Communing with God…using the Bible Part 1

A few weeks ago, I got the privilege of speaking to Quad City Christian School during their weekly chapel time. The week prior, I was racking my brain trying to think of what to speak on. At the end of 2020, I had given a message on the five ways that God speaks to us. I told them that I WISHED someone had taught me that when I was their age. I spent so much of my life trying to “hear” God in some big defining moment, when He was usually speaking to me through everyday circumstances.

I felt like I wanted to talk on ways to read your Bible but was flustered in my mind because I now understand that “reading your Bible” is a message we often receive without much explanation about just HOW to go about that in a way that connects who we are with God’s Word.

In short, reading your Bible is just a way to “commune with God” and when we think of it as “communing” it opens a lot more methods than just sitting down and reading. I thought I should share a few of these methods with the world-wide-webs as well.

Growing up, the church where I first began following Jesus was an amazing place, filled with people who invested in me, took care of me, and cheered me on in my faith. I will forever be grateful for the wonderful foundation they helped lay and smooth. AND, there were a few implicit messages that I picked up along the way that have been difficult to unlearn and not hold onto. One of which was “reading the Bible.” There was such a heavy emphasis on “reading the Bible” through messages, sermons, casual conversations and the like that as a member you just “caught” along the way. Things like:

  • Oh wow. Have you seen Emily’s Bible? You can tell she really reads it. When she opens it, there are tons of highlighter marks and notes in the margin! Whew. She is an amazing woman of faith!
    • Wow. I wish I could be an amazing woman of faith. I don’t know how to take notes in my Bible
  • I heard Mark say that he leaves his Bible in the car throughout the week so that he has it on Sunday morning! 
    • everyone standing within this conversation circle gasps! Begins to think lesser of Mark.
  • Oh. You’re reading the NIV? You know that translation isn’t really accurate right? 
    • Ummm. No? How is a translation “inaccurate”? What does that mean? Why would the Bible store sell an “inaccurate” translation? Ugh. No wonder I don’t know anything about the Bible.
  • Did you see Anthony’s Bible? It looks like it’s never been opened! 
    • Poor Anthony. He needs to get his life together and start taking his walk more seriously.
  • Oh. You are still doing workbook studies for your “quiet time”? Huh. I guess I’ve just never really needed someone else to tell me what God’s Word says. 
    • If I really knew God, I’d be able to read the Bible and just understand it. I shouldn’t need workbooks to tell me these things!

Have you ever heard anything like that? Felt any of the responses listed below? While I hope you haven’t, I know that too many of us have. And that’s why I want to speak into this topic….

Communing with God using His Word is more than just making notes in your Bible or reading the “right” translation. Communing with God is a way of spending time WITH God while using the Bible as a springboard and there are TONS of ways to do this. 

There isn’t space to cover ALL of these ways in one post, so make sure you come back next week and check out the second half of the list. For now, we will cover the first two:

  • Bible Reading Plans
  • Workbooks/Study Guides

Bible Reading Plans:

There are a million Bible reading plans out there! You can Google, Bible reading plan and get instant results for a variety of plans. Some of these plans will be chronological, some will be cover-to-cover, others will combine different sections of the Bible in each day. Here are a few of my favorites that I’ve used throughout the years.

  • Reading the Bible Chronologically
    • If you read the Bible cover-to-cover, the story will not be chronological. Our Bible was arranged by genre, rather than timeline. Google “chronological Bible reading plan” and follow the one that works for you.
  • Reading the Bible by Genre
    • This one was one of my favorites for a number of years. Each day of the week was a different genre and I would simply read the text for as many minutes as I had that day. I kept paper clips to hold my space.
      • Monday: Proverbs (start your week with wisdom)
      • Tuesday: Pentateuch (Genesis through Esther)
      • Wednesday: Poetry (Job-Song of Solomon, skipping Proverbs)
      • Thursday: Propehcy (Isaiah-Malachi)
      • Friday: Gospels (Matthew-Acts)
      • Saturday: Paul and Pastoral Letters (Romans-Jude)
      • Sunday: Revelation
    • This can be slightly adopted for personal use. Some do not consider Job as “poetry” and add it into the history day. Others will include Revelation in their Saturday chunk so that they have one day “off” a week. Do what works for you!
  • Reading Cover-To-Cover
    • I’ll be honest. I haven’t met anyone personally that has ever done this successfully AND enjoyed it. If you’re one of those people, I cheer you on from the sidelines!

