Category archives: Family

From Zero to Zelie: Our Adoption Journey and What We’ve Learned

by Daniel and Bethany Meola

November 10, 2017

November is National Adoption Month. To recognize this important issue, we are publishing personal adoption testimonies this month.

Adoption is very near and dear to our hearts. After six years of marriage, and many prayers for a child, earlier this year we welcomed our daughter Zelie-Louise Layla Rose into our family through adoption. This experience has been a profound journey of faith for us—a pilgrimage—and God has taught us so much through it, and through the people we’ve encountered along the way.

Our adoption story, in a nutshell: we were married in 2011, experienced the heartache of infertility, and in 2015 discerned a call to adopt. Adoption is a calling; not every couple without children is called to pursue it, but all couples should discern it. We then completed our home study (the state’s approval process for pre-adoptive parents) for domestic, infant adoption and after a year and a half of actively waiting, we were chosen by our daughter’s birthparents in February 2017. Zelie was born on April 6, 2017, and we were blessed to be with her from her very first moments after birth. She is a beautiful, energetic, delightfully happy baby who brings immeasurable joy into our family!

Being so personally close to adoption, and being such a new adoptive family, there is both so much to say and at the same time no way to adequately capture all that adoption means to us. Nonetheless, here are a few things we have learned about adoption so far.

Adoption is…

…an act of heroism. And by that we are not talking first about adoptive parents like ourselves, but of birthparents. Selfless love means putting another’s needs ahead of your own desires, and that is exactly what birthparents do. It’s crucial to say that birthparents don’t “give up” a child for adoption, but rather “place” a child or “make an adoption plan.” The latter speak to the proactive love and generosity shown by birthparents in choosing a family for their child, despite the pain and heartache that it can mean for them. We will always teach Zelie that her birthparents are her heroes for their loving decision to place her in our family.

…a response to a loss. This truth is necessary to acknowledge, that adoption happens because there is some crisis or difficulty so grave that a child cannot be raised by his or her birthparents; this is undeniably a tragedy. In a perfect world, we’d have no need for adoption (nor would infertility exist), but in this actual world, adoption is a loving response to a difficult situation, and a powerful example of bringing hope and beauty out of very hard circumstances. It’s important for all involved in adoption to be mindful of the losses involved, especially as an adopted child grows and processes his or her feelings about it. Here, open adoption (some level of ongoing contact between the adoptive and birth families) can help answer a child’s questions, provide connection with his or her heritage, and offer an opportunity for the child to stay connected to the birthparents.

…a powerful act of hospitality. Borrowing from this beautiful piece by adoptive father Timothy O’Malley, adoption expresses great hospitality and welcome. There is a reason why Scripture speaks so often of us as God’s adopted children! “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son … so that we might receive adoption” (Galatians 4: 4-5). Zelie will always have her precious heritage from her birth family, including genetic connections, her looks, and so forth, and we will help her cherish that part of her identity. But when we adopted her, she became fully and truly a member of our family as well. She is forever our daughter. (Side note: this is why adoptive parents bristle when asked, “Do you have any of ‘your own’ children?”) As Timothy O’Malley explains, the hospitality of adoption is a message that speaks to the heart of all parenting: “Adoption reminds us that every act of parenting is a moment of hospitality, a moment that allows love to flourish anew in the world… a love that always comes as gift.”

…a challenging process. Adoption is not for the faint of heart! For potential adoptive parents, the process involves lots of paperwork and an examination of all areas of your life, at times feeling excessive or downright invasive; likely lots of waiting as you hope day after day for “the call”; and a deep vulnerability as you entrust your family’s growth to the Lord, mediated through the very earthly realities of agencies, lawyers, and prospective birthparents. Seen in the right way, trying to adopt is an incredible opportunity to grow as a couple in patience, humility, and trust. The delicacy of the adoption process, and the strong emotions involved, means that it’s also crucial to work with ethical adoption professionals who safeguard the rights and dignity of all those involved: adoptive parents, birthparents, and the child. For couples hoping to adopt, prayer is so important every step of the way.

…a miracle of love. The sacrifices given do not compare to the great gift received—a blessed, unique child—who is a miracle of God’s love never before seen on this earth! When we received Zelie into our arms, you could say we went from “zero” to a fullness of love who smiles and dances around with the wonderful name of Zelie. We marvel at how such a tiny infant can not only draw love and laughter out of us, but also so wonderfully love us in return. Zelie is an unrepeatable miracle of love entrusted to us by her birthparents and by God. For this unfathomable responsibility, we will be forever grateful and we will love Zelie every day of her life.

Daniel Meola is a catechetical specialist at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C.; Bethany Meola is a stay-at-home mom who loves being with Zelie full-time. The couple lives in Bowie, Md. and blogs about their adoption at http://www.adoptionpilgrimage.blogspot.com

Following God’s Call to Adopt in Ethiopia

by Maggie Banga

November 7, 2017

November is National Adoption Month. To recognize this important issue, we are publishing personal adoption testimonies this month.

