YOU Make a Difference!

This summer has been a summer of grief for me with the Hearts at Home organization bringing their season of ministry to a close. I never thought that would happen.

A few weeks ago I heard the news that Women of Faith had cancelled all of their Fall conferences in order to regroup. It honestly didn’t surprise me at all. In the 24 years that Hearts at Home existed, we watched event attendance and registration responses change greatly over the years.

Many have asked what could have been done to change things. It’s not easy being an event planner these days…in fact it’s downright scary at times.

Because I’ve been asked several times this summer, here are a few ways you can support the organizations and events you value:

With your EARLY registration. When Hearts at Home started 24 years ago, we filled up fast. Today’s audiences tend to wait to see if some better opportunity might come along. They resist commitment and tend to register late. They’d rather pay the $20-$30 higher late registration fee and keep their options open than to save $20-$30 with the early registration fee and commit themselves.  This alone gives event planners major stress.  Often thousands of dollars have been committed for speaker fees, event liability insurance, facility rental, minimum food requirements, and hotel blocks. When registration lags, it causes great stress for everyone on the event-planning side of things. Your early registration not only prioritizes self-care or marriage-care, it also helps event planners rest well and know that the financial obligations they’ve committed to will be covered.

With your ATTENDANCE.  It’s tough to make a decision to attend an event, but your attendance is a vote of confidence in the value of learning, growing, and stepping away from the everyday to find refreshment for yourself or for your marriage. Conflicts will always arise and you will likely miss out on something when you decide to commit to a valuable growth opportunity. Ask yourself, “Is this conflicting event repeatable?” If the answer is yes, then it’s okay to miss it on the rare occasion. One of ten soccer games might be an example. However, if it’s not repeatable, like your son receiving an award at an awards ceremony, then you’ll likely want to attend the “not repeatable” event.  We also often tell ourselves, “I’ll attend that event next year.” There’s no assurance, however, the event will be available next year…especially if the organizers run into the challenges mentioned above in #1.

With your FINANCIAL SUPPORT. Many organizations that plan events are non-profit ministries. These organizations depend on the financial support of those who value the ministry. Sure, you pay to attend the event, but often that only covers a portion of what it takes to run the organization year-round. If you love what an organization brings to your life, support them financially to help them keep the encouragement coming your way. Don’t tell yourself others who have more resources will do that. Even small monthly amounts can make a huge difference when they’re paired with other small monthly amounts from other ministry partners.

With your PRAYERS. Folks in the public eye and event planners with vision endure a lot of criticism and often take some pretty big financial risks. Support your favorite organizations, authors, and speakers with your prayers. When we’re stepping out in faith, it makes a difference knowing that people are praying!

With your ENCOURAGING WORDS. There’s nothing better than knowing that you’ve made a difference in someone’s life. If a book, an event, or a speaker’s message made a difference in your life, let them know!  Hearing the God stories is the fuel that keeps their servant heart full!

When Mark and were deciding whether to bring a No More Perfect Marriages Couples Retreat to Rochester, Minnesota the November 10-11 weekend that Hearts at Home was supposed to be there, we  prayed long and hard.  Knowing everything we know about folks not committing these days and last minute registrations balanced against all of the financial obligations. It left us in a scary place that would require a step of faith. Ultimately we decided to take that step of faith. Now we’re in waiting land…will we get enough support to not go in the hole financially? Ultimately, however, we are trusting God’s provision and leading because are passionate about our message and solid in our mission to help marriages go the distance.

What plans do you have over the next two to six months to take care of yourself or to take care of your marriage? Isn’t it time to prioritize refreshment and recharge that will help you BE, not just DO?  Here are some events I’ll be at where I’d LOVE for you to join me!

October 21–Springfield, IL–The Leader Within You–Register Today!

October 27-28–Alpharetta, GA–Birds on a Wire SOAR Mom Event–Register Today!

November 3-4–Elmhurst, IL–Moms In Prayer UNSHAKEN Event–Register Today!

November 10-11–Rochester, MN–No More Perfect Marriages Couples Retreat– Register Today!

February 9-10–Springfield, IL–No More Perfect Marriages Valentine’s Retreat–Register Today!

If you’re planning on being at any of these events, let me know! I’d love to see you! 

Save Your Seat for the FREE Parenting Teens Summit!

