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Bursting Negative Thought Bubbles

One of our goals as parents must be to manage our own thought bubbles so that we can be a model for our kids.

We’ve all seen the cartoons and comics where a character’s thoughts are revealed inside of cloud-shaped thought bubbles. Imagining our own thoughts as thought bubbles can be a great way to examine what is happening inside our minds at any given moment and can give us power over our negative thoughts.

Like many people, my thoughts can fill up with negative stuff, especially when I’m feeling worried or anxious. The coronavirus, especially, has created some new anxieties and concerns that none of us expected when the new year rolled around.

So how can we manage our thought bubbles and keep negative ones from constantly surfacing? Our thought bubbles can be contagious. Negative thoughts in us as parents can lead to negative thoughts in our children. Let’s talk about what shapes our thought bubbles and how we can burst the negative ones.

Negative Thought Bubbles

Did you know that researchers have determined that the average person has about 50,000 thoughts per day? And we all think about things and interpret them differently from the people around us. Thoughts can be influenced by our genetics, gender, experiences, senses, beliefs, and our relationships. We can also be influenced by our complex personality differences. Those personality differences create our own unique filter from which we think about moments, situations, and relationships.

One of the reasons our thought bubbles can become filled with negative messages is because our brains are poor at making predictions. Instead of producing accurate forecasts about the future which might include good outcomes, we often just project our worries onto the future. Asking “what if” questions and worrying about what might happen only fuels our anxiety. Emotions, especially, can have a dramatic impact on the shape our thought bubbles take.

Thought Bubbles and Parenting

One of our goals as parents must be to manage our own negative thoughts so that we can be a model for our kids. Our children’s minds are even more vulnerable to emotion-driven negativity than ours are, so we must be intentional about bursting the negative thought bubbles that we have.

Thought bubbles will come at you full speed as a parent and will become a constant part of life. Our thoughts are naturally prone to anxiety when we experience unknowns, stresses, failures, and comparisons. Since these thought bubbles belong to you, spend some time learning about them and how to navigate them. The better you corral your negative thoughts, the better you’ll be able to model this for your children.

Romans 12:2 tells us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Being intentional in managing the multitude of thought bubbles that pop up each day will help us to focus on what is good and will open our hearts to be able to see what the will of God is in our lives.

How Thoughts Can Mislead Us

Researchers have identified many ways that our minds can be misled. When emotion is involved or we are experiencing stress, insecurity, and fear, our thinking can mislead us to believe that certain things are true. Here are a few ways that our thoughts can mislead us:

Catastrophizing or Minimizing

We can easily be convinced that the worst is going to happen. At the same time, some personality types can tend to ignore important information – including warning signs – that should spur us to take corrective action. Instead of projecting your worries and “what ifs” onto the future, fix your thought bubbles to focus on the present. Seek accurate perspectives rather than avoiding them.

Discounting the Positive

Sometimes our filters screen out positive input. For example, if someone compliments you on being a great mom you might say, “Thanks, but you don’t see me every day. My kids aren’t usually this good.” Don’t deflect affirmation – accept it! There will always be critics and negative moments, so be sure to take the positive when it comes.

Personalizing

It’s easy to assume that when things happen, they are personal to you. When my son or daughter’s friends don’t text or call, their first assumption might be that it has something to do with themselves. Their thought bubbles can quickly fill with discouraging questions, such as: “Did I do something wrong? Am I not fun to be with?”

It’s natural for our brain to personalize, so we must train ourselves to think about other possibilities. For instance, “My friends might be busy today. Maybe they’re spending time with their family right now.” Consider what may be happening in the other person’s life rather than assuming that everything is about you.

Jumping to Conclusions

We tend to jump to conclusions and react based on very little information. Make sure to slow down the speed of your thought bubbles enough to get the information you truly need to understand what is going on. For example, your kids might get into an argument that requires you to step in. Slow down your own stress and emotions so that you can carefully listen and help them sort through their own thought bubbles.

