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? 

Posted in Parenting | Leave a comment

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.” (drugfree.org)

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

I Can’t Believe in a God Who Lets Innocent People Die



New York.






All beautiful places in this world. All filled with innocent people whose lives were changed in an instant.

The question posed by so many people is, “Where is God in all of this?”  And too often they resolutely state, “I just can’t believe in a God who lets innocent people suffer and die.”

Have you asked that question or made that statement?  Let me share my heart with you to shed some different light on these unsettling times.

When God made Adam and Eve and placed them in a beautiful garden to live He gave them so many wonderful gifts! There was food galore—fresh fruit and vegetables! God provided the first “fast food” as Adam and Eve could simply look to their right or left and choose from a variety of produce options. Flowers and trees most likely overwhelmed their senses. Water was plentiful from four rivers that flowed through the garden. The rhythm of life was set in motion with the sun and moon carrying out their roles to create day and night.

But this wasn’t all, God also gave Adam and Eve the beautiful gift of choice. Free will. God didn’t create them to be puppets who simply did what He wanted them to do. He equipped His human creations with the ability to think, feel, and make their own decisions.  His longing is for every one of us to choose Him. To walk through life in relationship with Him and to make good choices that benefit the world around us.

What would life be like without free will?  It honestly wouldn’t be much of a life. We’d be robots. Unfeeling creatures who don’t have a mind of our own.  We wouldn’t be able to choose who to love, what to eat, what to study, where to work, how many kids to have, and where to live.

We’d lose the ability to choose how to celebrate birthdays, which holiday traditions mean the most to us, what books we’d read our kids each night, and what music we want to listen to in the car.

Free will is what makes life so delightful!  Choices are the color wheel of life!  It’s what brings joy, hope, love, and happiness to our existence.

Personally I am grateful for free will and for a God who doesn’t force Himself or His ways upon us. It’s similar to parenting where we lead and guide our kids but know that eventually they have to make their own choices.

We all know, however, there’s another side to free will and this is what most of us struggle with.  If we can choose good and wonderful things, we can also choose bad and terrible things.  In the same way that our good and wonderful choices positively affect us and those around us, our bad and terrible choices negatively affect us and those around us.

None of us live completely separated from others. We’re affected by the choices the people around us make. It’s the flip side of the free will we all love and enjoy.

So the choices people have made in Iraq, New York, Afghanistan, Boston, Kenya, Paris, Brussels and other places in the world have so sadly affected innocent lives. This is the outcome of free will used wrongly.

So where is God in all this pain? It’s a fair question to ask and one we have clear answers for.

He is understanding.  God watched His Son, Jesus, be stoned, beaten, and hung on a cross suffering a horrible death because of free will misused. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God (they had to have the apple off the one tree God said not to eat!), relationship between God and man was broken. Adam and Eve had to leave the beautiful garden and consequences for our poor free will choices were introduced. Because we are like Adam and Eve—prone to use our free will for both good and bad—we are forever separated from God. However, Jesus died to bring reconciliation between us and God. So Jesus represented us as the wrongdoer to build a bridge between us and the Father we have wronged. When Jesus suffered his horrible death on the cross, it was God’s greatest hour of suffering. His heart was broken. He knows what it feels like to be affected by free will used wrongly. He understands.

He is present. Psalm 46:1 reminds us that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Just because we lose sight of God, we can be assured he never loses sight of us. He is the God who sees us (Genesis 16:13).

He is comforting.  Psalm 34:18 tells us that “God draws near to the brokenhearted.” The most effective person to have by our side is someone who understands.  God can comfort because He has personally experienced the ripple effect of bad and terrible choices.

He is working. We often can’t see God working but that doesn’t mean he isn’t. Ecclesiastes 3:5 declares, “As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”

He is good. Psalm 34:8 reminds us “Taste and see that the Lord is good…” And in Romans 8:28 we know that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” Just like a child can’t see good when a parent puts a boundary in place, sometimes we can’t see good in our circumstances either. Just because bad happens doesn’t change God’s heart and his goodness.