I’ve always had a passion for helping parents do the best they can! The teen years are particularly difficult, which is why Pam Farrel and I wrote Got Teens? Time Tested Answers for Moms of Teens and Tweens and why Dr. Kathy Koch and I wrote No More Perfect Kids (which applies to younger kids, teens, and even adult kids!)

It seems like culture is changing every day. Teens and pre-teens face tremendous pressure from social media, peers, and even family members.

Parents and grandparents play a significant role in shaping our child’s faith into the future. Imagine learning how to better lead your teen or pre-teen from some of the most informed voices in faith and culture… for FREE.

I’m so excited to announce the FREE 2017 Parenting Teens Summit: Hope hosted by Axis from September 11th through September 30th. 

The Parenting Teens Summit is an online experience designed to help parents of teens thrive. Over 40 different Christian authors and thought leaders are ready to share their unique insight with you.  

I will have a session in addition to other Hearts at Home favorite speakers like Dr. Juli Slattery, Dr. Kathy Koch, Helen Lee, Jerusha Clark, Jim and Lynne Jackson, Karen Ehman, and Lynn Cowell.  Other sessions will be given by Dr. James Dobson, Dr. Paul David Tripp, Craig Gross, Kimm Carr, and Craig Groeschel, among dozens of others!

The Parenting Teen Summit is divided into three different categories:

  • Know Their Culture – Snap what? Selfie? Chance the Rapper? Pop culture, smartphones, media, and entertainment can all help shape your child’s faith if we better understand the digital world around us.
  • Connect the Generations – The Secret Sauce for building a lifelong faith is intergenerational community. The Parenting Teens Summit can help you bridge the generational gap between you and your teen.
  • Develop Their Heart – Teens face huge conversation topics every day at school, with their friends, online, and at work. This category will help you as a parent start important conversations with your teen.

Registration is now open for this FREE Parenting Teens Summit. Save your seat and get ready for September 11th!

(If you’re not a parent of a teen, could you share this with someone you know who is? It’s an incredible opportunity I’d hate for any parent of a teen to miss! Thank you!) 

71 Years and Counting

Jill: This weekend I had the privilege of spending time with some fabulous ladies in Ft. Branch, Indiana. I LOVE being able to bring encouragement and hope through women’s conferences and events.

Mark: Because we were in the neighborhood, we decided to head over to Washington, Indiana where I used to spend my summers with many aunts, uncles, and cousins. Jill and I so enjoyed staying with my great-aunt Betty. She amazed me when I was a kid and she still inspires me in so many ways.

Jill: We also had the privilege of spending time with Aunt Marcella and Uncle Ray who will be celebrating their 71st wedding anniversary this coming Friday!  Can you believe that???? 71 years of marriage!

Mark: Jill asked them what the key was to 71 years of marriage and they shared a story with us to answer that question. Here’s the story in their own words:

Uncle Ray: I ended up having to work a double shift one day. Back then we didn’t have cell phones so I couldn’t let Betty know.  

Aunt Marcella: When he walked in the door I said very harshly, “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?” He didn’t say a word and just walked back out the door.

Uncle Ray: I decided I was going to walk around the block and come back in again.

Aunt Marcella: He was gone a few minutes and then he walked back in the door. I said in a much softer, kinder voice, “So where have you been? I’ve been worried sick. And why did you walk back out the door?” 

Uncle Ray: I told her, “Well you had your apron on backwards and I had my hat on backwards and I decided we needed to try that again.” 

Jill: Mark and I talked about that story as we drove home yesterday. There’s so much to glean from it.

  1. Aunt Marcella admitted that her tone was harsh. We’d all do well to pay attention to the tone of voice we use with our spouse.
  2. Uncle Ray led the way to a do-over. Sometimes we need to back up and try again.
  3. Uncle Ray used a little humor. Aunt Marcella’s apron wasn’t literally on backwards, nor was his hat–he said that to indicate they were sideways with each other and the direction they were headed in wasn’t going to accomplish anything.
  4. Aunt Marcella changed how she spoke to Uncle Ray when he came in the second time. Sometimes we need to adjust mid-conversation in order to make progress in our communication. Offering an apology can go a long way, too.
  5. Uncle Ray walked around the block. By doing so, he stopped himself from answering back with a harsh tone. Just because our spouse says something in a harsh way, we don’t have to respond back the same way. Just like Uncle Ray, we can choose to step away just long enough to take a deep breath and choose to respond rather than react.

Happy Anniversary Aunt Marcella and Uncle Ray! You’re an inspiration to all of us!

