You know those people who absolutely love running? Who can’t wait to lace up their shoes, hit the pavement, and usher forth that endorphin-saturated runner’s high?

That’s not me. I’m more of the cringe inwardly and outwardly type of gals who fights an internal battle every time I go for a jog. In fact, there are many times, if left on my own, I’ll, quite logically, talk myself out of going and into remaining in my PJs on the couch.

Running hurts. It’s hard. It takes time. It makes me sweat and distracts me from the truly important things like scrubbing floors and toilets.

At least, that’s what my comfort zone tries to tell me. But I’ve found, if I put off the physical training for any length of time, it isn’t long before I grow weak and lethargic and my days become marked by fatigue.

Let me explain. In 2011-2012, I got sick, had extreme difficulty digesting, and dropped a ton of weight. Nerve pain soon followed along with a second diagnosis—fibromyalgia. This chronic pain condition is hard to explain to those who don’t have it, but it’s much like having a body-wide toothache accompanied by muscle cramps. Basically, the nerve signals go haywire, acting as if someone turned on an electrical switch then walked away.

Running can, and often does, trigger a pretty intense pain response. There are times, many, when I’m literally brought to tears. There are times when, as I’m lacing up my shoes and thinking of the pain I’ll likely experience, I grow anxious and sick to my stomach.

So why do I do it? Why do I continue to subject myself to such torture?

Because I know that hour of pain is temporary but the benefits of pushing through last a lifetime. It’s about quality of life for me.

The same is true in regard to spiritual training. We tend to balk at the word “discipline,” because let’s face it, practicing godliness is hard. It takes conscious thought, continual practice, and determination. It’s so much easier to give in to our emotions and desires. To get swept up in godless chatter and meaningless speculations (1 Tim. 4:7, 1 Tim. 1:4), in gossiping and venting (1 Tim. 3:11), in feeding my pride and self-love (1 Tim. 2:9-10) instead of living as God desires.

And yet, we know where those behaviors lead; they aren’t pretty or effective. Rather, they’re destructive. They cause disunity, distrust, quarrels and fights, scheming, jealousy, and places us in direct opposition to God. (James 4).

Learning and practicing obedience, on the other hand, brings unity, peace, increased love, and a deeper fellowship with Christ. (John 15:14) The more we respond obediently to Christ, the more sensitive we become to His leading, and our godliness grows. The more we ignore Him or rebel against Him, the more hardened our hearts and more dulled our consciences become.

Training isn’t easy. Many times, we’ll have to say no to something pleasant in the moment, perhaps sleeping in, to say yes to something we know will help us long term, like developing a morning quiet time. But training is good. Healthy. Important. It helps protect us from deception and strengthens us to live godly, Christ-centered lives—lives filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith (1 Tim. 1:5).

Ultimately, this training is a process of learning to die to ourselves, moment by moment, so that God can live and love others through us. It’s a journey of moving past self-love in order to display agape love, because, as Jesus said in Matthew 22:37-40, this forms the foundation of the entire Old Testament (which, back then, made up the complete Bible).

Spiritual training involves practicing disciplines like reading our Bibles daily, praying, fasting, taking time for silence and meditating on Christ and His word, meeting with other believers, serving others, and worshiping God through words and song. Which of these can you practice this week in order to grow stronger spiritually and closer to Christ?

Share your thoughts in the comments below or join the discussion in our Bible study Facebook group. For those following along with the 1 Timothy study, today’s suggested Bible reading is Matthew 22:37-40, Romans 12.

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Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

If only we could keep our children in a bubble, point them to only the best resources and influences, and saturate their brain with nothing but truth. And yet, that would drastically stunt their growth and likely get in the way of all God wants to do in and through them. There’s a fine line between sheltering our kids and shielding them. So where do we draw that line? My guest today, Tessa Emily Hall, writes a helpful post that encourages us to point our children to Jesus. Read on–and be sure to enter Tessa’s giveaway at the end of this post!

Is Sheltering Teens More Dangerous Than Exposing Them?
by Tessa Emily Hall

unwritten-melody-quote01Is sheltering kids the answer to keeping them safe from the sin and danger that lurks in our world today? In effort to explore this question, I wrote a YA novel, Unwritten Melody. The protagonist in this story, Cassie, is a 17-year-old who has been raised by her overbearing grandmother. As a result of the strict rules, she develops a hunger to ultimately go against her grandmother’s wishes.

We all need rules and guidelines to follow, but could too much of this potentially lead to more harm than good?

