The Twelve Days of Christmas with our Gang

The house is quiet & after a whirlwind two weeks, we are re-grouping after the family has been here from out-of-state.  Did you say your Christmas is only a couple of days of kids over or possibly running from parent to parent?  Well, ours is quite different.  We are blessed to get to have about 7 to 10 days of Christmas and fun—from morning to night.  We have a blast.  We laugh at what is said and done by our littles as well as us tired adults.  We hug & snuggle.  A lot.  We play playdough, games, crafts, and make-believe.  We don’t have much screen time.  And the rest….  What’s the rest, you say?  Well, with four kids under five, here is the lowdown:


·     Twelve cryers crying (yes, this tends to happen -- a lot.  And when it does, four kids crying make us adults start crying too which soon adds up to twelve)

·     Eleven diapers diaping (didn’t know that is a word?  Well it is now.)

·     Ten legs a-leaping (to get over all the little toys & kids)

·     Nine babies dancing (okay, so some of us are big, but we areknown to break out into a  dance party or parade when “Jingle Bells” came on the stereo…. And let’s say Georgie has a lot more groove than his British daddy!)

·     Eight maids a-milking (Okay, we are big supports nursing in our family.  And sorry, my girl mamas, you aren’t maids & there aren’t eight of you! Even with pairs.  TMI?)

·     Seven cousins swimming (lots of baths)

·     Six sneezes spraying (oh, yeah—you can’t have this many days of Christmas without some colds)

·     Five stomach flus (I wish this wasn’t true but yes, several of us got a 24-hour bug)

·     Four stalling beds (who wants to quit the party to go to bed?  I did!!)

·     Three clenched hands (it ishard to share sometimes although they did amazing)

·     Two baby plugs (don’t EVER lose the important paci’s!!  Especially Georgie’s!)

·     And a heart full more than I ever dared dream.


Thank you God for memorable and precious moments with Charlie, Olivia, Georgie, and Caleb.  Oh, and my girls and their men too.  They’re pretty special as well.  

And Papa and this Nana wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

Georgie—Jesus’ Birthday celebration.

Georgie—Jesus’ Birthday celebration.


Charlie, 4, celebrating Jesus birthday.

Charlie, 4, celebrating Jesus birthday.

Rachel, my oldest, with Georgie who is 20 months.

Rachel, my oldest, with Georgie who is 20 months.

Nana with Caleb (7 months) and Olivia (3).

Nana with Caleb (7 months) and Olivia (3).

Yes, we are a Clark Griswald family….

Yes, we are a Clark Griswald family….

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Flexibility is key, girls!  Yes, my house was always a mess… we’d try to pick up some every night but I just had to not worry about it & focus on the people!

Flexibility is key, girls! Yes, my house was always a mess… we’d try to pick up some every night but I just had to not worry about it & focus on the people!

Keep Growing by Avoiding These Seven Leadership Traps

Today I wanted to share this blog by Rick Warren that I think is so important and spot on.  If you have been in ministry awhile, these can definitely sneak up on you.  If you are newer to serving in ministry, get these on your radar and guard against them.  You can find this original blog here. at  

A lot of ministries begin with a bang, then explode with new growth. But after the initial growth, they plateau. I have seen this repeated thousands of times from pastors I’ve talked with over the years.

God doesn’t want ministries to stagnate. Not only does he want them to succeed, but he also wants us to succeed as ministry leaders.

To help us achieve this goal, God has given us examples of errors to avoid — seven common traps of leadership that Satan is most likely to use to keep your ministry from becoming all that God wants it to be.

1. You stop growing personally

Whenever you find yourself resisting a new way of doing something, defending the status quo, or opposing a change that God has told you to make, watch out — you’re about to lose your place of leadership.

What’s the key to overcoming this leadership trap? You must continue developing your skills, your character, your perspective, your vision, your heart for God, and your dependence upon him.

Never stop learning. Read and reread the Bible. Listen to podcasts and sermons. Read books and blogs and magazines. Attend conferences and seminars. Keep feeding yourself!

2. You stop caring

The leader who stops having a passion for ministry won’t last long. This is one of the subtlest traps in ministry — you go through the motions of serving the Lord because you know it’s the right thing to do, but your heart is not in it. That’s no way to serve God.

If you’ve found yourself in this trap, there’s hope. If you want to recover your heart for people, you must do the things you did in the beginning.

Start acting the way you used to act when you were passionate about ministry. Even if you don’t feelpassionate, act passionately.

It’s easier to act your way into a feeling than it is to feel your way into an action. If you act loving, those feelings will come back. So, do the things that originally brought you joy in ministry.

3. You stop listening

Learn to listen and be sensitive to others. Encourage the people you serve in ministry to talk to you. Let them tell you about their problems, their troubles, their fears, their aspirations, their dreams, and their hurts. Be open to suggestions and constructive criticism, and look for other perspectives.

4. You get distracted

Many things can distract you from ministry. Personal or health problems can distract you. Competing interests can distract you. Finances can distract you. Things that you think are fun and good and wonderful can distract you. Satan doesn’t care if you aren’t sinning while distracted, because as long as you’re distracted, you aren’t doing what God wants you to do.

But God wants us to stay focused. Never forget your mission. The Bible says in Luke 9:62, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (KJV).

Stay focused. Don’t get distracted.

5. You get complacent

Complacency is the enemy of a good leader. If God says go for it, stick your neck out! Never stop depending on the Lord. Stop coasting. Take some risks in faith. Push the envelope. Attempt something that cannot be accomplished in the power of the flesh. Say to yourself, “What am I going to try in my ministry this next year that I know is bound to fail unless God bails me out?” Unless God is your only safety net, you’re not truly living by faith. Depend on the Lord.