A NOTE REGARDING TRANSLATIONS-translations vary greatly and it can be difficult to discern which one is the best for you. Here is what I tell everyone: whatever translation you enjoy and can follow is the one that is best for you. 

In different seasons of my life, different translations have spoken to me and helped me connect with God closely. Rather than judging myself or letting others do the same, I accept that even spiritual life has ebbs and flows. In times where I do not feel particularly “close” to God or “enthused” about God’s Word, I’ll use The Message or the CEB (Common English Bible). When I’ve been in a studious season of my life I’ve used the ESV or NASB. When I first became a believer, I used the NIV (until someone told me it was inaccurate *eyeroll eyeroll* and then I switched the New King James. Right now, I am using the NLT-for both my doctorate work and my personal time.  

Utilizing Bible Study Guides or Workbooks:

There is absolutely nothing wrong with using a Bible study guide or workbook for your time with God. Do not let anyone convince you otherwise. Some of my most foundational knowledge and enlightenment came from using other Bible teachers and pastors study materials. Again, throughout seasons of my life, these things have been very useful to me and my spiritual growth. Not every person who publishes a Bible Study or workbook is worthy of being followed, however, do not be afraid of branching out and using a workbook from an author you have never heard of, who has a different denominational background than yours, or is theologically more “liberal” or even “more conservative” than you may be. We can learn A LOT from various viewpoints. If you are not sure about a particular author, ask a pastor or other lay leader that you respect and I’m sure they can help you.

  • Daily Devotionals
    • These are great if you’re a routine keeper. There are free daily resources like Our Daily Bread that you can receive in paper copies or online. There are devotionals that will get sent to your email every morning. There are also physical books with thematic material that are chock full of great stuff.
    • I was taught as a high-schooler a method I share with you now:
      • Purchase a notebook; using your daily devotional, read the material presented then:
        • Write down the Scripture passage reference for that day
        • Then write what a summary of that passage
        • Then write what you believe God is saying to you through that passage
        • Then write what you’d like to say to God
    • This was a great method for me in certain seasons of my life. I didn’t feel like I had to be an academic professor or theologian in order to connect more deeply with God’s Word.

  • Workbooks
    • There are THOUSANDS of workbooks available to believers, especially in America. Here a just a few way they are categorized
      • Scriptural theme (ex: Prayer, Obedience, Worship)
      • Character or Spiritual Discipline theme (ex: how to pray, how/why to fast, Biblical leadership, etc)
      • Specific Book of the Bible (ex: Genesis, Matthew, Paul’s Letters)
      • Specific Genre of the Bible (ex: Pentateuch, the Gospels)
      • Specific People of the Bible (ex: Moses, Abraham, Paul, David, Jesus)
      • Specific Scripture Passage (ex: Fruit of the Spirit, Armor of God, etc)
      • Theology (ex: study on predestination, study on salvation, etc)
      • Characteristics of God (ex: Names of God, God’s mercy, God’s grace, etc)
      • Study on Seasons of Life (ex: study for those entering empty nest life-stage, study for new moms, study for dads of girls, studies for those in the military, etc)

I’m sure there are even more than that. But rather than being exhaustive, my intent is to simply say, PICK ONE and enjoy it! Too many of us, me included, were taught that if we are not reading God’s Word every day then we are failing, we don’t take our faith seriously, or aren’t disciplined enough and thus, disappointing God regularly.

Lean in. Listen closely. You are NOT disappointing God. ANY TIME we spend with God is used and never wasted. If that’s five minutes, fifteen, or an hour. Some days will be easier than others. Do NOT let the inappropriate guilt trap you into believing lies. 

And what to do if neither of these two methods are really your thing??? Come back for Part 2 of this blog post for more methods next week! 

Goal-Setting Isn’t Just For Grown-Ups!

This past Sunday, I taught in our family venue service about Goal Setting. I don’t really remember anyone ever taking the time to explain how to set goals and see them through when I was an elementary school student. However, I believe that kids are never too young to learn big things and so I wanted to dive in to this subject as we collectively kiss 2020 goodbye (with our masks on of course).

As I set out writing and planning my sermon, it was a little harder than I anticipated. I wanted to convey to the children the difference between a “New Year’s Resolution” and a “Goal”. But when I went to define that, I hesitated. “What’s the difference?” I imagined a third grader asking after being called upon. I came to the conclusion that a resolution is a goal without any true planning. It’s like a hope that we don’t really plan for or that we begin with only our self-discipline but realize pretty quickly, self-discipline alone isn’t enough to attain what we wanted.