Overgeneralization

We tend to extend certain failures and successes to the rest of our lives. For example, news stories can make us think that teenagers are irresponsible, video-addicted, impulsive, lazy human beings. However, there are some teens that struggle and some teens that thrive. Break life down into specific and unique experiences. Just because your children misbehave one day doesn’t mean that your family is out of control or a mess. Maybe today wasn’t the best day, which is why each new sunrise is a chance to reset.

All or Nothing Thinking

We sometimes look at things in black and white terms: success or failure, good or bad, with no gray area in between. For example, your family may be succeeding in having less conflict, but this might be seen as a complete failure rather than growth toward healthy conflict in the home.

Mind Reading

We sometimes assume what is popping up in other people’s thought bubbles. For example, “My child is screaming so they must think I’m an awful parent.” We don’t truly know other people’s thoughts unless they share them. What kinds of automatic thought bubbles pop up for you when you think about others? If your thought bubbles are generally positive, then you are more likely to assume that the other person’s thoughts are positive toward you. Use your thought bubbles to notice the positive in others rather than tearing them down.

Unrealistic Expectations

The word “should” forms unrealistic expectations in our minds. For instance, statements like “My kids should make their beds every day” or “My kids should help out around the house” leave room for disappointment when those things do not happen. Try to use the word “could” instead. Your kids could do those things but may not. This will help shape your response in a positive way that will help them continue to grow. Your kids will respond more positively to “could” than “should.”

Emotional Thinking

When emotions are in the mix, our thought bubbles can pop all over the place. Try to press the pause button and notice what types of thoughts your emotions are creating. Bring in some reality to help calm the thought bubbles that are infused with emotion.

Emotions are simply the mind’s signals for something that has already been interpreted. Emotions usually follow the thoughts that triggered them. For instance, when you have thoughts that someone you know may get sick and die, it makes sense that you would feel anxious in response to that thought. Focus your thoughts on what is in front of you.

One great way to focus your thoughts on the present is to try a technique called the 3 x 5 + 1 method. If your mind and emotions start racing, follow these steps to bring yourself back to the present reality:

  1. Look around you. Name 5 colors that you see.
  2. Listen to your surroundings. Name 5 sounds that you hear.
  3. Name 5 things that you can physically feel, such as the collar of your shirt against your neck or the breeze blowing across your skin.

Once you have gone through each of these 3 categories and listed 5 things each, ask yourself this 1 last question: “What do I need to be thinking about right now?”

This technique of observing your surroundings is a great way to pull your mind back into the present. This is also something that you can teach your kids if they start to feel anxious. Helping your children manage their thought bubbles will also help to manage their emotions.

Labeling and Mislabeling

We tend to label things according to our emotions and very limited experience. For example, I’ve heard parents say, “I’m a bad parent.” I ask them for evidence of how they came up with that conclusion and label for themselves. Many times, it’s because they have unrealistically compared themselves to other parents without knowing the imperfections and challenges the other parents might have.

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Reading Our Negative Thoughts

Now it’s time to think about your own thought bubbles. Take the time to look at them as if they are literally popping up above your head as you think. Which thought bubbles are taking up the most real estate? Consider keeping a journal to record the themes of your thoughts. Jot down how emotions color your thought bubbles. Challenge some of your thoughts and ask yourself, “Is there another way of looking at this?”

When you look back at your journal, what captures your attention? Is there a particular thought or theme that keeps popping up? Remember: what you pay attention to fuels your thought bubbles. Be aware that fear locks in our attention. It leads us to take a defensive posture to avoid pain, failure, or other things we cannot control. Work to actively redirect those thoughts to things that you can control.

How to Manage Your Thought Bubbles

Here are some practical ways to start managing your thought bubbles and bursting the negative ones. These are just a few ideas; be creative and come up with some of your own. What are some other ways that you can think of to burst those negative thought bubbles?

Take Some Time Outs

I recommend that parents put up a sheet of paper that has space for 5 check marks for time-outs throughout the day. Next to it, jot down a list of possible things that you can do during your self-imposed timeout. Time outs are great to model for kids as they learn to manage their own thought bubbles. Kids can also have their own sheet with check marks and a menu of things they can do to help themselves burst those negative thought bubbles.

