Dani Munoz’s Story: From Ivy-Leaguing to Homemaking
Who are you trying to please? The answer to this question defines our priorities and purpose, as well as our sense of peace. Looking back, the answer transformed beautifully as I drew nearer to God.
“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10
A UNIQUE HIGH SCHOOL SWEETHEART
God made His home with me in high school. Throughout my childhood I had developed into an extreme perfectionist, striving to succeed in every area of life with the utmost pride. A quiet arrogance rested on my spirit. However, by God’s grace, I was introduced to Jesus Christ by a friend.
The Holy Spirit quickly stirred up awe in my heart over His life and sacrifice on the cross. I realized that I was far from perfect—a soul separated from God by my willful disobedience.
Although I may have appeared to my community as a “good girl” on the outside, achieving high marks in academics and athletics, on the inside I recognized my jealous, critical, and selfish thoughts, my moral failures, and knew I needed forgiveness from the Maker of the Universe. Placing my trust in Jesus was the Way.
The particular verse that caught my attention was
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36
What was I free from? The slavery of sin, of worshipping my merits over my Creator. I was free from living in darkness away from the love, truth, and kindness of God. Lastly, I was free from meeting the world’s expectations, because Christ’s love had made me a worthy child of God.
I soon learned I was to do all things for God’s fame, not to my own. My actions should lead to people seeing Him instead of myself. After all, He deserved it! All I had—intellect, athleticism, esteem—was truly His, undeserved blessings He had graciously given.
More than that, those blessings, which everyone so treasured and praise, were no longer to be my identity. My worth was no longer defined by my performance, but in my faith in Jesus as my Savior. Again, what freedom!
BUT WAIT, CORNELL
Despite being washed in all these amazing truths in the good news of Christ, I still had a lot of room to grow with the Holy Spirit. God had led me to Cornell, but my faith would be put to the test. Though I knew Jesus, I quickly succumbed to the pressure to pursue a well-respected career and to promote liberal ideas from pop culture and evolution that didn’t match up with the Bible, God’s flawless Word.
I justified many of my ambitions for the future by saying it was for God, and yet secretly I retreated back into the prison cell of perfectionism. Crushed by low grades and desperate to impress my peers, I did not center Jesus in the picture at all. A nice afterthought in times of trouble, He was part of my motivation but definitely not the whole. I eventually played with the idea of doing health work abroad or jumping into journalism, simply so I could wander around the world.
In the midst of this, I had joined the Christian group on campus called Cru. That God-honoring community encouraged me to share the gospel without shame, and I was eager to serve. At that point, however, I wasn’t fully examining my self-centered heart and the dangerous division within it.
In the midst of all that, a Christian young man had expressed interest in me, a man who was slowly but surely being called by God to leave the Ivy-League norm.
ISAIAS VS. WANDERLUST
Initially, I was uncertain about his pursuit. I literally told him, “I’m heading this way, and you that way—our paths just don’t line up.” I rejected the poor man multiple times, and yet they were conflicted and half-hearted no’s. While holding onto dreams of travel and independence, I admired his strong godly convictions and how he treated me with great care, humility, and respect. As his love deepened for me and showed itself with incredible patience, faithfulness, and hope, my walls faded fast. I agreed to start a relationship, knowing the goal was marriage but immaturely pushing it to the back of my mind.
I had begun this commitment, but my career aspirations remained the same. One month into our courtship I went to Peru for a public health internship. The only Christian in a group of 6 interns in a foreign country, for the first time I was isolated spiritually—no church or fellowship. This is when I began studying the Scriptures on my own in depth for the first time.
After discouraging days working at a medical clinic, I would spend hours on our apartment’s roof, reading through the New Testament, praying, and singing to my Savior. The gospel’s imprint on my heart intensified, and I discussed it with Isaias over Skype, falling further in love with the Lord and the man who listened.
After this and a semester at Cornell, I also decided to study abroad in Thailand, thinking I could fulfill my travel itch while Isaias did a semester internship away from campus. And in the end, these two international experiences had unexpected results.
