ten Postures to Becoming Households of Healing and Hope is such a welcome addition to conversation. Lee and Reyes provide practical lessons as well as guidance on what it means to disciple our families in upholding the dignity of all individuals and seeking justice. They joined us recently to talk about their book and what this means for each of our households. 

Alex Ward: In reading your book, and looking at a lot of the conversations around race in the church, I was struck by the point you make that so often we don’t seem to have the same goal when we talk of racial reconciliation. How does that shape the way we approach these conversations, and what is a goal that you think should unify the church?

Helen Lee and Michelle Reyes: We have to understand that Black, Brown and white churches have fundamentally different starting points when it comes to the issue of race. For many white churches, conversations on race are more theoretical than personal. White leaders and parents aren’t often aware of their cultural identity, let alone how they live at the intersection of their faith and their culture, so race-related issues can feel like something relevant to other people and not themselves. Some white leaders feel they are guilty by default, just for being white, and that their only role in race conversations is to apologize. In addition, some in white churches fear that they or their children will upset someone of another ethnicity, i.e., by saying the wrong thing or making someone angry. These perspectives and concerns often lead white churches to avoid and disengage with race-related issues.

Conversely, for many Black and Brown churches, race is the reality in which we live. It is the very air we breathe because we are very aware of the color of our skin and the way people treat us accordingly. We feel unheard and even silenced at times by majority culture evangelicalism. In addition, our greatest fear is our children, our spouses, and our parents being racially assaulted, perhaps even killed. When our fears take hold, it leads to defensiveness and, even at times, hate. 

It is impossible to pursue healthy gospel-centered conversations on race as the big ‘C’ church if our approach is filled with either fear or defensiveness. When it comes to race, the goal of the church should be to have a joy-filled biblical engagement. Instead of simply creating a list of what not to do or what we want others to do, we should challenge ourselves to have a far more robust, Christ-centered lens that sees the topic of race as an opportunity to build the kingdom of God together. The more we can see each other—Black, Brown, and white—as fellow co-laborers, striving together for the gospel, healing, unity, and shalom, the more we will be able to unify in our efforts.

AW: In a similar way, the church isn’t the only place that has a story of what this should look like. So how can Christian parents be particularly attentive to the kinds of stories that their children are receiving and also take an active role in providing a kingdom framework for these issues? 

HL & MR: We can’t predict what racial incident is going to happen next. To some extent, we can’t control the kind of racial brokenness or pain that will rage through our communities, let alone how these events will affect our kids. What we can have agency in is to engage in current events together and develop a race-wise lens in age-appropriate ways. A race-wise family asks God for help in unpacking racial issues and seeks his direction to know how to identify and combat racism in all its overt and subtle forms. 

In our [Michelle’s family] home, we talk about what’s happening around the world with our kids (mine are currently ages 7 and 3). From the wars in Ukraine and Afghanistan to the Haitian migrants at the border, the murder of Black and Brown folk, and anti-Asian racism related to the pandemic, my husband and I tell our kids what’s happening in the world (if your kids are older, you could watch the news together) and then pray. We pray for wisdom in how to respond. We also pray for God to protect and provide for the hurting, and that he would draw people to himself during this difficult time. We tell our kids about police shootings too and ask them, “What do you think the Bible says about this?” 

Now, when my 7-year-old hears about a racial incident, his first response is, “we need to pray!” I know a day is coming when my kids will be all grown up and will leave our home to go out into the world. I can’t control what they will see or experience, but if their immediate heart posture is to see the racial brokenness in the world and then turn to pray and seek wisdom from God’s Word, I know they have a healthy biblical foundation to build on. 

AW: You talk about how one of the “postures” of a race-wise family is that of seeing color. What does it mean to “see color” but also not make that the defining or essential characteristic of their personhood?

HL & MR: The end of the civil rights era heralded the concept of colorblind as a new and healthier way forward for race relations. The term is borrowed from the last part of Dr. King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, where he says he wants people to judge his children for the content of their character, not the color of their skin. I think a lot of well meaning folks ran with that in the 60s and 70s and wanted to prove that they weren’t using skin color to treat people unequally. 

The unintended consequence, though, is that folks who strove to be colorblind also became blind to the lived experiences of ethnic minorities. In an attempt to treat us all the same, people’s racialized experiences of everything from racial profiling, police brutality, and more got swept under the rug. It’s easy for folks who say “I don’t see color” to also ignore laws, policies and zoning that creates gaps in education and wealth equality along racial lines. In other words, when you tell someone of color that “color doesn’t matter” or that you prefer to be “colorblind”, you are essentially saying that you don’t care about their story and their lived experiences of pain.

So what we’ve come to realize now, especially in the past decade, is that we need to see color because seeing color is the portal into people’s lived realities. I am more than the color of my skin, but I am no less than my pigmentation. God is El Roi, the God who sees (Gen. 16:13). He sees all of us; our skin color, our pains, the beauties of our culture. God created the world, including people, with glorious diversity. He declared that all that he had made in wondrous technicolor was “good.” God’s heart throughout Scripture is for a multiethnic, globally diverse people. If we want to see people like God does, we must see in color without sliding back into any form of segregation or disunity. 

AW: How can Christian parents approach the topic of inviting people of color into their lives proactively, in a way that allows people they know to share their stories, but that also doesn’t treat their pain as “just” an example from a history book? 

HL & MR: We need to value stories within the context of relationships. If a person only cares about an Asian woman’s story during AAPI Heritage month or after an anti-Asian hate crime, they are posturing at best. They are treating that Asian woman as a token—maybe even without realizing it—often using her story to feel a little better about themselves for having new knowledge and greater awareness about a reality in the world, but without proactively doing much in response. 

If you really care about breaking cycles of anti-Asian hate, for example, then first begin reaching out to your Asian American congregants, neighbors, and co-workers. Invite them over for a meal. Better yet, go to their home and eat food from their cuisine. Imitate the model of Jesus, who went to Zaccheus and said, “I’m coming to your house today!” (Luke 19:1-10). Start building a friendship by asking questions such as, “What’s your story?,” “What are your ethnic roots?,” and “How is your family doing?” 

Then, when a racial incident occurs, reach out, ask your friend how they’re doing, if you can bring a meal over, and what they need. Instead of being the outsider, peering into moments of racism from an impersonal stance, walk alongside those who are hurting. Live life together. Be in the trenches with your friends as best you can. Pray together. Show up when they need you to show up. This is how we proactively engage racial problems in ways that are honoring to the people around us. 

AW: So often, the question about race and ethnicity in America is filtered through a white/Black binary, understandably because of the history of slavery and segregation. However, that often overlooks the other ways that racism toward other minority groups is a reality. How should families think about racism as not just an issue for white and African Americans, but all racial groups?

HL & MR: There is a tendency in our country to prioritize Black-White relations when it comes to conversations on race. The problem with this approach is that it overlooks and even erases the experiences and livelihoods of Asian Americans, Latinos, and Mixed Race among other groups in the United States. 

For example, a 2021 survey conducted by LAAUNCH showed that 42% of Americans cannot even name a well-known Asian American. The next most popular choices after “I don’t know” were martial arts legends Jackie Chan (11%), who’s from Hong Kong, and Bruce Lee (9%), who died nearly a half century ago. These findings were disappointing, but not surprising for me. The inability to name a prominent Asian American reflects the invisibility of Asian Americans in U.S. society. Not only are Asian Americans victims of racism, but our experiences are overlooked. In fact, despite rises in anti-Asian racism throughout the pandemic, more than one-third of white Americans and nearly half of Republicans said they didn’t know anti-Asian violence was a problem. After the Atlanta shooting on March 16, 2021 in which six Asian women were murdered, many white Christians confessed to me that they hadn’t even heard of the incident.

Asian Americans have also been overlooked throughout U.S. American history. As former Japanese American politician, Norman Mineta, once said, “When one hears Americans tell of the immigrants who built the nation, one is often led to believe that all our forebears came from Europe. When one hears stories about the pioneers going West to shape the land, the Asian immigrant is rarely mentioned.” A lack of education on Asian American heroes, leaders, and theologians both within schools and the church have led to this erasure. Moreover, not “soaking in the presence of Asian Americans,” as Norman Chen says, means most folks have not sat under the teaching of Asian voices, and this includes Asian American Christian leaders in the church. 

