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Focus on the Family Magazine - February/March 2021

It can be a struggle to raise a family while balancing your work life, social life and relationships. Focus on the Family magazine is here to help! Each complimentary issue delivers fresh, practical Biblical guidance on family and life topics. Every issue comes packed with relevant advice to build up your kids, strengthen your marriage, navigate entertainment and culture, and handle common challenges you may face in your marriage and parenting journeys. Plus you'll find seasonal advice ranging from back-to-school activities to date night tips for you and your spouse.

It can be a struggle to raise a family while balancing your work life, social life and relationships. Focus on the Family magazine is here to help! Each complimentary issue delivers fresh, practical Biblical guidance on family and life topics.

Every issue comes packed with relevant advice to build up your kids, strengthen your marriage, navigate entertainment and culture, and handle common challenges you may face in your marriage and parenting journeys. Plus you'll find seasonal advice ranging from back-to-school activities to date night tips for you and your spouse.

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COUNTERING THE

CULTURE OF

ENTITLEMENT

Helping Families Thrive in Christ

FEB / MAR 2021

Canada

A MARRIAGE

WITHOUT HOPE?

Football,

Fame or

Family pg.

12


Cherish Your Spouse

video series

Bestselling marriage author and pastor Gary Thomas wants to help you take

your relationship to the next level! In this free, five-part video series, he will

show you how to support, adore, showcase and protect your spouse.

Immerse yourself in

the story of stories...

Watch as Gary describes practical ways to cherish your spouse: by paying

attention to them, going to them first, supporting, encouraging rather than

criticizing, and avoiding contempt.

The Chosen: I Have Called You by Name imagines the backstories of the

early followers of Christ and how their lives were transformed when they

met the long-awaited Messiah. Written by bestselling author Jerry B.

Jenkins, The Chosen plunges SIGN you UP into TODAY! first century Galilee and gives you

more color and detail from the hit video series beloved by millions.

Cherishing is something we need to be intentional about doing – even if we do it

imperfectly! The result will be a happier, more fulfilling relationship in marriage.

ong>Focusong>OnTheFamily.ca/Cherish

Follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

ong>Focusong>OnTheFamily.com/ChosenBook


Contents

February / March

FLAFFY / STOCK.ADOBE.COM

Couples

11 THE RHYTHM OF WALKING

TOGETHER

A marriage tip from JJ Heller

12 FOOTBALL, FAME OR FAMILY

Jason and Tay Brown chose to

give up wealth and fame to pursue

God’s call

by Paul Asay

17 A MARRIAGE WITHOUT HOPE?

One couple thought divorce was

inevitable. Enter Hope Restored

by Thomas Jeffries

20 FOUR REASONS WHY WE CARE

ABOUT MARRIAGE

by Jeff Johnston

21 LIVING ONE PANEL AT A TIME

How Jonny and Carissa Hawkins

create a thriving marriage on a

cartoonist’s income

by Karen Scalf Bouchard

Faith & Inspiration

25 TRUSTING GOD IN DREARY PLACES

Spiritual insights from ong>Focusong> on the

Family Middle East

by Sami Yacoub

26 HOW I FOUND

BEAUTY IN THE BROWNS

Relying on God to carry

the burden of depression

by Paul Asay

30 THE FREEDOM TO DOUBT

How Charlotte Pence Bond’s search

led her to a vibrant faith in Christ

by Benjamin Hawkins

32 A CHRISTIAN OUTREACH

IN A MUSLIM LAND

ong>Focusong> on the Family Middle

East navigates the difficulties of

ministering in a challenging culture

by Scott Johnson

In Every

Issue

Kids & Teens

35 SEEING MY FAMILY AS A PRIORITY

A parenting tip from Adrienne Camp

36 COUNTERING THE

CULTURE OF ENTITLEMENT

How to help kids live

faithfully in a land of plenty

by Ashley Hales

40 UNDERSTANDING

WHEN KIDS NEED TO TALK

Take the time to help your children

process worry, grief and loss

by Lisa Harper

43 MEASURING UP

Do your kids feel the

pressure to please you?

by Jeannie Cunnion

45 I GOT PLAYED BY A 3-YEAR-OLD

. . . and he was brilliant

by Vicki Bahr

4 DALY A LETTER FOCUS FROM THE PRESIDENT

5 HACKS & FACTS

10 MEDIA

46 34 MY PRODUCTS THRIVING & RESOURCES

FAMILY

46 MY THRIVING FAMILY

February / March 2021 FOCUS ON THE FAMILY 3


daly A LETTER focus FROM THE PRESIDENT

seeking

thriving in the

the

midst

light

of challenges

Bob Cheatley is interim

president of ong>Focusong> on the

Family Canada

Jim Daly is the president

of ong>Focusong> on the Family

and host of the ong>Focusong> on

the Family broadcast. His

daily column is available

at JimDalyBlog.com.

ong>Focusong> on the Family is a

donor-supported ministry,

and your contribution makes

a difference in the U.S. and

throughout the world.

ong>Focusong>OnTheFamily.com/

Donation

Jim Daly

IT CAN BE TOUGH TO ESCAPE

THE “WINTER BLUES” even during

the most uneventful and peaceful of the

year’s coldest months. The weather can be

AT FOCUS ON dreary, THE and FAMILY the days, darker. CANADA, If you live in

our desire is to help Portland, families Oregon, thrive. for example, you enjoy

Thriving, though, 15 hours is often and misunderstood. 41 minutes of daylight It doesn’t at the

mean we live lives summer untouched solstice by worry. but only It doesn’t eight hours and 42

mean we don’t face minutes heartache at the and winter pain solstice. in our family

relationships. It means And this that winter even in has the been midst especially of challenging.

to It seek kicked God off and with find one strength of the in most

difficulty, we continue

him to not simply contentious survive, but elections to grow and in our learn nation’s as we history

become more like and him. plodded forward under the lingering

A thriving family cloud is a of redeemed the COVID-19 family. pandemic. It’s

In Romans 5:3-5, enough Paul to writes, create “we despair rejoice in the in stoutest of

our hearts. sufferings, Winter blues knowing indeed! that suffering produces

endurance, One of the and reasons endurance we’re so produces passionate character, about building and

character strong families produces here at hope, ong>Focusong> and on hope the Family does not is because put family

to is one shame, of the because greatest God's gifts love to help has us been weather poured life’s into storms.

our It’s a hearts God-given through provision the Holy for Spirit safety, who shelter has and been refuge.

given Even to so, us.” we know that sometimes the most stable and

grounded This issue families of the magazine can face tough is filled challenges. with articles You’ll that find

articles speak into this those issue areas that of focus suffering. on godly We know men couples and women

are who feeling have walked hopeless, incredibly but we also difficult know paths. the miracles Perhaps you

can God relate can do to in these strained individuals relationships a personal (page 17). level. We

know If you many are Canadians suffering from live the with winter depression blues and or something the

much pandemic more has serious, exacerbated please many know people’s that we’re existing here for you

at mental ong>Focusong> health on the struggles, Family. In but fact, we we also have know a team that we of licensed can

look family to and our pastoral faithful God counselors to carry who our burdens would be and happy be to offer

our you strength a free consultation when we feel over weak the (page phone 26). and, We if know needed, direct

children you to ongoing are not help immune in your to feelings area. If you’d of grief like and to sorrow, speak with

them, but we just also call know 855-771-HELP that God can (4357) equip weekdays us to help from our 6:00

a.m. children to 8:00 find p.m. healthy (Mountain ways to time). process It would those difficult be our privilege

emotions to minister (page to you 40). in this way.

Take I hope heart—spring you are encouraged is coming! by The what days you’ll are find already within growing

these longer, pages, and in no a few matter short what weeks, you’re temperatures facing in life. will start

warming However, and if we’ll you are begin struggling to see flowers, and need green personalized leaves, blue

skies help, and please signs can of contact life. Until our then, team may for prayer we all find andhope in the

counselling One who reminded support. us, It “In would the be world our you privilege will have to walk tribulation.

alongside But take heart; you. I Call have us overcome at 1.800.661.9800, the world” email (John 16:33).

help@fotf.ca or visit us at ong>Focusong>OnTheFamily.ca/Help

to learn more.

Bob Cheatley

JEN LINTS PHOTOGRAPHY

president Jim Daly

chief operating officer Ken Windebank

publisher Steve Johnson

focus editorial canada director interim Sheila president Seifert Bob Cheatley

editorial managing director editor Sheila Andrea Seifert Gutierrez

managing copy chief editor Scott Andrea DeNicola Gutierrez

copy contributing chief Scott editors DeNicola Ginger Kolbaba, Vance

contributing Fry, Jennifer editors Lonas, Ginger Thomas Kolbaba, Jeffries,

Vance Marianne Fry, Hering Jennifer and Lonas, Jeff Masching Thomas Jeffries,

Marianne art director Hering Brian and Mellema Jeff Masching

art designer director Anneka Brian Mellema Jack

designer cover Brittany Anneka Cruse Jack

cover media Brittany publishing Cruse director Kevin Shirin

media editorial publishing assistant director Kat Bittner Kevin Shirin

editorial print production assistant Gail Kat Bittner Wise

print circulation production Sandy Gail Grivy Wise

circulation Sandy Grivy

Thank you!

Thank you!

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Magazine.

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4

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY

February / March 2021


Hacks & Facts

CLEVER IDEAS FOR SMARTER PARENTING

A Treasured

Tradition

On Valentine’s Day I make heart-shaped

scones for breakfast. Each family member

also has a paper heart by his or her plate.

During breakfast my husband reads to us

from the Bible about God’s love, and then

we write what we love about one another on

the paper hearts. These have become some

of our children’s greatest treasures.

—Joanne Madgwick

FOTF / ANNEKA JACK

February / March 2021 FOCUS ON THE FAMILY 5


HACKS & FACTS / VALENTINE′S DAY

Love Notes From God

I asked my kids to come up with different ways

they’ve seen God send them love. They wrote their

comments on hearts and found verses to confirm

God’s intent to care for us. I helped the little ones do

this. We hung the hearts on the wall. Now my kids

can see how God is and has been sending our family

“valentines,” even before they were born.

Meaningful Gifts

—Allison Struber

Children of parents who

show emotional warmth are

21%more likely

to flourish later in life.

source: Social Science & Medicine, 2019

Valentine’s Day

Countdown

Last year my husband and I planned a 14-day

Valentine’s countdown using an inexpensive pack of

foam hearts. We wrote 14 characteristics we love about

our daughter along with Bible verses that showed how

she is made in God’s image. Each morning she found

a new heart on her door that encouraged and inspired

her to show God’s love to others.

—Crystal Stine

Sharing Gary Chapman’s five love languages with my

boys helped them think about showing love in meaningful

ways. My oldest son baked chocolate chip cookies for

his dad, who values “acts of service.” My youngest drew

pictures to tell me how pretty I am, which I appreciated

as “words of affirmation.” The boys helped me cook a nice

dinner, and then we spent “quality time” together.

Understanding other love languages helped the boys

connect with us and turn Valentine’s Day into a meaningful

celebration of love.