I told the story about the time when I was the kitchen manager at Chick-fil-A for a year or so. One of my responsibilities was to plan and chart the food prep needs for the entire day based on sales records and trends. At that time, we had 5 types of salads (and at Chick-fil-A, all salads are prepared fresh and individually, not shipped in). It took a lot of work to prepare salads. In January of that year, I made 40 of each type of salad (200 total). Around 3pm, I checked the inventory and there was no way the store would have enough salads to get them through the night. New Year’s Resolutions in full gear! By the end of that year, in December, we were able to make 10 of each salad (50 total) and make it through the entire day. What happened? People’s willpower and self-discipline slowly wane and once you get off the train, it’s that much harder to get back on!

So a goal is a resolution with legs and feet.  Sure, you can wander away from a goal or take a step back or lose momentum, but if you’ve done the hard work of planning how you will achieve your goal, it’s easier to get back in step and keep walking.

We checked out God’s Word to see what God tells us about goal-setting. Some people think goal-setting is selfish and an “all about me” kind of activity. But I disagree. I believe that God wants us to achieve our goals, especially when they become a means of godly transformation. God wants us to take care of our bodies. He wants us to be wise with our money. He wants us to be emotionally and mentally healthy. Kept in check, goal-setting can be godly. 1 Kings 6 tells us of King Solomon’s desire to build a house of worship for God. He looks out on the land and realizes that the people worship God in a tent while they all live in houses made of stone and brick. He ponders what this means about their relationship with God. How could they give themselves better than what they had given God? So Solomon tells God what his plans were; God reminds Solomon that He doesn’t need or require more than a tent; but in the end, God allows Solomon to dream, plan and achieve his goal. The details we read in the passage cover everything from how tall the temple would be, to how long, to how many rooms and their sizes, to what the floor, walls, ceiling, doors, pillars and altars would be made out of and how many supplies were needed. In the end, it took seven years for Solomon’s goal to be accomplished. I have a feeling Solomon needed more than willpower and self-discipline to see his desires become accomplishments.

While we didn’t have time to get into the specifics like S.M.A.R.T goal planning (go look it up on Google if you don’t know what the acronym stands for) we did discuss that there’s different categories in which to set a goal. It can be Physical, Social, School, Spiritual or Financial. For adults, I think we can add in there: Career, Family, Mental/Emotional, and more. We gave examples of what might be included in a Physical Goal, like trying out for a new sport we’ve never done before, or wanting to complete a running challenge, or even drinking more water. Social goals can include intentionally making a new friend at school or church, committing to call a grandparent once a month, or write a card/letter to a different adult who cares about you each month. Spiritual goals of reading through the Bible in a year or learning different ways to pray and Financial goals that help us to save money, begin tithing and giving offerings, or even donating to causes that we care about instead of just using birthday, Christmas and allowance money to be eaten up by toys.

We gave out a worksheet packet and gave time for parents to help their children think of ONE goal they could set out to accomplish in the year 2021. We encouraged parents to let their child pick the goal, rather than the parent dictating what it should be as that would help the child really invest in and own their goal.

So, parents, how will you help your children begin goal setting this year? Is this a new concept for you or do you already set family and individual goals? Would you be willing to share your goal or your child’s goal for 2021 in the comments? I’d love to hear from you!

Here are just a few of my goals this year:

  • School: complete my academic research and begin my group study for my doctorate
  • Family: be more intentional about sending birthday cards to my nieces and nephews on time
  • Financial: finish paying off my remaining credit card debts
  • Spiritual: set aside time for personal study each day; study a different person from the Bible each month
  • Physical: continue training for my second degree black-belt and complete my qualifier in October; decrease the amount of Dr Pepper and increase water
  • Reading: complete one book each month; increase books read for pure pleasure instead of letting school books take over

Cuties: A Problem of Our Own Making

I watched the Netflix film, Cuties, earlier this week. If I weren’t a children’s pastor, I honestly wouldn’t have been interested at all. However, I take my responsibility seriously and want to be able to give an intelligent answer to parents or congregants who ask me about the film. Something you should know about me before going forward is that I’m not and never have been a huge advocate for boycotting things. I don’t expect culture to reflect my own Christianity and go into most experiences, especially entertainment-based experiences with the knowledge that I don’t share the larger worldview of the culture in which I live. All of that to say, I tend not to jump on bandwagons and when I do, I want to do the research for myself and examine all sides. I’m not here to tell you whether or not to cancel your Netflix account. You need to decide that for yourself. I’ve read the reviews from strangers, friends and colleagues alike. I’ve spent the last few days trying to gather the sum of my thoughts in order to share with you. If there is a silver lining at all, it may be that Cuties has got us talking, posting and reading on the subject of children, pornography and child-trafficking at the very least! 

