Todd Shupe is a native of Carrollton, IL, a small rural town in west central Illinois. He is most proud of his son Kyle (age 16) and Emma (age 18).
He earned his BS and MS in Wood Science from the University of Illinois and a PhD in Wood Science from Louisiana State University. He has a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma and is a Green Associate in LEED. He worked as a Professor and ISO 17025 Lab Director for 20 years and now works as a wood science consultant at www.drtoddshupe.com to continue to help companies bring new building products and wood preservatives to market, conduct in house training, improve product quality and production, and serve as an expert witness.
Todd is currently in training to be a Men’s Ministry Specialist under the direction of the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is concurrently in training to become a Lay Minister under the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, fishing, and writing inspirational Christian blogs at toddshupe.com and todd-shupe.com.
HeARTune Creations Poetry, LLC., is owned by Pamela Gauthier. Pamela is a writer and poet, who has been writing for over 20 years. She formally started her poetry as a business in October of 2013. Her poetry has been at several boutiques and stores in the Baton Rouge area.
Pamela is a native Baton Rougean, who has lived here all of her life. She is the wife of Ronnie Gauthier, and the mother of four: Mrs. Jamie Baham, Mrs. Jessica Chatman, Joshua and Joseph Gauthier. She is also the proud Grandmother of Five.
Pamela started her writing journey by writing poetry as a way to uplift the spirits of those in nursing homes and the like. This is still the goal today, to touch hearts and lives wherever encouragement is needed.
Two days before I was born, my so-called father—I’ve always referred to him as “my mother’s husband”—left my mother, two young sisters, eleven and twelve years of age, and me, and he never returned. His departure put my mother in a difficult position. She had an eighth-grade education, came off the farm in North Dakota, and couldn’t get a job during the Great Depression in 1935. She became a maid and baby-sitter to earn money, and she had to put our family on welfare. We lived in a one-room apartment above a bar and hardware store, and I remember my mother getting $42.50 monthly from Ward County welfare.
Two times during this difficult period, my mother taught me a lesson that has stayed with me during my entire life. I saw my mother put on her winter coat, walk down a flight of stairs, and take back to the Red Owl and the Piggly Wiggly grocery stores 25 cents and 40 cents, because the clerks had given her too much change for the groceries she’d brought home. Her actions remind me of a poem by Edgar Guest.
I’d rather see a lesson than hear one any day I’d rather you walk with me than to merely show the way The eye is a better teacher, and more willing than the ear And counsel is confusing but example’s always clear The best of all the teachers are the ones who live the creed To see good put into action is what everybody needs I soon can learn to do it if you let me see it done I can see your hand in action, but your tongue too fast may run And the counsel you are giving may be very fine and true
But I’d rather get my lessons by observing what you do.
My mother always followed the advice of St. Francis of Assisi when he said, “Preach the gospel every day, and if necessary use words.” I saw other lessons in the life of my wonderful mother. Not once, after being abandoned, did I hear my mother talk negatively about the man who had walked out on us and never returned, never sent any money, never wrote. She never, drank, smoked, or used profanity. She was never bitter, angry, or ever complained about her situation in life. I learned from her that if you are looking for a helping hand, look at the end of your own arm.
My mother’s faith was unbelievable. She brought me to Mass and Communion daily — not just Sunday, but daily. For me, the daily trip to church was a ritual. To my numerous fake illnesses and attempts to avoid going, my mom’s response was always, “Get up, Son. We’re going to Mass and Communion.” I never slept in a bed the first 21 years of my life but the spirit that grew in that little one-room apartment we lived in, uncomfortable and cramped though it was, made it attractive and peaceful. I was blessed.
Being a small place, the apartment never provided any place for me to get away on my own. So at night, I often went to sit above the alley on the fire escape. One night, the faith my mother instilled in me deepened when I came back in from sitting out there. My mom asked me to sit in her little rocker.
She pulled up the footstool and said, “Son, I notice you go outside at night a lot. What do you think about when you’re out there? I said, “Mama, I think of two things. I think of travel.” (We didn’t own a car, a bicycle, or any other form of transportation.) “I think of climbing mountains.” (North Dakota is a very flat state, flatter than the top of a table.) That dream came true — I have been in 90 countries and climbed the Matterhorn.
My mother hesitated just a moment and then said, “You know Son, I’m embarrassed to tell you this, but I need to teach you a lesson. You know when these people come to pick me up to go baby-sit? I’m so embarrassed. There’s no husband in our house. We live in this little one-room apartment. I’ve just got an eighth-grade education. My clothes smell of mothballs.” (She bought her clothes at rummage sales.)
“So I’m so worried about my image when these big shots come to pick me up. I look up big words in the dictionary, and then all the way to their house, I inject these words into conversation to try to impress them. That’s called making an image. When you sit out there on the fire escape at night, it’s just you and God, that’s your true character. And Son, if you spend too much time polishing your image, you’ll eventually tarnish your character and be an unhappy man.”