—Penny Noyes

Baby-Book Letter

For my son’s first Valentine’s Day, I wrote him a letter

explaining how long his father and I had wanted

a child, the complications that led to his birth, how

much I loved him and how I hoped to be a good

mama to him. I tucked the letter in his baby book, so

he will always have a reminder of his parents’ love.

—Michelle Welsh

ELOVICH / STOCK.ADOBE.COM; NATALIYA / STOCK.ADOBE.COM

6

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY

February / March 2021


INFANT SLEEP / HACKS & FACTS

Calming the

Senses

After tucking our baby in his crib, my

husband and I pray over him and

turn on the white noise machine.

We also use a diffuser to fill the

room with the calming scent of lavender.

The white noise and scent

help him sleep longer at night.

—Amanda Hayhurst

Mama’s Touch

Offering a light massage before bed

taught my newborn to associate

touch with relaxation. Then I placed

the bassinet within arm’s reach so

I could respond to my baby’s cues

and avoid a crying episode, which

could keep my baby from sleeping.

—Natalee Estrada

Bedtime Routine

My husband and I each share in

bathing our baby and putting on his

diaper and pajamas. Following bath

time, we rub scented lotion on our

son and keep the lights dim to relax

him before sleep.

—Natalie Gross

Sleepy-Time

Hymns

When my babies would not fall

asleep, I calmed both them and me

by singing—but not ordinary lullabies.

I’d sing hymns. Those beautiful

lyrics kept my mind engaged and

lulled my infants to sleep.

—Jessica Snell

White Noise

on the Go

MESAMONG / STOCK.ADOBE.COM; MONKEY BUSINESS / STOCK.ADOBE.COM

My wife and I played white noise in

our infant’s room—using a recording

or a box fan. The gentle noise and

steady rhythm helped him relax. We

also used the recording during long

car rides when it was time for our

son to sleep.

—David Cox

Only

57%

of 12-month-olds sleep

eight or more hours a night.

source: Pediatrics, December 2018

February / March 2021 FOCUS ON THE FAMILY 7


HACKS & FACTS / WAITING

Working Toward a Want

My younger son wanted an expensive pair of headphones.

My husband and I chose to delay the purchase to make

sure he really wanted them and to give him an opportunity

to earn them. We offered our son a “credit” each

time he finished a homework assignment to my satisfaction.

My son did his homework on time and with diligence.

He discovered he liked doing his assignments when there

was a reward in the balance. He researched which pair of

headphones he wanted and made the purchase. We were

proud of him for his patience and careful planning.

—Sylvie Leclerc

A Record of

Our Week

When their dad was away for a week, our

three boys and I kept a journal on a sheet of

paper divided into seven sections. We put the

journal on the kitchen wall. Each evening we

would write down the things we did that day

so we would remember to tell Dad about our

little happenings. We all missed him, and this

visual record of his absence showed our boys

how many days it was until his return home.

It also reminded them to pray for him as we

said grace before each meal.

—Alice Burnett

Prayer Box

The day came when my son had a problem at school

I couldn’t fix. I realized that God had left my 6-yearold

son and me no other option but to trust Him.

To help us through this time, I purchased a beautiful

painted box. I told my son, “I can’t be with you every

minute, but God can. God is a much better helper

than I am. Every time we have a problem that’s too big

for us, we’re going to write it on a slip of paper, pray

about it, and put it in this box.”

Then we committed to not worry about the problem

because we had turned it over to God and He

was working on it. Each time God answered our

prayer, we looked at what we’d written and rejoiced in

how He blessed us.

The wait of several weeks was difficult, but God rescued

my son from the school situation.

When he was a teen, a time of discouragement

ushered in a crisis of faith. He couldn’t stand for me to

say anything Bible related. One day I asked if we could

look at the years of accumulated prayers in the box.

As he read the papers, it was evident that God had

answered his prayers, turning hardships into blessings.

The reminders helped move him toward God again.

—Casey Hawley

FOTF / ANNEKA JACK

8

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY

February / March 2021


WAITING / HACKS & FACTS

96%

of Americans will

of North Americans will

consume scorching

food or drink rather

than wait for it to cool.

source: Wakefield Research, 2015

Trinket

Scavenger Hunt

I used a simple take-along activity to keep my four kids entertained.

I started with a clean and dry plastic water bottle. I filled the bottle

three-quarters full with sand. Then I added about 20 small items, such

as plastic animals, a coin, a hair barrette, a paper clip, plastic beads and

other small trinkets. I glued the lid closed since my younger kids were

apt to open the bottle.

The kids could tip, twist and turn the bottle searching for the different

items. My older kids liked following a list of all the items so they could

race to find them all. When my children were older and I didn’t have to

glue on the caps, I would refresh their bottles with new items so that

each time we played it was just as fun.

—Julia Springman

Pillow Prizes

My toddler had a hard time going to

sleep in his own bed. I placed whatever

his current favorite book was

under his pillow. We called it his

prize and told him that if he stayed

in his bed at night, when he woke

up in the morning, the prize would

be there waiting for him. Looking

forward to reading his book in

the morning, he fell asleep with

it tucked under his pillow. He still

does this as a preschooler with various

books and toys. On occasion,

he even sleeps with his Bible under

his pillow.

—Tammy Conley

Waiting Games

Whenever my three girls and I

must wait—whether at the grocery

store, in a doctor’s office or in the

car—I play a game with them once

they grow fidgety. If we’re standing

in line, I’ll say, “Touch your toes,”

“Put your hands on your head,” or

“Touch your ears.” If we’re waiting

in a restaurant or in the car, we’ll

usually play a game such as I Spy.

Games make the time pass quickly

and in a fun way.

—Elisabeth Ramon

February / March 2021 FOCUS ON THE FAMILY 9


MEDIA / PLUGGED IN

UPCOMING

REVIEWS

For reviews of these and other

titles, visit PluggedIn.com, PluggedIn.ca, ong>Focusong>

on the Family’s media review and

discernment website.

F

ocus on the Family’s Plugged In team

comes together with humor and

heart to deliver weekly insights on

current media choices and culture-related

topics. These media experts shine a light on

KENA: BRIDGE OF SPIRITS the world of popular entertainment and technology

trends while giving you and your family

Will the storyline’s overt mysticism

overshadow the cuteness factor in this

new action-adventure game?

the essential tools you need to understand,

Scheduled release: March 2021

navigate and impact today’s culture.

Some of the topics covered by The Plugged

In Show include the influence of books in a

screen-based world, what you need to know about online predators,

and the next-gen future of video gaming. You’ll also hear wide-ranging

overviews about what media discernment looks like, the impact of

television in our lives, and how to establish tech boundaries for you

and your family.

Tune in each week for the encouragement to engage with your

children and dialogue with them about the media they are consuming,

sparking intellectual thought and spiritual growth. Listen

online through Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify. Visit

ong>Focusong>OnTheFamily.com/PluggedInShow for details.

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON

Parents may wonder if Disney’s latest release

recaptures the family-friendly tone of their

animated classics.

Scheduled release: March 12

MORBIUS

Are we ready to root for another superhero? Or

should this Marvel character be left in the shadows?

Scheduled release: March 19

TOP TO BOTTOM: EMBER LAB; DISNEY; SONY PICTURES

10

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY

February / March 2021


Couples

therhythm

of walking

together

a marriage tip

from JJ heller

MY HUSBAND, Dave, and I

have been working together full

time since we were married in

2003. There’s some sort of miraculous

combination of our two

personalities that makes it possible

for us to be business partners

and spouses.

One surprising thing that’s helped

our marriage, more than anything

else, is going for walks. There’s something

therapeutic about the rhythm

of putting one foot in front of the

other, feeling the breeze in your hair

and the sun on your face. It feels like

a reset of sorts.

In my experience, walking also

fosters dialogue. I’ve noticed a lovely

ebb and flow as Dave and I stroll

around our neighborhood. Because

we’re side by side and noticing the

world around us, there’s no pressure

to fill the empty space with words.

When we’re walking, we’re comfortable

talking or simply staying quiet. •

JJ heller, a songwriter and contemporary

christian music artist, releases a new song

every first Friday of the month.

JJ and her husband, Dave, pictured below

PHOTO COURTESY OF JJ HELLER

February / March 2021 FOCUS ON THE FAMILY 11


cOuPlES / COMMITMENT

FOOTBALL , FAME

O RFAM IL Y

Jason and Tay Brown

chose to give up

wealth and fame to

pursue God’s call

BY PAUL ASAY

PHOTOS BY BRITTANY CRUSE

12

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY

February / March 2021


COMMITMENT / cOuPlES

ALL SIGNS POINTED TO ANOTHER BIG

CONTRACT for NFL center Jason Brown. He’d

been cut by the St. Louis Rams a few weeks earlier

in 2012—a casualty of a head coaching change—but

plenty of teams were still interested in the 28-year-old

offensive lineman. Jason had already rejected an offer

from the Carolina Panthers; another former team, the

Baltimore Ravens, seemed eager to get him back.

Before talking to the Ravens, Jason and his wife, Tay,

traveled to San Francisco. Tay hoped her husband

would accept an offer from the 49ers. For Tay, a Bay

Area native, it would mean being closer to family. It

would mean coming home.

But when Jason returned from the 49ers facility and

opened the door to their hotel room, he told her he’d

turned them down.

Tay was angry. Her husband was rejecting multimillion-dollar

deals! He seemed like he was disinterested

in playing professional football—a profession millions

would love to have.

“So what’s the deal, Jason?” she asked. “You turned

down the Panthers. You turned down the 49ers. . . . If

you’re not going to play football, what are you going to

do?”

Jason took a deep breath.

“God is telling me that we need to sell our home in St.

Louis and move back to North Carolina,” he said. “He’s

telling me to purchase some land there. Because God

is telling me that . . . He wants me to be a farmer.”

Jason had actually been thinking about this move

for months. He felt that God was calling him back to

the basics: Family. Faith. The rich Carolina earth that

his family had called home for generations. But he’d

not told anyone else about this seemingly crazy seed

that God had planted in him—not even his wife, not

until now.

Tay stared at Jason for a minute. How could he drop

this bomb on her in the middle of a marriage that was

already struggling?

“Jason,” she finally said, “I’m so happy God is sharing

all these things with you, because He’s not sharing any

of this with me!”

For richer or poorer

Jason and Tay met nearly a decade

earlier, after Tay graduated from

Duke University and Jason was a

standout lineman for the University

of North Carolina. Jason insists

that Tay was literally glowing when

they first met, as if God had put a

spotlight on her. It took Jason just

one date to know that Tay was the

woman he wanted to marry.

They seemed perfectly synced:

Their priorities were faith, family

and education. They both had big

dreams—she wanted to become a

dentist, he was destined to play in

the NFL—and they were determined

to pursue those dreams together.

They married in May 2005. He was

20, she 22. And at first, everything was

wonderful. They lived together in a

modest townhome as Jason closed out

his college career—studying together,

laughing together, praying together.

“And then came the call from the

world,” Jason says.

Dreams take sacrifice. Tay pushed

dental school back a year to help

Jason deal with the tragic loss of his

brother in Iraq. Then Jason was NFL

bound, but he had no control over

who he might play for. Any one of

32 teams might draft him, which

made it incredibly difficult for Tay to

choose a dental school.

