She was the wife of a pastor, an author, and a mom to their kids. And then she discovered that her marriage had gone sideways.
Jill Savage joins The AllMomDoes Podcast host Julie Lyles Carr for a frank discussion on the impact on wellness when your marriage falls apart, and the most important things Jill learned about taking care of herself in the midst of it.
Purposely: your life, God’s purpose. Listen at onpurposely.com.
Julie Lyles Carr: Hey there I’m Julie Lyles Carr of the AllMomDoes podcast where we are in a series on mental health and mental wellness. Let’s jump right into the next episode. Today on the AllMomDoes podcast, I am delighted to introduce you to Jill Savage. Jill, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
Jill Savage: Well, thank you for having me.
Julie Lyles Carr: We have had worlds that have at times crossed orbit, but we finally are getting to sit down and have a conversation. I’m so glad about that. Tell my listeners where in the world you hail from and marriage, kids, season of life you’re in, all the good stuff.
Yeah, well, um, my husband and I live in Normal, Illinois, and yes, we have a lot of fun with that, uh, name, Normal Illinois. Normal, Illinois. So yeah, our kids went to “Normal” schools. We go to a “Normal” church and honestly it’s really become kind of the brand that we operate under because our goal is to help moms and help marriages deal with the normal stuff of life. And so, um, that’s really, uh, what our heartbeat is. Um, I’m a mom of five and I, um, all of my kids are grown, so they’re all in their twenties and their thirties. And we have a handful of grandchildren. Um, love that, love that I call the season I’m in the “encore” season of life.
Encore. I like that because you get to do some of the best, uh, you get to Encore. For instance, we just had our grandkids for three days. Um, their parents had to go out of town and, you know, we got to help with homework and we got to do the school pickup and some of those Encore things that I enjoyed. Um, but guess what?
We got to send them home last night. So love that. It’s a little easier. Oh yeah, absolutely.
I love this play on “Normal.” My first book proposal years ago, and it ended up going through iterations that it does until finally it becomes the book that the publisher wants, but the working title was “What’s Normal, Anyway?” It makes me think of the name of your town. That’s pretty fun. So in all of this, when I hear you recount the five kids and the grandkids and living in Normal, Illinois, and all of the things, and I love that you want to reach out and make a difference in the lives of women who are experiencing what we do consider normal things in life.
And yet, sometimes there can be seasons that if you’re the one going through it, it can feel less than normal. Even if the statistics are there to say, actually, this is a common experience. You and your husband walked through a really challenging season many years ago that I’m sure probably felt anything but normal to you.
What was that season and what were the feelings that came up as a result of that season?
Jill Savage: Yeah. Yeah. Well, um, so my husband was a pastor for 20 years and, um, in 2010 he made the decision to leave pastoring, um, started his own construction company. Um, he was pretty burnt out. I didn’t realize how burnt out he was, he didn’t realize how burnt out he was.
Um, he’s also struggled with depression, all of our married life. Um, he was raised in a very unhealthy home and unhealthy, um, environment. Um, so some of that is environmental. Some of it probably genetic seems like there’s been a lot of depression in his family line. And so he had always struggled with that.
So I knew in 2010, that depression was a piece of it. Um, but I’d never seen him struggle like this. And by mid 2011, he was just spiraling emotionally, but it had become something different. He was kind of angry. He was angry at the world. He was angry at me. He was angry at God. He was angry at people.
Everybody was letting him down. We now can look back and realize that he was in a full-on midlife crisis. But, um, at that point I wasn’t quite sure what was going on and unfortunately in the midst of that he had an affair and that affair went on for about nine months. It was a very, very dark season. Uh, he went back and forth between recommitting to our marriage and going back to the other relationship seven times. I mean the emotional roller coaster of that, as you can only imagine, uh, was a mix of rejection, um, a mix of confusion, uh, sadness, grief, fear. All of those emotions were coming at once. And I was, I felt like I, I didn’t know what my, my, my life was going to look like in a month or two months or six months or a year. Um, because for the first time in my life, I, I realized that a marriage, uh, takes two people.
