Tracey Garrell describes how, as a stay-at-home mom, she helps her children live out their faith in school.
Mrs. Tracey Garrell: When you know His love, His grace and His compassion on you as a person, it transpires [sic] into how you parent. And when we are Christian parents, we are also called to train them up so that they know the Word andthat they are able to one day have a faith that is their own.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: So, how do you encourage your son or daughter to start owning their faith? This is "Focus on the Family" with Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: Today we want to give you some fresh ideas, which I'm excited about, of how to encourage your child's spiritual growth. I think all of us as parents are worried about that. You know, when they're 3 or 4 and they're starting to develop those wonderful personalities, you see things and you're goin', "Uh-oh, gotta correct that." You're makin' notes (Chuckling) all the way along and let me tell you, with a 15- and 13-year-old, it doesn't end when they're little (Laughter). I mean, you're still in it with teenagers, right, John?
John: Absolutely, all the time, it seems.
Jim: Maybe even 20-somethings.
John: At times, yes. (Laughter)
Jim: So, you know, that parenting tool doesn't go away and we're gonna talk today about how you can help your children better understand that spiritual journey that they're on and how they need to express their faith to those around them and we've got somebody very special to do that with today. Her name is Tracy Garrell from North Carolina. She is a work-at-home mom, like so many of you and she doesn't have a book, but she has a great story.
Jim: And Tracey, I want to welcome you to "Focus on the Family."
Tracey Garrell: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.
Jim: One of the great things in your story is, you didn't come from a Christian home. You found the Lord, I think, or He found you at 20 or 21. Is that right?
Tracey: Yes, that's right.
Jim: Talk about, if you can, talk about growing up in North Carolina. I don't know how you missed finding God there as a child in wonderful North Carolina, but how did you miss people introducing you to who the Lord was?
Tracey: Well, I was born in North Carolina. I was born in Charlotte, but I actually moved to Houston, Texas when I was 4 and I grew up there. My childhood was in Houston.
Jim: So, from about 4 to 15?
Tracey: --so about that time and while I was there in Houston, it was a transition for me to move and I just felt kinda lost and I'm an only child, so my parents said, "Go out and play in the front yard," so I decided that I was gonna go next, you know, a few doors down and knock on the front door and say, "Do you have a girl who's about my age who will play with me?" And her name was Missy and that started a friendship that we still have today after all of these years.
Jim: How do you do that? My wife has two girlfriends from kindergarten and first grade. I mean, what … do you know any guys—
John: I don't—
Jim: --who have—
John: --remember anybody—
John: --from those years, no.
Jim: I mean, it's amazing. Women have this incredible ability to stay connected from 3-, 4-, 5-years-old and you've done it.
Tracey: Yes, she is my very, very best friend and we just, after spending a lot of time together, she invited me to spend the night at her house and I said, "Okay." And her parents said, "Oh, can you spend the night on Saturday?" And I said, "I think I can. Let me check with my parents."
And she said, "But we have rule." And I was like, uh-oh, what's the rule? (Laughter) And she said, "Well, on Sunday we go to church and we'd like for you to come to church with us and then afterwards, we'll you know, get some lunch and you know, we'd like for you to come." And I said, "Well, I haven't been to church." And she said, "Well, you would enjoy it. Why don't you come with us?"
And that really started a 10-year period of me off and on going to church with Missy anddoing things in her family that were different from my family. And when we ended up going to church, I really felt like everybody there cared for me. They just really welcomed me. They wanted to know my name. They wanted to know how Missy and I became friends. And then they would invite me to youth group and then we started singing in the choir. They had a church lock in, which I had never done before. (Laughter) And that—
Jim: You might have been—
Tracey: --was a lot of fun.
Jim: --a little intimidated by that.
Jim: We're gonna lock you in until you accept Christ.
