“Become a fool, that you may become wise —
a thoughtful, hopeful, happy fool for Christ.”
– John Piper
My face flushed.
It was as if I had had mud slung on my face.
In a single moment, I felt embarrassment, humiliation and shame.
Yet, this feeling was not unfamiliar. In a short span of a few weeks, I had felt its familiar sting. This time, unlike before, I began to understand the reality of words I had read before which had never come to life in such a realistic and tangible way.
While many people showed great encouragement, sent us notes of love to cheer us on, and poured out their own struggles to us since the commentary was posted, few knew of the anguish involved leading up to the publishing of the article.
For the entire week, I worked with an editor who was kind, empathetic and sensitive to the hardships we had been through. He was respectful, kind, collaborative, careful to consult me when he felt the need to tighten the piece and suggest edits. I was grateful. My earliest piece was a technical piece of writing suggesting changes needed on a societal level- it was he who suggested a completely different approach- a deeply personal one.
“Readers would be interested in your role as a female sole breadwinner.”
I embarked on the journey into the past, going deep into the crevices of memories I preferred to bury. Yet, finally putting them on paper, giving them life, for a narrative that would hopefully bring hope and catalyze change, to challenge societal norms on parenting, however small, was healing in its own way- however painful it was for me.
For the entire week, I worked hard at the piece, going back and forth with the editor, late into the night.
The Friday it was published, I was notified via a text message.
I clicked on the link.
My stomach tightened.
Instead of a title which honored my husband, the title published was “My hubby’s been on an emotional roller-coaster as stay-at-home-dad. So have I as sole breadwinner.”
I did a double take when I saw the title. How did our journey of collaborative trust through the week, end on this note?
I texted back. A bruising sense of betrayal was brewing inside of me- an unfurling of sorts.
I texted three mentors to ensure I was of sound mind. All echoed similar sentiments- that it was dishonoring to us, and completely out of character with the piece I had written, which meant to uplift hands-on parents.
Thankfully, the editor was willing to chat over the phone.
“It is completely factual. Did you not read your own piece about how difficult your lives have been?”
The voice was different from previous calls- devoid of compassion.
A courage arose within me to say, “This piece was meant to honor, not dishonor my husband. I would like to counter-propose the title: ‘I may be the sole breadwinner but my husband is the hero.’ ”
“Where in the piece did you talk about honoring your husband? Since when is this ever about honoring your husband?”
I held the phone so tightly I thought it might break.
In the kitchen where I had closed myself in while the kids bawled outside for mama, I replied, “The last line encapsulates the entire piece- of honoring my husband. Are you yourself married? If your wife wrote this piece, would you have this title for the article?”
I know that someday, when our two little ones grow up, my husband would have left behind not a legacy of wealth, or status or success defined by the world, but a legacy of culture-shaking, hands-on fathering that not only upended entrenched social norms, but left behind the most important legacy of all, of lives forever changed.
I thought I heard a laugh over the phone.
“That’s only the last line- Look, our team of editors have decided that it needs an objective title. And this as objective as it gets.”
I failed to see how “emotional roller-coaster” was an objective title.
Yet, given the power dynamics, I knew I was at the losing end. I pleaded on two accounts- one, that if the title stayed the same, Cliff and I would not share it. And the people who loved us, in healthcare, homeschooling, parenting, faith-based circles- would all not share it because it would hurt us. Two, if the title stayed the same, it would go against the very nature of the piece to uplift hands-on parenting, and stay-at-home-fathering.
By this point, I had become emotional, yet emboldened by a rising anger and sense of betrayal.
“We never change titles after they’ve been published.”
“Well, then you should consider this occasion to be the first.”
“You should have heard the other titles the other editors came up with! Far worse! You think this is bad? I can tell you-“
“Please stop.” At once, I summoned every fibre in me to say the words I needed to say. “You are hurting my family.”
His words stung. Far worse? Had I, like on a previous occasion by the media years ago, been used for their own purposes?
The call ended. I got down on my knees to pray. Around the dinner table, as we held hands to pray for a miracle, tears filling my eyes, my firstborn asked, “Why are you sad, Mama?”