Shortly after we were married, my husband and I felt that God was calling us to live out our married life as missionaries. We joined the Comboni Missionaries, and after a one year period of formation we were ready to go to mission. A small village mission in Guatemala was chosen as the best match for our skill set and we began to study Spanish. However, two weeks before the planned departure our mission was changed. We would no longer be going to Central America but instead, to our great surprise, to Africa.

We went with a commitment to serve as missionaries for three years wherever we were sent. If someone had told us that we would be serving in Ethiopia for more than six years and that when we did return our family would be majority Ethiopian, we wouldn’t have believed it! We had never thought of nor planned to adopt.

In February 2010, my husband and I arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The sounds, the smells, the sights—everything that was so new and strange slowly became familiar. The community that was once foreign and unfamiliar became our home. We had the desire to share our love more deeply and to welcome a child into our family. We wanted to adopt a baby from Ethiopia. Living in Ethiopia, the process was slightly different though not less complicated than in the U.S. We began working on the paperwork.

We met with the Missionaries of Charity and expressed our interest in adopting a child. On April 30, 2012 (the feast day of Our Lady of Africa), they matched us with a six-month-old baby girl from Northern Ethiopia with intense eyes and big dimples. Her name was Emebet, which in Amharic (a language commonly spoken in Ethiopia) means “honored woman” or “special lady.” I immediately relocated from the south where we were living to the capital to visit with her each day.

During the five week period of waiting to become her legal parents, we felt she might be taken from us before she became our adopted daughter as we saw her battle meningitis and then shortly afterwards measles. It was during this difficult time that my husband felt for the first time like her dad. Visiting her in the afternoon, he found her sick with measles, which is such a contagious disease that she had to be temporarily placed in an isolated part of the orphanage. She was face down and crying desperately in her crib in fear, pain, and loneliness, her body covered in a rash and her nose running from the illness and the tears. He scooped her up into his arms, laid her head on his shoulder, and sang softly, rocking her back and forth. She grew quiet and settled. A couple minutes later she lifted her head and pushed herself back to gaze into his face—who was this who was holding her? He smiled at her and whispered confidently, “I’m your dad and will hold you now forever.”

We continued to open the plan of our family to God’s love. Many changes related to orphan care and adoption were taking place within the country, and it was a very challenging process, but two years later to our amazement we welcomed two more children into our home—Isayas, a 14-month-old active and happy boy, and Teibe, an eight-month-old affectionate and snuggly girl. Isayas’s name is the Amharic version of the prophet Isaiah, meaning “God is salvation.” Teibe’s name comes from Therese Bethlehem—her first name is in honor of St. Teresa of Kolkata (Mother Teresa) and her middle name reminds us of the joy and hope that was sparked there with the birth of Jesus.

We returned to North America last year, after more than six years in service. Our youngest is now four years old! This week we will be blessed with the visit of a Norwegian family that also adopted a boy and a girl from the same orphanage at the same time that we did. We supported each other through the process and waiting period and our kids were friends with cribs next to each other.

We see each of our children as a miracle. We delight in them and in the relationship of the three of them together. They bring joy to us as parents and to our bigger family, their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

It has been amazing to help them to understand our family and how they came to be part of it. We brewed delicious Ethiopian coffee on a recent Sunday morning and it gave our family an occasion to share, rejoice, and ask questions. The coffee was grown in the region where our youngest child Teibe was born. “Where was I born and what do they grow there?” the other two wanted to know. This was a small piece to an ongoing dialogue our family will have about adoption and God’s love and plans for each of us.

We can’t imagine our family without our three kids.

Ask God about his plan for your family. Could you welcome another child into your home?

Maggie Banga and her husband are Comboni Lay Missionaries. They live with their three adopted children in Hyattsville, Md.

Foster Parenting and Adoption: Answering God’s Call to Love

by Kathy Athearn

October 31, 2017

November is National Adoption Month. To recognize this important issue, we will be publishing personal adoption testimonies over the next four weeks.

Did you know that there are thousands of children and youth in foster care who are waiting for permanent, loving families? For most of us, we can’t imagine what life would be like if we hadn’t grown up with the love, protection, and guidance of our families. God created us to be in a family. 

So how can we, as a church and as caring communities, help children that are waiting for families? We can open our hearts and minds to what the Lord wants us to do. Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves includes helping orphans. Consider fostering children to show them God’s love. You can also consider being a family that provides respite care for foster families. In addition, you can provide clothing and toys to foster families or meals during their times of transition. Finally, providing words of encouragement and praying for foster families is extremely helpful.

To help you picture what fostering a child is like, I would like to share my family’s personal experience. My husband Mike and I have been licensed for foster care since the summer of 2013. We are currently waiting to receive a call to foster a girl between the ages of five and seven. However, this will not be our first foster child. Our first foster care experience began four years ago.