Tracey: Watched, yeah (Laughter), yeah, we watched movies and sang songs and ran around the church building and one time we made pizzas for missionaries and just did all kinds of things. And in my home, again, being a part of an alcoholic home, was discord. It was chaos. There was, you know, there was arguments [sic]. There was fighting. There were loud sounds. There wasn't stability.
Tracey: But in her home, even though there were healthy boundaries, there was love and there was an understanding that mom and dad are people who we respect. And we are going to do, you know, what we're told. I mean, there were times of rebellion, of course, but you could still tell it was just a genuine love.
Jim: It's really, it's so good to hear that, that Missy's parents were that intentional. I think that's brilliant, you know, to invite your children's friends over so that the family can engage them and show their faith. It took you a while though. It really, it surprises me a little bit that it took 10 years. What led you saying yes to God 10 years later? All those seeds were planted.
Jim: Most people would say, oh, you must have accepted Christ not long after Missy and her family took you to church, but it didn't happen that way, did it?
Tracey: No, I, you know, and I went to church. I started learning about God. I started realizing there was a God, but I didn't really understand or learn about a personal relationship with Him. And so, all the things that I did, although they were important and they drew me closer to God, I just didn't have that personal connection yet.
Jim: Yeah and it shows you that things aren't wasted. I mean, God's timeline is very long.
Jim: And to Him, that was nothing. He knew the plan. He knew where you were headed. So, you are about, I don't know, 19 or 20. You meet your husband, David, right?
Jim: How did that happen and was he a believer?
Tracey: Well, he is a, he came from a Christian home and he was a believer. I was in college and I just, I actually had prayed. I had a friend of mine and just got over a real difficult situation and I had prayed for the first time and I said, "Lord, please bring a Christian man who could be a friend of mine in my life, if, you know, if You hear this," right. You know, and I was just so unsure. I was unsure if I was heard in my prayer, but that was my first prayer.
And you know, it was just really important to me that I meet a man like Missy's father was to her. I just saw a lot of characteristics in him and his motherand the kind of love that they had as a marriage and I thought, you know, that isn't impossible that they truly love each other and care for each other in a way that I had not seen before. And so, that was really encouraging to me when I found out that David was a Christian.
But then he started asking about my faith and while we were dating and he said, "You know, it's really important to me that if one day we do get married, that we are equally yoked."
Jim: (Chuckling) Right.
Jim: And what did that mean to you?
Tracey: --well, it meant that he needed to know how I liked my eggs cooked. (Laughter) And I said—
Jim: I could see that, yeah.
Tracey: --I said, "I like them scrambled; how do you like them?" And he just smiled and laughed. He said, "Yeah, we probably need to start going to church together. What do you think about that?"
Tracey: And so, we started going to church together and the difference was with David, is that I had been around other people in my life who said that they were very blessed that they grew up in a Christian home and then that made me feel, hearing it so often, that I was not blessed to be part of a Christian home, that perhaps I wasn't called to be a child of God or I wasn't worthy enough to be a child of God.
Jim: Boy, think of that, the words we speak and how they impact silently. I'm sure you didn't—
Jim: --express that to anybody--
Jim: --but it just was the impact that it made.
Tracey: I didn't understand it.
Jim: Yeah, I mean, that's something.
Tracey: But he was gentle. He shared more of who God's love was and how much he depended on His grace and how we could all be a child of God, that it wouldn't be a particular way that you were or how you grew up or how much money you made or what you did in school. It was based on His love and that was so new to me.
Jim: That is so well-said and what, you know, what jumps into my mind, there's no barrier too high for God to reach your heart.
Jim: And that's a good thing. No matter what [or] where you're at in life—
Jim: --no matter who you are or where you come from, God cares about you and He will reach His hand out to you. He'll stand at the door and knock, which is exactly what the Scripture says. So, you made that commitment before you married David.
Tracey: Yes, yes, I made that commitment and it was so peaceful. We were in church one day. I will never forget it and I just heard the sermon from a pastor and I said, "Lord, You are talkin' directly to me." And I remember, I told David, I said, "I want to go and talk to the pastor after the sermon." And he said, "Do you want me to come with you?" And I said, "No, I want to do this on my own."