A Brief Synopsis of Cuties:

Cuties is a French-film that’s been dubbed in English for our market. It was directed by Maimouna Doucoure and was the winner of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival for directing. The main character is 11-year-old Amy (pronounced Ah-Mee) who is a Sengalese-French girl living in a lower-income neighborhood in Paris. Amy is the oldest of three, with two younger brothers and it’s clear that she is responsible for aiding in their care. She lives with her mother and her aunt. The audience comes to understand that her father is away and has married a second wife, both of whom will come to live with Amy and the family soon. Amy’s family is religious and there are often scenes showing their commitment to the Muslim faith to some regard, as Amy and her mother attend prayer. The audience picks up on the fact that Amy regularly attempts to understand the culture she finds herself in. It is not stated whether she is in an immigrant who remembers life in Senegal or whether she was born in France but it is apparent that she doesn’t fit in with the wider culture. Soon, Amy happens upon another young girl living in her building, Angelica, who, believing she is alone while doing laundry, dances to a hip-hop song. Amy is intrigued and through a series of circumstances begins befriending Angelica, who is a part of a dance team self-named the Cuties, seeking to win a dance-competition coming up in a few months. Amy eventually steals a phone from an older family member (a cousin) so that she can learn dance moves from YouTube and begin her own presence on social media. Amy begins living a sort of double life. Angelica opens up a new world to her; Angelica is free, Amy is not. Amy finds herself increasingly pulled in two different directions: the conservative, tight-knit, duty-bound family and the popular girls at school who make her feel like she fits in, she’s a part of the popular group and all the temporary rewards that come with that position. Eventually, the dance competition is upon the group and the Cuties go on stage to dance. During the dance, Amy remembers her mother, who is attending the wedding ceremony of her husband to his second bride, she runs off stage and home to her mother, who embraces her. The film ends with Amy trading her dance clothes for jeans and a hoodie and going outside to jump rope with the other kids in the street. 

An American Tragedy:

While researching the film, I came across the film’s poster for both the French audience and the American audience via Netflix. You can see the picture below: 

A group of people standing in front of a crowd

Description automatically generated

If you didn’t know any better, it looks like two different films. While both posters are snapshots taken from the movie itself, the French poster comes across as a movie about a group of girlfriends. The Netflix poster heightens the nuanced sexuality of the overall storyline, posing the actresses in sexually provocative stances. I find it imperative to ask why America was marketed to in this fashion? Would you have been as startled by the poster on the left? If there hadn’t been a hashtag to #CancelNetflix would you have paid any attention? There’s a problem here. It’s a tragedy really. That it takes such explicit sexuality to get our attention to the plight of young girls. That we don’t even realize this is happening every day in all forms of media with both young girls and adult women, until we’re asked to cancel our subscription to an entertainment platform. What does it mean about our own culture when Netflix chooses to promote this movie with the poster on the right? Believe me, marketers are going after a demographic for sure. But to do so, they have to know that that demographic exists in the first place. They won’t waste the money otherwise. The film is rated MA (for mature audiences). This film isn’t being marketed to young children, it is targeted for adults. (Of course we know that children and teens will find ways to get their eyes on adult content if they want to). However, are we more worried that our children will see this film and want to emulate it? Or are the chances higher that adults will see this film and be aroused by it? If the answer is yes, we’ve got a problem and it didn’t begin with Cuties. 