There is an eight-month-old girl who needs a placement today. Are you interested?” Not much more information was given to me on July 12, 2013. My heart and mind were racing. I was excited to talk to my husband, Mike, but I wasn’t able to get ahold of him at work.  (We had been licensed to foster a child between newborn and five years of age.) The social worker needed an answer as soon as possible. So I called her back, telling her I knew that Mike would say “yes.” Shortly afterwards, I got ahold of Mike and we met each other at the agency’s transition home where the social worker and baby girl were waiting for us. 

When I saw little Nazarene sleeping so peacefully, it was hard for me to imagine her circumstances being so bad that she had to be removed from her mother’s custody during the night. She was sleeping so soundly that I questioned waking her, but I wanted to comfort her. So I picked her up and held her tight. She was beautiful and innocent. This was the beginning of our family’s relationship with Nazarene and a long road of unknowns. 

Foster parenting requires flexibility and patience. If we didn’t believe that our Heavenly Father is sovereign and in control, it would have been much more difficult. 1 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” We had to trust God’s plan as we took Nazarene to visit her mom on a weekly basis for two years, and wonder if she would go back to her mom who was dealing with severe mental and family problems, or if we would eventually be able to adopt her.

Finally, in January 2016 our family adopted little Nazarene. We gave her a new middle name, “Faith.” The love that Mike, Joy (age 12), Lydia (age 10), our extended family, and I have for Nazarene is indescribable. We love her profoundly and pray that she will one day know how much her Heavenly Father loves her—sending his Son to die for her.

In addition, thankfully, we have a good relationship with Nazarene’s birth mom—e-mailing her pictures of our little girl and meeting her twice a year. Our prayer is that she, too, will realize how much God loves her. 

If you feel God opening your heart and your home to a foster child, please contact a local agency that can answer your questions and provide you with additional information. Here are some links to help get you started:

[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8a)

Kathy Athearn is Correspondence Writer at Family Research Council.

10 Things Every New Father Should Know

by Daniel Hart

June 16, 2017

On Christmas Eve of last year, my son was born. As someone who is slow to react to big, life-changing events, the birth of my son left me mostly stunned and awestruck. For weeks afterward (more like months, if I’m honest), I would often have to remind myself that this tiny new human being was actually my son. Even though I had accompanied my amazing wife through the entire journey of our baby’s birth, it sometimes felt like he had suddenly appeared in our home out of the blue, as if a stork had flown into our backyard one day, deposited him in the grass, and flew away with a smirk.

There were times when I felt a bit intimidated by him. That may sound odd to be scared of a newborn, but occasionally it seemed as if he stared right through me, deeming me an unworthy father. This made me worry that he might not like me, that he might not smile or giggle at my attempts to entertain him, that he might cry at my attempts to soothe him, that he might wriggle away from my touch.

Well, guess what? My worries have proven to be unfounded. In honor of Father’s Day this Sunday, I present the top 10 things I’ve learned about fatherhood since the birth of my firstborn son six months ago.

1. Fatherhood begins before the child is born.

Even when your baby is still in utero, he can still hear and feel your presence as a father. The amazing extent to which unborn babies are able to do this is continuing to be discovered by science. Just as he knows his mother’s voice and can recognize other sounds that he hears repeatedly, so too will he recognize his father’s voice if it is a consistent vocal presence. Praying with, talking, reading, and singing to your unborn child is not only a great way for fathers to feel more involved in their wives’ pregnancies, but this will also help the father bond with and grow in affection for his offspring as he feels the baby kick and squirm in response. I’ll never forget the time that I played a song on guitar and sang directly into my wife’s belly—my unborn son began kicking non-stop with such energy that my wife and I could only gape at each other in amazement.

The more that fathers feel the kicks and the hiccups, the more affection they will begin to feel for their child. There will also be plenty of opportunities to attend periodic ultrasound checkups—be sure to attend as many as possible, as there’s nothing quite like seeing the amazing silhouette and unique movements of your child to begin the bonding process.

2. Feeling a bit distant from your newborn is normal.

It’s no secret that the bond between a mother and her newborn is incomparably powerful. The fact that the mother physically gestated her child for nine months and is her baby’s only source of food makes the relationship beautifully symbiotic. The reality for a new father is that for nine months, he has literally been at a physical distance, and for the first few months after birth, he most likely won’t be able to hold the child as much as his wife because of nursing demands.

So if new fathers find themselves feeling a lack of intimacy with their newborns as a result, it’s important to remember that this is perfectly normal and okay. Just like with any relationship, the love fathers have for their children will deepen as they get to know them better.

This will play out in practical ways. In time, I learned that my son prefers to be bounced to sleep instead of rocked or swayed. He is absolutely transfixed and delighted by the sight of my wife and I washing dishes and eating. He loves to stand (with our support) in high positions and turn his head from side to side to observe all that is below him. He loves to rub my beard as I carry him around, even as he is falling asleep in my arms. He prefers to ride (and sleep) in the bumpy cheap stroller that is falling apart rather than the nice jogging stroller. As fathers learn the unique quirks and mannerisms that every child develops, his love will in turn grow and deepen inextricably. 