Finally, they decided that Tay

would apply for dental school in

North Carolina and make the state

home base. Jason would play football

wherever the NFL asked him to.

They agreed to try a long-distance

marriage during the season.

“You make the best choices you

can at the time with the information

and the wisdom you have,” Tay says.

“And when you’re 20-something years

old, that’s what we thought would

work out best.”

Jason ended up on the Ravens,

and the separation was painful.

When their first child, J.W., was born

in 2007, Jason felt the distance growing

between them.

“I was not offering the quality time

or the emotional support that [Tay

and J.W.] needed,” he said. “I was

providing for my family, but there’s

a huge difference between being a

father and a provider.”

Because they spent so much of the

year apart, Tay says that they didn’t

really have each other to depend

on. “We were slowly pulling apart. . . .

Where it says [in the Bible] that ‘the

two shall be as one,’ we were drifting,

and not really being one.” >>>

February / March 2021 FOCUS ON THE FAMILY 13


cOuPlES / COMMITMENT

Jason, Tre, Noah, Isaiah, Tay, Olivia, J.W., Judah, Naomi and Kahlan

In sickness and in wealth

By 2009, Tay had finished dental school, and Jason

had signed with a new team, the St. Louis Rams. He

inked a $37.5-million deal—a record amount back

then for an NFL center. They bought a massive

12,000 square-foot mansion in St. Louis—plenty of

room for their growing family.

But by then, that family was coming undone. All

that time away from each other had turned the

couple into two very separate individuals, complete

with their own interests and hobbies. “I had

my ways, and Jason had his ways,” Tay says.

“Everybody says that money, it’s a blessing,”

Jason says. “But at the time, we didn’t handle

it well. We were not good stewards, and it was

actually more of a curse because . . . it didn’t bring

out the best character in us.”

“It intensified our independence rather than

bringing us closer together,” Tay adds. “Jason was

making money; I was making money because

I was working at a dental office. So if I needed

something at this point, I would go out and do

what I wanted.”

Both were, by their own admission, selfish and

stubborn. Both had inflicted plenty of hurt on the

other, and trust between the two was, by late 2011,

almost nonexistent. Their marriage was heading,

in Jason’s words, toward “absolute destruction.”

But no one else knew. They attended church

14

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY

February / March 2021


COMMITMENT / cOuPlES

every week, smiled through their pain and said all

the right things. They were, after all, role models

—a power couple who seemed to have it all. Jason

was an NFL star. Tay was a dentist. Who wouldn’t

want to be in their shoes?

But by Christmas of 2011, Tay didn’t want those

shoes anymore. She wanted out.

“I remember having a conversation with God,”

she recalls. “It was like, ‘Am I going to stay or am I

going to go?’ ”

She decided to stay—to stick with their marriage,

no matter what.

But when she heard that Jason wanted to quit

football and become a farmer, that was a whole

new challenge.

Tay felt God drawing her to a Bible story—from

Genesis 20—in which Abraham tells a king that

Sarah was Abraham’s sister, not his wife, putting

Sarah at great risk. The Bible said that “God protected

Sarah” throughout that time, and Tay drew

hope from that.

“[Sarah] had to put her trust in God, and God

was the One who protected her,” Tay says. “That’s

what God showed me. Maybe I didn’t have full

faith and trust in my husband [at that time], but

God [was] going to protect me.

“It was me just leaning on God,” she adds. “And

I had that moment where I said, ‘I’m all in. I’m

going to do this thing. I believe You have called

him to this life.’ ” It was a choice. >>>

February / March 2021 FOCUS ON THE FAMILY 15


cOuPlES / COMMITMENT

To have and to hold

Jason and Tay bought what would

become First Fruits Farm in late

2012. They had two children at the

time; now they have eight—most

delivered right on the farm, one by

Jason’s own hands.

The road to the couple’s healing

wasn’t easy. It required repentance. It

required forgiveness. And, as anyone

who’s gone through the process of

healing a relationship knows, moving

that bond from “bad” to “good”

isn’t as simple as flipping a switch.

Instead, the change in their marriage

happened a little like gardening.

They planted seeds of healing deep

underground. Then they watered,

weeded and nurtured them.

The healing of their marriage

didn’t spring from the ground fully

formed, but rather it grew day by

day, week by week. Finally one

morning, they found that they had

something truly special: a renewed

relationship.

Their farm has been fruitful, too.

Since their first harvest in 2014,

First Fruits has produced more

than 1 million pounds of fruits

and vegetables.

And Jason and Tay have given

almost every cucumber and sweet

potato away. Their produce goes

to feed North Carolina’s most vulnerable,

and that’s not all. Through

multiple festivals and volunteer

opportunities, First Fruits brings people

from all walks of life who visit or

volunteer on the farm closer together.

It hasn’t been easy: Jason and Tay

will both tell you that. Crops sometimes

fail. Volunteers don’t show up.

Farming is hard work, and

home-schooling eight kids adds

another degree of difficulty. The luxuries

and the financial security they

had when Jason was in the NFL are a

thing of the past.

But both will say that, as hard as

they work and as tired as they get,

their lives are better now. They’re

together—truly together. In the past,

they’d nurse grudges for days. Now

they compete to repent first and

seek each other’s forgiveness.

“We still get on one another’s

nerves,” Jason admits. But when they

argue, they often literally tell each

other: “You are not my enemy.” They

are partners in God’s work.

Tay adds that she and Jason have

banned one critical word from their

relationship.

“We call it the ‘D’ word,” she says.

“Divorce is no longer part of our

vocabulary. It’s no longer a thought.

The Bible says to take our thoughts

captive and submit them, right? So

the ‘D’ word is no longer welcome

in our home and in our thoughts.”

Because of Jason’s NFL past, he

naturally receives most of the press

and accolades for First Fruits Farm.

Tay is quieter, more retiring. But

Jason stresses that Tay is the farm’s

real unsung hero. Neither of them

could do it alone.

“I pray for Tay more than I pray for

myself,” Jason says. “I know some

people say, ‘Oh, that’s so nice,’ but

it’s a selfish prayer. Because I need

this woman.”

For better or worse, the marriage

vows say. In their marriage, Tay and

Jason have experienced both. They

had wealth and fame. Then they

gave it all up and found the better.

Each other. •

Paul asay is the co-author of Centered:

Trading your plans for a life that matters with

Jason brown. First Fruits Farm is located near

Louisburg, North carolina.

FIRST FRUITS FARM

Jason and Tay Brown’s First Fruits Farm is a nonprofit

ministry that feeds thousands of hungry and needy

families across North Carolina with its produce, primarily

sweet potatoes. It’s also a family operation,

but with more than 1,000 acres of farmland, it’s far

more than one family can handle alone.

First Fruits welcomes volunteers throughout the year,

but especially during harvest season. For information

on how to volunteer, visit wisdomforlife.org/volunteers.

And if you’re not in the area (or don’t have time) to

volunteer, First Fruits welcomes donations. Go to

wisdomforlife.org/give for more information or to

donate.

16

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY

February / March 2021


HOPE RESTORED / cOuPlES

PHOTOS COURTESY OF SHAWN AND JAYNEEN

a marriage

without

hope?

One couple

thought divorce

was inevitable.

enter hope

restored

BY THOMAS JEFFRIES

WHEN SHAWN

PROPOSED TO JAYNEEN—

just three months after they began

dating—they were convinced their

marriage would be rock solid. Both

were committed Christians with a

shared vision to reach the lost.

They exchanged vows nine

months later and began their newlywed

adventure. Shawn worked retail

and served in children’s ministry;

Jayneen taught elementary school.

Yet four years into their marriage,

the couple discovered they suffered

from infertility. The news was a fault

line in their relationship, the beginning

of moving apart.

“Once we found out [we were

infertile], it completely changed

our relationship,” Shawn says. “We

went from trying to get pregnant

to not wanting to even be intimate

with each other. I felt major

guilt, as I knew how much Jayneen

wanted children.”

The couple explored fertility

treatments. Their first failed attempt

was both financially and emotionally

draining.

“I will never forget the pain my wife

experienced,” Shawn says. “We had

stopped at a gas station on the way

home, and she broke into tears and

melted onto the sidewalk.”

Shawn picked her up, and that’s

when Jayneen said she couldn’t

bear the thought—the grief—of trying

again. Instead of leaning on her

husband, though, Jayneen pushed

him away. >>>

February / March 2021 FOCUS ON THE FAMILY 17


cOuPlES / HOPE RESTORED

Spiraling downward

The tension in their home was

amplified when Shawn started a

business. He discovered he was a

poor money manager, which led

to bankruptcy and plenty of arguments

with Jayneen. Then came the

surgeries: gallbladder, appendix, a

bad back, a tumor in Jayneen’s jaw—

seemingly all in rapid succession

and adding to their financial stress.

“I got extremely angry,” Jayneen

says. “I was angry with Shawn, but

I got very, very angry at God.”

I’ve done everything right, she

argued. I’ve served You.

She was consumed with the

impression that God had turned His

back on her. And Jayneen’s disappointment

turned to bitterness.

“I shook my fist at God,” she says,

“and I started emotionally cheating

on my husband through the internet.

That led to chat rooms, which led to

an actual affair.”

When Shawn first confronted her,

Jayneen promised to stop. But it was

a lie. The second time Shawn caught

her, he told Jayneen to leave. Once

out of the house, she embraced her

new lifestyle with abandon. More

affairs. Drinking. She even experimented

with marijuana.

“She tried anything she could to

numb the pain,” says Brittyn, a longtime

family friend. “She was hurting

terribly and entered a downward spiral

she had no idea how to get out of.”

Shawn says he felt as though

someone had shattered a treasured

snow globe and left him to

clean up the mess. Yet he remained

available to Jayneen. On occasions

when she would call and ask for

help, Shawn obliged.

Estranged at home

Although Shawn was broken at

the outset, it took Jayneen more

than four years on her own to

Instead of attending Hope Restored


with a broken canvas, we discovered

that God used Hope Restored to paint

a whole new picture. ”

—Shawn

acknowledge the hopelessness of

her lifestyle. Eventually she worked

up the courage to ask Shawn if she

could return home. He agreed, but

there were still major issues between

them. As a temporary solution, they

decided that Jayneen would live in

one half of the house, Shawn in the

other. They were cordial to each

other, but the arrangement was

more brother and sister than husband

and wife. They tried to rekindle

their relationship, yet Shawn could

see that it wasn’t working. Jayneen

could see it, too.

“We loved each other, but we were

not close,” she says. “We didn’t know

each other anymore.”

Divorce seemed like the only option.

There was just one more thing Shawn

and Jayneen wanted to try first.

Finding peace

Jayneen remembered reading about

Hope Restored—ong>Focusong> on the

Family’s multi-day counseling program

for marriages in crisis. When

she suggested they give it a try,

Shawn wholeheartedly agreed that

Hope Restored had to be a part of

the solution.

“I saw that the success rate was about

85%,” he says, “and I wanted that.”

For her part, Jayneen knew deep

down that the program wouldn’t

work until she let go of her anger.

