Jim Daly: I wanna begin the broadcast today with Romans 2:4, “Don’t you know it’s God’s kindness that leads one to repentance?” Uh, John, you’ve heard me share that from time to time here at-
John Fuller: On more-
Jim: … Focus. (laughs)
John: … on more than one occasion. Yes. And I… so I appreciate it that you refer to that important passage so much.
Jim: Well it’s because I think it’s so powerful. I think it’s a tool we have in our arsenal as Christians, that the enemy of our soul can’t compete with, he cannot compete with God’s love and kindness. And the problem is we don’t use that tool often enough. In the flesh, we don’t want to respond with kindness or love. We want to, uh, conquer, we wanna win the debate, whatever. Uh, we may feel entitled to being upset. And so we sometimes overlook the importance of kindness. Today, we wanna talk about the power of kindness and how it changes relationships.
John: Yeah, this, uh, is very important for any relationship, but particularly in marriage. By the way, this is Focus on the Family with Jim Daly, I’m John Fuller, and our guest today is Shaunti Feldhahn. She’s been on this broadcast many times. And is a very popular speaker, a best-selling author, a social researcher. And, uh, much of what, uh, Shaunti does is intended to help you have better relationships. Shaunti has also written a book called, The Kindness Challenge: Thirty Days to Improve Any Relationship. We’ve got that, stop by the website, focus onthefamily.com/broadcast. Uh, we recorded this conversation with Shaunti a while back. Let’s go ahead and hear the conversation now.
Jim: Shaunti, Welcome back to Focus.
Shaunti Feldhahn: It is always great to be with you guys.
Jim: You have been m- here maybe 12, 13, 14 times.
Shaunti: Something like that.
Jim: Yeah. We-
Shaunti: I know it’s crazy.
Jim: … just need to get you a permanent hotel room right over here.
Shaunti: You know, I love these mountains here. (laughs)
Jim: Um, let me ask you this. Let’s start with the bigger question. What is kindness?
Shaunti: You know, it’s a great question. Because when I started to look at this… you know, all my books are based on these research studies, right? And I had seen for years that kindness had this power to transform relationships, but what is it? It seems so vague. You know, I mean like being nice, right? It just seems vague, and-
Jim: You teach your kids to do it but you’re not even sure, you know-
Shaunti: … what it is.
Jim: … Yeah.
Shaunti: So it was interesting as I started plugging away at this, I found that kindness is actually three separate things together really-
Shaunti: … is what makes up kindness. It’s withholding being negative, eliminating negativity, it’s finding things to praise and being positive and affirming, and it’s doing something.
Shaunti: It’s doing an act of generosity or kindness for someone. And if you do those three things, it really is transformative. And so we tested this actually in this research project, it was fascinating. For 30 days, we recruited… there were more than 700 people that tested this called the 30-day kindness challenge. And we did all the before and after surveys and found that if you pick somebody that you want to have a better relationship with, and, and it could be somebody you already have an okay, like your spouse, you, you know-
John: Hopefully, you have a good [inaudible]
Shaunti: … yeah.
Shaunti: But you want it to be better. Or it could even be like your kids or the colleague that drives you nuts, you know. It’s so simple. I mean, super simple. But we found that 89% of relationships improved. That is this super powerful technique really that you can use. And it’s really the kind of kindness that Jesus asked us to have.
Jim: Well, let me ask you this though, because if it’s that profound and that amazing, why do we tend not to use that tool, like I said, in the opening?
Jim: We tend to veer back into our own desire for bitterness or being upset or being mad at our spouse or whoever that person might be. Why do we lean that direction rather than to a healthier solution?
Shaunti: Well, I think first of all, I think you guys hit the nail on the head. Sometimes you think it’s just feels better in the moment to, you know, when somebody cuts you off in traffic, “I am not gonna let them, you know. I’m gonna [inaudible]-
Jim: (laughing) It’s competition.
Shaunti: … it’s competition. Um, but it rarely feels good later. Right?
Shaunti: You know, and when somebody is pushing your buttons and you respond in that same way, it rarely feels good later. It might feel satisfying in the moment, you know. And, and honestly, I think that in most cases, most of us want to be kind to others. The problem, at least what I found in the research, the problem is that most of us have no idea all day long, how often we are unkind-
Shaunti: … and we never realize it.