3. Blaze your own trail to get to know your child.

Every child is unique, and in the same way, there is no one right way to dive in to fatherhood. The important thing is to just dive in. Be okay with your child screaming in your arms, because that’s how you learn to soothe him. Be okay with your baby peeing on you as you attempt to change his diaper, because that’s how you learn the best changing procedure.

Let your own creativity be your guide. Make up a special song for your baby that he will get used to so you can lull him to sleep with it and sing it while you horse around with him during play time. Don’t be afraid to be goofy, dorky, and cheesy with your kid. The ability to be a goof with your child in front of anyone is a great sign that you are getting comfortable in your own skin as a dad. It will also give you bonus points with your wife when you can give her a break by rocking your child to sleep yourself or successfully keep your child calm in the baby carrier.

4. Lean in to the suffering.

Yes, there will be times as a new father when you will feel miserable, tired, frustrated, maybe a bit angry, or experience other unpleasant feelings. It will be when your back is aching from a solid 35 straight minutes of trying to get your baby to sleep, or from changing a diaper at 4 a.m., followed by an hour of inconsolability, knowing that you have to get up for work in an hour.

Instead of just stomaching these hardships until they’re over, lean in to these moments when you know you are suffering, and turn it into a prayer offering and sacrifice. Empathize with your baby’s screams instead of letting your frustration level rise, and offer up a word of praise and pleading to the Lord. Babies have an uncanny ability to sense when you are getting stressed, and their stress level will usually rise in conjunction with yours. Your calmness and humble acceptance of the situation will generally pay off. If it doesn’t, and your wife has to save the day, it’s important not to feel discouraged because you know you gave it your best.

5. The more you give, the more you will receive.

The nature of fatherhood is to sacrifice one’s self for one’s child. This may make fatherhood sound like a dreary slog, but my experience has been very much the opposite. Giving of yourself can take a multitude of forms, both large and small.

One (seemingly) small way that fathers give is simply by interacting with their babies as much as possible. Make eye contact and be as facially expressive as you can be—your child will imitate you and respond accordingly. Just as your baby has a symbiotic relationship with its mother through nursing, you as a father can have a symbiotic relationship with your child through interaction. Since your baby has its own unique personality and you have yours, the interaction you receive from your child will literally change your brain chemistry, and vice versa. This mutual gift of self is a beautiful image of the Holy Trinity—the Father gives all that He is and has to the Son, who gives Himself back completely to the Father, resulting in the fruit and bond of their shared love—the Holy Spirt.

6. Kiss your wife in front of your baby.

Don’t be shy about showing physical affection in front of your wide-eyed baby. Children thrive on seeing a physical reminder of the union of their parents and the love they share. This display of unity can take many other forms besides showing PDA. Sharing meals together as a family, with your baby seated between you and your wife or in one of your laps, is another great way to show your child that you cherish your family unit. When a child sees the physical union present between his parents, he will feel whole and secure, because he is the physical incarnation of the union of you and your wife.

7. Your role in your child’s sense of self is vital.

As we’ve discussed, the first month or two of a baby’s life is mostly characterized by the intense bond that the mother and child share through the symbiosis of gestation and nursing. It goes without saying that this is vital to the health and well-being of mother and child, but equally vital is the father’s role in helping to nurture the baby’s independence apart from the mother. When you physically separate your baby from your wife by taking him outside the house for a walk, engaging in rough & tumble play in a separate room, coaxing him to say “dada,” giving him his first bits of grilled hamburger, or presenting him to family, friends, and your church community, you are helping your baby become a distinct entity apart from mom, which aids in the development of his own unique identity and sense of self.

8. Don’t sweat it when you fail.

There will be times when you will feel like a failure as a new father. For me, I have felt most like a failure (and still do) when I spend what feels like hours trying to coax my son to sleep, but to no avail. After a dozen different methods of cradling, patting, singing, bouncing, rocking, murmuring, and massaging have failed, unexpectedly strong feelings of anger and frustration will sometimes bubble up inside me, and after my wife takes over and I walk out of the bedroom still smarting from such a chastening experience, I sometimes fume inwardly that my own child, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, was not comforted by his father’s best efforts. These are the times when it’s important to remember that babies are constantly growing and changing from one day to the next. The rough patches that every baby goes through are just stages in an amazingly fast developmental process. So don’t sweat it, and be patient—your baby will soon outgrow whatever exasperating behavior you failed to overcome.

9. You image God the Father to your child.

I say this at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, but it’s true. As touched on previously, fathers have in their nature a unique way of introducing their child to the wider world beyond the home, while at the same time showing the child unconditional love. A child needs to have total and complete trust in his father and feel absolutely secure, just as we are all called to trust completely in Abba (“daddy”), our Heavenly Father. Fathers carry their babies to new environments and introduce, teach, and show their babies new sights, sounds, and smells in the backyard or in the neighborhood, just as God the Father did with Adam in the Garden of Eden. They help their babies develop new motor skills and strengthen their muscles by flying them through the air and letting them stand on their own two legs for as long as possible, just as God the Father challenges us to spiritually grow and mature.

