In a discussion based on their book The 4 Habits of Joy-Filled Marriages, Dr. Marcus Warner and Pastor Chris Coursey offer practical guidance for how a husband and wife can work together to experience greater joy in their relationship.
Erin Hawley: So for me, I think the biggest key to that inadequacy is just realizing that God has a plan, and it was to give me these two boys, as strong-willed as they are, and also to remember that my identity is not, even as a mom, as important as that is. It’s as a daughter, a beloved daughter of God the Father. And that’s who I am.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: That’s Erin Hawley, and she’s our guest today on Focus on the Family, sharing about her experiences as a mom. And it’s got challenges and joy. You’ll hear about those on today’s Focus on the Family with your host, Focus president and author Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, today, we are speaking to the heart of moms. That’s our goal. First of all, let me say that if you feel like you’re in a thankless job of raising your kids, God has not forgotten you. That’s so important for you to remember. You are not outside of God’s sight. And whether others can truly relate to what your day looks like and all the to-dos you have – so many things to juggle – your love for your kids and your family are much more eternally significant. The Bible says, “My grace is sufficient for you for My power is made perfect in weakness.” So you’re feeling weak today. That may be the case. Take heart in knowing that God will strengthen you for the task at hand. And I think I’m speaking on behalf of my own wife who I know, at times, has felt that way. Here at Focus, we have the help and the tools and the resources for you to be that mom I know you want to be. And today, we are gonna equip you.
John: And our guest, as I said, is Erin Hawley. She’s the mom of two boys, ages 6 and 3. And she’s written a new book with Focus on the Family. It’s called,.
Jim: Erin, welcome to Focus.
Erin: Thank you so much for having me.
Jim: It’s great to have you here. You know, before we get started – I mean, a bit of your background – because it’s impressive, and it’s not meant to intimidate moms at all. But you had a thriving legal background. You went to Yale Law School. Just speak to some of that. You clerked for the Supreme Court, one of the justices. Speak to that environment, because it’s exciting to be in that arena.
Erin: Sure, absolutely. So I started off, actually, at Texas A&M, with an animal science degree.
Jim: Animal science?
Erin: Yes, yes.
Jim: Oh, way to go.
Erin: I grew up on a ranch – so loved that, but then sort of took a detour and went to law school and absolutely loved it. I loved seeing how the statutes that were on the books, how they were interpreted, that actually affect real people and had amazing opportunities to learn at Yale, and then to go on to clerk for Judge Wilkinson on the 4th Circuit, and also Chief Justice Roberts of the United States Supreme Court.
Jim: I mean, those are amazing achievements. And did it prepare you for motherhood?
Erin: Yes and no.
Jim: I was going to say. What about that transition, though, because, you know, for a lot of women today, there’s many opportunities? And that’s good. But within the Christian community – and I think, in part, that’s the open that we talked about, the significance that the culture is not going to give you but that God will give you for making those choices to give yourself to your family, to your children, to be there. Was that hard for you to make that change?
Erin: You know, being a mom was much harder than I expected. And another little bit of my background, which I know you share, I grew up in an alcoholic household. My dad was an alcoholic. And I think partially, because of that, I had, for the longest time, and still have, in many ways, a performance-based mentality.
Erin: So through law school, through clerking, through working at a large law firm, sort of my go-to was just to work harder, and could usually – if I worked hard enough, I could usually please or do a good job and really got fulfillment and value from being able to do a job well.
Erin: And in that sense, I was completely unprepared for motherhood, because motherhood, you’re dealing…
Jim: It’s not about perfection.
Erin: No, not at all. And you can’t do it correct. I remember, our oldest was born, and we thought we were going to stay an extra night at the hospital, but ended up having an early release, which was great. But we didn’t have the car seat in the car. He had been two weeks early. We didn’t have things ready. And we had made the mistake of sending my mother-in-law home saying, “Oh, we want to do this ourselves.” So they don’t send you home from the hospital with an instruction manual. And it’s not intuitive, at least to me – so for me, that transition of, “It’s not about performance, it’s about loving. It’s about being present and actually learning to depend on God in a whole new way.”