Laugh Often

Laughter helps calm anxiety. There are plenty of videos, cartoons, and stories out there that are funny that you can access. Sometimes my kids and I will do tickle therapy when our thought bubbles get stuck.

Take a Walk or Get Some Exercise

Research supports the fact that exercise and taking a walk and a break are helpful for a person’s mental health. Take a walk around the neighborhood with your family, go on a hike, or do something active together. Playing a game of backyard basketball or soccer can be a great way to bond and get some exercise at the same time.

Focus on the Present

Keep your thoughts focused on the present rather than on the past or worrying about the future. This is especially helpful when you’re trying to listen to your children and connecting with them. In fact, the art of listening requires that your thought bubbles have peacefulness, care, and attentiveness to what the other person is saying both verbally and through body language.

Give (or Receive) a Hug

A hug can help shift thought bubbles. My daughter came up to me while we were all working from home the other day and just gave me a hug. I felt an immediate shift in my thought bubbles.

Smile

A smile can also help shift negative thought bubbles. I love it when Elf (in the movie Elf) quotes, “Smiling is my favorite.” That statement itself makes me smile. Smiling and laughter can be contagious and can burst those negative thought bubbles.

Play Music

Music is a big shifter of thought bubbles as well. Positive music creates positive thought bubbles; negative music forms negative thought bubbles. My daughter loves to sing. She recently got into playing the ukulele when she sings, and this has been a great way for her to manage her thought bubbles.

Final Thoughts

Managing our thought bubbles as parents and bursting the negative thoughts is an important practice in our home. Keeping our thought bubbles in check will help us demonstrate to our children how they can navigate their own thought bubbles.

Paul instructs us in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Be intentional about creating a culture of thought bubble management in your home.

© 2020 by Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. 

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Headshot image of Focus on the Family broadcast guest Dr. Patti Giebink

Mrs. Patti Giebink

Dr. Patti Giebink is an OB-GYN who serves on the board of the Alpha Center, a well-known pregnancy center located in Sioux Falls, S.D. She also travels intermittently to work in mission hospitals in Pakistan and other countries. After completing her medical training, Dr. Giebink worked for Planned Parenthood from 1995-1997, during which she was the only abortion-provider in the state of South Dakota. She eventually experienced a radical change of heart on the issue of abortion after receiving God’s grace, forgiveness, and love, and she is now a passionate advocate for the pro-life movement.

Cover image of the book "Unexpected Choice: An Abortion Doctor’s Journey to Pro-Life"

Unexpected Choice: An Abortion Doctor’s Journey to Pro-Life

Unexpected Choice is told from the perspective of a doctor who actually performed abortions through Planned Parenthood. The book chronicles her journey from being a pro-choice physician to someone speaking on behalf of the pro-life movement.

Giving up Sugar, Tasting God's Goodness

As a latchkey kid, Wendy Speake turned to sugar for comfort. Every Friday, she would pedal to the candy show and use her allowance to fill her bag with candy. And one day, when she was older and a mom of three young boys, she came to realize that she was still “pedaling” away from her stress and using sugar as comfort, instead of turning to Jesus. She was joyless, worn out, tired, and in need of a change. In this interview, Wendy will challenge Christians to take 40 days to focus on fasting from something they turn to instead of Jesus for comfort. She invited people to break free from a dependence on sugar and taste the goodness of God.

Author Wendy Speake smiling as she holds up her book "The 40-Day Social Media Fast"

Mrs. Wendy Speake

With a background in Hollywood as a trained actress, Wendy Speake ministers to women as a bible teacher by applying the power of drama, poetry and comedy to the study of Scripture and real-life application of biblical truths. She has co-authored two books with Amber Lia titled Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses and their latest, Parenting Scripts: When What You’re Saying Isn’t Working, Say Something New. Wendy is also the co-author (with Kelli Stuart) of Life Creative: Inspiration for Today’s Renaissance Mom.