Parents are the images of God to their children. The baby’s first experience of God is through the love shown to him by his parents. Therefore, God the Father is revealed to a child through their father in a way that is totally distinct and unique from their mother.

10. Take this advice with a grain of salt.

As you will find out, when it comes to parenthood, everyone on God’s green earth has an opinion about how to do it best, this blog post notwithstanding. It can all be a bit overwhelming. So, with that said, take my words of wisdom one last time: when there’s an opportunity for a nap, take it, and when there’s an opportunity for a beer, drink it. Happy Father’s Day!

We’re Better Together

by Daniel Hart

June 7, 2017

In a recent column for The Daily Signal, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) makes a striking observation about the current unease that has infused our society:

…[M]any Americans—poor, middle class, and wealthy—feel that something is amiss. It is a feeling that cannot be reduced to economic anxiety. Rather, there is a sense that our social fabric is fraying.

And these concerns are reflected in objective measures of family and community health.

To cite just a few of the trends that may be grouped under the rubric of “social capital”: marriage and churchgoing have declined, distrust of the nation’s institutions has grown, mixed-income neighborhoods have become rarer, regional polarization has increased, and young men who are neither working nor looking for work have become more numerous and more isolated.

We do less together than in the past, and we are worse off for it, economically and otherwise…

We do less together than in the past…” This insight hits on a deep need that all human beings share: a sense of belonging. We all have the innate desire to be needed and to belong in a community. To accomplish this, human beings need to be together. This seems painfully obvious, but as Mike Lee observed, our society has seen a decline in two of the primary institutions that foster “togetherness”: marriage and churchgoing.

The benefits of marriage to individuals and to society as a whole are incalculable, but let’s focus on the particular power of marriage to bring people together. When a man and a woman marry, they are participating in something far beyond themselves. This is most apparent in the wedding celebration itself, which attracts family and friends from far and wide who gather in one place to rejoice in the mysterious union of two people. This union stretches far beyond the wedding day, however—from that day forward, two wholly separate families are now forever joined to each other “in law.” Marriage, therefore, brings people together in a truly unique and profound way, creating an “extended family” even beyond the newly minted immediate family.

While there are countless jokes that can be made about the drudgeries of “in-laws,” there is no disputing that marriage forges new familial bonds that last a lifetime, providing husbands and wives with both the trials and joys of having a larger family than they did before marriage. This in turn creates new networks of opportunity for “togetherness,” whether it be through expanded family reunions that yield new friendships and shared passions, or new job opportunities that are made possible through extended family businesses. In the same way, marriage creates a whole new network of friends and acquaintances for the bride and groom, who each essentially have the size of their social circle doubled.

The church provides the other great venue for bringing people together. Houses of worship will forever draw us to them because of the God-sized hole in our hearts—the innate desire to reach beyond ourselves and give thanks to our Creator for giving us the gift of life and every blessing in it, and for the ability to belong to a body of believers that gives us a particular identity as sons and daughters of Christ. Furthermore, churches provide avenues for ministering to one another in both practical and spiritual ways, whether it be hosting soup kitchens and clothing drives for the needy, hosting fundraisers for a family affected by tragedy, prison ministry, running youth groups and Bible studies, and on and on. In short, a church is a place where anyone can come and feel like they belong to a community and where they can find a helping hand when in need, either physically or spiritually.

The overarching point here is this: when we are brought together in genuine and deeply rooted ways, we find true fulfilment. Marriage and the church are the primary institutions of permanence in society that provide this union of persons. God, after all, is a union of Three Persons. When we are in communion with each other, we grow in virtue. Therefore, when we as a culture diminish and abandon these institutions, we deny our intrinsic human need to belong, and we miss out on the resulting opportunities to grow in virtue by ministering to our fellow man. So let us champion marriage and the church as the great forgers of “togetherness,” and therefore of human flourishing.

Even Liberal Feminists Can’t Resist Committed Love and Marriage

by Chris Gacek

June 5, 2017

Caitlin Flanagan is an insightful contributing editor and writer for The Atlantic.  She values the place of hearth and home in all our lives and defends housewifery while not being a social conservative in today’s parlance. For example, in 2006 she published a book, To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife.  Flanagan is a contrarian who draws the ire of many feminists and is clearly not considered part of the group. Even though she announced her inability to vote for Hillary Clinton because she believed the Bill Clinton rape victim stories, she is not a Republican.

Now, a hard-core feminist attorney and well-known writer, Jill Filipovic, has written a new book, The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness, and Flanagan has written a review of it in The Washington Post.

Apparently, Filipovic had hewed the standard feminist disdain for traditional male-female relationship dynamics. Flanagan gives her a little grief after revealing a big change in Filipovic’s life—she found a man: 

But reader: There’s a plot twist. It turns out that Jill Fil[i]povic — feminist, badass, rejecter of all that is conventional — is . . . engaged! “I had never been so immediately drawn to someone or felt myself so eager to talk to someone,” she tells us of her new love, and she embarked upon “a love affair unlike anything I had experienced.” It turns out that he has a big, important job in Africa, and — screw feminism! — she packed her bags and followed him. It’s bliss: “He is sometimes the only person I talk to in the course of a day” — and she loves it. “There is a long list of reasons I would marry him,” she confides chattily, queen bee at the Tri Delt pajama party. “As far as individual days go,” she hopes her wedding will be “one of the happiest.” She even starts firing off some of the most socially conservative facts this side of CPAC: “Women report higher levels of sexual satisfaction when they’re in monogamous relationships,” and couples “have more sex than their unmarried counterparts.” Whose side is she on, anyway?

