FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Making Choices

with Donna Otto | May 12, 2006
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On today's broadcast, Donna Otto, author of the book Finding Your Purpose as a Mom, tells women to be the thermostat in their homes and not a thermometer. Hear her explain why the difference in the two is so important.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • On today's broadcast, Donna Otto, author of the book Finding Your Purpose as a Mom, tells women to be the thermostat in their homes and not a thermometer. Hear her explain why the difference in the two is so important.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Donna Otto tells women to be the thermostat in their homes and not a thermometer.

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Making Choices

With Donna Otto
May 12, 2006
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Bob: Do you ever find yourself thinking that the Bible verse that says, "Be still and know that I am God," must have been written for a different century?  Here's Donna Otto.

Donna: The culture we live in has a different set of priorities, and one of those is extracurricular events.  So the 21st century is now saying to us high tech, 24/7 noise, entertainment, keep busy, no quiet.  People don't know how to be quiet, don't know how to meditate, don't know how to read the Scripture quietly, don't know how to be with Jesus quietly, and they have this perpetuation of you must be in many activities.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, May 12th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We're going to talk today about how a mom can get some quiet in her otherwise busy life.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  I remember a conversation we were having a while back with a couple of friends of yours – Robert and Bobbi Wolgemuth.  We were talking about home and a home having a distinctive aroma – the fragrance of Christ in your home.  I remember going back home and thinking, "What does my home smell like?" And I was thinking metaphorically, not literally, but I was thinking would people walk into my home and go, "There is something different about your home?"  That's not going to happen just on its own.  You do have to be purposeful and intentional if you want your home to be different; if you want it to be a set-apart, holy home.

Dennis: Well, our guest on the program earlier mentioned that she wants to be a thermostat not a thermometer.  A thermometer gives a reading of what's taking place, a thermostat controls what's taking place.  And Donna Otto joins us.  Welcome back, Donna.

Donna: From now on I'm going to be known as the thermostat.


Dennis: You know, all kidding aside, I like the illustration because you're talking about a mom or, for that matter, a father who, instead of just reflecting what's happening, the chaos.  Instead, you turn the dial, and in a few moments you begin to feel the freshness in the air.

Bob: Yes, but I've always said that the person who really sets the thermostat in the home is whoever is the chilliest on that particular day.  Have you ever felt – I mean – if my teenager is in a bad mood, they've just set the thermostat for everybody else, whoever is chilliest is setting the thermostat.

Dennis: Well, some days are going to be – you're going to be in a wrestling match for the thermostat. 

Bob: How do we become more intentional as moms and as dads?  What can we do to make sure that the comfort control system in the home is functioning better?  How can we have a home that is reflective of the peace of Christ?

Dennis: Well, before Donna answers that question, she is not in Heating & Air.

Bob: Don't look up Otto's Heating & Air.

Dennis: She is not in Heating & Air.  Donna is the founder of Homemakers by Choice, otherwise known as Thermostat.

Donna: My new logo.

Dennis: Now you can answer Bob's question.  I just didn't want our listeners to know who you were – they were going, "Who is she?"

Donna: You know, I really like what you said because it is a fresh reminder – you are absolutely right, and when a parent forgets the authority God has given them as parents – gets tired, gets lazy, doesn't have a plan, thinks that this will be accomplished, as you said, in two days, and it does not – that's when that child has control.  Or you have control – when I'm foul-tempered – I know you find that hard to believe, that I am ever foul-tempered, but when I am foul-tempered, I have to say to myself the same thing.  And I think this is about something that I've used for years.  I have a lot of Otto's Mottos, and with a name like Otto you can do that.  And in this book, as well, and we have Otto Motto bookmarks, and we're glad to send them to people, and I believe that my plan for home was my big yes.  My heart says "Yes, I want to do that."  But oftentimes we have big hearts and little feet, and it's not …

Dennis: Now, what you mean by that is we have big dreams, big desires, but we don't put the shoe leather to it.

Donna: Exactly, and then 30 years later we look back, and we go, "My, my, just didn't happen."  No, no, this is about now; this is about to a generation of young women, as you've said twice or three times, and we have to keep remembering that these are exceptional.  The young women that I mentor, they say, "You always say that to us," and they are exceptional.  It's not just because I love them – they are exceptional.  They have more resources than I ever had.  At 35 years old, these women are so far ahead of where I was at 35 years old.  So now comes the – how do you get those little feet to be big feet?  And this is a word that we use with our children, don't we, mamas, and that is you have a choice.  You have a choice here.  And I think that's among the hardest work we do in our homes, because Mama has a choice, and Papa has a choice, and we're teaching the children to have a choice.  And in the 21st century, how do we get this plan to work?  We make that choice, and we make that choice matter every day.