That night, my mom taught me that being my true self was far more important than trying to impress people or pretend to be someone I was not. Your character is who you really are and your image is what you are perceived to be.
The Church’s Effect on Me No matter how financially tight things got, Mom always scraped together enough money for me to attend Catholic school. I learned a great deal over the course of the 12 years I attended a Catholic school. I learned that rules were important. I learned we all are on this earth to help each other.
Two particular lessons stand out in my mind. One morning, I was standing with two friends by the radiators in the hall at school, warming up. We had religion class before school every day at 8 a.m., and we were out there before class, talking about the things kids talk about. One of the guys said, “Yeah, the Salvation Army, isn’t that funny what they do? You know, they’re outside ringing the bell, and they’ve got that little pot.” Not really making fun of the Salvation Army, but sort of jesting, like kids do.
Well, the bell rang, so we went to religion class. Our religion teacher was Father Hogan. He called on the three of us who had been talking in the hall and asked us to stand up. He said, “You know, I heard you three boys out there talking about the Salvation Army. I wonder, do any of you guys know the motto of the Salvation Army?”
We each responded, “No, Father.”
Father Hogan continued, “Well, let me tell you what it is. It’s to love those who aren’t loved by anyone else. The next time you good Catholics are going to make fun of something, remember that.” To this day, that lesson about compassion and sensitivity has stayed with me. Every year at Christmas, when I’m shopping with my wife or daughter and we encounter a Salvation Army volunteer with a red kettle and a ringing bell, I walk over and put money in the pot. I also share with that volunteer what that wonderful priest taught me.
Father Hogan taught me a second lesson on the importance of being prompt. There are rules — and they are not meant to be bent, twisted, manipulated, or bartered with. The moment I learned this lesson is vivid in my mind. The sports teams at our tiny Catholic school played the biggest schools in the state. I thought I was a big shot athlete. I was the leading scorer in the history of North Dakota High School basketball. I broke the school record in the 440, and was a star on the football team. I thought I was something! Getting a little full of myself, I felt some of the rules didn’t necessarily apply to me.
Every Monday afternoon by 1 p.m., we had to turn in an eligibility slip to play sports that week. One Monday afternoon, I took my eligibility slip down to the office and laid it on the desk of our principal, Father Hogan. Holding my eligibility slip in one hand, he looked over the top of his horn-rimmed glasses at the clock on the wall. “Dale,” he said, “what time does that clock on my wall say?”
I had no idea where he was headed, so I said, “One-fifteen.”
He held my eligibility slip in front of my face and he said, “What time was this due?”
I said, “One o’clock.”
“Ah-hah, that’s good you can tell time. And you knew when it was due in my office.” He started ripping my eligibility slip into small pieces, then deposited the pieces in the wastebasket and said, “Now get back up in your classroom and start learning promptness. This slip was due at one o’clock. You’re not going on the road trip this week.” I thought he must be joking. After all, I was the superstar. Well, guess who didn’t go on the road trip?
Stay tuned for more next month, Getting Over the Four Hurdles of Life, with Coach Dale Brown.
True Leadership Brings People Together
If there was ever a moment in our history when leadership was needed, it is now. With all the greed, dishonesty, selfishness, evil, and bad things going on in the world, we need good leaders. A common quality of great leaders through the ages has been their mastery at articulating a vision of the future. They see something that is not yet there and can relay the image to others. In any leadership position, the most important aspect of the job is getting everyone to work together.
However, working together is only a beginning. The world needs leaders who find their strength in faith and character. Exceptional leaders will get their team members to feel they’re an integral part of a common goal. How is this done? This may sound odd, but the underlying theme of teamwork is our ability to convey a renewed sense of optimism. Teamwork doesn’t just happen – it takes a captain to steer it in the right direction. The role of the captain – whether it’s a coach, teacher, father, mother, or whomever – is to give the ship direction, purpose, and ultimately success.
“The role of most leaders is to get the people to think more of the leader. But the role of the exceptional leader is to get the people to think more of themselves.” — Booker T Washington
We need to make a difference, but we can do it only through the grace of God. I am convinced that we are capable of solving any problem, whether it’s race, crime, poverty, terrorism, pollution, drugs, or whatever plagues humanity.
You, with God’s help, are responsible for your future. You’re really free the moment you don’t look outside yourself for someone else to solve your problems. You will know that you’re free when you no longer blame anyone or anything, but realize you control your destiny and are capable of changing the world. People can be divided into three groups: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened. We’ve got to decide which group we will be in.
The most important thing to God is our relationships with one another. He made us in such a way that everybody needs somebody. And God’s idea for success is a community, a group of people who are committed to each other and who strive to follow his will. Humans have not advanced a centimeter in the history of the world if we are still fighting, hating, killing, and cheating.
The only notable advancement humans have ever made is becoming brothers and sisters who labor toward a common goal. You see, the best potential of “me” is “we.” So the question in our life journey is not whether God can bring peace, love and happiness in the world.