If you don’t have books by Asian American Christians on your bookshelves, start investing in some. My first book, Becoming All Things, as well as Helen Lee and I’s The Race-Wise Family, are good places to start. Follow the Asian American Christian Collaborative and listen to the AACC Reclaim Podcast co-hosted by myself and Raymond Change, AACC President. The resources are out there. All it takes is a commitment and a little bit of effort to find them.

AW: Your book focuses on the need to develop both the prophetic and pastoral voice. How are these different, but also linked to one another? Why do we need to develop both?

HL & MR: The practices of calling out and calling in are what we refer to as the prophetic voice and the pastoral voice, respectively, in The Race-Wise Family

In our cultural moment, we all love exercising our prophetic voices. We love calling out sin, exposing toxicity, and shedding light on racism. Unfortunately, we’ve seen the ways that our prophetic voices have become damaging and even sinful as we engage in the world’s forms of cancel culture and shaming. So, even when we feel that holy righteousness to call out the sins of the world, we must do so with a certain degree of slowness, humility, and wisdom. We absolutely should stand up for those being racially insulted and maligned. We should step in and be an ally when someone is being bullied because of their ethnicity, skin color, or culture. 

In those moments, we should speak truth in love. We can let someone know that their words or actions were not honoring or kind in ways that honor the other person being made in God’s image. Our language must be humanizing and speak to the other person’s self-worth. I don’t know anyone who has been shamed in a conversation on race that then wants to turn around and make a change in their life. If our prophetic call out only shuts someone down instead of helping usher them into greater love, we’ve missed the mark. 

Our pastoral voice, conversely, is a way of calling people in. It is positive, biblical language on race that helps educate and offer alternatives to where people are right now. When we exercise our pastoral voice, we speak God’s own affirmations over people. We speak aloud his promises, his love for all people, and the beauty in their individual cultures. For example, we tell our kids often that God created other cultures, and he calls them “good” (Gen. 1). The more that we can see and name the beauty in each other’s cultures, the more we can move forward on the path of racial healing. Proverbs 12:18 tells us that “thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword, but wisely spoken words heal.” As we writein  The Race-Wise Family, “the more we speak kind, loving words to others, the more our words will generate kind, loving relationships” (70). 

AW: As a parent of a young daughter, I think about how to raise her in a way that you describe in your book. But I am also keenly aware of just how difficult that is and how I am myself still growing in the way that I understand the beauty of God’s multiethnic vision. I’m sure that I will get some of this wrong. How would you counsel parents to respond when they stumble and mess up in this process? 

HL & MR: I think some of the most powerful phrases we can have in our toolkit within conversations on race are, “I’m sorry,” “I don’t know,” and “What can I do?” We need to normalize making mistakes. In fact, it’s only through putting ourselves out there and being willing to make mistakes that we will learn and grow in issues related to race. If we choose to never engage out of fear of saying the wrong thing, we deny ourselves the opportunity of being used by God as a force for good and racial healing in his kingdom. 

So, instead, as a parent, be open and honest when you don’t have an answer to your kid’s questions about race. Tell them, “That’s a good question! I don’t know the answer. Perhaps we can investigate this together.” Then reach out to a friend or read a book or a news article together, discuss, and explore. When you say the wrong thing, when you realize that your response was selfishly-driven or perhaps was well-intentioned but still missed the mark, challenge yourself to apologize. Admit when you were wrong. Process those moments with your family and your children so that they can be spiritually formed by your honesty and willingness to learn and grow. The goal isn’t perfection. No matter how hard we try, we will make mistakes. But if we can commit to a posture of heart to grow in greater love, knowledge, and kindness each day, we can acknowledge our mistakes without becoming paralyzed by them.

By / May 6

Many women dream of being mothers. And if God grants that gift, whether biologically or through adoption, they quickly discover that while it is full of joy, it is also full of hardship. It’s a call to lay down your life over and over again. That’s why only the Lord can fuel and sustain moms as they care for little lives and cultivate little hearts. Kristen Wetherell knows this truth and encourages weary moms in her new book, Humble Moms: How the Work of Christ Sustains the Work of Motherhood. Below, she answers questions about burnout, mom guilt, and the satisfaction of Christ. 

Elizabeth Bristow: You recently wrote a book on motherhood called Humble Moms. With Mother’s Day approaching, give our readers a brief synopsis of the book and the message you hope to convey.

Kristen Wetherell: Humble Moms is a journey through John’s Gospel, looking at the humble heart and work of Jesus, and how he lives to serve his people (moms included). It is not a parenting book or a list of to-dos, but biblical meditations on God’s Son, who humbly serves us moms not only in hand, but in heart. My hope is to give hard-working and weary moms a deep breath and a chance to rest as they gaze at Christ and his sustaining work on their behalf. 

EB: According to a 2020 survey of 3,169 respondents, 41% of moms are feeling burnout frequently and 51% of working moms said they feel burnout frequently or always. Why do you think this is, and what can we do to reverse this statistic? 

KW: Three factors come to mind: the heart, the work, and the culture. First, by nature, our hearts want to be like God: without limits and everywhere, always. As moms, this desire can tend to burn us out as we seek to be everything to everyone, which is impossible for us. Second, the work of motherhood is hard. Period. It is a sacrificial job that often requires us to lay down our desires, plans, and preferences for our kids. Every type of work has been affected by the fall into sin, and that includes motherhood (so you’re not crazy, mom, for thinking it is hard!). Thirdly, I think moms are burnt out because our lives and faithfulness is no longer private, but on display for the world to see and critique through social media and the internet. We’re so busy looking side-to-side, comparing ourselves with others, that the possibilities feel overwhelming and the sense of failure, crushing. We need our eyes fixed on Someone better.

EB: What advice would you give to the mom who feels exhausted from taking care of her family?

KW: Ask for help. You are not God, and you were never meant to be. You have permission to be human (whew!): to need to stop and sleep, to need some helping hands, to need a Savior and Lord who is perfectly able to do everything you can’t. So, ask for help: first, from the Lord. He loves it when you come to him; that is why he came to you in the first place, to rescue you and carry you. He delights to serve you.

Then, if you are married, ask for help from your husband. Most of us don’t receive help from our hubbies because we don’t ask for it, and they can’t read our minds! Ask for help from friends, especially sisters in Christ from your local church, both peers and older women. God’s church is his body, his hands and feet doing his work in the world, so let others be his presence to you. They will be blessed in return.

You weren’t meant to do this motherhood thing alone; let God and his people serve you. As my senior pastor has said, “Jesus has more to give you than you have yet to receive” (John 10:10). 

EB: We live in a culture that rewards us to hustle, be more, and achieve more. In your book, you write that “hustle doesn’t necessarily equal faithfulness.” How do you challenge moms to allow themselves permission to rest?

KW: We need to know that hustle doesn’t necessarily equal faithfulness, that at the end of the day, what matters is that we are faithful to Christ. Jesus said to his disciples in John 12:26, If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” The culture bids us to hustle — to accomplish more and become more and earn more — in order to be great moms; but Christ bids us to become less, to become servants, and rest in him. 

And how do we do that? By trusting that he is enough on our behalf, that he accomplished all we never could through his perfect obedience to the Father, and that our calling as moms is to follow him out of gratitude and love for him, by the power he supplies. I love what Pastor Bryan Chappell says: “We strive best when we are most rested.”

Think about how Jesus rested in his Father. Even when he was hours away from an excruciating death, he was at rest because he knew who he belonged to and where he was headed (John 13:3). Similarly, when we moms know we belong to Christ, that he is with us, and that we are headed into a glorious future with him (and all because of his grace), we are compelled to work for him from a heart of humility and gratitude. Our rest in Christ motivates and empowers our work for Christ.

It is this humble posture of service that made (and makes) Jesus great. And so, it is a humble posture of service before Jesus that makes a mom great. This is our great challenge: to rest ourselves on him.

EB: In our culture, social media often inflicts “mom guilt” and self comparison. What advice do you give to the mom who might be struggling with inadequacy? 

KW: Three pieces of advice: One, your intention to serve your kids well and do right by them means that you love them. And that is a very good, God-given calling. You can praise him for that, and keep loving your kids. 

Two, you need to know that you are inadequate, and that acknowledgment brings freedom, if we let it. You were never meant to be God! Only he is and has everything your kids need. So when you mess up and sin against your kids (and the Lord), let your guilt drive you to the throne of grace. When you can’t discern between true guilt and false guilt, ask God to search and know your heart, and know he is greater; he has covered and overcome your guilt at the cross. When you are reminded you are limited and inadequate, let that lead you to worship the One who isn’t and let it rest you in Christ’s perfectly adequate, righteous record, which has become yours by faith. 