Bob: And in the case of wanting a home to have calm and peace and to reflect the serenity of Christ, part of that choice is deciding we're not going to clutter it up with as much as most people clutter their home with, right?

Donna: Exactly.  We're not going to live in the 21st century style.  Now, I know I have a reputation for being archaic and dinosauric – that's okay.  But those are choices that I have made.  Now, here is one, for example – I got a fax machine in our home.  It's connect to a little copy machine, and it was a good thing to have, and I have a little home office on the outside of our home that my husband built for my work of writing. 

 So I put this little fax machine – we do not have a television in our bedroom, we have never had a television, and we don't have a phone in our bedroom.  It is the love room, and it's our private room, and the door is closed, and the kids know that.  No surprise here, okay?

Bob: I'm going to start calling it the "love room."  I like that.  We don't have a bedroom anymore.


 Kids, I'm going up to bed in "Luuuuuv room."  Go ahead, I'm sorry.

Donna: Okay, I should have known better than to say that.  Three o'clock in the morning, I hear this phone in the distant region of our house – ringing.  And I'm thinking, "Do I get up?"  You know, one of my mottos is if it's important, it will be as important tomorrow morning, and if I have a good night's sleep, I'll probably handle it better, okay, so, and this is after kids are gone, I'm not worried about where they are. 

 I get up the next morning, and you know what that 3:00 phone call was – a fax coming through our home on an automatic dial.  They just push one button after another, it sends into their computer.  They weren't calling Donna Otto, it was a rambling telephone number, and nobody knew what time it was, nobody was in charge of it, and now that fax machine was invading my home.

Bob: It woke you up at 3 in the morning.

Donna: Three o'clock in the morning – that was the day we said, "Okay, this is about choices matter.  This is about do I be dinosauric and archaic and say, "We don't have a fax machine and, I'm sorry, your lack of organization does not necessitate a emergency for my home.  If you didn't mail it to me, I guess we're just not going to get it.  Now, you can carry that way too far, and I'm not implying you do, but the 21st century provides, I think, three or four things particularly, and that's an abundance of choices, and you make that choice today and tomorrow you get another opportunity, and you want to remake the choice.  And I think that robs our homes of the intentionality of keeping our plan.

Dennis: Barbara made some choices, and I always marveled at her being a young mom setting the standard early in our family's development.  She did two things that I think were hallmarks that help create the calm you're talking about.  One was she really sought to honor the Sabbath.  Not in a legalistic way but just to set Sunday apart as a day – it was a day of rest.  We didn't work in the yard, and the kids reminded us of that occasionally when we tried to get them to do that when we had traveled on Saturday or something.  But Sunday was a day that was an island.  It was an island of clarity.

 The second thing that she did was that she would have quiet time in the afternoon, and it was a quiet time when she home-schooled the kids where she could get a little nap, or maybe put her feet up and rest, but it pulled the kids from all the frantic pursuit of activity and electronics and music and turned everything off, shut everything down, and just created some calm, some quiet.

 I think we are such a frantic, frenetic culture in terms of pace.  We always have to be bombarded with some kind of stimuli.  And, in the process, I don't think we're training our children to know how to think, how to ponder, how to contemplate what they're doing, where they're going to go, what they're going to do next, and I have to wonder, at points, if a lot of the diagnosis of children who have all these disorders is nothing more than fed by parents who don't ever become the thermostat and turn it down where, all of a sudden, the activity ceases, and you train your children to begin to be still for 30 minutes, an hour, an hour and a half, and she learned to stretch it out occasionally.

Bob: You know, I was talking with your daughter, Ashley, just recently, and she was telling me that one of the decisions they've made in their home – and she's got four kids under the age of six, okay?  One of the decisions they've made recently is no TV during the week.  Now, that sounds so strange.

Dennis: That's fossilized.

Donna: Dinosauric.

Bob: And yet she said the kids are getting along better, the house is more calm and more peaceful than when they used to have the perpetual videos.  It seems to some of us like having a TV and popping in a video may bring peace and calm to your home, but it doesn't necessarily do that.

Donna: Well, and a lot of those toys are just high-tech toys that people buy to keep their children busy so they don't have to deal with them.  You know, that's another discussion for another show, but you use the word that Barbara "created" and "trained" and then Ashley made the choice.  That is it, and that's an every-day new decision because the pressure of the world says this is what we should be doing.  And you said everything I would have said and much more, and I would add by saying the culture we live in has a different set of priorities than a woman who chooses to make the Bible – a couple who choose to make God's values their values.