And the initial step of that breakthrough

happened just days before

Hope Restored, at a Christian women’s

event Jayneen had avoided

for years. Facedown on the floor,

undone, she finally recognized—for

the first time in years—what she’d

known all along: God still loved her.

He’d always loved her.

In February 2017, Shawn and

Jayneen arrived at the ong>Focusong> on the

Family Retreat Center in Branson,

Missouri, to begin the Hope

Restored program. Shawn says their

counselors were tender and insightful,

respectful and direct. He and

Jayneen never once felt intimidated,

nor were they made to feel bad

about what they said. For the first

time in forever, Shawn felt heard.

“I understood why I am the way I

am,” he says, “and how to overcome it.”

Shawn also learned why his wife is

the way she is, and that it was not his

job to overcome this. Instead his role

was to understand her and communicate

effectively.

They learned from the counselors;

they learned from the other couples;

and, finally, Shawn and Jayneen

learned how to love themselves. They

learned that everything doesn’t

have to be perfect; they have the

rest of their lives to get it right. They

came home with tools and strategies

and their “relationship treasure

maps”—a pair of oversize Post-it

Notes that they framed and hung in

their living room.

“Our relationship today is nightand-day

different from before,”

Jayneen says. “We don’t rely on each

other to get our peace. We rely on

Christ to give us peace.”

Five months after attending Hope

Restored, on Jayneen’s birthday,

Shawn asked her to be his wife again.

She was home for good. •

18

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY

February / March 2021


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cOuPlES / HOPE RESTORED

4BY JEFF JOHNSTON

reasons why

we care about

marriage

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY

EXPENDS A LOT OF TIME,

energy and resources to save and

strengthen marriages through our

broadcasts, online tools, counselor

calls, marriage intensive retreats and

more. Why do we care so much about

marriage?

We care because God does.

In Genesis 1, God created humans male

and female in His image and likeness. He

designed us to reflect His character—His

goodness, strength, holiness, beauty and

love. Genesis 2 builds on this, as God fash-

1.

ioned Eve from Adam’s side and united them

in marriage.

Those chapters are so important that Jesus

cites them in Matthew 19:4-6 to teach that

marriage is a lifelong union between husband

and wife. Paul also pointed to these

chapters in Ephesians 5:31, explaining that

marriage depicts Christ’s relationship with

His bride, the church.

2.

whose parents divorce or were never married

A married mom and dad are

best for children.

Marriage isn’t just about two people who

love each other. Research demonstrates that

children with a married mom and dad have

generally better outcomes than children

in the first place.

Mothers and fathers parent differently,

offering unique benefits to their kids.

Children raised by both parents in a healthy

marriage are more successful in school, less

likely to live in poverty, less likely to abuse

drugs or alcohol and more likely to have successful

marriages of their own.

Marriage helps both

men and women.

According to sociologist Linda J. Waite and

researcher Maggie Gallagher, married men

and women have better physical and mental

health and report higher levels of happiness

3.

and well-being. They live longer, healthier lives;

recover from illness more quickly; and have lower

rates of alcohol and substance abuse. As an additional

bonus, they do better financially.

Marriage is good for society.

4.

Marriage is good for society.

The importance of marriage is seen most clearly

when it unravels. In their report, “164 Reasons to

Marry,” Pat Fagan, Anne Dougherty and Miriam

McElvain write, “Marriage is the foundational relationship

for all of society. All other relationships in

society stem from the father-mother relationship.”

In Sadly, addition they point to the out personal that fewer pain than caused half by of

American the breakdown children of marriage, now reach all the of society age of 18 suffers. in an

Poverty, intact family violence with and married crime parents. increase In when addition marriages

to the personal fail or when pain parents caused never by the marry. breakdown of

marriage, all of society suffers. Poverty, violence


Jeff Johnston is an issues analyst for ong>Focusong> on the Family.

and crime increase when marriages fail or when

parents never marry. •

Jeff Johnston is an issues analyst for ong>Focusong> on the Family.

ong>Focusong> on the Family’s The Daily

Citizen provides timely analysis of

breaking news and social issues.

Learn more at TheDailyCitizen.org.

20

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY

February / March 2021


RESILIENCE / cOuPlES

living one

panel at a time

how Jonny and carissa hawkins create a

thriving marriage on a cartoonist’s income

BY KAREN SCALF BOUCHARD / ILLUSTRATIONS BY JONNY HAWKINS

BEFORE CARTOONIST

JONNY HAWKINS MET

CARISSA on a blind date, the

friend who set them up told Carissa

that Jonny was a writer. “He thought

‘writer’ sounded more dignified than

‘cartoonist,’ ” Jonny confesses with a

laugh. He pauses for a beat. “I think

that helped lure her to me.”

Carissa says what really attracted

her was Jonny’s heart.

“He had no sense of style whatsoever,”she

says of their first meeting.

“The day we met, he was wearing

what we now laugh at and call his

‘grandpa pants.’ He doesn’t care

about clothes. And when he meets

people, he’s not judging what’s on

the outside; he’s looking for the person

inside. That attracted me.”

Jonny’s unorthodox career

didn’t derail their relationship.

Apparently, neither did his grandpa

pants, and the couple married a

year later.

In the coming months and years,

however, they faced obstacles that

could have wreaked havoc in even

mature marriages: Jonny admits

that the erratic income of a freelancer

proved to be a hardship. To

further complicate matters, Jonny

and Carissa appear to be a classic

case of opposites attract.

“Jonny is very creative and spontaneous,”

Carissa explains. “I’m

creative and analytical. He’s optimistic

and tends to see the positive,

and I tend to see the negative.”

There are, of course, benefits

when couples have different

strengths. Carissa says, “He’s kind

and good and funny, and people are

drawn to him. I’m more reserved. He

draws me out, and I keep him from

flying off. We balance each other.”

Those differences also brought

challenges to their marriage. >>>

February / March 2021 FOCUS ON THE FAMILY 21


cOuPlES / RESILIENCE

The life of a freelancer

For as long as he can remember,

Jonny wanted to be a cartoonist.

When he was in sixth grade, a

vacation Bible school teacher gave

him a book—The World’s Greatest

Collection of Clean Jokes by Bob

Phillips—and added the inscription,

“Maybe someday you can come up

with jokes like this.”

In college, Jonny started sending

cartoons to magazines. He amassed

dozens of rejections before selling a

cartoon to Scripture Press for $15.

By then he was hooked. Two years

later he sold a cartoon to Leadership

magazine.

By the time Jonny met Carissa,

he had established a modest flow

of income by selling cartoons and

drawing caricatures at craft festivals

and carnivals.

In many regards, Jonny and

Carissa discovered they were a great

team. Ministering together at a

church camp, Carissa kept things

organized while Jonny interacted

with the kids. When Jonny drew caricatures

at fairs and schools, Carissa

managed the finances. Today Carissa

continues to handle much of the

minutiae of the business and helps

with marketing, too.

Financial stress, however, exacerbated

their differences.

Carissa adds, “Jonny’s a freelancer,

so everything is speculative. He

sends work out, and if it’s accepted,

we get paid. As someone who is

structured and likes to plan, this

isn’t exactly what I pictured for

myself. When we get a $30 sale, he’s

grateful, and I’m rolling my eyes

because there are $3,000 in bills

that month.”

When they see life through different

lenses, Jonny often tells Carissa

she needs to lighten up. She tells

him he needs to “heavy down.”

So how do they cope?

Meeting with Jesus

In the middle of their living room is

a round leather ottoman. It’s a great

place for TV remotes, snacks and

stockinged feet. It’s also one of the

places Jonny and Carissa regularly

meet with Jesus.

“When we pray together, it makes

all the difference in the world,” Jonny

says. “It softens our hearts and

reminds us that, ultimately, our trust

is in God, not in circumstances or

even each other.”

When they gather at the ottoman,

Jonny and Carissa are often joined

by their three kids—Nate, 21; Zach,

19; Kara, 13—and their dog, Blue.

“We always make a point to be

thankful for all the little things,”

Carissa adds. “Definitely, when

we were younger, we did more

complaining about things that

aren’t—but as we grow, we find

ourselves so grateful for the things

that are.”

22

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY

February / March 2021


RESILIENCE / cOuPlES

Date nights with a twist

Another way Jonny and Carissa keep

their marriage strong is by having

date nights. But these date nights

may be unlike any you might imagine.

Jonny and Carissa begin the evening

by driving 20 minutes into

town and eating dinner together at a

restaurant. Then Carissa drops Jonny

off at a bookstore while she shops or

runs errands. When she’s done, she

hangs out with her husband for a bit

at the bookstore, and then they chat

about their separate evenings on the

drive home.

One of the challenges of working

together from home, they explain, is

that you’re always together.

The change of pace is rejuvenating.

“Our date nights give us a little

time to process life on our own,”

Carissa says. “And then we always

have great conversations on the

drive home. He’ll say, ‘Guess who I

ran into.’ (He’s so gregarious. He’s

always running into someone we

know.) And we share stories.”

God’s faithfulness

Carissa and Jonny agree that

remembering how God has taken

care of their family for 23 years

empowers them to trust Him for

the future.

“When you go through tough

times, it’s easy to think, We’ll never

get through this,” Carissa admits.

“And one day you realize things

have changed. Sometimes you can’t

pinpoint exactly how God brought

you through it, but you realize that

He did.”

She’s also grateful that when

things were really hard, she and

Jonny were too poor to split up. “We

had to stick together. I remember

wanting to get in the car and leave,

and then thinking, I can’t drive

away—this is our only car!”

She laughs at the memory and

then gets serious again.

“Look, we have family and friends

whose marriages and families have

been ripped apart. And sometimes

I think, Could you have waited one

more day? because I know God can

bring good things and changes that

you don’t think are possible.”

Jonny shares Carissa’s reliance on

God. His favorite verse is James 4:8.

“Draw near to God, and he will draw

near to you.”

He says that when he starts to

waver, gets distracted or feels impatient,

he returns to that verse, and it

keeps him grounded.

Persistence in cartooning

The list of publications and organizations

that have run Jonny’s

cartoons is impressive: Woman’s

World, Leadership magazine,

Reader’s Digest, The Wall Street

Journal, and the American Heart

Association, as well as 76 “Chicken

February / March 2021 FOCUS ON THE FAMILY 23


cOuPlES / RESILIENCE

Soup for the Soul” books. In addition,

Jonny’s Cartoon-a-Day calendars

have sold more than 1 million copies.

In 2001, Jonny found a copy of one

of Bob Phillips’ joke books at a flea

market and wrote to the author. In

the letter he shared how he’d been

given one of Phillips’ books as a

sixth grader. The two men have since

written nine books together, including

The Hilarious Book of Heavenly

Humor and Laughter From the

Pearly Gates.

Where does Jonny get all his ideas?

Sometimes he doesn’t look far from

home. When son Nate was 3, he

showed Jonny a broken crayon and

said, “Daddy, my crayon needs a new

battery!” Jonny turned it into a cartoon

and sold it to Woman’s World.

Still, it takes persistence to break

into each new market. Jonny began

submitting cartoons to The Wall

Street Journal in the 1990s. He

received his first check from them

on his birthday in 2020.

