Surviving The Stress of Moving

I remember when Mark and I packed up a U-Haul and moved our family from Indianapolis, Indiana to Lincoln, Illinois. We had a two-year-old and a six-week old.

Two years later we moved our family from Lincoln, Illinois to Bloomington, Illinois. Oh how I wish I’d had the wisdom of my friend Susan to navigate those moves well.

Today’s post is from Susan Miller, author of After The Boxes are Unpacked. A popular Hearts at Home workshop speaker, Susan is also an author, and founder of Just Moved Ministry, which has been bringing hope to the uprooted woman for twenty-one years.

Susan loves country music, geraniums, lattes, and kick boxing.  Stop by to find more encouragement if you are moving (or share this with a friend who’s moving or has recently moved!)

************************************************************************ you have recently moved, or will be moving in the near future, I want to encourage your heart.  From one who has traveled that road by relocating 14 times, I know the emotional journey ahead of you.  I also know that moving will affect every aspect of your life.

Plain and simple, moving is CHANGE!  It will have an effect on your marriage, your children, your job, your relationships, and your life, because it will bring change to each of those areas.  Moving is more than loading and unloading your possessions.  It’s as if you are packing your whole life in brown boxes!  You are leaving behind everything familiar to face the unknown.  You lose a sense of community and connectedness.

Perhaps you, or a friend who is moving, needs hope and encouragement to get through the major impact of a move. This three-step process not only helped me survive, but also thrive through transition.  It all began with the choice to either be open or closed to change.

The first step I had to take was to choose to let go. I had to make the choice to cherish, rather than cling, to anything or anyone that would prevent me from starting over and moving forward with my life.

Next, I had to choose to start over, even if I didn’t want to!  Until I accepted the reality of having to start all over again, I couldn’t be ready to move forward with my life.

Finally, I had to choose to move forward.  It was time to come full circle with my move, put aside my pity party, and do whatever it took to put down roots.

I know what you are thinking, “How will I begin to put down roots in this unfamiliar place, and start all over again?” Make an intentional choice, as hard as it might be, to get involved with other people. Go for a walk in the neighborhood. Join a Bible Study, an aerobics class, a cooking class, or a book club (any activity of interest). Volunteer in your community, church, or school. Reach out to someone who, like yourself, needs a friend.  In time, your last box will be unpacked, the world around you will become familiar, your family will settle in, and you will begin to call this new place your home.

To encourage you on your journey, try these practical steps to smooth the bumpy road ahead.

  • Stop and smell the flowers along the way. Take time to be good to yourself!  Schedule some self-care by taking a break to rest, restore and renew your mind and body.
  • Ask for help. Don’t be the “lone ranger” and feel like you have to do it alone.  Let others be a part of the relocation process with you.
  • When the heat is up, stay cool. When stress is rising and the pressure is on, keep a sense of humor and be flexible.
  • It’s okay to cry if you want to. With change, comes loss and grieving. Your release valve may be tears.
  •  Some things you just have to do. And, having closure with people and places you care about is one of them. So often in the busyness of tasks, we forget to say goodbye in a meaningful way.
  • Rise to the occasion. Stretch beyond your comfort zone. Embrace the changes this move brings as an opportunity to learn and grow personally.
  • Take one day, one step at a time. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your house won’t be settled in a day either. Don’t lose heart and don’t give up!
  • Don’t sweat the little things. Something always seems to get broken, lost, or damaged in transition. Keep perspective. Remember, they are just things.
  •  Join up and join in. Raise your hand, and say yes! It’s the first step to meet people, and make friends. 
  • Be a tourist. Take a break and tour the local area. Google what to see and places to go in your city, or town. Make it an adventure with your children.

And remember, God’s presence will never leave you. You are not alone in this move. He accompanies you, has gone before you, and will be waiting for you with open arms.

What about you? What wisdom would you add to Susan’s for someone who’s moving? 

Posted in Taking Care of Me | Leave a comment

Are You Healthy?

Mark: Jill and I have been working hard on our No More Perfect Marriages book  Our deadline to turn in the book is July 15. It’s release date is Feb 1, 2017!  We’re getting excited!

Jill: Instead of our usual Marriage Monday today, we want you to hop over and read an article I recently wrote for Focus on the Family about the effect of emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical health in a marriage. It’s an important topic that I know you’ll find helpful!

Mark: In the meantime, we’re also looking for 10 couples who would like to be pre-readers for our No More Perfect Marriages book.  Curious about what that would entail?

Here are the requirements:

  1. Both husband and wife are willing to read the manuscript on their own computers between June 7 and June 30. (You would read individually, not together.)
  2. Both are willing to be involved in a private Facebook group to discuss the book.
  3. As you read, both are willing to share what content in the book has been helpful for their marriage and offer any suggestions they might have for strengthening the content.

Jill: Does this interest you?

If so, please have each of you (both husband and wife) write one short paragraph about your commitment to read and offer feedback, why this interests you, and how long you’ve been married.  Send the two paragraphs in one email to jillsavagespeaking (at) heartsathome (dot) org by noon CST Thursday, May 26. If we get more than 10 couples we will draw names.

We’re excited about this new book and we know that we’re better when we do this together!

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It’s Okay To Not Be Okay

woman looking upDonned in those fashionable surgical clothes, a cap over my hair, all jewelry removed, and a pen in hand to make an X over my right breast so the doctor is assured to work on the correct side, I face the unknown once again.

