Chapter 1: Gifts and Callings
When my daughter was little, she definitely had a flair for the dramatic. She was fun-loving but with a serious side and a true sense of right and wrong. There was a Burger King commercial on television back then and the tag line was “Sometimes you just gotta break the rules!” Each time it would come on TV, Franny would loudly shout, “No, you don’t! You don’t break the rules!”
She loved to sing and dance and change her outfit half a dozen times a day, and I began to have a sense that maybe my little drama queen was inclined toward the performing arts. So like millions of moms do every day, I signed her up for ballet lessons. To say she loved it would be an understatement. She took to it like a duck to water—loving the pink tights, the hair in a bun, and especially when Miss Gina would single her out for a word of encouragement!
As time went on I started getting the sense that maybe God had something more for her in the performing arts. That’s when we intentionally began to take steps to expose her to the arts in a variety of small ways such as seeing the annual production of The Nutcracker at Christmas, watching old movie musicals, and taking her to children’s theater productions. We didn’t take huge steps, but we made small investments to see how she responded and to see if my hunch was right. For her seventh birthday we took her to see the Broadway production of The Secret Garden, and she was completely captivated with the show and with musical theater in general from that moment on. That’s when my husband and I really began praying about her future and what more we might do to help mine the treasure in her.
Mining the Greatness
1.an excavation made in the earth for the purpose of extracting ores, coal, precious stones, etc.
2. a place where such minerals may be obtained, either by excavation or by washing the soil.
3. a natural deposit of such minerals.1
Precious metals and precious stones are embedded in rocks and have to be extracted. Metals especially don’t generally appear in nature in their pure form. Shafts and tunnels are cut into the earth. The rock is quarried and then smelted with heat to remove the dross from the ore. It’s a difficult, tedious process, and it takes time and effort. The results, however, are certainly worth the effort to tap those precious veins beneath the earth.
Our children’s gifts are sometimes buried deep. It’s up to us to mine the gift in them, extract it, and allow it to be shaped and polished to be useful in building the kingdom of God. The effort requires selfless dedication on our part and an investment of time and finances, but one that pays lifelong dividends in the life of your child.
What is God showing you about your child? What traits is he expressing? What most interests or intrigues him? Is he outgoing or introspective? Is he intellectual or athletic? Is he artistic and creative or mechanically minded and good with his hands? And what are the dreams you have inside for him? Do you have a knowing deep inside about his life? Has God given you a glimpse into his future? What do you see when you pray for him?
I believe it’s my job to find out who God made my child to be. What particular path has He set for him? What’s unique about his personality, gifts, talents, and aspirations? How do I help him find the life God has already planned for him? What is God’s purpose for his life and how do I train him to accomplish his purpose?
Psalm 139:13–16 says it so beautifully:
For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.
He knows our paths and has already written them in His book!
I don’t claim to be an expert in child rearing, but I am an expert in raising my child. Just as you are an expert in raising your child. The fact is, no one knows your child better than you, and as your child grows and develops, his gifts and talents will be more obvious to you than to anyone else.Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his individual gift or bent], and when he is old he will not depart from it. —Proverbs 22:6, amp
Parents, we are the trainers, and train is an active word! We train the whole child in the Word and godliness, in faith and biblical principles. We train them to obey and honor Him in thought, word, and deed. We train them to pursue their future careers and callings. We do them a great disservice if we take this responsibility lightly. God has given us a sacred trust by allowing us to be the stewards of our children. Here is the note on this scripture in my Spirit -Filled Life Bible: “Train up” has the idea of a parent graciously investing in a child whatever wisdom, love, nurture, and discipline is needed for him to become fully committed to God. It presupposes the emotional and spiritual maturity of the parent to do so. “In the way he should go” is to do the training according to the unique personality, gifts, and aspirations of the child. It also means to train the child to avoid whatever natural tendencies he might have that would prevent total commitment to God (for example, a weak
will, a lack of discipline, a susceptibility to depression). Hence, the promise is that proper development
insures the child will stay committed to God.2 There are many good resources available on how to raise your child in “the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4, kjv).I’m trying to convey something else in this book. If you are a Christian parent, it’s a given that you will raise your child to love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. Teaching our children to know and love God and to delight in Him should be our highest aim as we raise our kids.