He is redeeming. God is all about taking bad and turning it into good. In Isaiah 61:3 we are reminded that God turns “beauty into ashes.” The same verse tells us He turns mourning into joy and replaces despair with praise.  When my marriage went through a horrible crisis 5 years ago, I experienced the ripple effect of someone I love exercising their free will with a very bad choice.  My life was changed forever. Initially the pain was horrific and I could barely breathe and function. Over time I found my footing and began to see how God was using the broken places in my life to grow and change me in a good way.  Now both Mark and I look back and are grateful for the many ways God has redeemed our pain to help others. God often does His best work through the pain in our life.

This world is a broken place. There will be pain, there will be hurt, and because of free will—we will be both helped and hurt by the actions of others.  However, this world is just a stopping point before eternity.  There is a place God has absolutely designed to be pain free. A place where we’re protected from hurt. A place where joy is present at all times. It’s called heaven.

In the same way, however, that God won’t force himself on us here on earth, He also won’t force heaven on us either.  We choose where we spend eternity.

I can’t believe in a God who allows innocent people to suffer and die either. Thankfully I don’t have to.

God is not the author of pain, nor does He cause it. This broken, imperfect world wasn’t His idea at all but He’s done the unthinkable to fix it…offering the sacrifice of His only Son so we can experience the beauty and perfection of heaven.

I’ve made the choice of heaven by accepting Jesus as my Savior and my Lord, and if you haven’t, I invite you to do that too. After all, isn’t heaven really the kind of place we’re wishing earth would be like? It does exist. Just not in this stop on our journey towards eternity.

Father God, I’m sorry I’ve wondered where you are in the midst of these challenging times we’re living in. I can see how your heart is as broken as mine is. I understand that this wasn’t what you wanted for us either. Thank you for creating us and for loving us enough to send your Son to be the bridge between our wrong and your Right.  I accept Jesus as my Savior–my bridge builder. I also accept Him as my Lord–my True North–the Leader of my life. Thank you for loving me, for saving me, and for being my Solid Rock and Firm Foundation in a world filled with crashing waves. In Jesus Name…Amen. 

Posted in Miscellany | 3 Comments

Are You A Fountain of Life to Your Kids?

ThinkstockPhotos-100613224 (2)Dr. Todd Cartmell is a speaker at our 2016 Hearts at Home conferences. His newest book 8 Simple Tools For Raising Great Kids, is also one of our newest Hearts at Home resources!

Every time I sit in on one of Dr. Cartmell’s workshops, I learn so much! I asked him for a sneak peek at his 8 Simple Tools book and he sent today’s post to share with you! What I love is that the chapters are short and sweet! Seriously this is such a readable book—today’s post is one chapter! Wow! Now any busy parent can read a book like that!

By the way, if you’re thinking about coming to the Hearts at Home National Conference April 22/23 in Peoria, IL, I want to make sure you know that Best Value Registration ends next Monday, April 4. That’s a savings of $30 so I wanna make sure you are aware of that!

No Hearts at Home conferences close enough to you? Check out the Conference-To-Go option!


Todd-Cartmell-thumbA proverb written almost 3,000 years ago by King Solomon paints a powerful picture of the impact of words: “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.” (Proverbs 18:21).  Let’s put that into parenting terms: The mouth of the righteous parent is a fountain of life to their kids.

Ever think of yourself that way?  A living, breathing, hard-working, laundry-doing, play-date organizing, homework-correcting fountain of life?  Because that’s what God says you can be to your kids.

Your words can rejuvenate your kids from the inside out.  They can give your kids hope and vision they did not have the eyes to see.  You can help them see past their limitations and failures.  Your words can build them up, teach them, love them, encourage them, and guide them.  Your words can leave your kids better off than before you spoke.

Todd Cartmell graphic for freebiesYour words will strengthen your kids when they face adversity and comfort them when they fall.  Your words can help your kids use their God-given imaginations to dream big, work hard, and be open to all that God wants to do through them.  Your words will communicate to your kids that you believe in them and know that they are capable of great things.

Because they are.

That is a fountain of life.

Every kids needs a fountain of life.

That is why God gave them you.