In the summer of 2016, Vicki Ellis had plenty of reason to be proud. The residential program she had founded for troubled youth was thriving. It had taken a decade of planning and fundraising, but Heritage Ranch Christian Children’s Home in Zachary was firmly established with its first five residents making great progress academically, behaviorally, and spiritually.
And then came the flood.
The 52-acre property, the office, the beautiful home where the boys lived with their house parents — all were under water now, damaged beyond belief. Ellis would have to start over. The ranch would have to be closed. But worse than anything, the boys would have to be sent home. Imagine Ellis’ disappointment and sadness.
Fortunately, Ellis is a fighter and was determined not to give up. Heritage Ranch had been a dream since she was a teenager, and she had poured her heart and soul into seeing that dream come true.
“The damage was estimated at $570,000,” she said, “but we rebuilt. The boys continued the program with outpatient counseling, and we were fortunate that so many people helped us by donating supplies, gutting buildings … completely renovating the ranch.”
Slowly, the broken pieces were put back together. Heritage Ranch officially reopened last January with a new group of boys who live with house parents Tori and Gage Caszatt, and residential advisor Kyle Sheppard. The program is designed for boys age 10 to 18 dealing with anxiety, depression and mild to moderate behavioral disorders. They are most often referred by schools, churches, counselors or law enforcement. Many parents say they were out of options and felt they had nowhere else to turn when they discovered Heritage Ranch.
Applicants go through a detailed screening process to ensure they will benefit from the structured model and Christian environment. Those with a history of violence or sexually inappropriate behavior are not accepted. With a focus on counseling and education in a disciplined environment, the hope is to reunite the boys with their families in a period of about 18 months.
The boys participate in school, recreational activities, family dinners, nightly devotions, youth group meetings and daily chores. They return home every other weekend and on holidays. “We expect them to do their schoolwork, get along with their peers and be respectful to others,” Ellis said. “We use a ‘choice and consequence’ model to teach them that their actions matter.”
In other words, along with love, praise and support in a family setting, the boys also understand that a refusal to follow rules results in a loss of privileges.
“They understand this concept,” Ellis said. “If they act out, they know that the consequence might be extra chores or an early bedtime. In their homes, they might have yelled and screamed and pushed their parents until they gave in, but that doesn’t happen here.”
Many parents are conflicted about sending their children to a residential program, often because they feel as if they are giving up. But one of the program’s most appealing aspects is family counseling that involves the parents, siblings and anyone else who participates in the raising of the child.
Josh Atwell is the development and marketing director at Heritage Ranch. He promotes the program through social media, annual reports, an E newsletter, and a soon-to-be produced podcast. He also helps with fundraising by working with local businesses, donors and churches in the community.
“The Heritage Ranch program is a journey of small victories and defeats,” he said, describing an adolescent in the program who refused to engage with the staff. At first, the boy wouldn’t come out of his room, and when he finally did, he refused to wear the appropriate clothing. For a time, he refused to participate in group activities. But in just a few days, his attitude changed. One morning, he joined the other boys for a game of basketball, and they cheered and welcomed him. “These were all small steps,” Atwell said, “but they were steps in the right direction.”
“What we’re doing here is life-changing. It’s transformative,” Ellis said. “We want the kids to experience the love of Christ and instill in them the values Christ modeled for us. We want them to know that the people in our lives may hurt and disappoint us … but God is always here for us and he loves us unconditionally.”
Ellis’ master plan is to eventually have 10 houses that serve 60 boys and girls – and to provide counseling for 200 to 300 family members. Considering the work she is doing and the difference she’s making in the lives of so many families, it will certainly be worth the wait.
“This isn’t easy work,” she said. “It requires the Lord to work through us in order to be successful.”
There are many ways to support Heritage Ranch. Volunteers are welcome on the first Saturday of each month. Anyone interested in volunteering should visit the website at hrbr.org to apply. The website also includes more details about the program and its staff, and opportunities to donate. You can also call (225) 658-1800.
My second child, Kyle, was born May 24, 2002. He was a big, healthy baby and was, and will always be, a tremendous blessing to me. We noticed at an early age that he was not reaching the typical milestones for babies and toddlers in terms of walking, talking, etc. We had him tested for hearing loss, brain function, blood tests and more. All of the tests came back normal, but his development was not normal. In particular, he showed little interest in talking and had a very limited vocabulary.
Eventually, we received a diagnosis of PDD-NOS (pervasive development disorder – not otherwise specified). I remember looking at that and thinking, “Okay, now we know what we have, so let’s make a plan to fix it.” However, I later realized that his autism is a spectrum disorder with no known cure, and the spectrum covers patients identified as high functioning to severe. To me, the diagnosis sounded more like — We don’t really know what your child has so we created a category and called it PDD-NOS instead of WDK (we don’t know).