My goal is to inspire you to partner with God to mine the greatness that’s lying dormant in your child. Each of us is capable of far more than we think we are. I truly believe we are capable of greatness and we shouldn’t be afraid to pursue it. God will show you the gifts and talents, the callings and destiny residing in your child. For your children to become all that God has designed them to be, means you have to be willing to go the extra mile and not assume they will simply “figure it out” when they are grown.
Too many parents seem content to allow their children to drift into young adulthood and then wonder what turned them into adultolescents (a person who has physically matured to adulthood, yet still behaves like an adolescent) and why they seem to have no direction in life. Childhood is an innocent time of wonder and discovery and endless possibilities, and it desperately requires our care, nurturing, and firm direction! Helping your child to explore life’s endless possibilities will open the floodgates to dreaming big dreams. As time goes on, with your guidance, he will narrow his choices, focus on what really interests him and embark on the path to building a future in the center of God’s will for his life.
I firmly believe God shows parents from the time their kids are small what He has invested in them. He shows us their bent and our job is to dig deep and find the depth of the gifts and callings buried inside. It is important we are not too busy or distracted with life to see what God is eager to reveal to us in each of our children.
Bumps Along the Road
When Franny had just turned twenty years old she backed into a lawyer’s car, in the lawyer’s driveway, after the lawyer had warned her to “be careful not to back into my car.” Naturally she felt foolish and was extremely upset. She knew Dad was likely to ask his famous twenty questions when she got home and was not looking forward to it. As she was driving home, she began crying and praying. The Lord began to speak to her heart,
reminding her she wasn’t perfect and it was OK with Him. He made her the way she was and to just relax and trust Him. She began singing this chorus: “I got a couple dents in my fender, got a couple rips in my jeans, try to fit the pieces together but perfection is my enemy. And on my own I’m so clumsy, but on Your shoulders I can see, I’m free to be me.”3
The next day she sat on the end of her bed and played for her dad and me the finished song God had dropped in her spirit during the drive home the day before. It might sound crazy, but as soon as I heard it, I knew this was a hit song. This occurred way before Franny moved to Nashville, had signed a record deal, or had any inkling anything like that was even possible. But I knew, because God knew and was just sharing my daughter’s
future with me. Three years later, “Free to Be Me” was the first single by a female artist to hit number one at Christian radio in eight years, remaining at number one for ten weeks!
People ask me all the time, “Did you ever think your daughter would do so well?” “Did you ever think you would hear her on the radio?” or “Are you surprised by her success?” The answers are yes, yes, and no! Mike and I always had a “knowing” deep inside about her career path as she got older. We sensed where God was going, and we let Him plant big dreams in us for her. From the time she was fifteen and beginning to pursue music more seriously, we would watch the televised Grammy Awards every year and every year I would say to her, “You’re going to be up there one day.” I don’t know why I said it; I just knew deep down it was true and, knowing words have creative power, I believed it important to actually speak it out.
I found an old journal recently and in thumbing through it, came across this entry. February 28, 2002:
Hi, Lord. It’s me, bugging You! Last night we watched the
Grammys and Franny’s emotions were so stirred she cried
through much of it. Mike says I set her expectations too high,
but I believe if You are going to go for something, go for the
highest. It’s not that it’s so important to win an award but
winning represents being at a level where you have respect
and acceptance. I know she is willing to work hard and
she will work hard. Show her mercy and encourage her in
all her hard work. Let her redouble her efforts and give it
everything she’s got. Show her Your favor and love. Raise
her up in the music business and let her be a shining, warm,
beautiful light. Give Mike and I wisdom with how to guide
her. Thanks, Lord!
In December 2009, seven years after I wrote in my journal, Franny was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Gospel Performance category for her song “Free to Be Me”! People asked me if I was surprised and truly I can say I wasn’t. I’d been praying about it for seven years! I was thrilled of course, but not surprised. It was just one more confirmation of what I already knew. She hasn’t won a Grammy yet, but I’m still praying!
My Story and I’m Sticking to It
Franny comes by her gifts naturally. She has the added benefit of parents who happened to stumble upon, believe in, and latch onto God’s principles for growing great kids. While it is certainly an unmistakable advantage to be raised immersed in these principles, successful adults can and do spring from circumstances where these principles are absent, but perhaps at play to some degree in the background. I didn’t have parents who followed these principles, yet I was able to dig down deep and define what I wanted in life and pursue it. However, I wouldn’t recommend rolling the dice with your children by failing to employ every asset in your parenting arsenal to stack the deck in favor of your child’s future.