Um, a divorce only requires one person to make that decision. And I, he was headed down that direction. And so I was, um, I was overwhelmed. Um, but at the same time, I’m so grateful I had my faith because I can’t even imagine walking through that without having, uh, the ability to hold God’s hand and to go, okay, I don’t know what my life is going to look like, but I know who you are. And I know that you don’t change.
So my life is changing minute by minute, but you are the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. And honestly, it is the only thing that kept my head above water during that dark season.
Julie Lyles Carr: As you were walking through that as you began to realize the severity of what was going on, how much of that, you know, sometimes I think we blow off midlife crisis is like, ah, you know, formulaic people go through it, but you and I both, I’m sure I’ve lived enough life now to realize that that season, whenever it hits for someone – and of course this is something that can hit women as well – we see people make really altering decisions moving forward, that all of a sudden it’s like they can hear the clock and all the things that are on that list of things they wished they had done or felt they had been prevented from doing in their lives.
All of a sudden that list be, can become paramount. And a lot of times there’s anger. From the person experiencing it to that community that has held them close, including that spouse. Did you experience a lot of that backwash of anger on to you?
Jill Savage: Oh, uh, well I didn’t find myself angry, but I was the brunt of his anger.
I felt like our marriage, our marriage was the scapegoat for everything that was going on inside of him. And if you, you know, he, and I now speak very openly about this. We speak about it together. Obviously our marriage did make it, and, um, he made a huge turnaround, a huge surrender day. In fact, it was, um, Easter Sunday of 2012.
We say, we like to say he had his own personal resurrection and he literally did. Um, but. Without a doubt I was, I was the scapegoat for all of that. Thankfully I knew it wasn’t all about me. Um, thankfully I didn’t believe what he was saying. At the same time I had to begin to look at what I like to say is I didn’t cause my husband’s infidelity, but I contributed to the dysfunction of our marriage.
So I had to be willing to look at the things that I was bringing to the party. I had to be willing to look at the ways that I was being that I was unhealthy in our relationship. So, you know, so he was pointing the finger and going well, it’s you and you and you and you, and you. And I had to just look at that and go, okay, what’s my 5% of that? What’s my 10% of that? And begin to own those things.
Julie Lyles Carr: How did you, with anger coming at you from him, and then just the uncertainty of thinking that, okay, we’re a couple who has cleared the hurdle of raising kids and getting kids launched and we’ve probably been through some lean seasons financially, and maybe things are evening out and, and all of the things that you would hope to walk into in that chapter in life.
To find all of that on such unsteady ground, how did you navigate the emotions that came as a result of that? Because it seems to me like there would be the emotions of the crisis itself. Like what do I do to fix this? How do I, how, what am I, what is going on? And then there would be the things that would follow. The emotions that would follow whether, whether the relationship had stayed together or had not.
Uh, to my mind, it would feel like there could be resentment and a sense of PTSD, you know? Is there anything that stable anymore? What were those emotions like for you? What were the ones that you can identify now? And how would you begin trying to manage those?
Jill Savage: Well, I think that grief is layered. And that’s what you’re talking about here is you’re talking about layered grief and, um, and so yes, I was grieving what was happening in the moment, but it was also grieving the possibility that how I had imagined my life to play out at this point was not going to be happening.
And. Um, and on top of that, so at the time that this was happening, we had three adults. Uh, three of our kids were adults in their twenties and two were teenagers still at home. So I was not only navigating my own grief and my own fear and my own frustration and my own hurt. I was carrying all five of theirs as well. Right? Because they knew that their dad was not himself. They knew. And I initially they did not know about the infidelity. They didn’t know about the infidelity until six months after I knew about the infidelity. Um, they knew dad was not okay. They knew dad was struggling. They knew dad was on an emotional rollercoaster, but they just couldn’t – I was hoping that he and I could work through that and then we could let them know what we’d walked through because I just wanted to spare them that, um, but when he finally left, um, which, uh, I mean, at that point they had to know. Um, and they had to know why he left and, um, what the dynamics were. So I was navigating their hurt on top of my hurt.
So what I also learned, um, in that is that forgiveness is layered and forgiveness is the key to keeping resentment away. So, uh, so shortly after I discovered the infidelity, I begged God. I mean, I was begging God to tell me what to do. You know, God, please tell me what to do. And I heard only one thing, Julie, only one thing. I heard God whispered in my heart: I want you to love him.
