Wednesday, January 14, 2009

REVIEW: Never Say Diet and The NSD Personal Fitness Trainer by Chantel Hobbs

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the books!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the books:

Never Say Diet

WaterBrook Press; Reprint edition (December 16, 2008)


The Never Say Diet Personal Fitness Trainer

WaterBrook Press (December 16, 2008)


Chantel Hobbs is a personal trainer, certified spinning instructor, and motivational speaker whose no-excuses approach to fitness has won her a grateful following across the country. The author of Never Say Diet, Chantel hosts a weekly fitness program on Reach FM radio and is a regular guest on Way FM. Her “Ditch the Diet, Do the Weekend” bootcamp takes place several times a year in a variety of locations. She has presented her unique approach to lasting fitness in People magazine and on Oprah, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Fox News, The 700 Club, Living the Life, and Paula White Today. Chantel enjoys life with her husband and their four children in South Florida.

Visit the author's website.


Never Say Diet Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press; Reprint edition (December 16, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307444937
ISBN-13: 978-0307444936

The Night That

Changed My Life

How to Choose

to Do the Best

Job of Living

It should have been a scene of American family bliss. A Sunday afternoon in our home on a beautiful fall day in South Florida. My husband, Keith, was watching the Dolphins game in the living room with some friends. He’d waited all week for this. Our girls, six-year-old Ashley and four-year-old Kayla, were helping me in the kitchen. Well, kind of. Our six month-old, Jake, was jumping and laughing in his Jolly Jumper. I was baking Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, our favorite, and everybody could smell the cinnamon and butter and couldn’t wait for the cookies to come out of the oven. Especially me. As I worked in the kitchen, I could hear the football game coming from the living room. The announcers were talking about a player who had arrived at training camp completely out of shape. He was six foot four and weighed 320 pounds. “That is a big boy,” they said. “Wow! He is huge.” “Would you look at that guy,” I heard my husband say with disgust. “I can’t believe he got so fat! What a lazy bum.” Those words cut me to the heart. I had created a happy home, with a

happy husband and happy kids. But at that moment I wanted to die, because I outweighed that player by at least 10 pounds. I was bigger than anyone playing for the Miami Dolphins. And I knew I was anything but lazy. I pulled the cookies out of the oven and felt nauseous. I was pathetic. I’d been overweight my entire adult life, but I was bigger than I had ever been. I was miserable but doing an excellent job of faking out everyone who knew me. I was five foot nine and weighed 330 pounds, maybe more. I didn’t know for sure because it had been months since I’d dared to step on a scale. Besides, the only one in the house was a conveniently inaccurate discount-store model with a wheel underneath that calibrated the scale. I had adjusted it to register the lowest weight possible. I was in denial, but I was also without hope. It was the autumn of 2000. I was twenty-eight years old and was starting to believe I would never live a long and fulfilled life. Not this way. If an angel had landed on my shoulder and whispered in my ear that, in less than two years, Oprah Winfrey would have me on her show to tell a feel good weight-loss story, I’d have sent that angel packing and gone back to my cookies. I wasn’t Oprah material. And there was absolutely nothing feel-good about my life. Call me when you want a feel-bad story. That was me. If that angel had whispered that I would one day run a marathon, I’d have checked him in to an insane asylum. I couldn’t run around the block. Even in high school I hadn’t been able to run the required twenty-minute mile. My knees hurt all the time. I was morbidly obese—a term that I knew meant an early death. If one thing was clear about my life in the fall of 2000, it was that

I could never, ever run a marathon. But I did. I finished my first one in 2005 and after that ran four more— in less than a year. I went from weighing nearly 350 pounds to less than 150 pounds. And I have appeared on Oprah and Good Morning America and the cover of People magazine as one of America’s great weight-loss successes. Getting fit wasn’t easy—there was plenty of pain, deprivation, tears, and hungeralong the way. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I won’t try to sugarcoat any of that. But, honestly, I didn’t give myself a choice. Once I made the unconditional decision that I was going to lose weight and get healthy, nothing could stop me. And nothing will stop you if you make the Five Decisions to break the fat habit for good. That’s a guarantee. Here is the secret I learned—the same secret I want to share with you. I realized I had to change my mind before I could change my body, my health, and my life. I discovered the Five Decisions, which brought about an unconditional commitment to getting healthy and fit. Once I started, I treated it like a job so that no matter what else was going on in my life, I did what I had to do to achieve daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals, and eventually the target weight and fitness that I desired. After making the Five Decisions, getting fit was a matter of showing up for work each day. The process developed from the inside out, which was a new concept for me.


