Blended Families: What to Do BEFORE Marriage

blended families

Blended families: Ups and downs, joys and messes. If you’re in a blended family, then you know what it takes to bring together two families. It’s hard work, isn’t it?

But if you’re considering remarriage after divorce or the death of a spouse: What should you do before you marry again?

Two words: premarital counseling.

Already blended. . .and struggling? Counseling works for you too. Don’t despair. Be encouraged. At the end of this article you’ll find helps just for you.

Did you know your family is among the 40 percent of married couples with children in the US that are blended? This percentage counts full- and part-time residential step families with children under age 18 as well as adult children.

In this article, you’ll discover four main things regarding blended families:

  1. Take it slow!
  2. How premarital counseling works before remarriage.
  3. Helping the children.
  4. Encouragement for blended families.

Slow Down. . .When You Want to Speed Up 

After years of parenting alone, it’s tempting to “follow your heart,” as today’s popular mantra advises, and marry quickly. As Ron Deal of Family Life Blended says, “You cook a stepfamily slowly in a Crockpot, not forcibly in a blender! Kids need more time than adults to get used to the idea of a wedding.”

For example, consider a couple I counseled who married within months of meeting each other. Fiona and Eli (names and details have been changed) were previously married and have five school-age children. (Two of the children also live their mom during the week.)

The couple disagreed over parenting, handling money, and dealing with the ex-spouses, among other things. Both of them are Christians and declared their love for each other. However, life’s struggles created significant stress. Fiona became controlling; Eli backed away. Sometimes he moved in with buddies for a few days for a break.

Meanwhile, the children were confused and acted out.

As one spouse said, “I just want to live and make life fun. It seems that everything is a task. I’m just drained.”

Do these words resonate with you?

Did you go through pre-marital or pre-engagement counseling before you remarried? What difference has it made? If you didn’t have pre-marital counseling before remarriage, do you wish you had?

Pre-Marital Counseling Before Remarriage

First, during premarital counseling, you’ll think through the compexities of combining families and determine if the marriage is wise.

Second, you’ll discuss topics that may have factored in to a previous divorce — everything from communication and conflict resolution to parenting styles and personality differences. You won’t address every potential problem in premarital counseling but you will see the glaring ones.

Third, you’ll consider reasonable expectations between the children and the new spouse. Did you know that children cling to the hope that their parents will get back together? I did when my parents divorced when I was age eight. But when you remarry, your childrens’ dream dies. This is a loss for them.

Helping the Children

In premarital counseling, you’ll discover how to listen to the children–their hope, their fears.

You’ll also learn how to talk to the children about God’s role in blended families. Now they’ll have more people to love and support them! This includes the non-custodial parent when possible.

Sometimes chidlren become fearful that the new blended family will also end up in a divorce. In premarital counseling, you and your future spouse will develop a habit of praying with and for your children. reassuring them and each other that you choose to glorify God always.

5 Encouragements for Already Blended Families

Is your family already blended? You’ll appreciate these reminders from Ron Deal. I encourage you to peruse his ministry website, where you’ll find extra resources.

  1. SLOW your expectations of how quickly your blended family will harmonize. Deal says, “The average stepfamily needs between five to seven years to form a family identity. In movies, love between adults and bonding with children happens quickly; in real life, it happens gradually.”
  2. INVEST in your marriage relationship. It is the the new foundation for your home.
  3. BE a united parental team while building relationships with stepchildren. What about disciple? Deal urges, “Early on, biological parents should continue to be the primary disciplinarian to their children while stepparents build relationship, trust, and respect with stepchildren.”
  4. AVOID common pitfalls. For example, a child who says, “You’re not my mom, I don’t have to listen to you” is telling you about their sadness that mom isn’t here. Also, keep some holiday traditions while creating new ones. Money matters can be confusing too. Calmly discuss how you will balance your responsibilities to previous individual financial obligations (such as paying child support) while combining assets for the new family.
  5. STEP UP your faith. Spiritual resources help everyone in blended families find grace for each other and strength for the journey.

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,


Habits: How to Replace the Bad with the Good

Your habits — wouldn’t you like to toss out the bad habits like garbage
and put on good ones. . .God’s way? Guest writer Suzanne Holland, listed on Heart2Heart Counselor Directory, shares practical help and hope with you. Her article appeared first on her website and is used with permission.