And I wanted to be like, you gotta be kidding me. Right? Like, I don’t know if you’ve noticed lately God, but he’s not real lovable. And God whispered back to my heart and I don’t notice it: I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but sometimes you’re not either. And I was like, You’re right. God, you love me when I’m unlovable.
I don’t know how to do that. I only know how to love someone who’s loving me back. I don’t know how to love someone who’s hard to love. So God took me on this journey of learning how to love not because somebody deserved it, but because God loved me first and his love, his unconditional love, can actually flow through us to others.
And so that became, um, my journey was learning how to love when it was hard and learning how to forgive over and over and over and over and over again. I mean, there were some days that I probably had to forgive 50 times in a 24 hour period. See, and most of us don’t think of forgiveness being used that way. We think of forgiveness as being, um, like, okay, something big happens and I need to forgive it.
Julie Lyles Carr: One time events.
Jill Savage: Yeah. Right. But the truth is we, we live with imperfect people and if we’re. If somebody’s going through something hard, there’s a lot of imperfect in their lives. They’re making a lot of decisions. Those decisions are affecting you, and it could be as simple as you asked a question and they gave you a snarky answer – to – you find out that they, uh, have been deceitful and deceptive. So both of those require forgiveness for us to keep our heart in an untangled place. Because what, what happens is we get all tangled up with offense. And when we get all tangled up with offense that oftentimes becomes unforgiveness, it becomes bitterness and, and ultimately that is poison and it’s poison inside of us.
So. For me, um, several years earlier, I had heard Jennifer Rothschild. I’d heard her speak and Jennifer is blind and she had made a statement and it referred to her blindness, but she had said it is not well with my circumstances, but it is well with my soul. And I remembered that now at the time that I heard it I didn’t, I didn’t need it because it was well with my circumstances, but I was reminded of that little phrase that was easy to remember during this dark season. And that became my prayer: Lord, it is not well with my circumstances but I want it to be well with my soul, no matter what happens. If my marriage makes it, if it doesn’t make it, I, I want it to be well with my soul.
And so that’s where I had to move my eyes from the mountain to the mountain mover. That’s where I had to learn to love deeper. That’s where I had to learn to utilize forgiveness over and over minute by minute, hour by hour. And to forgive doesn’t mean to trust. And to forgive, doesn’t mean to forget. It just means that you are taking responsibility and you are working through it with the Lord to keep your heart uncluttered and available to him.
Julie Lyles Carr: How did you, in this posture of deciding, okay, we’re going through this stuff. Everyday seems to be a new pick-your-own-adventure kind of situation, and not in a good way. Where is the line between staying in a posture of being openhearted and forgiving, but at the same time, not getting into a place that can look like codependency, meaning that you’re putting up with everything, you’re not really addressing what’s going on because I do think in our faith communities, Jill, we have done women a disservice at times, and I think we can do men the same disservice, so let me just clarify that. I’ve seen marriages that have stayed together through an entire range of emotional abuse, infidelity, financial shenanigans, all kinds of stuff, and sometimes way past the point, perhaps that it should have remained in that “trying” status. I’ve I’ve seen others, that at the first drop of a hat of any relatively small thing, somebody proclaims, this is an abusive relationship because, you know, he didn’t remember to do this on his way home from the store, you know, whatever.
And you kind of go really. I mean, you know, so where is that line? Where we can say, okay, I want to try to work this out. But I also need to be aware that there are some places that if I lapse over into that, I may be putting myself, it may make the entire situation even unhealthier, even though I’m trying really hard to stay super open to allowing this to be put back together.
Jill Savage: Yeah. Um, well, two, two things. First, I had a really good friend that challenged me in the midst of, uh, this season. And she said, Jill, make sure that you are not making, saving your marriage an idol.
Julie Lyles Carr: Um, wow, that is, that is profound.
Jill Savage: Oh, I needed to hear that. And I love my friend Becky, and she is a truth speaker in my life.