Jim: I would think that is true, particularly in the Christian community, because we’re not always good with looking in the mirror. We think we’re being kind, how does a person become more acquainted with how they’re projecting either kindness or unkindness?
Shaunti: Okay. So here’s where we come back to this 30-day kindness challenge, which by the way, I wanna to thank Focus for being a partner in-
Shaunti: … because you guys have been one of the, the main people that has helped launch this. And really it is the way you have to do some sort of a purposeful effort. In our case, it’s the 30-day kind of challenge. And if you do a purposeful effort, which in our case was those three things every day, suddenly what happens is you start to see how often, for example, you’re negative.
Shaunti: And you had no idea. And, and I’ll give you an example of that. So I would have sworn when you talk about eliminating negativity, right?
Shaunti: I would have sworn that wouldn’t be a problem for me. Like, you know, in the number two and three things on the kindness challenge, I would have thought, okay, I need to work on being more affirming. Maybe I’m not as affirming as I need to be. I need to work on that. I need to work on doing more acts of generosity, uh, but you know, I’ve got that anti negativity thing down. I’m, I’m a glass half-full kind of person. I’m, you know, good at that. Oh my word, once I started cataloging all the types of negativity, I realized I am negative every single day, because one of the types of negativity is exasperation.
Jim: Oh man.
Shaunti: And I’m exasperated with my kids all the time. I get exasperated at Jeff all the time. And I don’t realize that when you get exasperated, one of the things that you’re saying is you’re an idiot. (laughs) You would never say it out loud like that-
Shaunti: … Right? I would never say to my kids, “You’re an idiot.” But when I get exasperated, I… that’s what I’m saying.
Shaunti: And you would never know until you sat down and actually picked a person that you are going to be intentionally kind to, and suddenly all this stuff comes up, and you see what you need to work on.
Jim: Yeah. I’ve got two or three ways I wanna go with these questions. So let me just kind of knock these off.
Jim: When you look at the fruit of the spirit, you know, love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, mercy-
Jim: … kindness is in there-
Jim: … um, but it seems to be an understated value in the Christian community today. And I don’t know if it’s modernity. We talk a lot about that you got cable news. You’ve got a lot of input-
Jim: … coming in that sets you up against other people that don’t think-
Jim: … like you think, et cetera. It’s very enticing because I think it appeals to our flesh-
Jim: … but as a Christian, we’ve got to be rooted in His fruit. And it’s right there-
Jim: … for us. I’m so grateful He wrote it down for us so that we could see clearly what He was hoping for. Um, but how do we jettison that feeling like, uh, you know, kindness is a pretty soft quality.
Jim: It’s hard to feel kindness is really an important attribute.
Shaunti: And it’s fascinating that you put it that way, because I think that that’s a misunderstanding that we have that you can’t be kind to be competitive. Yes you can. But it’s how you’re competitive. And you can’t be kind and be strong. Yes you can. But it’s how you do it. And so for example, I would see… Uh, back in the day, I used to write a newspaper column. And with this newspaper column, it was a debate on the issues of the day.
Shaunti: And it was me as a more conservative, evangelical believer in Jesus, and I would debate the issues with an atheist feminist of, you know, on all that sort of side of things. And we would go at it. And I found myself in this debate getting harsher and harsher and harsher. And because it was almost like that was what the culture expected. And we have to say, no.
Shaunti: We have to say, look what Jesus did. He was in the middle of a very difficult culture and a very difficult time, and yet he never was unkind. He got angry, but he was never unkind. And it reminds me of something that when I started that column… it’s sort of a long story. But when I had a sense that God was going to be leading me into that… writing that column, and I had a sense that it was gonna go further than just one little newspaper, that it was gonna be nationally syndicated someday, which it eventually was. And we were in a hundred newspapers, these huge newspapers around the country, back when there were still newspapers.
Jim: (laughs) I still like newspapers.
Shaunti: (laughs) But, but it’s interesting. I was praying about it and I felt this strong sense that God was saying, “I am gonna give you a chance to speak my truth to a culture that desperately needs it. But if you cannot speak my truth in my love, don’t do it.”
