DETROIT, MI – After four long years, I walked across the stage of Truett-McConnell University believing that I had just finished the most challenging period of my life. As I began to work towards planting Greater Hope, I realized the challenges I faced in college were only the beginning. Nothing in life comes easy, but life’s challenges make everything worthwhile. Eight months ago, Emma Leigh and I embarked on a new challenge called marriage and soon will face the greatest challenge - parenthood.
In college, we were taught how to parse Greek verbs, exegete Hebrew scriptures, and contextualize the Gospel, but there were no “How to be a Great Husband” or “Fatherhood 101” classes. Unlike filing your taxes, you cannot hire someone to fulfill those roles. You can read books on the topic, but I find examples from growing up speak the loudest.
Emma Leigh and I come from radically different worlds. She is from a small farm town in Illinois, grew up with both parents, and is from a relatively small family. I, however, am from the large city of Detroit, Michigan, primarily grew up in a one parent household, and have a relatively large family. Our upbringings differed racially, politically, economically, and even denominationally. Yet, God saw it just to allow our paths to cross. Two summers ago, we met at Kids Across America Kamps in Golden, Missouri. That same summer as the sun began to fall upon our first date, something unbelievable had begun. A year later, I got on one knee to “tie my shoe.” Now we are married and expecting our first child! Over the years we have seen numerous examples of amazing parents, especially our own, but we could be no more excited to undertake this new, and still upcoming challenge in our life.
Years before ever meeting Emma Leigh, I prayed for my wife to be called to the same ministry as me. While on a mission trip, I saw firsthand what happens when a couple has diverging calls. The result left the church where they were serving broken and without pastoral direction. Prior to meeting my wife, God gave me a vision to equip and establish urban Christian leaders to impact their communities spiritually, educationally, and economically through continous church planting. When we met, Emma Leigh had a passion to start a nonprofit organization to equip and impact communities in the same manner. In more ways than one,Emma Leigh was exactly what I prayed for.
Being a few months into marriage and being in the pre-launch phase of the church, we are only about 20 years from writing a book on these topics. However, this amazing challenge has been extremely educational. Emma Leigh and I being so different, at times we mix like water and oil. Our communication has had ineffective results, we do not express love in the same manner, and we’ve had several other challenges. Scripture teaches, that “iron sharpens iron” and that sharpening requires friction.
Just as Emma Leigh and I have faced several challenges in life and in marriage, so has the Church. At times the Church fails to communicate effectively, display love generously, and often creates an “us versus them” atmosphere. Marriages ought to reflect the relationship between Christ and the Church. Towards the closing of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote about this profound mystery of marriages, but finished by directing us to the cross of Christ. Everyone will face many challenges in marriage, family, and ministry, and Jesus Christ is our only hope.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael J Howard II studied Christian Studies and World Missions at Truett-McConnell University. Upon graduating, he finished his fourth summer on staff at Kids Across America Kamps, where he met his wife, Emma Leigh. She is from Greenville, Illinois and studied Urban and Intercultural Missions at Indiana Wesleyan University and Cincinnati Christian University.