6. You become arrogant

I’ve seen this again and again. When a leader becomes arrogant, it leads to ruin. When you think that everything depends on you, when you don’t think you need the Lord’s help in your ministry because you’ve got it all together, watch out.

If you sense that you’ve become prideful and arrogant about your leadership, humble yourself. Submit your heart to God for softening, and bow before his greatness.

7. You fail to delegate

When a ministry plateaus, God is telling you that you’ve reached the limit of what he’s empowered you to do by yourself. You need to move from doing to delegating.

Involve other people in your ministry. Move from being a minister to a manager of ministers. Managing is a ministry in itself. D. L. Moody said it like this: “I’d rather put 10 men to work than do the work of 10 men.”

If you avoid these seven traps, you’ll go a long way toward building a ministry that lasts. 

Lana—A Woman for Change in Palestine

In March of this year, I had the opportunity to go to the Holy Land with a girlfriend who is a fellow Pastor's wife, and other incredible world-changing women.  This trip organized by the movement  Amplify Peace and led by the Telos Group was different than most Holy Land trips in that it was one that would be about hearing local people's stories.  Both in Israel and in Palestine.  This trip was one that will ever change my life.  Yes, I saw wonderful Biblical, historical sites but I met and heard from amazing people.  People who are brave and need to have their stories told.  Here is one of several I will share along the way:

When I walked into the conference room at a very nice hotel in Palestine, I was a little surprised to meet our speaker for the day.  This Palestinian woman was a well-dressed business woman, had nice makeup on, and greeted us very professionally shaking our hands. 


Her name was Lana and this is her story.  


Lana was raised in Palestine and, as several in the middle East do, attended a University in the United States for her Engineering degree.  Lana came back to her homeland to help her country to become a better place. 


Her first job was in a refugee camp in Gaza.  Lana learned there that people were people, no matter their economic status or their nationality.  She overcame her stereotypes and learned to see people with individual stories and circumstances.


For 17 years, Lana fulfilled various roles for the United Nations working with the development of her country.  In 1990 and the next few years, the Oslo Accords[1] gave her hope for her country because previously, in 1967, many innocent Palestinian people had lost their homes as well as many rights being limited. 


But as life began to unfold, her country began to lose even more rights and freedoms.[2]  Water was and is still today, limited in Palestine to two hours every two to three weeks.[3] 


Lana said reality soon came and Palestinians got the short end of this agreement which was supposed to be just the beginning.  “Israeli settlements came and are, still, taking over our land.  People need land, water, air (for phone and internet use—Israel just allowed them to get 3G), borders and all of those were taken,”  Lana said.  “I had to face collapse.”


Sadly the Israeli tanks rolled into their streets.  And horrific became a normal way of life. 

Israeli settlements came and started taking over the land--even personally owned land that Palestinian families used for farming.  (My side note—I’ll write about one farm owned by a Christian family we visited who has faced this oppression).


Lana admitted after much discouragement, she began to get apathetic.  “And then it became personal,” she said. 


Lana received a call that her mom had been killed by Israeli military who were shooting randomly outside her parent’s house.  One of the bullets went through the walls and shot her  mother while she was sitting doing stitching.  Her father and brother were hurt as well.  And, according to Lana, her mother was a person of peace, taking flowers to soldiers whenever they were around.  “I can’t even look at that home now,” said Lana, “and it has become personal.”  It is so sad that the military drove up to this nice house and began to spray bullets, Lana said through tears. 


“I found myself at a crossroads.  And I ashamedly admit, I want revenge or at least to contribute to make it stop.”  I am not condoning the thoughts that entered Lana and her brother’s minds, but desperation makes people think unhuman thoughts.  Lana ashamedly admitted, “It actually occurs to you to think about blowing yourself up in Israel to draw attention to the injustice of it.”  But her wise father emphatically urged his children to not lose their humanity.  Instead use tools to help people. 


So Lana moved forward the only peaceable way she knew how—she sued the state of Israel.  “Justice was the only way I knew to help this from happening again.”   Her case stayed in the Israeli courts for over 11 years.  And then it was dropped.  Israel doesn’t allow charges against its military.  Lana claimed she used every resource she had to fight it but they closed the case.  There was no punishment. 


Lana’s is heartbroken that when sadly an Israeli mom from a settlement was killed, articles were written about her and the world heard about it.  “But no one ever mentioned or wrote about my mom,” Lana said sadly.


So Lana even quit the United Nations to find better ways to put her time and energy.  Today Lana invests her time into the youth of Palestine starting a local council of the Aspen Institute which teaches youth of 15 to 22 years of age about government, which 50% of Palestinians are under 25. 


Lana is an United States citizen and International citizen.  She could live anywhere in the world.  So why does she stay in Palestine?  “I want my three daughters to have a good life,” states Lana.  “And if I don’t stay, and my daughters don’t come back (from college and jobs), what hope do we have?”   









Lana shares her story.

Lana shares her story.

3 Surprising Reasons to Initiate Sex With Your Man

Today I have re-posted from the blog of a favorite author of mine, Shaunti Feldhahn.  Tim and I made her aquaintance several years ago when we had her speak at Parkview.  Marriages, even Christian marriages, are in desperate need of help today.  So today I wanted to share this important blog from Shaunti:  

By Shaunti Feldhahn 

Although this article is for women, I’m sure some astonished men are looking in, and asking, “What do you mean why you should initiate sex?!” To guys, the answer is completely obvious! It reminds me of that line from the movie City Slickers when Billy Crystal’s character tells his friend, “Women need a reason to have sex. Men just need a place.”