She found it during a surveillance follow-up. “Jill, you have a lump there. Have you felt it?” The answer was no.  No I hadn’t felt it and no there can’t be a lump.

It was a couple weeks before the National Hearts at Home conference and my eyes were focused on the two days I’d soon be hanging with over 4,000 moms. That weekend is a sacred weekend of hope and help. All of us looking for the reassurance that whatever we’re facing in life and motherhood, we’ll be okay.

“I want to order a mammogram and a sonogram for this spot.” A week later I found myself sitting once again at the screening center. My annual mammogram just six months earlier had been clear.  These two tests they ended up declaring clear again.

“Whew….dodged that bullet,” I thought to myself.

It was the Monday after the conference that her office called. “Jill, Doctor wants you to come back in and discuss the results of your recent testing.” As I scheduled an appointment for the next day I couldn’t help but think, “What’s there to discuss? They said it was clear.”

The next day she bounced in the exam room and tossed my mammogram and sonogram results my way. “Test results look good, let’s do another exam.” Sure enough that lump was still there and it was painful too, just like it’d been several weeks earlier and every time I’d touched it since.

“I don’t believe it’s cancer because it’s painful, but I don’t want to leave it in there. We also can’t do a traditional core needle biopsy when it can’t be seen on a diagnostic screening. I’m recommending we remove it and then biopsy it,” she said.

Here we go again.

So yesterday I modeled the latest in surgical gear once again (someone seriously needs to update that attire!). I’m a fact-finder by nature. I don’t do too much worrying or planning until the fact-finding is complete. So I’d been steady leading up to the surgery date.

When Doctor Widerborg walked in for her pre-surgical chat, she said, “Let’s pray,” and all in the room grabbed hands and prayed, that’s when the tears came.  A couple of hours earlier my friend Becky had texted me the words of Isaiah 41:13 from The Voice Bible, “I am the Eternal God, who has hold of you right hand, who whispers in your ear, “Don’t be afraid. I will help you.” As Doctor Widerborg prayed, those words came back to my mind and I felt God holding my right hand and whispering His help in my ear.

Both Mark and my mom were there to hear the doctor say after surgery that she would be very surprised if this is cancer. Didn’t look like it to her….and she’s seen a lot.

But we wait. For the facts. We once again live in the shadow of the unknown.

Yet that’s not the shadow I’m experiencing right now. Psalm 91 promises, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” This is the shadow I choose to wait in now. This shadow of the Almighty is a place of peace. Hope. Comfort. It’s a place where we hold the hand of a Jesus who walked on this earth and faced His own “unknowns” of friends who betrayed him and a death on the cross He didn’t deserve. I’m reminded of this in one of my favorite verses, Hebrews 4:14-16. That verse came alive to me as I wrote my book Real Moms…Real Jesus based upon it:

 Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.” (The Message)

I don’t know what “shadow of the unknown” you’re currently waiting in, but I want you to know that there’s plenty of room over here in the “shadow of the Almighty.”

It’s a bit of a messy place. Some tears. Some weariness. Some fear that wants to creep in. Some days where you simply know it’s okay to not be okay. Yet always His arms around you. His hand holding your right hand. And His voice whispering in your ear, “…don’t be afraid. I will help you.”

Posted in Faith, Taking Care of Me | 7 Comments

Managing Money in Marriage

Managing MoneyMark: Money. You gotta have it. You’ve gotta manage it. You’ve gotta talk about it. You’ve gotta learn how to make decisions about it together.

Jill: We’ve certainly had plenty of financial frustration in our marriage and we know we’re not alone in that!

Mark: Jill and I came from very different upbringings and, of course, our families of origin handled money very differently. For instance, my family ate out a lot while Jill’s family only ate out for very special occasions.

Jill: Mark and I never talked about money much before we got married. After we married, we found ourselves with differing ideas about debt, spending, and saving.

Mark: One of the best things we did was to sign up for Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace course at our church. While we didn’t necessarily agree with everything in the course, what it did for us was get us talking about money, thinking differently about money, and making decisions together about money.

Jill: We became students together! This required conversation and helped us to set goals we worked towards TOGETHER.

Mark: TOGETHER is the key word here. We learned together. We discussed together. We decided together how to apply what we were learning to our finances.  This helped us get our beliefs and values of money management on the same page.

Jill: Last week we talked about the importance of talking about sex. This week we’re looking at the importance of talking about money.  The key is the TALKING part.

Mark: Few parents teach their children about their beliefs and values of money management. So we bring our often “uneducated” perspectives into marriage. That’s why it’s important for us to go to school together on money management!

Jill: Is money a challenge in your marriage?  It doesn’t really matter who manages the money. What matters is that you work together to decide HOW to manage the money.  Here are some strategies we’ve found helpful or know other couples use:

  • Determine a threshold of spending where you need to consult one another. For instance, you might create a threshold like, “Other than groceries or paying bills, we won’t spend more than $100 on anything without talking to one another.”
  • Have a “financial committee meeting” once or twice a month to make sure you both understand the reality of finances and determine the plan together.
  • Decide on the best way to handle “spending money.” Most of us like knowing we each have some discretionary funds to use for little opportunities that come our way.
  • Even if only one of you are managing the money, make sure both of you are engaged in the money decision-making process.
  • Keep learning about money management. You can search for a Financial Peace class in your area here.

What about you? What steps have you and your spouse taken to get on the same page with money?

Posted in Miscellany | Leave a comment

My Teenager’s Not Crazy? Are you Sure?!