Shaunti: And I think that’s something that we often miss as Christians, is that yes, His truth is crucial, but if we can’t speak it in His love and His kindness, it’s far better in most cases to stay silent because we can often do more damage to his way and not bring glory to him-
Shaunti: … and not bring Glory to Him.
Jim: Right. Let me bring it closer to home. We’ve touched on this-
Jim: … issue of within the, the spousal relationship. This can be really difficult at times because you know that person so well-
Jim: … and you’re with each other almost every day, um, if you travel a little, you may be away from home occasionally, but you know each other well, um, more than anybody else in the world, right?
Jim: … In terms of your spouse.
Shaunti: It’s easy to take them for granted.
Jim: And that’s the whole point-
Jim: … You took the words right out of my mouth, because that’s-
Shaunti: Oops. Sorry. (laughs)
Jim: … well, that’s where, that’s where it goes. Um, you tend to treat them differently than you treat neighbors and friends and maybe even extended family members. And I’m sure many couples know that conversation. It’s, how could you treat them better than you treat me?
Jim: And I know people listening are going, “Yes. I had that conversation with my husband yesterday.” Why is it that we take for granted those who are closest to us, and we overextend kindness to people who in the end don’t really, uh, have a lot to do with us in the long run?
Shaunti: It’s a hard answer, but honestly it’s because we care about what other people think about us more than we care about what our spouse thinks of us. We want other-
Shaunti: … people to view us well.
Shaunti: Our spouse is already married, he has to stick with it, you know-
Shaunti: … or she has to stick with it. And we don’t realize that honestly, everything that God has given us is something to be grateful for. And so often our lack of kindness is because we feel entitled.
Shaunti: Let’s just be honest. We feel entitled to whatever the other person is giving.
Shaunti: Right? It’s selfish.
Shaunti: It’s awful. And it’s one o- it’s honestly, it is one of the reasons that it makes such a difference. When you say I’m gonna purposefully do this, you know, I’m gonna actually take, you know, time and try to figure out how to be kind to this person, because suddenly you start seeing your own stuff, instead of always seeing the other person’s-
Shaunti: … stuff, which is, oh, it’s so easy. It is so easy.
Jim: Okay, John, you are a nice person. You’re kind person. Do you ever get-
John: It’s not the same.
Jim: … Do you ever get pushed-
Jim: … to the point though? I mean, I think I see it sometimes in you, when you’re getting throttled a little bit. Do you get-
John: Oh, I lose it.
Jim: … Do you te- Do you lose it? Do you like-
Jim: … hold it in then-
Shaunti: I cannot imagine, John ever losing it.
Jim: Do you hold it in and then bubble out?
John: Uh, I have moments where I erupt.
John: And I grew up in a family where that was kind of the standard. You just… you blow up and then you get over it. Right? I mean-
John: … kind of a German, Irish approach to life-
John: … where you bury it, you, you spill it all out there. I’ve, I’ve tried to work on that. And I think God has done a remarkable thing in my heart. But no, I, I- … I can, I can give something some thought and then kind of rise with indignation and be upset about it and then shoot back. Or-
John: … sometimes I think what you’re talking about is I don’t think about it. I just shoot back.
John: You know what I mean? It’s… it really is the people you’re closest to.
Jim: You are very kind. And I just know sometimes, uh, even if we’re talking, sometimes (laughing) I’m rubbing you the wrong way.
John: Well, that’s because we’re so close, Jim.
Jim: That’s true.
John: And it’s hard to be kind to the people we’re around. Right?
Jim: Yeah. (laughs)
John: So let me, let me j- just take a moment and remind our listeners that Shaunti’s book is The Kindness Challenge. And it’ll help you in this area of kindness with a spouse or family members and friends. And, uh, you can get that book from us, and we’ll link over to, uh, more details about The Kindness Challenge at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Shaunti: You know, John, you mentioned something about when those times you wanna explode, and it’s so common that people will ask me. But isn’t that better sometimes that you let the steam out of the kettle so that the kettle doesn’t explode? You know. And it’s funny ’cause actually I would have thought that. And it turns out that that is completely inaccurate neurologically. It tu- we all have bought into this idea that it is better to let a little steam out of the kettle. And actually what brain scientists have found in recent years is all that that does, when you vent about someone, you know, I maybe speak nicely to you, when Jim pushes your buttons, you might speak nicely to him, but then you go home, and you’d go to your wife, and you’re like, “Oh, I can’t believe what he did today.” Right?