People constantly ask me how I lost 200 pounds and started running marathons. When I explain that it took several years to achieve those goals, they wonder how I was able to stick to the plan when so many others can’t. I ask myself the same question. I had failed plenty of times before. I’d tried a few diets and failed, including a bit of foolishness called the chocolate-wafer diet, which I’ll tell you about later. I’d resolved so many times not to eat the entire package of Oreos, without success. So how did I lose all that weight and keep it off reclaiming my health and gaining a new life in the process? Here’s the simple answer: my brain changed. I decided to first become a different person in my mind and then learned patience as my body followed. My success wasn’t measured only by a declining number on a scale; it was much deeper. I had to change on the inside. I needed to change my mind before I could change my body. It will work the same way for you. First you must get to the right place in your head, and then you can create the lifestyle to go along with that. Your body reflects your daily choices, so stop confusing it by the way you think. The mistake so many people make is to focus on weight loss and how long it will take. In fact, the multibillion-dollar diet industry banks on people thinking this way. Don’t get stuck in the weight loss weight gain cycle. What you should focus on is the person you want to be. Set your sights very high, and keep your commitment level even higher. In this book I’ll explain how I did that. I went from being someone who weighed more than a Miami Dolphins lineman to someone who is strong and trim and can run twenty-six miles. I went from a state of hopelessness to a life of incredible confidence. And I want to help you achieve something great in your life. If you change your mind before attempting to change your body, you can do this.


While I was learning how to lose weight and regain my health, I faced setback after setback. My husband lost his job, and my mother was diagnosed with cancer—and those were only two of the crises that came along. Changing your life will never be easy, and that’s why in order to succeed, you first need to be ready to succeed. It’s a choice you make. In the fall of 2000, when I was baking cookies and overhearing my husband’s criticism of an overweight NFL lineman, I fell into despair. I realized my life was out of control and I was headed for an early grave if I didn’t change. But even then, I wasn’t yet ready to make the commitment that was necessary to change my life. The truth is, on that dark day I still wasn’t miserable enough to change. I hit rock bottom about six months later. I was at my heaviest ever—349 pounds, I think. Though I was still mostly in denial, I was starting to see myself clearly, and I hated what I saw. I’d look in the mirror and say, “You are pitiful! How could you have let this happen?” My appearance started to affect my family life. We live in South Florida, where every weekend is a pool party. My daughters were young, but they were being invited to a few parties, and I was horribly uncomfortable in a bathing suit. I knew it wouldn’t be long before my girls would be embarrassed by their mother, and that made me want to cry. It did make me cry. But that was the least of it. I was more worried that their mom would die young. I’d seen fat people, and I’d seen old people, but rarely had I seen fat, old people. If I couldn’t change for myself, maybe I could do it for my kids. One night I was driving home alone from an event at church. I felt trapped in despair. At age twenty-nine, my body felt old. I had recently had an emergency gallbladder operation, and the doctor had told me he was afraid to cut through all my layers of fat because of the risk of infection. Imagine being worried about your diseased gallbladder and experiencing anxiety about surgery. And then you learn that your weight problem makes you more prone to infection. That night in the car I felt like the most pathetic person who had ever lived. I believed that God had made me and put me on earth for a purpose, and I was not living the life He intended for me. I knew I had to change. As I drove, drowning in self-pity, I began to envision what my life would be if I weren’t fat. I thought of all the things I could do—even simple things, such as walking down an airplane aisle without having to turn sideways. I’d be able to board a flight without getting fearful stares from people hoping I wouldn’t sit next to them. And there were deeper things, such as being able to go down a slide at a playground with my kids. And I wanted never again to feel as if I was embarrassing my husband when he introduced me to business associates. I was tired of feeling prejudged by every server in every restaurant for what I ordered. I wanted to be able to shop in the same clothing stores as all my friends. I wanted a normal life. As I drove home from church, I came to the realization that I absolutely could not go on with my life as it was. I pulled over, sobbing. In total despair I cried out to God. I remember every word. “This is it!” I said. “I can’t live like this anymore. I’m done. I give all this pain to You. I surrender this battle. I need You to take over and give me a plan. Otherwise, I don’t want to live anymore.” Almost immediately a sense of inner peace filled me, and I calmed down. I had gone to church all my life and had a relationship with God, but I had certainly never felt anything like that before. The peace was real, and in my mind I heard from God. I clearly heard these words: You are not being the best you can be. It wasn’t a booming voice like in a movie, but it also wasn’t a voice coming from me. The words were a jolt to my soul. And that moment would change my life forever. Again, with crystal clarity, I “heard” a whisper: You are not being the best you can be. And for the first time in my life, I understood that this was a choice. I could choose to be the best I could be or not. We all have the same choice. We can’t choose our natural talents or what opportunities life is going to throw our way, but we can choose to do this one thing: we can do the best job of living that we are capable of. After praying alone in my car, I knew I could do better.