Let’s look at the possible dangers that could result from this:

  1. Kids might long to break free from their bubble as they become desperate for “freedom”.
  2. Their walk with God could become based on rules and regulations (“religion”) rather than from a pure adoration for Him, wanting to obey Him, and an understanding of His Son’s sacrifice.
  3. They might not know how to witness to unbelievers since they’ll have no way to identify with them.
  4. If the kid is raised believing that being a Christian consists of all rules and no fun then Christianity might leave a bad taste in their
  5. They might not have the chance to walk out their own faith without having to rely on the faith of their parents’.
  6. If the kid is resentful toward their sheltered lifestyle, when they’re given their first taste of freedom, they might rebel in attempt to make up for “what they’ve lost”.
  7. It might cause them to believe their parents sheltered them out of spite rather than love.
  8. They could become resentful toward their parents for keeping them from being “normal”.
  9. The lack of life they experience might cause them to experience depression. They might feel as though they’ve become a slave to rules, have no purpose in life, and aren’t worthy to live the life they’ve longed for. (This is a lie Cassie believes in Unwritten Melody.)
  10. It might cause them to develop a low-self esteem. (In Unwritten Melody,Cassie believes the reason she’s shy is because of the way she was raised by her overprotective grandmother. It’s this temperament that makes her feel as though she doesn’t measure up to other teens and has few friends.)

Since Satan is the ruler of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4), we should be careful not to become influenced by the ways of the world. So how can Christians strike a balance between shielding and sheltering?

Encourage children to establish a personal relationship with Jesus. When they fall in love with their Savior and are lead by the Holy Spirit, they won’t have a desire to live a life cross-423157_1920that displeases Him. Show them that the rules set by authority are there to help them, not to keep them from having fun. And remember to always lead and discipline in the spirit of love.

Proverbs 22:6 (NIV) says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

Parents should introduce their kids to Jesus. When it’s time to let go, they should trust that the Holy Spirit will lead, guide, direct, help—and yes, shelter their kids from the danger that threatens to put an end to their faith.

Even when kids do become exposed to the world, they’ll remain much safer in the hands of Jesus than they could ever be if sheltered only by their parents at home.


Enter for your chance to win the Unwritten Melody Prize Pack! Two winners will be selected and announced on Tessa’s blog the final day of tour (Friday, December 9th) and will be notified via email.


This prize pack includes…

  • E-copy of Unwritten Melody
  • Signed paperback copy of Purple Moon
  • Unwritten Melody mug, filled with goodies
  • Unwritten Melody swag, including a bookmark, pen, and poster
  • Starbucks mocha flavored instant coffee
  • Free Unwritten Melody: Page-By-Page Secrets PDF
  • Handmade journal
  • Typewritten thank you note

*This giveaway is open to the US only 

Enter here:  a Rafflecopter giveaway


Unwritten Melody:

Does breaking free require breaking the rules?

unwritten-melody_webCassie Gilbert lives every day in the shadows of her deceased mom’s rebellion. But now that she’s seventeen, she finds herself longing to break away from her grandmother’s suffocating rules, experience what it’s like to be a regular teenager, and fulfill her songwriting dreams.

James Russo, former American Spotlight contestant, escapes to small town Willow Creek, SC hoping to flee from his tarnished past. When a school project pairs him with the shy principal’s granddaughter, he’s determined to get to know this Emily-Dickinson-obsessed and typewriter-using girl. His plan? Convince Cassie to co-write songs for his demo album.

As Cassie gets to know James over “project meetings” (more like opportunities to match her lyrics with his melodies), she becomes intrigued by his sense of adventure and contagious passion for music. But soon, his past becomes exposed. Cassie’s left to wonder—did she make the same mistake Mom did by falling for the bad boy?

Then, Grandma’s control pushes her over the edge. Cassie must choose between remaining in the chains of yesterday, or delving into her own freedom by completing the melody her mom left behind.

Buy it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


tessa-emily-hall_headshot1Tessa Emily Hall writes inspirational yet authentic YA fiction to show others they’re not alone—and because she remembers the teen life like it was yesterday (or a few years ago). The debut novel she wrote at 16-years-old, Purple Moon (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas) was a Selah 2014 Finalist. Her second novel, Unwritten Melody, releases with Clean Reads November 2016. She’s the Founder of, a magazine that inspires teens to embrace their calling. She also enjoys helping writers achieve their dreams through her internship at Hartline Literary Agency.

When her fingers aren’t flying 116 WPM across the keyboard, Tessa can be found making healthy homemade lattes, speaking to teens, decorating her insulin pump, and acting in Christian films. She writes in a small town nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and Southeastern coast. Her favorite way to procrastinate is by connecting with readers on her blog, mailing list, social media (@tessaemilyhall), and website.