Third, take a break from social media. Clear your mind, and release your heart from it. This has been one of the most helpful things for me.

EB: Talk about your own experience as a mother of two kids. How do you ground yourself in truth when you feel weary from motherhood? How has Christ sustained you on the hard days?

KW: Jesus says that we do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). So when I am weary and discouraged, I need my faith in Christ strengthened; I need sustenance for my soul. So I turn to my Bible where Jesus reminds me of who he is and what he’s accomplished on my behalf. That’s the first thing I do to survive, before the day even begins.

Once the day gets going and the needs start rolling in — once my lower back starts hurting and the kids start crying all at once and there isn’t enough of me to go around — I need to rely on God’s moment-by-moment grace to sustain me. I don’t look too far ahead (I can’t, or I’ll crumble), and I take a deep breath. Sometimes I cry, knowing Jesus cares for me and feels compassion for me, that he knows what it is to be weak. I pick up my phone and text some friends for prayer — and I am reminded that Jesus is also praying for me right now in heaven. That gives me strength.

And honestly, some days I collapse onto the couch at night not even sure how I got through, and feeling discouraged that I didn’t consciously think about God that day. But I know God thought about me, cared for me, and carried me. I know he is actively serving and loving me, remaining faithful, even when I am faithless. Humble and needy is the best place we can be as moms. 

EB: What encouragement can you give to expectant moms who feel overwhelmed and unprepared to step into motherhood?

KW: I thought about that mom the whole time I was writing this book! I have been that mom, and whew!, how I needed a book that would give me permission to stop and rest. I have certainly been blessed and helped by motherhood books, but most of them made me feel more tired. They somehow added to my already-full plate and depleted body. I desperately wanted to write a book that would invite an expectant or new mom to rest in Christ, to enjoy him, to worship, and to wonder freshly at his heart and work on their behalf. 

EB: Many women struggle with infertility and long to experience the gift of motherhood. What encouragement would you give to a woman who is longing and expectant?

KW: Oh, I have been there. I would say, let your longing drive you to two things: expectant prayer to the Lord, and submissive waiting on him. We can do both. We can lament and live in the tension between assurance of God’s goodness and the unknown future. Use the Psalms to help you pray and wait well. They have been wonderful friends to me in times of sadness and uncertainty.

EB: How can we have a healthy view of our identity as mothers? How can we avoid wrapping our whole identity in that role?  

KW: We need our minds aligned with God’s and what he says about us, so I would encourage every mom to make it her holy habit to steep her mind and heart in Scripture, which is the very mind of God. Commit yourself to a local church, where you are able to serve in various ways and see yourself as a member of the body of Christ. Another reason we struggle with identity as moms is because the culture degrades and devalues that role, thinking it beneath other ambitions, so it feels natural to want to cast it off. But motherhood is a very Christlike calling. It is a privilege and a joy to be a mom, but our identity is ultimately in Christ. 

EB: How can we show honor to moms as a church?

KW: Pray for us. Acknowledge our work. Come alongside us, building us up in the faith (through faithful preaching, small groups, Bible studies, and women’s and children’s ministries). Reach out to a mom you know personally, and offer to help her in a practical way (or take her kids!). Tell us we are doing a hard thing, and that we’re doing it well. All of these things are honoring both to us and to Jesus.

By / May 3

Adoption is a beautiful picture of the gospel, but in this world, it’s fraught with a mixture of grief and gladness. In addition, particular joys and challenges can enter the picture when a family grows by cross-cultural adoption. In light of this, Brittany Salmon’s new book, It Takes More than Love: A Christian Guide to Navigating the Complexities of Cross-Cultural Adoption, is a welcome encouragement and guide for adoptive families or those who are seeking to support those who have adopted. Below, Salmon answers questions about the unique and practical aspects of cross-cultural adoption. 

Alex Ward: You start your book by saying you have a love/hate relationship with adoption because it’s “joy and suffering and loss and gain and hope and disappointment all in one.” How did your adoption story shape how you see adoption in this way? 

Brittany Salmon: It’s an odd thing for an adoptive parent to say they have a love/hate relationship with adoption, isn’t it? However, it’s true. I love parenting my children. It is such a gift! But I hate that in order for me to get to be their mom, they had to walk through the trauma of being separated from their first families. 

Adoption happens because brokenness exists in our world, and I felt that acutely the first time we were in the hospital meeting our son. I remember the heaviness of watching his first mom say goodbye, and my heart broke into a million pieces as she left the hospital without him in her arms. “It’s just not supposed to be this way,” I cried. I remember the heaviness of rocking him at night, singing to him, knowing that mine wasn’t the voice and the body he was used to hearing those months in utero. And yet, as our family grew and another one seemingly shrank, I learned to hold both joy and sorrow at the same time. Our joy and love for our son didn’t have to erase the sorrow that came along with it; both could coexist together.

AW: Recently, there has been considerable discussion about how much race and culture on the part of prospective adoptive parents should be considered. Bethany Child Services made news when they recommended acknowledging that a purely colorblind approach does a disservice to the child. At the same time, others criticized the move as capitulating to an ideology that sees white parents acting as “saviors.” How should parents think about their own race and culture when adopting transracially and how that may shape or affect a child?

BS: Well first off, I think we all need to acknowledge how complex of an issue this is, and in our current political climate it is easy to make this issue a polarized one. It requires a lot of nuance to fully understand the many complexities of cross-cultural families and the identity development of cross-cultural adoptees. 

However, as we’ve now listened and learned from adult adoptees, we can openly say that in adoption there is no room for a savior mentality or colorblindness. These are two separate ideologies that are indeed harmful to adoption communities. I’m not here to debate that, as the Bible affirms that we have only one savior, and his name is Jesus, and our God is a gloriously creative God who made all mankind in his image. 

So in answering your last question — how should parents think about their own race and culture when adopting? — the great part is that we all come from a culture and ethnicity that we can celebrate! Because every person who walked the Earth was made in the image of God, we can celebrate how each of us uniquely reflects the goodness of a creative God! For example, I’m Hungarian American, and one of the Hungarian dishes I grew up eating is called Turos Csusza. It’s one of my kids favorite dishes, and I tell them about my grandpa who was Hungarian American. One of our sons is half Puerto Rican, so I’ve been doing my best to master a delicious Arroz con Pollo. It’s more than just meals, but we’ve learned that if we’re going to be a multicultural family, we can’t live a monocultural life. And so we make space in our families to embrace all of our unique and God-given cultures. 

AW: How would you encourage parents who adopt transculturally to immerse their children in the culture of their birth? What does that look like practically, and why is it necessary? 

BS: Like I said above, if you’re called to be a crosscultural adoptive family, you’re called to live a multicultural life. And the great thing about this is that we get to choose where we spend our most valuable resource: time. We get to choose where our children attend schools and where our families attend church. We get to choose which sports and extracurricular organizations our families are a part of. We get to choose who we invite over for dinner and who we do life with.

For the multicultural family, I believe you must be intentional about doing life in spaces where your children can build genuine relationships with people who share their same ethnicity. In my book, I break down representation into three specific tiers, but the most important tier is ensuring that your child has racial representation in their real life and everyday community. 

AW: I doubt that when people are thinking through the adoption process, the question of haircuts comes up often. But you devote an entire chapter to the question of hair, beauty, and affirmation. What about these seemingly mundane tasks is part of the larger challenge of transcultural adoption? 

BS: I think one of the things that has stood out the most when talking with and learning from adult adoptees is how ill-equipped some of them felt to care for their hair. Many of them had stories about how they didn’t know how to take care of their hair or skin, or how their parents shamed them when they started exploring beauty practices outside of their parents’ Eurocentric beauty standards. Or worse, they had memories of their parents bemoaning how hard or horrible it was learning how to take care of their hair. 

I devoted an entire chapter to this topic because it is so much more than just hair care; it’s learning how to affirm your child’s beauty and giving them the tools to take care of themselves. Doing this is another way we can honor our children’s ethnic heritages rather than erase them. And from a biblical perspective, taking care of our bodies can be seen as a form of worship. For the adoptee, honoring their culture’s beauty standards can be a part of embracing their God-given racial identity.

AW: In the book you urge potential adoptive parents to consider the cost of adoption, and one literal cost that you bring up is the need for a specialized adoption counselor. Why do you think that counseling may be needed for the entire family, not just the child who experienced trauma? And is the fact that everyone needs counseling a reason to think we aren’t qualified to adopt? Should people have it all together perfectly before starting this process?