And I remember talkin' to the pastor after I accepted Jesus as my Savior and when I, going back to when I was 8-years-old and the difficulty I had in my family, I used to write in my diary all the time in my closet. And I'd say, "Dear God, today is the first day of the rest of my life." Well, I always thought being a part of an alcoholic family that there was something I could've done to change that.
Moving all of those years ahead, I knew that God was in control and He was moving me to understand His unconditional love. And when I went to the pastor and asked to be saved, I said, "Now I understand it. Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I know it is." And he just smiled. The pastor smiled, because I knew then that there was peace in my heart, that there was an everlasting joy and there was a real faith that I had never felt before and the greatest thing about it was, it was nothing I had to do.
Tracey: It was just divine grace from God.
Jim: Well, and Tracey, that's so beautifully said. It's like a light went on—
Jim: --which I guess in many ways you could say that, but the Spirit came into your heart.
Jim: God filled your heart and said, "You're mine."
Tracey: Right and David told me, he said, "This is the best decision you will ever make." And then he said, "Well, except for marrying me, of course." (Laughter)
Jim: Well, I'd go with the first one, but you know—
Jim: --first things first.
Jim: Tracey, all of this to talk about something that's close to our heart and the way we connected and that was through Bring Your Bible to School Day. You have two children, two boys.
Jim: That's, you know, you're a person right after my own heart. I have two boys. And you engaged that. You had your kids participate in that. But we can hear your heart for evangelism and being a product of evangelism, not coming from a Christian home, talk about how you prepare your own children to express their faith and to be bold enough, appropriately, not disrespectful in any way, but how do you start preparing your kids to talk to other about Jesus?
Tracey: Right, well, I think it starts with having a real authentic relationship with Jesus Christ. I really do. I think that when you know His love, His grace and His compassion on you as a person, it transpires [sic] into how you parent. And we all recognize that children are a gift from the Lord. And when we are Christian parents, we are also called to train them up so that they know the Word and that they know it, that they are able to one day have a faith that is their own. And so, it's a very high calling from God.
And I think that one of the ways that we can, as Christian parents, what we can do is just be a role model in Christ to our children and live that out with intention and purpose every day, as often as we can.
John: Well, we're talking today on "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly about faith, about the importance of Scripture and about something that Focus on the Family is inviting you to participate in this fall, on October 8th, Bring Your Bible to School Day. She mentioned that effort a couple of minutes ago and you can find details about Bring Your Bible to School Day at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Tracey, let me ask you this. One of the things I learned through preparing for the interview today, is that you would write out a spiritual notecards--
Jim: --and which I assume were just little verses of Scripture.
Jim: And you would put them in your boys' lunch bag or whatever.
Jim: Did they read them? Or did they throw 'em away or use 'em—
Jim: --for paper airplanes?
Tracey: --right, right, well, it started a couple of years ago. I was looking for something to put in their lunch box and I just didn't really find anything that was just Scripture. I found a lot of historical facts. I found other things in the Bible and good quotes from good people in this world, but I didn't find just Scripture.
And so, this past year at the beginning of September, my kids decided that they wanted to take their lunch every day and I thought, if I can't be with them, God can. God's always with them. And so, I put just a, you know, a notecard in their lunch box and I put it; made that into a level of Scripture where they would understand it. And then I just asked them, you know, that they read those cards.
And once in a while, I'll check in and say, "Did you read the notecard today?" "Yes." Sometimes I ask them, for example, my youngest son, Michael, his teacher actually read the card, some of the cards behind his back and would share with me, "You know, that card really blessed me today."