Shaunti: Or you’re mad at your husband or you’re mad at your wife. And you can be sweet to them and then you go to the office-
John: And you talk about them.
Shaunti: … and you talk about them. It turns out that the brain scientists have found that all that does, is it further activates the brain’s anger system.
Shaunti: And, and it actually, what it does is it’s more like turning up the heat under the kettle, it turns it off [crosstalk]-
Jim: When you’re venting.
Shaunti: … when you’re venting.
Shaunti: It just turns it up further and further and further, and makes it worse and worse and worse. And instead that’s one of the reasons why, as we started studying what it means to be kind, and the fact that one piece of that puzzle is to not be negative and not even speak negatively about someone to someone else is it turns out that that is like reducing the heat or like taking the pot off the stove al- altogether. Because what happens is as you stop going to your wife and complaining (laughing) about Jim or complaining about your spouse to somebody-
Jim: Hey, wait a minute, I, you know. (laughs)
Shaunti: How did that become so big? Yeah.
Shaunti: Um, as you do that, what happens is you start noticing the positive about that person more. When you are unable to say something negative about somebody, and you have to find something positive to say, you start seeing those things more.
Shaunti: They were always there. It wasn’t like they’re just new. They were always there. You just didn’t notice them.
Jim: L- let me ask you this with the gender side. I know-
Jim: … there’s always exceptions, the 80, 20 rule. And I know somebody will say, I’m not that way, Jim. And I, I get that, but there typically are generalities. And do you find that in this area with male and femaleness, that males have a certain way of dealing with kindness and women have a, a different way of dealing with kindness or expressing kindness?
Jim: Let me give you an example. I think Jean is terrific. She is really good about capturing the desire to always wanna express kindness. And of course I can come along, and I’ll make a comment here, I’ll make a comment there that-
Jim: … kind of erodes that desire in their heart (laughing)-
Jim: … to be kind. So I’m actually-
John: We’re all tracking with you.
Jim: … tearing down. I hope so.
John: We are.
Jim: You know, kind of tearing down her desire to be kind.
Jim: Um, h- how does that interplay, I guess is the question I’m asking. H- how do we mess it up in our marriages when you have good hearted people trying to do the right thing, but we tend to tear each other down?
Shaunti: Yeah. It’s, uh… Well, It’s part of that thing of, we have no idea every day, how often we’re unkind. And we would never in- intend to. And I’ll, and I’ll give you an example of one of the different ways that we found that men and women handle this differently ’cause you know, that kis… that’s where my heart tends to go back to is all that gender stuff for my research. But I actually found, for example, if you are trying to express affirmation to somebody, it tends to be that you tend to give the type of affirmation you would want to receive. And so for women, it’s all about, oh honey, I love you, you know, and doing these, you know, loving, sweet kind things for their husband to show love. And it doesn’t come naturally to our lips to say, “Oh, thank you so much. Oh, I really appreciate what you did.” You know, “Thank you for unloading the dishwasher.” You know, “And I’m… uh, that was, I really appreciate that you did that.” We-
Jim: You think more like I’ve been waiting 50 years for you to do that.
Shaunti: … Yes. (laughing) Exactly.
Shaunti: Well, and for a woman, it doesn’t come naturally to say thank you. Well, it turns out that that for a guy that’s the kind of affirmation and praise that he most needs. That is the kindest thing you can do for your husband is notice that he took the stuff out of the dishwasher. But the… for guys saying, thank you and these sort of words of appreciation, they come naturally to a guy, but I’m sorry guys saying, “Oh honey, thank you so much for unloading the dishwasher,” that is not the type of love and kindness that is gonna most hit your wife.
Jim: It’s… kind of sounded like you gave her a blender for your anniversary.
Shaunti: Kind of.
Shaunti: (laughs) Exactly.
Jim: It’s almost as bad.
Shaunti: And, and instead it does make a difference. We… it w- it was… Again, it was fascinating as we started to learn about the types of things that allowed us to give praise or not allowed us to give praise. One of the big obstacles is that you… you’re giving the type you would want to receive-
Shaunti: … but it’s gonna be different for your husband and for your wife.