For Jonny and Carissa, their marriage

and his career have taken a lot

of God’s grace, intentionality and

teamwork. Despite their differences,

their commitment to pray, play and

work together has made a world of

difference for this couple.

As Carissa says, “Our similarities

may not be obvious on the surface,

but they are deep in our hearts.” •

Karen Scalf bouchard is an award-winning

freelance writer and editor who lives in

colorado Springs, colorado.

24

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY

February / March 2021


Faith & Inspiration

CREDIT BLACKDAY TK / STOCK.ADOBE.COM

trusting God in

dreary places

Spiritual insights from

ong>Focusong> on the Family

Middle east

BY SAMI YACOUB

ELIJAH WAS BURNED OUT, completely

exhausted, and Queen Jezebel had just threatened

his life. Elijah told God, “The people of Israel have

forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars,

and killed your prophets with the sword, and I,

even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take

it away” (1 Kings 19:10). He was scared and felt

alone. It was time to quit.

Christians can find themselves in similar dreary

places where we have no control over our circumstances.

In the midst of stress and faulty

introspection, we may believe we’re not making a

difference. Like Elijah, we may conclude that we

have no value and should just give up.

When we feel this way, we must remember that

God doesn’t always allow His servants to see the

results of their work. He may do so, but when He

doesn’t, He wants us to walk by faith. When we

walk only by sight, we lose the ability to trust God.

But when we trust in His plan for our lives, His

words will not be in vain (Isaiah 55:11).

The Lord responded to Elijah in 1 Kings. He

didn’t speak through the mighty power of nature

but rather in a whisper. His quiet voice reminded

Elijah that He was still in control.

During difficult times, I remember how God

has shown up for me and my family. Like millions

around the world, we have faced tremendous

challenges in our lives, ministry and work. But

God has provided for our needs during these

times. That helps me to realize what it means to

walk by faith, recognizing that my sufficiency

comes from the Lord.

God is still God, and He is in control. Knowing

that, I don’t fear what the future holds. Instead, I

open my heart and ask, “What would You like me

to do next?” I hope you will ask that question for

yourself, too. •

Sami yacoub is the regional director for ong>Focusong> on the Family

Middle east. read more about this ministry on page 32.

February / March 2021 FOCUS ON THE FAMILY 25


FaITH & INSPIRaTION / MENTAL HEALTH

How I Found

Beauty in the

Browns

Relying on God to carry the

burden of depression

BY PAUL ASAY

26

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY

February / March 2021

PIERRE VINCENT / STOCK.ADOBE.COM


MENTAL HEALTH / FaITH & INSPIRaTION

ONE THANKSGIVING when

I was a kid, my dad wanted to go

for a walk through a vacant mile of

scrub oak near my grandma’s house

in Alamosa, Colorado. It was pretty

cold outside, so my sister and I dutifully

pulled on sweaters and hats

and followed him into the winter air.

I don’t think I’d ever seen a landscape

look quite so scrubby and

lifeless. We trudged through thin

brush under skeletal elms and cottonwoods.

We poked through trash

and explored the rusted ruins of an

old construction project. And then

my dad stopped and looked around.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” he said.

“Beautiful?”

“Yeah,” Dad said. “Look at all these

browns!”

I remained unimpressed. To me,

beauty in nature meant green and

lush. Or green, at least. Brown was

the color of dirt and grime, of dead

leaves and other less pleasant things.

But there is real beauty in those

browns. Not beautiful like a colorful

rain forest or a snowcapped

mountain, but a subtle beauty that

is just as rich. Shades and textures

blend like mellow rivers of honey

and earth. You see the architecture

of trees, the graceful brushstrokes

of grass. It’s a beauty that doesn’t

translate well into Instagram pics,

but it imprints itself somewhere

inside you.

I often think of that dreary landscape

when I consider my journey

through depression. Look at all

these browns! Isn’t it beautiful? My

depression has helped me see the

beauty in the browns of life.

Rediscovering

the comforts

Anyone who’s ever dealt with

depression knows how hard it

is to be thankful about anything.

Depression is a wet blanket. It

constantly smothers us, making

gratitude nearly impossible to

reach.

And yet . . . I’m thankful for my

depression.

There are caveats. My depression

isn’t as severe as what others might

suffer. I’ve also learned ways to

manage it—faith, prayer, an understanding

wife, and a regular run. >>>

February / March 2021 FOCUS ON THE FAMILY 27


SAFETY VIOLATION ZONE copy in this zone not safe per trim variance (.25 inch). Anything in this .25inch zone is not guaranteed safe from being trimmed off.

NEW


— from —

Don’t let the

darkness win.

ong>Focusong>

Depression is real—and hiding

it doesn’t lead to peace. But in

Christ, there’s fullness! Beauty in

the Browns will inspire you to

learn to live with hope and find

beauty in life.

AD-FPO

GET One IT AT Third

Page

Vertical

TRIM:

Do you suffer from depression?

Does 2.58 a loved x one? 10.5 Paul inch Asay

knows what it means to live as

a Christian with depression. In

telling his story of his journey

and his son’s – with input from

mental health professionals –

Asay offers hope and practical

help to those dealing with this

issue, and those trying to help

them.

TM

I’m also not saying I’ve ever

enjoyed depression, that I miss the

times when I’d lie around for weeks

staring at nothing, feeling dead or

wishing I was. Depression steals

vibrancy from life, and as you crawl

out of its smothering embrace,

color returns only slowly.

But if you look closely, you may

start seeing the blessings that you’d

never have seen without depression.

You rediscover comfort. There

was a time in my life when I stopped

reading. I felt good about myself and

didn’t need it. I rediscovered books

when I needed them, in depression’s

aftermath. Books now surround

me like old friends. I know nothing

about cooking, but one of my favorite

things to do in the evening is flip

on a cooking show and watch it with

my wife, Wendy.

Today, when my daughter, Emily,

and I run through the scrub, through

yellowed grass and bare trees, I

sometimes say, “Look at these

browns!” Mimicking my dad, I

suppose, but also mocking myself.

“Isn’t it beautiful?”

And we agree it is.

God’s quiet presence

God’s apparent silence during

depression’s nightmarish introspection

is horrific. But when I crawl free

of depression, even partly, I see that

some of the terrible elements I’ve

experienced can mellow into possible

virtues.

When I’m depressed, I obsess.

When I’m not, depression gives me

a better ability to reflect. When I’m

depressed, I feel worthless. But then

depression gives me a bit of humility

and helps me be more realistic about

my weaknesses. I’ve also learned the

difference between loneliness and

the quiet joy of being alone. What

seems like God’s stony silence can

actually be God’s quiet presence.

God, give me the strength to carry

this burden. That’s my prayer these

days. Not for God to wipe depression

clean away from me and make

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Shop.ong>Focusong>OnTheFamily.ca

ong>Focusong>OnTheFamily.com/Store

or call 1.800.661.9800


MENTAL HEALTH / FaITH & INSPIRaTION

me “normal.” I pray instead for the

strength—if and when it comes

back—to deal with it. Because,

honestly, and with a deep sense of

irony, I feel closer to God because

of my depression.

It pushes me toward dependency.

When I feel worthless and weak, I

understand how much I must trust

in Him to carry me through. As

Peter told Jesus, where else would

I go? No one else can save me. No

one else can make me feel whole. I

have no other hope but in God and

His strength.

A mysterious affliction

For a Christian, depression is a vexing

mystery. Is it borne of sin? Is it a lack of

faith? And if it’s none of those things,

what kind of God would have us be in

this sort of pain and melancholy?

I’ve come to realize that sometimes

pain is a gift, that sadness and

even suffering can be a positive if they

make us stronger or help us grow. Our

awful, sorrowful hurt can also be an

instrument of healing. When we suffer

and still believe, when we doubt and

yet hope, we help illustrate another

side of the Christian journey, one not

often publicized in chipper praise

music or inspirational talks—a journey

walked among the browns. The

browns of life are easily overlooked.

But they’re strong, gentle, warm.

I don’t know what depression is for

me—a disease, a punishment, the

“thorn in the flesh” the apostle Paul

wrestled with (2 Corinthians 12:7-

9). But I believe God works in my

weakness. “His grace is sufficient.”

When depression makes me feel

empty, God can fill me with something

better.

I have no real assurances that

“I’m all better now.” Maybe depression

never fully goes away. As much

as running and writing and friends

and family and God have helped

me through the days and years to

stay relatively sane and hopeful, I’ve

learned that depression loves its

little surprises.

But I’m not afraid of it. I’ve seen

the face of depression. I’ve heard its

lies and half-truths and nihilistic

whispers. So I stare depression in

the eye and live. Life is a gift—even

when it doesn’t feel like it.

There’s so much of our stories left

to live.

So even in the emptiness, I choose

to live. •

Paul asay is a movie reviewer for Plugged In

and the author of many books. This article

has been adapted from his book Beauty in

the Browns, a ong>Focusong> on the Family resource

published by Tyndale house Publishers. all

rights reserved.

If you are suffering from depression

If you or are know suffering someone from who depression

is, consider or know talking someone to a who counselor.

ong>Focusong> talking on the to a Family counselor. offers

is,

consider

a ong>Focusong> one-time, the complimentary

Family offers a onetime,

complimentary from a Christian consultation

consultation

perspective. from a Christian To reach perspective. a licensed To

or reach pastoral a registered counselor, counselor, call

call 855-771-HELP 1-800-661-9800 (4357) weekdays

between 68 a.m. and 84 p.m.

Pacific Mountain time. time.

GARYTOG / STOCK.ADOBE.COM

February / March 2021 FOCUS ON THE FAMILY 29


FaITH & INSPIRaTION / TESTIMONY

the freedom

to doubt

how charlotte Pence

bond’s search led her to

a vibrant faith in christ

BY BENJAMIN HAWKINS

charlotte Pence bond pictured above

WALKING THE STREETS

OF EASTERN JERUSALEM,

21-year-old Charlotte Pence looked

out across the Kidron Valley at the

western slope of the Mount of Olives.

Somewhere between 70,000 and

150,000 rectangular graves, nearly

stacked one upon another, lined the

slope. As she viewed the sight, her

Jewish travel guide, Roni, told her

the Messiah was expected to arrive

atop that mount. That’s why so many

had been buried there.

It was Charlotte’s first trip to

Israel. She had joined her family for

Christmas break after a semester at

Oxford University in the fall of 2014.

Since she was raised in a conservative

Christian home, she knew the

stories of Scripture. She knew that

Christians said the Messiah, Jesus,

had already stood on the Mount of

Olives. There, He was betrayed and

led away to His death on the Cross.

There, He ascended into heaven, and

will return to earth someday.

Charlotte now believes these biblical

truths herself. “My faith,” she

says, “is definitely a big part of my

life. That’s something I fall back on

in times of struggle and [rely on] in

good times, too.”

Indeed, she depended on her

faith in 2016 when she traveled the

vice-presidential campaign trail

with her parents, Mike and Karen

Pence. She leaned on her faith in

2017 when she met Henry Bond,

whom she married December 2019.