They're at round tables at school and they would share it with the child next to them and you don't know where those children are in their faith walk or if they even believe—
Tracey: --in Jesus. And so, I think it gave them encouragement and I think it also makes them understand that faith is not something that you just hold onto, that once you have faith in Jesus, that it's meant to be shared out, that there's a purpose beyond it—
Tracey: --because it encourages and it blesses and it instills hope in other people instead of not thinking about ourselves and our problems and what we need to do, it's who we are in Christ. There's more emphasis on Him and less emphasis on ourselves.
Jim: Well, in fact, when you do that consistently and you're lifting up Scripture in your home and you're putting little notecards like that in your children's lunch box or whatever it might be, however it works for you to lift up Scripture in your home, this is the result you get. Let's listen to an audio clip from your son, describing show and tell. This is how important the Scripture is to his little heart.
Michael: I knew it was show and tell day and I brought my Bible and went to school. And when I got there, I asked my teacher to read the book of John in the Bible and she said, "You can't read the Book, but you can read it to yourself at reading time." So, it was just, I still liked it and I shared it with other people.
End of Clip
Jim: You've got the biggest (Laughter) smile on your face right now.
Jim: I mean, that's beautiful.
Tracey: It's my sweet Michael.
Jim: Yeah, I mean, and your mama's smile is tellin' me all I need to know. I mean, he's got confidence that he can take the Book to his teacher.
Jim: And he reads his Bible at school. I mean, that's terrific.
Jim: Do you feel proud?
Tracey: I do; I do (Laughter), because I know how important the Bible is and I know that a spiritual foundation occurs little by little from the time that they're born until the time they, you know, leave the home one day. And I just, I feel an incredible calling from the Lord and I think every Christian parent does, that even though we may all do it differently, we all do it in community. You know, we all … we all do it in unity as husband and wife.
And it takes little small steps along the way in order to encourage them, that their faith is worth living out and it's worth walking day by day and trusting the Lord that He has this plan and this purpose for them that is beyond anything that they could imagine.
Jim: And that's planted in his heart right now. I mean, you're doin' the job. Tracey, let me ask you with the time remaining, we need to talk about Bring Your Bible to School Day. We had about 8,000 children that participated in that. It's not an "in-your-face" thing. That's not what it's meant to be. What it's meant to be is an expression of our religious freedoms that, you know, we can, as Christians in this country, bring such an incredible Book to school and share it and read it as a student. And that's what we are lifting up, is to empower children who are in school to be able to bring their Bible and share it with others. Talk about that. Were you intimidated to do that at first? Or were you all in?
Tracey: I was really, really excited. I was actually just listening to your broadcast one day and heard about the opportunity and so, I went to my children and I said, "There is this new ministry initiative that's going around the world and it's called 'Bring Your Bible to School Day.'"
And I didn't want to plant any seed of expectation where they would need to do something with it and so, my oldest son, who's 11 said, "We have a social studies project coming up and we have to make a totem pole and I have decided to include five things. My teacher asked me to include five things that were important to me. And at the top of the totem pole, I'm gonna put the cross. I'm gonna paint the cross and I'm gonna put it at the top of the totem pole."
Jim: Yeah, we got a picture of that. Let's post that online.
John: That's a great idea.
Jim: 'Cause it's beautiful. I'm lookin' at it. He did a great job on that.
Tracey: He's creative and so, he enjoys painting and that's his way of expressing who he is.
Jim: Did he get any pushback on that? Or was it all good?
Tracey: You know, I think part of the challenge was that he was not able to share on Bring Your Bible to School Day and he really blessed me and a lot of times your children in their childlike faith, which I understand, you know, why Jesus said, "Come to Me as a child of God," because when I talked to him about it, I said, "Oh, I'm so disappointed you weren't able to share with the class for Bring Your Bible to School Day." And his comment was, "Mom, my faith isn't measured by one day." And I thought, wow, you are so right, Jacob. That's exactly true."
Jim: I think in this day and age, one of the difficulties we have is being able to express those freedoms that we are afforded. And I think when we don't use that freedom, it atrophies and so, that's one of the reasons that we wanted to do this, is to empower school-age kids to be able to express their faith. I mean, you live in a country where you can do that.