And I needed to hear that because I was on the edge of doing that. And so I moved, saving my marriage off the altar, and I put God on the altar. And so I think that was that’s one step is that we have to make sure that we are not making, um, saving our marriage, saving this child, saving whatever the thing is that we want so badly, right. That we’re not making that thing an idol in our life where we’re worshiping it more than the person than God.
Um, the second thing is boundaries. Boundaries are appropriate and boundaries are a form of love. And so, um, when my husband left, um, I changed the locks on the door. I told him he could not just show up at the house and get anything that he wanted.
My boys, my two teenage boys were devastated. And so I had to do that to protect their hearts. And, and I told my husband, I will get you, you know, anything that you need from the house. I will, I had a friend that lived a mile down the road and I, we just had an agreement that anything he needed, I could leave at her house and he could pick it up from her. Because I needed to protect our boys. They, they were just beyond heartbroken. I had to draw some lines with money. He was misusing our money to fund his other, his, this other lifestyle. And so I had to make some very difficult decisions, uh, to open up a bank account and, uh, no longer could we have shared banking during this mess, right? Those were actually forms of love. Um, they were forms of love for me. They were forms of love for my children and they were a form of love for my husband because, uh, sometimes we have to say, no, this is not okay. And, um, so I, I think that it’s the mix of not making your marriage an idol – and recognizing that boundaries are healthy.
Now, let me tell you, I set every one of those boundaries to the best of my human ability and I didn’t always do it well, and I didn’t do it perfectly, but God was teaching me about love in a new way. And I sat every one of them in a loving way. So when he would say, Hey, I need this, I want to stop by and pick it up at the house.
And I would say, no, I’m sorry. I won’t be that won’t be able to happen, but I am happy to get that for you and I’ll have it down at uh, our friend’s house, uh, by five o’clock tonight. So I, it wasn’t like, forget it, buddy. You, you left and you’re it. It was, it was even just that tone of voice was loving, but it was still setting an important boundary that protected me, that protected our kids and ultimately let my husband know what was okay and what wasn’t okay as far as our relationship went because of the choices he was making.
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How did you engage? And I realized this is a loaded term, Jill, because it can mean so many things to so many people. And it’s just, we all seem to have a sense of it. We find it sometimes difficult to define, but how did you engage in self-care for yourself, with all of the energy and emotion and spiritual focus that had to be going into this at the time?
What were the things that you discovered were nurturing for your soul, regardless of what was going to be happening in the marriage, wherever boundaries were needing to be set, whatever actions had to be taken beyond that. How did you make sure that you were staying nurtured, well- loved, appreciated, and it was probably having to come from you?
How did you do that?
Jill Savage: Well, um, number one was God’s word. It was my wisdom. It was a balm to my wounded soul. Psalms is so powerful when we are hurting, um, because David is pouring his heart out and we really see that. Um, and it became my direction- setter in life. Eventually guide led me to Romans 12, 9- 21, which I call unhumanable love.
And I literally would take my, my, my Bible to bed with me. I would lay it on my husband’s empty pillow, turn the light out, go to sleep – often, cry myself to sleep – wake up in the morning, and that God’s word was the first thing I saw on my husband’s pillow. I didn’t see the empty pillow. I saw God’s word on there and I would grab it and would be the first thing in the morning.
So staying in truth was a super important part of self care for me. The second thing I would say is um, uh, accepting help. You when you are in a crisis like that, if people offer help, just take it. This is not a time to be like, oh no, I’m okay. Just take it. Um, I had one friend that would call me and say, Hey, I’m at the grocery store is there anything, you need?
And I would be like, yes, I need milk. And I need a box of cereal. And. You know what she was doing? She kept me out of the grocery store so that I didn’t have to deal with people. Honestly, all it would take is for you to run into somebody and go, Hey, how you doing? And I’d be like a puddle in the middle of the produce section at the grocery store, right? So. I was just so appreciative of things like that.
For the first three days after he left, I could not eat. I was almost nonfunctional and I had a friend that came and stayed with me and had she not put food on the table and, and made me like, you have to eat at least five bites of this, Jill, and she fed my kids.
