LAST NOVEMBER, when my daughter turned 2 weeks old, I returned to full-time work. Five days after her birth I was on email. Within a week I was taking work calls. I wasn’t a workaholic. I was a new mom without paid family leave.
Several years earlier, when I was single and singularly focused on my career, I’d been hired as a contractor for the United Methodist Church to direct a grassroots campaign on maternal health. I never stopped to consider what effect my employment status might have if I decided to have a child of my own. When my husband and I got pregnant, I faced the stark reality that there were no policies in place to protect or support me.
Sadly, my experience is commonplace. A recent report revealed that one in four U.S. women return to work within two weeks of giving birth. While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects employees’ jobs for up to 12 weeks after the birth or adoption of a child, only about 60 percent of U.S. workers meet the eligibility requirements, including only 19 percent of new moms. And since the FMLA does not require employers to provide paid leave, those who are eligible and need time off do not always take it because they cannot afford the loss of income.
With no federal paid-family-leave program and only a handful of states with their own, churches and other employers that do provide paid parental leave are left to foot the bill for it. Oftentimes they offer this benefit exclusively to their highest earners. The United Methodist Church, for example, does have a national parental-leave policy of up to 12 paid weeks, but it is only available to pastors. Staff of the denomination’s agencies, such as the one I work for, are offered up to 18 days of paid leave, after which they must use accumulated vacation or sick days or take unpaid leave. But as a lay person and a contractor, I was not eligible for either policy.
Unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom heaven. (Matt. 18:3)
Jesus spoke these words as a response to a question from his disciples. Which of us, they demanded to know, was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus must have been struck by the contrast between his rivalrous disciples, so-called friends bickering and vying for attention, and the children who were playing nearby. He could have said, “I am, you silly gooses! Don’t compete with me – follow me!” But he had tried words before to no avail. So he summoned the children to show that greatness in the kingdom means playing joyfully in the moment with a humility that is heedless of rank or position. Only such as these, he explained, are able to know me and follow me.
"We all have a story to tell."
These are the words that will greet my new elementary students as they enter my classroom this year.
I will tell them my story: who I am, what I do, when I was born, where I have lived, why I am a teacher, how I came to our school.
I will tell them this story: When I was their age, I carried a tattered journal, a Papermate pen, and a pocket dictionary everywhere I went. I wrote about the people, places, and things I saw with my eyes, heard with my ears, smelled with my nose, tasted with my tongue, and felt with my hands. I put down on paper the ideas and feelings that were floating around in my head and my heart. I was nerdy (and still am) ... but I was me!
"Will you tell me your story?" I will ask them.
Moms should be celebrated, and they deserve all the flowers, spa days, pampering, and gifts given to them. I love my mom and I can’t thank her enough for all she has done for me and my family — Mother’s Day doesn’t even begin to cover the gratitude I have for her.
But for many, Mother’s Day is the most painful day of the year. For women who have experienced miscarriages, have had children die, have had abortions, who want to have kids but are struggling or unable to, have had to give up their children or currently have broken relationships with their kids, the holiday serves as a stark reminder filled with personal sorrow.
Christian communities can be especially harsh because of their tendencies to show favoritism to the idea of motherhood — as if mothers are somehow more holy and righteous than non-mothers. In an effort to praise and empower marriage, healthy parenting, families, and the sanctity of life, Christian subculture often mistakenly and unintentionally alienates those around us — especially women.
Our deepest question now is whether what happed on Friday — and what has focused the attention of the entire nation — will touch the nation’s soul or just make headlines for a few days.
I think that will be up to us as parents — to respond as parents. The brutal shooting of 20 six- and seven-year-old school children in their own classrooms touches all of us, and as the father of two young boys I’m especially struck how it touches parents. From the heartbreak of the parents in Newtown to the tears in the eyes of Barack Obama as he responded — not just as the President, but also as the father of two daughters — to the faces of the first responders and reporters who are parents. I have felt the pain and seen the look on the face of every parent I have talked with since this horrendous event occurred. Virtually every mother and father in America this weekend has turned their grieving gaze on their own children, realizing how easily this could have happened to them. The emotions we’ve seen from the Newtown parents whose children survived, and the feelings of utter grief for those parents whose children didn’t, have reached directly to me.
Saturday, the day after the Connecticut massacre, Joy and I went to our son Jack’s basketball game. The kids on the court were all the same ages as the children who were killed on Friday. I kept looking at them one by one, feeling how fragile their lives are.
Our first response to what happened in Newtown must be toward our own children. To be so thankful for the gift and grace they are to us. To be ever more conscious of them and what they need from us. To just enjoy them and be reminded to slowly and attentively take the time and the space to just be with them. To honor the grief of those mothers and fathers in Connecticut who have so painfully just lost their children, we must love and attend to ours in an even deeper way.
#5. Delivery complications: Amy was a real trooper when Mattias was born, but nothing about it was easy. Actually he and I had eerily similar experiences making our way into the world. We both were exactly the same length and weight, we both were faced the wrong way, and both of us were finally delivered by caesarian section, after putting our moms through hours of hardcore labor.