Flanagan further observes, “The truth is that there is great value in what she is doing.” That is, risking one’s career path to follow and be with the person one loves, then “making a lifelong commitment to him or her, establishing a home together that protects you both from the buffeting and heartless forces of the marketplace—those are sustaining and nourishing choices.”

Flanagan concludes with this:

The author spent two years criss-crossing the country in search of the key to female happiness, but it turns out she was wearing the ruby slippers all along. It’s like Jim Dobson and Ted Cruz teamed up to write a movie. What are you gonna do? There’s no place like home.

I also recommend this review of Filipovic’s book at National Review by Alexandra DeSanctis. She summarizes the strengths and weaknesses in H-Spot this way: “What’s perhaps most interesting about the book is Filipovic’s ability to correctly identify issues that prey uniquely on modern women—single motherhood, sexual assault and domestic violence, eating disorders, the hyper-sexualization of advertisements and the resulting objectification of women—and yet to so completely miss the mark on the causes of and solutions to these ailments.”

At the end of the day, Flanagan provides, in her examination of Filipovic’s present life, that the modern Left’s feminist worldview doesn’t comport with male and female reality. It often presents a self-defeating ethic that seeks a lowest common denominator existence by spurning “patriarchal” institutions like marriage and family. Filipovich previously rejected the norms of marriage, but she seems to have her ideological predilections subverted, at least temporarily, by a nobler vision of life. She has stumbled into a deeper truth: that we human beings were created for deep and loving relationships. First in the union of male and female in marriage, and then in our eternal relationship with God.

Hungarian Megachurch a Model of Salt and Light in Europe

by Peter Sprigg

May 31, 2017

FRC’s Director of the Center for Religious Liberty Travis Weber and I attended several events of the Budapest Family Summit in the Hungarian capital last week, including the Budapest Demographic Forum, the 11th World Congress of Families, and a Family Festival. We have already reported here on the address given on the opening day by Hungary’s conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

However, another highlight of the trip for Travis and I was getting two opportunities to speak at Faith Church, a charismatic mega-church in Budapest which also assisted in organizing several events in connection with the Budapest Family Summit.

Faith Church was founded in 1979, when Hungary was still under Communist rule, by Sandor Nemeth, who remains its pastor to this day. He and his wife began a small Bible study, which has grown to the point that Faith Church is now the center of a network of other congregations in multiple countries.

The pastor and several of his associates visited Family Research Council on a trip to Washington several years ago. As a result of that contact, Travis and I reached out to the church to let them know that we would be in Budapest. Leaders at Faith Church invited us not only to visit the church, but to speak to a youth gathering on Friday night.

This “youth group” turned out to be an audience of at least four hundred young people, including many students at the college and seminary run by the church, known as St. Paul Academy. I addressed the group about my work on the issues of marriage, family, and human sexuality, and Travis spoke about his field of religious liberty. They then fielded questions from the audience—all while a translator translated their remarks line by line into Hungarian. The entire meeting lasted three hours.

Travis and I were then invited back on Saturday to speak again—this time to the church’s main weekly worship service, which regularly draws between eight and ten thousand attendees. In addition to us, three other Americans from the World Congress of Families were invited to address the church—Larry Jacobs, Managing Director of the WCF, long-time pro-family leader Janice Crouse, and Ted Baehr of Movieguide.

Faith Church also now operates a TV network, a radio station (for which Travis and I were also interviewed), and a news magazine. The church also maintains close ties with the nation of Israel and has worked against anti-Semitism. Faith Church is modeling in Hungary the kind of cultural impact that Christians can have when they serve as salt and light in their community.

Budapest Family Summit Explores Ways to Revitalize the Family

by Peter Sprigg

May 30, 2017

On Thursday, May 25th, pro-family leaders from around the world gathered in the capital of Hungary for what local organizers have dubbed the “Budapest Family Summit.” Day One of the event was the second “Budapest Demographic Forum”—a focus on the demographic issues of declining birth and fertility rates which are plaguing virtually all of the world’s developed countries, including Europe. Despite long-discredited theories about the dangers of over-population, the real crisis of the West is declining population—especially as other countries (including the Muslim world) continue to grow. The event continued Friday and Saturday with the latest World Congress of Families. Family Research Council is being represented by myself and Senior Fellow Travis Weber.

One unique aspect of the Budapest summit, in comparison with other World Congress of Families events, is that the Hungarian government itself is a principal sponsor. Katalin Novak, Hungary’s Minister of State for Family, Youth, and International Affairs, is the event’s chief organizer and host.