What about you? Which of the five takeaways from Ray and Marcella’s story do you need to practice? 


The Secret To Taking Your Marriage Deeper

Marriage Monday

Mark: Yesterday Jill and I left our youngest at college in downtown Chicago for his last semester. It’s hard to believe he’s finishing up and getting ready to fully move into adulthood.

As we were driving home from Chicago–a two-hour drive for us–we discussed the next few months of #marriagemonday posts. When we wrote our No More Perfect Marriages book we identified the 7 slow fades every marriage experiences and the 8 God-Tools needed to turn those fades around.  The 8 God-Tools are so practical and needed each and every day of marriage so we decided we’d explore those for the next few weeks.

Mark: Of course, we can’t possibly cover them on the blog as much as they are explained and explored in the book, but if you’ve read the book, this will be a helpful review and reminder of what tools you need to be using TODAY and if you haven’t read the book yet, it will give you a peek into these tools you need in your marriage toolbox!

Jill: So here’s why we need God-tools: You are an imperfect human being. You are married to an imperfect human being. Two imperfect people who have to figure out money, make parenting decisions, be sexually intimate, take care of a home, make meals, do laundry, deal with car maintenance, and simply live in the same place are destined to find all that imperfect togetherness challenging. When we bump into imperfection—our own and our spouse’s—we often don’t handle it so well. This is when many of our feeling fades begin. However, we don’t have to allow the fades to create distance between us. We have some valuable tools available to us that most of us aren’t using often enough, if at all.

Mark: I love tools! After twenty years, I left church ministry and started Sawhorse Homes Inc., a home repair and remodeling business I had dreamt about for many years. When I’m working on a project, having the right tools makes all the difference in the world. I’ve found it’s the same in marriage. When I use the right tools in my marriage toolbox, conflict is averted, communication improves, disagreements are resolved faster, and our marriage
is strengthened.

Jill: The concept of God-tools comes from 2 Corinthians 10:3–6 in The Message Bible (emphasis ours),

“The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.”

Mark: The Perfection Infection is a warped philosophy that most of us impose upon our marriage. When we have unrealistic expectations of each other and of marriage in general, this sets the stage for disappointment, discouragement, and disillusionment. When we unfairly compare our spouse to others or even to our “imagined spouse,” this warped philosophy prepares the soil of our heart for seeds of discontentment to be sown.

Jill: Our God-tools help us tear down the barriers we erect in our own hearts. That’s honestly where most marriage issues begin and end . . . in the heart. The condition of our heart is directly connected to the condition of our marriage.

Mark: The eight powerful God-given tools of courage, grace, love, humility, forgiveness, wisdom, acceptance, and compassion are designed to line our heart up with God’s heart. They keep us on track or get us back on track. These right choices strengthen and mature us to become
more like Christ each and every day.

Jill: The God-Tool we want to focus on today is COURAGE. Doing things God’s way isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but it is always the right thing to do. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is determining something is more important than the fear. Your marriage is more important than your fear of conflict, your fear of taking off your mask, your fear of intimacy, your fear of disagreement, or your fear of honest conversation.

Mark: Prior to marriage I was confident and courageous. I had operated successfully in a family business with responsibilities that included operations, sales, collections, and cultivating new clients. All of these roles took courage and confidence.

Marriage, however, seemed to be a different ballgame. I found that I was confident and courageous in business, but not at home. I’d had role models in business, but no role models at home. Because of this, my insecurity began to surface. The only way I knew how to assert myself at home was with anger; so instead of courage, I used my anger to control. It didn’t show up often, but when I felt fear, I responded with control instead of courage. This was after I said yes to God, but before I really understood my value in Christ, so my God-tools weren’t gathered
into one place where I could access them easily.

Jill: My tendency to not be vulnerable with my emotions put emotional distance between Mark and I. I would cry in private, not share what I was feeling (because I honestly didn’t KNOW what I was feeling!), and keep my struggles to myself. I didn’t want to “burden” him. Unintentionally, though, I was indirectly telling him I didn’t need him because I could handle things on my own.

Mark: Now I’m using my God-Tool of courage to speak up before I am angry. To say something when I’m first bothered instead of letting it build up in my head and my heart. This was scary for me at first because I was raised in a family where I didn’t have a voice so it took HUGE AMOUNTS of courage at first to find my voice. It still requires courage but I’m now creating a new normal for me of speaking up calmly early on.