The Ubiquitous Presence of Pornography: 

When I was in 5th grade, I had a best friend that lived in my neighborhood and whose dad worked for Frito-Lay. Their house has THE BEST SNACKS out of all my friends houses. You can guess where I spent the most time after school in the afternoon. Often my brothers would hang out with her older brother, shooting pool upstairs or playing basketball outside. On this particular day, however, it was just she and I. She whispered to me with a mischievous smile “I HAVE to show you something but it’s a secret!” Intrigued, I smiled back, “what??” “Follow me!” she said as we went down the hall to her father’s bedroom. She walked over to his dresser, opened the drawer, moved some clothing out of the way and pointed down to a pile of pornographic magazines. I remember feeling curious, guilty, intrigued and disgusted all at the same time. While I knew I wasn’t supposed to see the images that I was seeing, I also couldn’t look away. So this was what having sex meant. It looked weird. But even weirder was having magazines full of it. Why would a dad or anybody want to have these? What did this mean? That was in 1995. Before we (me, my friends and my wider community) even knew the word internet. Because it involved sex I knew I wasn’t supposed to talk about it. I never told my parents what I had seen. I never processed it with any adult in my life. And as I continued to grow up and become a pre-teen and then full-fledged teenager, I’d continually be exposed to pornography both at my house and in other circumstances with friends and school-mates. 

Why am I telling you all this? Because in 1995, it took some work to “find” pornography. It wasn’t available with a tap over a phone screen. Phones didn’t even HAVE screens. And now, we (and our children) live in a world where pornography is available to them as long as they have their own device. 

In the film, there is a scene where Amy is using the restroom and she overhears the girls in a group commenting on what is clearly a pornographic video they’re watching on one of their phones. They know and use specific words for anatomy, talk about size, and oral sex. In a world where the church has largely been silent on authentic sexuality (outside of regularly saying “just don’t do anything sexual until you get married”), it makes most Christian adults cringe to hear young girls talking in such explicit detail and acting as though pornography watching is the norm. It’s hard for me to see the difference in me and my friend standing in her father’s bedroom in 1995 and the cuties in a school bathroom in 2020. This isn’t defending the right of 11-year-old girls (or boys) to watch porn but to say perhaps we’ve gone about teaching sexuality completely wrong. 

As a children’s pastor, I get regular phone calls from moms (they’re always from moms) usually in a frenzied panic because they’ve discovered that their daughter (never their son) has found porn and has watched it several times. Usually, when I ask, “do you know how long they’ve been watching it?” its at least several months if not a year. The moms are mortified for several reasons: 1. They’re embarrassed that their daughter was watching porn and what does it mean about her that she went back to it? 2. They thought their daughter was too young to know about sex much less WANT to watch it. 3. They weren’t and aren’t ready to have what parents have universally dubbed “the talk” at age 9, 10 or 11. They thought that was for late teen years when they started dating.  

Pornography is a problem. But it’s not a new problem. It feels like a new problem because the mode and medium have morphed. And I have to be honest, the Church has not done the greatest job of teaching, discipling and modeling what a Christ-driven, whole and holy, authentic human sexuality is or how to live it. It’s a taboo subject (it certainly was when I was in youth group!) that we don’t talk about, know “bad kids” that “do it” already, and never admit that we have any sexual desires before we’re married (other than the “silent” prayer requests). That is how one stays pure: avoidance. Besides the fact that sex is reduced to the act of having sex that should be avoided, our complete silence, both as church leaders AND as parents, is a problem. Because when we refuse to talk about something that is so pervasive in our culture, we give up our ability to influence that culture. 

Your daughters (and your sons) KNOW or WILL KNOW what sex is even if you never talk to them. How did you find out about it? When was your first exposure? Our parents never talked with us, or maybe had one talk before Prom Night, but didn’t we already know by then and realize how little they knew us by coming to us so late and having an awkward conversation? It won’t be an awkward conversation if we make it a regular thing to discuss sexuality in age-appropriate ways throughout our child’s lifetime.

Most likely Cuties won’t be the place your kids discover porn. It’ll be in their bedrooms on their phone or tablet. It’ll be on TikTok or Snapchat. It’ll be in the text message from a boy or girl in their class who thinks that sending a “dick-pic” or a “nood” (nude) is the way you begin a conversation with a person of the opposite sex. 

Again, I’m not concluding that you should watch Cuties for your next family movie night (or maybe with your older teenagers you should and pause it to have open, honest family discussion about it throughout!), but what I am saying is that we must continue to stay vigilant if we want to battle an inauthentic message that sexuality is reduced to what you do with another person in a bedroom and not a greater message that our sexuality is all-encompassing of who we are and there’s so much more to living and having a whole and holy life as a sexual being created in God’s image. 