My husband spent several years in the military. One of the first things they taught him was to salute a superior officer. It didn’t take long before the habit was established, and the salute became almost involuntary after just a few days. Whenever a superior officer entered the room or walked by, his hand would go to his forehead almost automatically in a salute. When he got out of the military after six years, that salute was a tough habit to break. We would see his former superiors at the mall or grocery store, his arm would start to move in that familiar way, and he would have to stop himself.

Power of Habits

The same is true of our habits that are sinful or ungodly. Somewhere along the way, we formed a habit or pattern of thinking that became automatic.

Now, the Lord has revealed to us that it is sinful or displeasing to Him in some way, and we need to change it. Once out of the military, with no reason to continue saluting, it didn’t take a lot of effort for him to stop. But you and I are probably not going to get out of the circumstance that has brought about this habit that needs to change. We’ll have to put it off, right in the middle of the temptation:

…that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man, which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24

So as I read this, I see three steps to stopping a habit or thought pattern that needs to change:

  1. Put off the old habit.
  2. Renew your mind.
  3. Put on a new habit.

Put Off

The first step is to put off the old habit. The language here pictures putting off a garment you’ve been wearing. Chances are, if you’ve been nurturing this behavior or way of thinking for a while, it’s pretty comfortable by now.

This is one of the biggest challenges in the “put off” step. We are comfortable in it. Even when we know that it’s sinful; even when we really want to stop, it is hard because we are so used to it.

The key to this step is to remember that, no matter how comfortable it is, the Lord can make the new, godly way of thinking just as comfortable—even more so, because we will be free of the guilt of knowing that we are indulging a sinful habit.

So begin with prayer, and ask the Lord to give you a greater desire for repentance and heart change than for the comfort of that old habit.

Renew Your Mind

The next step, according to our Ephesians 4 passage, is to renew your mind. What does it mean to be renewed in the spirit of your mind? The JB Phillips paraphrase puts it this way:

…fling off the dirty clothes of the old way of living, which were rotted through and through with lust’s illusions, and, with yourselves mentally and spiritually re-made, to put on the clean fresh clothes of the new life which was made by God’s design for righteousness and the holiness which is no illusion.

I like how he says to fling off the old ways, seeing them as distasteful, dirty, and rotten. This is how we need to see our sinful habits and thought patterns, and it is an action on our part. Notice in contrast though, that being mentally and spiritually re-made is stated in the passive voice—this is something we must submit to, and that God does for us. He is the one who renews our mind, through His Word and prayer.

After that, we’re right back to the active verb…

Put On

Now that we have flung away those dirty, used garments and the Lord has renewed our mind about this particular habit, we are to put on a new habit. This is a very important part of heart change.

If we put off the old habit through the renewing of our minds, but fail to put a new habit in its place, that old garment will begin to look pretty comfortable again, and we may find ourselv
es picking it back up in moments of weakness. Every sinful habit MUST be replaced with a godly one. That’s why Paul follows up this passage with examples of change:

Put away lying and speak truth (v 25).
Let the thief stop stealing and begin to work with his hands (v 28).
Stop speaking corrupt words and start speaking gracious, edifying words (v 29).

What sinful habit are you convicted of lately? Is it gossip? Put on humility and encouraging words. Is it arguing or dissentions? Put on peace and a gentle, quiet
spirit. Self-pihabitsty? Put on gratitude and praise.

I promise you, there is godly clothing to replace every ungodly garment you are led to fling away from you! With God’s help to renew
your mind, through the Word of God and th
e power of the Holy Spirit, you can (and must) change!

My husband has been out of the military for nearly a quarter of a century now, but he can still remember how quickly that salute could fire. I’d like to encourage you now to examine your heart for just one “filthy garment” you’d like to fling off. Pray and ask the Lord to help you be finished with those rotting clothes; to mentally and spiritually remake you in this area; and to show you His Designer clothes that are perfectly suited to replace the old ones. He is faithful, and will do it!

Just for YOU!

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Sharing Hope for Your Heart,


Because He Loves Me: Book Review


Marie Notcheva highly recommends Because He Loves Me: How Christ Transforms Our Daily Life by Elyse Fitzpatrick. This gem articulates the gospel and encourages readers to live it every day. Marie is a featured Heart2Heart Counselor and writes a blog. Here article appeared first here on her website and is used with permission. 


Elyse Fitzpatrick is who I want to be when I grow up.

Of course, I mean that completely in the Ephesians 4:15 sense of “grow up.” The ability to articulate the simple, profound truth of the Gospel and its implications for day-to-day life as beautifully as Elyse has in Because He Loves Me: How Christ Transforms Our Daily Life speaks of a real spiritual maturity. Her passion, from the first page of this encouraging book, is for her reader to have the same joyful, settled assurance of Christ’s love that she herself has found in the pages of Scripture.

Whose Responsible for Your Spiritual Growth?

Why is it that so many of us recognize our need for the Gospel – the Person and work of Jesus Christ – for salvation; then slowly move past the Good News in our daily strivings to “please God”?

We come to the Cross for justification, but practically live as if sanctification depended solely on us. Elyse spots this tendency – which often leads to a moralistic, defeated attitude – and reminds the reader of the only antidote: applying the finished work of Christ to our continually sinning hearts.

Weaving the entire thread of Scripture around a central point – that God FIRST loved us – Elyse shows how getting this knowlege of His deep, abiding, personal, and unfathomable love for us down into the very marrow of our bones completely changes everything. In fact, it transforms our whole identity – who we reckon ourselves to be.

If we see ourselves as “foster children,” who can be evicted or abandoned at any moment, we will live like it. Realizing we are a permanent, cherished part of the family – His adopted children – transforms our hearts and enables us to live for Christ in His strength.

As she writes, “Any obedience that isn’t motivated by His great love is nothing more than penance” (page 148). Well said.

The Impact of the Gospel on You

How does the Gospel message impact our walk, 10, 20, even 30 years after our conversion, when we can rattle off the Doctrines of Grace like the days of the week?

If we don’t consciously live in the light of His love, the gospel will be secondary, virtually meaningless, and Jesus Christ will fade into insignificance. Our faith will become all about us, our performance, and how we think we’re doing, and our transformation will be hindered.

This tendency to take our eyes off of Him and focus inwardly on our failure becomes a vicious cycle, especially when one is battling a life-dominating sin. Many of you bear witness to this fact. I once received the following e-mail from a reader:

…I have been REALLY struggling again lately. I have trouble turning to God, because I feel sometimes like I don’t deserve His forgiveness, or to ask Him for help.

Lately I have been obsessing about food and eating all day long, and binging and purging A LOT! I work as a nanny, so I am alone with kids and in a house full of junk food I wouldn’t buy, and have found myself unable to keep from destructive eating behaviors.

Please pray for me that I will go back to Christ for guidance, and be able to truly repent for my sin. Please also pray that I will stop worshiping false idols of food and thinness, and instead live to glorify Him… (emphasis mine).

This young lady sincerely loves God and wants to please Him, but her words reveal that she has fallen into the trap so common to all of us: living as if our position before God is based on our own merit.

When did any of us, in our “best” moments, EVER “deserve” His forgiveness? We didn’t. Christ secured it for us – while we were still His enemies. We forget this. When we succeed, we feel good and can worship. Failure brings shame and a fear of approaching God, which naturally leads to more failure and despair. We are, as Elyse points out in this book, essentially not trusting God that He is as good as He says He is.

This is unbelief, and it leads to idols. When we don’t feel fully secure in our position in Christ – solely based on His righteousness and grace – we seek the satisfaction that should be found in Him alone through counterfeits. Putting our trust in these “earthly treasures” leads to fear, worry, and anxiety – which leads us ever further away from the Cross.

Freedom from fear comes from contemplating and remembering the love of God, manifested in Christ. As I have written before (and Elyse so much more articulately), change in our behavior can only come from truly realizing and appreciating who God is and what He has done for us. Knowing that His kindness is what has led us to repentance (Romans 2:4) motivates us to love Him back, and approach Him with confidence. Our ‘identity in Christ’ (as Elyse refers to it; I might use ‘position’) is permanent and irrevocable. It is what frees us up to walk in love.

Remembering God’s Love for You

In the final section of Because He Loves Me, Elyse demonstrates how remembering and contemplating this unfathomable love God has for us is the true motivation for lasting change. She writes,

Our natural unbelief will always cast doubt on His love for us. It is the awareness of His love and only this that will equip us to wage war against sin. Until we really grasp how much He loves us, we’ll never be able to imitate Him.

We won’t come near to Him if we’re afraid of His judgment. We won’t repent and keep pursuing godliness if we don’t believe that our sin doesn’t faze His love for us one bit. We won’t want to be like Him if we believe that His love is small, stingy, censorious, severe. And we’ll never be filled with His fullness until we begin to grasp the extent of His love (Eph. 3:19).

As a member of His family, you’re the apple of His eye, the child He loves to bless. You’re His darling.

