Last Updated on March 20, 2018

“You look festive!”

My friend looked over my golf-ball-sized silver hoops, turquoise tank, knit plum skirt. It was one of my more art teacher-ish outfits. She was right: I love color. I fit right in here with Uganda’s vibrant shades that bob down the street, wrap coarse heads, or dangle from flower stems—though the brighter hues look even better on my dark-skinned friends than on me!

But part of me had to smile. When I first married my husband, I wouldn’t even wear red. It drew too much attention. I was insecure enough to fear any extra gaze, any chance for disapproval. After a particularly harrowing “mean girls”-type of year in high school, I’d decided that I’d much rather be on the sunny side of social life. And that meant decisively not revealing anything ostentatious.

Thankfully, God knew just what He was doing giving me a husband who loved me honestly, straightforwardly, and deeply, without flattery. My marriage played out the security of God’s love, of the gospel: the grace to be wrong or unattractive or clumsy or different, to grow in the midst of imperfection. It ushered in the bravery to start looking to God for my sense of worth rather than my imaginary polls of friends’ opinions … or even in my husband.

In our first year of marriage, I found myself amazed by the creativity that came bubbling out of me. I’d found myself firmly planted in a secure relationship—and courage unfurled itself like the showy African lilies now studding my backyard. I was cooking up new recipes (some flops, some instant hits), stitching curtains, painting coasters for our cracker-box of a newlywed apartment. It was as if my creativity had been tucking its head down with the rest of me, and was now grateful to creep out of hiding, take a deep breath, and get back to work.

When my friend reminded me how far God had brought me since those frightened, timid years, I recalled all over again what a difference grace makes in our homes. And it makes a difference as our kids seek out God’s particular image as expressed in them. Starting in our marriages, that atmosphere where we—and our husbands—can be “naked and unashamed” about our flaws, our strengths, and our challenges makes fertile ground for growing, for being in a process. Together and as individuals, we can pursue God’s workmanship in all its forms, as long as it takes.

In the African nation where I live, I’m often stunned by the power that shame has exercised over courage and creativity. Unfortunately, decades of punishment in schools and homes for “laziness” and under performance—along with other forms of fear and control—has had fatal, international-level effects on a nation’s economy and otherwise. When children associate trying new or different things—or asking questions, or being “wrong,” or making childish, developmentally-appropriate mistakes—with disapproval or even punishment, they can develop into adults who lack security, ingenuity, and basic problem-solving skills.

On a home level, this means sweeping away the carpet of eggshells we’ve laid for our family to walk on. It means responding gently, with firm, clear boundaries that humbly help children explore their hearts rather than emotional, reactive efforts to maintain control.

So what might grace look like on an extremely practical level? Grace in our homes might say …

  • You can make a mess within reason, and you have the power to clean it up. I’ll teach you how, and help when you need it.
  • Neither of us is perfect just yet. We need a Savior. I realize God’s doing a great work in you, and His timeline is perfect. I’ll walk with you while you grow, and thank God with you for every little way He changes you to be like Him.
  • You can be different from the rest of our family. God’s Word and His Spirit are your boundaries. Let’s dig in and discuss it together.
  • You can explore and work out God’s image in you. What does it look like to “work out your salvation” (Philippians 2), to “run the race set before” you (Hebrews 12:1)? How did He make you? How is He writing your story? How has He blessed you, so you can be a blessing?
  • I am so thankful for you doing (good deed). To be honest, sometimes I do things like that because I want (people to think highly of me, to control people, to get what I want, etc.)! May I ask you to think about why you’re doing this? I just know that the state of your heart matters to God.
  • I trust that God is writing your story, and He’s writing mine. Rather than worrying, we can run to Him together. We can operate out of our satisfaction in Him, out of our trust in Him, rather than feeding our appetites for approval, power, significance, comfort, and security.
  • That’s a great question. But rather than tell you the answer, let’s see if we can figure it out together.
  • I need to apologize to you for the way I ___. I realize now that my heart was ___. Will you please forgive me?



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  1. I love grace. It is our gift from God, and I want to pass it onto my family and others around me. Thanks for sharing, Janel!

  2. Thank you so much for this post. I have been struggling this afternoon and God answered me through your post.

    1. So grateful for this, Elle. May he continue to encourage you with grace!

  3. Hi Janel. I just love reading your stuff! I was just having a conversation tonight with a single 30something friend who was asking me what makes a marriage of two believers unique and my answer was similar to what you said above. Having security and safety in the grace we give each other creates a beautiful dynamic for our marriage and family. Appreciate your thoughts…totally pinning this:-) Think of you often and your adventures in Africa! Take care.

    1. Wow–thanks so much for this, Katie. Exciting for me to hear how God’s continually spreading the knowledge of grace in little conversations like that around the world! Grateful for you taking the time to encourage me, too :).