The Push of Girl Culture and The Pull of Social Media:

In the film, Amy steals a phone from a family member to be able to connect with her social world online. She creates a social media account and begins to ‘friend’ kids from school. She can look up videos online and use them to create new dance moves and practice in the bathroom. When Amy has a confrontation in the school yard, one girl pulls her pants down while a handful of her classmates whip out their phones to film it. Throughout the film, Amy is bullied, at first by the Cuties who don’t want to let her in because “she’s weird” and “quiet” and “she spied on us dancing!”. Then Amy becomes a part of the group. She’s encouraged to take a “dick pic” of a boy who is using the bathroom at school, but having little experience with camera phones her finger covers the picture and she is reprimanded by the group for botching it. Later on, she posts a picture of her uncovered vagina on social media, not understanding how the backlash would come to her the next day. Her inexperience and immaturity in handling the social pressures of her world continue to exacerbate her feelings of loneliness and being an outsider. She is kicked out of the Cuties for her post. At the end of the film, deciding she wants to take her place in the Cuties dance competition, she viciously attacks and pushes the girl taking her place into a river and runs off to join the team, who graciously let her in, unaware of what she’s done because at the end of the day, they just want to win the competition and the ends justify the means.

Make no mistake about it, girls are mean. They have been since just after the beginning of creation. (Eve had it good for just a little while being the only woman for a while). While boys certainly have their own forms of “being mean” shown through peer pressure, hazing, and strong-arming each other; for girls, fitting in is a powerful force. The girl world is one of comparison both of each other and of the current celebrities: am I pretty enough? Strong enough? Smart enough? Is my butt too big? Not big enough? Does my Instagram feed have enough likes? Are more people following me than I am following? One wrong move (or post) and you’re popularity is over. While that may feel familiar to most women, the girl world has become increasingly vicious in a way that most Millennials and above never experienced. It is hard not to connect this new intensity to the rising social media usage among young girls and their peers. In today’s world, girls have to be smart, cute, popular, fashionable, up on all the latest trends, and yet, humble, wise, friendly to everyone while still not being friends with the wrong people, Instagram photo worthy at any time, fierce, brave, able to speak her mind at a moment’s notice but also not causing a scene. 

When I was a new children’s pastor, Snapchat was brand new and had connected with a rising demographic: pre-teens and teens. This generation (Z) who grew up getting lectured about how whatever they post on the internet is permanent, fell in love with an app that apparently made anything they post disappear….or so they thought. Now, almost a decade later, Snapchat isn’t the problem, TikTok is. Besides the proven fact that TikTok mines an individual’s phone for data, there seems to be even less security from fake accounts or management of content. This app has become wildly popular for creating fun videos and dancing. However, it is imperative to keep a proper perspective; the enemy isn’t TikTok. Because when TikTok is no longer popular, it will be another app, and after that another. 

The question we must ask is why do our children NEED to be on social media? Why do we grant them the permission to do so? Why do we give them the devices to begin with? “Oh Taryn,” you’re thinking, “There’s no way I can take the phone back now! I’ll just do a better job managing it.” Here’s the deal, this post isn’t to tell you to take away the phones but to have an honest conversation about WHY we ever gave (and continue to give) children unfettered access to the world via a device that fits in their pocket. 

As a Millennial (by the way we’re in our 30s now), how many times have we stated to ourselves and each other “I’m SO GLAD we didn’t have social media when we were kids!”? If that is the case, then WHY are we handing this off to our children as if the problems that have resulted from it in adulthood are somehow nonexistent for children and teens? 

I wonder if it’s because of our own feelings regarding how we parent. (Sidenote: You know what is worse than girl world when it comes to judgment? Parenthood.) Ask yourself what is the outcome and goal of your child having a social media (of any platform) account right now? It’s not just whether or not they’re mature enough to not post illicit content but are they ready for the culture that will inevitably sweep them into the tide that is coming? Think about, as an adult, how you feel when no one likes your post that you thought was hilarious? Or how you take a picture several times so that you don’t look like you have a double chin? Now transfer that to a 9 year old who hasn’t fully developed the rational part of their brain yet. Perhaps we gave in because we wanted our children to fit in, because we know what it’s like to not fit in as an elementary kid. Or maybe we gave the device to get the squeal and the incessant “I love you so much!”es because we needed validation as a parent and instead of doing the hard work, we just bought it this time as a sort of gift to ourselves. Or perhaps we want to be the popular parent. The one who gives what their parent never could gift them. After a decade of working with kids and their parents, I’ve learned that there’s not much a parent would withhold from a child if it meant their happiness. 