No matter how overweight and out of shape we are, our bodies and minds are capable of much more than we think. No matter what battles we face in life, we can have victory. The amazing thing is that so many of us choose not to. I know this is true because I was as guilty as anyone. For years I’d made poor choices and come up with excuses for why I really didn’t have a choice at all. I was big boned. I let myself overeat because I was pregnant. I skipped exercise because I didn’t have the time. I was too far gone to ever recover. I told myself whatever it took to hide the truth that I was not doing the best job of living. I was also being scammed by the diet industry. We all have been taken in by the hype. “We’ll give you your eating points,” the industry tells us, “and let you spend them on any food you want. And we’ll love you when you get on that scale, whether you’ve lost weight or not. We’ll keep hugging you for the next twenty-three years if need be.” Counting my points was not going to save me. Choosing the right frozen entrĂ©e and having it delivered to my home for the next two years was not going to save me. I didn’t need the unconditional love of strangers; I needed unconditional commitment from myself. I was also scammed by the “fat gene” scientists who insisted that my weight problem was out of my hands. They were wrong; it was in my hands. Chantel, I told myself, this is not cancer. I knew, because my mother had leukemia, and I had spent more tearful nights than I could count praying for her recovery something I couldn’t do anything about. I prayed that chemotherapy would work and that God would heal her. But I realized that I’d been thinking of my obesity in the same way, as an illness. I’d even been told by experts that drastic surgery might be my only option. But that was another lie. The way I lived my life and how I contributed to my health were completely in my hands. Every one of us knows what we should do, but we don’t always do it. Instead, we pretend it’s out of our control. We take the easy way out and let ourselves down. Gaining weight doesn’t come about by accident, and it’s not forced on us. We gain weight through a series of poor choices made on a regular basis over a long period of time.

We gain weight

through a series of poor choices

made on a regular basis

over a long period of time.

The same process holds true for achieving a goal related to your health and fitness. Whether it’s weight loss, athletic accomplishment, or any other personal or business goal, you achieve what you seek by learning to make the right choices and not being scared of self-sacrifice. I began wondering what my life would be like and what I would be capable of if I simply started being the best me I could. It was time to find out. After hearing God tell me, You are not being the best you can be, I made my decision, and I said it out loud: “I can do this. I will do this.” I repeated it, and I meant it. At that moment by the side of Cypress Creek Road, my life turned around.


Having made the commitment, I knew I was going to change my life, but I didn’t have a specific plan. I knew I’d have to start exercising, no matter how much I dreaded it. I knew I would have to change the way I ate, and I would need to learn more about nutrition. And to become a different person, I knew I would have to start thinking like the person I wanted to be and not the person I had allowed myself to become. I didn’t know how I was going to do all this, but I knew I would have God by my side. He might not make it easy, but He’d give me the strength to do everything that was needed. When I got home that night, Keith was already in bed. He had never criticized my weight, for which I was incredibly grateful, but I knew how he must have felt. I looked into my husband’s eyes, told him that God had spoken to me in the car, and announced that the next morning I would begin losing weight and getting healthy. (I even mentioned that one day I would write a book to reach others in my situation.) I made it clear that I was totally committed to being the best I could be. Keith smiled at me and quoted one of his favorite sources of inspiration, the self-made billionaire Art Williams: “Do it, then talk.” He was right. I shut up. Keith fell asleep, but I had a burning passion that kept me awake that night and has kept me up many nights since. Making the unconditional decision to change—the complete commitment with no turning back—had to be followed by action. First you change your mind. But to change your body and your life, you have to get moving. You have to do things and do them differently from the past. Do it. How incredibly simple—yet how long it had taken me to get to a place where I could see that clearly. Getting fit and accomplishing my dreams was simply a matter of choosing to do it, following through every single day, and understanding that failure was not an option. I could do it. I would do it. And I did.


Keep reading, and you’ll find out how to change your life through five crucial decisions. The Five Decisions change your brain, giving you a new way of thinking about yourself, your life, your health, and your future. As long as you keep thinking the same way you always have, you will keep doing the things you have always done—including the unhealthy habits you have developed. Join me in the next chapter as we explore the past—including all the influences that worked together to bring us to where we are today. Understanding the messages that influence our self-perception and the way we respond to obstacles enables us to make the new decisions that are necessary for permanent change.

What Do You Want to Change, and Why?

As you prepare to make the mental changes that will lead to permanent life change, think through the reasons you want to change. What is motivating your desire to lose weight and reclaim your health? Use the questions that follow to think in detail about your life, your goals for the future, and what you’re willing to do to make this happen finally and forever.

1. Beyond losing weight, what do you most want to change about your life?

2. Are you willing to do whatever it takes to see certain areas of your life undergo radical change? If you’re not yet willing, what is holding you back?

3. When in your life have you felt the most hopeless? Are you now ready to move past those scars and never look back?

4. When you gained weight in the past, what factors caused you to lose your focus on health?

5. Identify three reasons or influences from the past that convinced you that you couldn’t achieve permanent life change. After considering these reasons, can you now admit they were merely excuses?

