Change How You Parent: Fear or Faith?

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

Do you ever find yourself wondering what in the world to do with your child? 

After all, you’ve done your best to raise them right. You prayed for them, taught them manners, and helped them memorize Bible verses. You limited their electronic time and said no when they begged to watch non-age-appropriate TV shows (darn you, Hannah Montana!).

But still, their hearts are captivated by the world… 

And nothing you do can change that.

They want to wear the same clothes their friends are wearing and listen to the same music. They want to play the same video games, watch the same You-tubers, and follow the same “influencers.” Like every adolescent since the beginning of time, they want to be liked and accepted by their peers, even if that means doing things they know are wrong.

If you’re fortunate, they at least struggle with the conflict between these desires and their values. That means deep down they at least want to do the right thing… they want to choose Jesus. But sometimes that struggle can lead to anxiety or loneliness or friend drama. 

What’s a parent to do?

It is really hard to watch our kids walking that line between right and wrong, tip-toeing as close as they can to the dark without actually falling in. Jeff and I have encountered these types of struggles on multiple occasions with our children, so I feel your pain.

Jeff is better about seeing the big picture, but if I’m honest with you, I pretty much tend to freak out. I’m afraid they are going to ruin their life. I’m afraid they are going to walk away from Jesus. I’m afraid they are going to become everything I have invested so much time and energy guarding against!

I’m just plain afraid. And I begin to parent out of fear.

PARENTING OUT OF FEAR

Sure, I call it all kinds of things: 

  • parenting with purpose
  • being intentional
  • maybe even being a little “controlling.” 

But the truth is, it’s fear

Yet, the Bible declares, “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)  I memorized this verse a long time ago, but God whispered it to my heart a few years ago, and it completely changed the way I parent. Here’s what happened.

image from womanofgod.com

Our daughter, Abby, has always been into the latest trends. When she was two, she would go into the indoor playground at Chick-fil-a and come out a few minutes later modeling other children’s shoes. She would stop complete strangers on the street to comment on their cute outfits. (If you know me, you are asking where in the world she inherited that from… definitely not her momma!) In Kindergarten, her free-writing journal was filled with lyrics from Hannah Montana songs, which she wasn’t even allowed to watch or listen to yet!

Yes, our sweet girl’s heart was drawn by the world from a very early age. 

As she entered the middle school years, the pressure to fit in and be accepted by the “cool kids” increased. She hated being one of the few girls without a phone, and though she still obeyed me, she thought my “modesty” rules were old-fashioned and ridiculous. We clashed often during those days; Abby, with her teenage hormones raging, and me, with my authority being challenged and my fear increasing at every turn. 

My prayer journal is filled with desperate pleas for God to protect her and change her and not let her go astray. I constantly cried to Jeff about the path she was on and where it would lead. I was so afraid (and a little bit dramatic).

Now, understand, our girl was hardly a rebel! But after so many years in youth ministry, I was extra sensitive to the beginning stages of a wandering heart, and while she wasn’t even out of the living room, my mind saw her riding off into the sunset. It sounds ridiculous even as I type it, but it’s true. 

Do you do that, too? Imagine the worst-case scenario right out of the gate?

Anyway, one night as I was praying for Abby, crying out to Him again in all my fear, the Lord spoke to me very clearly. No, I didn’t hear an audible voice, but the impression on my heart was so strong, it could only be the Holy Spirit. This is what He said:

“Yes, Abby’s heart is drawn by the world, but whose isn’t? You are focusing on the wrong thing. She has had multiple opportunities to join the cool kids, but when it came down to it, she wasn’t willing to compromise her convictions. She may stumble a little along the way, but she almost always makes the right choice! So quit focusing on what you’re afraid of and focus on ME. The whole world is already fighting against her… she needs YOU to fight for her. Are you going to keep parenting out of FEAR or are you going to start parenting out of FAITH?”

I knew immediately what I had to do. Viewing the situation from God’s perspective completely transformed my mind and changed the way I parent (or at least try to).

So when you find yourself in a situation where you are tempted to parent out of fear, let me encourage you to parent out of faith instead. 

PARENTING OUT OF FAITH

How do we do that? Here are three things that help me:

1. Change how we PRAY for them

Instead of praying out of fear, I pray in faith. I claim God’s promises for her. I remind myself of His plan for her life, of His faithfulness through the generations. I ask Him to give her courage, faith, and boldness. I pray for her to be a Light in a dark generation, that He might use her in mighty ways! I ask Him to surround her with godly adults who love Him and will help shape her into the woman He created her to be—and He has! 

Do I still bring Him my fears when they surface? Absolutely! I need to, for He is the only One who can give me peace. But I’ve learned His power is only released in our lives through prayers of faith, not fear. “Truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed… nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

Do I still bring Him my fears when they surface? Absolutely! I need to, for He is the only One who can give me peace. But I’ve learned His power is only released in our lives through prayers of faith, not fear.

KELLY CALLEN HEATH

2. Change how we THINK about them

Our thoughts determine our actions. What I’ve learned in parenting, though, is how much my thoughts actually determine my children’s actions! By parenting out of fear, I may actually be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy in my child. When we reflect our fears on them, they may internalize them and think that is what we expect of them. Therefore, changing the way we think can actually have a direct effect on how they act!

For me, this meant stopping myself from worrying about where Abby was headed, and instead reminding myself of what God has planned for her life. It meant focusing on the times she got it right more than on the times she didn’t, on her victories more than her failures. I continually thanked God for the times she did the hard thing, reminding myself of His strength and goodness in her life. 

And I began to speak these things out loud to her, which is the next tip.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

3. Change how we SPEAK to them

I cannot emphasize enough the difference it made when I began speaking to Abby in faith instead of out of fear! As I pointed out her courage to hold to her convictions, she began to make those decisions more confidently. I touted character traits I wasn’t yet seeing in her as though she was already displaying them, and before long, she was! 