BS: Well first off, you should know that I think all parents should consider counseling. Every single person who walks this Earth has suffered and experienced heartache, many have experienced trauma, and I think it’s incredibly wise and healthy to pursue godly counsel. There is a stigma with counseling that it’s only for a certain type of person, and I would argue that it’s for all of us. I’ve used counseling for a number of different seasons in my life, not just the traumatic ones.

However, I do think when you’re walking through trauma or wrestling with past traumas, it’s wise and helpful for everyone involved to seek godly counsel from licensed professionals. And since adoption is birthed from trauma, it can be helpful for the whole family to get the tools they need in various seasons. 

For example, if a child joins a family and they have regular tantrums, issues with food, outbursts, etc., it is not only helpful for parents to receive counseling and learn how to parent in a trauma-informed way, but it’s helpful for the siblings in the home to also have a counselor to walk with them through witnessing angry outbursts they might not be used to. Also, some siblings of adoptees express frustration or the feeling of being left out because their parents’ attention is hyper-focused on helping a child transition into their home. Having a trauma-informed and adoption-informed counselor can be greatly beneficial for the whole family to process the changes needed to welcome a child. 

AW: I think that for most parents, they know that they won’t be perfect. They hope and plan, but seem to know that there are going to be days when they drop the ball. For parents who are honestly just struggling to know what they don’t know when it comes to transracial adoption, I think that fear of doing something wrong is probably even higher. So how did you handle it when you got something wrong?

BS: Every adoptive parent I know has gotten something wrong at some point. So if there was time, I would take every parent wrestling with shame out to coffee and would tell them this: Shame is a dirty liar, and conviction is a tool that God uses to prompt us to change. Which one are you feeling? 

You see, shame can keep us focused on our failures, whereas conviction pushes us toward repentance and change. It pushes us to do better, for our kids’ sake and the glory of God. So we don’t give a lot of time and mental space to shame. Instead, since we know that all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, we repent of our sins and then we use conviction as a catalyst for righting our wrongs. We’re going to make mistakes as parents. We know that going into parenthood, so we can be free from the fear or shame that Satan might use to paralyze us. And we can rest in the freedom of serving a God who calls us to live lives of repentance. 

AW: Is there anything else you would recommend people do as they are either considering transcultural adoption or are trying to serve those who are? What other resources would be helpful, and what practical steps can our churches and families take?

BS: I love the phrase, “You can’t know what you don’t know.” And I think it applies to this question. One of the greatest things people who are considering cross-cultural adoption or supporting those who are adopting can do is to start their educational journey now. That’s why I wrote one chapter specifically for families and friends supporting adoptive families. If communities and prospective adoptive families start learning and listening well before a child is placed into their home, they will be better equipped to handle some of the hard aspects of adoption that their family and community will experience at some point in their journey. 

As for some practical steps our churches can take? My biggest piece of advice for churches would be if you’re going to encourage your families to step into foster care and adoption, let’s make sure our churches are equipped to serve them! Two great steps would be: (1) to make sure your Sunday school curriculum and resources for children represent and support all the children in your congregation, and (2) consider partnering with local child welfare agencies and have trauma-informed training for your volunteers that work with children. 

By / Apr 28

At a moment’s notice, chaos can erupt in my home. This day was no different. Although every day is difficult with my son’s illness, some stand out as ones that will forever be etched in my mind. And this was one of them.

Something triggered him, as had happened countless times before, and a two-hour-long episode began. As chaos went on around me and he suffered at the hands of his illness, my adrenaline pumped within me and I leapt into action, buckling down for the long haul. By the time it had passed, he had melted into my arms in tears, and I was left with an aching heart and an exhausted body.

But worst of all, I was enveloped in an overwhelming sense of loneliness. 

Unseen and unknown in loneliness? 

Not only was I physically alone, but the longer our son’s challenges lasted, the more isolating it became. Very few could relate to our specific circumstances and most barely knew they existed. Even countless doctors were at a loss as to the cause, let alone the solution. As the years have gone by and the challenges have increased over the past decade, the loneliness has grown exponentially. 

I now sat on the floor, holding back tears as the other kids chased each other around the house, blissfully unaware of all that had just transpired. Even with noise all around me, the loneliness grew louder.

A knock at the door interrupted my runaway thoughts. I gathered myself and opened it to find on my doorstep a small box containing a small, clear bottle. No note, no signature, just a little bottle with a tiny scroll rolled up inside. I slowly unrolled the fragile piece of paper and read these words: 

You have kept count of my tossings; 
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book? 
. . . This I know, that God is for me.

I stood there for a moment, still perplexed by the unexplained box on my doorstep with no one in sight. But a small wave of comfort began to wash over me. In this moment of incredible heartache that no one could see but me, I felt seen and, somehow, less alone.

Is God really for me? I wondered. Does he really keep track of every sorrow that causes me to toss in bed at night and every tear that falls when no one else can see? As I thought back to all that I had endured over the years and all that still loomed in front of me, these few words carried so much weight. To be seen and known — we all desire that, don’t we?

And yet, when grief or pain take up residence in our lives, we often feel unseen and unknown as the life we knew comes to a halt and life around us goes on as usual. We can walk into a bustling group and feel lonelier than when we’re alone.

Loneliness comes in all shapes and forms. At times, physical illness or a child with special needs prevent us from typical life activities, forcing us into isolation. At other times, we experience a loss or trial to which very few relate. Even if they’ve experienced something similar, our different personalities, temperaments, and unique aspects still create a feeling of loneliness. Sometimes, we may act like the life of the party on the outside, but feel utterly alone on the inside — and we may not even know why.

For me, loneliness has come and gone in intensity, but the nature of our circumstances has often forced me into some level of isolation. Even when I’m with others, there is a large part of my life that I’m unable to share due to the complexity of our situation. If I try to explain, I’m often met with blank stares and awkward silence.

The One who sees and knows

Relationship and community are important, and we need to pursue them as much as possible. However, if you’ve dealt with true loneliness, you know that sometimes that’s easier said than done. But what if there is Someone who sees and knows us like no one else ever could? Could it be that there’s a God who wants to draw near in the messiness of our grief and loneliness, unlike those who shrink back in discomfort? Could it be that he sees us in the dark of night when painful and anxious thoughts rob us of sleep? Could it be that he sees the tears that come when no one else is

As I’ve had to learn the hard way, no matter how much I want to feel seen and heard by family and friends, there’s only so much they can understand and so much they can endure. The longer our suffering lasts, those willing to stick with us become few and far between.

But the Bible says that “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). Even if everyone else abandons us or can’t see and understand our pain, there is a friend, Jesus, who promises to never leave or forsake those who put their trust in him. As the Bible also states, “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deut. 31:8).

Whether you know it or believe it right now, God sees you personally. He knows your deepest fears, greatest desires, and heaviest heartache. You may be carrying sorrows and burdens that no one else can see or carry at the moment, but you can be comforted knowing that Jesus loves you so much that he gave his life for you and wants to come near to you with compassion. And he not only sees you, but he came to give you a hope that loneliness cannot steal. When we trust Jesus as our Savior, he promises our lonely tears are held by God himself.

Whenever I glance over at that little bottle sitting by my kitchen sink, I’m grateful it showed up at my door. To most people, it probably looks like nothing more than a strange choice of decoration. To me, though, this little bottle carries far more meaning than anything it could physically hold.

Whatever tomorrow may hold, that bottle will forever be a reminder that the God of the Bible knows and profoundly loves me (and you). Out of a world full of people, he personally sees and comes close to us in our loneliness. He is strong enough to hold what you and I cannot. If you trust him, he will draw near to you and fill you with a hope and comfort that cannot be taken.

You may not feel seen by those around you, but with Jesus, you’re never truly alone.

*Adapted from “He holds our tears in loneliness” (Ch. 2) of Tears and Tossings: Hope in the Waves of Life (10 Publishing, 2021), written as a resource for non-Christians and Christians alike who are walking through pain and suffering.  

By / Mar 17

It was 2006, and my friends and I nervously passed around a cigarette behind our middle school.

We had heard the talking points before:

  • Smoking is terrible for your health, 
  • Smoking is addictive, and
  • Smoking can ruin your Christian reputation. 

But, there we were, away from the watchful eye of our parents, smoking. 