6. Think about the necessity of changing your mind before you attempt to change your body. Do you agree that lasting change begins on the inside? As you consider being the best you can be, are you ready to work from the inside out?

7. A total life change involves your mind, body, and spirit. Think about the spiritual aspect for a moment. Do you accept the role that faith plays in the process of changing your life for good?

8. When have you been held back by a fear of failure? Write down your biggest fears in this regard. As you face your fears, can you decide to let them go and give your all to permanent life change?

Never Say Diet Personal Trainer Product Details:

List Price: $10.99
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (December 16, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307446425
ISBN-13: 978-0307446428

Week 1 Training Plan

The Perfect Body Type: Yours!

You Are Lovely Today

Scripture for the week: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.… When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.”

—PSALM 139:14–16

Quote for the week: “Faith, as Paul saw it, was a living, flaming thing leading to surrender and obedience to the commandments of Christ.”


As you begin the journey to never say diet, remember that your value is based on who you are in Christ, not what the number on the scale says. God created everything about you, and He knows you better than you know yourself. He knows which foods are your weaknesses, and He is there whenever the temptation to overeat or consume unhealthy food seems overwhelming. The Lord knows the tears you have shed out of desperation. He was there to comfort you when it seemed like no one understood your pain. Trust me, on days when I feel the most flawed, I need the verses from Psalm 139 to remind me of what is true. The living God formed every part of my body, even the parts I would like to change. Although I used to struggle and fail in caring for my body, God always knew it best. When I finally cried out to my Creator and invited Him to help with the repair, I knew I could succeed. He wants you to succeed too. Start this week by thanking the Lord for the gifts of your life and your body. By focusing on making some improvements, you will ultimately be honoring Him more and more each day. Find a recent photo of yourself, or take one, and tape it in the space that follows. This picture will be a powerful reference for you in the coming weeks as you begin your transformation.


In Never Say Diet, I make a big deal about the Five Decisions—and for good reason. You will fail in this new attempt to change your life unless you first change your brain. To succeed, you need to be willing to do whatever it takes—unconditionally. I want to be your cheerleader and your friend. And for us to get going, you need to commit to the five Brain Change decisions found on pages 76–82 of Never Say Diet. Think about how each of the Five Decisions applies to your life. Also, try to memorize them. They will form the backbone you need to stand up to and overcome every area of weakness in your life. Create your personal surrender statement.


This week your first assignment is to start building a foundation of discipline. You will be successful over the next month if you show up for exercise thirty minutes a day, five days in a row, every week—no matter what. There are many choices for your cardiovascular exercise. Below is a list of suggestions. Even if your week gets hectic, finding the time to make this happen is imperative.

Cardio Exercise Suggestions


Bike riding

Cross-country skiing machine


Elliptical machine


Kick boxing


Spinning class

Stair climber

Stair stepper

Stationary bike/recumbent bike

Step aerobics




How to Take Your Measurements

Taking your measurements at the beginning of each month is an important part of the process of losing weight. You will begin to see precisely where you are losing fat. As you start building more muscle, there will be months where your progress is more evident in your measurements than on the scale, because muscle is denser than fat. You will begin by taking six measurements. You should be able to do them by yourself, with the exception of your upper arm. (Ask a friend or your spouse to help you.) For instructions on taking accurate measurements, see pages 97–98 of Never Say Diet. Record your measurements below.

Bust: ______________

Chest: ______________

Waist: ______________

Hips: ______________

Thighs: ______________

Arms: ______________

Be sure that you consistently measure in the same spots each month. I also recommend taking your measurements before your workouts.

Weigh Yourself

Weigh yourself, and record your weight at the beginning of each week.

Week 1 starting weight: ________


Complete your cardio exercise five days in a row, for at least thirty minutes per day. In the space provided, write down the day, the date, the exercise you completed, and the duration of each exercise period. This serves as a reminder that you always found a way to get the exercise done, whether you felt like it or not.

Day 1 date/exercise/duration:


How did it go?


Day 2 date/exercise/duration:


How did it go?


Day 3 date/exercise/duration:


How did it go?


Day 4 date/exercise/duration:


How did it go?


Day 5 date/exercise/duration:


How did it go?




This week you must place your nutritional focus on the most important meal of the day: breakfast. Plan to eat every day within two hours of waking up. Listed below are some fresh food ideas. Each one is about three hundred calories, which is perfect!

• Quaker Weight Control oatmeal, 1 tablespoon of raisins, cinnamon to taste, 2 slices of turkey bacon.

• One slice of whole-wheat toast, light spread of peanut butter (natural is best), and ½ grapefruit.

• Chocolate strawberry shake. Blend the following: 1 scoop chocolate protein powder, 10 small frozen strawberries, 1 packet sugar substitute, ½ cup low-fat milk, a few ice cubes.