Jim: What, in the research that you saw, and maybe even in some of the examples-
Jim: … with those you talked to, and they took the 30-day challenge-
Jim: … what result came on-
Jim: … the back end of that? Did you see some people that were having real difficulty in their marriages, see a, a flower, see something new, something fresh, something spring in their relationships?
Shaunti: That’s a great way of putting it. Yeah, it was… this was one of the things that almost made me cry. I was so excited when I saw some of the results come back. ‘Cause there were as a whole study group of, of people out of that 700, that… there were about 25 people who were doing it because their spouse had had an affair.
Shaunti: And they were trying to recover from-
Shaunti: … the worst possible betrayal, and trying to recover from very, very difficult season in their life and in their marriage. And some people just had a very hard time. And they were all people who the spouse’s repentant generally, you know. It wasn’t that, you know, they were trying to push a boulder uphill that wasn’t, you know, willing to be pushed. There were some people who had a very hard time forgiving, and dropped out of-
Shaunti: … the study, as you can imagine. ‘Cause it does require forgiveness.
Shaunti: Um, but of the people who stuck with it, there were some dramatic changes, because again, it doesn’t just… when you do the 30-day kindness challenge, it doesn’t just impact the other person, and it doesn’t just help the relationship, it changes you. And you start to see ways that you had actually been adding to things. Even though obviously the choices they made were awful, but that you had actually been hurting the relationship you were trying to heal. And seeing how negative you were and seeing, for example, the exasperations-
Shaunti: … you know, and s- or seeing the, the things that you had no clue that, you know, maybe your sarcastic nature-
Shaunti: … was getting in the way. And he wasn’t joking, you know? (laughing)
Jim: Yeah. Yeah. My eyes [crosstalk]
Shaunti: You don’t know what I’m talking about, do you? Yeah.
Jim: Yeah. You’re sticking me with a knife.
Shaunti: And, and there were so many of these things that, that, that the average person can learn even in the face of very, very difficult situations.
Shaunti: It’s very transformative
Jim: Well, and you’ve used, I mean, that’s perhaps ground zero, that kind of an-
Jim: … example where there’s been an affair. When you were saying that, I literally sensed people going, “Well, she has every right to be upset and not-
Jim: … to be kind.” And again, here we are in the body of Christ for the most part, I know we have some listeners who are not in a relationship with Jesus. We would hope that you would get there soon. (laughs) But that, that’s really for us as Christians, it’s one of the core tenants of our faith. How do we show that kind of kindness in the most nitty-gritty difficulties in our relationship?
Shaunti: Well, and I’ll tell you, and it’s not just the betrayal of a spouse, which is obviously the biggest personal betrayal but-
Jim: Right. Even God says for that reason, you have a way out, but-
Shaunti: … Yeah, but-
Jim: …. but other things too.
Shaunti: … Probably every person listening to this can identify with those occasions where we are being mistreated. Where-
Shaunti: … where a boss is being cruel, right? It’s not just not being nice to you, but actively mistreating. There’s active injustice. My… You know, your, your mother-in-law or your step-parent or whoever it is, their… This is a difficult relationship legitimately for a reason. And yet, what to me, one of the touchstones was when I started looking at this, and realizing what we’re called to, and I looked more closely at the sermon on the mount, and I looked more closely at what all of us have sort of known as the golden rule, you know, do unto others as you have them do unto you, you look at that, we all teach that to our kids, we all wanna live by that. But here’s the hard truth. In context, what Jesus is saying, he’s talking about when you are mistreated, and so in context, what he’s saying is do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, it’s actually treat others who are not being kind to you in the kind and generous-
Shaunti: … way you wish they were treating you.
Shaunti: It’s even harder… It’s even more challenging than just, oh, be nice to others the way you’d want them to be nice to. No. It is-
Jim: That is-
Shaunti: … in the face of injustice.
Jim: … so perceptive. And often when I speak to groups, I’ll mention Luke 6-
Jim: … and the, the golden rule… There’s a couple of paragraphs before that is stated, that kind of put the parameters around it. And you’re right. If someone takes something from you, he goes through a list of bad behavior toward you. It’s not the nice guy, it’s not the neighbor that’ll give you a cup of sugar, it’s the one who’s gonna scorn you and tell you to get off the lawn, and I really don’t-
Jim: … like your kids playing over here and tell them next time to pick up their trash ’cause it’s blowing on my side of the street. It’s the guy you don’t wanna talk to. That’s who he’s talking about.