Not your grandfather’s cigarette 

As I enter my 10th year of serving as a student pastor, I’ve found that I couldn’t agree more with the famous statement by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” 

One of the most common conversations I have with parents in my ministry revolves around the underage use of e-cigarettes or, as it is more commonly referred to by teenagers, “vaping.” E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that are easy to hide and can look like flash drives. These devices mimic cigarettes by heating liquids with nicotine salts or THC oils (marijuana). E-cigarettes are not as detectable as traditional cigarettes because the user exhales a mist of vaporized particles instead of tobacco smoke.

The most recent National Youth Tobacco Study found that more than 2 million youth use e-cigarettes. That represents 11.3% of high school and 2.8% of middle school students nationally. It is no wonder why the conversation is so typical.

Shockingly, the NYTS found that almost 1 in 4 e-cigarette users smoke daily and concluded that “disturbingly high rates of frequent and daily e-cigarette usage suggests that many teens have a strong dependence on nicotine.” Another contributing factor to the rising dependence on nicotine may be the actual concentration in the e-cigarette itself. JUUL, one of the most popular brands of e-cigarettes, claims their 3% JUULpod (JUUL’s lowest strength pod) contains approximately 23 mg of total nicotine. The average pack of cigarettes contains 22 to 36 mg of nicotine. 

The study also found that 85% of the 2 million smokers preferred flavored e-cigarettes. In early 2020 the FDA began working on enforcements against flavored e-cigarettes that targeted kids. Seven firms received warning letters for marketing unauthorized e-liquids that imitate packaging for food products such as Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, Twinkies, and Cherry Coke, or feature cartoon characters that often appeal to youth (remember Joe Camel?).

I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.  

So what do I say to my teenager about vaping? 

You could say that: 

  • Vaping is terrible for your health, 
  • Vaping is addictive, and 
  • Vaping can ruin your Christian reputation. 

You wouldn’t be wrong to say those things. You might not be convincing either. How often has someone in authority told you not to do something you wanted to do because it was “bad” for you? How many times did you listen? You get my point.  

If you haven’t read “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection” by Scottish minister and professor of theology Thomas Chalmers, you should. He argues, “The love of the world cannot be expunged by a mere demonstration of the world’s worthlessness. But may it not be supplanted by the love of that which is more worthy than itself?” 

You are going to need something more than a demonstration of the worthlessness of vaping, no matter how compelling it may be, to guard your child against the temptation to vape. 

James 1:14 says, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” The Bible says your teenager will experience the temptation to vape because of their desire for their peers’ acceptance, a desire not to be made fun of for refusing, or their desire for the flavor and buzz that vaping gives them. 

The reality is if you want to protect your child from the temptation of vaping, the best option at your disposal is to ignite in them a stronger desire than acceptance, avoiding suffering, and temporary pleasure. 

Jesus said it plainly in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And this is precisely Chalmers’ point. A strong desire, or love, for Jesus is the best hope your child can have to expel their worldly desires and choose their Savior over their sin.

Will your child avoid all temptation? No. Will they make mistakes? Yes. 

Getting the conversation started

When it comes to dialogue with teenagers, asking questions can be more effective than making statements. Questions get them to talk more, you to talk less, and can reveal how they filter the world. 

So when it comes to talking to your teenager about vaping, try this. 

You could ask: 

  • Do you have any desire to try vaping? Why?
  • Would vaping make you more like Jesus?
  • What sin might you commit by choosing to vape in light of laws and household rules? 
  • Will vaping make it easier for you to follow Jesus?

Listen to what your child has to say. It may surprise you how quickly they confess and clarify the true desires of their heart. The work begins when your child reveals a desire other than following God’s best for their life.

Where do I go from here? 

If your teenager feels like today’s temptation to vape and its consequences seem small, help them see that tomorrow’s temptations are much larger and come with significant consequences. The result of those later temptations will be more than losing cell phone privileges and not being able to go to the game on Friday night with your friends. Show them that refusing to give in to the small temptations actually equips them to reject more considerable temptations in the future.

Instead of showing them how their desire is worthless, offer them a desire for something more worthy. In Matthew 16, Jesus instructs his followers, “If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself.” For the follower of Christ, self-denial is not a practice; it is a way of life. It is a choice to find life by emptying oneself of worldly desires. 

Let me remind you that you are not in this alone. There is heavenly wisdom in the gathering of the local church. God has given you a community of believers to encourage you and your student to choose faithfulness to God over the fleeting desires of our sinful hearts. To hold you up when you feel like you have blown it as a parent. To speak words of life to your teenager when nothing you say seems to make a difference. 

Remember the encouragement of Psalm 119:9, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your Word.” I am praying Ephesians 3:17-19 over you and your student, that Christ would make his home in your hearts as you trust him and that God’s love would make you strong enough to choose a life complete with all the fullness and power that comes from God, not the world.

By / Feb 28

We’ve encountered a ton of parents who are reactive to a problem rather than proactive. The typical parental approach to the topic of sexuality is to avoid the subject as much as possible, drop one big “talk” sometime in their kids’ tween years, and then avoid it again for as long as possible.

One problem with this approach is that it’s too slow. Parents will be caught off guard if they wait. From an early age, kids encounter sexual content — by stumbling into illicit material online, by participating in sex education at school, through conversing with friends, and by watching suggestive or explicit content in music videos, television, and movies. The world will disciple your kids in the way of sex if and when you don’t. Do you want that? We certainly don’t for our kids.

What does a proactive approach look like?

Start from an early age

A proactive approach starts from an early age. Sexual discipleship entails teaching a biblical theology of sexuality as early as is developmentally appropriate. Your kids need to know what God thinks before the world gets to them. Disciple them often and early, so that these conversations will be natural and normal by the time they hit the tween years.

Use every opportunity afforded to you in daily life to teach your children the ways of the Lord. Consider Moses’s words in Deuteronomy 6:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your chil- dren, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (vv. 4–9)

Good parenting thrives in the ordinary, everyday teaching moments of conversation. Scripture emphasizes not only the content (“love the Lord your God with all your heart”) covered by these conversations but also the context (“when you lie down, and when you rise”) where these conversations happen.

Establish that no topic — even sex — is off-limits

Establish in your home that no topic, including sex, is off-limits. It’s an awkward topic but a necessary one. Conversations about sexuality are a vital part of discipling your kids — to teach them the ways of the Lord in all things. Have honest conversations with your kids so they don’t figure these things out on their own.

One family told us, “From experience we have noticed that sometimes our children feel guilty and don’t know how to tell us they are struggling. Simply asking them, point blank, ‘How are you doing with what you are looking at on your phone and computer?’ opens up a safe place for them to talk. Even if they don’t say anything at that moment, it causes them to think about where they are in regard to purity. And sometimes hours later they will come to us and share their struggle.”

Celebrate biblical sexuality

Teach your kids about the riches of God’s gift of sexuality. Juli Slattery writes, “Biblical sexual discipleship paints a complete picture of sexuality as not simply something to avoid but a great gift to be treasured, celebrated, and reclaimed.” Parents should model and uphold a biblical view of sex, not a prudish stereotype in which sex is treated as dirty and disordered.

Be careful not to spend all your time just preaching at your kids about the dangers of sexual immorality. Teach them that sex outside marriage is wrong, but don’t stop there. Author and pastor Sam Allberry observes that we can turn God into a cosmic killjoy by implying that he randomly restricts and cuts off ways for humans to be happy. Children grow up thinking that he practices a sort of divine arbitrariness in which he pronounces some things good and some things not good. Sam Allberry writes, 

Every time God gives us a prohibition, he’s protecting something good. So we need to teach the positives behind the negatives, and show that God’s Word isn’t in fact arbitrary but instead points toward what is best and most life-giving for us. Whenever God says no to something, he is saying a much bigger yes to something else. Unless we thrill people with the biblical vision for marriage and human sexuality—especially how they point beyond themselves to God’s love shown to us in Christ—we won’t be providing the full spiritual resources needed to fight deep and besetting sinful desires.

We must teach our kids about a holy and sovereign God who loves us through Christ. Sex is a part of God’s kindness to us. We shouldn’t reduce sexuality to a list of don’ts but instead hold it out as a beautiful part of what God intends for those who love him.

Editor’s Note: Selected excerpts taken from Rescue Plan: Charting a Course to Restore Prisoners of Pornography, ISBN 9781629953830, by Jonathan Holmes and Deepak Reju, pages 195-198.

Used with permission from P & R publishing Co., P O Box 817, Phillipsburg, N.J. 08865  www.prpbooks.com

By / Jan 26

As I listened to one of my favorite Bible teachers speak about the doctrine of adoption, my stomach began to twist with concern. Eventually, I found the words for the unsettled feeling: “This could build a wall between my child and the gospel.” As a mom, it’s my utmost desire for my children to know and love the Lord. When we became an adoptive family, I began to notice the gospel barriers we Christians inadvertently create for adoptees.