Today’s post is from Hearts at Home conference speaker Jerusha Clark. When I saw Jerusha’s new book title, I knew some of you needed this encouragement so I asked her to write something just for us! 

Do you have a teen or a pre-teen? Today’s words are for you!  

If you know someone with a pre-teen or a teen, would you please forward this to them? We’re better together when we find encouragement we can share with another mom! 

We’re giving away a copy of Jerusha’s book, Your Teenager Is Not Crazy! To enter, leave a comment about one strategy or piece of wisdom you’ve found helpful for navigating the teen years!


JerushaWhen I was pregnant with our first child, I used to joke around that I would be better equipped if she were born 12 years old.  Having never babysat and a little unsure of myself around babies, I knew precious little about raising an infant.  Pre-teens and teens?  I got them.  After all, my husband had been a youth pastor for 15 years, and I had worked alongside him for much of that time.  We understood adolescents far better than babies, I assumed.

Now that I’m the mother of two teenagers, I realize I had no idea what I was talking about.

Raising adolescents is challenging (understatement of the year there!), and I now know that God gives us all the precious, “I wuv you, Mama” years to get us through the times when we want to the throttle that little pre-teen princess or that pent-up-aggression teenage boy.

As my daughters neared the teen years, I had the good fortune to be asked by a friend to teach her Bible study group.  She intended for me to speak on some of the adolescent issues I had written about (relationships, communication, mental health, etc.), but I wanted to do a bit more research.  What I found was absolutely astounding, and I want to share some of the most practical discoveries with you:

Your adolescent’s brain is one massive construction zone, so keep your hard hat ready! At roughly 11 for girls and 12½ for boys, your child’s brain shifts from explosive neurological growth to wide scale neural remodeling.  If you’ve ever been part of a remodeling project, you know that it takes far more time—and usually more resources—than you planned to spend.  Parenting an adolescent, whose brain is under construction, is very similar.

Moms of pre-teens and teens: God is calling us to gear up for a phase of incredible potential in our child’s life; scientists liken it to the amazing window of opportunity that occurs from zero-three years old.  Your teen’s brain, while it’s being remodeled, is remarkably malleable; it can be changed by experience more during this time of life than almost any other.  This may strike you as both encouraging (it’s not too late!) and terrifying (this is all happening so fast!)

Thankfully, God promises to give us wisdom and discernment as we seek Him.  Instead of viewing the teenage years as one big hassle, “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2, NLT).

Your adolescent’s brain responds best to questions and shorter, more frequent talks. Because the teenage brain is under construction, there are times when its control center (called the prefrontal cortex, for you science-y moms out there) is periodically “offline.”  Think of it like this: when people remodel their kitchens, they sometimes have to turn the plumbing or electricity off while changes are made.  A roughly analogous thing happens in the adolescent brain, and it won’t stop until your child is nearing 25 years old!

As a result, having “once and for all,” lengthy talks about grades, sexuality, relationships, character issues, or faith doesn’t work well.  Teen brains respond best to shorter conversations that happen more often.  Make a comment here and there about things you observe.  Ask good questions, too.  Nothing engages the adolescent brain better than a question that can’t be answered with a “yes,” “no,” or surly grunt.  This will take some practice, but you can do it!

Look at how many questions our Lord asks throughout the Bible; on earth, Jesus was downright inquisitive!  Follow His example and draw teens out by engaging their minds.  It’s okay if you don’t get a response every time.  Maybe you get annoyed sighs eight out of ten times, but the other two might yield pure gold!  Be patient, persistent, and it will pay off.

Your adolescent’s brain craves exciting experiences, so try new things with your teen. It’s absolutely phenomenal to look at how God designed the brain, and one fascinating thing that happens during the years between 12 and 25 is that the natural levels of dopamine, one of the brain’s “feel good” chemicals, drop significantly.  This explains, in part, why teens often complain of “being bored.”  What’s wild is that when adolescents experience novel and thrilling things, their capacity to experience dopamine release is higher than adults or young children.  God can use this neurological reality marvelously—just imagine; if your teen never wanted to try anything new he or she wouldn’t ever move out, get married, or pursue a career—but parents are often stuck in the patterns of “same old, same old.”

Adolescence is all about change, but moms most often feel safe when things stay fixed.  Instead of giving in to routine and wondering why your adolescent doesn’t dig family pizza and movie night as much as “back then,” try new things with your teen.  Don’t let the youth pastor be the only one to, I don’t know, ride rollercoasters and eat crazy concoctions with your kids.  You don’t have to try something crazy at a theme park (you can kidnap a studious kid from school one day and take them to a museum or a musical child and go to a concert).  It doesn’t have to be something expensive (look online for a list of free things in your area).  Get creative, have a little fun with your teen, and see what new things God does in your relationship.

Finally, if you want it to be part of your teen’s life, model rather than mouth godly character. Teens have super sensitive hypocrisy sensors (when it comes to everyone else’s life, at least).  It’s no surprise that scientific research shows that the teen brain learns best by example rather than explanation.  I believe God designed it that way for two reasons: 1) He wants to transform you during this season every bit as much as your teen and 2) He knows that you will be motivated to change if you’re aware of how it will impact your child.

If you want your teen to make good technology choices, you make wise choices first.  If we want our teenage daughters to stop gossiping, we should watch our own words.  If we want our teen sons to honor women, we should watch what we read (celebrity gossip or fashion magazines, perhaps) and avoid questionable TV and movies.

