This article was first published in the Fall 2012 edition of FaithTalk magazine.
In 1985, Kate and Michael Battistelli attended a church service in Jamaica, New York that would change the direction of their lives. A friend of theirs had wanted them to join her at the church for quite some time so they could hear the amazing gospel choir. Both Kate and her husband were musically inclined – Kate had starred opposite Yul Brynner in the Broadway production of The King and I, and her husband Michael was a brilliant composer with a doctorate in music.
When they finally visited the church, they heard more than just the joyful and enthusiastic Gospel choir; they heard God’s calling upon their lives, more fully and clearly than they had ever heard it before. Kate and Michael had been married just a year when they both accepted an altar call that night and together accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. They didn’t know of the far-reaching impact that decision would make in their lives and the lives of countless others, but that decision put their lives on a course with a purpose for the Kingdom.
A year after they gave their lives to the Lord, Kate and Michael welcomed their first and only child into the world – Francesca Battistelli, whom they called Franny. Franny would go on to become a Dove award-winning, Grammy-nominated Christian contemporary singer and songwriter. Her hit songs “Free to Be Me” and “This is the Stuff” explore the blessings of God’s goodness amidst the details of everyday life. Kate recently wrote a book about her parenting journey called “Growing Great Kids: Partner with God to cultivate his Purpose in your Child’s Life”. I spoke to her recently about her parenting principles, and what we can all do to help inspire our children to achieve their goals.
One of the first things Kate and Michael did after receiving that altar call and having their child was to lay down their fast-paced New York theater lifestyle. “Once we met the Lord He started working on us to lay down that life,” Kate explained, “Friends thought we were crazy because we had trained for years to be where we were. But we knew that all those things that God taught us, God would use. I think God is always looking further down the generations than we are. It isn’t always about us.”
After settling in New Jersey, they soon felt God’s leading to move to Orlando, Florida, where they would remain for the next twenty years. It was here that their daughter received much of her training in voice and dancing, performed in numerous stage productions in area venues and became comfortable as a performer and a recording artist.
Another key decision Kate made in the early years was to homeschool Franny from Kindergarten through 3rd grade. “This was the right decision for us at the time,” Kate said, “because Franny was a good student and was able to advance more quickly. We had more control over her environment and it gave her the time to pursue her other activities.” Francesca then went to a Christian private school from 4th-7th grade. At that point they felt the Lord leading them again to homeschooling. “To maintain any type of purity,” Kate explained, “we felt that we just needed to keep Franny away from some of the bad influences that were present at that age. We knew that God was emphasizing purity with her, but we didn’t yet know why.”
Kate explained that all parents need to listen to God’s direction for their children’s lives because, “while some kids are meant to be homeschooled, others are meant to be a light in their schools.” Kate feels that parents should make sure their child knows, “that they are going somewhere, and the choices they make will affect that destination. God has a big God-sized dream for their life. They need to think about the decisions they make and how it will affect that dream and their purpose in life. They need to have a strong identity and sense of self, otherwise they may be swayed by Hollywood, television shows and a culture which is directly opposed to the values Christian parents try to instill.”
The way to do that, Kate explained, is to “let them see you be authentic. Live your life with humility and integrity. Let them know that your word is your commitment. Character is a life-long gift that is instilled from day one.” She continued, “don’t be afraid that they won’t like you or that they’ll rebel. They will respect you and thank you for it when they get past the childhood years.” Now Kate knows that her daughter needed to maintain her purity because God was keeping her for something special – to be a role model who young girls can look up to as they listen to her music and the message it conveys.
Kate is passionate about the words parents speak to their children because she was raised in a household without positive affirmation. Her household had a critical, negative overtone where Kate felt that nothing she did was good enough. When she became a parent she planed to change that and quoted part of Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (ESV). She implores all parents to “verbally tell your children that they have worth and value, because the world tells them that they don’t.”
She advises parents not to do this just to puff them up with ‘You can do anything’ language, which she calls the “American Idol Syndrome”, but reminding them that “God has a purpose and a plan for you, and it’s something only you can do.” Parents need to listen for God’s voice and expose their children to a variety of experiences and activities while discerning what that plan is. Some children find it early and some find it later.
Additionally, when opportunities arise, don’t let children shy away from them because of fear. Kate relayed in her book that there was a time when Franny was timid about playing before a large audience for the first time when she was a teenager. Kate advised her daughter, “If you’re afraid, that’s OK. Do it afraid!” Kate explained that she once heard that fear is a liar, so you’ve got to do the opposite and defeat it.
Kate does acknowledge that living by these principles is not easy. “It’s not easy being Christian when things don’t go the way we expected, but it’s all in how you respond. That’s why the Bible states, ‘For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. ‘ (Matthew 7:14 ESV). However, it’s worth it, and the closer we get to Him the more worth it it becomes.”
Does she ever regret the Broadway life that she gave up? While she may wistfully look back on occasion, she acknowledges that, “God knew what he had in store for us.” She looks at her singing as a gift, which she used for a season. However, her passion for spreading God’s message to parents is her calling, which she continues to do every day. Plus, “there’s no better tradeoff than seeing your kids taking their gifts further. We would’ve pursued fame to glorify us. Franny lives a life that honors God and exposes people to him. “
Kate is now able to bring these principles to her grandchildren – 2-year-old Eli and 4-month-old Audrey. They are surrounded by two sets of godly grandparents living nearby, who serve as “four strong pillars, raising them in Godly principles.”
On that night in New York, God affected change in the lives of Kate and Michael Battistelli, their daughter Franny, her children Eli and Audrey and all who have heard and have been touched by Franny’s music. As Kate says, parents need to make sure their child understands, “Who God made you is special. Make that extraordinary. Do it with integrity and do it for God.” Kate Battistelli lives this principle with excellence.