Will having a social media account encourage your child? Will it nurture them? Will it affirm them? Help them set limits for themselves? Will it help them connect with others in a meaningful way or give the illusion that a friendship is based on someone else “liking” your pic. For parents who are Jesus followers, does your child’s social media account help them follow God, deepen their theological growth? Or does it simply have them asking themselves why God made them so ugly, unlikeable, not-funny, or whatever adjective they’re using about themselves from week to week?

Ask any youth pastor, high-school or lower teacher, coach or anyone else who works with or volunteers with children and students on a regular basis if social media is helping children learn, communicate, problem-solve, increase self-confidence or create true friendships. The answer will be a loud and collective “NO!”

The Power of Parental Presence:

While watching the film, I observed that both Amy and Angelica are missing an important part of home; their parents. Amy’s father is away. Her father’s absence also means her mother must work hard to make ends meet, pay the bills and keep the household running. Effectively, Amy doesn’t really get quality time with her mom either. Although he comes home at the end of the film (with a second wife) the audience never meets him. Angelica has both parents at home but tells Amy, “I am always disappointing them. I’m never good enough like my brother.” 

The single greatest predictor of how a child grows up is parent involvement and presence. And by presence, I don’t just mean in the physical sense, I mean engaged, involved, connected, aware and in tune. While there are of course exceptions to the rule, the greater the parent connection and engagement, the more likely the child grows up to be a fully-functioning, positive, and productive member of society. The trophies they win, the medals they earn, eventually, they’ll all be considered meaningless. Do you know of anyone who still wears their Little League championship ring as an adult or has their national trophy on display in their house as a 30-year-old? No. Do you know of anyone who is still dealing with the effects of a parent who wasn’t present? Who was always disappointed? Who was too busy with work or other obligations to listen? 

Sports are wonderful. Activities and hobbies are great for well-rounded development. It is good to have other adults in our children’s lives who champion them and cheer for them and teach them. While all these things and more are breeding grounds for life lessons, memories, and first achievements, they are nothing compared to a relationship with a parent that is based on true connection and engagement. While you’re spending the evening driving children to and fro, are you talking at them or connecting with them? Was quarantine the first time you realized that you’ve never used your kitchen table to actually have a meal together? Apart from just knowing the trivia facts about your child like their favorite color, game, or song…do you KNOW your child? Do you know what fears they have? No just what they’re scared of like storms. But what are their fears like never being good enough? Or feeling stupid in math? Do you know what they love and when they feel most alive? It may not be when you think? Especially the older they get and the more they stop naturally talking to us. 

I can’t help but wonder what might Amy’s and Angelica’s story have been had they had a father at home that was encouraging, nurturing, affirming, engaging, and championing her? A mother that could slow down and spend time together. That connected and was in tune with her as a person. Would she feel such a pressing need to join a group of girls that bullies her, makes her feel less than, encourages her to use sex as a means of getting what she wants? 

What might our children need from us?

A Word on Abuse:

If you’re still hanging in there with me to get this far (bless you) you may read this post and think that I don’t have a problem with the movie. Ovearll, my intent is to create a discussion that is larger than the movie. I do believe that Cuties is indicative of our culture at large. While many are outraged by the premise of the movie (or what they have been told about it) many more have come to the end, with credits rolling, asking, “that seemed pretty normal to me!” While I believe that products of entertainment are largely based on the culture they are created within, that is not an excuse to continue creating them. 

Make no mistake, the movie Cuties, while not showing explicit sexual content enough to be rated as outright pornography, the implicit messages abound. Abusers use a process called grooming. It is usually a slow and patient process meant to earn the trust of their victim. 