I grew up in circumstances quite different from those I trumpet on these pages, and yet somehow found a successful future in spite of it. My life’s circumstances led me on a journey that took its inevitable detours, but it’s my life story and I’m sticking to it! Just so you have a little background and can understand better where I’m coming from, here’s my story.
I grew up in an encouragement vacuum. My parents had four kids, and I assumed my place tucked right in the middle at number three. As a child of the 1950s and 1960s and the conventional worldview of parenting in quasi-Christian homes during that era, my parents were busy with the social priorities of their all-American suburban lives.
As far as spirituality and growing up, I remember two things vividly about God. I remember being in Sunday school at maybe four or five years old and singing “Jesus Loves Me This I Know,” and completely believing it was true. Whoever Jesus was, I knew He loved me. The other thing I recall was thinking to myself when I was about six that I didn’t ever want to die and if there was a way to live forever, I was going to find it.
I grew up attending the Episcopal Church. I learned all about the life of Jesus, but I never knew Him in a personal way and I didn’t know He could live in my heart. I enjoyed church. The mystery and beauty of the liturgy, the candles and communion, the fragrant flowers, beautiful stained glass, and impressive organ music all contributed to my feeling of awe about God and awareness of my insignificance. Our church had beautiful stone
floors so your footsteps echoed as you walked along. I loved the hymns we sang and the readings from the Book of Common Prayer and the mystery of taking communion. I knew God was contained in all those things, but I didn’t sense a clear pathway to meet Him. It was His house after all, but how did you take Him home?
To her credit, my mom had us kneel by our beds every night to say the Lord’s Prayer and blessings over the family. My grandfather was a man of strong faith. He used to read Bible stories to us when we stayed over, and he would make them come alive. We would beg him for just one more! He would write in his Bible and underline scripture, something I take after him in. We could often find Grandpa stretched out over the couch in his office praying for what seemed like hours. We always knew not to disturb him during those times. He was not a perfect man by any means but those things I witnessed in him. His love for God and his devotion to his church and family have stuck with me all these years.
My childhood was pleasant with the typical ups and downs but no major traumas or tragedies. I rarely heard words that affirmed my value and potential or words encouraging me to believe the world was my oyster and I could be anything I wanted to be. There were lots of arguments between my parents and all the siblings. Expectations were high of course, but there was precious little praise and encouragement to attain them and far too much criticism. Somewhere in adolescence my self-esteem began to suffer, and I no longer felt comfortable sharing openly with my parents. My future lacked any kind of shape with no real direction. I didn’t have a clear cut path to run on with lots of support and nurturing. So I floated through high school. I floated through four colleges in two years. I was adrift with no focus and no goals.
I knew from the time I was a little girl that I loved to sing. It was my one passion, and I did what I could to develop my singing in high school. I joined the choir and did the yearly high school musical. We happened to have a wonderful and dedicated voice teacher at my high school, so I took advantage of her lessons. But I was pretty much on my own in my pursuit of music.
I asked my mom years later why she never pushed me or encouraged me in music and her response was fairly typical for her generation. She felt if it was really something I wanted to do, I’d pull myself up by my own initiative and make it happen. Actually, she was right. It’s exactly what I did, but I think I would have avoided a great many pitfalls along the way if I’d had her support.
As it happened, I discovered musical theater when I turned twenty. I began working in a local community theater where I lived in New Jersey and in two years performed in more than fifteen productions. I got a crash course in musical theater to say the least! I stumbled on an article in a magazine about goal setting and because it made logical sense to me, I started setting some practical goals. Not long after, I was auditioning for roles in New York City. I got my Actors’ Equity card and started doing lots of regional theater, actually surviving as a working
I began working with an agent, and he secured me an audition for the Broadway national tour of The King and I starring Yul Brynner. My audition was for the role of the understudy for the part of “Anna,” played by Deborah Kerr in the movie. I was a young actress in my twenties, and this was by far the biggest thing that had come along for me. To make a long story short, I got the role of the understudy and happily packed my steamer trunk and went out on the road. I faithfully rehearsed my part never thinking I would ever really get the chance to perform. But when preparation meets opportunity, miracles can happen!