If you want your daughter to show courage, compassion, and kindness, tell her you love those things about her, and point out ways God can use those traits in her life. If you want your son to have integrity, character, and resourcefulness, make a point of recognizing those qualities in him and mentioning them every chance you get. 

Changing how I spoke to Abby enabled God to transform how she sees herself.  She no longer sees herself through my fear, but as God sees her—as His “handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He prepared in advance for (her) to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) 

WE GET TO DECIDE…

I am pretty certain that had I continued parenting out of fear, Abby would have continued resisting me and would probably not be the awesome Jesus-girl she is today. That doesn’t mean it would have been my fault—she is still free to make her own choices—but I definitely was not helping the situation. 

And even parenting in faith doesn’t guarantee a positive outcome; there are no magic formulas for producing perfect kids! In fact, even while writing this blog post, the enemy is whispering that just because it helped one kid doesn’t mean it will help the others. 

But I no longer listen to the voice of fear…

Friend, we can parent out of fear of who our children might become, or we can change our perspective and parent in faith of who God desires them to be. 

Both will shape them…

But we get to decide which one!

IF YOU ENJOYED THIS POST, CHECK OUT THESE OTHER BLOG POSTS ON THE RELATED TOPIC OF CHANGE:

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So Much Change

When You Feel Stuck…

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Several years ago, when our kids were little, we paused to take pictures at an outside platform. We were in the World Showcase at EPCOT, looking across the lake towards Spaceship Earth. Eli was just a toddler at the time (and all boy!). I leaned down to fix Abby’s shoe, when all of the sudden, I heard screaming, and Sarah squealed, “Momma, come help! Eli’s stuck!” 

Somehow our little guy had squeezed his head through the opening in the bars and was unable to pull it back out. So there he stood, half of him on one side of the gate and half of him on the other, unable to move in any direction. 

Eventually, we were able to calm him down, and when he scooted a little lower, his head finally slid out. He was instantly off on another adventure as if nothing had ever happened. Like I said, all boy!

Friend, do you ever find yourself feeling stuck?

Maybe you set some goals and start moving forward, only to get part way in and find yourself caught between where you just were and where you are going. It paralyzes you, stopping your momentum and freezing you in your tracks. It can be scary at times, annoying at others, but it’s never fun.

We are nine weeks into the New Year, and I’ve had so many people express lately how they are feeling stuck. Our kids are struggling to stay motivated in school— third quarter is always when they wrestle most. The weather has been yucky, which can definitely affect our mood, as well as our desire to exercise… and if you’re me, to want to eat a lot of chocolate! And now that it’s becoming warmer outside, I am even less motivated, because I just want to enjoy it and not do anything else! Can you relate?

I want to be honest with you… I have also started feeling unmotivated in this “transformation” journey. I am getting impatient with slow progress and irritated with small steps. At the same time, the journey ahead seems overwhelming. 

My house is still overflowing with clutter, my marriage is still imperfect, my new website is still under construction, and my children still wrestle with character issues (go figure). And for some reason, everyone in this house still wants clean clothes and dinner every night! Where’s the chocolate?!

I find myself like little Eli, part in and part out, frozen in place, desperately needing someone to help me.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What do you do when you feel stuck? How do you get yourself out of that place and moving in the right direction? Where do you find your motivation?

I’ve been thinking about that story with Eli, wondering if there are some tips to be gleaned that might help us get unstuck. Here’s how it went down: 

  • First, we had him take a breath and calm down. Yes, he was stuck, but he wasn’t going to be stuck forever. Perspective is a wonderful thing! 
  • Next, we took assessment of the situation. How did he get there? What was the best way to get him out? Could we get him out on our own or would we need help?
  • Finally, we came up with a plan. We realized he could get out the same way he went in; he just needed to retrace his steps. 

I wonder if we can use those same steps to help us get unstuck?

  • Breathe and get perspective.
  • Take assessment of the situation.
  • Make a plan and do it.

The weather has been so nice here the past week, and I have been able to go for a walk every day. I have learned that this, along with my prayer time, is how I breathe. Something about walking or hiking outside in nature opens my soul and enables me to take a breath. Making this a priority has helped me not feel so overwhelmed by all the things I’m not doing but feel like I need to be doing. It has slowed my mind down enough to remember that I am not going to be stuck forever. I can, in fact, move forward again if I will take the time to get unstuck first. 

And a crazy thing happened— as I began to take assessment of where I started and where I am now, I realized that I have actually made more progress than I thought! I have a really bad tendency to focus on what I’m not doing instead of what I have accomplished. Anyone else relate to that?

When I look at my house, all I see is the piles of clutter, the still-not-decorated basement, the never-ending laundry, and the long list of tasks in need of attention. When I look at my writing projects, I get discouraged at how little I have accomplished compared to what I hoped to have done by now. I notice how Jeff still has to fight for my attention when the kids are around and how we went two weeks without a date, even after I put together “date cards” to make it easier for us to prioritize it! My list of failures just keeps growing.

But I forget  to notice how many “small spaces” I have managed to clean out since January, not to mention the fact that my closet is STILL clean and organized (woo hoo!). I forget to give myself credit for starting two new writing projects and posting weekly on my blog, even when life got crazy or I had no idea what to write. Also, when I didn’t keep up with my writing goals, it was because I was prioritizing my family or connecting with a friend, which simply means I am doing what matters most… which is also one of my goals for this year! 

And it’s true, our marriage is hardly Instagram-worthy (is there really such a thing?), but Jeff and I have gone on a few breakfast dates, which seems to be working better for us right now. He also mentioned several deep conversations we’ve shared over the past month or two, and we both agreed we feel much more connected. It’s hard to measure that kind of progress, but it is progress nonetheless, and it shouldn’t be discounted.