Jim: That’s the guy you gotta be kind toward.
Shaunti: Well, that’s when he says, if you’re nice to people who are nice to you, uh, yeah, so-
Jim: What good is it?
Shaunti: … what good is (laughing) that? Now, he’s-
Jim: Even centers do that.
Shaunti: … he is specifically-
Shaunti: … challenging those of us who follow him, specifically, not really giving us an out to say, and in those bad mistreatment, somebody is being mean, somebody is being cruel, your husband is being unkind, your wife is treating with scorn, that you should absolutely treat them in the kind and gentle and generous way you wish they were treating you. And he honors that. And it-
Shaunti: … oh my gosh, it transforms the relationship.
Shaunti: It transforms you.
Jim: And, and I, I want to, um, ask a question before we come back to that one.
Shaunti: Yeah. Yeah.
Jim: Because y-
Jim: … you mentioned people that couldn’t bear showing kindness through the, the research. And they, you s- I think you said they got up and left or-
Shaunti: They dropped out [crosstalk].
Jim: … They dropped out.
Jim: Did you ever circle back around with them or did you observe anything with them to, to give you some insight as to why they couldn’t, why they couldn’t get there?
Shaunti: There were a couple. Yeah. The-
Jim: And wha- and what was that-
Shaunti: … It was-
Jim: … How was that expressed?
Shaunti: It was expressed as… and this is really where it comes down to us deciding if we’re gonna do what Jesus said, which is unconditional kindness or conditional kindness, right? Because the reason that they dropped out was I don’t see that this is making any difference.
Jim: So immediate benefit.
Shaunti: … If there’s some immediate benefit. And one of the benefits of honestly, as we were studying the 30-day kindness challenge, one of the things that really was striking is there was often immediate benefit. I mean, literally in a few days sometimes. But if you’re talking about… There are some relationships that if you’re talking about a personal betrayal, if you’re talking about like trying to reach the heart of a child that’s been distant for years or is rebellious, you can’t expect something like that to dramatically change in 30 days.
Jim: Well, and it sounds like to me, what you’re expressing there is a quid pro quo. They’re not really just-
Jim: … saying, “Lord help my heart.”
Jim: They’re saying, “Help my heart a little bit. Let me see big change in my spouse-
Shaunti: … Correct.
Jim: … or my friend-
Jim: … or whoever.” That’s not a healthy way to do this.
Shaunti: Well, and honestly you can’t. I mean, it, it is one of those things that we have to come in our own heart to the point that we can say, “Lord, I wanna be like you. I’m not very good at it (laughing) necessarily, but I want to try. And so help me have the strength that, that I don’t have in myself to speak gently to my husband. When all I can do is picture these mean things he’s done to me or to speak with kindness to my wife and listen to her when I feel like she is layering score on my-
Shaunti: … on my head.”
Shaunti: And, because if you don’t, that really is conditional. That is conditional love.
John: We’ve been hearing from Shaunti Feldhahn today on Focus on the Family, encouraging us to practice kindness in all of our relationships. And her book again is called The Kindness Challenge: Thirty Days to Improve Any Relationship.
Jim: A- and John, taking the kindness challenge drives us back to the fruit of the spirit. This is the character of God. And I love those kinds of challenges that are rooted in Him. And we want to encourage you to take the kindness challenge. We’ll provide a link online for you to do just that.
John: It is a 30-day challenge. And you can find the details at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And while you’re at the website, get a copy of Shaunti’s book, The Kindness Challenge. In fact, when you make a generous donation today to help Focus on the Family out, we’ll send the book to you as our way of saying thank you for joining our partnership team. Donate and get that book at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Well, join us next time as we hear from Deborah Pegues speaking about overcoming a heritage of unforgiveness, and how that impacted her life.
Deborah Pegues: We say, I wanna forgive, but I just can’t. No, you can’t. So resign trying to in your own strength. You gotta say, “God, help me. You gotta spot me on this.”
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John: On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.