Most importantly, if you desire your teen to walk closely with Christ, you must (there is no two ways about it) focus on your own relationship with Jesus and stop trying to control your child’s.  Your son or daughter is in the Holy Spirit’s hands.  In 1 Timothy 6:15 God calls Himself the “blessed controller of all things.”  This phrase means He is both absolutely sovereign (in control of all things) and good at being in control.  I am not a blessed controller.  When I try to control my children, I am more like a Mom Nazi.  As a fellow mama who wants her teens to walk with Jesus, I encourage all of us to surrender the control we never had anyway so that we can use the influence Christ offers us: the power of living by example.

What about you? What strategies or wisdom have you found helpful for navigating the teen years? 

Posted in Parenting | 15 Comments

How To Talk About Sex Outside the Bedroom

Sex outside the bedroomJill: “Sex….I could go the rest of my life without it!”  That was my sentiment early in our marriage. I was tired and just couldn’t muster the energy that lovemaking required.

Mark: To say that Jill and I have been on opposite ends of the “desire” spectrum would be an understatement. This was particularly evident when the kids were small.

Jill: We came the closest to having nearly the same desire when we were in our 40’s.  With the kids older, it seemed we had finally found a nice middle ground that worked for both of us.

Mark: Then breast cancer hit, throwing Jill into early menopause.  Dealing with lower estrogen levels, vaginal dryness, side-effects of medication, and all of the joys of both of our aging bodies has now moved us into the arena of sexual challenges again.

Jill: Throughout marriage, most of us slip beneath the sheets without much conversation.  Our bodies do what they are supposed to do as we explore sexual intimacy.

Mark: But what happens when things aren’t going so well?  Many of us aren’t comfortable talking about sex so we push our challenges under the rug, find ourselves frustrated, and become discouraged.

Jill: If we don’t address the frustration, we run the risk of building a wall and putting emotional and physical distance between ourselves and our spouse.

Mark: So how do we keep this from happening and what do we do if it is happening?  We talk about it.

Jill: That’s right…we have to push ourselves to become comfortable talking about sex both inside and outside the bedroom.  If you’re not used to talking about sex, IT WILL FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE.  But here’s what we have learned: you’ve got to push through awkward to get to a new normal.  If you start talking about sex, those initial conversations will be difficult, but the more conversations you have, the more “normal” it will become to talk about intimacy.

With that in mind, we want to share some conversation starters to get those conversations going about sex:

  • What do you like best about our sex life?
  • What do you wish was different in our sex life?
  • Is there something I do sexually that bothers you?
  • Is there something I do sexually that you really like?
  • Ideally, how often would you like us to make love?
  • Foreplay….is it too long, too short, or just right for you?
  • What happens outside the bedroom in our relationship that hurts our intimacy inside the bedroom?
  • Do I make you feel special outside the bedroom?
  • When it comes to communication, what do you wish we talked about more?
  • Do you feel emotionally safe with me? If not, what could I do to help you feel safe?
  • Is there anything either one of us needs to talk to a doctor about that would improve our sex life (erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness, pain during intercourse, depression, unusually low desire, etc)?
  • Is there any emotional or sexual baggage from your past or any struggles today that are keeping you from fully enjoying sex (pornography, previous relationships, guilt, shame, etc)
  • Is there something in our marriage relationship that we can’t seem to improve or get past? What counselor could we begin seeing to sort through this?

Mark: These questions get us talking about the things we don’t usually talk about.  As you talk through them, make sure you’re being a good listener and are listening to understand, not to argue.  Here are some helpful responses to help the conversation go well:

  • That’s good to know…thank you for sharing that.
  • Okay that’s helpful. Tell me more.
  • I didn’t know that. Thank you for letting me know.
  • I know that was probably hard to share. Thank you for trusting me.

So what are you waiting for? Set a date on the calendar to talk, use the questions above as a guide for your conversation, and talk!

Talking (about anything!) always builds non-sexual intimacy. Talking about sex will build both non-sexual intimacy and sexual intimacy.  Don’t let a lack of communication keep you from taking your physical relationship to the next level!

Looking for more practical ideas about moving from making meatloaf to making love? Hearts at Home just re-released Is There Really Sex After Kids? as an ebook!

Jill wrote this book for moms, but I think the best part is the “cliff notes” version of the chapter  I wrote for dads!  Yep, mom reads her 7 pages and dad reads his 7 paragraphs and voila….you’ve read the book together!  You’re welcome, guys.

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4 Gifts Every Mom Needs For Mother’s Day

Mothers Day drawingMother’s Day is upon us and if you haven’t thought about what you are going to do for mom, you may be looking for gift ideas.  Jewelry, flowers, and cards are wonderful gifts for any mom to receive, but I’d like to suggest some non-traditional gifts that every mom needs.  No matter whether it’s a mom with small children or a mom who now has grandchildren and great-grandchildren, we all long to receive gifts from the heart.  They are indeed the ones that mean so much.  This year, consider giving mom one of these gifts:

Appreciation Although gratitude is often felt in the heart, it doesn’t become “thank you” until it is spoken with words.  Communicate appreciation for the things mom did or does now.  Writing it in a letter is always a nice touch because it can be read over and over again.

Encouragement Words of encouragement are greatly needed by a tired mom.  Communicating value for the job she does goes a long way.  “What you do for our family is so important.”, “You are a wonderful mother.” and  “I love the way you take care of our family,” are phrases every mother needs to hear.