After taking assessment, I realized… I may not be quite as stuck as I thought I was! My progress is just slow and spread out, not clumped all together in a way I can see it and feel accomplished. Instead of actually being stuck, maybe I just feel stuck. There’s a big difference!

So, my plan is just to keep working the plan. Keep praying first, doing what matters most, and reminding myself that less is better. Keep taking tiny steps in the right direction and trusting they will eventually lead me where God wants me to go. 

Keep fixing my eyes on Jesus and forgiving myself when I fail, which is often. And keep offering myself as “a living sacrifice,” allowing God to renew my mind and change how I think— even about myself and my progress (see Romans 12:1-2).

Friend, where are you stuck right now? Perhaps these tips can help you see yourself and your situation from God’s perspective and enable you to move forward. Let me encourage you to trust the small steps, even when it doesn’t feel like you’re getting anywhere fast. In the words of the tortoise, “Slow and steady wins the race!”

“God is the one who began this good work in you, and I am certain that he won’t stop before it is complete…” (Philippians 1:6, CEV)

If this helps you or if you have other tips for getting unstuck, I’d love to hear them!

31 Day Discipleship Challenge: How to Follow Jesus

My freshman year of college, a close friend gave me a book that had a profound impact on my spiritual life. In His Steps is a Christian fiction novel written in 1896 by Charles Sheldon. It tells the story of a town that is completely transformed when a stranger interrupts a church service one Sunday, questioning whether or not the Christ-followers are actually following Jesus at all. He calmly inquires:

I was wondering… if what you call following Jesus is the same thing as what He taught. What did He mean when He said: ‘Follow Me’? The minister said… it is necessary for the disciple of Jesus to follow His steps, and he said the steps are ‘obedience, faith, love, and imitation.’ But I did not hear him tell you just what he meant that to mean, especially the last step. What do you Christians mean by following the steps of Jesus… What do you mean when you sing, ‘I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way?’ Do you mean that you are suffering and denying yourselves and trying to save lost, suffering humanity just as I understand Jesus did?… It seems to me there’s an awful lot of trouble in the world that somehow wouldn’t exist if all the people who sing such songs went and lived them out. I suppose I don’t understand. But what would Jesus do? Is that what you mean by following His steps?

In His Steps, p.8-9

After pondering the stranger’s words, the minister discovers his entire concept of discipleship is in disarray. The next Sunday, he stands before his congregation and issues a challenge: Who will commit for one whole year to do nothing without first asking, “What would Jesus do?” and responding in obedience, regardless of the cost? The goal is not to judge anyone else’s interpretation, but simply to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance on what Jesus would have you do in your current situation. 

The rest of the book unveils the difference it makes in people’s lives, both individually and collectively, when Christ’s followers live in obedience to the Master instead of by conforming to the world.

I pulled that same, worn copy out earlier this month and read it again. It challenged and inspired me just as much now as when I first read it thirty years ago! Since we are in Lent, a season of surrender and preparation leading up to Easter, and since many of you seem to be intrigued by my journey of allowing God to “transform” me this year, I have decided to issue a 31Day Discipleship Challenge for the month of March. If you desire to truly follow Jesus in a transformational way, this challenge is for you!

As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reminds us, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” While I continue to use Romans 12:1-2 as my theme verse for 2021, for the purpose of this challenge, I want to focus on a different verse:

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.’” (Matthew 16:24, ESV)

Jesus is giving us the formula for discipleship: Deny yourself, Take up your cross, Follow in my steps. 

Obviously, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Jesus’ path led through great suffering and self-sacrifice, so it can be assumed ours will include similar elements. However, we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit (the Presence of God within us!) to be our guide and strength. We don’t have to try to figure it all out on our own! He promises to help us. We have everything we need!

So here’s the challenge.

For the next 31 days, I challenge you to spend time with the LORD every day (preferably first thing in the morning, but whatever works best for you) and ask Him these questions:

1. DENY YOURSELF

  • In what ways/areas do I need to deny myself?
  • Another way of asking this is what do I want to do or have that I need to surrender to You instead?
  • What are you asking me to give up that will cost me something?
  • What am I afraid to give up?

2. TAKE UP YOUR CROSS

  • What is the “cross” I need to take up?
  • What do I not want to do, but need to?
  • What am I afraid of?
  • How are you calling me to suffer or sacrifice for You?

3. FOLLOW IN HIS STEPS

  • How are you asking/calling me to follow you?
  • Where do I see or sense You at work, and how can I join You?
  • What is one step I can take towards You TODAY?

I encourage you to write down your answers everyday. If you are not a journaling person, you might want to just do bullet points under each topic. At first, simply write down whatever thoughts come to mind and see if there are any patterns that emerge. 

Then spend some time on this, truly listening for the Father’s voice. You might know instantly what next step God is calling you to; perhaps this exercise will give you the courage to move forward in obedience. Or you may not have any idea what you need to surrender or where He wants to take you, and that’s okay!

It is my prayer that praying this Scripture every day will open your eyes to seeing Jesus in a much deeper, more personal way. 

James promises us, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8, ESV) If you long for God to transform your life, your heart, your marriage, your finances, etc. into all He designed them to be, draw near to Him! He will meet you where you are and walk with you from there.

Can you imagine the difference it would make in this world if all who claim to follow Jesus actually did? If honoring Christ with our thoughts, words, and actions became more important to us than feeling comfortable, making money, or being accepted? 

Let’s find out together! Who’s in? 

If you’re up for the challenge, please comment below or send me a message. I’d love to walk this journey beside you and have a front row seat to what God is going to do!