Jim: Yeah. And we’ve covered a lot of ground quickly here. But – but running the reel back, let’s just give a little more color commentary to this, because you’re coming out of a very professional environment. You meet your husband. You get married – all the normal stuff, if I could say it that way – but joyful and good and dreams that you had and those things. This is all before becoming a mom. So did you feel like you were ready?
Erin: We definitely wanted children, both my husband and I. So in that sense, yes. And on the other hand, I don’t know that you’re ever prepared for being a parent in entirety. I think it’s a new adventure where you are trusted with the well-being of this small person.
Erin: And, it’s a call to be, I think, trustworthy and dependable, and in some senses, model. We know that God is a father, and I think parents are called to sort of be that provision and protection for small children. So it’s very different, I think, from – from performing in the workplace.
Jim: Do you think today women are seeing things differently than maybe your mom or your grandmother’s generation, in terms of what’s expected and – the performance comment that you mentioned – how to perform in the culture? Because it seems to me that – and my wife did biochemistry – she was a pre-vet major UC Davis, and then we got married. She finished her chemistry degree out here in Colorado. So she shares that. She was teaching labs at the university here and nuclear gene-splicing.
Jim: And, I mean, really interesting stuff – and then – then it was time to have children. And it is a very different transition. And so much of the culture does not support a woman’s choice in that regard, to say, “Yeah. Even though I’m capable and professional, I really feel the top job is to take care of my family and be with my kids.” Speak to that cultural tug and how some women see it today.
Erin: Absolutely. I think, just from my own perspective – I can’t speak for all women. But I think one thing that has really helped me – and it certainly is a tug. I think that was part of what made the transition to motherhood difficult is, I was pre-tenure. So I’d work on articles when Elijah was sleeping and – and still try to sort of fit everything in. And ultimately, that that didn’t work, trying to fit it all in. And as I focused more on my children, I think things that have been comforting to me are the realization that we do live in an upside-down world. And Jesus says, you know, “The first will be the last, and the last will be first.” And I think in our own, we come into motherhood, with our own cultural constructs. But I think many of those are false. And if we look, for example, at the reformer Martin Luther – I love how he gave dignity to regular secular work. And it wasn’t just secular work. He didn’t just differentiate between ministry and working to create things, working to gene splice.
Erin: But he actually focused also on household work, and even mentioned changing diapers. They didn’t have diapers back then.
Jim: Did he really?
Erin: He did.
Jim: I missed that.
Erin: Yes. So he really focused on – sort of on the meaningful value of household work. And it almost reminds me of Romans 12:1, where were called to give our entire lives as a sacrifice to God. And I think we can do that by whatever we’re doing, realizing it’s an offering to Him.
Erin: Also through my children, I think I’ve been given an invitation almost to become childlike again. Um…
Jim: Oh, that’s interesting. What does that definition look like? What does it mean to be childlike to you?
Erin: So in the Gospels, in several places, the disciples are trying to, you know, shoo the children away…
Jim: I know.
Erin: …Because children weren’t important.
Jim: It’s always going after the kids. What’s the problem there?
Erin: Yes, yes, yes. The children were supposed to, you know, stay away and be quiet. And Jesus says, “No, no. Let the children come to me.” And then He says something that is so countercultural for the time. He says, “Such as these make up the kingdom of Heaven.”
Erin: And in another place, He even, says, “In order to inherit the kingdom of Heaven, you must become like little children.” And here He’s speaking to these disciples that are shooing them away. Um…
Jim: What do you think that meant?
Erin: So I think – and again, just learning from my children here – I see so many traits in them. I see their inherent joy.
Erin: I see how they just trust, how they just want to be with mom. Like, being with their parents is the sort of sole desire of their little hearts. And I think Jesus wants to see that in us. He wants us to desire him in that sort of way.
Jim: I agree. I think the other thing, too, is just, kids ask a lot of questions.
Erin: Yes, they do.
Jim: Very innocently – they’re not driving to any point.
Jim: They’re just always asking questions.
Erin: Mmhmm. Yes – and ask for things and – yes.
Jim: Yeah, just to learn.
Jim: Tell me. Why is that that, “Why? Why? Why?”
Jim: I wonder if Jesus could – you know, being the Son of God, maybe He could withstand all the why questions better than we can…
Jim: …as parents. So get us to the teen years. You’re recognizing this pattern even later, maybe beyond your teen years – your 20s. What is God doing in your heart about this people-pleasing, performance-based person that you’ve become? Did you recognize it?