Families with a special needs child have special needs of their own — schools, churches, restaurants, dentists, etc. that are accommodating to special needs children. We were blessed to find an excellent Pre-K program at Southdowns Elementary in Baton Rouge. However, Kyle aged out of the program and we were left looking at options that ranged from lousy to expensive. We declined lousy and hired a private teacher to work with our son. Also, our church was accommodating and invited us to attend several meetings to discuss setting up a special needs Sunday School room.
I have heard some parents say that when they received the diagnosis of autism, they felt as if part of their child had died, that their dreams and hopes for their child had been shattered and that their child would not live a “typical” life. I never felt that way. I believe in continuous improvement. So Kyle goes to school all year long. This is expensive, but it is best for his development.
I realize that there are many things he will never do, such as get married, drive a car, or play high school sports — and that is fine with me. I focus on the things that he can do. He can go for walks with me and hold my hand. He can go to the movies with me and share a tub of popcorn and a soda while we enjoy an animated movie. He enjoys playing fetch with our dog. And he can give the best hugs that will cure a headache much better than any aspirin.
A child with special needs certainly puts a strain on any marriage. A 2010 study conducted by the University of Wisconsin at Madison found that parents with ASD children were nearly twice as likely to get divorced than couples without disabled children. The study revealed something else interesting: the divorce rates in parents with disabled children did not increase until the children became teens or adults. My own marriage ended after 20 years when Kyle was 12 years old.
Kyle has a bright future, and I want him to become as independent as possible. Like other children, he yearns for his father’s approval and I try to always acknowledge every good thing that he does. So there is no need to change or “cure” Kyle. He is perfect just as he is. He is a child of God and a tremendous blessing to me. I want him to live a happy life.
We hold hands and pray before each meal. I offer the blessing and then gently squeeze his hand at the end and he clearly and proudly says, “Amen!” Kyle is a blessing to me and has taught me so much about what is really important in life.
Todd Shupe is a wood science consultant and president of drtoddshupe.com. He is the president of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is in training as a Men’s Ministry Specialist under the General Commission of United Methodist Men. He writes Christian blogs at toddshupe.com
Todd Shupe is the president of drtoodshupe.com and a Christian blogger at toddshrupe.com. He currently serves as president of Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is training to become a men’s ministry specialist under the General Commission of United Methodist Men.
20% of all women reach the age of 45 without having children.
For the childless woman, there’s nothing quite as painful as Mother’s Day. Sandy Michelet remembers walking into a restaurant and being greeted by the host with a carnation in his hand. “Are you a mother?” he asked cheerfully.
It was so unexpected Michelet didn’t know what to say. After years of trying to conceive a child, such a question seemed almost insulting, but she knew he meant no harm. “People say things that are insensitive all the time,” she said. “Usually they mean well, but it still hurts.”
Michelet married in her early 30s and tried for years to conceive, but it just never happened. “For a woman, there’s so much pain and shame associated with being childless. It’s different from being child-free. Childlessness is not a choice. And you really question why this is happening to you. Don’t I deserve to have a child? I remember wondering if I was being punished for something I did … maybe I talked back to my mom when I was 20 years old? What did I do?”
When everyone knows about your struggle, their first impulse is to offer advice. “Just relax,” they say. “Pray more. Start drinking apple cider vinegar!”
Holidays and social events are especially painful, Michelet said. Most people don’t stop and think about what it’s like to navigate the everyday world without a child. At Christmas, it seems like everyone has a child on his or her lap opening presents, she said. At family get-togethers, parents are either bragging or complaining about their kids. “So many times, people have jokingly said to me, ‘Well, I’d be happy to give you one of mine!’ Really? Would you?”
The jokes are probably meant to ease the awkwardness. “It just seems natural that women are supposed to have children,” Michelet said. “Over the years, I found myself often offering to host or provide food for family gatherings. It’s the only way I could feel that I had a purpose like everyone else.”
Although Michelet mourns the fact that she never gave birth, she is grateful for her stepchildren, now adults, whom she has loved since she married their father Craig 18 years ago. “They are wonderful,” she said. “We’ve had a full and happy life together.”
But it’s not the same as it is for a woman with children. Especially when Michelet thinks of the “family tree” concept. “I move into new phases of my life,” she said, “and new concerns pop up, especially as I get older. Everyone else has ‘branches’ on their family tree. But generations from now, there will be no children to trace back to me. It just ends. That’s part of the reason I started my blog (The Childless Life).”
Two years ago, Michelet sat down at the computer and just started typing … the words, the pain, the anger all started pouring out. “I realized I’d been hurting and hiding for so many years,” she said. “I just couldn’t keep it in any longer.”
Many women have benefitted from her blog, which gets thousands of hits every month. Michelet believes it’s her down-to-earth conversational style, her honesty, and the fact that she isn’t afraid to sprinkle in a bit of sarcasm occasionally. “I also understand the struggle with faith,” she said. “For years, I stopped going to church, and many women have that same experience.”
Michelet has found a new church that nourishes her spiritually, and she has come to terms with her childlessness. “It’s a hard thing to deal with, but I’ve accepted it and I realize now that I’ve had a ‘rich and satisfying life’ just as the Bible says in John 10:10. And John doesn’t say you must have children to achieve that.”