Posted in Miscellany, Parenting | Leave a comment

5 Ways to Fill Your Little One’s Love Tank!

ThinkstockPhotos-481934968A year ago I spoke at the Great Homeschool Convention in Cincinnati (and I’m speaking there again this coming weekend!). While there, I decided to sit in on one workshop that caught my eye. The speaker was Kathy Lee and it was on maximizing the preschool years. All three of my grandkids are preschoolers, and I’m always looking for new ideas, so I decided to attend this workshop with a friend.

Ten minutes into the workshop I turned to my friend Rhonda who was with me and said, “This is great…we HAVE to have her at Hearts at Home!”  I brought her info back to our Speaker Team and we’re so excited Kathy Lee is a part of our 2016 conferences!  If you have preschoolers in your life, you need to be at one of our 2016 conferences to hear Kathy speak!

I asked Kathy to offer some encouragement to all of you so today’s post is from her. Don’t have a preschooler? I betcha know someone who does and you’ll definitely want to share this with them because TODAY KATHY IS GIVING AWAY HER PRESCHOOL CURRICULUM MEGA BUNDLE valued at $285 to one of my readers! I think that’s one of the biggest giveaways I’ve ever had! To enter, leave a comment sharing a favorite activity you love to do with your preschooler. 

By the way, you can find Kathy online at www.kathylee.com and www.thehomegrownpreschooler.com.


Kathy-Lee-thumbKids just wanna have fun and parents just need some fresh ideas to teach their preschoolers!  Here are five ways to fill your little one’s love tank:

Sing a song – Little ones love singing and dancing and being silly. Take a moment today and teach them one of my favorite songs, Blow the Balloon. As you can see by this video, you DO NOT have to be a singer to enjoy singing with your children.

**This song was taught to me by one of my favorite early childhood musicians. You can purchase his music at hughhanley.com.

Facilitate a child directed activity – One of the best ways you can keep your sanity is by making sure that your children are engaged in some quality sensory experiences. These three are my favorite:

GlarchGlarch – Mix equal parts of liquid starch and school glue. I suggest starting with a small amount of each. Knead the ingredients until a putty substance is formed. If the putty is too runny, add more glue; too sticky, add more starch.  You can add some watercolor or food coloring to your putty. Try adding some shaving cream to change the consistency. After your child is finished enjoying their glarch, put in a baggie and store it in the refrigerator.

Fly Guts– Fly Guts is a favorite among little ones. You will need a large container, 2 rolls of toilet paper, 2 bars of ivory soap and water. Invite your children to unroll the toilet paper (this is a fun activity all by itself) and place in the large container. Offer a plastic grater for your children to grate the soap or you grate the soap yourself, if it is a metal grater. Grate both bars of soap into the container with the toilet paper. Lastly, add enough water to form a gooey consistency, it doesn’t have to be exact.  A thicker mixture can be used for molding and sculpting.  A thinner mixture can be used to bury items and squish around.

clouddoughCloud Dough – Mix 4 cups of flour and 1 cup of baby oil to create this moon sand, type dough. Add is come silicone cupcake holders, measuring cups and large candles to create a great birthday party/cupcake experience. Adding rainbow rice for sprinkles is an exciting addition.

Invite your child to tell a story – Grab a blank journal or a few sheets of construction paper to write down your child’s story, word for word. Invite your child to illustrate their story any way they desire. When the story is finished, read it back to your little one and watch their delight. This is a great memory maker and language arts activity, all in one. If you have a minute, you can watch Madeline Ann tell me her story of The Dream Pony.

makingabookTell them a childhood story – Our children often forget that we were once babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Pull out some photos and share some childhood memories with your little one. This will be a moment that will definitely turn into a memory. I often tell my kids the story of me sneaking across the street to the local elementary school to climb this GIANT slide. My mom always quietly watched me “sneak” to the slide and even snapped a photo during one of my escapes.

Get outside – Ahhhh… nature! One of the greatest things you can do for your little one is to help them fall in love with the outdoors. Start exploring this beautiful earth at a young age. Take them on hikes, stop and smell the roses, jump in the mud puddle, or have a picnic in the back yard. The time together in nature does wonder for the soul of a child (and a mom).