• Egg white omelet. In a skillet with nonstick spray, cook veggies you like, 3 lightly beaten egg whites, and 1 tablespoon fat-free cheese. Accompany with half an English muffin with a dab of peanut butter.

Each of these breakfast meals provides a good balance of protein, carbs, and fat. This ensures your day gets off to a good start; it is igniting your source of energy. Find a few meals that you enjoy, and keep repeating them. This way you won’t stress out over deciding what to have.

Week 1 Breakfast Log

Using the space provided, record each day’s breakfast menu and the portions.

Day 1 date/time: ___________________________________ ________________________________________________

Day 2 date/time: ___________________________________


Day 3 date/time: ___________________________________


Day 4 date/time: ___________________________________


Day 5 date/time: ___________________________________


Day 6 date/time: ___________________________________


Day 7 date/time: ___________________________________



Half memoir, half how-to book, "Never Say Diet" is the story of how Chantel lost 200 lbs. by following her 5-decision plan, and by changing her thinking.

Chantel now runs marathons and teaches spinning classes.

I loved the bits about changing your thinking, but hated that Chantel still recommends cutting out certain foods, and gives a "Bad Foods" list.

Rated: B


This small book is a 16-week journaling companion for Chantel Hobbs’ book, “Never Say Diet“.

Each week has space to journal your cardio and strength-training exercises, and another space to journal your food intake. Also included, each week, are a main Bible verse, an inspirational quote, and a brief inspirational message from Chantel about mindset, exercise, and eating.

A great resource for those following Chantel’s “Never Say Diet” program.

Rated: B+

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

REVIEW: Losing Control and Liking It by Tim Sanford, M.A.

It is time to play a Wild Card!Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Losing Control & Liking It

Focus (December 8, 2008)


Tim Sanford is a licensed professional counselor with Focus on the Family and in private practice. An author, speaker, ordained minister, and former youth worker, he has more than 30 years of experience with teenagers. Tim and his wife, Becky, have two adult daughters and reside in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Focus (December 8, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1589974816
ISBN-13: 978-1589974814


Getting Too

Much of

a Grip

Control: It’s Not Your Department

As a therapist working with teenagers and their families, I’ve heard many a story from parents. Some of them go like these.

• Denise’s daughter is overweight, and the two constantly battle over junk food. While Denise serves low-calorie dinners and packs healthy lunches, she frequently finds her daughter sneaking between-meal cookies and chips. The 14-year-old spends her babysitting money at the nearby convenience store, loading up on snack cakes and soft drinks. Angry, Denise strikes back by withholding allowance and repeatedly warning of the consequences of unhealthy eating habits. Nothing seems to work.

•Mac’s blood pressure skyrockets when he thinks of his 15-year old son getting his driver’s license in a few short months. The boy has completed an expensive, private driver-training course and seems cautious and responsible. But Mac can’t stop remembering his son’s kamikaze approach to theme-park bumper cars five years ago. This hapless father’s knuckles turn white when his teenager is at the wheel; his right foot presses an invisible brake pedal while his heart races like crazy. He wonders if he should make his son wait to get his license until he’s 17 . . . or 18 . . . or 20.

• Joe wonders where his little boy and girl have gone. His sweet, bright-eyed grade-schoolers suddenly have been replaced by a shaggy, lanky 15-year-old boy who appears unaware of his own overwhelming body odor—and a 13-year-old girl who favors tight tank tops and too much eye makeup. Joe’s wife has had some loud conversations with their daughter about her tastes in clothes and cosmetics, but neither parent has confronted their son about his pungent smell. Joe knows it’s probably up to him, but he hates to destroy the boy’s self-esteem. He wonders whether he’s just being a control freak. He looks on his bookshelf for help, but finds nothing. They never deal with anything practical in those parenting books, he thinks.

Like Denise, Mac, and Joe, you probably face plenty of situations in which a book called The Complete Guide to Controlling Your Teenager would seem helpful. It wouldn’t be, though. The idea of being your son’s or daughter’s puppeteer might sound appealing, but the results would

be disastrous for both of you. This book takes a different approach. And when it comes to control,

many of us parents need to as well.

Are You Out of Control?

Parenting is a daunting task when you consider the consequences of major decisions like these:

• how your teen spends his free time

• which friends she spends time with

• how he makes and spends money

• how she approaches her schoolwork

• when he starts driving

• what she eats, where she eats, and how much

• whether he goes to church or youth group

• what she looks like

• what level of personal hygiene he attains

• whether or not she uses foul language

• what parties and other social events he attends

• whether she smokes, drinks, or uses illegal drugs

It’s no wonder so many parents would like to control those decisions until the last possible second. But is that wise, not to mention doable? Here are some questions you may be asking about control as you try to set boundaries with your teenager:

•Which parts of a situation belong to me and which belong to my teen?

•What’s mine to decide and what’s not?

•How much “rope” can I give my daughter before she “hangs” herself?