Their shared views on faith and life

are a large part of what drew them

together in the first place, she says.

AMELIA CASSAR PHOTOGRAPHY

30

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY

February / March 2021


TESTIMONY / FaITH & INSPIRaTION

But before she visited the Holy

Land, and before she studied theology

at Harvard Divinity School,

Charlotte doubted her childhood

faith and nearly left it behind.

A love of reading

When Charlotte was a young teenager,

she gave her dad a small book

for Father’s Day. On its cover she

wrote “The Lessons You Have Taught

Me.” Some of the advice listed in its

pages was practical: “Lead by example”

and “Anger does not inspire.”

Other pieces of advice encouraged

her to enjoy life: “Ride horses every

chance you get.” Still others called

her to faith in God: “The safest place

to be is in the center of God’s will.”

Seventh down on the list, Charlotte

wrote one simple word: “Read.”

“My dad definitely instilled in me

a love of reading,” she says. Among

Charlotte’s favorite books was C.S.

Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

Story times with her dad instilled in

her a love for writing and storytelling,

too, which have shaped her calling

and her faith. “Reading and writing,”

she says, “have always been ways

that I feel connected with God.”

Not afraid to seek

Charlotte’s parents encouraged her

to place her faith in Christ Jesus,

but they never pushed her or her

brother and sister to mindlessly

imitate their own faith.

“My parents really encouraged us

to seek out answers for ourselves.

They had a great way of showing

us what their faith is and how they

lived it out day by day,” Charlotte

says.

But they never discouraged honest

doubt. They taught her that if

she was honest with her questions,

God would reveal himself to her.

“One of my favorite stories in the

Bible is about Thomas doubting

Jesus,” she says, referring to John

20:24-29. “I just love that story

because Jesus doesn’t scold him. He

just shows Thomas His hands.”

Doubts began to grow in

Charlotte’s mind after she entered

college at Chicago’s DePaul

University in 2012. She flirted with

atheism and began to read the

works of atheist writers. Her conflict

with doubt culminated during her

junior year of college in 2014, when

she spent a year abroad studying

at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford.

Later, in her book Where You Go:

Life Lessons From My Father, she

wrote, “I was interested in other

types of ideas, ones I had not been

raised in. I stopped going to church

and reading my Bible.

“I think I still believed in God, but

I wanted to try living without the

burden of religious ideas,” she continued.

“I thought my questions

would go away or be answered. I

thought maybe I would no longer

care, and I would be able to live in

an agnostic way. Maybe a part of me

wished I could, but atheism didn’t

answer any questions I had.”

Then she remembered C.S.

Lewis, who had been an atheist

before placing his faith in Christ.

She pored over his apologetic and

theological works. “His writing

explained Christianity in a compelling

way, but it also helped me

to allow myself to have questions

. . . when I wasn’t sure if I believed

Christianity.”

But in the summer of 2014,

before her junior year, Charlotte

began to question a “free-thinking”

mindset that abandoned faith. In

Thought Catalog, an online magazine,

she wrote, “If my free thought

is free of magic and unexplainable

forces and the abundance of love

from something that is more than

human, then I don’t want it.”She


Let us not . . .

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be afraid

Join Jim Daly as he discusses

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tos

ong>Focusong>OnTheFamily.com/Pence

eek .“

encouraged curiosity about religion

and concluded, “Let us not . . . be

afraid to seek.”

Flight toward faith

During her trip to the Holy Land,

Charlotte began to rediscover her

faith. “I believe it was my time spent

in Israel where I truly became a

Christian, where my faith was solidified

for me,” she later wrote. “No

matter what religion a person in Israel

might practice . . . they acknowledge

the truth of the history of the Bible.

They recognize the events took place.”

A few months later, Charlotte asked

God’s forgiveness and surrendered

herself to Him. It happened suddenly,

during a flight from England to the

United States. As she sat on the plane,

a Christian song from her playlist

started to play, and she began to cry.

“I’m not really a crier,” she says, “but

I just started crying, and I felt this feeling

of being welcomed back. That

year, I had turned away from God, but

He hadn’t left me.”

In that moment, she discovered a

new passion for Christ. “I remember

reading my Bible with excitement

for one of the first times in a long

time,” she says. Because her parents

had been so open with her about

matters of faith, she shared her

discoveries with them. And with

shared excitement, they celebrated

her newfound faith. •

benjamin hawkins is a freelance writer and

associate editor of The Pathway, the news

journal of the Missouri baptist convention.

February / March 2021 FOCUS ON THE FAMILY 31


FaITH & INSPIRaTION / MINISTRY HIGHLIGHT

a cHRISTIaN

OuTREacH IN

a MuSlIM laND

ong>Focusong> on the Family Middle

East navigates the difficulties of

ministering in a challenging culture

BY SCOTT JOHNSON

WHEN WE HEAR THE WORD EGYPT, most of us probably think of

pyramids and pharaohs. It’s an ancient land with thousands of years of history,

and it figures prominently in the Bible.

In 2001 ong>Focusong> on the Family Middle East opened its office in Cairo, joining a

network of international associate offices supported by ong>Focusong> on the Family, U.S.

Over the years, ong>Focusong> on the Family Middle East has expanded its efforts throughout

the Arab world. In Egypt, a desert country that traces back to among the

earliest civilizations, this small but dedicated group is on the cutting edge of living

out biblical principles within a Muslim land.

MAGANN / STOCK.ADOBE.COM

32

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY

February / March 2021


MINISTRY HIGHLIGHT / FaITH & INSPIRaTION

ong>Focusong> on the Family Middle east

General Manager remon Shohdy,

right, appearing as a guest

on a widely listened to radio

program produced by the coptic

Orthodox church

ong>Focusong> on the Family Middle east regional Director Sami

yacoub, center, with glasses, with refugees in erbil, Iraq

at the annual cairo book Fair, both Muslims

and christians get resources that have been

translated into arabic.

connecting with parents in alexandria, egypt

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY MIDDLE EAST

“All sorts of family

problems”

Regional Director Sami Yacoub is a

keenly gifted man who enthusiastically

embraces the task at hand. “We are

Christians by faith, living in a Muslim

culture,” he says. “So we have to understand

the impact of the Muslim culture

on our Christian community.”

Sami points to marriage as an

example. “In the Muslim culture,

men perceive women as inferior, as

property—even as ‘defective’ in faith

and in mind,” he explains. “With

such a lack of teaching about how

God wants family to be, there are all

sorts of family problems.”

The challenges families face in

the Arab world are similar to what

we experience in the West. Marital

conflict and parenting struggles are

universal. Issues involving homosexuality

and suicide are on the rise. As

technology expands, families must

deal with such topics as pornography,

media consumption and the excessive

influence of social media.

ong>Focusong> on the Family Middle

East works to address these issues

by translating and adapting the

best Christian resources available.

Having gained the trust of Coptic

Orthodox churches that comprise

the majority of Egypt’s Christian

population, over the last several

years the team has received many

invitations to present relationship

seminars in those churches throughout

Egypt.

Several key programs have been

crafted for the region. An Arabic

translation of The Truth Project

was launched in 2008 and remains

highly popular with Coptic leaders.

Adaptations of the No Apologies

abstinence curriculum, the Drug

Proof Your Kids seminar and the

Raising Highly Capable Kids parenting

course all consistently produce

significant results. Most recently, the

team expedited an Arabic version of

February / March 2021 FOCUS ON THE FAMILY 33


PRODucTS & RESOuRcES

Your generosity helps us develop life-changing,

faith-based resources. Please consider including

a donation with your purchase.

RECONNECTED

by Dr. GreG aND erIN SMaLLey

When daily interactions between a

husband and wife are crushed by

the endless grind of work, chores,

errands and car pool, even the most

committed couple can feel like they’re

living parallel lives. The Smalleys

offer ways to rekindle the passionate,

intimate, heart-to-heart connection

between you and your spouse.

ADVENTURES IN ODYSSEY

NO. 70: FINDING A WAY

Mysteries lurk around every corner,

and the citizens of Odyssey must

arrive at the truth. Detective Polehaus

investigates the mystery behind

connie’s stolen car. emily Jones is

falsely accused of a crime, but can

she discover the real culprit? as truth

comes to light, the people of Odyssey

learn about trusting God, confronting

fear and anticipating new beginnings.

9 LIES THAT WILL

DESTROY YOUR MARRIAGE

by rOberT PauL aND

Dr. GreG SMaLLey

Marriage experts robert Paul and

Dr. Greg Smalley identify lies that our

culture promotes about marriage and

explain how those lies can destroy the

bonds between a husband and wife.

Then they offer the corresponding

truths, which can strengthen

marriages and even save the most

troubled relationships. (Includes selfassessments.)

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could you use a little

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insight and inspiration from

ong>Focusong> on the Family.

Find these and other great resources at

Store.ong>Focusong>OnTheFamily.com

ong>Focusong> on the Family’s Alive to Thrive suicideprevention

training. These programs have found

favor among Muslims dealing with such issues in

their own households.

Reaching out in love

In addition to practical teaching, ong>Focusong> Middle

East works to tangibly meet humanitarian needs

whenever possible. Since 2014 the team has provided

aid to displaced Christian families in Iraq

and refugees in Jordan. In 2015, the office was the

catalyst for efforts to provide homes for the families

of 21 Coptic Christians who were martyred by

ISIS extremists.

Recently, the team has been working to bring

running water and basic sanitation to 300 impoverished

families in Deir Gabal El-Teir, a struggling

village in northern Egypt that has become a refuge

for Coptic Christians fleeing persecution in other

parts of the region. Team members are also assisting

five Lebanese churches with their support of

refugee families.

Serious prayer

ong>Focusong> on the Family Middle East bathes every

effort in fervent prayer—from a major campaign

to a simple video meeting. That’s a good reminder

for all of us.

“Prayer is a serious business,” Sami says. “And

‘serious’ means that we do not force our plan—and

the answer we expect—on God. We must be sensitive

to see where and how God is answering our

prayers in His way.”

Sami and his co-workers value the participation

of Christians worldwide in this serious business.

“Please keep on praying for us,” he says. “And do

not underestimate that God is taking your prayer

seriously.” •

Scott Johnson is a senior writer in the Ministry Values division at

ong>Focusong> on the Family.

Learn more about ong>Focusong> on the Family’s

global outreach.

ong>Focusong>OnTheFamily.com/GlobalOutreach

34

listen today at

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY February / March 2021

ong>Focusong>OnTheFamily.ca/Radio


Kids & Teens

seeing my

family as

a priority

a parenting tip from

adrienne camp

PHOTO COURTESY OF ADRIENNE CAMP

Jeremy and adrienne camp pictured above

WHEN I FIRST BECAME A

MOM to Bella, I was eager to do

something outside the house, but

it seemed impossible. We were a

part of a small church community

in Lafayette, Indiana, at the time,

where Jeremy’s parents pastor. There

were so many needs at the church

and so few people to fill them. One

day I was talking to my mom-in-law,

Teri, about these needs and how

much I wanted to fill them, and yet I

didn’t have the time or capacity to do

so. She reminded me that there are

seasons for everything. Just because

there is a need doesn’t mean I have to

be the one to fill it. I learned to focus

on the things only I could fulfill—

especially in motherhood. •

adrienne camp is a South african singer and

songwriter, and the wife of Jeremy camp, a

Grammy nominated singer and songwriter.

adapted with permission from In Unison by

Jeremy and adrienne camp, published by

harvest house Publishers, eugene, Oregon,

97408. copyright © 2020 Jeremy and

adrienne camp. HarvestHousePublishers.com

February / March 2021 FOCUS ON THE FAMILY 35


36

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY February / March 2021


GRATITUDE / KIDS & TEENS

How to help kids live

faithfully in a land of plenty

BY ASHLEY HALES / ILLUSTRATIONS BY BRIAN MELLEMA

LAST SUMMER, my four kids

and I headed to the ocean for a day

at the beach. Instead of packing

what felt like hundreds of snacks,

I treated them to a fast-food meal.