Life Comes at You Fast
About two months into the run of the show, I arrived at the theater around 7:15 p.m. for the 8:00 p.m. curtain only to find out the leading lady was sick and I was going on for the first time as the leading lady in forty-five minutes! I knew my part well but had never worn the costumes or handled the props, let alone been onstage with Yul Brynner! I was freaking out, but I had to focus and get ready. The night turned out well and I got to perform the role of Anna for two weeks while the leading lady was out with pneumonia. In the end, Yul Brynner (who not only starred in the show but was also one of its producers) preferred me in the role so he bought out the leading lady’s contract and offered me the role of a lifetime! It was an amazing time for me. I was privileged to play the part of Anna more than a thousand times, before more than a million theatergoers, over the next two-and-a-half years!
The best part of the entire experience though, was meeting my husband, Mike. He joined the tour about six months into the run of the show as the associate conductor and, as he likes to say, we literally fell in love across the footlights!
After performing eight shows a week for the next two-and-ahalf years, we left the tour, moved back to New York City, got married, bought a little condo in Greenwich Village and began our new life together. A year later, we found ourselves answering an altar call and giving our hearts to the Lord. Franny was born a year later, and we thoroughly enjoyed our new little family amid all the excitement of living and working in the hustle and bustle of New York’s music and theater world.
It wasn’t long, though, before we began to feel the tug on our hearts to lay down the business we had worked so hard to find our way in and follow what God had in store for us next. Bucking conventional wisdom, but following what we believed was God’s best for our family, we eventually left New York and our careers behind to embark on building a new life that included moving to the suburbs, starting a new business, and homeschooling our little girl.
Meet My Husband, Mike
Mike comes from a family without a rich musical heritage. In his case, however, his parents were very encouraging and supported his early interest in music. They purchased the finest musical instruments they could afford, drove him to weekly trumpet lessons at the Juilliard School preparatory division, and sacrificed to send him to National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan, during the summer. He later graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy, received his bachelor’s degree from the Eastman School of Music, and went on to earn his master’s and doctorate in music. He was a studio musician and played trumpet and flugelhorn in Broadway pit orchestras and musically directed and conducted on Broadway, on national tour, and at Radio City Music Hall. In his case, he was the first in his family who expressed any gifting in music. Often children inherit their parents’ gifts and carry on the family business, and other times they plow new ground.
With both her parents involved in musical theater professionally, you could say Francesca was destined to go into the arts, and specifically music. It was more likely in her case because of the very musical environment in which she was raised, not to mention being thrown into the deep end of her parent’s gene pool! But not every child’s course is as easy to recognize.
With our daughter, obviously she inherited gifts and talent in music and the performing arts. Our job was to take those gifts and give them shape; give her opportunities to be trained in those areas; and expose her to teachers, classes, and mentors who would take her where God called her to go. We couldn’t assume she was going to follow exactly in our footsteps. And we had to make sure she knew her gifts and talents weren’t what defined her. We were going to love her no matter what life she chose. We had to seek God for His wisdom in her unique expression of her gifts in the performing arts. Our part was to mine those gifts and talents, and her part was to be diligent with what God entrusted to her. Success doesn’t happen by accident. It takes years of hard work.
I believe if we seek Him, God is faithful to put a dream in parents’ hearts for their children. He gives us a sense as they grow. Sometimes it’s just an inkling that turns into a knowing, and over time becomes a certainty. He entrusts the dream to us and gives us the responsibility to dig it out and give it shape. Kids don’t become successful adults by accident.
Success and Environment
In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, he writes: People don’t rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot. It makes a difference where and when we grew up. The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to imagine. It’s not enough to ask what successful people are like, in other words. It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.4
The first place your child is from is you. You will have the biggest impact on his future. How you live, how you love, how you handle money, what you do in your free time, and the standard of integrity and honesty you set in your life—all these things and many more will shape your child into the adult he will become. You alone can give him the “hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities,” and as you seek the Lord, He’ll show them to you.
How many families do you know whose adult children can’t seem to commit to their own future? And parents who don’t have a clue as to how to guide them? There is a culture of drift all around us—adults with no goals or dreams who are living out their lives in mediocre jobs, having little impact on society. If parents abdicate their responsibility and give it over to the school system or the church, they contribute to the drift. We aren’t supposed to be going nowhere. Destiny connotes a destination. But God won’t do it for you. You have to do it in partnership with God.