Memories are made in the everyday moments. Love tanks are filled one YES at a time. Say yes and make some memories with your little ones today!

Posted in Parenting | 33 Comments

Absolute Surrender

These are the nametags we wore at church yesterday to represent what Easter means to us. Mark's is on the left and Jill's is on the right.

These are the nametags we wore at church yesterday to represent what Easter means to us. Mark’s is on the left and Jill’s is on the right.

Jill: Yesterday was an odd Easter for us. There were no family pictures, no Easter eggs, no Easter dinner. Not because Easter isn’t important, but simply because of the season of life our family is in.

Mark: The kids were either too far away, celebrating with the inlaws or their significant other’s family, or busy with church responsibilities.  Jill and I served at church at both the morning and the evening services, and believe it or not, we spent the five hours in between church services cutting trees from this winter’s ice storm and burning limbs.  Yep….Happy Easter to us!

Jill: Yet both of us remarked that we wouldn’t have had it any other way. Why?  Because of the word US. We were together. We were working together. We were celebrating the resurrection.

Mark: Easter is very important to Jill and I, first because of Christ’s resurrection and what that did for our faith. Second, because of my resurrection and what that did for our marriage.

Jill:  There are three parts to Easter: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Friday was darkness, Saturday was silence, and Sunday was the resurrection.  Sometimes we experience something similar in life.

Mark: 2011 was a year of darkness for me. I had transitioned from 20 years of ministry to being a business owner. As that transition merged with my 50th birthday, I began to lose my footing emotionally and spiritually.  I moved from discouragement to disappointment to disillusionment. In my disillusionment I decided I wasn’t going to do things God’s way anymore. I was doing it my way. As I gave into my own selfish flesh, I ended up a full blown mess. I had an affair. I left my my wife and family. I believed, in my own desperation, that I could ride off into a new relationship and life would be great. I created a huge mess and that “Friday,” metaphorically speaking, was dark.

Jill: When it’s dark you’re holding on for dear life. I knew Mark was struggling but nothing I did or said made any difference. When I discovered the affair, the dark became even darker.

Mark: Over 9 months of time, I went back and forth between my marriage and the other relationship 7 times. I was a conflicted man during the “Saturday” of that season. God seemed silent and I remained lost. In the midst of all of that a friend introduced me to the writings of Andrew Murray. Andrew was an 18th century pastor whose writing reminds me of a loving grandfather leading you to understand God better. Andrew wrote a powerful book called Absolute Surrender that really spoke to me in the midst of my confusion. I learned from Andrew that absolute surrender was a must for the successful Christian life. I thought that Jesus had been Lord of my life, but as I read Absolute Surrender I discovered I had really never fully surrendered to God.

It was Easter Sunday 2012, when I heard Father God clearly speak to me saying, “Mark, if you will trust me for the mess, I will take care of everything else!” I was desperate for peace. I knew I’d made a mess and I wanted that mess to be gone. I knew that surrender was what I needed to do.

Were there things in my marriage I wanted to see change? Absolutely. Was I scared to recommit? Absolutely. Was it the right thing to do? Absolutely.

Sitting at home Easter morning, I surrendered. Fully. 100%. I stopped fighting God. I stopped telling God what to do. I can’t even begin to describe to you what that felt like. It was an incredible peace.

The image I have carried since is that I am walking down the middle of the road holding the hand of my true Father, going at His pace, where He wants to go and how He wants to get there.  I am fully surrendered to Him. This was completely foreign and new in the beginning, but I have really grown to be at peace with this and Him.

Jill: Mark is truly a different person since Easter 2012. There is a steadiness to him I’d never seen in the first 28 years of our marriage. He’s loyal, committed, and peace-filled. He has inspired me to learn to surrender more, as well.  To surrender control. To surrender criticism and judgment. To surrender to God’s plan and God’s way.

Even yesterday when Easter played out the way that it did: no family celebration. No ham. No deviled eggs.  Cutting trees and working together in the yard was all right by me. It was God’s plan for two people who have learned to surrender to celebrate the beauty of the resurrection.