Erin: I think in some – in some ways – like, I certainly realized that, you know, I wanted to do well and those sorts of things, and that I got my worth from that, probably, in larger measure than I should. So I would say that I did recognize it. But I maybe didn’t know how to change it at that point. And through a series of events – and it really probably wasn’t until law school, and maybe the year or two after – that I realized a couple of things that sort of changed how I viewed my childhood and also myself. And the first of those is that God is always with us. And I think, for me, it makes every difficult situation, every memory, really, is bearable because Jesus is there. He says in Matthew that “I will be with you always.” And that is so true. And I think as a child, I had this view of God. I didn’t know who he was. But the philosopher Spinoza – he has this view of God that God is all-powerful and all-sovereign, you know, much like our God. But in contrast to our God, he’s not involved in the day-to-day. So he’s this all-powerful foreign – foreign God…
Erin: Distant – exactly. And that’s – would’ve probably been how I viewed God. I didn’t see Him active in the day-to-day.
Jim: That’s a revelation.
Erin: Yes – and just realizing that He cared very much – you know, counts the hairs on your head. He…
Erin: …sees the sparrows that fall.
Jim: In that regard then, applying this to, your book, how did that apply to your motherhood journey, then? So you’re moving beyond that. You’ve met your husband, obviously. You get married, and now you’re starting your family. How did God give you the peace to say, “I can be okay with this. I’m satisfied with this”? How did that journey go?
Erin: I think it really came through the process of realizing I couldn’t do it all, and just coming to the end of myself in a way and realizing I needed his help, and also that that was okay. That’s another thing that my children have shown me is that, as parents, you don’t want your children – or you don’t require them to be self-sufficient. You want them to grow up and be responsible people. But you – when they’re babies, especially, you don’t require them, you know, to change their own diapers and make their own food. You love to provide for them and to care for them.
Jim: Okay. Let me ask you in that regard, because I think one of the great struggles that moms particularly have is deriving their self-worth out of their mothering. You know, and I think to your point, when they’re young children, it works well, because they’re so dependent on you. But some moms fall into that trap that, you know, “This is me. My identity is here,” even to the expense of their marriage. I know I’m probably stepping on some toes here. But the fastest growth in divorce is empty nesters, particularly because moms go, “What am I about now?” because the kids move away. Speak to that identity issue. And have you thought that through? Your kids are fairly young yet, and you’re pouring into them. But there is a transition time. When they’re young, they depend on you. Then they themselves will start to say, “Give me some space, Mom. Let me breathe. I’m a 14-year-old.” “Well, you can’t breathe in that way.” You know what I’m saying?
Jim: How about you? Have you thought that through, how you – when your kids are teenagers, how you’re gonna respond to that?
Erin: So I haven’t considered teenagers. I’m just trying to…
Erin: …to get through – to keep them alive.
Jim: Well, hang on, girl. It’s coming.
Erin: But I will say, I think it’s very easy to channel anything – our roles, whether we define ourself as lawyer, or professor, or coach, or editor. We can also define ourselves as mom. And that’s not our primary identity. Our primary identity is as His daughter, as a child of God. And I think when we do that, when we get our heart right, when we accept His invitation to become childlike, as it were, then that role is not diminished in importance. But that’s not our identity.
Jim: Yeah. In, you mentioned limitless joy in finding that place with the Lord, where you can experience limitless joy. And I just heard many moms laughing, as we’ve said that. They’re going, “Right, limitless joy. How many diapers did you change in the last 20 minutes?”
Erin: Yes, yes.
Jim: “Or the dishes, or all the duties, the laundry?” I mean, I’m just thinking what keeps a lot of moms and some dads that are staying at home with their kids busy all day long. How do you find limitless joy in limitless laundry?
Erin: Ugh, yes. That’s hard.
Jim: Yeah, there you go.
Erin: I think, again, I just have to – my kids are teaching me more than that I’m teaching them. And my kids are happy now to spend the afternoon with a babysitter. But it’s so sweet when I come home. They just – the little one, especially – “Mama, you’re home!”
Erin: And there’s just this joyful expression and face.
Jim: Love it.