Also, if you have a minute, check out these other “Challenge”-related blog posts from some of my friends:

https://www.ashleyolivine.com/the-motherhood-penalty-challenge/

https://www.epigenwellness.com/insomnia-with-anxiety-how-to-overcome-challenge/

Challenging Times: 3 Ways to Endure the Struggle

6 Scripture Verses for Heart Transformation

Have you ever read something in the Bible you may have read before, but suddenly something about it strikes you in a completely different way? You read it again, wondering how you ever could have missed it. 

Because this time it changes you. It makes you different. 

You can never read those verses the same again.

The story of Jesus feeding the five thousand found in John 6:1-15 is one of those passages for me.  I was familiar with the story, had read it more than once, and heard it preached on countless times. However, one night at a college Bible study, this one tiny verse stuck right in the middle of the passage jumped out at me for the first time ever. Jesus asks the disciples how they are going to feed all those people, and suddenly Andrew speaks up. In verse 9, he says, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Normally, I jumped ahead to the miracle—how Jesus was able to feed all those people with that tiny amount of food. But this time, for the first time, I noticed the boy

That little boy must have overheard Jesus and his buddies talking about their dilemma. He may have looked around, wondering why the adults weren’t helping, or glanced towards town where the fishermen usually brought their daily catch. All we know, though, is that while the disciples complained and argued about their impossible situation, this little boy had the courage to offer a solution. 

Was he afraid to approach Jesus? Did he wonder if it was enough?

The Bible doesn’t say. It simply tells us that the little boy walked up and offered all he had to Jesus. And Jesus, likely giving him a wink and a secret smile, took that tiny offering and turned it into a miracle. Without the lunch, there would be no miracle. Without the boy, there would be no lunch. 

“Without the lunch, there would be no miracle.

Without the boy, there would be no lunch. “

What was it that made me suddenly notice the boy? Perhaps I noticed because I felt like him—small, unnoticeable, lost in the crowd, with not much to offer, but a great desire to help. I was about to graduate from college. All my plans had changed with a broken engagement (you can read a little more about that here), and I had accepted a job into full-time student ministry, for which I felt unqualified and ill-equipped.

Who was I to lead people to Jesus? What could I offer that was worth anything compared to those around me? I felt like a little kid in a grown-up’s world, and I wasn’t sure I had anything to offer that mattered.

But I loved Jesus. And there was nothing I wouldn’t give Him, nothing I wouldn’t do for Him, no matter how silly or insignificant it seemed.

So I noticed the little boy because he was me.

That little phrase stuck in the middle of the miracle was the Father’s way of whispering to me that my gifts, no matter how small or insignificant, mattered. He cared less about my ability and more about my availability. The boy didn’t make the miracle happen, Jesus did! But He did it with the little boy’s lunch. The offering makes all the difference.

That one little verse transformed the way I think about my gifts. I’ll be honest; even after all these years, what I have to offer still seems small and inconsequential. Even writing this blog post, I catch myself wondering who will want to read it and how it can possibly help anyone. But then I remind myself of the little boy who bravely brought his lunch to Jesus, trusting Him to do something worthwhile with it. I remind myself that the value lies not in the gift but in the giving. So I offer, and then I wait to see what God will do. (If you want to read more on the little boy, check out this blog post from Paul David Tripp: https://www.paultripp.com/articles/posts/dont-forget-about-the-boy)

As I lean into the idea of “transformation” this year, I am confident that it begins with Scripture. 

Nothing transforms our hearts like the Word of God. 

It changes the way we think, what we value, how we respond. So I want to share a few verses I am praying that help open my heart to whatever God wants to do in me, in the hope that they will help you, too.

6 Verses for Heart Transformation

Romans 12:1-2

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (NIV)

Ezekial 36:26

 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (NIV)

Psalm 51:10-12

Create in me a clean heart, O God.
    Renew a loyal spirit within me.
11 Do not banish me from your presence,
    and don’t take your Holy Spirit[
a] from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and make me willing to obey you. (NLT)

2 Timothy 3:16

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. (NLT)

Ephesians 4:22-24

You were taught to leave your old self—to stop living the evil way you lived before. That old self becomes worse, because people are fooled by the evil things they want to do. 23 But you were taught to be made new in your hearts, 24 to become a new person. That new person is made to be like God—made to be truly good and holy. (NCV)

James 1:22-25

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (NIV)

There are plenty more where these came from, and I will share more throughout the coming year, but this is a good place to start. 

Are there verses God is using to shape your heart to be more like Him? I’d love to hear them!

How to Love Your Middle School Boy

Photo Credit: Mandy Khoo

To my middle school boy, LOVE is…

Basketball

Nike shoes

A cool hat

Hours spent gaming

Freshly baked cookies

Fast food (and lots of it)

Sleepovers with friends

An extra hour of TV

Ice cream in the freezer

Whatever his friends own…

Today, I poured out my love for him by…

Helping him with Math

Driving him around

Spending 2 hours at the gym so he could play basketball with his friends

Making a healthy dinner

Washing his favorite sweatshirt

Laughing at his jokes

Reminding him to do his chores

Setting limits and saying no

Making him walk the dog. Twice.

Praying for him

Hugging him goodnight (as he squirmed away from me)…

We don’t always speak the same language,

my boy and I.

Sometimes he gets what he wants

and feels loved,

Sometimes he gets loved

instead of what he wants.

Often he wishes for a different mom,

One who would love him more… or less.

He’s not old enough yet to realize

that real love thinks long-term—

It chooses the eternal over the temporary

It chooses health over happiness

It chooses wisdom over being liked

It chooses God’s ways over the world’s

It chooses growth over popularity

It chooses to make the hard decisions

even when they are misunderstood…

Oh, how I love this boy! 

Maybe one day he will grasp just how much.

**********

I wrote this last week after a rough day with one of my boys. I must have whispered to myself, “Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed…” a million times that day! He told Jeff, “Mom and I quarreled, but then we worked it out.” (Extra points for a using a vocabulary word!!) I’m not sure that explanation fully captures the extent of our exchange or emotions, but that’s okay. It ended with teary-eyes and I love you’s, and that’s all that really matters. We came out better on the other side.