 And one of those is extracurricular events.  So the 21st century is now saying to us high-tech, 24/7, noise, entertainment, keep busy, no quiet.  People don't know how to be quiet, don't know how to meditate, don't know how to read the Scripture quietly, don't know how to be with Jesus quietly, and they also have this perpetuation of you must be in how many activities, because it's a sign of development.  It's important that you have these extracurricular – now that has been going on forever, but it's at a heightened pace – how do you keep the plan – a woman and a husband say, "We will choose this many sports."  You have six children.  You had to make a lot of choices.

Dennis: We had to make a ton of them, and I will never forget – I'm not going to mention the Christian leader, but this is a very well-known Christian leader and his wife.  We were in the car with them, and we were driving along, and we were talking about what our kids were doing.  And because we had six kids in 10 years, they were doing it all.  And this Christian leader, because they had a lot less than six children …

Bob: It was Dobson, wasn't it?

Dennis: It was – it was Jim.  I didn't want to mention Jim on the air.  No, it was not Doc.  Anyway, so we're driving along, and the wife says, "You mean, your children aren't having Suzuki lessons with the violin?"  And "You're not taking them to museums?"  And I was looking over at my wife, and I could see her just sinking lower and lower into the chair, because this couple had a lot less children.  And you know what?  For them they could go to do that.  Their kids could be in three or four activities apiece, and it would be about equal to the amount of activity we had with six kids.

 But you know what?  We couldn't do that, and we weren't going to do that.

Donna: And you have to challenge that even if you only have a few children, because that is the time-robber that takes you away.  You know, the Bible says that we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves.  We say that's church.  We should not forsake the assembling of ourselves as Mama and Papa and children around the table together doing activities, and if all of us are going off doing our individual activities, we're not assembling together.

Dennis: Yes, and here is my point I want to make to release maybe one mom – comparison.  Comparison is a curse of our culture.  Because we have so much – and you mentioned it – because we had so many choices yesterday and had so much fun yesterday, we can have it again today, and tomorrow we'll add more choices to that.

 And we start looking at our friends, and what our friends get to go do, and our friends don't have the same limitations we have, okay?  Nor do they have the same values.  So why do we compare ourselves with someone, in many cases, we don't want to be like.  We would say to our kids many, many times – you know what?  That's what that family does but you know what?  We are not that family.

Donna: We are the Ottos, and we do it differently.

Dennis: We're the Rainey family, and you know what?  These are our values, and you may not like them, but this is not a democracy.  It's not a democracy.

Donna: And any parenting book will tell you that the most important thing you give to your children aside from the good marriage relationship they observe is a consistent message.  So if you're saying to them, "Christ reigns supreme," and what Mommy and Daddy want to do is live authentically before you, and we give you the opportunity to grow up and make that choice, and then we send them off to soccer, baseball, Suzuki, and there are so many opportunities now.  I mean, small children are swimming and taking fencing classes at the age of four.  Peer pressure is no longer junior high, it's six years old.  This is a different culture, and we do have to fight for keeping the principles that we've chosen in our home.

 So these time traps of the 21st century rob the parent of the time and energy to keep the plan, and I say "Choose carefully, choose carefully."  Be careful that the plan you've set, which has value found in the Scripture that you, every day, make the new choice to keep that before you.

Bob: You actually think affluence works against the plan, don't you?

Donna: I actually do, but, you know, it's not my decision whom God allows to give affluence.  I believe that's in His hand.  I think He uses it to teach us and train us, and we all certainly know the use of wealth and economics in our country to foster the plan of Christ.  So they've got a plan, they have to remember the 21st century does make a difference.

 And then the last thing they have to be careful about is the inefficient bureaucracy that wants to rob the family of their time and their principle, because you're dealing with someone who is inefficient does not mean that you don't keep your same principle of how you serve.  Pretty soon, you're watching their lack of efficiency, their lack of service, their lack of kindness, their lack of doing it with integrity.  You fall prey to that.  I think we have to watch for that.  This is a very inefficient bureaucracy.

Dennis: When you say an "inefficient bureaucracy," what do you mean by that?

Donna: I went to the store to buy a potholder.  It cost $7.29.  I got to the counter.  On the screen in front of the young woman who was helping me it said, "Say hello."  Then she ran my item.  It said, "Tell the cost – $7.29."  Then it said, "Give the change," and then it said, "Say goodbye.  Say thank you."  Now, that major chain in America did not create that program out of a desire to have something to do this afternoon.  It was because there was an absence of efficiency in the relationships between a clerk and her client.

 Now, what does that do?  It makes you angry, it makes you not get what you want, it makes you want to say, "Well, if they treat me that way, I want to treat them that way," and that propagates itself in the home life by saying, "Everybody out there is inefficient.  Well, so will we be."  We teach our children differently, so we are fighting against the culture that is very pervasive and wants to come in and rob us.

Bob: And when your daughter was a teenager, and she started looking around and going, "You know, we're not like other families, and it feels weird to be an Otto, and why can't we do it the way everybody else is doing it?"  Weren't you tempted to cave?