Jill: And I’m using my God-Tool of courage to tune into my emotions AND let Mark know what I’m thinking and feeling. Honestly it’s “easier” for me to just keep them tucked away. However, doing that keeps my husband at an emotional distance that isn’t healthy for our relationship. I’m pulling out courage every time I’m tempted to pull away from my emotions or from my husband.

Mark: Want to know the secret for taking your marriage deeper? Using the God-Tool of courage will change the dynamics of your relationship! Joshua 1:9 tells us to “…be strong and courageous.” Use your God-Tool of courage today!

What about you? Where are you letting fear keep your heart guarded and inaccessible to your spouse? What are you hiding behind? How do you need to be using your God-Tool of courage to get more honest and close the distance between your heart and your spouse’s heart? 

A Mom Study You Can Do In Your Jammies!

Being a mom is hard, but it doesn’t have to be lonely.

Need to find your mom tribe?

Looking for inspiration in building your mom community?

Want to sharpen your relationship skills in order to take care of the friendships you have?

I’ve got an opportunity for you!

It’s the Better Together book study!

Better Together shows you how you can:

COMBAT ISOLATION and enjoy a supportive mothering community

INCREASE YOUR SOCIAL CONFIDENCE and stop the comparison game

DEEPEN YOUR FRIENDSHIPS as you share life with others

STRENGTHEN TRUST and build friendships without fear

INCREASE YOUR JOY and thrive as a mom

All of these are possible! Hop over and join the group, pick up a copy of the book, read one chapter a week, and participate in the Facebook group discussions whenever it works best for you!

I hope you’ll join the fun!

What Weeding Taught Me About Taking Care of My Health

Most mornings I spend an hour or so weeding before I take my shower and get ready for my day. I love being out in the quiet of the morning. It’s my time with God, time to think, and my opportunity to get my hands dirty. God teaches me so many lessons while weeding. Last week I shared a principle God taught me about parenting while I was weeding. Today I want to share with you a principle God reminded me of about taking care of my health.

After helping both our parents with some landscaping, Mark and I made off like bandits with a ton of new hostas! We have several areas in our yard where grass doesn’t grow well due to the shade, so we decided those areas would be just perfect for the hostas.  We planted them and then mulched around the plants. Once every week or two I go out to keep the hosta gardens cleaned up and weed free.

Dandelions are one of the worst weeds to deal with. You can’t just “pull” them. Instead you have to dig deep to make sure you get the entire root. And those puppies are looooooooooooong!

However, when I stay on top of the weeding and I catch the dandelions when they’re small, I don’t have to dig at all. Most of the time I can just grab hold of the plant right where it enters the ground and pull. The root isn’t very long when the plant is small and hasn’t yet flowered.

In October 2013, after my annual pap smear and breast exam appointment, my doctor scheduled my annual mammogram. Because my aunt, mother, and grandmother had all had breast cancer, I’d been getting an annual mammogram since the age of 40. My doctor found nothing to be concerned about in her breast exam. I’d found nothing on my regular self-exam either. But we always followed my annual “female” appointment with a scheduled mammogram.

This time, however, the mammogram showed something of concern so a biopsy was ordered. And the biopsy came back with a cancer diagnosis.

Nothing could have prepared my heart for that day.


The following days and weeks were a blur as I discovered more about breast cancer than I ever wanted to know. Mark and I learned about the treatment options and decisions were made.

One of the most important things I learned, however, is HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO CATCH CANCER EARLY.

Just like extracting those dandelions out of the ground when they’re small, if you catch cancer early you have a much better chance of extracting it out of your body. We caught my cancer so early that I most likely would have only needed surgery and possibly radiation. However, my type of breast cancer–triple negative–also required chemotherapy regardless of when the cancer is caught.

Still, my chance of recurrence is quite low because we caught it early, treated it aggressively, and I made many lifestyle changes concerning food choices, weight control, and exercise.

You and I need to take a lesson on self-care from nature and be intentional about catching things early. Been waiting to schedule that colonoscopy? Don’t wait…do it today. What about a mammogram or your annual pap smear?  Pick up the phone now and make the appointment. What about taking care of your teeth? Been to the dentist in the last six months? Get an appointment on the calendar! Need to lose some weight? Today’s a perfect day to get serious about that.