Parenting is hard, y’all.

H A R D!!!

But these battles for our children’s hearts are SO WORTH IT! Do not give up. Do not quit fighting for them. They need us to love them, even when they don’t know how to receive it. They need us to set boundaries, even when they struggle against them with every ounce of their being. They need us to fight through our hurt feelings and love them anyway. And they need us to keep pointing them to Jesus.

We will get it wrong half the time, and that’s okay. Just don’t give up. Keep loving them. That’s what we’re trying to do around here, however imperfectly; trusting the One who loves them most to fill in the gaps with His grace.

That’s all I know to do.

Transformation Update: Marriage Edition (Part 2)- How to Start Transforming Your Marriage

I have to be honest with y’all. I have written and rewritten this blog post multiple times trying to get it right. I can’t remember the last time I had such a hard time writing something! Why has it been so difficult?

I guess when it comes down to it it’s because I don’t feel qualified to write about marriage. 

Sure, Jeff and I have been married almost 25 years. We have a pretty great marriage, and we have even counseled many couples who are either just starting out or struggling. But mostly we just share truths we have learned along the way, most of them the hard way. That hardly makes me an expert!

In reality, though, there is no magic formula. There are no 7 steps to a fabulous marriage, no checklist to greatness, no one-size-fits-all solution for your marriage woes.

So what’s the secret, then? Honestly, I have no idea!

All I know is it has taken us a lot of prayer, grace, and intentionality to keep it all together. 

So, I guess that’s where we’ll start…

Transformation Update: How to Start Transforming Your Marriage 

As I have prayed over our marriage this past month, God has already begun transforming the way I think. There are so many ways my thoughts about marriage have mirrored our culture without me even realizing it. I hope sharing some of these revelations will encourage you to consider your own thought patterns and actions. In keeping with my previous posts on transformation, we’ll use the Four R’s as tools to help us move forward in this process.

REVIEW:

Just like when cleaning out a closet, it’s important to take assessment of our thoughts and feelings so we can figure out what is cluttering our hearts. That helps us determine where to start. If you answered the questions in my last post, you already have a head start on this part of the process. If not, this is a great time to start! You can find them HERE.

Positives:

For me, I began by thinking through all the things I love about Jeff and our marriage. I love that we laugh so much together, and that we have built a culture of joy and laughter into our family. I love that he is so committed to providing well for our family without compromising his involvement as a dad. I love that we both value Jesus above all else and strive to walk with Him daily, modeling a living faith and investing it in our children’s hearts. And I love that every once in awhile, usually when life is most crazy and I’m beside myself with the chaos, he still looks at me like I’m the only one in the room.

What is it that you love about your spouse and about your marriage? What are the “cornerstone pieces” of your marriage that you want to build everything else around? (Some of you may have to dig around a little or even go back to when you were first married. But if you try hard enough, you can find something!)

Challenges:

This is likely the easy part for most of us. This is what we gripe about to our friends or complain about to our kids. These are the things that bother us, the things we wish we could change (usually about our partner).

But remember, transformation never starts with someone else, only us!

So as I prayed about the challenging parts of our marriage, I asked the Lord to show me where I was at fault—how I have been conforming to the patterns of the world— and what I need to do differently. (Be careful with prayers like this, friends~ He always answers!) Much to my dismay, He revealed plenty, but most of it falls into two categories:

1. Wrong Attitudes

It’s so easy to focus on how someone else is not meeting your needs without recognizing or admitting how you are not meeting theirs. The world is quick to have us declare our “rights” and place blame on others, but marriage is about choosing to love selflessly and putting our spouse’s needs above our own. Let’s just say I have some work to do in this area!

2. Wrong Priority

If you ask what is most important to me, I would list my priorities without hesitation— God, Jeff, our kids, then everything else. Unfortunately, my actions would tell you differently!

Our culture equates being “busy” with being successful. And as a mom, my natural instinct is to put my kids before myself. As a result, my days are quickly consumed with activities and meals and schoolwork and volunteering, and before I know it, my sweet husband has been completely squeezed out. 

The greatest struggle Jeff and I face in our marriage is what we call, “Roommate Syndrome.” This is when we allow the craziness of life to pull us in different directions until we are basically just functioning as “roommates”—passing each other in the hallway, leaving notes on the fridge, occasionally meeting to co-parent, but not really connecting at all

At its core, this is an issue of prioritizing the wrong thing. Seriously, what matters more than our marriage? 

Friends, do you struggle with this, too? How is your attitude? Are you prioritizing the wrong things?

REMOVE:

Once we have an idea of where to start, the next step is to get rid of the things that are hindering us. (Hebrews 12:1) 

For me, this involves a few different areas. 

First, I am trying to be intentional about releasing my frustrations and expectations, as well as my “rights.” I need to stop focusing on what I want Jeff to do differently, so I can instead focus on myself and what I can do differently. (This addresses my wrong attitudes.)

Let’s be honest—this way of thinking directly contradicts the how the world tells us to respond. And I believe this is an area that is so easy for Satan to get a foothold into our marriages! But regardless of what the world tells us, we cannot control anyone else; we can only control ourselves. I have been married long enough to know my own actions often initiate a cycle of disharmony. The good news is this means changing my actions can also break the cycle and create a better one! Releasing negative thought patterns makes room for positive thoughts to fill their place.

After that, I need to address my wrong priorities. One way I am doing this is by clearing my schedule and eliminating some of my volunteer activities in order to give me more time at home. The pandemic has made this easier than it would have been otherwise, for sure! I also need to look at how I’m spending my free time, so I can remove (or at least reduce) activities that occupy time and energy which can be better invested. (Yeah, still working on this one…sigh.)