So ladies – why?

Well, the most “obvious” reason is the one guys are thinking of: pleasure. And women think of that too, of course! But I’ve been researching men and women with thousands of surveys for years now, and it is clear that, statistically, although that reason is front and center for most men, it is often not front-of-mind for the busy, tired, distracted wife and mom. In our research about women for For Men Onlyin fact, we found that the vast majority of women simply aren’t thinking about sex (and thus the pleasure of sex) all the time, the way most men are.  So sex just doesn’t happen as much as it might otherwise.

Which is quite a shame when you think about it!

So ladies, here are three other reasons to get you going:

1. The more you have sex, the more you’ll be thinking about having sex. 

It’s all about testosterone. We women have testosterone, too, just not as much as men. And neurologists and other research scientists have found that if you get out of the habit of having sex, your testosterone levels drop and you want it less.  But if you have sex at least once a week, your testosterone levels rise and you actually want it more.  Although there are certainly exceptions, men’s higher T-levels are why they tend to be thinking about and wanting sex more than their wives.

If you have sex at least 1x/week, your testosterone levels rise and you actually want it more. 

So if you’re the one with the lower desire, you can improve your libido simply by having sex once a week or more.

Try it! You’ll like it!

2. When you initiate sex, it deeply comforts and affirms your husband. 

When you initiate sex, it deeply comforts and affirms your husband. 

We women have no clue how much self-doubt men carry around all day.  Am I any good at what I do?  Does my wife think I’m a good husband?  Is my colleague going to figure out that I’m making this up as I go along?  Do I measure up as a man?  As a dad?   Men are far more emotionally vulnerable than we realize.

And I was stunned, when I studied men for For Women Only and my other books, to discover that a man’s most emotionally vulnerable time is when he approaches his wife for intimacy.  A man feels like he is shakily extending out his unprotected heart, not knowing whether she will tenderly embrace it or smack it down.  Certainly, there are also women who feel vulnerable when they are the ones with the higher libido than their husband. (Here’s an article if you’re one of those women. )But for the majority of couples, it is the other way around. So when you respond well to your husband’s vulnerable heart, it is deeply comforting. (“She thinks I do measure up.”) 

A man’s most emotionally vulnerable time is when he approaches his wife for intimacy. 

But now go one step further: if you are the one who reaches out now and then, he is not only comforted… he is flying. As one man told me – laughing, but completely in earnest – “The thought is, ‘Not only does she think I measure up – she thinks I’m a stud!’ You have no idea how much that affirms a guy. I may feel like a total imposter in life, but if my wife wants me I can handle anything.”

3. An affirmed husband is a loving husband.  

An affirmed husband is a loving husband. 

I know we women don’t want to only focus on “what’s in it for me”… but let’s get real about this: what’s in it for us is pretty amazing.  When your husband feels desired sexually, he feels like you’re saying he is a good husband, a good dad, a good man.  Every day, your man sees so clearly all the ways he doesn’t measure up to what you need – and yet by affirming him sexually you are saying he’s a good man, anyway. He feels like you are saying, sure, he will make mistakes at times, but you’re on his side no matter what.

And as a result, he is so grateful for you. A man who is secure that you love and appreciate him will run through fire for you. He will be softer. More loving. More caring.  Because he is more secure.  And seriously: who doesn’t want a more loving, caring, attentive husband?

Now, sadly, there are always exceptions to this. There are going to be marriages where it doesn’t work out that way. But statistically, those are truly exceptions. In most cases, a husband who knows his wife wants him, wants most of all to be the man she will always need.

Helping people thrive in life and relationships is Shaunti Feldhahn’s driving passion, supported by her research projects and writing. After starting out with a Harvard graduate degree and experience on Wall Street, her life took an unexpected shift into relationship research. She now is a popular speaker around the world and the author of best-selling books about men, women, and relationships. (Including For Women OnlyFor Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).

Her newest book, The Kindness Challenge, demonstrates that kindness is the answer to almost every life problem, and is sparking a much-needed movement of kindness across the country. Visit for more.

This article was first published at Patheos.

How to Help Your Children Love the Church, When You or Your Spouse Work There

One fear of those familiar with church work is this very topic:  that their children will grow up resenting the church and God, instead of loving them.  This topic is heavy on a lot of pastor’s wife’s, staff members, and church planter’s hearts because we want our children to love the Lord as much as we do!  And sadly, many pastor’s children grow up resenting the church and God instead.  It is such a common occurrence that while speaking at a church planter’s retreat recently, my husband and I were approached by some church planters who were worried they would have to sacrifice their kid’s faith because they serve the church.  Not so!  Being in ministry does not mean your children won’t grow up to love Jesus.


I am thankful--all three of our adult daughters love Jesus and His church.  They all grew up with their dad being the Senior Pastor and their mom (me) serving as the Director of the Worship Department.  They all would readily tell you today they love Jesus and His church.  I definitely don’t think we have all the answers.  Every situation and ministry, as well as child, is unique, but I’d like to share our experience and pray it will give you insight and wisdom as you raise your own children. 


Just a little background information about my husband and myself:  we both grew up in ministry homes.  My husband’s dad was a pastor and my father was an evangelist (for you younger gals—that is someone who held revivals and meetings in churches across the country—and if you don’t know what a revival is—look it up!).  In their national evangelistic work, my parents felt this very strongly and often said, “Wouldn’t it be sad if we won the rest of the world to Christ, but our own kids didn’t know and love Christ?”  So, this phrase was ingrained in the back of my mind and heart as well.