It took time, but Michelet has found happiness with her supportive husband, her stepchildren, friends, work, and her blog, which has become a meaningful ministry. “Not everyone can have children,” she said. “And if you don’t, it doesn’t mean you’re less than anybody else. You’re just different. Your life will just take a different direction that what you planned.”
Elijah Precciely was literally the answer to a prayer — his father’s.
Steve Precciely was the last male in his family’s line, and after two daughters, he and his wife Pamela desperately wanted a son. They would have to wait 11 years. “At one point, I felt God say to me, ‘What is more important? My desire for you to do my will or your desire to have a son?’ I realized that I needed to be happy doing God’s will … that the situation was beyond my control … so I accepted that it might never happen, and I felt a burden lifted.”
And not long afterward, the Preccielys learned they were expecting. Elijah came into the world weighing 9 pounds, 6 ounces — a big baby destined for big things. “When he was born,” said Steve, “I heard God say, ‘Name him Elijah, for he will be a prophet to the nations.’”
At 11, Elijah is already a published author, host of a Christian radio show, and owner of five patents for several inventions. This month, he will become a licensed minister of The Church of God in Christ, and next spring, he will be a full-time student at Southern University, where just last month, he was offered a full scholarship to study physics and mechanical engineering.
Elijah is a true child prodigy and his parents say they are humbled by God’s grace. “We really believe he’s going to change the world,” said Pamela. “And we want to facilitate what God is doing in his life. We give the glory to God and we let the Holy Spirit lead us.”
The Preccielys’ faith is strong. Steve is pastor of Grace and Truth Church in Baton Rouge, while Pamela has served in many ministries throughout their marriage. They home-schooled all of their children and raised them in a godly household. At just 5 years old, Elijah was so comfortable talking about Scripture that he stepped up to the altar and preached his first “message.”
But his parents knew he was gifted long before that. At just 18 months, his daycare teacher told the Preccielys that he should probably be moved up with the 2- and 3-year-old children. This became a pattern. By age 3, Elijah’s parents were amazed by how quickly he soaked up information. “We had posters on the walls, lists of all the things he had learned,” said Pamela. “The planets, the presidents, the continents, all of the times tables. We couldn’t hold him back.”
Television and video games were limited, while books and musical instruments were encouraged. Elijah has played piano, guitar, the recorder, the violin and the drums. “I want to be a jack-of-all-trades,” he said, and a master of all!”
By age 6, he was flipping through college level textbooks, and by 7, he was learning about science and law, and was elected president of his class at Camp CEES. Through a program called TeenPact, he increased his knowledge of government and civics, and was elected governor among his peers. His parents took a Hebrew class and brought their son with them. Elijah learned Hebrew right alongside them. By age 8, Pamela says she had to find help and looked to nearby Southern University, where a professor suggested he enroll in classes right away.
“At that time, Elijah was doing experiments, every day using things from around the house,” Pamela said. “I was always looking for something that had disappeared from my kitchen.”
“I would ask my mom, ‘can we get some liquid nitrogen, some dry ice and some north and south magnets? Please?’” Elijah said. “I just had so many ideas and I didn’t want this information to just sit on a shelf in my brain! When I get thoughts and ideas in my mind, it’s … pop, pop, pop … like popcorn!”
The classes at Southern University opened up a new world for Elijah. For the past three years, he has taken one or two classes every semester, mostly math, science and engineering. One of his parents attends every class with him, and they say he is certainly not shy about discussing the material with his instructors. If anything, they have to remind him to let the other students engage in discussions as well. “His hand is always up,” says Steve.
As for faith, Elijah says he loves praying and speaking to God. “Someday, I want to use my academic knowledge and show how it’s tied to the stories and lessons in the Bible,” he said. “I want to explain that the Bible is the truth. If there is ever an opportunity to minister to someone, that’s what I’m going to do.”
He prays and talks with his parents to get ideas for his radio show. “Sometimes, I’m filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit,” he said, “and I speak in tongues. The Holy Spirit speaks through me and gives me solutions to problems, and shows me how things happening in the world can be used in my radio show. It’s not just a brainstorm. It’s a God-storm!”
Dressed smartly in a coat and tie, Elijah is all smiles as he shakes my hand when we meet. He is articulate and funny, modest and well-mannered. When we mention video games, he talks about their adverse effect on gray matter in the brain. When we mention a Bible verse about fear, he segues into a discussion on the chambers of the heart. When he talks about his love of cooking, he ends up explaining the difference between saturated and trans fats. It’s easy to forget that this little boy with so much encyclopedic knowledge is just 11 years old.
“As you can see, we have our own in-house scientist, doctor, dietitian …,” said Pamela. “You know that phrase — like a kid in a candy store?’ Well, Elijah is like that in a science lab or a library. He looks around and is so excited by the opportunity to learn new things.”