What is hindering you from having the kind of marriage you desire? What do you need to remove, reduce, or eliminate in order to make room for positive changes?

REORDER:

So, a crazy thing happened. Once I started getting rid of some of these things that have been hindering me, I noticed I wasn’t automatically investing that time and energy into my marriage. 

What? 

You mean I have to be intentional about making marriage my top priority? (Yeah, remember that part about marriage being hard work? Here it is!)

Friends, it’s a fact that we spend time and resources on what we love most. Lee Iacocca said, “If you want to make good use of your time, you’ve got to know what’s most important and then give it all you’ve got.” Once we eliminate the distractions and negative thoughts, we must choose to fill those spaces with what matters most.

Now, this is highly unromantic, but for me that means actually scheduling time in my planner for me to spend talking with Jeff.  With four kids and a dog, it is almost impossible for us to have an uninterrupted conversation when everyone is home. For the first time ever, we have a few days a week when all our children are out of the house at the same time (except when COVID interferes, but whatever). That time without children is extremely productive for us individually, but BECAUSE our marriage is so important, we are choosing to set aside the first hour or two on those mornings to just talk with each other. 

Full disclosure: I am embarrassed to admit that if I don’t actually plan to spend that time with Jeff, it can feel like a waste of time for me when it happens because I feel like I need to be doing other things (I know, I know. Give me some grace!). Writing “Jeff time” into my planner reminds me that it is the most important way I can spend that time and frees me to be fully present

How can you be more intentional about making time for what you love? What resources can you redirect towards investing in your marriage?

RENEW:

I was listening to a great podcast this week on marriage, and heard this statement: “If you don’t like what you’re harvesting, sow different seed!” This is the part where we purposefully add in new things that will help us move towards God’s design for our marriage. This might look like:

  • Resources: books, podcasts, etc. to help us grow in our relationship. Here are a few that I love: Rhythms for Life~Saving Your Marriage: Carey & Toni Nieuwhof, Two as One: Connecting Daily with Christ and Your Spouse, and this list has several that I have read and recommend— 20 Best Christian Books on Marriage.
  • Write down three things every day that you love about your spouse, things you are grateful for or appreciate. Even if it seems little or insignificant, write it down. 
  • Praying together. It’s cheesy, but true~ “The couple who prays together, stays together.” This adds another dimension of intimacy to your marriage that can’t be reached any other way.
  • Be intentional about spending time together, both quantity AND quality. COVID has given many of us more time together than we know what to do with! However, I have found this has actually made it more difficult for many of us to have QUALITY time together. So that’s something I am working on adding back in. (Also, sex fits in this category… and the next one! Just saying!)
  • HAVE FUN! Mundaneness can kill a marriage slowly over time. Try new things together! Research shows that sharing new experiences is one of the best ways to bond, particularly things that are out of our comfort zone. Have fun together… it might just remind you why you got married in the first place!

What is missing from your marriage? What can you add that God can use to transform your marriage into more of what He designed it to be?

I have already seen a difference in our marriage by implementing some of this, and I look forward to seeing where God wants to take us. Thanks for taking this journey with me! I’d love to hear how God is transforming you through this process!  

Feel free to comment below or message me on social media. You can find me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/kellyheathblogger) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/kel_kelheath/).

*Note: I know that some of you reading this are likely struggling with much deeper issues in your marriage. If you are in an abusive or dangerous situation, please prioritize your safety and seek help! If your marriage is not unsafe but is extremely difficult and you are losing hope, please prioritize counseling. It takes two people to make a relationship work. Sometimes you can do all the right things and it won’t be enough on your own (but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!). A good Christian counselor can help you journey through this process and discern how God wants you to move forward.

Tuesday Transformation: (Part 1) 9 Questions to Help Take Assessment of Your Marriage

I met my husband when I was seventeen. 

The summer before I left for college, I went to lunch with my friend, Charles, and we just happened to be seated across from his mom. She was having lunch with one of her (extremely attractive) former piano students. After saying hello and introducing me to the (extremely attractive) 25 year old former piano student (Jeff), they invited us to eat with them, and I’m sure I spent the whole time trying not to stare or drool or say something stupid. 

When we left the restaurant, I turned to my friend and said, “Oh my gosh, I am going to marry him one day!”

Yep, I said it. The very first time we met. 

(Jeff loves that part of our story!)

Now, if I’m honest, I didn’t actually think I was going to marry him. When Charles told me he thought we would make a good couple, I laughed and replied, “Are you kidding? He’s a man and I’m a kid. But that’s the kind of guy I’m looking for!”

(Jeff loves that part of our story, too…)

It was three years before I saw him again, in a crowded lobby at a convention attended by thousands of people. It took me three days to get up the nerve to talk to him. After that, God crossed our paths again and again at various points, slowly building a foundation of friendship, until eventually, several years later, we both knew at the same time that we were supposed to get married. Our story is one of God’s perfect timing.

It turns out I really was going to marry him one day! 

On our next anniversary, we will have been married for 25 years. TWENTY-FIVE YEARS!!! Y’all, that’s a looooooong time! 

And this Sunday, in case you have forgotten, is Valentines Day. (Guys, you’re welcome.)

So I figured this might be a good week to talk a little bit about marriage. Since that was one of the first areas God brought to mind when He whispered the word “transform” to my heart, I thought I’d give y’all an update on how He’s growing me.

Jeff and I are probably one of the most compatible couples I know, and with both our ministry backgrounds, I think marriage in general comes a little bit easier to us. That said, we are also very different in a lot of ways. We have different preferences when it comes to how we parent, how we spend/save money, how we spend our free time, etc.  I know the way we balance one another is by divine design, but sometimes these differences can also be a source of frustration and conflict in our marriage instead. Add four children and work travel and hormones into the equation, and we often end up with a great big mess! 

If you are married, I’m pretty sure you can relate.

At times marriage can be really hard, even when you’re married to a great person. And the devil wants nothing more than to steal, kill, and destroy any relationship that reflects God’s goodness. So, while Jeff and I both feel like we have a really good marriage, we never want to take that for granted. And I have learned I am not always as intentional about investing in our marriage the way I should. 

Transformation Update: Marriage Edition

The Lord has been convicting me and changing the way I think about our marriage over the past month. Following the same pattern as my previous update, I am using four tools to help guide the process of allowing God to transform my marriage (Review, Remove, Reorder, Renew). I am asking Him to reveal how I am buying into the “patterns of this world” and to transform my thinking (Romans 12:2) so it better reflects His heart and not my own.

I want to update you on where I am in this process, but since this post is already getting long, I will wait and share my transformation update in my next post instead. For now, here are several questions I have been asking myself that might be helpful as you “review” where you currently are in your marriage and how you would like it to change.

9 Questions to Help Take Assessment of Your Marriage

  • What are three words that currently describe my marriage? 
  • How would our family/friends/children describe our marriage?
  • What are three words I wish described my marriage?
  • What do I want my marriage to look like 5 year from now? 20 years from now?
  • What is our biggest challenge area? (communication, finances, sex, parenting, emotional intimacy, quality time, praying together, etc.)
  • What are some things I loved about my spouse when we were dating and first married?
  • What are some things I love about my spouse now?
  • What are some things that hinder me from being a better wife/husband, and what steps can I take to change them?
  • How can I be more intentional about making my marriage a priority?

Some of my answers to these questions surprised me. A few made me sad, but most made me grateful. I am married to a really great man.

My friend, if after answering these questions, you are not overflowing with gratitude for your spouse, it’s okay. Really. God has changed many hearts in seemingly impossible situations before; He has changed MY heart for people when I thought it wasn’t possible. So don’t give up or be discouraged!

Our God is in the business of doing the impossible! Don’t be afraid to really pour your heart out to Him and come clean about how you feel. We have to acknowledge where we are starting before we can move forward. God is big enough— He can handle it!

In my next post, I will share more specifically how God is working to transform my marriage, so check back on Thursday! I hope you will use these questions to help you take assessment of where you are in your relationship and begin asking the Lord to transform your heart for your spouse.

Remember, transformation never starts with someone else… 

“Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

The Goodness of God

Sometimes the goodness of the Lord overwhelms me.

You and I both know life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we hope. Things don’t always work out the way we expect. Often we find ourselves in situations where God doesn’t seem to be present at all, or if He is, we can’t seem to figure out what in the world He is doing! 

That’s just real life. It’s hard and it’s messy, and it doesn’t always feel good.

But sometimes, on a rare occasion, we find ourselves overwhelmed with God’s goodness. Tonight is one of those moments for me.

After a crazy day of classes, Sarah called me from college, frustrated that her new schedule is going to greatly limit her ability to spend time with her friend group. Shifting to a music major means that she has lessons and rehearsals during the evenings when her friends normally hang out. I encouraged her to try to make some new friends in her music classes, but she wasn’t really in the mood to hear that yet. So after we hung up, I prayed. “Lord, you know what she needs more than I do. I want to ask You to shift her schedule or widen her friend group, but more than that, I want you to draw her heart to You. So whatever that looks like, that’s what I pray…”

Y’all.  

After rehearsal, a few of the music students—including Sarah— went back to one of the corridors and had an impromptu (socially distanced) time of worship together. They lifted their voices in praise and shared how God is working in their lives. Not how they got saved in middle school, or how they got saved again at camp, but how God is shaping them and growing them right now as college students. 

A few minutes ago, she sent me a voice recording of their worship. They weren’t just singing the latest trendy worship songs (which I love), but also songs we taught her a decade ago during “family church” in our basement—songs we sang at our church plant in the late 90’s/early 2000’s. Songs that make me close my eyes and lift my hands, taking me back to a different time, a different place. 

Reminding me of God’s faithfulness. His goodness.

So, here I sit, alone in my kitchen, remembering sweet times of worship with precious friends during college. We were so anxious to know what the future held back then, but it never stopped us from grasping onto God in the moment. Oh, how I treasure those memories! Our hearts were so open, our faith so strong, our worship so pure. Those glimpses of glory built the foundations of my faith.

As I listen to my daughter’s beautiful voice raised in worship to the very same King of Kings that I sang to all those years ago, my heart overflows with gratitude. What more could I ask for? What better gift for a momma’s heart than to know her child is walking in the truth? 

Who knows what tomorrow will bring.  I am not naïve enough to think that this moment determines her relationship with God forever or that nothing will shake her. There will be more bad days and plenty of frustrated phone calls. In fact, I am confident the enemy would like nothing more than to steal, kill, and destroy her sprouting faith. But I am ready for the fight, and so is she. The devil cannot stand where God is being worshiped. 

So tonight, I will sing of the goodness of God.

Transformation: A Different Way of Thinking

I am sitting in our host’s gorgeously furnished basement, surrounded by strangers. Jeff is talking to the nice middle-aged lady next to us, making her laugh about something random. There’s a spread of food on the tables behind us. I know I should probably be impressed by the professional sauna and enormous wine cellar next to the bathroom, but I have never really been one for fancy things. I am, however, second-guessing my decision to wear jeans!

My friend, Cindy, moves to the front of the room, and the crowd hushes. She begins to speak, sharing the story of how she first fell in love with the children of Swaziland. She tells us about her initial trip; of the people she met, the poverty she saw, and the myriad of emotions swirling inside her. On the screen behind her are photos of smiling women in colorful clothing weaving grass mats . There are beautiful, brown-skinned children with no shoes and dirt-smudged faces. Cindy tells us how her heart broke as she left that country, and how she struggled with the abundance surrounding her when she returned home. 