Mark: Where are you fighting God today?  What do you need to let go of and let God lead? How are you trying to “lead God” instead of let God lead you?  I’m telling you, absolute surrender will give you a resurrection experience you are longing for!

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What Easter Is All About

ThinkstockPhotos-502281792“I just can’t believe your skin can stretch like that!” my husband declared one day in my ninth month of pregnancy.  Honestly, I couldn’t believe it either.  I was long past being able to see my feet, my ankles were swollen, and I was definitely feeling like a beached whale.  This was my fourth pregnancy…you would have thought we’d seen it all, but the reality of what new life does to an old body was still a miracle (or travesty!) to behold.  I couldn’t sleep comfortably, suffered from terrible indigestion, and was absolutely miserable, but just a few days later, we were holding our new bundle of joy.  The sacrifice was worth it all.

Six years later, Mark and I sat in a run-down courtroom before a Russian judge.  After months of paperwork, expense, and unimaginable hours of time, we were on the verge of adding another son to our family…this time through adoption.  We knew that Kolya belonged in our family; we now had to convince the judge of this.  The judge just couldn’t understand why we would want a 9-year-old child from Russia when we had four of our own back in the United States.  After many hours of answering questions with the help of a translator, the judge finally agreed to sign the papers.  The sacrifice of thousands of dollars and hours finally paid off.  Aaron Nicolai became a Savage.

Motherhood and sacrifice…the two words are synonymous.  Whether you arrived at motherhood biologically or by adoption, you find out very soon that sacrifice is a part of the job.  For most of us the sacrifice begins with pregnancy or those first steps toward adoption, but for moms who deal with infertility, sacrifice begins months, even years earlier.

I find it interesting that the root word of sacrifice is sacred—a word that means worthy of respect or regarded with reverence.  Another meaning of sacred is something that is made or declared holy or something associated with divinity.  Understanding that leads us right to our example of sacrifice: Jesus Christ.

To understand Jesus’ life and ultimate sacrifice, and to really understand why Easter is important, we have to go back to the beginning…the beginning of time.  On page one of the Bible, in the book of Genesis, we begin with God creating heaven and earth, water and dry land, light and darkness, and eventually man and woman.  Man and woman lived in this perfect place called the Garden of Eden.  It was a place where they had a perfect relationship with God, one another, and where all their physical needs were met.

God gave Adam and Eve free will.  In other words, He created them to live by His design and according to His ways, but He allowed them to make those choices on their own.  God gave them full access to the garden, putting only one boundary on them: they could not eat from one tree: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  God’s boundaries are always given to protect us.  Even in this case, God was protecting Adam and Eve from having knowledge that would complicate their life and introduce them to the concept of death.

One day in the Garden, Satan tempted Adam and Eve to eat from the forbidden tree and they fell for his lies hook, line, and sinker. When they ate the fruit their eyes were opened and they suddenly saw life differently.  They saw their nakedness and made themselves some clothes.  Then, in shame, they hid from God.  The garden, which had been a place of joy and fellowship, was now a place of fear and hiding from God.  As a consequence of their disobedience, God required them to leave the Garden of Eden.   Because of that, life became harder and now the fellowship with a holy God had been broken.

The entire Old Testament of the Bible tells the story of man’s existence from creation until Jesus Christ was born.  During this time, the only way that sinful people (thanks Adam and Eve!) could have a relationship with a holy God was through sacrifice and a high priest who would stand in the gap between the people and God.  The Israelites understood that God could have chosen to be a judge with no grace and mercy when Adam and Eve disobeyed.  But instead of wiping the slate clean, he chose to give them a second chance!  This second chance was an opportunity for man and woman to be reconciled or reconnected to their Creator.   But coming into the presence of God required an admission of sin (disobedience) and because a Holy God can’t exist in the presence of sin, a sacrifice was offered to “cover” the sin.  Most of the sacrifices offered in the Old Testament were lambs and they had to be offered through a priest who represented the people.  The shedding of the blood covered the sins of the people so they could have relationship with a Holy God.