Steve and Pamela are clearly outstanding parents, and it’s easy to see the closeness they share with their son. Seated between them, Elijah smiles as they tell stories about him and occasionally reaches over to rub their arms or hold their hands.
“The key for us as parents was to pray every day,” said Steve. “And we got him into the Word of God early on. His faith in Christ is his foundation.”
“And you two,” says Elijah, looking at his mom and dad. “I couldn’t be who I am without my parents. They are my foundation, too.”
Elijah is often asked to speak at academic, community and religious gatherings. If your group would like to schedule an appearance, contact Brianna Craig at (225) 733-9245.
Founders Forum, Scott Gaspard, As for Me and My House….
It’s fitting that Scott Gaspard and his wife Jessica have a plaque in their home informing guests and visitors that … As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. The scripture takes on an even deeper meaning when you consider that as a realtor, Gaspard is in the business of matching people and homes, and he views his profession as another way to serve the Lord. The search for a realtor is often tied to a life-changing event such as a divorce, a move to a new city, the death of a parent, a new marriage, or a financial setback. The reasons to buy or sell a home can be happy or sad, Gaspard said, but there is usually an opportunity to connect spiritually. Gaspard doesn’t advertise his faith when he’s with clients, but neither does he hide it. “Guiding people through big decisions gives me an opportunity to get to know them over time. People tell you about their family, their finances, their dreams. Sometimes, this leads to a deeper relationship that happens naturally. There have been occasions when I’ve prayed with my clients on a very personal level. But even if we never connect in that way, I know that my work is still a blessing to them.”
Gaspard understands that faith is sometimes a long and winding process. He attended church growing up, but pulled away from religion during his high school and college years. At one point, he went to live with his brother, who had given his life to God. “I saw how it absolutely changed his life,” Gaspard said. “It created a lot of conversations between us, and eventually I professed my faith as well. My wife, Jessica, also drew me closer to God. She knew that she wanted a God-centered marriage, and I knew that I wanted her to be my wife. I was blessed tremendously that she came into my life.”
Today, the Gaspards have 12 children — yes, 12. “We sleep very little, we work very hard, and we love a lot,” he says. “It’s not as difficult as it might seem. We didn’t have them all at the same time, you know. Managing such a big family works for us because everyone contributes and we live our lives according to our family motto: God-centered, others-focused, seriously fun!”
Gaspard works with his mother Linda, who has been in the real estate business for more than 30 years. The Gaspard Team also includes Mary DiBenedetto and Cindy Carroll, and the firm has been a supporter of Christian Life Magazine since its beginning.
“I think it’s important to share our faith when we can,” Gaspard said, “and it’s good to know that Christian Life Magazine is shining a light on our city and showing people what God is doing here in Baton Rouge day in and day out as he moves through our community. We need to hear those kind of stories.”
Alton and TaShawnda Jamison are the founders of The Empowerment Zone, a ministry designed to “empower people for everyday life” through products, events and messages. In addition, they are the pastors of The Empowerment Zone in Baton Rouge, a church plant that will launch this fall. The Jamisons, who have two children, have been sharing the gospel together for over 17 years. They recently completed their first book, Purpose, Passion & Prosperity: 3 Keys to A Godly Marriage. For more information, visit empowerlives.net.
The Bible reminds us in Hosea 4:6 that people perish for a lack of knowledge. Marriages are also destroyed for a lack of knowledge. In our current society, people separate and divorce quicker than you can imagine. Marriage has become like cell phone service carriers … if you don’t like the service, you switch to someone else.
I submit to you that knowledge is the main ingredient missing in most marriages. Knowledge of what? Knowledge of the Word and its power. The Bible tells us in Genesis 2:24 that “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Most couples fail because they never become one flesh. One flesh is more than just sharing a house or a joint bank account. One flesh means that we both die to self and join in a way that no one can separate. One flesh means that even on our worst days, we find a way to push through because we our joined together both spiritually and naturally. In a social media society, marriage advice shouldn’t solely come from a Facebook post or an Instagram picture of your favorite celebrity couple. It must come from God’s Word, especially if you are going to build your marriage on a solid foundation. The Word is direct in its command in Joshua 24:15. “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
When the Word of God is paramount in a marriage, then your household will be in order. Why is the foundation of the Word so critical? Well, Jesus illustrates to us in a parable in Matthew 7:24-25. “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”
When your marriage and family are built on the Word of God … when the rain, floods and the winds of life come, your marriage can endure. Your marriage may look good on paper, you may have the prettiest kids, a large home and the finest of cars. But if your foundation is not built on God’s Word, then nothing else matters. We are challenged in Mark 8:36 with the profound question, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” If you want your marriage and family to be strong, long-lasting and legacy-making, then exchange the world’s way and embrace God’s way. Storms will come in your marriage and family, but as a friend once said, “The good news about storms is that they all end at some point.”
Be encouraged and start building!