“Every failure in sanctification is a failure in worship.”

Far from minimizing the seriousness of sin, Elyse reminds the reader how costly it was to God – and invites her to rest in this reality. At the same time, we are thus enabled to “wage a vicious war against sin” – the imperative (command) that naturally follows the indicative (what God has already declared to be true). Every sin, from greed to sexual immorality, is a failure to love as we’ve been loved – at its root, unbelief.

The key to walking in freedom and joy, then, is remembering that we’re beloved children, redeemed by Jesus, set free from the power of sin. This settled confidence produces thanksgiving ane edifying speech, rather than complaining and bitterness. This is what applying the Gospel to every area of our lives looks like in practice.

I have been recommending Because He Loves Me to women who write me about their specific struggles, as well as counselors and anyone else who would benefit from the reminder of what Christ’s perfect life, love, cross, resurrection, and intercession really mean to us as we grow in Him.

In short, everyone reading this would likely benefit from the encouraging and joyful explanation Elyse presents on the synergy of God’s grace and our response. Like C.J. Mahaney’s The Cross Centered Life, Because He Loves Me trains the reader to reflect more deeply on the finished work of Christ on her behalf as a catalyst to worship, rather than presenting sanctification as a spiritual self-help plan.

See more about this wonderful book here.

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,


The Amazing Power of Generosity


The amazing power of generosity. . .heals. 

Has a friend generously listened to you? Who has noticed that you need a helping hand? Or, when you show generosity to a friend or stranger? Perhaps you sent a Get Well card to a relative or wished Happy Birthday to a Facebook friend.

Your generosity matters. It helps to heal the hurting. Here’s an amazing story of generosity. Read on.

Homeless. Need Food. Please Help. 

Pulling up to a red light, Kate noticed a young man clutching a sign. It read, “HOMELESS. NEED FOOD. PLEASE HELP.” The icy wind reddened his hands. She knew what she had to do, even though it inconvenienced her.

She drove to a store, bought men’s gloves and returned to the sign holder. She rolled down her window and handed them to him.

And she prayed for his mother.

Kate has a grown son too. Addicted to drugs. Sleeping somewhere. She couldn’t warm her own child but she could show Jesus to a stranger.

Debbie Macomber shares this true story in her book One Simple Act: Discovering the Power of Generosity. A sister in Christ and fiction author, she understands the need to give love. She’s dyslexic and her third grade teacher told her mother, “She’ll never do well in school.” And she didn’t.

But her love of words and her parent’s encouragement, and later her husband’s, gave her the boost to sign up for a writers’ conference in New York, and — to use a cliche — the rest is history.

Finding Hope Through Generosity

This post isn’t about Debbie or Kate. It’s about you and overcoming your struggles in Jesus’ power. I want you to find hope and healing. One thing I learned:

Sometimes to find healing you need to reach out to a hurting soul and help her.

Here’s an example: A woman I counseled by Skype — whom I’ll call Sandy — spied a lady dumpster-diving for food scraps behind a fast-food joint. She maneuvered her car from the drive-thru lane and into a parking spot. Sandy had bought two lunches, one for herself and one for the lady. She handed one bag of food to the lady. She said, “I don’t want your food. I don’t take no charity.”

Sandy put the bag of food just inside the dumpster and walked back to her car, glancing backward to see what the lady would do.

She took the food.

Now Sandy and the lady made a game of sorts. Sandy places food by the dumpster when she sees the lady and the lady eats. Sandy feels she is making a difference. She feels less alone.

Generosity Reveals Jesus to a Hurting World

This simple act of generosity reveals Jesus to a lady and to a hurting world.

You can show Jesus too, like Kate, like Sandy, like the little boy who gave his little lunch to a big Jesus who multiplied it and fed 5,000 men and probably as many women and children. The boy willingly gave what he had and received so much more.

“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”  Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. (John 6:9-10, NIV)

This boy’s generosity is forever told worldwide. How blessed he is.

When you and I are kind to others, we are blessed too.

The take-away:

Be generous. Show Jesus. Give thanks. You belong to Someone big who cares. Your generosity takes your eyes off yourself and on Him.

Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:16, NIV).

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,


Why I Am a Biblical Counselor

biblical counselor

Biblical counselor Julie Ganschow questions psychology and embraces biblical counseling in her article “Why I Am a Biblical Counselor,” which appeared first here on her website and is used with permission. Julie is among the counselors listed in Heart2Heart Counselor Directory on, where I counsel hope to your heart.