•What does my son get to choose, and what do I choose for him?

• Should I make my teenager go to church with the family?

•What about rules?

•What about freedom?

•What about being responsible?

•What about respect?

•What about his hair?

• How do I get her to do her homework?

•What if my daughter is already 18 years old?

Over and over I’ve heard parents ask questions like these. Control is one of the biggest issues they encounter, and one of the most misunderstood.

Illusions of Control

I try to base all my counseling on what Jesus said in John 8:32: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus was talking about a particular truth—who He is as the Son of God. But I believe His observation applies to all reality. Knowing and understanding the truth—what reality actually is, like it or not—can set you free from the problems that come with lies and mistaken perceptions.

Error, wrong thinking, skewed beliefs, and misconceptions lie at the root of many, if not most, conflicts. That’s certainly true of control. The more accurately you think about something, the healthier your life will be. The converse is also true. The more inaccurate your thinking, the

more dysfunctional your relationship with your teen will be—even if you assume your thinking is fine, which we all usually do.

So here’s a good place to start: thinking more accurately about control, in order to undo common confusion about its role in relationships.

Many tensions between parents and teens boil down to the issue of control. Sometimes it’s not visible on the surface, but lurks below. For instance, you may think you’re pressuring your son or daughter to work harder in school to have a better chance at college scholarships. But the deeper issue may be how you feel about the way your teen spends time—texting from that iPhone or hanging with friends instead of doing homework. The two of you are battling for the right to decide.

There are as many myths about control as there are days of the year.

Our culture doesn’t make it any easier; an alien visiting our society might think we’re all a bunch of control freaks. Consider the phrases we use that have the word control in them. Here’s a starter list:

• remote control

• quality control

• cruise control

• climate control

• traffic control

• crowd control

• master control

• weight control

• arms control

We talk about controlling our destinies, our lives; we study ways to control the aging process; we attend expensive seminars in an effort to control our eating habits, anger, financial future, thinking, moods . . . and children.

Self-help books and workshops—in the Christian arena as well as the general market—promise control. Much of the psychology practiced in the U.S.—cognitive behavioral therapy—focuses on control, too.

Don’t get me wrong. The idea of having control is not bad in itself.

Therapy that focuses on what you can legitimately control, as well as what you can’t, is a healing and helpful tool.

But a person’s fixation on needing control, which I often observe as a therapist, and the illusion that you need or have more control than you actually do, turn healthy ownership into a control-freak thing.

Most of us want control, plain and simple—and the more the better, thank you very much! That’s because when we have control, we can make things turn out the way we want. We can be happy and avoid pain or displeasure.

If only it were that easy.

High-control people believe the best way to avoid pain is to keep a tight rein on the things around them—including key people, especially their children. After all, there can be a whole lot of hurt when children go astray.

I met such an over-controlling parent many years ago when I worked at a psychiatric hospital. I was the primary therapist for a teenage girl from a military family. She was rebelling, skipping school, experimenting with alcohol. Her family diagnosed her as a “behavior problem.”

In our second weekly family therapy session, the girl’s father—a high-ranking officer—stated emphatically that the only reason something goes wrong is because somebody didn’t do his or her job correctly. Therefore, that somebody is at fault. He was referring to his teenage daughter, of course; everything else was under his control.

This father had an exaggerated sense of control, and a huge misconception about it. He’d carried his “systems checklist” mentality home from the office, refusing to see that there were some things he

couldn’t control. He also refused to see that his campaign to over control his daughter was partially—though not completely—to blame for her rebellion. Her behavior was an attempt to escape his over control.

When you think of control, you might have visions of someone like this father—or a power-mad villain from an old James Bond movie.

While I’ve met a few who could have been cast for such a part, the vast majority of us parents are much more “normal” in our desire for control.

But because our culture encourages us to seek control—and because some Christians overemphasize its role in parenting—it’s important to look at the way you think about the topic.

Everyone Has “Control Issues”

Most parents don’t behave as extremely as the aforementioned dad. But that doesn’t mean they have no problems with control. It’s not an “all or nothing” proposition.

Take, for example, the issue of trying to “guarantee” what will happen to our children.

My early years were spent as a missionary’s kid in Ecuador. In that culture there was a life philosophy that could be summarized as “Quesera, sera”—“What will be, will be.” There was no “I am the captain of my fate and the master of my soul” quoted at graduation ceremonies.

As a result, I’ve come to see the truth in the following observation:

• You can drive the safest car built in the world (control).

• You can place your infant in the safest car seat manufactured (control).

• You can be the safest driver in your state, with all the necessary skills for every possible situation (control).

• Yet a drunk driver can still cross the double yellow line, hit you head-on, and take the life of your baby.

“Que sera, sera.”

Where is your control now?