First of all, living abroad was not all roses and butterflies. I enjoyed the vibrancy and novelty of the Hispanic and Asian settings, but also faced trying times. The Lord used homesickness, culture shock, lack of Christian community, and encounters with a very broken, evil world to open my eyes.
The organizations I worked with had good intentions and helped people’s physical needs, but I yearned to do more. I longed to not only provide temporary solutions for the patients, villagers, and students we served but to share with them about their loving Creator. Instead of being inspired to be a travel journalist, I struggled in these foreign lands and especially missed Isaias. If I were to be abroad, I thought, it would have to be as a missionary with him.
I wrestled with these revelations once Isaias confided with me his desire to be a pastor, potentially making me a pastor’s wife. Here we were, two Cornellians considering what it would mean to let go of the typical Ivy League track. What would our families and friends think if we went into ministry?
I encouraged him to listen to the Lord, while at the same time clinging to others’ expectations and the remnant of my desire for self-glory. If I chose to marry Isaias and follow his lead, my primary priorities would be to support his ministry and to raise our children—God’s design for the marriage relationship between man and wife. Graduate school, big city living, more travel, a high reputation would take the back seat, be up in the air, or simply not be options.
The question I asked in the beginning popped with more weight than ever before. Who was I trying to please? My pride hungry heart? My peers and parents? Or God, the One who had died to make me His?
To answer, I looked to God’s words. He used these verses to redefine my perspective:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23-24
Though at first, I thought marrying Isaias would bind me and prevent me from chasing the success I’ve always desired, God humbled me and asked:
“Who will you serve?”
“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Matthew 6:24
While I didn’t necessarily want to be wealthy, I was tempted by the desire to be known and respected by the world’s standards.
Two paths lay before me:
1) Marriage to Isaias, a man God had so preciously placed in my life and whom I would love to serve alongside for God’s Kingdom.
2) A life of glamour, self-pride, and comfort, but a weak walk with God and a solo, tiring pursuit of worth apart from Christ.
I, again by grace, decided to let God establish my steps. Today I’m wed to a wonderful man of God, and now we have a beautiful baby girl.
Nowadays most ladies are pushed to pursue a career. Even those with Christian parents are told to use the gifts God has given them in the workplace. Although that isn’t detrimental in itself, when the woman wishes to marry she thinks:
1) their job is their identity, and thus cannot be let go and
2) that homemaking is boring and wastes their talents.
What many miss, and what the Scriptures have pointed out to me, is that responsibility of raising children in the Lord is selfless, wondrous and rewarding work, and taking on the Biblical role of helping the husband is very much tied to the home.
When you see in God’s Word about how He defines femininity and womanhood, it’s so precious. The Proverbs woman actively has her hands at work, being an entrepreneur and teacher in her own way for the household. She is by no means sitting around. Her gifts, drive, and dedication display themselves in sacrificial work on behalf of her family and community. She is raising the next generation in godliness. Her husband and children trust her deeply. In the end, it is not beauty or accomplishments that define her, but her devoted fulfillment of God-given responsibilities.
I understand why many women shy away from this design because it is super, super humbling to work at home, especially because our culture belittles the “housewife.” At least for myself, I developed so much pride in my achievements, and the thought of settling down once seemed like giving up. Many people wonder why I’m back in my small hometown when I went to an Ivy League school. It’s easy to get disheartened, but I’m reminded that the Lord’s work is the most noble of all.
No matter where you’re at—single, married, a mother or worker—the question remains the same. Who are you trying to please? Who are you serving: yourself, earthly ideals, or our heavenly God? Choose God.
Dani Munoz is a current seminary wife, young stay-at-home mommy, and recent Cornell University alumna eager to share how freedom and truth beautifully come together in Christ. On her blog Free Indeed, she loves discovering God’s goodness in the everyday and extraordinary, exploring His Word through deep devotionals, faith-filled fiction, personal tales, and colorful photography. Read her newest FREE EBOOK, Abiding in the Vine: How to Dwell Deep In Christ, by signing up for her weekly newsletter. You can also follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram.