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!

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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)

What I Learned to Embrace in 2020

We are two days into the New Year, and I find myself needing to wrap up 2020 somehow. I wish I could put a great big bow on it, but it wasn’t exactly that kind of year. Still, there was a lot of joy and a lot of growth, and I don’t want to accidentally leave those gifts behind.

I have never been one to choose a “word for the year” like so many others do, but last year a word chose me. I don’t even remember how it happened. I just know that as I prayed about whether or not I should consider choosing a word, God began to whisper the same word over and over to my heart. 

Embrace.

He whispered it in other places, too— songs on the radio, conversations with friends, in the pages of my devotional reading. Again and again the word appeared…. Embrace.

Immediately, it resonated with me, likely because I was filled with so much dread for 2020. Our oldest daughter was graduating from high school, and I was dreading all the “lasts”: her last show, her last prom, her graduation. And I couldn’t even begin to imagine driving her six and a half hours away to college and leaving her there without us! 

But God was telling me to EMBRACE those things, to soak them in and find joy instead of dread. 

So I learned to EMBRACE THE MOMENTS.

I prayed for time to slow down (and, boy, did it!). When the quarantine began, we were suddenly all home together, and I was prepared to embrace every moment. We baked cookies and made scones and watched movies together. We went on family hikes and made more cookies. We created videos and completed schoolwork and yes, we made more cookies. And we ate them. All. 

When Sarah’s Senior girls trip to Texas was cancelled, we went to the beach and swam with dolphins instead. When she missed our family Disney trip due to a Covid exposure, we snuck back down to the Mouse House for a couple days after Thanksgiving (yay for annual passes!). When yet another direct exposure ruined our Christmas day plans, we waved sadly to the grandparents and then embraced the moment, choosing to make a fun memory instead (it had something to do with chinese food and a crispy duck, but that’s a story for another day!).

And when Jeff and I dropped her off at college and I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest, I embraced all the things I was grateful for— that she was still able to be on campus with Covid, that she was making new friends and thriving, that she missed her crazy family after all…

So I am grateful that God prepared me to embrace each of those moments. However, my word ended up applying to so much more than just Sarah! The Lord had many other lessons for me to EMBRACE.

When the world shut down, life changed drastically in our home. We went from everyone going in different directions every evening to having dinner (and lunch… and breakfast… and dessert!) together at home every day. Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months.

I learned to EMBRACE REST.

There were so many projects I could have done around the house. There were closets and cabinets and a basement full of stuff calling my name. But my soul needed something different— rest

And so, contrary to my normal nature, I embraced it. I left the clutter where it was and curled up in a chair with a book. I snuggled on the couch with the kids and watched movies. I laced up my sneakers and took long walks. And I spent extended time talking and listening to my Father

The strangest thing happened, y’all— my soul began to breathe. It was as if I had been on a ventilator for a very long time, maybe years, and was suddenly beginning to breathe on my own again. It was shallow at first; uneven, gasping, gulps of air followed by periods of holding my breath; but eventually, as I embraced my new normal, it began to settle into a more consistent rhythm. 

I also learned to EMBRACE WRITING.

I have always found clarity through writing my thoughts. Stacks and stacks of prayer journals line my bookshelves. There are even a few (hilarious!) middle school “diaries” thrown in the mix. I have written hundreds of letters to friends over the years, and I have a folder of (mostly embarrassing) poetry hidden in my closet that will hopefully never be read by other humans! 

But around Thanksgiving last year, God began to stir in my heart the urge to write more consistently… and to share my words.

There is something extremely vulnerable about sharing my words with others. I want them to be real, not contrived or impersonal. I want them to touch people, to inspire and encourage and help those who read them. And if I’m honest, I want people to like them (stupid pride). But mostly, I want them to draw people’s hearts to Jesus, just as He draws my own heart to Him. 

And I don’t often know how to do that. 

But suddenly I had nothing else to do except EMBRACE what God was calling me to do. So I wrote about a lot of random things, praying God would use them. I published things faithfully on my blog, even though I had no idea if anyone was reading it. I joined hope*writers and began to learn about the discipline of writing, the craft of storytelling, and the machine that is involved if one ever hopes to publish: building a brand, a platform, a social media following, an email list, etc. 

It still overwhelms me! But through the process…

I have learned to EMBRACE GROWTH. 

I have tried new things and failed. I have written pieces and cringed after I published them. With the help of some friends, I designed a totally new website— that I still haven’t launched. I even submitted two articles for publication, both of which were rejected. But I did it! 

(And I was actually just featured as a guest blogger on a fellow hope*writer’s blog, so that’s fun! You can read that article here.

Overall, I have learned so much. I have even been able to share some of it with others, and it is all a result of embracing something new, of not being afraid to try.

Above all else, I have EMBRACED JESUS.

This year has given me the gift of time and space to just be with Jesus. I have had the freedom to study the Word; to read deep, reflective books; to pour out my heart to my Father; and to sit at His feet and listen. He has convicted and encouraged me, and faithfully been present. I have asked Him for answers and direction, and He has repeatedly reminded me to open my hands and trust Him. So I embrace His goodness, his faithfulness, His love; and I place myself in His hands, like clay in the hands of the Potter. Have your way with me, Lord!

Looking back, it’s funny to think of 2020 as a year to be embraced. Yet, that is exactly what God asked me to do, and I am so grateful. Think of all I would have missed out on if I had stayed focused on what I was losing and if the world had not shut down! 

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” —Romans 8:28 (NLT)

God has given me a new word for 2021 (I’ll share it here soon!), but I intend to continue embracing whatever He places before me, and I pray you will as well! 

Finding Joy in the Simple Things

The clock approaches midnight as I wipe off the counters and look over my list one more time. The children, all four under the age of ten, have been tucked into bed for a few precious hours now, and I am trying to organize myself for the holiday rush. Between holiday decorating, class parties, cookie baking, and all the other things that come along with Christmas, my list keeps growing longer as my time grows shorter. 

I long for the simplicity I see on the front of the Hallmark Christmas cards: candles glowing through the windows of a quiet, peaceful home; warmly bundled children with red caps and mittens, holding hands and singing praises; a blanket of snow shimmering beneath the glow of the Christmas star.

Simple. Joy.

But my children are young; these days will fly by…

(Or so they tell me.)

It is imperative that I make the most of every moment. After all, their childhood will be ruined if they don’t assemble gingerbread houses and find the elf and sing Christmas carols in their PJ’s and…

So I find myself in Mom of the Year mode, making a list of every Instagram-worthy idea I can think of, and even scheduling them on a daily calendar to make sure we don’t forget to do them. “Simplicity is for lazy moms!” I tell myself. Not me. 

I am intentional

I am purposeful

I can handle this.

And yet…

I forgot to pick up the cookie ingredients at the grocery store today. Again. The pile of Christmas books calls out to me, reminding me that we forgot to read one tonight at bedtime. Again. And I forgot to pick up gift assignments for the nursing home service project. 

Again.

The self-inflicted weight of my “perfect Christmas requirements” is so heavy, I can barely breath. I glance at my list one more time, wondering why I ever loved the Christmas season, and stumble up the stairs to bed, switching off the lights behind me.

As I drift off to sleep, the lyrics of well-loved Christmas hymns echo in my mind:

Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me…

Oh Come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord…

I wonder briefly if I’m missing something. But before I can unpack that thought, the darkness claims me and I drift off to sleep.

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

That was many years ago, nearly a decade, and I am grateful to say Christmas looks a little different around here now. The pressure I once felt to be the perfect mom and make every moment matter has given way to a more realistic way of living. 

If COVID has had any positive impact on our society, it has been to slow us down and remind us of what really matters. I am reminded of that famous line from our favorite green-skinned Santy-claus:

“It came without ribbons, it came without tags,

It came without packages, boxes, or bags!”

And he puzzled and puzzled ‘till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.

“What if Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store?

What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?”

How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss

Somewhere along the way, my desire to be intentional about every moment sucked the life right out of Christmas and left my spirit starving. So, while we still incorporate many of the same traditions and experiences from those early years, the pressure to make sure every. single. thing. is accomplished no longer drives our days.

Instead, I have learned to find joy in the simple things. 2020 has reinforced that habit, and I find myself treasuring the little things even more this season.

Here are a few simple things that are breathing joy into my soul this December…

Christmas music

There is just something about Christmas music that can give even the grumpiest Grinch a happy heart! It’s amazing how music can determine our mood. When I find myself feeling the stress of the season and need something to make me smile, turning on some Christmas tunes usually does the trick. Buddy the Elf had it right when he said, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!” Go search a Christmas playlist on Spotify and sing yourself into the Christmas spirit!

Our Nativity Set tradition

I don’t really even know how this started, but when I was growing up, my little brother used to hide baby Jesus in different places around the nativity until Christmas morning, when He would finally make His way into the manger. Somehow this tradition evolved in our own family to moving all the nativity characters around. Throughout the season, you might see Mary on one side talking to the angel, the three wise men on another shelf feeding their camels, or the shepherd off chasing a wayward sheep.  (One year, Mary went missing for several days. We eventually found her under the couch with the shepherd…) Walking by this particular nativity set always makes me pause to see what our little friends are up to, adding a bit of adventure to the ordinary. Sounds just like Jesus!

The Book of Isaiah

I started reading through the book of Isaiah in late October, simply because it’s been a few years since I’ve read it straight through, and I felt my heart drawn there. Had I been more purposeful, I might have realized it would put me reading the prophesies of the Messiah during December; instead, it was a delightful surprise! In a year like 2020, how encouraging it is to remember that nothing happens apart from the Lord’s knowledge and purposes. What seems random and unpredictable to us has its origin in the heavens and is intended to draw our hearts to our Father. His promises are certain; His timing is perfect; His mercies, though often disguised, are for our good and His glory. The One who promised is faithful! If you need something to read, check out Isaiah. There is so much to be gleaned.

Quilted Christmas stockings

I wish I could take credit for this idea, but I read it somewhere, I’m sure. Each stocking is made out of that child’s baby clothes, and I have a tree skirt stitched from all four of their clothes. When I look at those patches of color, I can picture their little faces in each little outfit, each pair of pj’s, and it makes my heart so happy! Our girls are nearly grown now, and our boys won’t be far behind. These stockings capture a moment of time and enable me to enjoy it every year. 

The fragrances of Christmas 

There is nothing like the smells of Christmas! Whether it’s the aroma of baking cookies filling the kitchen, or the scent of my favorite winter candle (thanks, Pam!) when I walk in the living room, something about it just makes a house feel like a home. For all you crunchy oil-users, I love to put Siberian Fir and Cinnamon in the diffuser (On Guard with Grapefruit is another fave). What smells bring Christmas to life for you?

Hot chocolate bar

This is new to us this year. Our kids are big enough now that we don’t have to monitor all their snacks (there are some advantages to being the baby of four!), so I pulled out all our hot chocolate ingredients, stuck them in containers, and put them on a tray on the kitchen counter. Suddenly everyone’s drinking hot chocolate every day, and I’m the mom that gets to say “Yes!” Super simple, but brings lots of joy!

Names of Jesus Advent cards

I am always looking for ways to keep our hearts centered on Jesus during the Christmas season. I found these cards online a year or two ago, and I love them! The set contains 24 numbered cards with names for Jesus, along with twine and mini-clothespins to hang them with. When you purchase the cards, the author emails you each day with a short devotion to go along with the name for that day. We were a few days late putting it up this year due to travelling, and before I knew it, we were ten days in without doing a single devotional. But no stress, right, because I no longer have to be the perfect mom!

Instead, I came up with a brilliant idea (if I do say so myself!)! Our boys need some money to buy Christmas presents, so I told them I would give them each a dollar per card if they look up and write out the corresponding Bible verse.  They could only use the concordance in the back of the Bible- Eli used the computer to type up his verses since he’s learning to type correctly, but not for searching Bible verses. Do you see what I did there, y’all? Hiding the Word in their hearts. That is $48 well spent, my friends!

There are other things I treasure, of course— Christmas cards from friends far and near, hand-made ornaments on the tree, handprint art from when the children were small. Maybe next year I should share one simple thing a day! (See, there I go, turning it into something purposeful… old habits die hard, friends!) But for now, I simply wanted to share these ideas as an encouragement to you. 

Take time to pause and find joy in the simple things.

Where do you find yourself this Christmas? Is it a season of busyness for you, filled with endless to-dos and must-haves? Or are you a little more settled this year, content to do less, but with more peace? Either way, my hope is that you will take a breath and allow the power of Christ to remove the pressure we so often place on ourselves. 

You don’t have to be perfect or do more. That’s the whole reason Jesus came in the first place!

Friends, I’d love to hear what’s bringing you joy this season, and how you are finding peace in a slower pace. Bonus points for sharing pics!

Christmas Eve at Granny’s

   NOTE: Christmas is filled with great nostalgia for many of us. Family heirlooms, special recipes, and cherished traditions all have their place among our celebrations. I am excited to share this story with you, written by my sweet friend, Mel. You can read more about her and find ways to follow her writing at the end of this post. I am so thankful she agreed to be our guest author today! Feel free to share about some of your special traditions or treasured family heirlooms in the comments!

 The worn box appeared like it always did on Christmas Eve. Sitting on the floor in its usual spot, just waiting to be opened and its treasures displayed. Just like the box, every Christmas Eve, my sister, cousins, and I would arrive at my Granny’s house to decorate for Christmas. 

     My little cousins were not allowed to touch the box. Its contents were too special to trust to tiny hands that had not learned the significance of the items inside. My sister and I were the only ones old enough. It did not matter, though, how long I had been helping with that box. My hands still shook when I unwrapped the delicate figurines from their tissue paper. I understood what these figures represented. They were also my Granny’s most cherished possession. I did not want to be the one who accidentally dropped one, breaking it, and ruining Christmas. 

     One by one, my sister and I would pull the figures from their wrappings, then would fuss over how to arrange them. Most were chipped and faded from time, but they were beautiful to me. My favorite one and the one I loved unwrapping the most was baby Jesus. He was always the last figurine to be pulled from the box. My sister or I would feel extra special if we were the one chosen to unwrap him and gently place him on his little bed of straw. 

    Then we would decorate the Christmas tree. It was a 4-foot artificial tree, which we always placed on a low table in order to make it taller. Old ornaments were hung from its branches that had been in the family for years. The tiny red horns were a favorite because they actually made noise if you blew into them. I also loved the green cylinders with little spinning fan blades, and the white snowflakes with intricate patterns. The entire tree was then covered in strands of silver tinsel. It always annoyed me when my little cousins placed all the ornaments in one spot, but Granny never let me move them. She said it was beautiful because we had decorated it together. She always loved how that little tree looked~ the lights twinkling off the tinsel making the entire tree shine. 

    

 Later that evening, we were all brought back for a traditional dinner of family favorites and Kolachie cookies for dessert. Then everyone would exchange presents. The best part of the evening finally arriving for us kids! Torn wrapping paper covered the floor as toys were opened and played with. Everyone would then sit around long after the food had been put away, talking and laughing into the night. We kids would fall asleep on some random corner of furniture or sometimes snuggled up on the floor at the base of the tree. I can never remember the presents I got, but I always remember how much love and laughter was bursting through that little house.

     It has been years since I celebrated Christmas Eve in my Granny’s tiny house in the small town I grew up in. But those memories of the holidays from my childhood are so special to me and come rushing back every Christmas when I pull out my decorations. My Nativity is not as delicate as Granny’s, but my hands still shake when I pull the figurines from their boxes. I still have those tiny red horns, green cylinders, and white snowflakes with their intricate designs. They are so special to me, and just like my little cousins, my own children would often put all the ornaments in one section of the tree. I never moved them because I could hear my Granny’s voice telling me not to. She was right; the tree was always beautiful, no matter how the ornaments were placed, because we decorated it together.

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

     Melinda Casilli is small town girl who loves coffee, libraries, and stories that take you to faraway lands. She’s been married to her best friend for 27 years and is the mom to three girls. When she’s not organizing a closet or taming teenage drama you can find her writing under her pen name Mel Havens at MelHavens.com or on Instagram.com/mel.havens.author.

Waiting for Hope

(**Note: This blogpost was originally published last December, but I am sharing it again with a few revisions as we finish up the first week of Advent. In a year like 2020, it seems we can all use a little more hope!)

Hope.

That is the word God has been whispering to my heart this week.

It has been in my devotional readings everyday. It has popped up in several Facebook posts. It was the theme running through our Midweek service. It was even written in glowing Christmas lights on my neighbor’s yard when I drove home last night! (I’m not kidding…talk about a sign!)

We just completed the first week of Advent in the Christian calendar, and the focus for this week was—you guessed it— hope.

As I think back on the beginning of the Christmas story, I am reminded that God’s people had been waiting for what must have seemed like forever for the promised Messiah to appear. Hundreds of years had gone by since the prophets proclaimed God’s message of the One who was to come. Their land had been torn apart by savages, their government overthrown, their people scattered among the nations. So much time had gone by that the stories of old were just that… ancient stories, passed down through generations, of a time long before when God had favored their people. 

But it was clear that God must have changed His mind and turned His back on them. 

Their great-great-great-great (you get it) grandparents had let Him down one too many times, trading long-term loyalty for a fast-food faith, and they were left living the repercussions. Sure, even in the midst of their betrayal, the Father had promised the Messiah, the One who would change everything. How they longed for Him to come! 

But that was a long time ago… 

Perhaps they forgot what it was like to hope.

**********

 Jeff and I were married for 5 years before we had our oldest daughter, Sarah. We spent three of those years trying to have a baby. At first, we waited patiently, trusting in God’s timing and continuing on with life as usual. After awhile, though, we knew something wasn’t right. We read all the articles, counted the days on the calendar, met with the doctors, ran all the tests. It was in God’s hands, we knew; still, our hearts broke a little with every negative test result.

At the same time, it seemed like every other young couple in our social circle chose that moment to start having babies. I remember buying hooded bath towels and lavender bath wash, smiling through all the baby showers and joking about not drinking the water, only to hide my tears in the bathroom where no one could see.  

The days turned into weeks, which turned into months, which turned into years

remember what it was like to long for someone I wasn’t sure would ever come. 

I, too, almost forgot how to hope.

**********

But then one day, out of the blue, when everyone was just going about their business as usual, an angel appeared to a teenage girl, and the message he delivered breathed HOPE back into the world once again! God had heard His people and He would no longer turn away. It was time. There would be a baby!

Wait, a baby? 

Yes. That baby changed everything.

*******

Our baby changed everything too. I was so in shock when the test was positive, I ran straight to Jeff’s study and handed him the pee stick.  No cute t-shirt or video announcement for us! No, we just sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor and cried at God’s faithfulness. We were so busy having faith that we hadn’t even realized we had lost hope, until suddenly our hearts were flooded with it once again!

I think I took at least four more tests after that just to be sure. It’s amazing what a little hope can do! God could have chosen to answer our prayer in a different way, and that would have been okay. Truly. Our hope came in the form of two lines on a stick that day, but ultimately our hope came in the promise fulfilled all those years ago, when Love chose to put on skin and dwell among us. Emmanuel. God with us! We are not alone.

That is our hope

And so, as we journey through this season of Advent, I want to remember what it was like to wait so long that I almost lost hope, to be afraid to be expectant after so much disappointment. I have been there. Some of you are still there, I know. 2020 has wreaked havoc on our ability to hope!

“But we cannot lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” -2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Friends, we must remember God’s unfailing faithfulness…

A Promise made.

A Baby given.

A Savior sent.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.” -Hebrews 10:23

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” –Romans 15:4

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” –Romans 15:13

Let us remember… and hope. 

Preparing Your Heart for Christmas

It’s been nearly four months since we drove to Virginia to move Sarah in for her Freshman year of college. 

We spent most of the summer preparing for this new adventure. It seems so long ago now. 

Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of preparation. After all, as the saying goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Life can quickly become overwhelming, so being organized and planning ahead helps me avoid crisis situations. I knew Sarah going to college was going to be a big transition for all of us, and as with any new experience, I wanted her to be prepared.

So we started making lists.

We had a list for her dorm room, a list for her bathroom, a list for emergencies— I may even have had a list of all our lists!

When move-in day finally came, we loaded up the car, survived the tearful goodbyes with her siblings, and drove six and a half hours to her new home. We organized her closet and lofted her bed. We decorated her walls and set up her desk. Even with all our lists, Jeff had to run to the store to buy extra command hooks and a coffee cart for her Keurig. But when the day was done, her new home was ready, and there was only one thing left to do.

As we sat down for dinner munching on a bowl of chips and salsa, the three of us began to realize that the hard part was only beginning. By the time the waiter brought our food, we just sat and stared at it… we couldn’t even eat. The dread of what was waiting on the other side of that meal completely eradicated our appetite.

Before we knew it, the bill was paid, and the time came for us to say goodbye to our girl.

We hugged. Then we cried. Then we hugged and cried some more. And we dispensed every piece of parental advice we could possibly think of:  

Don’t walk anywhere alone at night.

Make sure you take your vitamins and drink enough water.

Call us if you need more clothes.

Don’t forget you have a COVID emergency bag in the top of your closet!

And on and on and on…

(It’s amazing how much you realize you never told your child when it is suddenly time for them to survive on their own!)

Finally, we gave her one last squeeze and watched her drive away. 

To her new home. 

Without us.

“What in the world are we doing?” Jeff asked, as her taillights disappeared from sight. The two of us were a sobbing mess. 

And that is when I realized our mistake.

We had made all the lists, followed all the advice, and bought all the things so she would be prepared for her new adventure.

But there was one thing we had failed to prepare:

Our hearts.

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

Friends, as we approach the Christmas season, how are you preparing your heart?

I love Christmas like the next girl, but I’m not going to lie- I can easily get overwhelmed with ALL THE THINGS.  

Cookie swaps and class parties. 

Teacher gifts and family gatherings.

Stockings and garland and Christmas lights. (Oh my!)

On top of all that, or maybe hidden underneath, is the meaning of what we’re celebrating. And if I’m honest, as much as I love baby Jesus, He often gets left in the manger while I’m busy trying to do everything else. So I’ve learned that when it comes to the holidays, preparing my heart is so important.

In Luke 10, we read the story of two sisters who opened their home to Jesus. Apparently, they were not expecting Him, because Martha was “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” (v. 40, NIV) While she was busy sweeping the floor and kneading the dough and doing all the things, Mary was content to sit at Jesus’ feet. 

Seriously? 

Yet, when Martha complains to Jesus, he doesn’t jump to her defense. He shows compassion for her predicament, but He affirms Mary’s priorities. 

This used to bother me. If preparation is so important, shouldn’t Jesus have encouraged Mary to help Martha? Surely the One who washed His friends’ feet understands the value of serving others! 

So I knew there must be a deeper lesson.

I think the point Jesus was trying to make is that while physical preparation is important, spiritual preparation is imminently more valuable. 

While Martha was surprised by Jesus’ visit, we are not. As Christmas approaches, we know it is coming. 

We know Jesus was born in a stable because no one had prepared room for Him in the Inn. 

We know the wise men eventually found Him because they were prepared to follow the star.

And we know a teenage girl was chosen because she was prepared to be obedient, whatever the cost.

Intentional planning and hard work today pave the way for peace and rest later. Preparing in advance enables me to be fully present, and allows me to focus on what is most important. Yet so often, I focus on getting things ready on the outside, forgetting the inside altogether.

So, friends, as we make our shopping lists and stock the freezer with cookie dough, let’s also take time to sit at the Master’s feet. 

To hear His voice. 

To gaze in wonder at the One who changed everything!

***********

I have some really fun things planned for the blog this month, and I am hoping some of them will help you prepare in different ways. One of my greatest blessings during the pandemic was the opportunity to join a hope*circle of writing friends from various backgrounds, life stages, and parts of the country (and one Canadian!).

Sharing everything from devotions to recipes, these sweet friends are going to guest post for me this month, and I am super excited to introduce them to you! I think you’re going to love them! (I do!)

I hope you will take time to read their contributions and glean from their experiences.

It is my prayer that you will find a few things here on the blog this month that help you with the oh-so-important task of preparing your heart for Christmas this year!

How to Talk to Your Kids About the Election

My kids just watched our front running Presidential candidates behave in a way that is worse than behavior they themselves have lost phones and been grounded for. Awesome.”

This was posted by a friend of mine following the first Presidential debate of 2020. Whichever direction you lean, I believe we can all agree that debate was a train wreck! 

Regardless of the reasons, neither candidate represented themselves in a manner worthy of the highest office of this nation. I can’t count the number of times I have told my kids that our choices are not dependent on other people’s actions. If our Presidential candidates were our children, we would have taken away their microphones and sent them to bed without supper! 

Alas, that is not the case.

From my last blog post, you know I firmly believe in viewing challenges as teachable moments. Unfortunately—or fortunately— this election year is turning out to be a perfect opportunity to do just that.

I admit… it is a bit of a struggle. I find myself tempted to focus on:

  • The lack of integrity in our candidates
  • The division in America
  • The role of media bias & “fake news” from every side
  • Our tendency to choose “sides” and be “against” something
  • How mean and rude people can be to one another on social media regarding political issues and current events
  • The desire to throw something at the TV and stay home on election day! 

However, I’m not sure those topics would be the most beneficial to my kids. As easy as it is, it’s not enough to complain to our children about politics. No, how we talk about the election with our kids matters. 

This is one of those times I am reminding myself I have the opportunity to look at things from a different perspective and use the current situation to create constructive conversation. 

TALKING POINTS

Here are some revised talking points I came up with based on the frustrations I listed above:

  • Why we should vote for policy/platform and not a person. While it would be nice for our president to be an outstanding role model for future generations, unfortunately that is not often the case. Let’s be real— most of our leaders have had closets full of immorality and shameful behaviors… they just didn’t put them on display quite like our current candidates. In any case, one of the beautiful things about our government system is that it is designed so that the President’s personal power is limited. His or her main impact comes through the people he/she appoints. The President’s cabinet is made up of the heads of various departments. These are the people who oversee the areas that directly affect us as Americans—transportation, education, national security, etc. The President also nominates Supreme Court Justices, should an opening occur. The Supreme Court verdicts often have widespread implications and, subsequently, guide the morals of our nation. Thus, the people a President appoints generally play a much greater role in directing our nation than the President himself/herself. This is so important for our children (and us) to understand!
  • While America seems very divided, there are large areas of common ground in the middle.  In many cases, most Americans actually want the same thing, but see different ways of achieving it. Do you listen and communicate better with someone if you realize you mostly want the same things?
  • “I saw it on the internet (or TV or TikTok), so it must be true!” The reality is our kids DO tend to internalize what they watch and listen to, and so do we. And the more we trust our source, the more blindly we accept it. Unfortunately, NONE of our current news sources report anything objectively without bias. We are fooling ourselves if we think there is any source without an agenda. This is a GREAT opportunity to talk to our kids (and ourselves!) about the importance of implementing critical thinking skills. What does that look like? How do we pursue truth (even at the expense of our own opinions)? How do we recognize bias in a story? How can we tell when we are being manipulated? How do we check the validity of a source or a story? How do we research counter-arguments to make sure we have a more accurate perspective instead of just choosing articles that support our opinions? These are all great questions to walk through with our kids.
  • In this election more than any other, people are talking about their desire to vote “against” someone or something. As Christ-followers, there are obviously things we should stand up against. But mostly, I want my kids to be known for what (and who) they stand FOR. Do our children know what we believe in and why it matters to us, not just what we stand against? 
  • This election season is the first time I have ever used Facebook’s “Snooze for 30 days” feature. I realize we all have personal experiences, which create strong emotions, and Satan is having a field day with that! But somewhere along the way, some of us have forgotten about human decency. Seriously, y’all—if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all! However, this also creates a great opportunity to discuss the importance of listening with an open mind, sharing your words where they will have the best return, stepping away from the noise when you need to, and recognizing that POSTING about something is not the same thing as DOING something.
  • And yes, when I want to throw something at the TV, I remind myself of the privilege it is to have a voice in our elected officials and the responsibility that comes with it. Do our kids understand how this process works, how it is purposely different from other countries, and why that matters? Even at our worst, the ideals we stand for and our methods of maintaining them have tremendous value, and our kids need to know that. Otherwise, they will eventually forfeit those freedoms, and by the time they realize what they have lost, it will be too late. “History repeats itself” is a real thing.

Beyond that, the question I have been asking myself is what do our kids need to know specifically about how Jeff and I determine who to vote for? Basically, it comes down to two things: What matters to us and why.

WHAT MATTERS TO US AND WHY

1. KNOW YOUR WHAT

This is where our worldview comes into play. As Christ followers, we focus on what the Bible says. God gets to determine what is most important to us, not us. Our job is to critically think, pray, and determine which platform (not person) we believe lines up most with Biblical objectives and will do the most good for the most people.

2. KNOW YOUR WHY

“Because I don’t like the other candidate” is not a good enough reason to vote for someone. The privilege of voting comes with great responsibility, and we must take that seriously. Even with all our faults, the freedoms we enjoy in this country cannot be taken for granted. We cannot be led by the crowd in matters this important! Just because some person with a microphone says this candidate is going to help someone doesn’t mean they actually will. We must look deeper to understand WHY a person or platform is more worthy than the other of our vote.

IMPORTANT VALUES FOR OUR FAMILY

Some of you have asked me to share some of the Biblical values that are important to our family, so here are a few. Yours may be different, and that’s okay! Or yours may be similar, but you may have a different perspective on how to best achieve those values. That’s okay, too! Diversity of thought can actually make us better—but only if we learn how to listen, compromise, and work together for the greater good.  (Can you tell I’m an Enneagram 9? Lol!)

  • The freedom to worship God and to share our faith with others
  • The value of all human life, as every person, of every color, from the point of conception, is created in God’s image 
  • The pursuit of Biblical integrity and character traits such as personal responsibility, wise stewardship, hard work, generosity, and caring for those who cannot care for themselves 
  • The limited role of government—what it is intended to do in our lives and in our country, and what it is not intended to do. 
  • National security—not just for our own safety, but also for what it means for the protection and provision of liberty around the world.

There are many other things that matter to us, obviously, but these are a good place to start. Whatever your values are, I encourage you to make sure you discuss them with your children. Teens and young adults are particularly impressionable, and the world will share its values with them whether we like it or not. I continue to see more and more thoughtful, compassionate students embracing what they believe to be enlightened, revolutionary thinking, when in actuality, they are being manipulated with biased information and merely following a trend. 

PASSING ON OUR VALUES

Parents, please don’t forfeit the responsibility you have been given to pass on Biblical values to your children. Don’t assume they know your “what” or understand your “why” without explanation. Embrace the craziness of this next week as a teachable moment to discuss why voting matters, why you vote the way you do, and how the Bible influences (or in our case, determines) your choices.

And remind them that, above all, our hope lies in Jesus, not a political candidate. Whoever wins this election will do so under God’s sovereignty. We will pray and remain faithful, regardless of the outcome, and be grateful for the opportunity to vote again in four years.

“But Christians know that we are not at the mercy of chance. A loving hand, a great wisdom, and an omnipotent power rule our destiny. The government of all is on the mighty shoulders of Christ Himself, who sees all long before it happens. All is intended for our blessing. How different things look to us!”

-Elisabeth Elliot, Secure in the Everlasting Arms

In the words of Horatio Spafford’s famous hymn, we can teach our children to rest in this truth: “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”