The Divine Trinity: A Model for Marital Unity
By Dennis Eenigenburg*
The most profound and wonderful relationship in existence is found not in a grocery store tabloid, but in the Bible. Here, we find the dynamic and in many ways, mysterious relationship between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The Bible presents them as the creators of the universe and intimate companions. The nature of the relationship of this divine society leaves many unanswered questions to our finite minds. On the other hand, the Bible reveals much we can apply to our own relationships. In the following, I would like to focus the application to marriage. The oneness and unity experienced in the Trinity of the Godhead can instruct us in our pursuit of marital unity.
Like the Trinity, husbands and wives, while distinct as persons, have equal value.
In the Trinity: Each member has equal value.
One of the many passages illustrating the equal essence of the persons of the Trinity is Matthew 28:19 known as the “Great Commission.” “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
In the Marriage: Each member has equal value. “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
In many cultures, including our own, women have been treated as less important than men. This attitude often leads to neglect, abuse and disrespect. As men and women we are image bearers of our Creator, and thus, of equal value before God. As a husband, I want to treat my wife as God’s special creation. She is not only my wife, but she is the princess daughter of the King of Kings through her faith in Jesus Christ. In I Peter 3:7, husbands are reminded to “show honor” to their wives as fellow heirs of God’s grace.”
Like the Trinity, husbands and wives have unique, complementary roles.
In the Trinity: The members have complementary roles.
One example of the unique roles within the Trinity is illustrated by their roles in the redemption of mankind, from slavery to sin to the freedom of Salvation. Paul, in Ephesians 1, tells us we have been:
Predestined by the Father. “He predestined us to adoption as sons.” V. 5 Purchased by the Son. “In Him we have redemption through His blood.” V. 7 Preserved by the Spirit. “You are sealed in Him the Holy Spirit of promise.” V. 13
In terms of the hierarchy of the Trinity, there are also distinct roles. Jesus, in His prayer to the Father, recorded in John 17:18, said this: “As you have sent me into the world, I have sent them (the disciples) into the world.” The one sending is exercising authority over the one sent. The sent one is submissive to the one sending. In the Godhead, there is a voluntary order of authority. Jesus says of the Holy Spirit,“for if I do not go away the Helper (Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go I’ll send Him to you.”(John 16:7)
In the Marriage: The members have complementary roles.
Most of the attitudes and actions that produce a healthy marriage are the same for both husbands and wives. We are to love each other with divine love found in I Corinthians 13. We are to prefer one another as Christ preferred us over His own well-being. We are to pray for each other and speak the truth in love. We are to raise our children in a way that points them to Christ. But there is also a unique role given to each husband and wife. The wife, for example, is given the honor of conceiving and bearing children. Children are eternal beings with great potential to bring honor and glory to God. The husband, illustrating the role of Christ and the Church, has been given the responsibility to lead, love, provide and protect his wife. “Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the Church and gave Himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25)
The wife is called to support that imperfect leadership as a way of honoring God. “Wives, be subject to your own husbands as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22) While in many other relationships, women may be in authority over men, marriage is a place where the headship/submission picture of the relationship of Trinity is to be painted.
Like the Trinity, husbands and wives are unified by common purpose of mutual honor and affirmation.
In the Trinity: The members seek to bring glory and honor to each other.
One of the consistent themes that dominates the purpose of the Trinity is to honor one another by revealing the worship-worthy attributes of each other. One of the words used to describe the way the members of the Godhead honor each other is the word “glorify. To “glorify” means to “make known or to reveal the greatness of another’s works or character.” Jesus said this about His crucifixion. “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.”(John 13:31)
In the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross, the Son and the Father would be glorified. In other words, the titanic love, sacrifice and grace behind salvation would be revealed and give creation a cause for eternal praise and worship. Speaking of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, “He shall glorify me, for He shall take of mine and reveal it to you.” (John 16:14)
Over and over again, we see the individuals in the Godhead displaying the value and the virtues of the other members of the Godhead.
In the Marriage: The members seek to bring honor to each other and their Lord.
When we survey the “one another” passages in the Bible, we find that we too should affirm and honor each other. In marriage, this includes being thankful, giving compliments, using words of affirmation and acts of service. Just as the members of the Trinity seek to exalt one another, so should we in our marriages and all relationships. The real unifier, however, is when husbands and wives make it their common priority to glorify God … to live in a way that reveals the character of Jesus Christ living through them. A couple joined together in a bond of worship and obedience to Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit will experience two kinds of oneness, oneness with God and oneness with each other. This oneness brings joy and mutual enrichment to marriage and an impact on the world as they reflect the likeness of their Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus put it this way: “The glory which you have given me, I have given them: that they may be one, just as we are one; I in them, and you in me, they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that you did send me and did love them, even as you have loved me.” (John 17:22-23)
In a world looking for role models, there is no greater relationship to study and emulate than one revealed in the Divine Trinity.
*Co-author with Jill Eenigenburg of The Heart of Marriage.