Consider this powerful truth of the Christian faith: Spiritually, children of God gain everything and lose nothing when we are adopted into God’s family. And yet, children adopted by earthly parents, though they may experience gain, endure unspeakable losses which often include parents, family, culture, connection, and medical history. They lose, “He has your eyes!” and, “You remind me of your grandmother!” Many lose the ability to blend in with their family and may combat feeling like they are different. Some lose their original name and birth certificate. 

While those adopted into the family of God have the joy of knowing they were chosen at their worst, those adopted into earthly families may worry they were abandoned when they were most vulnerable. (Perhaps these losses give insight into a 2013 study that reported adolescent adoptees have a suicide attempt rate four times higher than their non-adopted counterparts.)

The gospel is overwhelmingly good news for these precious ones, and yet, through the way Christians teach and talk about adoption, we may be building barriers for adoptees to know and love the Lord.

Take care when teaching the doctrine of adoption

The doctrine of adoption is beautiful and stunning: We are enemies made children, forever reconciled to God through the work of Jesus Christ. The doctrine of adoption is always, always good news. But the practice of adoption is fraught. In addition to the losses adoptees face, the adoption industry itself can be a breeding ground for corruption. Because of this, we honor those who have been adopted by earthly parents when we are careful not to sloppily conflate the doctrine with the modern practice. 

Consider the way we use marriage illustrations to enhance our understanding of Christ, the groom, and the church, his bride. We understand that though husbands should love their wives as Christ loves the church, the earthly practice of marriage doesn’t offer gospel fullness. We understand the limits of this metaphor, and our teaching reflects it. After all, even the best marriage is simply a glimmer of a greater thing! And on days when marriage feels particularly lacking or difficult, we have the joy of hungering for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. 

Adoption is often not handled with such care in the church. Imagine an adoptee, who longs for his or her birth family, hearing the gospel inextricably and fully linked with the practice of adoption. How does he or she process that natural longing for a birth family? How does he or she cope with the deep loss he or she rightly feels? Will it seem ungrateful or anti-gospel to express longing and loss?

Imagine a birth parent hearing the gospel inextricably and fully linked with the earthly practice of adoption. Will he or she feel erased from the narrative? How will he or she process who the Savior is and who the savior isn’t? What kinds of connections might he or she make and potentially internalize?

Then, think of adoptive parents. Will it feel as if their church has skipped over the loss woven into their families? Will it feel impossible for their church family to meaningfully come alongside them? Or, if they haven’t grappled with their theology, will they feel the pressure to play a savior rather than feel the freedom to cling to the Savior? If their theology is not gloriously enhanced, what kind of additional burdens will they carry themselves and place on their children?

The ones who are living the metaphor experience its limitations, and they may make connections we do not intend because we have not considered the associations. Perhaps you can talk to an adoptee, birth parent, or an adoptive parent in your church and begin a thoughtful conversation about the impact the practice of adoption has had on them and offer support that honors the glorious truth of the doctrine of adoption — we are brothers and sisters in Christ forever.

Take care when talking about adoption

Similarly, when we talk about adoption thoughtlessly, we can create barriers to the gospel if we’re not careful with both our celebration and our storytelling.

When we offer unexamined celebration — about the 6-year-old adopted from overseas, the infant adopted domestically, or the teen given a new last name, for example — without considering the nuance and complexity of such events, we are in danger of distorting the beauty of the gospel. Though our default posture should be to celebrate when a family grows, we should do this with sober-minded wisdom, thoughtful gentleness, and a desire to honor everyone involved. After all, what had to be cut short before this family grew? 

God calls us to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn (Rom. 12:15) But what if we have overlooked mourners? And what if our actions have unintentionally communicated to mourners that they should be rejoicing instead?

In the same way, when we aren’t thoughtful with our storytelling, adoptive parents can be viewed with extra sparkle while birth parents are deleted from the narrative or treated like misunderstood background characters. Understandably, the adoptee in the middle may feel profoundly confused about how to react, worry his or her reactions are not welcomed, and feel overwhelmed or exposed to have his or her story broadcast. 

Instead, we should let adoptees take the lead in the storytelling. If they are young, we should honor them by protecting the details of their story as best we can and by telling them God’s story as often as we can, with humility and compassion.

How can we take care?

Rather than shiny illustrations, we can offer a carefully-told gospel of hope, one that considers the loss and longings an adoptee may experience and seeks to point to the One who is crafting a forever family no one can take, in a home no one can break.

Rather than the unexamined celebration we may have inadvertently offered in the past, we can rejoice with those who rejoice without failing to mourn with those who mourn.

We can embody the gospel to adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive families, offering them eyes that seek to truly see, a heart that carefully considers, a mouth that is slow to speak their stories, and ears that are willing to hear their story as it is, even if it’s uncomfortable.

In a perfect world, a parent would never have to place his or her child for adoption, and a child would never have to wonder what his or her parents look like. As we encounter those involved in an adoption story, may we be tender to the range of emotions they may be experiencing. May the family of faith see and honor them by welcoming their weeping, rejoicing, and questioning. And may we hold out the promise that one day, our Father will wipe away every tear, pain will be no more, and togetherness will be everywhere those in Christ look (Rev. 22). 

By / Jan 11

I remember our oldest child’s first day of public school. My husband and I had decided to go the public-school route so that we could be involved in a positive way in our local community. Our daughter had on a new outfit, and I braided her hair special. We waited for the bus to come pick her up for kindergarten. Living in a rural environment, she would end up spending two hours on the bus every day. 

In the following months, we noticed some changes in our daughter that troubled us. Discipling her became more difficult because our time with her was so limited. The school bent over backward to accommodate and encourage her. But, in the end, we decided to take her out of school for a year. Then, one year turned into two. 

When it was time to put our next child into school, we realized he had some learning disabilities and was hyperactive. He would need extra accommodations, and we saw the simplicity of just helping him at home. So, we decided to homeschool them both. At that point, it just became a part of our family culture and is what we’ve done with all six of our kids for the past 12 years.

There are a lot of logistical advantages to homeschooling. It’s hard to downplay the advantage of extra time with our kids. My husband’s job has hours that vary widely in different seasons, so it’s been a huge benefit to the kids’ relationship with their dad to work their school schedule around his work schedule. Our kids can also pursue their interests more deeply. Homeschooling makes travel, field trips, and apprenticeship opportunities easier. Furthermore, the kids have more play time because it takes only a fraction of the time for a handful of students to complete the work it might take a much larger classroom to complete.

Advice for new homeschooling families

Every new homeschooling family is full of nerves. I have seen a lot of my friends pull their kids from public school, each having their reasons for keeping their kids at home. It’s often an exciting and terrifying endeavor. The weight of educating your children creates in us a longing to do everything perfectly. We really don’t want to mess it up, so the pressure we put on ourselves is usually severe. As new homeschooling parents describe this to me, I always stop them when the discussion turns to talking about homeschooling as if it’s an insurance policy.

Our family chose homeschooling because it made the most sense for where we lived and with the kids we have. It fit our situation. However, the biggest temptation — and possibly the greatest way to infuse stress into your homeschooling life — is to treat what you are doing as a sure-fire way to ensure that your kids grow up to be Christians. Once our oldest was able to drive, she wanted to go to a local private school, and that ended up being a great option for her, though it was a sacrifice for our family in multiple ways. Ultimately, we felt free to let her do that because our hope isn’t in homeschooling.

Homeschooling makes a poor god. I’ve now seen many kids in my circles graduate from homeschooling — and some walk away from the faith, not wanting anything to do with God. I’ve seen the heartbreak of mothers who made many sacrifices. They thought they did everything right to the best of their ability, and now it feels like it was all for nothing. For these mothers, it’s devastating.

The truth is that homeschooling is no savior at all. If we look to it as if it will do the work that only God can do, we’ve made it into an idol. And like all idols, it looks good — even religious — and it will fail you. The law, whether we’re talking about God’s good law or our own made-up formulas for success, is insufficient to save. God’s law is good and wise when used rightly. Our children need to know it, and they need rules. But none of it will save them. Eventually every child will have to face the sin that they can’t seem to will or discipline away. They need the one and only Savior. And homeschooling families don’t need Christ any less than our public or private-schooling friends.