Cover image of the book "The 40-Day Sugar Fast"

The 40-Day Sugar Fast: Where Physical Detox Meets Spiritual Transformation

Welcome to the 40-Day Sugar Fast, a fast that begins with us giving Jesus our sugar and ends with Jesus giving us himself–the only thing that can ever truly satisfy our soul’s deep hunger. On this 40-day journey you’ll learn how to stop fixating on food and other things you use to fill the voids in life and instead fix your eyes on Christ. Anyone who runs to sugar for comfort or a reward, who eats mindlessly or out of boredom, who feels physically and spiritually lethargic, or who struggles with self-control will discover here not only freedom from their cravings but an entirely new appetite for the good things God has for us.

Understanding the Root of Your Child's Misbehavior - Part 1

Often, children act out because they are used to getting attention through bad behavior. Dr. Kevin Leman offers advice to help parents transform their child’s behavior. He discusses the benefits of allowing your kids to learn from real-life consequences and describes the importance of understanding your child’s temperament based on his birth order.

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman is an internationally known family psychologist and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author. He is also a popular public speaker and media personality who has made countless guest appearances on numerous radio and TV programs. Dr. Leman has written more than 50 books including The Birth Order BookHave a New Kid by Friday and Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.

Bundle of Why Your Kids Misbehave

Why Your Kids Misbehave and What to Do about It

Tantrums. Talking back. Throwing toys or food. Meltdowns. Slamming doors. Kids know just how to push your buttons. You’ve tried all sorts of methods, but nothing seems to work. In this book, Dr. Kevin Leman reveals exactly why kids misbehave and how you can turn that behavior around with practical, no-nonsense strategies that really work . . . and are a long-term win for both of you.

Understanding the Root of Your Child's Misbehavior - Part 2

Often, children act out because they are used to getting attention through bad behavior. Dr. Kevin Leman offers advice to help parents transform their child’s behavior. He discusses the benefits of allowing your kids to learn from real-life consequences and describes the importance of understanding your child’s temperament based on his birth order.

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman is an internationally known family psychologist and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author. He is also a popular public speaker and media personality who has made countless guest appearances on numerous radio and TV programs. Dr. Leman has written more than 50 books including The Birth Order BookHave a New Kid by Friday and Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.

Bundle of Why Your Kids Misbehave

Why Your Kids Misbehave and What to Do about It

Tantrums. Talking back. Throwing toys or food. Meltdowns. Slamming doors. Kids know just how to push your buttons. You’ve tried all sorts of methods, but nothing seems to work. In this book, Dr. Kevin Leman reveals exactly why kids misbehave and how you can turn that behavior around with practical, no-nonsense strategies that really work . . . and are a long-term win for both of you.

Loving Your Spouse Through the Seasons of Marriage - Part 2

Debra Fileta has identified the four seasons of marriage that correspond with our natural seasons – spring (new life and new love), summer (things get hot!), fall (showing our true colors), and winter (long days ahead). In this interview, she will help couples better understand the four seasons of healthy relationships, what to expect during each one, and how to carefully navigate them for a stronger marriage.

Author Debra Fileta in the Focus on the Family broadcast studio

Debra Fileta

Debra Fileta is a licensed professional counselor specializing in relationship and marital issues. She is also a public speaker and the author of multiple books, including Married SexChoosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start With We > Me, Love in Every Season, and Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are, How You’re Doing, and Why It Matters. Debra’s popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, and her Love + Relationships podcast reach millions of people each year offering guidance on topics including love, sex, and marriage.

Love in Every Season: Understanding the Four Stages of a Healthy Relationship

Every relationship goes through four life-changing seasons: Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. Each season plays an important role in taking your relationship to the next level. And depending on how you navigate each season, your relationship will either flourish and grow, or it will slowly die. Whether you’re single, dating, engaged or married, join licensed professional counselor and relationship expert, Debra Fileta as she takes you on an eye-opening psychological and spiritual journey through the four seasons that she has observed in every healthy relationship.