“Dennis Eenigenburg and his wife Jill lead a ministry called Equipping Network. Their goal is to serve underserved “shepherds” primarily in third world countries. One of the tools they use is a marriage seminar they authored called “The Heart of Marriage.” Since 2012 they have taught pastors and church leaders in 13 countries. In May they taught Heart of Marriage at the Baptist Theological Seminary in Liberia. Last year they celebrated 50 years of marriage with their three married sons and 11 grandchildren.”
Mauree Harris and Steven Brooksher saw something special in each other when they first met … an inner glow of sorts. It turned out to be a strong faith, something they had in common, something that grew along with their relationship. Both were active in their church, St. Aloysius, and after less than a year of dating, they became engaged. Mauree and Steven are now the parents of three children and recently celebrated their seventhwedding anniversary. They talk about how faith brought them together and keeps them committed to the family they are raising, the love they share, and the life they are building.
Q: What qualities drew you to each other when you first met?
M: I was drawn to Steven the first time I was introduced to him. Aside from his beautiful smile, I was drawn to his confidence, his genuineness and faith. His faith was the most important thing to him, so I knew he was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
S: I was drawn to Mauree’s simple beauty. Her faith was very important to her, and she was also passionate about serving those in need. She was very close with the Missionaries of Charity here in Baton Rouge, and I found that really neat. She had a strong sense of her values and beliefs, and I respected that deeply.
Q: Was there a moment that confirmed you had found the right partner/soulmate?
M: After our first date, I went home and told my roommate, ‘If I don’t marry this boy, I don’t know what I’ll do.’ I just knew! He supported my faith, and I never felt ashamed to share my faith with him.
S: I spent a lot of time praying about our relationship as we got more serious. I asked God for a sign that she was or wasn’t the one for me. We traveled on a mission trip to Honduras together, and that was a big confirmation — seeing her servant heart and the love she had for God’s people. After much prayer, I woke up one morning and knew she was the one. Once I knew, there was no need to wait any longer!
Q: What is the most rewarding thing about your marriage?
M: Knowing that I’m never alone. It’s such a blessing to know that around 6 p.m., he will walk through the door and I will no longer be mothering three babies alone. It’s a blessing to be able to go out to dinner with my best friend whenever I need it, to celebrate the joys of life together, to tread through the valleys of life together. I can ALWAYS count on him to find the positive in every situation. I often take this for granted, but Steven is always there for our family.
S: The deep companionship that we share. We are very different in the way we feel and think about situations, but we always are committed to communicating through any challenges, and that helps us grow stronger. Also, I think the opportunity for two to become one is powerful. It can be very challenging to accomplish that, but it is a real blessing.
Q: What is the most challenging aspect of marriage?
M: Agreeing to disagree sometimes. We have pretty opposite personalities and ways of doing things. At times it’s a beautiful blend, but other times, it can be difficult.
S: The “dying to self” part. Everyone at some point thinks they’re entitled to take a break, enjoy themselves, do what they want to do. But to be a truly good husband and father, I know that I have to be willing to serve my wife and children, not expecting anything in return. I have to make sacrifices. I have to let go of parts of my personality, parts of myself, so the two (husband and wife) can become one.
Q: You both have careers. How do you keep your life balanced?
M: We hold each other accountable. There are times when one of us has to encourage the other to step away, put work aside, and focus on our marriage and family. It’s not easy, but we know if we put our faith and family first, we will be more fruitful in our workplaces.
S: We have to constantly keep things in perspective. If we place God first, our relationship second, our kids third, and our lives fourth, we can keep that balance.
Q: How do you keep your marriage strong/happy?
M: We take time to be together — just the two of us. We schedule date nights and trips away. These times are good for our souls and for our marriage. We are blessed with parents and good babysitters!
S: Healthy communication, sacrifice and prayer.
Q: What part does your faith play in your marriage?
M: It is our everything. Marriage and parenthood brings us to our knees at times. We are so thankful for the gift our faith. We know where to turn the minute our feet hit the floor and our heads hit our pillows. Our faith is the bond that holds our marriage and family together. It allows us to experience the joy of one another, to forgive one another when we fall short, and to offer encouragement to one another.
S: Faith is the center of our lives. Everything we strive to do comes from our relationship with Christ. We strive to make sure He is at the center of our family.
Q: As parents and Christians, what are your hopes/dreams for your children?
M: I pray that their faith directs their paths, and that they live a fruitful and prudent life. I pray that they are able to experience the joys of life daily, that they are always optimistic and positive leaders among others — that their lights will always shine. I hope they are blessed with dear friends and amazing opportunities throughout their precious lives.
S: I hope they will grow up knowing how wonderful and special they are. That they will come to know Christ in a personal way, and that our love and care for them will help them to feel that.
Q: What advice do you have for couples who may be struggling?
M: Make your faith your first priority. Listen to what the Lord says in prayer, not what the world says.
S: I would say, “Be willing to fight for your family and your marriage.” Place it in God’s hands and remember what Scripture says. The church is the bride of Christ and look what Christ was willing to do. He was willing to die. Couples who are struggling should be willing to fight for the gift of marriage.