The story I’ve heard is that my delivery was a big part of why my folks decided not to have any more children. Before that, they planned on having more but it was too much to deal with. And let me tell you that I can sympathize. I was in the room both when Amy tried to deliver naturally, and when they cut her wide open and yanked the little peanut out. His face was blue from a lack of oxygen, and his umbilical cord wrapped twice around his neck. Though I’ve never experienced such awe and joy in my life, I also have no desire to relive that sort of terrifying vulnerability.
#4. Postpartum: We didn’t recognize it as such for almost a year, but Amy suffered from pretty severe postpartum depression after Mattias was born. In a phrase, it sucked. I also happened to be running for local political office at the time, which added stress to the situation, but I didn’t know what the hell was going on. It was our first time, after all, and no one really warned us about what to do if your wife has quasi-psychotic images of herself pushing your baby down the stairs. She was so worried she was going crazy that she didn’t tell anyone for fear that they might take Mattias away from her. So instead, she tried to manage it, quite unsuccessfully, on her own for nearly 12 months.
The breaking point finally came one night when we were lying in bed and I laid it all out. I knew something was really wrong, but I had no idea what it was. I could feel her withdrawing farther away from me every day, and I felt like I couldn’t do anything about it.
I am fortunate for the examples of an amazing father and friends. God’s grace abounds.
Those of us who are so blessed must commit to be those examples for everyone in all our communities. It takes us all sharing who we are and what we know with others. Bad, generational cycles in a society can be hard to break. We all suffer. And, building strong fathers is no exception.
SANTA MONICA, Calif. --- Children are usually the primary complainers about Sunday school, but when Mudita Bahadur started looking for excuses not to take her children to the Hindu temple on Sunday, she knew she had to make a change.
"One, it's dogmatic and two, it's inconvenient," she said of the Hindu classes held a 45-minute drive away from her home in Santa Monica, Calif.
Bahadur decided to take her children's religious education into her own hands. For the past three years, she and other Indian parents have been teaching their children about religion in each other's living rooms.
The do-it-yourself approach permits them to instill pride and progressive values in a traditional manner, the parents say.
Appearing at the Rev. Al Sharpton's fourth annual National Action Network convention in Washington, D.C., Wednesday afternoon, the parents of Trayvon Martin -- Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton -- called on their supporters and others who are anxiously awaiting a special prosecutor's announcement later today about charges in the shooting death of their son, 17-year-old on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., to remain calm no matter the outcome.
This was not so much a movie as a (very long) sermon. In fact, it's a sermon that actually culminates in a sermon, as Kendrick's character spells out what he has learned in a message delivered to his church congregation.
Despite its well-meaning intentions, Courageous fails to say anything new about fatherhood, family, faith or anything else, for that matter. The few funny or moving scenes are surrounded by clunky acting, overly-moralistic dialogue and a plot that is trying to be three movies in one -- and none of them terribly believable.
This Sunday (Oct. 9) , Sesame Street will introduce a brand-new Muppet character — a magenta-faced, impoverished 7-year-old named Lily who represents one of the 17-million Americans who struggle daily with hunger and poverty — during a rare prime-time special called, "Growing Hope Against Hunger."
"I'm finding out as I'm aging that I am in love with the world. And I look right now, as we speak together, out my window in my studio and I see my trees and my beautiful, beautiful maples that are hundreds of years old, they're beautiful. And you see I can see how beautiful they are. I can take time to see how beautiful they are."
About two years ago, Minhee and I made one of the hardest decisions we've made thus far in our marriage and in our calling as parents.
In our hope to honor a conviction of the Holy Spirit to give up a year's salary, we had begun the two-year process of saving, selling, and simplifying in 2007. Our goal was to come up with our then year's wages of $68,000 -- in order to launch One Day's Wages. With only a few months left to come up with the total sum, we were a bit short and decided to sublet our home for couple months and asked some friends if we could stay with them on their couches or their guest room.
Needless to say, it was a very humbling time.
Our instruction for ourselves and our children were very simple: Each person gets one carry-on bag for their belongings.
If you are a 12-year-old baseball player, it looks like a field of dreams. There are huge bleachers wrapped around home plate, and extending into left and right field. Behind home, there is a high official box where the game is announced, scores are kept, and reporters watch and write their stories. The field itself looks carefully tended with freshly cut green grass, and a flat-raked dirt infield without potholes, bumps, or ditches. And the beautiful grass of the outfield extends to actual fences, which each player hopes to reach as they gaze at the most perfect baseball diamond any of them have ever played on.
Americans have a hard time knowing how to respond to the sins of our colonial past. Except for a few extremists, most people know on a gut level that the extermination of the Native Americans was a bad thing. Not that most would ever verbalize it, or offer reparations, or ask for forgiveness, or admit to current neocolonial actions, or give up stereotyped assumptions -- they just know it was wrong and don't know how to respond. The Western American way doesn't allow the past to be mourned or apologies to be made. Instead we make alien invasion movies.
You don't need a ton of proof to know that more and more churches are struggling to survive. It seems churches that are in this predicament have one of two options: revive or die. There are a lot of books, seminars, and workshops given on how to go about reviving a church. However, there is not one cookie cutter, full-proof, and effective strategy in reviving a church. Having said that, it doesn't mean that it is impossible. There are many examples of struggling churches that have successfully revived the congregation, increased the health of the church, and expanded their ministry.