But for God, this was a temporary plan.  His decision to send His Son to earth was his ultimate plan for reconnecting to His people.  Jesus came to this earth as fully God, yet fully man.  One way God connected to us was by becoming one of us.  We have a God who truly understands our human experience.  But God’s plan was more than simply understanding our human experience.  He sent his Son to be the ultimate sacrifice and our High Priest. The Bible says,” We have a Priest-Friend in the presence of the Father: Jesus Christ, righteous Jesus. When he served as a sacrifice for our sins, he solved the sin problem for good—not only ours, but the whole world’s.”

Jesus came to share truth and eventually die on the cross as the final sacrifice for our sin.  He died, then three days later he rose again and eventually went to live in heaven where He is the only priest needed—He’s our High Priest, the only one who stands in the gap between us and God.  Here’s what the Bible says about that in Hebrews 7 (The Message)

This makes Jesus the guarantee of a far better way between us and God—one that really works! A new covenant.

RMRJ comp1 - Copy

This post adapted from Real Moms…Real Jesus.

Earlier there were a lot of priests, for they died and had to be replaced. But Jesus’ priesthood is permanent. He’s there from now to eternity to save everyone who comes to God through him, always on the job to speak up for them.

That’s a big picture to comprehend; yet it illustrates the purpose of Jesus’ life.  He was a living sacrifice, known as the Lamb of God because there was no more need to sacrifice lambs or anything else after his death on the cross.  He took our sin upon himself and shed his blood so we wouldn’t have to do so ourselves.  He died so we could live.  You don’t get a better picture of sacrifice than that.

And that’s what Easter is all about.

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8 Healthy Expectations You Should Have In Marriage

ThinkstockPhotos-504644938Mark: We’ve shared before about the challenge of expectations in marriage. Unspoken, unrealistic, and unmet expectations are dangerous in any relationship.

Jill: However, there are some expectations that can actually be helpful for marriage. These are things that will happen in most every marriage.

Mark: Once you say “I do” it’s healthy to:

  • Expect Conflict: You are two different human beings with differing personalities, temperaments, opinions, and preferences. Conflict will happen. This was one expectation I didn’t have and then I became disillusioned when conflict happened.
  • Expect Disappointments: Your spouse will make mistakes. He or she will let you down. They are not perfect and disappointment will happen.
  • Expect to Be Annoyed: When you live in close proximity to someone else like you do in marriage, there will be things that annoy you. In fact, the very things that drew you to one another in the first place will often be the things that will annoy you later on!
  • Expect to Need Continuing Education: Marriage requires a lifetime of learning. In order to have a deepening intimacy that lasts a lifetime, you’ll need to keep learning about yourself, you spouse, God, and about marriage. You can do that through books, marriage conferences, counseling, and reading blogs like this together.

Jill: But that’s not all, here are four more:

  • Expect to Over-Communicate: Your spouse can’t read your mind. He or she has their own balls to juggle in life. You’ll need to work hard to make sure you listen well and communicate clearly. I confess that too often I have thought, “I shouldn’t have to tell him _____________.  He should just KNOW!”  Don’t make that mistake! Make no assumptions and over-communicate.
  • Expect to Lose That Loving Feeling: Feelings will wane and that’s a normal part of a lifelong relationship. Feelings of love and attraction will come and go. There will be seasons where you’ll have to choose to love because the feeling just won’t be there. However, the feeling almost always follows the choice in time!
  • Expect to Keep Investing: Your marriage relationship will need to be invested in on a regular basis. You’ll have to continue to date, to flirt, to communicate, to learn, to play together, to spend time, to listen well, and to have fun together. Is time together on your calendar?  If not, put some time on the calendar today!
  • Expect to Ask For Help: It’s very possible that there may be times where you need to seek accountability or perspective or help from a mentor, another couple, or a professional counselor to get through a tough season. Asking for help is not a weakness. In fact, it is a sign of wisdom and strength.

Having the right expectations can make all the difference in the world.

What about you? Do you have any more healthy expectations you would add to this list?  Of these 8 expectations, which one(s) do you need to figure into your thinking? 

Posted in Marriage | 2 Comments

A Change in Vocabulary

ThinkstockPhotos-453072785Over the past few years Mark and I have worked to change our eating. We now eat very little to no gluten, no refined sugar, and no additives or preservatives as much as possible.