Furthermore, the highlight of Thursday’s kickoff session was an address by the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, who returned to Budapest from the NATO leaders summit in Brussels in time to address the Forum. Orban is the dynamic and sometimes controversial leader of Hungary’s governing center-right coalition (he was the subject of a major profile in Politico last year). In 2015, he closed Hungary’s southern border to a flood of illegal immigrants from the south. Orban is also unashamedly pro-family—when his coalition was large enough to amend the country’s constitution, one provision they added was to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

In his address to the Demographic Summit today, Orban did not hesitate to link the issues of immigration and family in the context of the “competition of civilizations.” He bluntly warned that Europe, with its declining population, is “old, rich, and weak,” while the growing countries around it are “young, poor, and strong”—making the likely direction of population flows obvious.

Yet while some people suggest that the West should welcome immigrants precisely as a solution to its population woes, Orban bluntly rejected that option, saying that the countries of Central Europe, including Hungary, prefer the “renewal of our own resources.”

Toward that end, he declared that 2018 will be “the Year of Families” in Hungary, and announced a goal of raising Hungary’s fertility rate (the average number of children borne by a woman in her lifetime) to 2.1 (considered the “replacement” level necessary to maintain a stable population) by 2030.

One notable characteristic at international gatherings like this is that in Europe, even conservative governments are more likely to see government intervention and incentives as a solution to family issues, while in the United States, most pro-family conservatives are also supporters of a free market and limited government, and therefore are more skeptical of government intervention. Orban, for example, proposed to write off student loans and offer subsidies for mortgage payments for families with three or more children. He also proposed building more child-care facilities for the benefit of working parents—although American pro-family activists generally prefer policies that might make it easier for parents to care for their own children at home.

It should be noted that several speakers made clear that the intention is not for government to dictate how many children people should have or to punish those who choose not to become parents. However, surveys regarding how many children people would like to have consistently show that the number is higher than the number they actually have. So the goal of pro-natal policy is not to make people have children they don’t want, but to clear away obstacles that may prevent them from having as many children as they do want.

In addition to Orban and several other government officials from Hungary and other European countries, speakers at the Forum included former FRC staffers like Pat Fagan of MARRI and Allan Carlson.

Stay tuned for further updates from Budapest.

Motherhood is Life-Giving

by Daniel Hart

May 11, 2017

Every May, our country is given the opportunity to reflect on and appreciate a tremendous blessing that God has bestowed on humankind: the gift of motherhood. Mother’s Day is this Sunday. It’s a day to celebrate and honor not just our own mothers, but the capacity that is present in all women to be life-giving, spiritual mothers.

Motherhood is indeed “life-giving” in two fundamental ways: in both a spiritual and physical sense.

First, the spiritual sense. We all have experiences of “mother figures” in our lives that illustrate why spiritual motherhood is so critical to human flourishing. Perhaps the foremost aspect of spiritual motherhood is that wonderfully mysterious and extraordinary power of empathy. This ability to deeply understand and journey with another person in a profoundly personal way is multifaceted, whether it be in shared rejoicing in our successes, offering true comfort when we are hurting, or challenging us to be more of who we are. Mother figures are the ones that make us feel comfortable in our own skin, and make the world feel like a more restful and cozy place. They are the ones that gaze at us in wonder and affirm us for who we are, reminding us of how good it is that we simply exist, which is a reflection of God’s unconditional love for us.

Mother figures are everywhere, enriching our lives in limitless yet often overlooked ways. They are the grandmotherly neighbor who lovingly coos at our newborn child on the sidewalk; the friendly station manager lady that greets each commuter with a personal and genuine smile; the female friend who knowingly listens to our relationship woes with real pathos; the lady across the street who bakes a fresh batch of chocolate-chip cookies to make us feel welcome in our new neighborhood. Without this kind of spiritual motherhood permeating everyday life, society would disintegrate into savagery.

Physical motherhood is life-giving in a more obvious sense, but no less mysterious. Anyone who has witnessed the birth of a child cannot help but be in awe of the magnitude of the moment and its hint of the eternal; a brand new human life, once hidden and silent behind a veil of skin, suddenly there in front of you, wriggling, bloody, pink, and wailing. This illuminates a wonderful paradox of motherhood—it is at once fierce in its labor of love as the mother toils relentlessly through one contraction after the next to propel her child into the world, and yet soft, warm, and tender as she cradles the new life she has delivered.

This motherly fierceness/tenderness never ceases; think of the ferocity of a mama bear protecting her cubs or the Italian mother giving a piece of her mind to anyone foolish enough to wrong her son. Now think of the tenderness that only a mother can bestow; the gentle doting that we gratefully soak up when we are sick, the kisses and caresses we receive just for being a son or daughter, the hurt that our mother feels just as much as we do when we are suffering—mothers suffer not just beside us, but with us, helping us to navigate restless waters.

Mothers are therefore essential to building a culture of life. They nurture life in the womb and in their families and lovingly cultivate their homes, which in turn cultivates society. Mothers bring people alive by giving them an encounter with the Source of love, which is Christ—who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6)—the life-giving presence in all of us.