Erin: And it’s this joy in relationship that really has nothing to do with outward circumstances. And so, I think, for me, that’s when I can focus on that relationship with Jesus, and that He’s with me always. I can have that joy, even in the laundry.
Jim: Yeah, that’s true.
John: This is Focus on the Family. And our guest today is Erin Hawley. And she’s written this book,. We’ve got that and a CD or a free download of our conversation at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or call 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Erin, I’m wondering, in the midst of all of the activity and what the boys undoubtedly do to keep you on your toes, how do you have the presence of mind to lean into God instead of throwing your hands up and saying, “Really? Seriously?”
Erin: Sometimes I do the latter, for sure. But I think if my heart’s right, if I can start off the day right, that really helps me. And I know for moms it’s really difficult. But if I can just grab a few minutes before the kid’s up just to have a little bit of quiet time – a friend just described it sort of as coffee with Jesus. And I know that can be really difficult when you have small ones that are up during the night. But if I can have that little time, my day goes a lot better.
Jim: And that probably is good throughout the day to plan that little bit of time, where you can center yourself and focus yourself on your relationship with the Lord in the center of chaos.
Jim: Isn’t that the truth? Hey, your sons seem like my kind of boys.
Jim: I love the stories in the book. I mean, there’s some ones…
John: Lot of good ones.
Jim: …everybody. The book is worth just the stories. I mean, it’s so funny. You mention one lesson that your sons taught you about childlike faith. What happened? Was that the bicycle experience? Yeah. What happened?
Erin: So my boys – this is actually relatively recent, so it’s not even in the book, but it’s a good depiction for me of faith and transparency. And so our oldest – then 5 – recently learned to ride his bike…
Erin: …Which is great.
Jim: Yeah. That’s a good thing.
Erin: So – but he and his younger brother single-handedly took off the training wheels of the 3-year-old’s bike.
Erin: And Elijah taught Blaise how to ride his bike.
Erin: And the 3-year-old can ride his bike. And of course, they love going much faster on two wheels than they can on two legs. So they’re zooming around. We’ve got sort of a – we live in a cul-de-sac, so the boys can go up and down at a quite high rates of speed. And I had warned them, you know, “Be careful. You’re getting way too close together.”
Jim: Did you bubble wrap them? That’s the thing.
Erin: Um, so they have helmets.
Jim: Okay. That’s good.
Erin: Yes, yes. So helmets…
Jim: But no bubble wrap?
Erin: No bubble wrap…
Erin: …Although they probably need it.
Jim: I just wanted to check out your mothering.
Erin: Yes, yes.
Jim: So that’s a good thing. I’m proud of you.
Erin: So at least helmets. Um, but they had a spectacular crash. And it was – ugh. The little one was okay. Elijah was okay. But the bikes were relegated to a 24-hour time-out, which had been in the morning. And the boys were entirely beside themselves – the wails, the screams. I’m sure the neighbors heard it. And then the kicker – Elijah looks at me and says, “I want a new mama.”
Jim: I want a new mama.
John: I want a new mom.
Erin: Yes, a new mama.
Jim: I love that.
Erin: So it’s…
Erin: Sorry, kiddo. Yes.
Jim: If I had a new mama, she’d let me ride my bike right now.
Erin: Exactly. Exactly. But I loved his ability just to express his frustration, even the screams and the cries – like, we can reel those in – but just the ability to be free with their emotions and to trust that I want all of them. I want them when they’re upset. I want them when they’re sad. I want to hear their questions and their doubts. And I think Jesus is the same with us. I think from my own life, I can be hesitant to – to be upset with God, or to ask him questions or to doubt. But, I think He wants all of us.
Jim: I love this next one, where one of your sons – I’m assuming the oldest – mentioned, or asked for just an outlandish request.
Jim: I don’t think I’ve ever heard a child say this, but I love it. What happened?
Erin: So we were coming home – it’s been a couple of years ago now – from Nana and Papa’s house. And we had a pretty early bedtime, so Elijah had never, at least in recent memory, seen the moon. And he was completely transfixed.
Jim: This must have been a full moon, a big moon.
Erin: Mmhmm. Yes, and kind of late summer. So he sees this moon, and he jumps, and he jumps, and he jumps, and he can’t reach it. So he just turns to me in a total deadpan expression. “Mama, I can’t reach it. Can you get it for me?”