It doesn’t have to be cancer we’re preventing with early care. Last year I was dealing with knee and shoulder pain. My knee had been bothering me for some time but I just pushed through it. I’d also had a pain in my shoulder and it was becoming harder and harder to do push ups in the kickboxing class Mark and I took together. I chalked it up to my 52-year-old body that was simply revolting against all I was asking it to do. I didn’t have either one checked out but just kept pushing forward until one day when my shoulder wouldn’t hold any of my weight and it hurt to raise it above my head.

A trip to the doc and a couple of MRI’s later, I found out I had a torn meniscus in my knee and a full rotator cuff tear in my shoulder. Oh joy. Had I listened to my body when it first started talking to me I might have saved myself shoulder surgery in particular. I could have possibly strengthened my shoulder when it was a small tear and prevented it from fully tearing.

So last week when I was weeding, God used those little, easy-to-pull-out baby dandelions as a reminder of why it’s important to do both preventative healthcare AND to pay attention when my body is telling me something is wrong.

What about you? What do you need to pay attention to? Do you have a genetic history you need to take seriously? What regular preventative healthcare do you need to put on your calendar? 

CEU’s for Marriage?

Marriage Monday

Mark: Last week was a week of rest for Jill and I. We spent time enjoying Lake Michigan along with Jill’s parents. It was one of the most restful weeks I’ve had in a long time.

Jill: It was a four hour drive to Holland, Michigan and a five hour drive home because we decided to avoid the interstate and take the scenic country drive home.

Mark: One of the ways Jill and I continue to grow our own marriage is by listening to podcasts, conference recordings, or radio programs on marriage. Last week, the Focus on the Family app provided us three excellent programs:

Getting Unstuck In Your Relationships

Working Together As a Team In Your Marriage

Making Healthy Financial Choices for Life

Jill: We listened, paused, talked, listened, paused, talked all the way to and from Michigan. Learning together gives us shared vocabulary and new perspectives.

Mark: Marriage isn’t a once and done activity. We have to keep learning about marriage, ourselves, and our spouse. We have to be intentional about pursuing CEU’s (Continuing Education Units) in marriage!

Jill: Marriage Monday blog posts are a continuing education opportunity! If you’re not already sharing them with your spouse, consider doing so to give you an opportunity to learn together.

Mark: Attending marriage seminars and retreats are another way to keep learning together. (We currently have No More Perfect Marriage events scheduled for Rochester, MN, Springfield, IL, Scottsdale, AZ, Claremore, OK, and Westerville, OH! Come join us!)

Jill: Reading a book together is also a great option. We’ve done it several ways: 1) Read one copy individually–Mark highlights in blue and I highlight in pink. Then we talk through our highlights and marvel at how little purple there is! We are so different! 2) Read aloud together each night as we crawl in bed. This takes us the longest time to finish a book but usually nets the best discussions as we read. 3) Listen to an audiobook as we drive. 4) Get two copies of a book and each read our own copy, talking about what we’re reading along the way. (No More Perfect Marriages has both Think About It and Talk About It questions at the end of each chapter so it’s a great book to read together in some way!)

Mark: Our No More Perfect Date Night membership site is also a great continuing education opportunity!  Membership is not currently open but you can get on a waiting list to be notified when it opens up again.

Jill: Life gets busy and it’s easy to let our marriage slip to the backburner. It takes intentionality to keep it front and center.

What continuing education strategies are you practicing? Would you add any other strategies to this list? 

Come join me?

Summer has been wonderfully relaxing! My speaking schedule almost comes to a complete halt in the summer. That’s completely fine with me.

With Fall right around the corner, my speaking schedule will ramp up once again. And that’s completely fine with me, too! I love the rhythm of the seasons!

Many of the events I’m speaking at are open to the public and I want to personally invite you to step away from the everyday, take some time for yourself or your marriage, and do an emotional/spiritual/marriage reboot!

Can you join me at one (or more!) of these events?

August 24–Ft. Branch, Indiana–Women’s “Daycation”–Register!

October 6-7–O’Fallon, Missouri--Altered Women’s Retreat–Register Now!

October 21–Springfield, Illinois–The Leader Within You–Earlybird price thru Sept 1

October 27-28–Alpharetta, Georgia–Birds on a Wire SOAR Mom Event–Register today!

November 3-4–Elmhurst, IL–Moms In Prayer UNSHAKEN Event–Earlybird price thru Aug 31

November 10-11–Rochester, MN–No More Perfect Marriages Couples Retreat–Super Earlybird thru September 6! Register now!