With three growing boys who order

adult portions, along with me and

my young daughter, I opted for getting

only the sandwiches instead of

the pricier combo meals. After all,

we had our water bottles.

As soon as I finished ordering, the

complaining began:

“Why don’t we ever get special

drinks?”

“What if we’re hungry later?”

So as we waited for our food, we

had a discussion in the drive-thru

line. The drinks weren’t on the

agenda; their grabby hearts were.

While it would have been easier for

me to talk about budget-line items

and why the sandwiches-only restriction

was a more prudent choice, we

discussed gratitude instead. We

talked about how good we have it,

and we named what we had to be

thankful for: God provides for our

family, we’re healthy and we even get

treats like a drive-thru meal on the

way to spend the day at the beach.

Left to their own devices, children

can easily develop attitudes of entitlement

that stem from living in a

land of plenty. Our job as parents is

to focus on instilling within our kids

the pursuit of better things—including

character traits that strengthen

them to resist the constant pull and

desire for more. Pursuing better

things allows them to feel content

with their lives, and character traits

help them understand the Gospel—

how it relates to them and how they

can faithfully live it out both now

and as they grow older. This means

we equip them with tools for making

wise choices and habits for connecting

them to God.

Asking hard questions

To start, I let my kids know that it

isn’t wrong to have nice things. God

blesses His children with nice things

all the time. But we must be careful

that we don’t make accumulating

and achieving material wealth our

idols. Also, we need to take good

care of the things God has entrusted

to us, whether we’ve been given

much or little.

Entitlement can take root if we

equate what we own or have access

to as the way we (and our kids) find

comfort and identity. That’s the difficult

part about living in a land of

plenty: We can accidentally train our

kids to trust in idols and not in Christ.

To disciple my children, I try to

help them become more aware of

and discerning about their wants

versus their needs. They need sleep

and food and exercise and obedience

to those in authority over

them. A lot of their other decisions

in life are based on what they want.

Remembering this is especially

important when we talk about peer

pressure and the ever-present call

of advertisers. >>>

February / March 2021 FOCUS ON THE FAMILY 37


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As I shop with my children, for

instance, I have an ongoing dialogue

with them. “If you buy that water

bottle, will you actually be healthier?”

or “If we buy that T-shirt, will

your classmates like you more?”

Stating what is being advertised and

training my children to tell me the

message of what’s being sold helps

them see the value of the object, not

the expectation of the ad or the subtle

pressure behind it to become

someone they’re not.

I also try to get my children to

keep the following questions in

mind as they work to understand

what is behind their desires and

decisions:

• What is motivating me?

• Why do I want to do this?

• Why do I want this item?

The more I engage in these kinds

of discussions with my kids, the

more likely they’ll consider these

questions on their own when faced

with decisions.

Engaging in a faith

community

Every Sunday, my family is well

prepared for the morning church

service. We have bags packed with

snacks, and coloring and origami

books to help keep little hands

busy. My children use these activities

whether we listen online during

church-building closures or in a

church pew. Being part of a faith

community that allows them this

freedom is important in helping my

kids engage with people from all

walks of life. As these people share

their testimonies and unique journeys

with God, my children have the

opportunity to keep their perspective

on what is eternal.

Praising God through song with

others helps my children remember

who God says we are. Their identity

is more foundational than what they

achieve or acquire. In worship, we

remember how we all find our deepest

identity in being God’s children.

My husband and I also remind

our older boys to stand and sing

and recite the Lord’s Prayer with

everyone. It might be easier to let

them quietly do their activities, but

we want to show them how to be

participants, not simply consumers—

even at church. We want them to

know that faith is active, not passive.

Parenting discipleship

Spending time with our kids is a

powerful way to shape and disciple

them (Deuteronomy 6:7). So my

husband and I use dinner, family

walks and bedtime as touch points.

Dinner is a time for us to encourage

spiritual formation. The table is

the place where we bring our day’s

highs and lows, and have emotional

temperature check-ins. It allows us to

process feelings and failures in light

of who Jesus says we are. One child

will talk about feeling bored and sad,

another will be quiet and not have


GRATITUDE / KIDS & TEENS

LISTEN NOW!

Ashley Hales identifies the idols of

suburbia and describes how we can

ensure that God is our top priority,

along with His mission of sharing

the Gospel with our neighbors.

ong>Focusong>OnTheFamily.com/TooMuch

ong>Focusong>OnTheFamily.ca/Radio

words for his feelings, and another

will be grateful for her vegetable

seeds sprouting in our planter.

After dinner, we take a stroll

through our neighborhood. This is a

relaxed time in which we can learn

more about our children’s lives. We

might ask questions such as “What

made you frustrated today?” “Where

did you see God’s beauty?” or “What

have you been reading in your Bible

lately?” They also listen to us talk

about what God is doing in our lives,

what we’re dreaming about and what

challenges we’re facing.

Walking helps us really see our

neighborhood, too. We can notice

where people hang out and what

our neighbors’ needs are so we can

look for ways to serve those who live

near us.

At our children’s bedtime, my

husband and I often take the opportunity

to instill in our children a

desire to seek God on their own. We

challenge them to grow closer to

God through daily prayers, Bible

reading and age-appropriate devotions.

Then they can tell us what

they’ve learned each night.

Practicing hospitality

Affluence can pull our kids toward

becoming so self-absorbed that they

neglect to consider how they can

meet other people’s needs, which

is an important part of loving our

neighbor (Matthew 22:39). For

my family, the dinner table is our

primary way to love our neighbors.

Jesus not only walked everywhere—teaching,

preaching and

healing—but He also spent a lot of

time sharing a meal with others.

When we host guests in our home,

we intentionally include our children

in the preparations. Their

chores may include cleaning, cooking

and even being social. These

hospitable contributions require the

sacrifice of time and go against the

grain of an acquire-more-and-thinkonly-of-your-needs

culture.

Hospitality is about giving up

some of our comforts and conveniences

to make someone else feel

welcomed and cared for. We are

teaching our kids how to sit and chat

with a new family from church or a

neighbor stopping by for a visit.

While we’re gathered around the

table, we’re able to naturally share

the Good News of Jesus as a part

of being in relationship with people.

This practice helps our kids

understand the ebb and flow of conversation,

what it takes to develop

relationships and even how to have

empathy for others as they tell us

about their lives. When we practice

hospitality, we show our kids that

relationships are important.

When a new family moved in

across the street last summer, I

was pleased to see that our kids

were the first to extend hospitality.

They included the new child in

their skateboarding adventures

and invited him to play tag and

climb trees.

And when they said, “Hey, Mom,

our new neighbors are outside,” I

put down the dishes I was washing,

followed my kids’ lead and made

my way outside to get to know them.

Because of these actions, I was able

to develop a bond with our neighbors

as we smiled at our children’s

antics and began the process of getting

to know each other.

Finding your family’s focus

Life is found not in the doing or having

but in the being—with Jesus,

with each other at church, as a family

and with neighbors. Even as we

practice living faithfully in a land

of plenty, the Spirit of God is going

to show up and teach our kids better

than we ever could. But it starts

with preparing them for not getting

all they want at a fast-food restaurant

and then not getting angry at

them for their reaction. Instead, it

becomes another teaching moment

in family discipleship.

The Bible is clear that our deepest

identity is as beloved children of

God (John 1:12). And that is more

than enough. True riches will only

come to our kids if they know who

they are in Christ and respond to

what He wants them to do in the

lives of others. •

ashley hales is the author of Finding Holy in

the Suburbs: Living faithfully in the land of too

much.

February / March 2021 FOCUS ON THE FAMILY 39


KIDS & TEENS / INTENTIONALITY

Lisa harper and her

daughter, Missy

understanding when

kids need to talk

Take the time to help your children

process worry, grief and loss

BY LISA HARPER

AMY CONNER PHOTOGRAPHY

40

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY

February / March 2021


INTENTIONALITY / KIDS & TEENS

WHEN I WAS 10, my dad remarried and moved

us out of the city to begin his dream of becoming a

rancher. As his new ranch hand, I loved helping him

with the work and caring for our farm animals.

One summer, one of our cows died before weaning

her calf. I was thrilled to bottle-feed the orphaned

farm animal, and I spent every moment I could tending

to the black calf I’d named Inky. He followed me

around like an oversized puppy. He slept outside the

house, curled up with the dogs who’d accepted him

into their circle.

When Dad said it was time to assimilate Inky into

the herd, I cried, insisting that he didn’t know how to

be a cow anymore. He’d become part of our family. But

Dad gently persisted, saying we had to do what was

best for Inky.

One night, a pack of wild dogs attacked our herd. The

next morning, Dad delivered the news that Inky had

been killed. I was devastated.

While I was still grieving, my stepmother announced

in an irritated huff that she was so sick of hearing

me carry on over a “stupid cow.” I was 11, and it was

the first time I recognized a stark truth about life and

death: Grief is an isolating emotion. Despair puts

uneasy distance between the heartbroken and the

observers—especially when the heartbroken are children

and the observers are parents.

A listening presence

Because the pandemic hit everyone’s world with such

loss and upheaval, I’ve become more intentional about

combating the isolation and grief in my 11-year-old

daughter’s life. Often that means I’m just there to listen.

I’ve aimed to create regular time and space for my

daughter to talk about her concerns. Like many children,

Missy rarely offers up her deepest thoughts and feelings,

so this often takes creative coaxing. I usually get the

conversation going by asking questions I’ve adapted

from a prayer modeled by Ignatius, a bishop of the first

century church in Antioch.

LISTEN NOW!

God used the Book of Job to teach Lisa Harper how to

find joy in the middle of challenging circumstances.

ong>Focusong>OnTheFamily.com/Harper

ong>Focusong>OnTheFamily.ca/Radio

1. When did your heart feel God

the most today?

2. What would you like to thank

God for today?

3. What are your “roses” (happy

moments/highlights) from

today?

4. What are your “thorns” (sad,

scary or difficult moments)

from today?

5. How do you need God to help

you tomorrow?

These conversations are always the highlight of

my day. Sometimes Missy is chatty, and other times

she doesn’t have much to share. But it’s during these

times that I often discover where the shadows of fear

are—those shadows that lurk in the corners of my

daughter’s heart.