For all of us, we need to keep in mind that our kids are their own people and we can’t force them to make decisions.  They have free will.  But there are hopefully some things we can do to help them not to resent you serving God.  The ideas I am sharing with you are not original--some of the wisdom, guidance, and insight we have gained from our own upbringings, serving in youth ministry, reading many books on parenting, and, most importantly, praying for lots of wisdom.


One of the most important things your kids need to know is that they are more important to you than the church – not God –but the church.  There is a difference between the church and God.  You want your children to know that God is the most important thing to you, but they need to know that THEY are more important to you than the church where you serve.  They are more important to you than all the other people who constantly need you in one way or another.  We had to really fight and work at this priority of making our kids feel more important than the hundreds of other people in the church.  I am not talking for small things but if our children had a need or a special event, we were there.  Otherwise they can’t compete and feel inferior to the 200, 1000, or 6,000 other people you serve.


Making sure your kids know that they don’t have to compete with all those other people is important.  How do you do that?


Younger kids need to have a majority of at least one of the parents for the evenings.  It gives them security.  Dinner time and bedtime are great opportunities to listen, to really know, and to influence your children.  Having a baby sitter occasionally is fine for you and your spouse to go on a date.   But try to make dinner time and bedtime a priority most the time.   We found sometimes it was possible to push a meeting until after their bedtime so brainstorm some ideas for your ministry home.  In the Harlow home, it was very rare if Tim or I missed dinner with the family, and one of us was usually home at bedtime. When it was busier times, we tried to stagger meetings so that both of our events didn’t fall on the same night.  Your presence and your actions tell your children they are as important as those hundreds of people at church. 


As your children grow older and are active in more activities and sports, they still want and need your attention and presence.  Often people think just because their child can do most things for themselves, they tend to neglect this important need.  High schoolers need your presence for emotional support.  It is huge.  I tried to be home when my kids got home from school just to be there, listen to them, and find out about their life.  I was part-time and it was very important to me to arrange my schedule so that I was home when they got home from school.  I remember Lauren and her boyfriend would come in after school and snack at our house.  It was a time they would chat and tell me things that went on.  It was quite fun, and I loved it!  Oh, and I know that son-in-law better today because of that!  (They also marry someone they date… that is another talk as well!).  School and this world is a tough place, and they need to know they aren’t alone—whether they think they need your or not. 


Being present for them and their major activities will take some creativity, flexibility, and organization (I call this being the CFO of your family but that is another talk!).  I would spend a couple of hours each August, putting all their concerts, open houses, events, and games on to both Tim and I’s calendars.  You can find them on the school websites.  Putting these important events into your calendar before your calendars get filled up is key to being successful at prioritizing.  Franklin Covey calls this putting your big rocks into your life first.


When our girls were in High School, our church had Saturday night and Sunday morning services.  Their high school had dances on Saturday nights which was always preceded by group pictures, which were a big deal, and were taken at one of the kids’ houses. The girls all will tell you their dad never missed the group pictures.  I would have scheduled myself off the worship leading calendar and Tim, after preaching, would have another staff member lead communion or close the service for him at that time. But he would always get there for part of picture taking party. This gave our girls the strong message they were important to us.  It also set a good example for the other staff to make their family a priority as well.


Lauren, our middle daughter, remembers a time when we all were attending one Becca’s band concerts.  Tim had an elder’s meeting the same night but he moved it around so he wouldn’t miss Becca’s part of the concert.  Lauren remembers thinking “Wow, Becca didn’t even have any solos. And it wasn’t like it was a very good concert - just a junior high band in a gym!”  Again, actions speak louder to your children than words.


It’s important to remember that you are always going to disappoint someone when you are making decisions.  Pay attention to how often it is your kids.


As grown-ups, our girls have told us they don’t have memories of disappointments of anything that we didn’t get to do as a family.  For example, we didn’t go to the Wisconsin Dells for a weekend or anything for a weekend.  None of that affected their childhood.  It may be hard to wrestle through what you want to give your kids financially, but what really matters is the relationally rich time you spent with them.  Think back on your own life:  you aren’t a Christian because you got to play on the traveling baseball team or got to do this or that.  Your life was shaped because you got to be with people you cared about that demonstrated the love of Jesus and taught you about Him.  Spend your energy on creating relationally rich experiences with your children. 


Take advantage of your flexible times and seasons.  We may not have done a lot as a family on weekends but during the week, we had the flexibility to get off to go to their unusual events or be involved with their school.  Any time the girls had what was called an “early release day” (dismissed at around 11 AM), Tim would take turns taking them out for a one-on-one lunch.  Each girl got a turn and got to pick the restaurant.  Get creative! 


I would try to get involved to help with a class party or field trip at least once a year.  No, I wasn’t a super parent but I did what I could.  And I always made sure I met their teachers so I knew who they were spending their days with. 



Other ways you can get creative are:  family movie nights eating pizza, macaroni and cheese night, breakfast for dinner, anything silly that can feel like a family tradition!  Our girls have always loved the nights at Christmastime that we would go downtown in Chicago to eat, see all the lights, and view the windows at Marshall Fields!  And if you get some perks of tickets to professional games or a gift certificate to a restaurant, make sure your children know who it is from and why they wanted to bless your family.