So just being willing to accept help or ask for help. Some people won’t know what to do, but just to say, I don’t have it in me to do carpool this week. Could you get my kids to, and from school, uh, this week? Uh, it’s okay to ask for that. Um, and when people say, let me know what you need. Uh, they, they ask with the kindest of hearts, but when someone’s in a crisis, they don’t know what they need. Just say, how about a meal? Just make that your standard. Let me know what you need. How about a meal? How about a meal? How about a meal? Because you just don’t have the energy. And then I would say that the last thing for me, um, was to still do something that I loved. Like I love to walk outside. So I made sure that I was getting myself outside and I was taking a walk and oftentimes I would do that and just cry and cry and cry while I walked.
But I was still doing something that I knew was healthy for me and filled my soul.
Julie Lyles Carr: Now your story ends up being able to be resolved in a way that I think a lot of people would love to see their story be resolved. The marriage was restored and you guys have now had 10 years to reflect back on that season and to be able to help others.
I love that you guys took a pause. This was not a story that you immediately came out and started teaching on and speaking on, you gave yourself some healing time. And I have to say, Jill, just confessional. When I’ve been part of church services where we do those cardboard testimonies, perhaps you’ve seen those where people get up and they’re like, oh, you know, this is what got fixed in our lives.
I’m always inside cringing a little bit because sometimes that rush to say, It’s all better. Everything’s fine. You know, the addiction is over or the marriage is healed or the financial situation got resolved. It’s been a phenomenal three months and you just think, oh no, because, and it’s not to say that some of those won’t stick because they do, but I’ve also seen situations where too quickly we try to – we want so badly to put things back the way they were and they will never be the way they were. Things are going to be different when you encounter crisis in your life. You’ve learned stuff. If there’s another person involved, they’ve learned stuff, and there are all kinds of things that get carried forward.
What are some of the lessons from that season? That crisis of being alone and having to be this incredible energy out-putter of forgiveness and love when it was not reciprocal at the time? What are the lessons you’ve carried forward that are allowing you to say, we’re a decade now post this crisis. And we now are able to help others.
The self-care practices you may have engaged in, the things you learned that could be of help and have maintained the marriage since that point forward. Talk to me about that, those things that you’ve.
Jill Savage: Yeah, well, you’re right. Um, we made a decision. It took us two years. Oh. So after my husband made his U-turn on Easter Sunday, 2012.
So, um, he really, he surrendered his own internal battle to God, said I’m done fighting. I’m done fighting, not my will, but yours be done, lord. And that was amazing. But that was only the beginning, the beginning. Right. We had to begin now we had a very broken relationship. He had a broken relationship with his children.
Um, we had lots to put back together and it took us 18 months of weekly marriage counseling to put the wheels back on the bus. And it took our kids, uh, some of our kids, it took them, uh, four or five years before they fully trusted their dad again. And so, um, we had, we just made an, an agreement. Um, and because we were very public figures at that time, but we were not going to talk about this publicly, um, until we were on the other side of it.
And at that point, Mark still was like, I don’t even ever want to talk about this. So it was actually three years later when, um, he felt like God was tapping us, tapping him on the shoulder, going all right. It’s time. And so we shared our story publicly for the first time, I think four years after it happened.
And in that we identified, um, you know, because we did a lot of dissection, like how did we get here? And, uh, we were doing a lot of the right things in our marriage. We knew each other’s love languages. We spoke them on a regular basis. We went away just the two of us. We had regular date nights. We did the right thing.
How did we end up here? Right. But we found that we ended up there in something that we call slow fades. That we had the slow fades, and they were robbing our marriage of connection and intimacy underneath the surface. So we looked pretty good on the outside, but underneath the surface things were not as healthy as they needed to be.
So we started labeling those slow fades. And honestly, this was just for us just so that we would understand how we ended up there. But as we shared that with some of our inner circle, people would go, gosh, I think those slow fades are happening in my marriage. So eventually, um, we identified seven slow fades that every marriage experiences and we began to look at, what did we utilize? What of God’s word did we utilize to get the wheels back on the bus? And we call those God Tools. So we identified eight God Tools. Initially we did a, uh, a blog series to kind of share our story publicly. That series went viral and eventually it became our “No More Perfect Marriages” book.