Loving our kids as whole people 

If your home has people with a sin nature (which it does), you will not escape struggle in the midst of homeschooling. While it has been a great tool in God’s hands for our family, we could stop homeschooling tomorrow, and God would still hold us. None of that depends on the type of schooling we choose or on doing everything “right.” His promises are not so shaky or fragile that we must teach our kids to live a perfect life so that they may obtain them.

As we teach our children, we must remember, as Susan Schaeffer Macaulay points out in For the Children’s Sake, her book on education at L’Abri, that they are whole persons. They struggle with a real sinful nature, they are made in the image of God, and they have real needs. And as real persons, they need a real Savior. 

Therefore, love your kids as whole people, not projects. Give them a big view of God. Pray for them when their hearts are hard. Don’t be scared when they wrestle with God (sometimes wrestling with God is where we find his embrace). Our day involves a lot of forgiveness. I’ve learned to apologize a lot and to teach my children to apologize. And we talk a lot about the power of the gospel.

These homeschool years have been a gift, and I am thankful. But I am reminded often: I am a servant of the Lord, but I’m not God. I can’t make them into my image. I can’t change their hearts. I teach my kids about God and his Word, but their little souls are in his hands, not mine. The older they get, the more I’m thankful for that. When we realize that it is not our homeschooling that is saving our kids, we can unload that burden onto the sufficient shoulders of Christ, and educate our children from a place of rest.

For more perspectives on schooling, visit this article about public school and this article about private school. 

By / Nov 30

Magic pixie dust for great fathering. Ok, that stuff doesn’t exist. There is no shortcut or gaming the process of raising boys to men. It is hard work, by design. But effort alone won’t get the desired results. Fathering needs to be deliberate. How does a dad purposefully raise a boy? This is the question Jon Tyson’s book, The Intentional Father, addresses.

Intentional is practical 

Tyson’s work is highly practical. Key tasks are explained and supported from Scripture and research. The reader is not left to think, “OK, I need to do that, but how?” Each chapter is marked with an “Intentional Steps” section. In these pages, the reader is led in a style similar to a workshop to process the chapter’s contents and formulate concrete steps. 

For example, in the third chapter, the reader is asked to think forward to a day when their son leaves the home to strike out on his own. Rather than delaying that moment as long as possible, Tyson guides us to face this inevitability. How do you want your son to be prepared for that day? The workshop pages invite the reader to slow down, think, and write answers to the prompts, “What do you want your son to know? What do you want him to be? What do you want him to be able to do? What experiences do you want him to have?” 

Writing down these answers can provide a plan rather than a laissez faire approach to what sons get from dads. With these goals in mind, this loose plan can minimize the pain of inconvenience. For example, if you get a flat tire, you are stuck. Being stuck is annoying and irritating. However, if you have identified changing a tire as something you want your son to be able to do, this inconvenience has become an opportunity to work your plan. This difficulty is not just a curse but also a blessing. The intentional father begins to have eyes that are always looking to get his son in the classroom of life.

Avoiding the “man-ager” rut

“Man-ager” is a term Tyson and his son use to refer to those who by chronology and biology are adult men, but their way of life is too childish — too much like a teenager. Tyson provides sage advice to avoid or dislodge from the rut of persistent adolescence. He presents this guidance as five shifts: 1) from ease to difficulty; 2) from self to others; 3) from whole story to part of the story; 4) from control to surrender; and 5) from temporary to eternal. 

These five qualities are critical for both men and women to thrive in a life that is lived to please God. They are central to a biblical worldview. If boys are unaware that these are the views God is intending to develop in them, they will not only be surprised when these occur, but they will resist the change they are designed to foster. For example, if boys are unaware that a core change in their view of the world needs to be from ease to difficulty, they will likely misinterpret all hardship as poor planning, unjust people, or hatred from God. 

Dads don’t need to plan difficulty; it is baked into life. Rather, an intentional father is ready to take a hard experience and invite his son to consider what he really wants. Does he desire the tough stuff to just be over, or does he desire the good things like perseverance, humility, and dependence that hard things can grow in us. The boy that embraces that difficulty will not only happen, but that it is also designed for his good, will be less likely to put off the increasingly hard responsibilities of adulthood. 

Likewise, the shift from temporal to eternal is a mark of those that are maturing. For example, dads should take their sons to funerals. They are events that force us to face our mortality and consider what kind of legacy we desire to be remembered. End-of-life moments expose what is temporary and awaken our hearts to consider what is eternal. Furthermore, this change in mindset can aid in curtailing the temptation to look for complete satisfaction in this world. 

Boys that embrace the eternal are not surprised when things of earth are only partially fulfilling. They become men who resist chasing satisfaction in the creation and are less prone to anger when they don’t receive such contentment from the temporal. These men begin to see all temporal things as road signs and billboards pointing their longing of satisfaction to the One who is eternal.

Tyson argues for dads to create a growing realization in their boys that God has invited him to leave the center stage of his own small story and take a role in his grand epic story of redemption. Too many boys, and man-agers, are trapped in an illusion that a life that is largely about their own glory, pleasure, and power. The intentional father is actively leveraging experiences to open his son’s heart to see beyond the three-foot circle he lives in. 

A proactive approach to parenting

The author identifies critical worldview formation that readers may have been putting off. What is a person? What is true? What is good? What is beauty? What is ethical? What happens at the end? People have been asking and trying to answer these core worldview questions for millennia. God has given clarity on these types of questions in his Word. Waiting for a son to eventually “figure it out” is not taking fathering seriously. The world will give plenty of answers to these quarries that won’t make your son flourish. 

Tyson posits that a father must be intentional with the views his son leaves home with. We need to help boys develop a theology of sex, a theology of money, a theology of work, and a theology of satisfaction — not simply telling them what to think but walking them through the long-suffering process of helping them to think. For example, a son who has wrestled with questions of God’s design for sex and God’s boundaries will have a level of protection from the culture in which he will live. That culture will try to catechize the boy into its godless, self-determined view of sexuality. Intentional fathers guide their sons to consider what God has said and prepare them for challenges that the world will raise. 

Additionally, God is a worker, and in making man in his image, he made man to be a worker. Because God works, work has intrinsic value. A man does not avoid work. His dream is not to win the lottery and never work again. Rather, a man experiences God’s goodness through work. He grows in discipline, dependence, and humility before God. A theology of work helps a young man see through the warped view of work his culture is trying to sell him.

Intentional moments

Tyson highlights the need to be purposeful in the threshold moments of life. Life has a series of firsts. First cell phone, first exposure to pornography, first girlfriend, first break up, first exposure to drugs, first exposure to the LGBTQ world, first exposure to death, first job, first exposure to racism, first time with a driver’s license, etc. Fathers are assured that all of these will happen. Being purposeful in preparing sons for these events is loving and wise. 

In order to be intentional, Tyson encourages the reader to embrace the practice of initiation. Most cultures throughout history recognize that age 13 is a period where change happens in the heart of a boy. Though preliminary work can be done in younger years, early teens is when Tyson recommends that fathers really need to get to work in a particular way. Readers are led through a series of exercises to recall watershed moments and gifts in their own journey toward manhood. A deliberate plan to mark the transformation of your boy to a man is a high task that ensures he will get the blessing from his father that every man needs. 

Tyson’s work is most helpful as an example to inspire rather than a blueprint to replicate. He admits as much, indicating that what he did was tailor-made for his son, in their region of the country, and with their resources. These variables will likely differ for readers. Tyson gives several details about the specifics he and his son, Nate, did such as regular early morning meetings. Meeting at the same time with one’s own son is not as critical as the regular meeting at a time that best fits you. 

Embracing intentionality

Don’t skip the step at the end of each chapter. They function like mini commitments and targets. Deadlines help us complete tasks and uphold responsibility. We can experience them as stressful and weighty, but they are usually necessary. You sometimes get to audit a class, but no one gets to audit fatherhood. Even those who abdicate nearly every fatherly task and opportunity leave indelible marks on sons. In addition, no one is sufficient, all on their own, to the task of raising sons. 

There is more than enough grace from Jesus for your son to develop better than the work you put in. Being an intentional father is a means the true and better Father uses to change you. With this volume, you will get to make a plan that is custom fit for your son. God chose you to be his dad. Roll up your proverbial sleeves and get your hands dirty in the heart of your son. It is work. Expect to be frustrated, tired, and at a loss sometimes. But look ahead to the man he will become, knowing all your effort in the Lord is worth the result.