Help: If mom is older, help around the house or the yard is always greatly appreciated.  A mom with children still at home will melt if she hears the words, “How can I help you?” on a regular basis from dad or the kids.  In most families, mom carries the majority of responsibility for laundry, cleaning, cooking, shopping, and keeping schedules straight.  “What can I do to help you?” is a gift that every mom needs.

Time:  The gift of time is intangible, yet invaluable.  It is greatly needed and greatly appreciated when given.  Moms need many different gifts of time.  Consider which kind of time your mom or wife needs most from you and give it to her this Mother’s Day:

Time with you.  Have you been unavailable?  Spending time with you could be the best gift you could give.

Time alone.  A busy mom, especially with small children, could use some time alone.  When surrounded by children day and night, mom needs an opportunity to refuel.

Time alone at home.  One evening my husband took all the kids out.  He left me at home to finish a project.  I was amazed at the feeling I had being at home all alone.  I realized how important that time was for me.  I felt rejuvenated!

So what are you getting for mom this Mother’s Day?  The gifts you can’t buy at the store may be the most important ones you will give.  Those are the ones that a mom really needs.

Posted in Taking Care of Me | Leave a comment

Thank you, Mom!

Mothers Day

Someone once asked me what the best advice was that I received from my mom.  I thought about the question a lot and I couldn’t think of specific advice I got from my mom. What I realized is that my mom offered “advice” simply by being someone worth following.

My mom showed me how to be hospitable. Anyone was welcome in our home for any occasion.

My mom showed me how to serve. She led the women’s ministry at our church, served as a VBS coordinator, and helped with many programs in the community.

My mom showed me how to love well. Unconditional love is something I’ve seen all of my life through both my mom and my dad.

IMG_0768My mom showed me how to work. She cooked, cleaned, sewed, ironed, and did whatever needed to be done. She also expected my sisters and I to do the same.

My mom showed me how to be an engaged grandparent. Even though we live hours apart, each one of my kids has a special relationship with my parents.

My mom showed me how to live a life of integrity. She was honest and expected her kids to be too.

My mom showed me how to love Jesus. My dad and mom took us to church every Sunday. They encouraged us to go to church camp every summer. They showed us how to do things God’s way.

Mother’s Day is less than a week away. This year I will be honoring my mom with a gift to Hearts at Home on her behalf. I’m able to recognize her for all that she has done for me while helping more moms through our mission at Hearts at Home.

Will you join me?

When you make a gift in honor of your mom, we will send her a personalized card on your behalf. If your mom is no longer with us, you can make a gift in her memory. All honored moms will be listed on the Hearts at Home website.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! 

Posted in Miscellany | Leave a comment

The Grace Card

Mark: Last weekend Jill and I were spent from the National Hearts at Home conference in Peoria where nearly 4100 moms got their batteries recharged.

Jill: It’s a big weekend for our family and the older we get the more it saps our energy. Needless to say there was no Marriage Monday last Monday.

Mark: This weekend we worked on our kitchen remodel. Yes I started it in October–tearing out walls, making a mess, building a new kitchen island, painting the cabinets, installing “new to us” countertops, putting in a new sink…the list goes on.

Jill: Mark spent most of this weekend putting in the new backsplash. When you remodel for other people Monday through Friday, you can only work on your remodel nights and weekends.  And when we travel a good number of weekends for speaking, it means big projects like a kitchen remodel takes longer than usual.

Mark: So when we started talking about today’s Marriage Monday, that brought us to the topic of grace. Years ago, Jill and I started talking about the importance of giving each other “grace space” in marriage. “Grace Space” is simply allowing one another to be human. To make mistakes or experience human weakness without being raked over the coals by one another.

Jill: We’ve been pretty wiped from two very big weekends. Without grace being lived out with kindness and patience, conflict is almost inevitable.  In the past, it most definitely would have happened…but God is growing each of us up.

Mark: We haven’t experienced conflict these past two very full weekends. Instead we’ve both worked hard to extend grace and to serve one another.

Jill: Last weekend Mark served me by helping at the Hearts at Home conference. This weekend I served Mark by running to the home improvement store while he was working on the kitchen.

Mark: May is the month of working in the yard, planting gardens, end of the school year activities, graduations, sports practices, and transitioning into summer. It’s a season where conflict could be inevitable.

Jill: Unless you play the grace card.

What about you? Where do you need to give grace to your spouse? Where can kindness, patience, and serving change the tone of how you interact with one another? 

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Did You Know There Are 8 Ways You Can Be Smart?

Dr. Kathy Koch, founder of Celebrate Kids, is a Hearts at Home favorite speaker. We try to have different speakers every year but Dr. Koch is a back-by-popular-demand speaker for sure! (We’re offering walk-in registration for the National conference this weekend so you can still get in on the fun and hear Dr. Kathy speak!)

Dr. Kathy’s 8 Great Smarts book has recently been re-released and it is fabulous! Here’s an excerpt to equip and encourage you today.


KathyKoch-10-2014-med (1)Do you know children or teens who struggle with friends? Who doesn’t? Maybe they think they don’t have enough friends. Maybe they’re trying to have too many. Maybe their friendships don’t tend to last long. Or, maybe they stay at the superficial level. Developing relationships into friendships has never been easy. It’s more complicated today because of social media, family and cultural issues, and busyness.

What if I suggested that when children discover how they are smart, they can more successfully navigate the complexity of friendship? That’s not all. Parents can think about their smarts and how their children are smart when wanting to have fun together and deeper conversations. Both are more likely. It’s true. (The rest of this post is about peer friendships, but everything here can be applied to your desire to stay connected well to your children.)