Connect With Tessa on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.


livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this: When our daughter was young, we sheltered her–in numerous ways. We homeschooled, and I was very careful about who she spent time with and what I allowed her to experience. But I didn’t do this on a whim. I knew this was how God was leading me. Fast forward to her seventh grade year, and suddenly, God turned the tables on me. He told me it was time to release her–to the public school arena. Again, I followed His leading, though I was terrified her innocence would be shattered along with her faith. The opposite happened–her faith and reliance on her Savior grew, and God gave her clear vision into her encounters. In other words, she began to see a clear distinction between good and evil, light and dark, and she was drawn to shine with the love and truth of Christ.

The key then–prayer. Momma’s, make prayer the most important part of your day. Pray for your kids regularly, and pray for yourself–that God would reveal their hearts to you and give you clear wisdom as to how to raise them. Because only He knows what they’ll face and what they’ll need to experience to prepare them for that. (If you and your group would like to hear more, ask me about my Parenting to the Heart talk. I’d love to come share what God has shown me with your Bible study/women’s ministry/moms group. Contact me at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com to find out more.)

Your turn! How have you achieved a balance between shielding and sheltering? Do you believe over-sheltering kids could lead to more harm than good? Share your thoughts in the comments below or over on Living by Grace on Facebook.

Visit Sarah Ruut’s blog (scroll down) to learn where else Tessa will be on her blog tour. 

This morning as I swung through my local grocery to buy food items for Taking it to the Streets, numerous parental thoughts swept through my mind. Of what’s worked, what hasn’t, and how God has multiplied Steve and my efforts, molding our daughter day-by-day.

I’ve got a lot to say, but little time to say it, so I’ll leave you instead with a catchy slogan, hoping you’ll chew on it and that perhaps God will use it to direct and strengthen your family.

A family that serves together stays together.

Tonight we will go as a family–united in purpose and love–to share God’s grace and truth with Omaha’s homeless and working poor. While there, I will get to see my daughter’s faith and character blossom as she sits with “the least of these.” I will get to see my man humble himself to serve others. United, we will get to experience the incomprehensible love of Christ pouring through us.

The drive over gives us a chance to talk about heart issues as we talk about who and what we might encounter. The drive home provides an opportunity to discuss all that God did while we were there.

Our Fridays have become special–priceless. A glue that binds us. It’s also become a training ground for our daughter–an opportunity for her to put her life into perspective, to develop compassion, to be part of positive change. This inward development has spilled over into every other area of her life.

Each week, we give but a few hours of our time, but a small portion of our resources, yet we gain so much in return. As a mom, my greatest blessing is seeing my daughter live out her faith–not just at Taking it to the Streets, but where ever she goes, seeing others through a lens saturated with compassion. (Because you can’t spend time among the broken and leave unchanged.)

So, to those parents out there, here’s my challenge.

Family time is crucial. Our kids need it, crave it. Each interaction is an opportunity to connect with our children’s heart, but it is also a time to mold their heart.

What if, one Friday a month, instead of spending say $50 or $60 going out to eat, you visited a soup kitchen and used that same money to help provide a nutritious meal to a family in need. (It’s not just the alcoholics and druggies who frequent these places. Each Friday, we see young families–mom’s with kiddos, pregnant ladies.)

What kind of memories might that create? What kind of training might that provide?

And for those living in the Omaha, NE area, come join us! We’re there almost every Friday. And bring bananas or a jug of milk. 🙂 Tonight I’ll be doing a monologue of the Samaritan woman–a woman riddled with shame who found love and acceptance in the Savior.

This has been a long week. Okay, a long year, with a lot of uphill climbs and mental and emotional stretching. As I’ve mentioned before, if left on my own, I’d choose the path of least resistance, but God’s called me to a higher standard. And as I look at my experiences over the past year–which quite honestly has been a total brain-saturation learning experience–I began to realize I’m in training. (This past month I think God’s training program hit overdrive!) I have no idea what God’s training me for, but that’s not my concern, is it? My concern is to continue forward in full-surrendered obedience, trusting His wisdom and His plan.

About a week ago, I received one of those “reply all” emails. The thrust of the email said thus: “Everything is falling into place for you, therefore you must be in God’s will.”

That could very well be true, because I firmly believe if God’s in it, God will do it. But in my experience, God normally puts me through a few high-knee drills to get there. Of course, He always leaves it up to me to stay the course or go running for the sidelines. So far, I’m staying the course, and I’m beginning to learn a lot about myself–and God.