Sunday afternoon at our house was friend day.  They could invite one of their Christian friends to come home with them after church.  It gave us the opportunity for us to have a break while the kids played. We took a 30-minute power rest (the girls learned to cooperate and we had a basement) and then were ready to go.  This helps your kids strengthen their friendships with the other children from church.


Let your kids in on your relationship with God, that working at the church is not just your job.  It takes intentionality.  Reading Jesus Calling for Kids together in the morning is one great way.  Praying together.  You have a relationship with Jesus so whenever the opportunity arises, make sure you talk to your kids about it!  Your life should model a love for Jesus, otherwise your children will see the hypocrisy in your life.  Guard your own heart and keep it in tune with God’s.


One thing I wish we had done was to have a white board in the house for prayer requests.  Sometimes we would stand and hold hands and pray together as a family before school.  It would be really cool to have a private prayer board where the family could write down their requests.  Oh, and in case you are thinking we are super holy and have our act so together, many times we would be yelling the prayer at them as they ran out the door to catch the bus!  Just keeping it real.


Lauren, our middle daughter, shared this bit of advice: 

Let your church be THEIR church.  To this day, Parkview is my church and not just my parent’s church.  I got to invest a lot.  Being there was not a punishment.  We had a secret spot where we kept our toothbrushes and our hair stuff and a secret spot in the kitchen where we kept our Cocoa Pebbles cereal.  This felt like our space and eventually translated into our church and our roles.  Figure out how to get your kids volunteering.  I started helping with youth group by leading worship.  I also started helping in Kids Ministry.  I was sad when I went to college and had to let go of those roles.  It was my church, too.  So, make sure you allow your kids to be a part of the journey.  Pray about how to help them feel that way if they don’t.


The parent’s attitude about how they feel about going to church really shapes your children’s view of the church.  We, as parents, project and teach a lot by our attitudes.  We need to watch how we talk about things at church in front of our children.  We do not need them to think everything is easy in the Christian life but we do want them to love Jesus, His church, and serving Him.  I remember when we would set up for Vacation Bible School or an Easter service with special props, requiring extra time and work, and whenever we could, we would involve the girls.  We would express to them the excitement about how more people might meet Jesus because of it!  Having “insider information” made our girls feel special and get excited as well.


Protect your kids from being totally naïve and think church is just a bed of roses. Lauren remembers me saying “working at a church is not easy.”  If a family they knew or were close to would leave the church, it would be disappointing to all of us so we talked about it gently as a family.  Weigh what you say and how you communicate the negative experiences.  It’s important for them to know church isn’t a perfect place to work.  This won’t deter them from wanting to be a part of it because it is still Jesus’ church.  Ask my girls.



Note:  Transcribed, kind of, from our March 21 podcast. 


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How’s the Care Going for Your Marriage?

I had the privilege of interviewing the “American Sniper’s” wife, Taya Kyle, for Mother’s Day last year at Parkview.  Taya shared a great illustration that has stuck with me for encouraging people to take care of their marriages because it was such a great analogy.

Taya correlated that if we had only one pair of shoes for our entire lives, how we would take such great and special care of them.   Yet many of us do the opposite:  we tend take our spouse for granted, often talk to them in ugly or belittling tones, and expect them to put up the worst sides of our self.  We talk to them like we’d never talk to our coworkers or friends.  Wow, would we want to live with ourselves? 

Somewhere along the way, did you quit enjoying being together, having fun together, and laughing together?  We need to learn to give our marriages the special attention, care, and treatment they need to make our marriages not only last a lifetime but to thrive. 

So, how do we do that?  After 33 years of marriage, here are a few tips I have either learned from someone else, learned the hard way, or from a counselor.  Every marriage is different because the people are unique as well as the circumstances, so use what you can and throw out the rest. :D

1.     Remember, you can’t change other people!  Even your spouse.  They can only change themselves and it must come from a desire within.  You CAN change yourself, how you request things, and how you treat others.  And if you do, you catch more flies with honey.  Just saying.   

2.     Never stop dating.  Many of you have heard me say this before because I drilled it into my daughters’ heads.   But you need this time to keep enjoying each other and to stay connected.  Life has a way of making us drift apart even though we are living in the same house.

3.     Assume good intent.  Okay, I wasn’t good at this one.  I had to learn this.  Women and men are so different and what my husband would sometimes doing naturally, I would misread as him trying to make me mad or get to me.  It took me awhile to relearn the thoughts that would battle in my mind.  I have since asked for clarification “Are you mad at me for something?” (remember, ask this with a nice un-accusatory tone).  Often it is a no.  Sometimes when we are upset about something else, we unintentionally take it out on our spouse.  I once was so upset about a book I was reading, it was being demonstrated through my actions and attitude to Tim!  Thankfully, once I figured that out, I got rid the book without even finishing it.

4.     Get to Christian counseling.  I can’t say this enough.  It often takes a third party to help you both see and understand each other’s viewpoints, help you find a solution, and help you move forward as a couple.  We have had to go to several different counselors at different times to get the true help we needed.  But thank you, God, we did!  Also, many of us either have learned some bad habits or distructive communication techniques or even have suffered from sexual abuse, so it is imperative we learn how to change.  

5.     Have “no phone/internet” times.  Honestly, this is so difficult because of social media, our phones are how we connect with our grandkids, play our music, and even watch shows.  But if you and your spouse are sitting outside or together and most the time you both are on your phones or laptops, you need to discuss what can be done about it.  As a white elephant gift at Christmas, I opened a “mobile phone jail” which as I thought about was a GREAT idea!  I believe if they aren’t in front of us, we are forced to think about things to talk about and have interaction.  Tim and I have discussed other things we could do together besides just watching shows.  We love it but there isn’t a whole lot of interaction.