Mary, the mother of Christ, further illuminates another crucial aspect of motherhood in the Gospels. Luke 1:38 illustrates her example of gratitude and trust in the Lord: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” In saying this, Mary recognizes and acknowledges the Source of her child, entrusting him to God the Father.

Her trust is tested further in Luke 2:34-35 with Simeon’s prophesy regarding her son and herself: “This child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” The unimaginable faith that she possessed to endure her own innocent son’s torture and crucifixion, at the very foot of his cross, no less (John 19:25), is a testament not only to the fierce lengths to which mothers will suffer with their children, but also to the trust they place in knowing that their children’s fates are ultimately in the Lord’s hands.

In the same way, all mothers are called to ultimately let their children go, entrusting them to the Father. Think of all the mothers who have lost their children to miscarriage, abortion, or untimely death, and of all mothers who are suffering because of their children’s estrangement from them. Even though their children are beyond their reach, they are mothers nonetheless who are called to follow the example of Mary and entrust their children to the Lord.

The unique, God-given capacity for motherhood that all women possess is something that our utilitarian culture tends to downplay and even treat with derision. This is tragic. When gender differences and the unique facets of humanity that emanate from womanhood (and manhood) are tamped down because of political correctness, everyone loses. The motherly instincts of women should instead be celebrated for the countless ways that they enrich all of our lives.

This Mother’s Day, let us thank God for the boundless blessings of all the mothers in our lives, both spiritual and physical.

Should Stay-At-Home Moms Be Forced To Work?

by Peter Witkowski

March 30, 2017

Recently, feminist author Sarrah Le Marquand made headlines when she reinvigorated a debate over motherhood. She went beyond the traditional fight for paid maternity leave, demanding that her Australian government outlaw stay-at-home mothers of school-aged children.

She writes, “Rather than wail about the supposed liberation in a woman’s right to choose to shun employment, we should make it a legal requirement that all parents of children school-age or older are gainfully employed.” She goes on to say “only when we evenly divide responsibility for workplace participation between the two genders will we see a more equitable division between men and women in all parts of Australian life.”

In an attempt to control how men and women function in society, Le Marquand wants to establish new regulations that will ensure equality. She has good reasons to be concerned. According to Pew Research Center, more women than men want to stay home with their children. And more men than women feel compelled to work to provide for their families. Only 31 percent of women who live comfortably view working full time as their ideal. And only 23 percent of married women view working full time as ideal. When given a choice, most women prefer to stay home.

This reality creates a problem for Le Marquand and other feminists like Simone de Beauvoir, who once said: “No woman should be authorized to stay home to raise her children. Women should not have that choice, because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.” Both have concluded that women lack the intelligence to choose wisely. Thus, that choice must be removed.

Le Marquand argues that requiring mothers to work makes economic sense, but such thinking is woefully shortsighted. Economic value cannot be measured via the size of one’s paycheck. For example, a student who is in medical school makes very little money. Even so, the person’s earning potential will grow exponentially once he or she is out of school. Lack of gainful employment does not necessarily imply that a person is not contributing to a nation’s economic well-being.

Quite frankly, raising the next generation by ensuring that children are equipped to contribute to society and to the workforce allows the mother to do more for her nation’s well-being than her spouse does. By running her home well, she empowers both her kids and her spouse to engage society in a more meaningful manner and to work more effectively. To miss this fact is to doom your economy. The demographic disasters that are currently brewing in Japan, China, and all across Europe illustrate this point well. Maximizing a workforce solely for today at the expense of investing in future generations always has disastrous consequences.

Moreover, the equality of function that Le Marquand demands does not exist. Yes, both men and women are fully equal (Gen 1:27). Both are created in the image of God. But equality of value does not equal equality of function. Men and women function differently because they were designed differently. Women are naturally more nurturing than men; this is reflected in the fact that women’s bodies nurture their unborn children for nine months and feed their newborns for many months after birth. In addition, differences in the brain structure of men and women have shown that women have “more wiring in regions linked to memory and social cognition.” This is part of the reason why many women tend to be better at understanding the feelings of their children, and are thus more equipped to nurture them. Even those who wish to argue against the presence of these differences cannot ultimately escape them. As psychologist Emma M. Seppala concluded, “While women’s expression involved nurturing and bonding, men’s compassion was expressed through protecting and ensuring survival.” Women tend to be better equipped biologically and sociologically than men to care for their children.

As Pew Research Center discovered, most mothers will prefer being a stay-at-home mom over being a bread winner. This ability to care for the next generation does not preclude mothers from contributing directly to their nation’s economy if they so choose. But when women make the choice to focus primarily on raising the next generation, they are expressing their special and unique feminine capacity for nurturing their children. This is not a bad thing that must be legislated against. It is a natural function of femininity that should be embraced—not just for the benefit of children, but for all of society.

Peter Witkowski is the Associate Pastor of Preschool and Children at First Baptist Church in Eastman, Ga.

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