Reconciling Faith and Science in a Medical Crisis

Dr. Lee Warren is a neurosurgeon who has faced many heavy challenges in his life – from serving in the Iraq War to removing deadly brain tumors to experiencing the loss of a teenage son. He’ll share about his difficult quest to find answers to some of life’s toughest questions, while holding onto his faith in God and the sure hope of heaven

Headshot of Focus on the Family broadcast guest Dr. W. Lee Warren

Dr. Lee Warren

W. Lee Warren, M.D., is a brain surgeon , inventor, Iraq War veteran, and author of I’ve Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know, winner of the Christian Book Award®. His previous book, No Place to Hide, was included on the 2015 U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff’s Recommended Reading List. Dr. Warren has appeared on The 700 Club and the CBS Evening News, and his writings have been featured in Guideposts magazine. His Dr. Lee Warren Podcast, which is heard in more than 60 countries, helps listeners use the power of neuroscience, faith, and common sense to change their lives.

Cover image of Dr. Lee Warren's book "I've Seen the End of You"

I've Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon's Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know

This gripping inspirational memoir grapples with the tension between faith and science—and between death and hope—as a seasoned neurosurgeon faces insurmountable odds and grief both in the office and at home.

Praying Scripture Over Your Child’s Life - Part 1

Jodie Berndt loves to pray for her children. She’s been doing that for the past thirty years. Now she helps other parents to talk to God, asking for the salvation of their kids, and for wisdom, self-discipline, purpose, a future and much more. She offers fun and practical encouragement that moms and dads can put to work immediately in their daily lives as they prepare their children for a life in Christ.

Headshot of Focus on the Family broadcast guest Jodie Berndt

Jodie Berndt

Jodie Berndt is a public speaker, a Bible teacher, and the the author of 10 books. Find out more about Jodie and get some free resources (including printable prayer cards and calendars) at her website, jodieberndt.com.

Cover image of Jodie Berndt's book "Praying the Scriptures for Your Children"

Praying the Scriptures Over Your Children

You will discover how using the Bible to shape your desires and requests opens the door to God’s provision—and frees us from things like worry and fear in our parenting! This expanded edition of the bestseller features updated content on issues like technology and identity, and comes with new material designed to invite children into the family prayer circle. Purchase now and receive 10% off your product.

Mothers and Sons: Being a Godly Influence - Part 1

Rhonda Stoppe describes her early motherhood challenges of raising a son, which was intimidating to her. She found help through group of older women mentors. She urges moms to see their role as ministry in shaping sons to be good and godly men. Rhonda outlines several practical suggestions to moms about spiritual training, how to communicate with boys, and supporting the father-son relationship as a wife.

Headshot of Rhonda Stoppe

Rhonda Stoppe

Drawing upon 35 years of experience as a mentor, pastor’s wife, and homeschool mom, Rhonda Stoppe offers encouragement and guidance to women as an author and public speaker. She is popularly known as the “No Regrets Woman,” as she is especially passionate about helping women live life without regrets. Rhonda’s books include Moms Raising Sons to Be MenReal Life Romance, and The Marriage Mentor, which she co-authored with her husband, Steve.

Cover image of Rhonda Stoppe's book "Moms Raising Sons to be Men"

Moms Raising Sons to Be Men

Mothers of boys have the special calling to shape future men of God. Popular speaker Rhonda Stoppe, mom to two sons, knows this opportunity is a challenge, a joy, and probably the most important work of a woman’s life. Drawing from years of experience, this inspirational resource will revive the faithfulness and fortitude a woman needs to partner with God as they shape the character and heart of a future godly man.

Identifying Triggers in Your Marriage Part 1

They were both convinced they had married the wrong person. From almost the very beginning of their marriage, Amber and Guy Lia experienced various tensions and personality clashes related to house cleaning, backseat driving, workaholism, and intimacy. In this two-day Focus on the Family broadcast, Amber and Guy discuss how they bravely faced the triggers head-on, and committed to working on their own relationships with Jesus. As you listen to the Lia’s story, you’ll feel hope that you, too, can see real marriage transformation!