You were very wise and responsible. You did everything correctly. You controlled the things that were yours to control. But after all was said and done, there was no guarantee that you could keep your child safe. There were a lot of elements—including people—you couldn’t control, yet which could have a huge impact on you.

“But I want a guarantee!” you may plead.

You’re not alone. As parents, we want certainty that we can keep our children safe and raise them so they’ll turn out well, following scriptural guidance.

But there is no guarantee.

“That kind of thinking is negative and scary! I don’t like that.”

Yes, it is scary.

“But what about the verse that says, ‘Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it’?”

Proverbs 22:6 communicates a very wise principle. But it’s not a guarantee that magically or spiritually overrides your teenager’s free will—which, by the way, was given to him or her by God Himself. This biblical principle does not obligate God to you or force Him to make your teenager turn out the way you think he or she should.


I hear you.

We parents want control so badly because we think that if we do the right things, our kids will turn out the way we want them to. It doesn’t matter whether we’re Christians, or whether we’re “high-control” people or think we have no control at all. We still want it.

We want to be able to lay our heads on our pillows at night, with our teenagers snugly tucked into their clean beds, and know we did it “right.”

Since there aren’t any guarantees, many parents settle for illusions of control. An illusion often is more comforting than the truth. That may sound harsh, but I’ve found in my years as a therapist that most people have a hard time with the truth.

Reality can be a hard pill to swallow. But last time I checked, whenever you fight reality you lose.

That’s just the way life is. Reality wins.

The only absolute assurance, for those who have a relationship with God through Christ, is that eventually they’ll enjoy life forever with the One who made and redeemed them. That’s guaranteed.

The rest of life isn’t. Ask parents who’ve lost a son or daughter to an automobile accident on the way home from a church meeting, or in a rock climbing fall, or to the sudden onset of cancer, or in a school shooting incident, about guarantees. See what they have to say about control.

I know parents like these. I’ve looked into their tear-filled eyes and attempted to field the “Why?” questions. Maybe you are one. If so, I’m truly sorry.

No Control?

Does this mean our lives are careening, like cars with the brake lines cut, toward the edge of a cliff? Should we just take our hands off the wheel and brace for the crash? Why try to guide our teenagers at all?

Keep in mind that there are degrees of control. While you can’t guarantee the outcome, you can make a baby safer with a good car seat.

There are also different kinds of control: the kind that is actually yours to exercise and the kind that isn’t. The key in parenting is knowing which is which—and knowing what to do with each.

You need to keep and use the control you’re entitled to—or take hold of it if you’ve lost it.

And you want to lose the control you really don’t have in the first place—and give up illusions you may have about it.

It’s not easy to figure out! But that’s why you have this book. It explains what’s truly yours to control—and helps you quit trying to grasp control that doesn’t belong to you.

Believe it or not, when it comes to raising teenagers, losing control can be a wonderful and freeing thing!

Your Brain and Control

To understand your assumptions about control, it helps to understand what you’ve been telling yourself about it. Your need to control grows out of your experiences, and how they affect your thinking and decision making.

The neurology of your brain is complex, but for the moment let’s compare it to a jukebox.

I mean a real jukebox, not a digital one—the old kind with vinyl 45s inside and a panel of buttons, each corresponding to a hit single. You watch as the record drops onto the turntable, the arm swings over, and the needle slips into the grooves to play your selection. If you have teenagers, maybe you can remember when these weren’t called antiques!

That’s what your brain is like. Each “record” has etched on it a simple, short phrase known as a belief. A belief is a statement of what you think is fact. Most of your beliefs were recorded, catalogued, and filed in your jukebox during the first seven to ten years of your life.

When you hear the word belief, you may think first of religious beliefs. But you have beliefs about every subject under the sun. You use them every day as you try to make sense of life. They’re your worldview— all on a bunch of 45s!

So your thought process plays out (no pun intended) in the following sequence:

1. A new experience happens, or a series of similar experiences. Perhaps a bully trips you in the school cafeteria, and you land in the middle of your own mashed potatoes. Or you feel guilty while reading a “how to raise a teenager” book.

2. You attempt to understand this situation as best you can.

3. You draw a conclusion from the experience. It may be based on

incomplete information available at that moment, but you

assume your conclusion is true.

4. A recording of your conclusion is made into a belief statement

and filed in your jukebox. The new record is polished, catalogued,

and ready for future reference.

5. Every time a similar situation arises, that record plays. You

respond according to the belief it contains.

We all have one record that sounds pretty much the same. It says, “All my records, all my beliefs, are true. I can even validate them with life experiences if I have to!”

We’re quite defensive about our record collections. If you disagree with me, my defenses shout, “What do you think I am? Stupid? I wouldn’t believe a lie! I’m intelligent! I know what’s right and true, and I can back it up!”

If you’re willing to drop those defenses, you may find some of your records are a bit warped. Some conclusions you’ve drawn about walking in the school cafeteria may have been based on incomplete information. What you read in that parenting book may be partly true, but may not be the best advice for you and your situation.