Jim: Oh, man.
Erin: And I love – he had no doubt, not only that I would, but I could…
Erin: …And just that ability to ask literally for the moon.
Jim: What did you say? I mean, obviously, you can’t…
Jim: …lasso the moon and bring it down. So what did you say to him?
Erin: “You know, Elijah, I can’t. But, I know God has put it up there for us to enjoy. I mean, we can see it. But there are some things as humans we can’t do.”
Jim: I just love that. What a great – and the point you’re making in the book is the way that kids ask for outlandish things, and you’re encouraging us as believers in Christ that we should have that kind of attitude. Can we really?
Erin: I think we can, ‘cause, again, to use kids as an example, they ask for big things. They ask for little things that might seem insignificant. And I love the story of Enoch in the Bible. We don’t know much about him at all, but we do know that God sort of rewarded him for a life well lived by taking him up to Heaven without dying – a pretty nice reward. But the reason for this is Enoch believed that God existed and that He cared enough about those who called on Him to answer – so pretty simple – but just that he believed God existed and that He cared enough to answer.
Erin: And I think we can have that faith.
Jim: Well, I like that idea of outlandish. I don’t even know if it’s outlandish, or just pure faith. Lord, I know you’re there. I know you love me. Can this happen? Bang. And you ask, and then you have to be mature enough for the answer, whatever direction it may go. Another funny one – I shared this one this morning with Jean. She laughed about this one. This was where – about you making mistakes. So what happened there?
Erin: Sure. So I was putting Elijah to bed, and he was, you know, stalling his bedtime routine.
Jim: Really? They do that?
Erin: Oh, yeah – never, never.
Jim: Never in our house.
Erin: So he always has this series of questions. And this night, those questions were pretty good. And one of them he asked me was, “Mama, are boys smarter than girls?”
Erin: Exactly. So I kind of sat back. And I’m like, “Hm, no, honey. Why do you ask?” And then, the real kicker – he looks at me says, “Well, mommy, you’re wrong all of the time. And Daddy is never wrong.”
Jim: Now, Jean’s response to that was, “I wonder how much the planting of the seed came from daddy?”
Erin: I don’t know. I don’t know.
Jim: You never asked the question?
Jim: Listen. You’re a lawyer. You got to cross-examine that witness.
Erin: “Where did you get this?” Yes.
Jim: She was pretty sure Dad must have said something.
Erin: Perhaps, perhaps. But yeah, I assured Elijah that yes, indeed, “Daddy is wrong sometimes.”
Jim: That’s a pretty good question, though. It’s so funny. You know, one of the other things that I think is really pertinent in the book – you discuss a woman’s feelings of inadequacy or failures. And I – I’ve said this so many times, John. I am amazed at a woman’s capacity to look at her own heart first. You know, when Jesus says, “Look at the log in your own eye before you look at the speck in your brother’s,” I think He really meant that for men because we struggle with that. I think our pride is just in the way, and it’s always the other guy’s fault. You know, “I was the one that pulled in straight. I don’t know why the guy’s honking at me.” Women always – I mean seriously, I’ve done a little, you know, unofficial research here. Women are – always have the capacity to say, “What did I do wrong? Where did I fail?” And, I think, for moms particularly, they wear that very heavily – I mean, especially when the child is not behaving properly. “What have I done as a mother to fail?” Speak to that feeling of inadequacy. And how does a mom not judge herself by another person, particularly her kid’s behavior?
Erin: Absolutely. I think that’s crucial, because, at some point, we cannot control our kids. And I’ve heard the analogy that I’m sure many of your listeners have – just about holding kids loosely. And for me, one of the things that has helped, in particular, with kids is knowing that Jesus names every family on earth. And I’m quite conflict-adverse, and my two boys are quite strong-willed. And I don’t think they are conflict-adverse at all. So sometimes you can wonder like, “Lord, why?” They’re so strong-willed, and it is difficult for me to continue just to keep at it. And you know, why – why this particular mix of me and them? So I’m really comforted by the fact that God planned our family. And He planned not only sort of the gifts and talents He’s given me and the gifts and talents of the boys, but also just had to be power through my weakness…
Erin: …so that He proves himself sufficient. So for me, I think the biggest key to that inadequacy is just realizing that God has a plan, and it was to give me these two boys, as strong-willed as they are…
Erin: …And also to remember, as you spoke earlier, that my identity is not even as a mom, as important as that is. It’s as a daughter, a beloved daughter of God the Father. And that’s who I am.