6.     Use kind requesting tones instead of accusatory tones.  “Hey, babe, would you please help me out by hanging up your bath towel after your showers?  It would be a huge help because then it wouldn’t get as mildewed and stinky, giving me more laundry sooner. I’d really appreciate it.”  Then if they do, be sure to say, “thank you” – this is often perceived by men not only as appreciation but as a sign of respect to them.   And nagging does nothing to help your marriage:  Proverbs 21:19 says “Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and nagging wife.”

7.     Focus on your spouse’s strengths, not weaknesses!  It is so easy to get into a negative critical mindset if we allow our minds to stay there.  It is amazing how your attitude can change if you stop and think of what they have done lately, what they might be going through at work or away from you.  Then focus on the good things about your man.

Philippians 4:8“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  (NIV)

8.     To go along with the prior suggestion, praise your mate regularly and even in front of other people.  Les and Leslie Parrott tell us, “Couples who praise each other regularly are happier, more secure, and more unified in their relationship. They feed the positive energy in their marriages. But couples who don’t spend the time or energy on praise aren’t as happy, and their marriages are less likely to succeed.”  I learned the following practice from my sister-in-law several years ago.  We use dry erase markers and put a document under the 5x7 frame.  The document says, “I love you because…”  Each of us takes turns writing various aspects, characteristics, or activities we notice in the other person that we love or is appreciated.  Or just use a cute chalkboard but put it where you both will see it regularly.  It is here for you to download for free.

9.     No matter what, show your man respect. Instead of telling you how this can make or break your marriage, listen to my podcast with my daughter Lauren as we discuss this here.  But God definitely knew the best marital advice for wives is to respect their husbands and for husbands to love their wives in Ephesians 5:33.  

Marriage takes a lot of work. I know the movies make it seem like it will be like a fairy tale and if your marriage takes work, then you must be married to the wrong person.  Not so.  If that were the case, Tim and I would no longer be married. 

But God had a plan and we’ve allowed Him to work in our marriage, making it Godlier.  Thank heavens He did!  We are more in love and having more fun in our marriage than ever before.  What a blessing to have all that history to share as well as our children and precious grandchildren.  So hang in there!

Praying for Your Marriages,

Determined Denise


Easter:  Heart Preparation for You & Your Family

I have precious memories of Easter morning growing up.  We decorated Easter eggs on Saturday, wore new Easter clothes (usually made by my mom), and received an Easter basket with some candy in it.  We also attended a sunrise Easter service in town, although as staff and as a Pastor's family, I am so grateful we don't do that!  My parents never did the Easter bunny because they really wanted all the focus to be on Jesus for this holiday but they did have an Easter basket for us.  I’ll never forget the Easter I received a new Bible with my name on the front.  It is a very special memory to me.

Tim and I decided to do the same.  Our girls did receive small gifts and candy in their Easter basket but they weren’t huge and we had the baskets sitting out on the counter Easter morning.  Before we left for church, which was usually 1 ½ to 2 hours before the first church service started, the girls would “open” their Easter baskets.  It was a lot of fun.  Tips for you women who work at church:  have everything laid out the night before.  Every shoe, Bible, sock, hair bow, etc. –this really helps.  You need to do everything you can to make this morning smooth because you KNOW Satan will have his arrows out and pointed at you and your family!

four Harlow girls.jpg

After church, we’d have an outside egg hunt (even if it meant wearing our winter coats some years), usually going to our friends’ house, eating, laughing, and celebrating this day together. Tip #2 moms:  if you fill your plastic eggs with candy, don’t wait until the night before to do this—this can add to your stress as well as add sugar headaches… as you and your spouse just might tend to OD on this candy!  Just saying. 

I don’t judge or condemn anyone who uses the Easter bunny in their home, but I personally was feeling like Jesus was getting lost at Eastertime so we didn’t have him come to our house or get photos with him.  (FYI, Santa did come to our house if you are wondering.)  

Enough about what I didn’t do, here are some things we did do to celebrate Easter and I invite you to borrow, copy, or edit in any way that works for your family:

Earlier during the month, I would decorate one area of our family room with a beautiful book, a silver goblet, a fake loaf of bread, a piece of purple material, and a crown of thorns.  I received this idea from my friend, Beth Stone, who raised three amazing children to know and love Jesus as well.  This area is a visible and beautiful reminder of the last supper and the night Jesus was betrayed. 

Another way we celebrated Easter was talking about what a special celebration it was at home and at church.  They were always included in the special things that were being planned for our own church family (their mom was the worship director and their dad was the preacher, remember!). 

I also made sure they had new clothes to wear for this special celebration.  It was (and is) a big deal—it’s the day we celebrate the resurrection of our Savior Jesus!  Our girls knew this day was as important as going to a wedding.  And I have always loved seeing little children so dressed up on Easter.  From the little dresses and bow ties, to tights and gloves to suspenders and new shiny shoes:  it all just warms my heart.  I am sure Jesus gets a kick out of this as well!  Oh, and by the way, these could even be used gently used but “new-to-our-girls" clothes, but that was rare because of a certain grandma! JThanks, Faye!

I also used the Resurrection eggs,  opening one every day the 12 days before Easter.  Each egg contains a little item that represents part of the Easter story.  I highly recommend these for every family.  It is a great activity/devotional to use at dinner time each evening or before bed. 