When children know their smart strengths and want to get to know peers better or just have a good time, they can choose activities that are a good fit. They’ll be most comfortable so they’ll be able to be themselves. Knowing about the smarts also allows children to predict which smarts are strengths in peers they’d like to get to know better. Now, they can choose activities and places with them in mind and they’ll be most comfortable. Make sense?

If I’m already a bit stressed at the prospect of trying to make a good impression and I’m in a situation I’m not comfortable with, our time may not go well. I may be nervous. I may not be able to have confident conversations. I may not think of questions to ask so our conversations don’t last long. I may be bored and the person may think I’m bored with him or her. Not good!

For example, I’m not very picture smart. So, I don’t go out of my way to go to art museums. I have gone with others to honor them. A wise choice! But, it’s not easy for me. I’m out of place. I don’t know why they’re excited with this painting or that sculpture. I don’t always know the words they’re using to describe what they say. (And, I’m word smart! But, the smarts don’t always work together. Because picture smart is one of my weaker intelligences, I don’t have a strong vocabulary for the arts.) Because I’m normally a strong conversationalist, stress can build. I’m also very logic smart so I typically enjoy thinking with questions. I can’t do that in an art museum because I don’t even know enough to know what to ask. Perhaps you can relate even if your smart strengths are different.

So, how can we help our children create positive encounters so relationships will grow into friendships? Teach them how they are smart and how that can influence their decisions and conversations.

When children are body smart, they think with movement and touch. They enjoy moving and will stay most engaged when they have the freedom to move. They like to keep their hands busy. They’ll also enjoy participating in physical activities and will probably enjoy watching sporting events, too.

When children are logic smart, they think with questions. These children may most easily connect with others who also enjoy investigating ideas. They may enjoy discussing books together, going to museums, and exploring and discovering new places and things.

When children are music smart, they think with rhythms and melodies. Connecting over music and musical groups will solidify relationships for music-smart children. They’ll enjoy going to concerts and listening to music together at home or in music stores.

ckbk91When children are nature smart, they think with patterns. These children will enjoy spending time outside, going for a walk, spending time at a pet store, and going to the zoo. They may enjoy collecting things together as they examine different patterns. Bonding with each other’s pets will also connect them.

When children are people smart, they think with other people. These children will often have healthy relationships because they have the ability to discern people’s motives and more. They enjoy talking, brainstorming, and discovering truths together. They often prefer to be with several people rather than just one other person. They don’t necessarily need to do much together; it’s being together that matters.

When children are picture smart, they think with their eyes in pictures. These children may enjoy crafting together, talking about art and colorful things even in malls, and watching movies. Sometimes they’ll engage longer in conversations when allowed to doodle. Enjoying and examining pictures in books may result in great conversations. They’ll also enjoy talking about the things they see in their vivid imagination.

When children are self smart, they think with reflection deeply inside of themselves. These children usually don’t need as many friends as others do. But, they still need to be connected to healthy peers and family. Having their thoughts and opinions respected is important. They’ll often prefer quiet and talking about things worth thinking about. They’ll enjoy questioning others about their beliefs so others need to be confident.

When children are word smart, they think with words. Talking, talking, and talking more will often be the preference of word-smart children. They need friends to listen and engage in conversations. They may bond by reading the same book and then talking about it. Walking through bookstores together will be considered fun.

What do you think? I hope you have ideas relevant to one or more of your children. Want to dig into this more to better understand yourself, your spouse, and your kids? That’s why I wrote 8 Great Smarts!

And, remember my illustration of going to art museums? If you know your children are going to be somewhere or doing something that isn’t necessarily a high interest or strength, prepare them as best you can.

Talk with your children about what you’ve noticed about their smarts. When they know how they’re smart, they’ll be more confident and more creative with friends. When discovering how their friends are smart, they’ll better honor them. That will be a win-win for sure.

What about you? As you read this can you identify how you are smart? What about your spouse and your kids? 

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Staying Together When Your Child’s Choices Threaten To Pull You Apart

ThinkstockPhotos-78023770Jill: Mark and I spent some time with friends recently. As the parents of several young adult children, they were struggling to make sense of their oldest child’s choices. Substance abuse and crime have landed their girl in prison for quite some time.

Mark: Jill and I understand that journey. With his permission, Jill first shared about our son Kolya’s (who now goes by Nicolai) struggle with mental illness several years ago. His diagnoses include Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD), Severe Clinical Depression, Personality Disorder, and Bipolar Disorder.

Jill: As commonly experienced in the mental health world, our son ends up hospitalized where he stabilizes with appropriate medication. Then he leaves the hospital and stays on the meds for a few weeks to a few months before he either abuses them (overdoses) or stops taking them all together and the spiral begins again. Over time he’s also added substance abuse to his issues because he self-medicates when he doesn’t continue with the medications that really do help him. Unfortunately, he has tried to take his own life on many different occasions.

Mark: At the age of 22, he is considered an adult by the healthcare system and has to choose to get the help he needs. About a year ago we allowed him to live at home for a time until we determined that wasn’t an arrangement that was safe for all involved. You never expect to have to require your child to leave, offer to drive him to the homeless shelter, but that was indeed what we had to do. He eventually checked himself into the psych ward at the hospital.

Jill: This is not what any parent expects to ever deal with. When you’re cuddling that little one, or sounding out words with them as they learn to read, or attending their school concerts…you never once think, “Wow…someday I’ll visit this kid behind bars.” We don’t expect it and quite honestly most of us don’t know how to deal with it. There aren’t a lot of books on the subject and most people aren’t posting “Wow, I’m so proud that my son just earned his first DUI.”