“I remember asking God, ‘What do you want me to do? How can I help? Am I like the rich young ruler who must give up everything he owns in order to follow You?’”  With tears in her eyes, she continued. “And as I looked around my living room, God whispered, ‘No. But what if you simply give me your excess…”

Cindy and her husband, Jared, already honored God with their every day life. The Lord didn’t need them to give everything away; He just wanted them to consider giving away what they didn’t actually need

Their excess.

That event was almost ten years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. My friend’s words have echoed in my heart ever since. What is my excess? How do I determine the difference between what I need and what I want?  Where is the line between enough and excess? I have continued to ask myself those questions in the years since that day.

What Cindy was talking about was a different way of thinking. God was “renewing her mind” by changing her thoughts about what she needed, what she valued, and what she could give.

If you follow my blog, you know my “word” for 2021 is transform. Along with that, I am using Romans 12:1-2 to guide me through whatever areas God chooses to focus on.  I often think of Cindy when I read these verses. Of all my friends, she is certainly one who offers herself wholeheartedly as a “living sacrifice” for God’s glory. 

Her compassion and heart for justice are evident in everything she does. She refuses to “conform to the patterns of this world,” and thinks so differently than our current culture. But most of all, she seeks to know and do the will of God by constantly allowing Him to renew her mind through His Holy Spirit and His Word. As a result, He has not only transformed Cindy’s life, but the lives of countless others. 

************

What does it look like when we allow God to “renew our mind?” What does that even mean? Basically, it’s just a fancy way of saying we should let God determine how we think instead of depending on our own thoughts or the opinions of others. 

As I have been praying through the different areas I mentioned in my last blog post, I keep wondering why it is that some things are easy for me to keep ordered, while other areas of my life are prime pickings for a show like “Hoarders.” Why do my priorities get so out of whack? What is it that keeps me from being consistent?

After some introspection, I’ve decided a determining factor is excess.  

(Sound familiar?)

Too much of a good thing is actually not so good. Too much of a bad thing is even worse! Just think about it—

  • Too much sugar leads to weight gain and all kinds of other health problems.
  • Too much alcohol can destroy not just your liver, but your entire life. 
  • Too much “stuff” leads to untamable clutter. 
  • Too many activities in your schedule (even if they are good things) lead to an overwhelmed soul. 
  • Too much fear leads to anxiety. 
  • Too much social media leads to FOMO, isolation, and self-preoccupation. 
  • Too much focus on your children can lead to neglecting your spouse. 
  • Too much time with friends can interfere with your work/school/family life.
  • Too many voices lead to indecision and confusion.

It all gets to be too much after awhile!

The common factor in all these examples is excess. It’s simply too much! And as I look at the different areas of my life, I must admit that much of what I wrestle with is a result of drowning in excess. Too much stuff, too many choices, too many activities, too many distractions. 

So it leaves me asking, what if I give God my excess?

I heard a teaching recently by Greg McKeown on doing only the essential. I enjoyed it so much, I promptly bought his book, Essentialism (which is currently in my January book stack). Much of what he writes has helped clarify the way God wants me to think differently for the purpose of transformation. While there are many avenues through which He can renew our mind, these are the three main ideas God continues to impress upon my heart right now.

3 ways God is renewing my thinking for the purpose of transformation

1.  Less, but better

“… let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

In our over-achieving, super-sized culture, God is whispering, “Less, but better.” 

Do less. Spend less. Commit to less. Speak less…. but be more intentional about everything! Make what you do, what you buy, what you say, and what you commit to actually mean something. Get rid of clutter, indulgence, obligations, and distractions, so you can make the most of what really matters. Which leads me to the next thought…

2. Do what matters most

“Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Cor. 10:23)

One of the greatest lies of our culture is, “You can have it all!” The truth is, we may be able to do it all, but we can’t do it all well Our time, energy, and resources are finite. We cannot give 100 percent to our work, and our family, and our hobbies, and our friends, and our health, and our obligations, and God. We only have 100 percent to give, and like it or not, it must be divided between “all the things.” Something will suffer, no matter what the world tells us.

Which means we have to choose what matters most (and what doesn’t)…or let someone else choose for us.

While the world is yelling, “You can do it all!” God is whispering to me, “Do what matters most.” When I look back on my life in ten, twenty, fifty years, what is really going to matter? What will I regret? Changing the way I think about this will help me intentionally invest in what matters most.

3. Pray first

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5)

You and I are completely surrounded by noise. The world around us is filled with voices shouting their opinions of who we are, what we should believe, what we should do, and how we should do it. Everyone has an opinion, and they are more than happy to share it!

But there is only One whose opinion really matters. When I am trying to discern the line between enough and excess, or what is hindering me, or what truly matters most, He is the only One qualified to answer. The author of my story is the only one who should determine my steps. 

But this requires stepping away from the noise and intentionally sitting at His feet. Consistently. Repeatedly. Purposefully. Before doing anything else. Even when it’s inconvenient. Even when I might not like the answer. Even when I think I already know what I need. Seeking His voice above the world, above my own even, is an act of worship, a way to acknowledge His lordship and authority in my life. 

If I truly long for transformation, I must surrender to the only One who has the power to transform me. I must think in terms of “less, but better.” I must choose to do what matters most. And above all, I must pray first.

Friends, this is my next step in allowing God to transform me in 2021— developing a different way of thinking. How is He changing the way you think?

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Now, to finish my story…

In case you were wondering, Cindy and Jared chose to give God their “excess,” and they went on to found the non-profit foundation, All 4 Jesus. “It’s mission is to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the lost, the hurting, the hungry, and orphaned.” Their heart for surrender continues to inspire other families (including ours) to think differently about how they can use their excess time and resources to honor Jesus. You can find out more about their ministry at https://www.all4jesusfoundation.org.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing, and perfect will.” 

Romans 12:1-2, NIV, *emphasis added