I also had some videos that were about the real meaning of Easter, Jesus’ resurrection.  We had a Bible video series (okay, ours was on VHS) that included “He is Risen.”  They were made by Richard Rich, a former producer and director for Disney, so you know they are well done.  You grandmothers, this would be a great gift for your grandchildren!  You can find these videos and more here:  Animated Bible Stories.   The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe  is a great movie to watch with a little bit older children because it gives a powerful illustration of what happened on Easter.  Do you know of other good movies for kids?

When my girls were older, we went to the movie the “Passion of the Christ.”  I recommend this to be a traditional movie for high school and older to watch every year …just know it is too graphic for smaller children.  It definitely keeps our hearts remembering all that Jesus did for us.

When our girls were elementary age, a couple of times we would attend a passion play during the week before Easter.  Our church hasn’t ever done this presentation but some churches still might so check your area.

What about you and your spiritual health, ladies?  How are you preparing your hearts for Easter?  Many of you lead churches and ministries so Easter is a busy time of preparation for you.  I want to recommend a book by Liz Curtis Higgs called “The Women of Easter.”   Here is an excerpt:


Mary, when asked in John 20:13, “why are you crying?” responds “They have taken my Lord away, “she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

Her answer was swift, though it must have pained her to confess the reason for her tears—“because they’ve taken away my Lord” (HCSB). Who were “they,” Mary?  Soldiers, grave robbers, priests?  She was too heartbroken to explain further, undone by the sad reality—“I do not know where they’ve laid Him” (NASB).

When we’re in pain, we often reveal the deepest truths.  That’s what Mary did when she said, “They have taken away my Lord’s body!” (CEV).  My Lord.  So intimate, in the best sense.  Jesus was not only her Savior.  He was also her friend.

Lord, help us think of You as Mary did—as our dearest companion, our truest friend.

That’s why Mary Magdalene remained at the tomb.  Not out of duty, but out of love.  The same love that kept Mary of Bethany at His feet.  The same love that kept Mary of Nazareth at the cross.  The same love that stirs our hearts and for the same reason—“We love because he first love us.”[1]


Sisters, we are free to love because of what our beautiful Savior Jesus did for us!  So, prepare your own hearts this Easter and celebrate our risen Jesus.

Because of my Risen Savior Jesus,

Forgiven & Grateful Denise

P.S.  Don’t forget to share this or any of my blogs OR podcasts right now, and receive a free beautiful Easter gift from Womentum via Lindsay Letters and be sure to tag me in order to get the code!  But HURRY:  the coupon code expires right after Easter! 


[1] Higgs, Liz Curtis.  The Women of Easter. (Colorado Springs, Colorado: WaterBrook, 2017), 180-181. 

Christmas Encouragement for You Gals

Oh, sweet busy women,

How I love you, and how my heart desires peace for you today and this week.  I know some of you are fatigued beyond measure just trying to have the perfect Christmas.  How do I know?  I have been there.  And I work so hard to not go there anymore.


Some of you probably won’t even read this until after Christmas!  That’s okay.  But I just want to give you permission to make some tough decisions: 

·      to NOT make that extra traditional dessert you usually have on Christmas eve,

·      to use gift bags instead of wrapping everything,

·      to go buy frozen rolls like I do (they are amazing—read here),

·      to skip a tradition that is making life too difficult for you,

·      to snuggle with your husband instead of running that last errand (you both need it to stay connected), and

·      enjoy moments. 


Don’t get caught up in if something goes wrong or isn’t perfect, then Christmas was a failure.  No!  Kick that “all-or-nothing” mentality.  Keep control of your mind and thoughts and keep saying this phrase to yourself, “Oh, well. It’s still okay.” 

Keep your eyes on Jesus instead. 


I want to share this excerpt from my friend Liz Curtis Higgs book The Women of Christmas to help you re-focus your hearts on what is important:

Luke 2:19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in heart.

Mary focused on caring for her baby while she stored all she’d seen and done “like a secret treasure in her heart” (NIV).  Some women like to talk their way through experiences; others prefer the Mary approach: “weighing and pondering” (AMP), “mulling them over” (CJB), and “trying to understand them” (ERV).

Sometimes the Lord does such a profound work in us and through us that sharing it with others would sound like bragging.  Even if we say, “Look what God has done,” others may perceive it as “Look what I’ve done” or “Look how special I am!”

God, as always know best.  The shepherds were noisy, yet the mother of Jesus was quiet.  Others would take his story far and wide, encircling the earth with his truth.  Mary was called to be his mother—no more and no less.  To nurture him, to feed and clothe him, to teach him all she knew of his heavenly Father. 

As to these things she had treasured up, “holding them dear, deep within herself” (MSG), Gabriel had given her quite a list of attributes for this child, starting with “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”  Whenever she held her baby boy, those angelic words surely ran through her mind.  He didn’t look like a monarch, but one day he would be called “Lord of lords and King of kings.”  He didn’t have the strength to hold up his head, let alone stand on his feet, yet he is the One “who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” 

Just as Mary “committed these things to memory” (CEB), we can do the same—not only at Christmastime, but all through the year—thinking about who Jesus is and why he came to earth as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. 

He came for those he loves. 

He came for you.[1]

“This very day in David’s town your Savior was born.”

Yes, he was.  Your Savior and mine.  All because one woman said yes to God.[2]


Here is my link to Christmas helps and shortcuts:

Have a very blessed and merry birthday celebration of Jesus, our Savior,

Devoted to Jesus & Determined Denise


[1] Higgs, Liz Curtis, The Women of Christmas, (WaterBrook Press, Colorado Springs, CO, 2013), p. 136-7.

[2] Ibid, p. 138.