She’s worried about getting extremely sick again,

as she was as a young girl in Haiti, and so she has

requested to sleep in my room because I’m able

to detect a fever before it gets too high. She’s worried

about our finances, since my work as a traveling

Bible teacher has been reduced during the pandemic,

and so she tells me she doesn’t need birthday presents

this year. She sees the news and is worried that

armed protesters might come to burn our house

down or kill her dogs. She’s worried that her beloved

Aunt Fifi will die before we can return to Haiti to visit

her. (Aunt Fifi is the saint of a woman who cared for

Missy after her first mama died of AIDS, which left

Missy infected with HIV and caused her to be stigmatized

in their rural village.) >>>

February / March 2021 FOCUS ON THE FAMILY 41


KIDS & TEENS / INTENTIONALITY

My daughter spent the first four

years of her life battling deadly

illnesses, food scarcity and the

soul-crushing environment of an

impoverished orphanage. But the

pandemic and societal unrest seem

to have shaken her foundation

more. Or they have highlighted

cracks that were already there,

according to my counselor friends.

Whatever the case, I’m determined

to give my daughter the

time, space, support and listening

ear she needs to process her concerns,

because keeping them secret

only gives them room to grow and

increases their potential to damage

her innocent mind.

The reality of grief

A child may be grieving over something

that seems inconsequential to

an adult, but the emotions are still

powerful for the child. I’ll never forget

what a dear friend’s 13-year-old

son said to her after a breakup when

she tried gently explaining that his

brief relationship with his middle

school girlfriend was just “puppy

love.” He was quiet and respectful

throughout her monologue, but

when she finished, his eyes welled

up with tears. “Well, Mom, it sure

feels real to this puppy,” he said.

When my stepmother callously

referred to Inky as a “stupid cow,”

she was technically correct. Bovine

creatures don’t have nearly as high of

an intellectual capacity as humans.

However, she had an inability to recognize

that I had a real bond with that

calf, and therefore my grief was real.

We’d be hard-pressed to find anyone

else in human history who

walked the narrow aisles of pain, feeling

more alone than Job did. Before

the prologue of his story is even finished,

he’s lost almost everyone who

really mattered to him—except for

a few so-called friends and his wife,

who was more salt-for-his-wounds

than a comfort.

Unfortunately, much like my stepmother,

after a week of listening to

Job, these friends reached the end

of their empathy rope and revealed

their distaste for his honest despair.

The spirit of what they preached was

off because they were insensitive to

Job’s very real, very personal relationship

with God.

I don’t want to be like Job’s friends

as I raise my daughter to manage the

grief and turmoil this world dishes

out. Now’s the time for us to be especially

sensitive to our children. To

sit on the proverbial ash heaps of

what they’ve lost—school schedules,

sports, playdates, relationships with

grandparents—and truly listen while

they lament. Both our presence and

empathy are surely two of the most

powerful gifts we can offer. •

Lisa harper holds a Master of Theological

Studies degree from covenant Theological

Seminary in St. Louis. She’s authored a dozen

books including Life and Job Bible Study

Book: A story of unlikely joy.

If your children are having difficulty coping with grief, we can help. Contact

If your children are having difficulty coping with grief, we can help. Contact

ong>Focusong> on the Family Canada for prayer and counselling support, as well as

ong>Focusong> on the Family Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain

resource recommendations, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

time) at 855-771-HELP or help@ong>Focusong>OnTheFamily.com.

(Pacific time) at 1-800-661-9800 or email help@fotf.ca.

42

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY

February / March 2021


ADAPTABILITY / KIDS & TEENS

Do your kids feel the

pressure to please you?

BY JEANNIE CUNNION

RANTA IMAGES / STOCK.ADOBE.COM

I RECENTLY OVERHEARD TWO MOTHERS

lamenting about the pressure their children had recently been

under during the college application process. One woman said,

“I’m so glad my daughter got into the college of my . . . oops, I

mean, her choice.”

They both giggled, and my heart broke for the pressure I

imagined this teen must have felt. But then God invited me to

look at what undue pressure my own children might be feeling

because of me. Ouch.

Most teenagers report high stress levels. One reason is that

our children are linking accomplishments to acceptance, success

to significance. Through their performance on the field, at

school and in their social lives, they’re asking, Am I enough?

They want to know if they’re living up to the expectations of

their parents and of God.

Unfortunately, they believe they have to excel at everything,

which leaves them terrified to reveal their inadequacies and

insecurities. Instead, they hide behind the best version of themselves—often

a fake, polished social-media version.

As one youth worker (and mother) shared with me, teens

today believe their behavior makes them more or less lovable to

their parents. Kids then link their good and bad behavior to how

God feels about them. Her youth group, she explained, is full of

kids who never feel “good enough,” and they feel anxious as a

result.

In response to these patterns, parents of anxious teens often

feel helpless, questioning their own parenting decisions. Their

confidence suffers as they try to help their kids navigate the battles

they have to fight, the mountains they have to climb. Have

I done too much? Have I not done enough? Am I helping or hurting

my child?

How can parents help their teens cope with a pressure-filled

world without being a source of undue pressure themselves?

Here are a few ideas to consider as you work to release your

February / March 2021 FOCUS ON THE FAMILY 43


KIDS & TEENS / ADAPTABILITY

LISTEN NOW!

Jeannie Cunnion talks about what

it means to be a grace-based mom.

ong>Focusong>OnTheFamily.ca/Radio

ong>Focusong>OnTheFamily.com/

GraceBasedMom

children from unnecessary

pressures:

Set an example. If we want to

raise kids who find freedom from

the pressure to get it all right in

order to be loved, we must first find

freedom from that pressure to get

it all right as parents. We must seek

God’s wisdom and direction, choosing

to trust Him with the children

He has entrusted to us.

While we play a major role in our

teens’ lives, God is the Good Father.

We are significant, but God is sovereign.

It’s only in embracing this

truth that we are freed up as parents

to help our kids embrace the Good

News for themselves.

Spend time on other things.

Enjoy quality time with your children

in a way that doesn’t focus on

performance. Go out for ice cream.

Explore nature. Take a road trip.

Leave space for relationship with

your teens where they have nothing

to do but be themselves. We want

our kids to feel what we ourselves

long to feel: safe to take off their

masks and let down their guard.

Celebrate your unique teen. Be

better at noticing things. Praise

your teen for her unique personality

and character qualities, such

as kindness, thoughtfulness or a

sense of humor. Our teens long for

acceptance and unconditional love.

Noticing who God has designed

your teen to be—and making an

intentional and ongoing effort to

tell her—imparts value and security.

Make time for rest. We live in a

fast-paced society where activities

can easily fill in any margin we have

as a family. This causes stress that

teens aren’t wired to absorb. The

Bible talks a lot about rest as a gift

from God (Matthew 11:28). Honor

this need by making downtime a

priority. This may mean skipping

out on a sport or activity or scheduling

some dedicated rest time each

week. Taking a break allows our

teens to see they have value apart

from work and performance.

Escape! When the internal and

external voices whisper, You don’t

measure up, we want our children

to know deep in their souls that the

only One who gets to define them

is the One who created them and

calls them beloved. Freedom springs

from this truth. In God’s eyes, we

are valuable because of what He has

done for us in the person and work

of Jesus Christ.

Embracing that truth won’t

always help our kids manage

anxious times. But it is the only

foundation capable of supporting a

life of freedom from the exhausting

quest to prove value through performance.

The good news our kids

need to hear is that whether they

fail or succeed, obey or rebel, work

or rest, God has given them everything

they need to be “enough” in

Him through Jesus. •

Jeannie cunnion is the author of Parenting the

Wholehearted Child and Mom Set Free. She is

also a frequent speaker at women’s conferences

and parenting events around the country.

RANTA IMAGES / STOCK.ADOBE.COM

44

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY

February / March 2021


HUMOR / KIDS & TEENS

I got played by

a 3-year-old

. . . and he was brilliant

BY VICKI BAHR

MEGANBETTERIDGE / STOCK.ADOBE.COM

I WAS WATCHING our 3-yearold

grandson, Adler, while his mom

and dad were working on “his” new

house. Surrounding us were moving

boxes and stacks of clothing.

Adler showed me a plastic grocery

bag filled with an unlikely assortment

of dinosaurs, an octopus, a

squid, something that looked like

Godzilla and a random ocelot.

We lined up the creatures on the

coffee table, marched them over

mountains made of T-shirts, pretended

they were drinking at a lake

made out of a paper plate and held

pretend wrestling matches to see

which one was the strongest.

Godzilla won.

The conflict

When we were done, Adler was ready

to play restaurant.

“Let’s pick up the dinosaurs first,” I

suggested. “We’re going to need the

table for your restaurant food.”

“No, we won’t,” he argued, ready to

move on to the next adventure.

“The dinosaurs need to go back

into their bag for the night,” I said.

“I heard that Miss Ashley said you are

the best picker-upper at school. And

the fastest.”

There was a glint in his eye. “I am,”

he said as he ran into the kitchen.

“But the dinosaurs don’t have a bag

anymore. It’s in the trash can now,

and it’s all icky.”

Game on

I’ve raised four children, taught

preschoolers and outwitted more

toddlers than I can count.

“That’s OK,” I said. “I have a better

bag in my purse. How about I pick

up the ocelot, and you pick up the

squid? Isn’t there a song you sing to

help with toy pickup?”

That got his attention! “Two minutes

to pick up toys, pick up toys,

pick up toys. One minute to pick

up toys . . .” we sang loudly, but all

of a sudden the song turned into

a rousing rendition of “The ants

go marching one by one,” and he

marched back and forth over the

many dinosaurs still on the floor.

The twist

“That was great!” I said. “Let’s put the

dinosaurs to bed now.”

“But they need a bedtime story,” he

said. Of course they did. And they

got one. Goodnight Moon.

“Now they’re ready to go to sleep,

Grandma, but they need a goodnight

kiss,” he said. “I’ll cook you a

pizza just the way you like it at my

restaurant while you put them to

bed.”

The kid is good; I’ll give him that.

He even told his mom the next

morning that I did a really good job

of picking up the dinosaurs, and he

was really proud of me. •

Vicki bahr loves to play with words. her

husband, four children and their spouses,

and nine grandchildren consistently provide

inspiration to make those words come to life.

February / March 2021 FOCUS ON THE FAMILY 45


FaMIly / MY THRIVING FAMILY

Indoor

Forts

Rory, 3, Hattie, 7 months, and

Fletcher (hidden ninja), 5

creative fort building with baby gates, a twoby-four,

sheet and pull string camping lights.

—Carlee from Colorado

Sophia, 13, Sadie, 6, and Scotlyn 8

you can’t keep these sisters boxed in

unless it’s a box fort!

—Rebecca from North Carolina

Alyssa, 7, and Wyatt, 10

a homemade behind-the-couch fort wellsupplied

with books, snacks and pillows!

—Autumn from Texas

Your kids could be in ong>Focusong> on

the Family magazine!

email photos* of your child’s silly outfits or playing in the snow.

(Put “silly outfits” or “snow fun” in the subject line.)

Send to ong>Focusong>Magazine@family.org.

info@fotf.ca.

* Largest photo possible—professional photos not accepted

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February / March 2021


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