Headshot of Guy and Amber Lia

Mr. and Mrs. Guy and Amber Lia and Mrs. Jean Daly

Amber Lia is a work-at-home mom, blogger, public speaker, and co-author of two best-selling books. Her husband, Guy, is a former TV, feature film, and VFX development and production executive who has worked on popular TV shows and films. Guy and Amber own Storehouse Media Group, a faith- and family-friendly TV and film production company based in Los Angeles,

Cover image of the book "Marriage Triggers" by Guy and Amber Lia

Marriage Triggers: How You and Your Spouse Can Exchange Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses

A husband-wife team offers practical advice for married couples to end the cycle of reactionary arguments by examining the most common issues that trigger disagreements and apply God’s Word to radically transform relationships.

What to Do When You're Not Okay - Part 1

Life can be pretty stressful. Between work, relationships, and other obligations, the pressure builds, and we lose sight of who we are. Counselor Debra Fileta helps you better understand your emotions, assess your mental, physical, and spiritual health, and intentionally pursue a path to wellbeing. In dealing with anxiety, depression, and panic attacks, Debra understands the importance of self-examination as well as the benefits of seeking professional help. She offers biblically-based advice, tools, and encouragement to help you get on a path toward healing and wholeness.

Author Debra Fileta in the Focus on the Family broadcast studio

Mrs. Debra Fileta

Debra Fileta is a licensed professional counselor specializing in relationship and marital issues. She is also a public speaker and the author of multiple books, including Married SexChoosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start With We > Me, Love in Every Season, and Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are, How You’re Doing, and Why It Matters. Debra’s popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, and her Love + Relationships podcast reach millions of people each year offering guidance on topics including love, sex, and marriage. Debra resides in Pennsylvania with her husband, John, and their four children.

Are You Really Okay?

Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are

In Are You Really OK? author and licensed counselor Debra Fileta challenges you to get real with who you are and how you’re doing spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically so you can recognize where you need growth and healing.

Navigating a Toxic Culture with Your Daughter - Part 1

As a pediatrician, Dr. Meg Meeker has seen thousands of girls come through her office through the years. They struggle with eating issues, sexual identity, social media…and many other challenges in this toxic culture. Dr. Meeker will encourage parents to invest love and time in their daughters and develop their character to give them the best opportunity for a bright future, all rooted in a spiritual foundation. The discussion also includes healthy feminism vs. toxic feminism

Mrs. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker is a pediatrician who is widely recognized as one of the country’s leading authorities on parenting, teens and children’s health. With appearances on numerous nationally syndicated radio and TV programs, her popularity as a an expert on key issues confronting families has created a strong following across America. Her work with countless families over the years served as the inspiration behind her best-selling books which include Strong Fathers, Strong DaughtersStrong Mothers, Strong Sons and The Ten Habits of Happy Mothers

Cover image of Dr. Meg Meeker's book "Raising a Strong Daughter in a Toxic Culture"

Raising a Strong Daughter in a Toxic Culture: 11 Steps to Keep Her Happy, Healthy, and Safe

Meg Meeker has been a pediatrician for more than thirty years, is a mother and a grandmother, and has seen it all. She knows what makes for strong, happy, healthy young women–and what puts our daughters at risk. Combining that experience with her famous common sense, she explains the eleven steps that will help your daughter–whether she’s a toddler or a troubled teen–to achieve her full human potential.

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Newest Release - Episode 1: The Truth About Life!

In this episode, we will tackle tough questions like, “When does life begin?” and “What does the Bible
say about Life?” You’ll discover and understand the stages of pre-born life and that babies are more than
just a clump of cells!

Yes, I Promise to Pray for the Pre-born and Their Moms!

Will you pray for the pre-born and moms that are facing unexpected pregnancies? We will send you a 7-day prayer guide that will help guide you along this journey with us!! You can even choose to receive this great resource by text!

Thank you for committing to pray for the pre-born!

Sign up below for your free seven-day prayer guide. This daily guide will help give direction to your prayers for the pro-life movement. We will be praying with you! 

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