Who you are is going to shape who your child becomes. If education is important to you, you will raise your child expecting him to go to college and get good grades, barring any serious learning disabilities. If learning to manage money is important in your family then you will teach your child about budgeting at an early age and require him to earn the money to buy the things he wants and get a job when he is old enough. If parents
are extravagant in their spending their kids will be too! If sports are important in your family, you will set an example by making exercise a priority and being available to coach your child and take him to games and sporting events. If the arts are your passion, you will expose him to great music, museums, ballet, and theatrical productions. If you believe there is greatness in your child, you will find it and find ways to mine it!
It’s All in the Name
When Franny was a preteen, I became curious about what her name meant. I knew that Battistelli meant “to hit the stars” and I wondered what the name Francesca meant. So I looked it up at the bookstore in one of those baby name books. I found out the name Francesca means “free.” I was stunned! It was one more confirmation of what I was beginning to sense about her future, and I excitedly told her and Mike what I’d found. Her name
meant “free to hit the stars.” Talk about a prophetic picture! I was able to encourage her and remind her during down times just what her name meant and the destiny it conveyed.
Personality—Who Is She Like?
One thing that fascinated me when my daughter was young was the difference in our personalities. I’m pretty steady emotionally, calm, cool, and very practical and unsentimental. I love home, family, and the homemaking arts such as cooking, gardening, and so on. My husband is more of a type-A personality. He is a leader, strong-willed, and independent with a strong work ethic and a dedication to personal integrity. Our daughter isn’t exactly like either of us. She is sensitive, emotional, analytical, introverted, and a bit of a perfectionist. She has pieces of both of us but not a full distillation of either mom or dad.
God gave her a unique personality and our job was to parent who she was, not who we may have wanted her to be. Also, we had to be mindful not to superimpose our unfulfilled dreams onto her life. Remember, we had achieved a measure of success in the music and musical theater worlds. It would have been easy to assume she would follow in our footsteps and go into the theater in order to fill up some leftover longing or regret in us. Actually, in our case, knowing what we knew about that world, we purposely tried to steer her away from “the business” early on and focus her on dance. However, by the time she was eleven, she was already involved in professional theater here in Orlando, Florida. She even got mom to be in several shows with her! Often, the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree!
If your children are young, then now is the time to really be seeking God about their future. It’s never too early to begin, in fact, the earlier the better! You probably already have an idea what their gifts and talents are. Ask God to give you a glimpse into their future. He will lead you step by step as you seek His wisdom in raising your unique child.
There is so much more in our children than we realize, and they are capable of far more than we give them credit for. There are precious metals and rare jewels deep inside your child. You will have to dig them out, but it will be well worth it when you launch them out into life knowing you did everything you could to equip them for success. And by success I mean doing what God has called them to do with passion and purpose and with Christ at the center. Perhaps God will call them into fulltime ministry as a missionary. Maybe He’ll give them a platform in Christian music to influence other young people to pursue God with passion and purity. Maybe your child is called to be a political leader, teacher, business owner, or inventor of something that will change the world. Maybe your daughter wants more than anything to grow up and be a mom, a noble and worthy goal. Whatever God shows you, believe it and get moving. Nothing is more exciting than partnering with God!
Questions to Ask Yourself
Has God given you a dream deep inside for your child?
What gifts and talents is your child expressing?What has God put in your heart about your child’s future?
What personality traits have you observed?
What practical steps can you take to train your child, both in godly principles and in helping them achieve his dreams?
Are you being proactive about your child’s future or are you letting him drift?
Do you believe that greatness resides in your child?
Lord, I come humbly before You with wonder and amazement at the precious gift of my child that You have entrusted
to me. The course of this life is in Your hands, and I ask for wisdom and discernment in raising him. Help me to
uncover all the gifts, talents, and callings You have placed deep inside him. I know my child is fearfully and wonderfully
made, and I am excited to discover all You created him to be. Help me to be the parent he needs me to be and to have the ability to equip him to fulfill every dream in Your heart for him. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear as I raise him. Help me to be an example of integrity, humility, honesty, and diligence in all that I do. I pray this in Jesus’s name!