My friend and co-worker, Lori, has also been changing her diet over the same time period. Lori shared a vocabulary change she has made that has helped her move from deprived to empowered.

Instead of saying “I can’t eat ice cream,” she says “I don’t eat ice cream.” Instead of saying, “I can’t eat gluten,” she says, “I don’t eat gluten.”

That little word exchange is a game-changer for attitude.

Sometimes the littlest things can make the biggest changes. Changing from “can’t” to “don’t” gives her an empowered sense of choice.

Several weeks ago Michael Hyatt wrote a blog post on a similar word swap, exchanging “get to” for “have to.” As Hyatt reminds us, “Our words have power. They impact others but they also impact us.”

Mark and I have been using “don’t” instead of “can’t” and finding it very helpful in staying true to our choices. It’s taking away the feeling of deprivation and replacing it with a word choice that is empowering.

What a difference exchanging a few words can make!

What about you? Where can you substitute one word or one phrase for another in an effort to change your perspective? 

Posted in Taking Care of Me | Leave a comment

Need To Do A New Home Internship?

The marriage relationship is directly affected by the emotional health of each partner.

Once we get married, it’s important that we continue to grow emotionally, because it will strengthen our ability to relate to our partner.  Today’s Marriage Monday is about evaluating your past in order to have a great future.

Jill and I have coined a term for the home we grew up in.  We call it our “home internship,” where we learned about communication, conflict, God, marriage, roles of men and women, sex, and so much more!  Our “growing up” experience, or “home internship,” is comprised of what our parents taught us–directly or indirectly–as well as the choices we made independently of the family.  These provide a filter to how we view relationships, in general.

The reason it is valuable to evaluate our past is to assess whether our home internship served us well or whether there is a need to do a new home internship in some areas.

For instance, one spouse may have come from a home where conflict was handled with rage.  The other spouse may have come from a home where they pretended there was no conflict.  Neither are healthy.  So both partners might consider the value of doing a new internship in conflict management.

A new internship might be pursued by reading books on the subject, pursuing the counsel of a more mature couple or a pastor, attending a marriage retreat, or seeking the help of a marriage counselor.

Jill and I have used all of the above resources to pursue some of the new internships we’ve needed to rid ourselves of baggage from our past that wasn’t serving us well in marriage.  It requires a willingness on our part to pursue the new internship, but we’ve found that the more emotionally healthy we are, the stronger our relationship is.

If you’ve never evaluated your past before, take a few moments to think about these things:

  • Communication
  • Conflict
  • View of God
  • Marriage
  • Role of Men and Women
  • Sex
  • Insecurity
  • Negative self-talk
  • Critical Spirit
  • Addictions

Do you find that you consistently have trouble in any of the above areas in your marriage?  What was modeled for you in the home where you grew up?  What was spoken or unspoken concerning these issues?  Would it be valuable for you to do a new internship in any of these?

Evaluating your past is not something we do to “blame” our parents or even “blame” ourselves for choices we made before marriage.  Instead it is to help us understand our views and perspectives on issues that affect our marriage and to evaluate whether those perspectives are helping or hurting our marriage.

What about you?  Have you evaluated your home internship?  Have you ever done a new internship in order to improve your relationship or your own emotional health?

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6,000 Moms In One Place!

12669606_10204939731607432_984638797133494981_nI can’t wait!

This Spring I’ll be hanging out with over 6,000 moms from 40 states at the National Hearts at Home conference in Peoria, Illinois! It is the premier event for moms and I’d love for you to join the fun!

Women come to Hearts at Home conferences from all over the United States.


In addition to the fabulous keynote sessions there are dozens of workshops offered to design your day to meet your needs as a mom.

No matter if your kids are 2, 22, or 42, Hearts at Home is for YOU!

If you like a good deal, you’ll want to register by April 4 so you can save $30 on your registration for the National Conference!

It’s gonna be a blast! I’d love to meet you at Hearts at Home!

Are you going to be there? 

Posted in Taking Care of Me | Leave a comment