Today I’d like you to join me at two places. First, stop by Friendship, Faith, and Frappes to talk about closed and open doors and what they might or might not mean in our faith walk. To expand on this further, on Words That Keep, I talk about what happens when we get stuck in the interim, halfway between where we were when God first called us and where He wants to take us. If you’re looking for your easy-breazy, red carpet, read and pray about these posts. Then, join me at Living by Grace as we talk about perseverance, struggle, commitment, and what it means to set your face as flint when you follow after God. For those of you with sweat dripping down your face, legs burning, as you continue that steep uphill climb wondering why God hasn’t lowered the ski lift … don’t give up yet. Struggle doesn’t mean you’re not in God’s will. In fact, quite likely, it means the opposite!

Join us at Living by Grace as we evaluate our lives like an athlete focused to win.

About a month ago, while prepping me for a root canal, the dental hygienist and I began talking about youth group mission trips. Our family had recently returned from El Salvador (you can read about our trip here) and were anxious to go back. After listening to me share all the things my daughter learned on our trip, things she couldn’t have learned any other way, the woman said, “I’d love for my daughter to go on a mission trip, but…” Then she went on to explain all the reasons she felt her child couldn’t go. Basically, she expanded on fears every parent feels before releasing their child into God’s hands.

While reading 2 Timothy, I reviewed our conversation and thought about my own parenting. Thinking of all the fears I have as a mom, of all the ways I try to shelter our daughter, I had to ask myself a difficult question: Am I teaching fear or faith? Because as I shared a while back in When is Helping Hurting, everything we do as parents forms attitudes and creates habits. We can tout the verses, verses like “offer your body as a living sacrifice…” and “carry your cross daily…” or “but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it…” But if our actions don’t mirror our words–if we create barriers instead of launching pads–they mean little.

In 2 Timothy chapter 1, Paul, Timothy’s spiritual father, demonstrated what it means to train faith, not fear. Writing from a prison cell, with scars, and perhaps even open wounds, marring his body, having been beaten again and again for his faith, he told Timothy to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave him. Not to hide out in fear and self-preservation, but to be bold and courageous, moving forward in the power, love, and self-discipline God provided.

Now take a moment to place yourself in Timothy’s position. You and Paul parted in tears, not knowing if Paul would be brutally murdered, beaten near death, or released. And now, during a time of extreme persecution, Christians are hiding in homes to avoid martyrdom and your leader, the man you’ve come to love as a dear father, sits in a dark, damp prison cell. And what does Paul tell you to do?

“So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.” 2 Timothy 1:8

Timothy, do not be ashamed. Don’t be afraid, but be prepared to suffer with me. Lay it all on the line, even your very life, for the sake of the gospel and the One who defeated death when He died on the cross.

And now I ask you, are you teaching fear or faith?

Join us at Living by Grace where we’re talking about tangible ways we can train faith, not fear, in our children.








The other night we met a woman struggling to hold on to her teenage son. He’s in his senior year, plays varsity football, and has the typical hit-the-floor running, teenage schedule. As we talked, she shared her concerns and feelings of failure. Over the years, life had gotten in the way, and she desperately wanted a do-over.  She had one year left. One year to pour into this young man’s life. One year to share her faith. One year to connect with his heart. But after a decade of touch-and-go conversations, it wasn’t going to be easy. And as I watched her wipe the tears from her eyes, I was reminded afresh how little time Steve and I have before our princess leaves for college. In five years, I won’t be there to remind her to pray, or read her Bible. We won’t be able to sit on the couch sifting through the events of her day together. She’ll be on her own, with only her values to fall back on. The question will be: have those values penetrated her heart deep enough to hold her up when everything else falls apart? When I think of all the habits, attitudes, and ideas necessary for successful living, there is no time for casual parenting.

With that in mind, I’ll train, even when I get an eye-roll. I’ll connect, even when it feels like I’m chasing the wind. I’ll look past the occasional scowl or mumbled retort and keep my eye on the goal.

Some questions to ponder:

Actions are motivated by attitudes. What attitudes would you like your child or grandchild to adopt and how can you facilitate that process?

Everything we do creates habits. Accidental or casual living often creates negative habits. Purposeful living often creates positive habits. The best way to eliminate negative habits is to replace them with positive. What negative habits have you unintentionally formed in your child or grandchild. What positive habits would you like to see them develop and what steps can you take to see that happen?

What are your core values and how can you demonstrate those values to your child? Are you actively teaching your values to your child/grandchild or are you hoping they’ll adopt them via osmosis?