Her Shame, My Pride, One Perfect Savior
Words by Jill Page
Years ago I wouldn’t have called it pride, but now I see it actually was. I thought I’d done pretty well in life, even though I hadn’t published a book, given a Ted Talk, or appeared on Good Morning America. I got good grades in school, went to college, got a job in my profession, put myself through graduate school, and then answered God’s call to serve with a local ministry.
The problem was that I thought I’d gotten myself to where I was by working hard and making good choices. In reality, it was all God’s grace. I was born into a middle class family with parents who established patterns and modeled skills that served me well. They saved money, spent wisely, ate healthy foods, read books to me and my brothers, took us to the library, made sure we did our homework each night, planned family vacations that included museums and historic sites, attended school events, took us to church and music lessons, taught us character, assigned chores, kept us safe, and went to work each day. Therefore it was with relative ease that I could go to college and get a job. Instead of patting myself on the back, I should have been humbly thanking God for his provision and my parents’ sacrifices and teaching.
For over 20 years I worked with teen parents in urban public schools and young moms in crisis. Many of them had experienced hard things such as generational poverty, neglect, abuse, foster care, trauma, family instability, or unhealthy relationships. Their childhood prepared them to manage things that are far from my experience—neighborhoods where violence is not just something on the news, running out of food, and losing their housing—the constant crises of generational poverty. The more I learned about the challenges of their lives, the more I was struck by their courage and perseverance. If suddenly plucked out of my little suburban home and placed into their living situations, I’d be in trouble. But I wouldn’t remain in that situation for long because I could call family, friends, colleagues, and my church for help. Most of the women I’ve worked with don’t have such a strong support system.
In 2015 I started Every Good Gift to add a missing component to existing ministries for young moms: job training. Every Good Gift is a business that ministers to the women it employs. We’ve removed some of the barriers to work by offering part-time daytime hours, providing free on-site childcare, offering work close to public transit stops, and having no educational requirements. Trained volunteers work alongside the employees, providing informal mentoring and discipleship through conversations. We make gift baskets, greeting cards, and small gifts. While the women are unlikely to find a full-time job making gift baskets or cards, the soft skills they develop (i.e., punctuality, dependability, communication, attention to detail—which are not priorities in generational poverty) will enable them to succeed in any future job or training program. For some this is their first job; for others it is their first job since having a baby.
Life in generational poverty prepared them to survive constant crises. Life in the workforce requires a different set of skills. For example, one of the moms said it was going to rain the next day so she would not be coming to work. That led to a discussion about the need for dependability, and she came to work on that rainy day.
More women have inquired about Every Good Gift than have joined our team. Those who do come clearly want to work and to improve their lives. They work hard just to get to work. They can’t afford all of the products designed to simplify food preparation and baby care. Once mom and baby are ready with lunch and diapers packed, the commute begins. For some that means two buses and a subway. Doing that, with a child, in the heat, the rain, and the cold takes strength and determination. Relying on public transportation complicates life. Imagine doing your grocery shopping or your weekly laundry without a car or a washer/dryer in your home.
I see young women sacrificing for their babies—making sure the baby has clothes and diapers, while not being able to buy new clothes to accommodate their post-pregnancy weight gain. Our employees have not shunned the donations we’ve received of “previously loved” clothing, baby items, and household goods. They show gratitude when given Christmas gifts, though it must be hard to have others buy gifts for your child(ren).
We have a weekly Bible Study led by pastors and one of our volunteers. The women participate, reading passages out loud even if they don’t read well, asking questions, seeking to understand. I am humbled by their openness about their lives, including their sin patterns. So often my pride keeps me from transparency. What I didn’t expect was to hear their shame. They feel shame because they are not married. Some feel shame because their child’s father is not involved or because their children have different fathers.
My sinful pride and their shame find relief at the same place—the foot of the cross—where there are no classes or divisions. At the foot of the cross we can stand side by side as we confess our sin, repent, and experience the freedom forgiveness brings. We can cry out together for God to change us. We can help each other find strength in the Lord. Together we can rely on “his precious and very great promises” (2 Pet. 1:4) as we look forward to seeing him face to face.
Here are some practical ways to help young, single mothers in your community:
- Have diaper drives
- Offer formula and baby food
- Provide rides—to church, the supermarket, the laundromat
- Babysit (keeping in mind that they are very careful about the safety of their children and will want to get to know you first, as any mom would)