Remember, most of your records were forged in your first seven to ten years—long before you ever thought of raising a teenager. Your beliefs about things like love and discipline—and control—may not be totally accurate.

There are plenty of books for Christians that tell you what you should have on your records. But I want to encourage you to think deeply about the “control songs” your jukebox is already playing and whether they’re true.

It matters because those records remain in the slots of your jukebox, some of them warped and misleading, waiting to be activated when life “pushes your buttons.”When one of them plays, it may sound funny to everyone but you. To you, it sounds true. Most of us, after all, never stop to question our beliefs; we just believe them.

Some of your records may need to be remixed, updated, even tossed. This book will help you do that with records that revolve (so to speak) around the subject of control.

Many of us have whole albums on that subject. One of yours probably features the hit single about how every parent’s job is to make sure his or her children turn out “right.” Even though most of us don’t quite know what that standard means, we feel obliged to meet it.

Oh, how wrong that record is.

If it were true, it would mean God messed up.

Control: A Reality Check

In Genesis we read about a place called the Garden of Eden. It was a perfect environment, a perfect “home.”

In this perfect place there were two perfect people—God’s children, Adam and Eve. Wouldn’t that be nice to have perfect children?

And there was a perfect God—the perfect parent.

There was also a rule: “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17).

You’ve probably heard the rest of the story.

Adam and Eve chose foolishly, defying what God had told them.

Our human decay and ultimate death are stark reminders of that wrong choice—made by perfect people in a perfect environment with a perfect parent.

So what did God do wrong? If He “trained them in the way they should go,” why did Adam and Eve choose the other option? If Proverbs 22:6 is a guarantee of success for parents, why wasn’t it a guarantee for the Author of the Book?

Enter free will.

I’m talking about a God-given freedom to choose—part of being created in His image. Adam and Eve exercised it, and your teenagers exercise it today.

“But I want them to turn out right,” you say.

Yes. I agree with you. But that’s not your job.

“But I want the best for them, for their sakes.”

I won’t argue with that. But it’s still not your job to make sure they do.


I know. I’m a parent, too.

You do have a job, which I’ll get to in the next chapter; it’s just not that one. You could do everything exactly “right” all 18 years of your child’s life under your roof—assuming you could know what “exactly right” was—and he or she could still choose “wrong.”

God has given our children the option to be foolish, even to sin.

He doesn’t want them to be foolish or to sin. But they’re free moral agents to pick right or wrong, wisdom or folly, truth or lies, righteousness or evil.

To a parent, that’s scary news. There really is a whole lot more that you can’t control than you can control.

But before you get too discouraged, rest assured that we’ll get to the topic of influence—of which you have a great amount with your children. You are not powerless as the parent of a teenager.

For now, though, I want you to go back and read the fine print on the bottom of that contract—the one you signed when you became a parent, the one that includes the possibility of having your heart broken.

“I never signed up for that,” you might say.

But that’s exactly what you did. You opened your heart to the possibility that it would be broken by the very child you love and want the best for.

You signed up to raise a little person—one for whom you’re responsible but are not able to control.

So before we go on, take time right now (yes, I mean right now, or you probably won’t do it at all) to contemplate the powerful words of “The Serenity Prayer.”

It may be familiar. You even may have it memorized. But as you reflect on it this time, don’t do it as an abstraction or for somebody else’s benefit. Do it practically, for yourself as the parent of a teenager. Make it a personal prayer from your heart to God.


God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;

Enjoying one moment at a time;

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;

Taking, as He did, this sinful world

As it is, not as I would have it;

Trusting that He will make all things right

If I surrender to His will;

That I may be reasonably happy in this life

And supremely happy with Him

Forever in the next.


For any parent who just wants their teenager to turn out "right", I highly recommend you read this book. My kids aren't even at the 'teenager' stage, yet, but I still found this book incredibly insightful and helpful, and think it will really come in handy in about 5 years! ;)

Mr. Sanford helps you, the reader, to understand, first, the difference between 'control' and 'influence'. He then goes on to show why one works and the other doesn't.

Many examples are given, and the word-pictures Mr. Sanford uses really help you to grasp the concepts presented.

There's even an entire chapter dedicated to explaining the different levels of services available to help parents of truly out-of-control teens.

This is, by far, the best "parenting" book I've ever read. Highly recommended.

Rated: A-

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

REVIEW: Dream Homes: A Memoir by Joyce Zonana

Joyce was born in Cairo and, shortly thereafter, emigrated with her family to America.

As she grew up –an Egyptian Jew, Joyce struggled to figure out who she really was, and where she truly belonged.

She never really settled in any once place, moving frequently for on reason or another. But I think she finally discovered her “self”, nonetheless.

An interesting book, though I could’ve done without the bits about Joyce’s “relations” with this or that person.

Rated: B-