Attitude of Gratitude? Hmmm...Maybe not?

Confession time: I am a girl who looks at the glass half-empty.  Yes, I know that sounds negative & not too spiritual but its true.  It is what has made me good at my previous ministry/job:  figure out what could go wrong & then take all the measures within my power for those things not to happen.   And, well, I was good at it.  Probably too good due to that "glass half full" thing!  But I have always reasoned if our part of the service (music, tech, details) didn’t distract the congregation sitting there, then it prepared the way for God to use His Spirit and His power for the services/programs/event--making them the best they can be to work in people’s lives.  And I believe that.


But, this “gift” can be a hindrance in life.  It’s the “perfectionist” gift:  your house is never clean enough, you are never doing enough for God, there is never enough time to get something done -- so why start it, etc.  Can any of you relate?


So, one day a couple of years ago, I saw one of the books I had purchased, One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, and hadn’t read yet (yes, one of many), and since it was about being thankful, I decided to figure out how many days there were till Thanksgiving Day.  “Wouldn’t it be cool to have come up with 1000 gifts to thank God for by Thanksgiving?”  Well, incredibly, it turned out that if I recorded 10 a day (add a few here & there) that I actually could record 1000 gifts by Thanksgiving! That was definitely do-able.  And wouldn’t I be proud of myself??!!!   So, after flipping through the pages, I discovered that there was an App to make this even easier.  Yes!!  I always had my phone nearby!  AND I could record via photos too.  How fun!


So, as I began this journey, it started with the normal stuff:  house, food, family, friends, etc.  Hmmm, but I was already running out of things!!  Oh no!  Then I picked up the devotional (to get more ideas &, yes, I admit, to copy Ann).  I was truly challenged.  I learned that if I would just live in the moment, how many beautiful and precious gifts God had given me.  The possibilities were endless… the peaceful pond, the crackle of a bonfire, the sunshine and the shadows it makes, for laughter, for the smile of a stranger, for the faith my parents modeled for me, crisp cool autumn mornings, for steam rising from the water and fields,…   So I began a transformation.  It took some deep thinking on my part at first, and definitely more paying attention, but what I discovered was God had blessed me more abundantly than I had ever acknowledged.  And I was being transformed.


I have learned to thank God for things in the past…and what I’ve learned from those difficult times or how I have been blessed long-term from them; for things that are irritating…and what blessing could be hidden behind them; for jobs and activities that aren’t the most fun…and who or what benefit they give me or my family member; for things that stimulate one of my 5 senses…and how great they are and how I have taken them for granted; and for meaningful moments… of laughter, sharing, tears, and just noticing.  Really noticing.  And living in the moment.  And you know what?  God is changing this glass half-empty girl and her attitude.  I look around me and am constantly looking for things that I am grateful for.  I know I will always be me with my detail fixing, but I want the Holy Spirit to continue to work on me and mold me.  So, that leads to #192:  That God is still working in my heart and life:  “He who began a good work in you (me, Denise) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6.

Podcast Launched!

I am very excited to share with you all today my podcast has been launched!  "Womentum" is a ministry & podcast created to encourage women who follow Jesus and lead--whether serving on a church staff, being married to a Pastor, or leading a ministry team or organization.  

Tommy & Lauren

I am also excited about doing this Podcast because I am doing it with my middle daughter, Lauren Harlow Carreras!  Lauren is married to Tommy Carreras, her high school sweetheart, and has one baby girl, Olivia--my only granddaughter as of the time of this writing!  And she is a doll!

Olivia & Nana

Olivia & Nana

Oh yeah, back to Lauren...  Lauren and Tommy both serve on staff at Mission Church in Ventura, CA.  Tommy is the Adult Ministry Pastor and Lauren is the Children's Ministry Director.  Since we live far apart, we record our blog from Ventura, CA and Chicago-land!  It is a lot of fun.  We have gotten the giggles a few times already!

Why a podcast, you people over 35 are asking?  It is because the younger generations love them and listen to them a lot. So Lauren said to me about a year ago after I began my blog, "Mom, you should do a podcast!"  And the rest is history!

If you are one of those I mentioned previously, here is a great article to explain how to subscribe on iTunes.  


A podcast is a free downloadable audio show that enables you to learn while you’re on the go.  To subscribe to my podcast for free, you’ll need an app to listen to the show from.

For iPhone/iPad/iPod listeners – Grab your phone or device and go to the iTunes store and search “Denise Harlow” or “Womentum.”  This will help you to download the free Podcasts App (produced by Apple) and then subscribe to the show from within that app.  Every time I produce a new episode, you’ll get it downloaded right on your iDevice.

For Android listeners – Download the Stitcher Radio app (free) and search for “Denise Harlow.”  Or, if you have already downloaded a podcasting client, follow the directions in the next sentence.

For podcast enthusiasts – If you already listen to podcasts and have a podcatcher that you prefer, the feed you’ll need to add is

For those who don’t have a mobile device – You can always listen to the show by clicking the audio file at the top of my podcast page or subscribe to my website.  You can see them here:

"Womentum" podcasts are now available on iTunes and Google Play Music!  

On iTunes, search Denise Harlow or look on "Religion and Spirituality" category.  Please subscribe & review! From the reviews on iTunes from Oct. 7 - 14, I will draw two winners to receive the new bestselling book "Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living" by Shauna Niequist.  This will help make my podcast more visible.

I pray that God can use this podcast for His glory.  And that you will receive encouragement and gain momentum to keep serving Jesus!

Here's to your Jesus-serving Momentum,

Encouraging Denise