There's so many intimidating factors [sic]. You know, schools will be receiving letters from the ACLU or other organizations that want to ban that expression. And it's so unfortunate, because it is not illegal to express your faith in a public setting.
Jim: And you know, school is a good place. So, with that intent, we're not encouraging people to be mischievous or bull-headed or you know, out of character. Have the character of Christ when you do this—
Jim: --but just bring it as a tool so that like a little girl like you were with Missy—
Jim: --it might catch your interest. Think of that. We have one of the young men of a staff member who, they had free time at a school and he started a Bible and sharing time.
Jim: It [was] completely legal for him to do. Well, the school came down on him, didn't want it done. He ended up filing a lawsuit against the school. Everybody dropped the lawsuit when they realized they were in the wrong and they couldn't control speech that way.
Jim: But we've got to exercise these freedoms and that is one of the reasons that we sponsor the Bring Your Bible to School Day on October 8th of every year now. And I'm hopeful that we can get 10, 20, 50, 100,000 Christian young people to do it—
Jim: --and to simply start the dialogue.
Jim: That's the way it happens. It's the way it should happen. It doesn't need to be and should not be belligerent in any way, but it should be fun and exciting to share your faith.
Tracey: Yes and I think this all started for me, 'cause my children are in a public school, so when my oldest son was in first grade, I will never forget, he came home around Christmas time and he said, "Mom, you won't believe what I learned today. I learned about Kwanzaa and I learned about Hanukkah." And I just thought for a minute. I said, "Well, great, okay, that's good. Did you learn about Christmas, the true meaning of Christmas and a baby being born in a manger?" And he said, "No, we learned about, you know, worldly Christmas like Christmas trees and Christmas bells and Santa Claus."
Jim: Isn't that something?
Tracey: And that just really struck a little discord in my heart, that you know, I hear a lot in the public schools about the importance of tolerance and even my son, he started to wonder, although he didn't act on it, but even in first grade he started to wonder, how is it that we're able to talk about all these other culture or religious, you know, events that happen at Christmas time, but yet, we leave out Christianity? So, we can't do that. If we're gonna talk about tolerance, then we're tolerance across the board.
Tracey: And we're able to include Christianity as one of those things that happen at Christmastime, because it's important to so many people who are Christians.
Jim: Well, and again, that is so well-said, because that's all we're tryin' to do is say there is a true definition of Christmas and this is what we believe as Christians—
Jim: --and for kids to be able to participate. I think it's a great way for miracles to happen.
Jim: You know, we've heard of great situations where kids first received kind of retaliation, but then we equip those children. They can have a little sheet that they can download from the website that states what the rights are for a child. One teacher said, "You can't read that Bible here at school." They presented the sheet. The teacher read it and said, "Well, okay, it looks like you can."
Jim: So, they were allowed to share that at lunch time with other students and talk about the book of John. Ironically, it was the same book.
Jim: So, these are ways again, that we're tryin' to equip people in your freedoms.
Jim: These aren't special privileges that your teachers or that the principal of that elementary school are giving you. These are your freedoms given to you by the Constitution.
Jim: And we just are encouraging people to act on 'em and parents to get their children to understand them and act them out, so that they can learn the great attributes of this country—the freedoms that we possess--
Jim: --and along the way, probably bring a friend, like your friend brought you—
Jim: --to church someday.
Jim: That's a great thing.
Jim: Tracey, we have run out of time. What would be your encouragement for the mom that's kind of on the fence saying, "Well, I don't know. I don't have much time." What would you say the benefits have been?"
Tracey: The benefits for me, since I didn't grow up in a Christian home and I've lived about half my life not being a Christian, half my life being a Christian, is I want to make sure that I am real and authentic in my faith. And what I share at home as a mother and as a wife, I want to be the same whether I go to the grocery store or go to a friend's house.