“There are times where people are unkind, Sarah-Faith. And it is Mama’s duty to protect our family if people hurt us. Let’s pray God’s will be done.”
Less than an hour had passed before I got the message, “We’ve changed the title- It’s now: My husband is a stay-at-home-dad. This is my journey as a sole breadwinner.”
We all cheered, with the kids cheering jubilantly, even if they did not know what had happened.
The piece was shared over a thousand times, many times more than what a commentary piece in that column garnered typically. Days passed, and several emails, messages from strangers poured in, sharing their own experiences of anguish and pain, reaching out to us for support, friendship and encouragement. Special friends were made. Strategic partnerships happened.
It was then that Cliff turned to me and said, “You always think your boldness is a weakness. See how it can be a strength? You fought for what was right.”
I recoiled at the mere thought of the previous title, and the jokes made at us round the editors’ table, with titles tossed around to mock the struggles we faced.
For days, what I wished I had said swirled in my head. I wished I had shared my feedback that those comments were unprofessional, disrespectful not only to us but his own colleagues, but I did not.
Instead, I began to reflect on the truth about meekness and strength.
In the English dictionary, meekness is being described as “submissive, easily imposed on.” This is far from strength, and a state I would hardly feel proud to be described as.
Yet, a significant leader in the Bible, Moses, was described as the “meekest man in all the earth (Numbers 12:3). He was not weak. Instead, he was one who had lived a life of complete submission to God Himself, someone who could put himself aside to follow God’s direction instead of his own to lead.
If THAT is true meekness, then I want to be meek, too.
I began to see how true strength is not in how assertive or brash one can be, but having the wisdom to wield its power when needed, and to show restraint when not.
In that occasion, I believe I had asserted the strength that was necessary, that was called for, at the right time for the right reason. It was also right, to show restraint.
Less than a month had passed when I was alerted by a friend that a well-known professor being interviewed on a public platform had quoted “Cliff and Wai Jia” in an anecdote he shared in an interview, and sent the link of the video clip to us.
I thought I would be flattered, since it was someone I had known and admired for years.
Instead, I felt the same scathing feeling I did before, as a hot flush rose up my cheeks.
In an interview about vaccines and its side effects, he had shared the anecdote of Cliff and I going to Uganda against medical advice, as Cliff was unable to take the mandatory yellow fever vaccine due to his immunocompromised state.
I watched that part of the video clip over and over, frozen in shock. From the way we were described, it was as if we were brazen risktakers, overzealous religious people who did not know how to measure risk.
The truth was- that the circumstances of the situation were not taken lightly. We had grappled with the risks. I had suffered panic attacks in the night wrestling with God about the decision. I had gone to an Infectious Disease specialist hoping to get a firm “no” as an answer, only to have her unexpectedly give Cliff a waiver letter, with the assurance that she herself was a world-renown expert on the World Health Organization yellow fever vaccine guidelines. We had prayed about it, asked God to show us, and He made His way known, even when our human understanding failed to comprehend. The decision was made under unusual circumstances, with much difficulty, and without fully explaining the context of how and why it happened, I felt it did not convey the actuality of the situation.
I wrote to the professor to explain my discomfort around his sharing, as it could easily be taken out of context, misconstrued. I shared that I did not appreciate it, given my current role as a public health professional who works hard to ensure vaccination messages are well received.
With great grace, he apologized, much to my relief and deep gratitude.
It was then that 2 Corinthians 12:10 came to life for me:
“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
It suddenly became real to me, that to do what is right, to make a stand for what we believe in, to follow God’s call, is to attract reproach. And this reproach, is exactly what the Apostle Paul was telling us to exult in.
I read the trolls I had received online for writing my commentary. I shuddered at the public health professionals who might have listened into the professor’s anecdote about us and who had shaken their heads at our folly.
But I conclude that if this is what it means to act from our personal convictions, that this is the cost we must be willing to bear.
When Jesus did right, he was mocked. When He spoke truth, He was vilified.
This is the cross, and this is how it looks like.
If there is one thing I hope my children will learn, it is that it takes great inner vigor to do what is right, to stand for one’s convictions boldly, and yet, be able turn the other cheek when needed.
That is true meekness, and true strength.