The story of Whole Heart Ministries is really our family story ... Clay and Sally Clarkson. Or more accurately, it is the story of how God has written His story for us over four decades of life and ministry apart and together. If you just need the bullet-point summary of what Whole Heart Ministries is and does, you can find that on the About Us page. However, if you want the personal story of who Whole Heart Ministries is, then read on. Just remember as you make your way through the words of "Our Story" that God made us writers, too.
The Back Story of Us
Whole Heart Ministries did not start in a vacuum. God worked in a lot of life for both of us before we were married (a bit later than average), and it would all get worked out in life and ministry as we began to grow our family. Our story may seem like ancient history to you, especially if you're a young family, but allow us to share the back story that became the story of our lives.
Clay grew up in the church in Fort Worth, Texas but didn't know the Lord when he left home in 1969 to attend the University of Texas in Austin. In January 1974, though, through a Christian roommate and fraternity brother and Andre Kole, a Christian illusionist with Campus Crusade for Christ, he found the truth he'd been searching for in Jesus. He joined the staff of Campus Crusade upon graduation in 1975, assigned to write advertising at ministry headquarters in southern California. Two years later, he moved to Dallas, Texas to pursue music ministry as a Christian singer-songwriter, and in 1980 moved again to Colorado to begin MDiv theological studies at Denver Seminary. Not coincidentally, Sally arrived in Denver at the same time.
Sally grew up in Texas and New Mexico, also in the church. She had "accepted" Christ numerous times, but never truly received Him personally until a girl randomly knocked on her freshman dorm door in 1971 and shared "The Four Spiritual Laws" with her. After graduating from Texas Tech University in 1975, she also joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ. Coincidentally, her first assignment was to campus staff at the University of Texas in the same neighborhood Clay had left just three months before. The next year, she moved to Vienna, Austria and then into Eastern Europe under Communist rule, serving there for three years. In 1980, she returned to the states to start a ministry to executive women and single adults in Denver, Colorado.
We had met each other at some Campus Crusade events during our final year of college through our roommates who were dating each other, and then we had gone out several times during Crusade Staff Training in Colorado in August 1975. Our staff assignments would take us in different directions, but Clay kept in touch for the next five years, and when Sally came through Dallas in spring 1980 he revived the relationship. When he learned she was being reassigned to Denver, God's will for which seminary to choose seemed unusually clear. That fall he started classes, and volunteered to help Sally with the new singles ministry. Over the next twelve months the six-year friendship became a lifelong commitment of marriage on August 30, 1981. We got engaged, were married in a church in Dallas with a wedding dress and all the friends and fixings, and honeymooned ... all in three weeks. But that's another story.
For the first twelve years of marriage, Clay ministered as a worship leader, single adults pastor, associate pastor, and adult ministries pastor with churches in Vienna, Austria; southern California; and Nashville, Tennessee. Sally, along with being a full-time stay-at-homeschooling mom, continued to disciple women and speak when she had the opportunity. In March 1993, we found ourselves in Atlanta, Georgia for that city's historic 500-year blizzard. After being snowed in for four days, in a very small home with a host family and several other visionary ministry types, we sensed that God was moving us to do something new--something to do with families but we weren't sure what. Three days after we were finally able to return home to Nashville, before we could even discuss moving, God stepped in and providentially sold our house, and three weeks later we were unloading two trucks into a house on family land in rural central Texas. A year later, Whole Heart Ministries was born in the spring of 1994 in a home workshop for about twenty people.
Whole Heart: The First Generation
The first five years, 1994-1999, were the childhood of Whole Heart Ministries, and of our family. The ministry offices were in a 75-year-old, 1,000 square foot, two-story farmhouse. We tried to fix it up, moved offices around, hired staff to help, built a warehouse, and pretended we knew what we were doing. Clay wrote Educating the WholeHearted Child and Our 24 Family Ways, and Sally spoke for countless WholeHearted Home Education Workshops and for state conferences. We published Whole Heart Catalog, our children's specialty book catalog for homeschooling families, and did all the orders and fulfillment there in the country. We built onto Nana's house, Clay's mother, and homeschooled our four young children. We launched our first WholeHearted Mother Workshop in 1996, and that became our first hotel conference for moms in 1998, where Sally released her first book, Seasons of a Mother's Heart. Sarah released her first book at 16, Journeys of Faithfulness. We felt vaguely like we were growing up.
The next seven years, 1999-2006, were the adolescent years of the ministry, with all the turmoil of that season of life. We moved as a family sixty miles north to Fort Worth in 1997, but Clay continued to commute an hour back to the ministry offices in the country. In 1999, we left Texas for good and moved to Monument, Colorado. Over the next three years, we developed the conference ministries, the catalog, and the new website, and brought on staff. We also signed our first book contracts with WaterBrook Press. Our house backed up to national forest and a mountain, so it was a memorable time for our children, and Clay's new office space was only ten minutes away. Three years later, though, we moved back to Nashville, Tennessee believing it would help us expand our ministry. It didn't. We were there for two years--the ministry plans didn't work out, we had to quit the catalog and let our new staff go, and we wondered if the ministry would survive the financial crisis we faced. By God's grace, we returned to Monument, to our old office space, and began to rebuild the ministry. In 2006, we took a sabbatical from the conferences. It was good spiritually, but not good financially. Teen years can be troubling, but they pass.