This month I was at the 40th-anniversary celebration for the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). I was once again reminded how important biblical counselors are for the church.

Several of the speakers (Dr. Richard Ganz, Dr. David Powlison, Dr. Garrett Higbee) are former psychologists who once made their living from practicing psychology. These men and several others that I know realized that despite their best efforts, they were not truly helping people. Part of Dr. Ganz’ testimony is that when he began to understand that the Scriptures were sufficient to help people he was actually fired from his job.

You see, psychological methodology views biblical counseling as an enemy.

Church Gave the Hurting to Psychology

Psychology is anti-God at its roots but for decades now, the church has given the care of hurting people over to secular and “Christian” psychology. The church gave up the care of hurting people and put them in the hands of the medical doctor.

Unfortunately, the church at large has bought into the medical model for people helping, and as a result, anti-God, pro-sin individuals are now in the multi-billion-dollar business of labeling what is in many cases sin or sinful behaviors as diseases or disorders. The truth about psychology is there is actually little that is scientific about how behaviors and mental processes are conducted, and little that is scientific about the psychological approach to studying organisms.

I believe that psychologists and psychiatrists get into their respective fields because they want to help people. They think they are!

Psychology relies upon various theories of personality to help people. One important issue in psychiatry and psychology (including Christian psychology) is that there are numerous theories, but no agreement among them on which theory is right or even best. Many Psychologists, especially Christian ones, say that because the Bible doesn’t contain these theories it is not sufficient for counseling the really tough problems like kleptomania, and schizophrenia.

The Bible Presents the Better Way

The Bible does not present a theory of personality but is clear on God’s viewpoint on man. While psychology’s premise is that man is a higher evolved form of animal, God has an entirely different opinion of us. He tells us we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139), and that we are made in HIS image and likeness (Genesis 1, 2).

God’s Word reveals to us why it is not wisdom but pure foolishness to look at man for the solutions to the problems we face (Isaiah 55:8-9). Due to original sin, we have departed from our initially created state of being. This is why we struggle to understand God’s ways!

Our sinful state causes us to have flawed logic and reason. Because of the sin that has completely marred the image of God within us, sometimes, we need counsel and help; we need others to come along beside us and redirect us back to the path of righteousness.

Biblical counselors who are ministering to the unbeliever and the Christian have the ability to show them something better than diagnosis codes and a life dominated by “disease” and medication.

Our counsel is life-giving and hope-filled because it flows from the God of the universe who knows us better than we know ourselves. A personal relationship with God and the Bible is the only source of help for our spiritual and emotional problems. Scripture is the only reliable unchangeable resource to which we can turn to solve our spiritual problems.

Isaiah 8:19-20 — …people should ask their God for help. Why should people who are still alive ask something from the dead?

Psalm 119:9 — How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your Word.

The Bible gives us numerous insights regarding how intimately God is involved in the emotional and mental life of His people. Nothing escapes God’s notice, not any thought, belief, desire, want, or perceived need. He is the one who restores us to health and wholeness when we are ill in any way.

Real Change Through Renewing of the Mind

Scripture insists that we be transformed changed by the renewing of our minds by the Word of God (Romans 12:2). If Scripture commands that we do this, it must be possible! That is the function of salvation, preaching, teaching, biblical counseling, and discipleship. The more of Jesus we know, and the more of His life we emulate, the more awkward and out of place we will feel in this world.

2 Corinthians 5:9 sets up the standard for our behavior – to be pleasing to God.

Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.

We are to be in the process of transformation our entire Christian lives. Beholding the glory of God and desiring the same for our own lives (2 Corinthians 3:18). The understanding of the Christian is to believe in heart and in practice that everything that happens to us is for our good, all for the purpose of conforming us to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:28-29).

I am a biblical counselor because the Bible has far superior answers to anything psychology can explain about deep issues. I have hope to offer, I have God’s unchanging truth to offer, and I have the promise of a changed heart and a changed life through Christ. The biblical counselor’s answer to difficult events in life is to help others become more and more like Christ as a direct result of going through them. –JG

An Offer for You

Friends, did Julie’s message touch you? Do you sense that God wants you to find hope and healing through biblical counseling? Perhaps you’re fighting anxiety or depression. Maybe depression has dogged you or you have a relational conflict.

Please contact me. I am a trained biblical counselor who counsels women and families all over the world by Skype and in person in greater Chicago. I offer a complimentary 15-minute phone consultation. Get hope today.

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,