So in our “No More Perfect Marriages” book,, and then we also have an online seminar, No More Perfect Marriages online seminar. Um, we share the slow fades as well as the God tools that every couple needs to know about, even if they’re in a healthy place, because those slow fades are working underneath the surface and we need to recognize them and we need to stop them and we need to be using those God tools every day.
So, um, whether your marriage is hurting or whether it’s healthy. Uh, you need to know the slow fades in the God tools. And, um, because that is really going to make a difference in being able to root out issues before they become gaping holes in a relationship.
Julie Lyles Carr: Jill, how do you, because I know we may have some listeners who are like, oh, I’ve been through some stuff and I’m ready to use it for good. And I think there is something within us that God, places within us, that when we go through a tough thing, we want to be able to use that, to help others, which is a beautiful intent. There is also a real phenomenon though, that when we go back and revisit extreme points of pain, whether that has been a breakdown of a marriage, whether that has been an illness that we walked a loved one through whatever that thing might be, it can put us right back in that position emotionally. Of feeling all those feelings again. So what do you do in utilizing this and being able to talk to people, being able to help people, but how do you monitor the condition of your own heart in a form of, of being well, mentally and emotionally. That you’re revisiting this, but the, the sloppiness of all those emotions, doesn’t go spilling over into your everyday?
Jill Savage: Yeah. Yeah. Well, um, what I shared earlier about forgiveness, uh, it’s ongoing, uh, because, you know, if we’re talking with someone and, and those feelings rise up in me, then I deal with that right then, like, I don’t even let a tail get on that thing because it’s, it’s gonna go in a, in a, not in a good direction. Um, but I would say in general, because we have brought such closure to that painful place in our life and we have full closure with that. What does that mean? I mean, my husband has probably apologized for 150 to 200 different angles of that situation. Right. And then I have apologized for probably 150 to 200 different angles of the unhealthy stuff that I brought to our relationship. You know, you can look at it and say, well, he broke my trust with infidelity and he did. And that’s a really big infraction of trust, but guess what? I broke his trust with parenting him. I broke his trust with criticizing him. And so, um, I had to own those things. And so, um, I would say that we’ve done such a huge cleanup process. And then now we clean up in real time. Like we just don’t even let that stuff get into our heart. And so I would say we’re just, we are different people than we were then. And, um, we call ourselves we’re Mark and Jill 2.0. And Mark and Jill 2.0 work a lot better than Mark and Jill 1.0. But in order to have. And in fact, that’s really the heart of our relationship. We do what we call marriage 2.0, coaching with couples and we host marriage 2.0 intensives in our home where one couple comes, we work with them over three days, help them identify – what’s been the dynamics in 1.0, what do we want 2.0 to look like, and how are we going to get there? And, um, I would say that in order for there to be a Mark and Jill 2.0, there has to be a Jill 2.0. And there has to be a Mark 2.0. So both of us are committed to not allowing our hearts to be poisoned by unforgiveness and resentment and anger.
So when we’re, if we’re sharing our story and anything comes up, then we deal with that in our own heart. And so I I think that that’s the important part. And quite frankly, we will never stop growing. Never. And so I think that that’s the other thing is that when we’re sharing our story and something raises up inside of us, what we realize is, Hey, maybe there’s a little bit more healing to be done as it relates to that thing.
And so then we go get after that, whether we set up an appointment with our counselor individually, or together, we talk about it as a couple, we take it to the Lord. But we recognize that when those things raise up, that’s just our red flag. Let’s let’s take a look at this. And so we use it for growth.
Julie Lyles Carr: Well, Jill, I can’t thank you enough for being on and being willing to delve into this and in the ways in which you took care of yourself in a season, that was so difficult. I’m so thankful that you and mark have come out the other side so that we can all benefit from learning the lessons of what it took to get to Mark and Jill 2.0, what a great way of saying that.
Where can listeners go to find out more about the slow fades about the work that you’re doing, your books, all of that.
Jill Savage: Yeah. If they just go to markandjill.org, markandjill.org.
Julie Lyles Carr: Okay, awesome. We’ll get that in the show notes. Jill Savage. You’re the best. So thankful that we got to sit down and have this conversation.
Thanks again for being with me.
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