Mark: Jill and I have found that your child’s crisis can tug at the seams of a marriage. We’ve had to be very intentional to stay close and connected to each other when our child’s choices threaten to hijack our relationship. Here are some principles we’ve found helpful to guide us:

Pray Together–It may not be something you’re comfortable with, but praying together puts God smack-dab in the middle of the mess which is where you need Him to be. It moves your eyes from the mountain to the Mountain Mover.

Keep Your Marriage The First Priority-It’s no different than when your kids were small and you had to make time for the two of you, prioritizing your marriage is a must. Take time to talk, to laugh, to do things that refuel you both and strengthen your relationship.

Lovingly Detach–Detachment is way we allow others the opportunity to learn how to care for themselves better. This is a term often used in the addiction world. When Jill and I first heard it, we bristled at the thought.  After all, one of our son’s biggest issue is an attachment issue. However, what we learned is that lovingly detaching is how you learn to continue living YOUR life in the midst of someone else’s poor choices. “You detach from the actions, the crime, the drug use, the lying, and every other terrible thing an addict does to himself and others. You continue to love and support the person inside, not the addiction controlling the life.” (

Talk and Pray Before You Respond–Sometimes I hear from our son. Sometimes Jill hears from him. If he asks for something, however, we always talk to each other before we respond. This helps us stay level-headed in our responses and makes sure we’re on the same page.

Be Compassionate With Each OtherEvery person handles these kinds of challenges differently. I’m far more emotional than Jill is. It’s easy to think she’s way too logical and even uncaring. And I know she often feels I let my emotions get the best of me when dealing with our son. We’re different people who will respond differently to the curve balls of life. The temptation is to criticize each other during times of stress. Instead, we have to be compassionate with each other and allow for those differences while resisting the urge to criticize.

Play To Your Strengths–Jill is a researcher. Some of the best resources we’ve discovered for both ourselves and our son have come from her research. I’ve learned to trust her to thoroughly research whatever issue we’re dealing with. I’m very discerning and perceptive. Jill has learned to trust me when I sense that something is “off” in some way. By playing to our strengths we work together well.

Get Help–Jill and I have seen a counselor to help us stay steady during particularly hard seasons. A counselor, a pastor, or even good friends can sometime provide the sounding board and perspective needed to get through a tough situation.

Jill: When your child is in crisis, your marriage needs to stay steady. If you’re not intentional about making that happen, the crisis will likely draw you apart rather than bind you together. It doesn’t have to, though.  You CAN stay together even when your child’s crisis threatens to pull you apart.

What about you? Have you had to navigate a crisis that threatened to pull your marriage apart? Would you add any suggestions to the list above?

Posted in Marriage, Parenting | 2 Comments

I Want All The Answers NOW!

I first met Karen Ehman 23 years ago when she had registered for the first ever Hearts at Home conference and I was reviewing some of her registration info on the phone. I covered my questions with her and then suddenly she gasped. You see she was pregnant, due any day, and as we were talking her water broke! We bonded as moms in that moment!

Back then Karen and I were moms who understood each other’s world. Now we’re both moms who are navigating the world of young adult children. We’re also both authors and speakers who want nothing more than to help other moms know they’re not alone. 

Karen’s newest book Pressing Pause: 100 Quiet Moments for Moms to Meet With Jesus is one I’ve wanted to share with you! Co-authored by Ruth Schwenk, it’s an pressingpauseeasy to read devotional designed for busy moms who know they need to slow down each day to spend some time with Jesus but don’t know how to find that time. That’s me sister and I’m guessing that might be you too!

I asked Karen for a sneak peek of the book and she sent today’s post to share with you! And not only that but she’s giving away three copies of the book to three lucky readers today! Wahoo!   To enter the drawing, simply leave a comment about why you would like this book or sharing one way you “press pause” to spend time with God.

PS…Karen will be at our 2016 Hearts at Home conferences. Registration is now open for our North Central Conference (Rochester, MN) and our new Southern Conference (Chattanooga, TN).  And you can still get in on the fun at the National Hearts at Home conference next weekend in Peoria, IL!


karenThen they believed his promises and sang his praise. But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold.
                                                                                  —Psalm 106:12–13 NIV

My son Mitchell was a curious child. When he first learned to talk, he often repeated the same three phrases to me: “Why?” “How?” and “When?”

His sparkly green eyes were wide with wonder. As I cooked, he would drag a kitchen chair over to the stove and stand on it next to me. His inquiring mind needed to know the reason behind every ingredient I tossed in the pot. Why was I using brown eggs and not white ones? Why was I adding potatoes but not carrots? And speaking of carrots, why were they orange and not blue?

As Mitchell grew older, the questions continued. Soon after his feet hit the floor each morning, he wanted to know how the day would unfold. Were we going to the church picnic? What would we have to eat? Would the kids play football? Would they let him be the quarterback?

I couldn’t possibly answer all his questions. All I could do was remind him that, no matter what happened, everything always turned out fine in the end. He just needed to trust that we had planned pleasant things for him to do.

I didn’t want to squelch Mitchell’s inquisitive spirit, but sometimes I wished he’d just relax and enjoy the ride instead of always having to know in advance all the details of each day.

When it comes to my own life, I’m no different than my son. I want God to tell me what’s going to happen next, explain how my life will unfold each day.