The next ten years, 2006-2016, would be the adult years of the ministry, and perhaps of our family, too. In the summer of 2006 we purchased the home that would become a center for ministry and our longest stay in one house in our marriage (still there). When we started the conferences again in 2007 there were a third fewer moms, but we stayed faithful to the events and they grew each year. As our children grew up and began to move out and find their own paths, we pressed on with ministry. We both wrote and published new books, and Sally had started blogging in 2007, growing a new audience of young mothers hungry for encouragement from an "older mom." By the end of 2016, she had moved her website from ITakeJoy.com to SallyClarkson.com, exponentially expanded her audience, and started a rapidly growing podcast "At Home with Sally and Friends." During our adult decade, we also developed and expanded the concept of Mom Heart Ministry and Mom Heart groups with MomHeart.com, Mom Heart Intensives (home-based training in ministering to mothers), Taking Motherhood to Hearts (a MH group training book), a Mom Heart Groups Facebook group, and development of the international Mum Heart Ministry in AUS/NZ and the UK. In 2010, the WholeHearted Mother Conference officially became the Mom Heart Conference for the first time. Due to impending seniorhood and an empty nest, our final Mom Heart Conference event was held and filmed on Feb 19-20, 2016 at the Dallas Marriott Las Colinas hotel in Irving/DFW, TX (where it began). During this decade Sally also has had several popular books published, including The Mom Walk for Harvest House, Dancing with My Father for WaterBrook Press, Desperate (with Sarah Mae) for Thomas Nelson, and a string of releases for Tyndale: You Are Loved (with Angela Perritt), Own Your Life, The Lifegiving Home (with Sarah Clarkson), and Different (with Nathan). Heading into 2017, she has solidified her reputation as a champion of biblical motherhood. Her next book, The Lifegiving Table (Oct 2017), and Clay's book, The Lifegiving Parent (May 2018), will continue the run with Tyndale. We feel like we've grown up.
Whole Heart: The Next Generation
With a full generation (by demographers' standards) of twenty-two years behind us, we marvel at what God has done, and are excited about what He still could do. We are looking at 2017 as a pivot year to our next (and likely final) phase of our ministry with Whole Heart (sometimes called Whole Heart 2.0), and we've asked God for another generation of ministry to parents. We are slowing down, but there are still many books in us to encourage and equip Christian parents, and we have the vision of shepherding a worldwide movement of Mom Heart groups. Clay is working to rebuild Whole Heart Press with new books, parenting resources, and public domain reprints. Sally is consolidating her efforts to be more effective and strategic with her hours as she encourages moms. We are re-inventing Storyformed.com with a new site, new goals, and new leadership. With all grown children now, we also have the vision of enjoying and helping them with whatever God is doing in their lives. Since they have been the heart of all our wholehearted parenting for over thirty years, let us share a little about where God has taken them beyond the walls of our homes.
Sarah (May 21, 1984) is a published author of several books, a writer and blogger on beauty and literature (thoroughlyalive.com and storyformed.com), and is completing a theology degree in 2017 at Oxford University in England. In August 2016, she married Thomas Fink-Jensen, a Dutch theology student at Oxford preparing for Anglican priesthood. Joel (November 19, 1986), a graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston (summa cum laude), has released eight CDs of his original piano and instrumental music, scored several films (including Nathan's), and is a composer and orchestrator, and a voice-over artist for books, and a published author. He plans to pursue a Masters in Theology at St. Edwards University in Scotland in 2017-2018. Nathan (April 19, 1989) attended New York Film Academy in NYC, is an actor, writer, and filmmaker, has written two books for boys, co-authored Different, and wrote and produced a successful film, Confessions of a Prodigal Son. Joy (May 26, 1995) graduated at 20 in 2015 from Biola University (BA/Communications), and will graduate in 2017 with a Masters in Theology of Imagination and the Arts from St. Andrews University in Scotland. We are delighted to see all of our children flourishing and following the Lord, and all working for His kingdom.
So, that's our story so far. God's story for us. We hope that perhaps you'll be a part of our story, too. Maybe through a book, or a conference, or a group, or a blog, or a webinar. Or perhaps God would put it on your heart to become a Whole Heart Partner with us through financial support. We are a faith ministry, and have always trusted God to provide for the financial needs of the ministry. We thank God for the partners who share our hearts for helping parents, and who share their resources to help us continue to minister. As long as God enables us, we'll keep doing the ministry of Whole Heart that He has given us to do. We hope that we can be an encouragement to you on your journey of Christian parenting. Press on!