And I want my children to be able to live out their faith because it is who they are in Jesus Christ, at home and exactly the same way at school. There is no change in their personality, because I want them to have the fruits of the Spirit in them. And when they're there, they're going to be the same no matter if they're on the ball field or if they're at dance class or if they're at school or at home.
And so, my challenge and my hope is that Christian families will realize that when Jesus comes into our lives, when He is in our heart and we know that He is absolute truth, that is carried out in every measure of who we are as a person. It's irrelevant of where we go. It's who we are in Him. And so, I want my children to grow up knowing that, that Christ comes first.
And we're not just sitting idle. I mean, being retired might be from a job, but we're not retired till we're called home to heaven, when God meets us there at the pearly gates and you know, until then, that we're on [a] mission--
Tracey: --for Him every day.
Jim: Well, and you're a North Carolina mom who's doin' a great job with your 8- and 11-year-old and I just think it's wonderful to hear the stories and thank you for illustrating how moms can be engaged and dads, too. I don't want to let us off the hook there, John. Tracey, thanks so much for bein' with us.
Tracey: Oh, it's been a wonderful opportunity. Thank you so much for having me.
John: Well, you'll want to learn more ways to pass along your faith to your children, even if like Tracey, you didn't have a Christian upbringing. And one unique opportunity to do so is coming up Thursday, October 8th, where your children can join thousands of others in participating in the second annual Bring Your Bible to School Day. You can sign up at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio and then download the free age-appropriate participation guide, which includes ways for you to get the word out through your church and fun quizzes and articles to help build your child's confidence in the truth of the Bible. And there's also a quick tutorial of why your kids have the freedom to talk about God at school.
So, we've got a lot of ways to help your child participate in Bring Your Bible to School Day. That's October 8th and you'll find all of that at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 1-800-A-FAMILY. And by the way, when you get in touch, we'd be so appreciative if you could contribute to the work here financially. We need your prayers, but we also need your financial contributions to continue the work of Focus on the Family and to make Bring Your Bible to School Day possible. So, please donate generously when you call 800-232-6459.
Now along the way in this conversation, there's been an element of living out your faith in a very public way, not being ashamed and there's a new song by the group the Newsboys that is just in time for Bring Your Bible to School Day. Listen to these lyrics.
Song, "Guilty" by the Newsboys:
Michael Tait and the Newsboys:
When did it become breakin' a rule to say Your name out loud in school, when Your name's the only one that sets us free?
When did it become incorrect to speak the truth about life and death, when Your life game is all eternity?
Say it; I believe it's all right.
End of Song, "Guilty" by the Newsboys
John: Thanks to Michael Tait and the Newsboys for capturing the need for us as believers to stand up and stand out in this culture and that song, "Guilty" and thanks, as well, for their support of Bring Your Bible to School Day.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family. We hope you have a great weekend and join us on Monday, when we'll once again, help your family thrive.
Bring Your Bible to School Day is Oct. 8! Download your free how-to guides for elementary school kids, teens and pastors/parents.Read more
Tony Evans equips kingdom parents in shaping the next generation. With this resource, Dr. Evans turns his focus to the kids, with a practical guide for children ages 7 to 10 to use under the guidance of a parent, mentor or teacher.Buy Now
Tony Evans equips kingdom parents in shaping the next generation. With this resource, Dr. Evans turns his focus to the kids, with a practical guide for children ages 11 to 13 to use under the guidance of a parent, mentor or teacher.Buy Now
Learn how you can empower your students (kindergarten through college) to live out their faith and share God's love with others.Read more
Visit the Bring Your Bible to School Day website and view a couple photos of Tracey Garrell's sons expressing their faith.Read more
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Tracey GarrellView Bio
Tracey Garrell is a stay-at-home mom of two children. A native of Charlotte, N.C., she graduated from Appalachian State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Health Education. Prior to staying at home full-time, Tracey worked in a variety of settings including healthcare, government, retail marketing and ministry. She and her husband, David, have been married nearly 20 years.