Donna: Oh, yes, and we did cave.  What do you mean tempted?  We caved lots of times.  We bought an Atari.  We were not going to have those things in our house.

Bob: What are they – little game systems, you did?

Donna: We got her an Atari, yes.  She was the last one to get it, but we bought one.  Sure, we all cave, and that's all right.  God's grace is sufficient for us, but that's where the authority of Christ and the plan, and we begin to see it working.  We begin to see her being different, her being able to handle the challenges of life, her not having an agenda for everybody, her being able to handle relationships, her being respectful of her parents.  Why does the Scripture say to train our children to honor parents?  Remember what the promise is that follow us?  "For it will go with them, and they will have long life."

 I didn't teach my daughter respect because I need respect.  I taught her to respect me because God told me to do it for her, and that it would go well with her, and she would have a long life.  Well, I want that for her.  So when I feel like caving, I remember these things, and it helps me be stronger.

Dennis: How do you see your daughter today as she begins her family, creating calm?

Donna: Would you bring me a Kleenex, because I'll cry.

Dennis: We'll do that, yeah.

Donna: She is modeling so many things, she and her husband, for these very values – choosing – differently than we chose – handling their marriage differently than ours but with godly principles, being authentic to who they are, and she graduated with her master's of divinity by standing up and telling everyone that at this season in her life she was a stay-at-home mom.  And the rest of them were going off to do what ministry their master's would provide for them.  She said, "My ministry for this season is to be a stay-at-home mom."

Dennis: And so some would ask, "Why did she go to seminary if she was intending on staying at home?"

Donna: Because we taught her to be obedient to the voice of God, and she believed God called her to go to seminary.

Dennis: So, by faith, she went; by faith, now, she is becoming a mom; and the whole story is not written yet, is it?

Donna: Yes, that's right.

Dennis: I think this culture needs a reminder that we don't have to live all of life today.  There are choices we make for a season like Donna's daughter is making, where she is choosing to invest in the next generation through her children.  And there will be a season where she can blow the dust off the diploma and maybe the books and perhaps use that training – not that she's not going to use it as a mom.

Bob: That's exactly what I was thinking.  I was thinking, "Who do we want raising the next generation?"  I'd like some …

Dennis: … seminary trained …

Bob: Yes, some seminary-trained mothers.  Not that you have to be seminary-trained to be a mom, but stop and think about her employing some of the theology that she's learned over the last three years in seminary as she raises your grandchildren.

Donna: And home is the first seminary, the first church, the first school, the first everything, and the skill sets that these women, the most educated women that ever walked the face – these skill sets are home, investing in home and the next generation.

Dennis: And I think the skills sets that you're talking about and the ones that your ministry, Homemakers by Choice, is seeking to equip young moms with, needs to happen I churches all across the country, and I hope you'll go to and get some more information about how you can link with Homemakers by Choice and find out about a new video series, a small group Bible study for young moms – just six moms getting together, watching some DVDs, can be done in neighborhoods or local churches all across the country.

 Donna, I'm thrilled with your ministry.  I trust God's favor will be upon the work of your hands, and I hope you'll come back again and join us again someday.

Donna: Thank you, it's always fun to be with you guys.

Bob: And, once again, the information that you were talking about, Dennis, is on our website at  When you get to the home page, you'll see a button in the middle of the screen that says "Go," and if you click on that button it will take you right to the page where you can find the link to Donna's website, get more information about the videos.  There is also information on our website about some of Donna's books, including the book we've been talking about this week, "Finding Your Purpose as a Mom, How to Build Your Home on Holy Ground," and another book you've written called "Secrets to Getting More Done in Less Time," a very practical book for all moms.

 We have both of them in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and any of our listeners who would like to order copies, we would be happy to send them to you.  In fact, if you order copies of both books, we'll send at no additional cost the CD audio that features our conversation with Donna Otto, and you can listen to it again, if you'd like, or pass it along to someone else who might benefit from hearing the conversation.

 Again, our website is  Click the "Go" button in the middle of the screen, and that will take you right to the page where you can get more information about Donna's books.  You can order online, if you'd like, or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  That's 1-800-358-6329, and someone on our team can let you know how you can get these books sent to you.

 Well, we hope you have a great weekend.  I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and we hope you can be back with us on Monday when we're going to begin to take a hard look at a new movie that's coming out next week directed by Ron Howard, starring Tom Hanks.  It's the movie version of the very popular book, "The DaVinci Code," which, interestingly enough has a lot to say about Christianity and about Jesus, and some of it is pretty startling stuff.  We're going to talk about "The DaVinci Code" next week, and we hope you can be with us as we explore the book and the movie.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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