Jim: And from that flows all the good things. I mean, then you will be that healthy, balanced mom, that healthy, balanced friend, that healthy, balanced spouse. I mean, it all flows from that perspective of being a daughter of the king, right? I love that. And that’s true for men as the same would be true for us. Erin, this has been so good. You’ve highlighted, “expect the unexpected.” I mean, those are the great stories. Become more childlike in our faith – I think that’s a beautiful way. And long for those deeper, maybe amazing requests of God and just see what He does. And then know that God’s grace is there to catch us when we can’t be perfect. And I appreciate that, because I’m certain many moms listening right now or moms-to-be are racked with failure. And the idea of parenting is not perfection. It’s being healthy because your kids will be far better off if you aim for healthy parenting not perfect parenting. And in fact – there’s no formula. I’m convinced that. There’s a predictive ability there. You can do many good things. But it doesn’t guarantee an outcome that your child will be whatever you’re expecting. And it’s such a huge privilege, as you say in the book, to share God’s love and truth with your children. I mean, that is mom’s number one job, right?
Jim: Connect them to the heart of God. And I talked to somebody just the other day who’s dealing with terrible health issues and kind of end of their life. And their kids are grown, and they have grandkids and all that. But someone said of one of his boys – “Boy, your – your son has a real heart for God.” And I thought to myself, “That’s it. You’ve done it as a father as a mother.” They did their job. If your child has a heart for God, that’s it. You’ve done it. I don’t care if they’re a ditch digger or a, you know, nuclear engineer. If they have a heart for God, they have conquered the most important thing in this life, a relationship with Christ. Thank you so much for being with us. This has been great and. Thanks for the insights. What a wonderful book,. This is that encouragement. Let me speak to the guys out there. Buy this for your wife. This is a pillow book. Leave it on the pillow for her so that you know how much she works for the family and to raise those kids. Erin, thanks for being with us.
Erin: Thank you so much.
John: And the book is really packed with great stories, as we’ve heard today, and personal reflections – a lot of Scripture in there as well. It’ll encourage any mom, regardless of where she’s at in the journey, and particularly if she’s got boys.
John: A lot of great material there.
John: Our website is focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, and while you’re there, look for our free advent calendar. Or call us and we’ll be happy to help you. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY – 800-232-6459. And by the way, when you contribute a gift of any amount to Focus on the Family, we’ll send a copy of Erin’s book,, as our thank you gift.
Jim: Erin, for the stressed-out mom – okay, everybody just leaned forward…
John: Every mom is stressed out.
Jim: Yeah. Everybody put their hand up just now. Keep your hands on the wheel.
Jim: But for that stressed-out mom, who – I mean, every day is just a struggle; I mean, it’s overwhelming; there’s too much to do, and there’s always more to do tomorrow, because I didn’t get to half of what I needed to get to today. And that just creates a lot of tension, a lot of stress. What can she do? Not that there’s a magic formula, but when you feel overwhelmed, what can a mom do?
Erin: I think one of the things that’s helped me most when I’ve been overwhelmed is to connect with other women…
Jim: Oh, that’s good.
Erin: …Especially, other women with young children who believe in Christ, because you will know, as you visit with them, that you are not alone.
Jim: Yeah, right. Everybody’s overwhelmed.
Erin: Your baby is not the only one that has blowouts in Walmart.
Erin: And that you are also loved and treasured for who you are, in addition to your role as a mom and a caretaker.
Jim: That’s good.
John: This has been great. Thanks again, Erin. And to our listeners, let me just say, join us tomorrow, a special Thanksgiving Day presentation about the fascinating reasons the Pilgrims came to America as they sought religious freedom.
Jay Milbrandt: This is what – sort of mind-blowing to me – is that, you know, they knew that a lot of them were going to perish.
End of Teaser
In a discussion based on their book The 4 Habits of Joy-Filled Marriages, Dr. Marcus Warner and Pastor Chris Coursey offer practical guidance for how a husband and wife can work together to experience greater joy in their relationship.
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