Lighting the Fire vs. Keeping the Rules


Joy, in speech and debate a year ago 

A year ago, I shared this story, but as I prepare to speak at a conference, I realized that mamas need hope and fire in their hearts that their labor is having great effect. And of course read to the end where you will find out how this year has progressed for Joy's first year in college. Not all children will fall away! Take courage and be strong in the Lord! 

“Sally, are you really ready for your baby to leave home?!” quipped one of my dear friends when I was buying one last birthday present.

Yes, it is true that this week, Joy, my youngest of 4, is turning 17. I am savoring each day, as she will be leaving for college this fall.

Several women have questioned Joy, Clay and me at mom’s conferences this spring.

“Joy, aren’t you just going to be 17 when you start? Aren’t your parents fearful that you will lose your faith? You’re just a baby—I can’t believe your mom would be so irresponsible! (No one said this to my face, but Joy did say she was tired of hearing the same quips mentioned to her again and again.)

It is hard to believe that my youngest is now a young adult. But after sending off my other children to New York City, Boston, and Oxford in England, I have a heart confidence that God lives in those places, too, and that He will be faithful to complete the work of maturity in Joy’s life, even in California, that was begun in our home.

Seeing our other children prove faithful to Biblical ideals in difficult arenas, on their own, has helped me to trust our children into God’s hands.

Early, Clay and I understood the power of influencing children by inspiring their hearts, instead of trying to control their behavior  by following all the right rules.

But we had a great model—Jesus.

Jesus’ method of discipleship became our model for parenting. He entrusted the whole world into the hands of his disciples when he went back to heaven. He sent them into the world, even though Peter, the rock, the leader, stumbled and temporarily made some huge mistakes by leaving turning from Christ; Thomas doubted him, and all of his disciples hid. But Jesus knew that their hearts were engaged and that living for the Kingdom, after knowing His love, would move them to a life of great spiritual investment.

“I will make you fishers of men. I will entrust the kingdom into the hands of normal men who are empowered by the Holy Spirit and trust God to go before them to do the work.”

Basically, Jesus empowered normal, mostly uneducated men, to be the message makers who would bring Christianity and the testimony of Christ, to “turn the world upside down,” as we read in Acts.

And so our focus was to inspire our children and light a fire of vision in their own hearts to find God’s work suited to their personalities, and to fulfill His purpose.

Before you judge my decision and Joy by her age, let me tell you a about her. She  finished formal high school by 16, entered  local college last fall, by herself, because I was at my mother’s funeral in another state. She made good grades, kept a job and acted in a play throughout the fall. This spring, she joined speech and debate. Her rank in speech has consistently climbed as she has invested hours in improving her skill and competency.

In the past five years, through babysitting, doing day care at MOPS for 4 years, working in various jobs, she has saved $5000. Joy has a heart for discipleship and is going to start a group this summer to build into some young women who she feels need guidance and Biblical input. This is her 4th summer in a row to host such a group.

Though not perfect, as no one is perfect, she has passed one of the principles of our home—“He who is faithful in small things will be faithful in much.” Joy has proved faithful and has won the trust of our hearts.

Believing in giving our children bigger and bigger arenas of trust and purpose, as they prove faithful in small arenas, one at a time, has helped them grow in maturity and confidence at an early age.

Even more important though, we have placed trust and confidence in Joy and our other children since they were quite young. We thought her trustworthy and spoken these words into her life from the time she was a little girl. Placing small responsibilities in her path, a little at a time; putting her in charge of small tasks and letting her manage them; giving her and her friends areas of our conference to manage —

A leader is built by a perception that they have something to invest, that their message matters. Their self-image is built on believing that they have something important to impart to a world that needs to have their light.

So, what really matters in the long run? Rule keeping or vision making?

Inspiration and love bring life and energy to a child’s dreams of what God has created them to be, and if you believe in who they are becoming, they will also believe in that spiritual  blessing, and seek to live up to it the rest of their lives.


A post script: Joy is finishing her first year at Biola University in California. Her first year has been so very wonderful and we are so grateful. Every time I talk to her, she shares so much of what she is learning about the Bible, about her walk with God and about all of the sweet friends she has made. As a freshman on the speech and debate team, she and her partner took gold in nationals, which was so exciting for them. She will be an RA and counselor on her floor next year which suits her personality so well.

When God prepares your children through you, as you teach them purpose and kingdom work, their hearts will have a focus to live for and a life to aspire to fulfill.

Have there been some ups and downs? Of course, this is a new road in her journey. But she is not surprised by challenges as she experienced them at home before she left and we walked through them with her. She becomes stronger through each battle which is a part of her basic training for life. And of course we talk multiple times each week lots and lots because we are connected to each other's hearts.

And so our focus is their heart, inspiring their imagination of how God created them for good works and helping them to discover how to follow Him as He leads them into living for His glory.  And of course, depending on God to have access to our children's brains when we are away from them, we thank Him for the work He is doing each day and we lift them up to Him daily expecting him to work wonderfully.


Joy and me recently at spring break, shopping as all girls are wont to do! :)