By / Nov 18

When I was growing up my family had friends with two sons. Both boys had the same genetic disorder, and they were not expected to live a long life. They were constantly in and out of the hospital and back and forth to doctor’s appointments. The oldest, Billy, and I shared a birthday. He presented me with a birthday present every year. 

One particular summer when I was 7 or 8 years old, our family received news that Billy’s younger brother, Stevie, had died. Within the next couple of days we were sitting in pews, remembering my friend.  

I don’t remember having any long conversations with my parents about why Stevie had died or asking them what happens after death. Growing up in church, I was reminded on a weekly basis that we could die in a car accident or Jesus could come back within the hour. I knew that our souls were at stake if we hadn’t trusted Jesus. I was told Stevie was in heaven, and I believed it. 

As a child and young adult, I believed that grief could only be felt because of a physical death. I did not know that grief could also be experienced because of the death of a relationship, lack of expectations being fulfilled, the loss of a job, tragic health diagnosis, or something stripped away that one expected to keep for a long time. In my late 20’s as I experienced more of life’s suffering, I began to experience grief in various ways.

When grief visited our family 

My husband and I have six children. Three of our children have died and gone home to the Lord. Our second son was born prematurely and passed away the day after he was born. My oldest was 2, and he was too young to remember everything that happened. His memories are what we have told him and the pictures we have shown him. As our son has gotten older, he has wondered what it would have been like to have a younger brother closer in age with him, but grieving wasn’t tangible for him until six years ago. 

Six years ago, our youngest son, Boston, was taken home unexpectedly because of a car accident. Boston was 4 years old. He was the bookend to our crew — vibrant, fun, hysterical, and the sweetest 4-year-old on the planet. My older children at the time were 11, 10, and 8. 

The morning of the accident, we all woke up in good moods, ready to face the day. But by the end of the day, our family was beyond devastated, wondering how we would all wake up the next morning. We did wake up the next day, but we awoke to a heavy weight of grief that had replaced our joyful son. 

As the dust settled after Boston’s funeral, my husband and I knew our family was encountering something that none of us knew how to navigate. When our second son passed away, my husband and I were the two grievers in the house. Our two older children were simply too young at the time to recognize what was going on. But now, we had three remaining children who had just experienced a very traumatic event. They’d lost a dear sibling, and we had to figure out how to parent our children in the midst of our own individual grief. 

Grieving as an adult is rarely done well, and often a child experiencing the same grief can get lost. So, how do we care for kids when they are grieving? Here are three encouragements.

First, give them Jesus.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Grief is hard. There’s no easy answer to it. My response to grief has been different than my husband’s, and each of our remaining children have had their own unique responses as well. There are no rules when it comes to grief. Grief can rip all the rules away and laugh at them. 

But as believers, we have comfort in our grief — the One who knows it best. Jesus experienced grief when encountering the Father’s wrath on the cross. He experienced grief when his friend Lazarus died. “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3a). In other words, Jesus knows. 

Others know, too. And their experiences and stories — particularly their experiences of Jesus’ comfort — can be a catalyst in helping our children work through grief and suffering. Our kids are not alone. Someone has gone through a similar experience before them. Here is an example of a conversation that can be had between a mother and her daughter after a tragic experience.

. . . Steph looked at her mom and said, “You too? Do you have scary dreams too? You’re afraid of today?!”  Forcing a smile her mom replied, “Oh yes! After losing your brother I’ve constantly battled with being afraid. Everyday I have to remind myself of the truth. Sometimes every hour. One of your tasks at school is to memorize Psalm 23. As you were practicing verse 4, I took a few minutes to listen, then read the words on the page . . .” 

Steph’s mom continued and closed her eyes like she had to remember something before she quietly began to say, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. For you are with me.” Steph’s mom sat as the smile grew on her face. The words washed over her again as she was reminded of what they meant. Then, as she slowly opened her eyes, Steph’s mom looked at her and asked, “Who is the “you” in the passage?” Steph thought for a minute, “God? Jesus?” 

In the Bible, we find Jesus in every story — from the Fall to King David to Nehemiah being tasked to rebuild the wall and beyond. Jesus is a constant comforter to his people. I find peace in knowing that he is a consistent Comforter to us and to our children when we adults are a hot mess.

Second, we don’t have to have it all together.

My kids need to know that I struggle too. I struggle deeply and have a lot of hard days. In the midst of those days, I need to ask them to give me grace, but I also need to recognize my children’s pain and not blow it off. It is beneficial for our children to see us grieve, whether it’s the loss of a marriage, a job, a house, a friendship, or a parent or sibling diagnosed with COVID-19. It is okay for our children to see us cry, to see us struggle and to see us wrestle with God. It’s okay for them to see us wonder and ask why. 

Why is it okay for us to not have it all together? It’s okay because our transparency will, in turn, give them the freedom to be honest and wrestle without fearing judgement from parents. We must let our children ask the hard questions. We must be okay when we don’t have the answers, and we must trust that God’s sovereign hand is with them in and through both the joys and the griefs. Let’s think again about Steph and her mother: 

Steph’s mom smiled and said, “Yes. David is scared too. In this psalm, he’s writing to remind himself of who his God is. He’s remembering that his God takes care of him and loves him and comforts him when things are scary — when he’s terrified to go to bed or to wake up the next day. God is with David just as he is with us at night during bad dreams and during the day when we struggle with circumstances that trigger our grief, or with fear when Dad comes home late.”

“The words of this psalm tell us the truth of who God is even when we are struggling to believe. It tells us that he is there to save us. He will use his word to comfort us — you and me. Always. We have nothing to fear because he is with us, even when it is hard to remember that.” 

Steph sat and listened to her mom talk. She realized that her mom probably struggles just as much as she does but hasn’t let on. Her mother lost a son and she lost a brother. It was hard for both of them. They both struggle with fear, and they both need God’s Word to remind them that God protects and comforts them in their moments of fear and doubt.

Notice in the example that when Steph’s mom is honest about her grief, Steph begins to understand that her mother struggles just like she does. That brings us to the next point.

Third, we are in this together.

Our children need to understand that they are not in their grief alone. They need to know we are with them and that we are for them. But most of all, they need to know that Jesus is for them. We need to continually remind them — despite our own grief — that we are there for them when they need to work through their emotions. 

One evening I picked up my daughter from her small group and as she entered the car, I said, “How was it?” She sighed heavily and replied, “A couple of weeks ago, a friend told me that she was grateful that my brother died.” 

Ooof. Even as an adult, those are damaging words to hear. I caught my breath and let her continue without saying anything.

“That really hurt. I know she was trying to be encouraging, because she said something about Jesus working in our lives, but I didn’t really hear that part too well. It just hurt. Why would someone say that!”

I could tell that hot, angry tears were on their way, and I didn’t blame her. Hot tears were filling my eyes as well. Many people don’t know what to say to those who are suffering — just think about all of the missteps Job’s friends made. When it has been years since a death, divorce, or whatever considerable loss you’ve experienced, many folks believe the pain must be gone. However, to the person who has experienced the loss, the memory can be very fresh. A comment like the one my daughter heard can tear a scab off of an old wound and cause the grief to gush freely again. 

My daughter wanted to confront the girl. I told her, 

“Thank you for telling me. You could’ve kept that inside and you didn’t. I understand that you want to respond and tell her how she hurt you. Sometimes being honest with a friend can be a loving way to help them to better care for people who are hurting. But sometimes when we do that, folks don’t always understand where we are coming from. If we’re still feeling hurt and the other person has never experienced something similar, the situation can get worse before it gets better. There have been a lot of times since the accident that people have said really hurtful things to Dad and me. Do you know what we did? We came home and talked to each other, cried with one another, and fled to Jesus. We have to remind ourselves that people sometimes don’t know simply because they have not been in our difficult shoes. I am so glad that you told me this. Do you know why? Because . . .”

My daughter joined me, “We are in this together.” 

We need to remind our children and ourselves that despite what is going on in our lives and our world, Jesus is bigger than the circumstances. He promised us in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” Jesus told us that we would suffer with sickness, brokenness, and death. He died for this, and he is sovereign over it. 

As Paul reminds us in I Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” Thankfully, this world is not all there is. Because we have a secure future, we are able to give the gift of hope to our children even as we grieve together. We can remind them (and ourselves) that we will one day see things fully. 

Right now things are fuzzy and out of focus, full of pain and just plain hard, but when we are physically with our Savior, the scales will come off of our eyes, and we will see him, know him, and be fully known. Because we have Jesus, hope remains even in our pain. Let’s believe that he is enough for us and our children as we walk the road of grief with them.