The ancient Israelites had a similar mind-set. Sometimes they trusted the Lord and stood on His promises. But often they wobbled and lost their footing. They had to know how. And when. And—most importantly—why?

Psalm 106:12–13 tells us, “Then they believed his promises and sang his praise. But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold.”

Scripture teaches us to believe the promises of God. He knows what He is doing, even if at times we’re not sure that He does. And yes, God is faithful, even during the times when He seems to be silent.

When God does not give us explanations at each turn, it builds our faith as we must learn to trust even when we cannot see. We can go to Him in prayer asking Him to calm our anxious hearts. We can ask Him to increase our faith so we aren’t consumed by the questions and so we can trust that He—the ever-wise Parent—has good in mind for us.

It is God’s job to unfold our future. It is our job to do our best to make wise choices as we trust and glorify Him through the process. Let’s stop asking Him to spiritually skywrite all the answers, and let’s write His promises on our hearts instead.

And then? Let’s live like we believe them.

  • Do you also struggle with wanting God to continually answer “Why?” “How?” and “When?”
  • In which area of your life do you most long for His answers?

Dear Lord, help me each day not to seek explanations but to seek a closer walk with You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Posted in Faith | 43 Comments

Depression and Marriage

ThinkstockPhotos-514518672Mark: January was a rough month for me. My construction business slowed down, winter closed in, and the darkness of depression returned. I felt like God was a million miles away.

Jill: I knew Mark was struggling. We talked about it but I didn’t know how to help him.

Mark: I worked hard to stay steady emotionally and spiritually. I knew I had to stay in God’s Word even when I didn’t feel like it.

Jill: When I suggested that we drive over to Peoria to see our counselor, Mark didn’t want to give up any work time he might have.  I decided I needed to sort through my thoughts and feelings so I went ahead and made an appointment for myself.

Mark: It had been a couple years since things have been that dark for me. I had a mix of emotions rolling around on the inside.

Jill: When I settled into the comfortable chair in our counselor’s office, he asked me what brought me here. It had been several years since we’d been there. I told him that Mark was struggling with depression again and I needed to know how to best help him when things get dark.  I shared with him a conversation we’d had just a couple days earlier where Mark said, “I don’t see God at work at all.”  I responded, “I see Him at work in so many ways.” That was when my counselor reminded me of the importance of validation. That’s one piece of “loving well” I had forgotten.

Mark: When we validate others we let another person know their thoughts and feelings are understandable. When things are dark, we don’t need answers–at least not right away– we need understanding. We need to be heard and cared for.

Jill: The counselor reminded me that my response “I see Him at work in so many ways,” should be my second or third response only after validating his feelings with empathetic statements like “I’m so sorry for how dark it feels to you,” or “I can see how the circumstances feel difficult and make it feel like God feels so far away.” Another powerful response is to say, “Tell me more. I want to understand what you are thinking or feeling.”

Mark: I’ve come to understand there are some important steps for me to take when the darkness settles in. If you struggle with depression at all, it’s important to:

1) Stay steady. It is so easy for my emotions to wrestle my thoughts into submission. I’ve come to understand emotions are not always truthful.
2) Ask for prayer from friends. Be honest and specific in your request. Our tendency can be to vaguely ask for prayer, “Will you pray for me? I am struggling.” I’ve found the more specific the request, the better the response. When I reached out to one friend I said something like, “I am freaking out, I’m afraid and I feel like God has abandoned me.” That better described what I was feeling than “I’m struggling.”
3) Talk to friends and counselors–don’t try to go it alone.
4) Stay in God’s Word and journal your thoughts if you find that helpful.
5) Keep doing the right thing even when you don’t want to. Don’t forget to make exercise an important part of your day.
6) Trust that God really is a good good Father. In my case my fear was that God was abandoning me just like my earthly fathers had done. I realized I was putting all of my past father figures’ actions, their neglect, rejection, and abandonment upon God.
7)Don’t forget to meet with your doctor and be honest and specific. Don’t hesitate to take medication if it is prescribed. In my case, medication has been very helpful.

Jill: If you’re loving someone who struggles with depression, it’s important to:

1)Be fully present. Hold their hand. Listen with your ears and your eyes.
2) Listen and reflect back. Respond with “What I hear you saying is __________.” This lets your loved one know they’ve been heard.  You don’t have to agree with what they’re saying. You just need to be able to repeat what they are saying.
3) Tune into their possible emotion. This might sound like “I’m guessing maybe you’re feeling _____________.” If you guess the wrong emotion and they correct you, don’t take it personally. You’re simply helping them to sort through their emotions and whether you guess right or wrong, your comment/question helps them to narrow down what they are feeling.
4) Feel first. Fix later. Feeling builds a bridge and speaks compassion. At some point, logical “fix it” steps may need to be suggested (like making a doctors appt or setting up a time to talk to a counselor) but those come after validation.  The often used statement, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care,” applies in marriage too!
5) Pray. Pray for your spouse intently.

Mark: I think we’ve underestimated the effect of my depression on our marriage until the past five years. While we’re still learning how to navigate it in our relationship, we’ve definitely experienced improvement in the past few years.

Jill: Don’t dance around it, don’t sweep it under the rug, and don’t minimize it. If you or your spouse struggles with depression, call it what it is, get the help needed, and keep the communication lines open. Mental health is just as important as physical health.

What about you? Do you struggle with depression? Does your spouse? Which of the practical points do you need to put into practice? 

Posted in Marriage | 4 Comments