There are several specific instances of this process subtly shown throughout the film to normalize this culture:

  • The YouTube video that shows the bare breast of a teenager
  • Using sexuality and sexual dancing to get out of being arrested by an older male security guard who clearly enjoys the dance. His partner questions his response by saying “Seriously?”
  • Lying to an older (teen) guy about your age because he thought the girls were older than they were
  • Video chatting with a cute guy from school with the camera off asking him if he wants to touch her tits
  • The sexually suggestive and provocative dance moves put into their routine
  • When caught with the stolen phone, Amy unbuttons her pants, silently suggesting that she will perform a sex act in order to keep the phone. (To his credit, the male cousin is disgusted at the suggestion and continues to confront her).
  • The group of girls watching a pornographic video on their phone in the school bathroom
  • The group of girls who pressure Amy to go into the boys bathroom and take a dick pick of a classmate
  • The pulling down of Amy’s pants in the schoolyard
  • The picture Amy posts of her exposed vagina on social media
  • The aggression that Amy shows when pushing a member of the Cuties into the water to effectively gain her place in the dance competition

And while the film ends with Amy’s decision to what we assume is innocent, normal childhood, jump-roping with kids in the neighborhood, it never explicitly states that what she’s been through or exposed to is unequivocally wrong. Call it creative license or storytelling. That it may be. 

However, we must do what the director failed to do: openly and blatantly declare that while unfortunately common across multiple cultures and generations, Amy’s story is not normal and it should not be so. May we do more than #CancelNetflix. May we fight for our children and their children and their children to have a world where the abuse of children, women, and groups of people has ceased; where sexuality is not scandalous but put in its proper place as authentically whole and holy; where children have identity, purpose and security from the commitment of the grown-ups in their world; where being human is enough to belong. 

That Weight You Feel? It’s Grief.

The world is upside down right now. It’s a time like no other. Some of us saw what was happening in China and knew it’d be like this in the States eventually. Others of us were hoping that it wasn’t as big of a deal as the media was making it out to be. And still others of us figured it was coming but didn’t think it would affect ALL of us and every part of our lives in the way it has. 

The first dominos were tipped, and the falling effect continues three weeks later. Schools are no longer just extending Spring Breaks, sports and extracurriculars are gone, Prom and Commencements are cancelled and for many they won’t report to their school building until the beginning of their next grade.  

Not just schools, but also professional sports; first the NBA, then NHL, March Madness, MLB they all suspended their seasons, then cancelled their events. Unprecedently, the Olympics will now be hosted on an off year. 

And in the midst of it all, moms and dads are scrambling to figure out how to work from home—if they’re not essential; how to keep their families safe from contracting Coronavirus if they ARE essential, and oh yeah, throw in a little home-school too. 

Speaking of home-school, even a brief scroll down on social media and you’re seeing EVERYONE’S highlight reel on steroids. Half of your friends discovered their Pinterest Homeschool Talents seemingly overnight. The other half were happy to have enough WIFI data for the kids to entertain themselves on their tablets for most of the morning. The fear that maybe the problem isn’t your child’s teacher after all wasn’t a thought you could allow yourself to dwell on for too long.

Oh yeah…the kids…and ALL of their emotions too. Their disappointment that their games and teams are cancelled, they can’t see their friends, their NEW teacher doesn’t explain Math as good as their REAL teacher, and suddenly the 6th grade track day (that you never even heard about until now) was the event they had been waiting for, their entire elementary school career!

Are you stressed out just reading the highlights?

Add an additional layer of stress for being parents of kids with special needs; having a job in the healthcare industry; being dangerously low on toilet paper; being laid off or having your job terminated; experiencing a medical emergency unrelated to coronavirus and replacing your weekly grocery store trip with daily trips because today might be the day that you are lucky enough find a loaf of bread for your family of five.

And although our families are “safe” and coronavirus free and we’re following all the safety guidelines as best as possible, we go to bed each night with a pit of despair, smothered with uncertainty in our stomach and wake up each morning asking ourselves if yesterday was just a bad dream after all.

Somebody, pinch me!

Nobody has experience with this. There’s no manual. And this is hard. Harder than any of us could’ve imagined. 

I’ve done a lot of work in therapy for the past several years. One of the things I’m continually gaining skills in is the area of body awareness. Recognizing what my body is saying to me. What is needs. I’ve come to learn that when I’m stressed, my shoulders are what feel it first. Physically, knots will begin to develop right across the backs of my shoulder blades. My masseuse knows me well enough to ask, “Taryn, are you stressed right now?” while digging into my shoulders with an extra (uncomfortable) firmness. After the shoulders go, it moves to my chest and ribcage. I begin to feel a shortness of breath—because I’m usually holding mine—and a tightness that is subtle. From there, it moves to my stomach. A heaviness. Like I ate too many Texas Roadhouse cinnamon-butter rolls before the main course came out. After that, its my emotions. They spill out, uncontrolled. I’m extra sensitive to a joke, to news I don’t want to hear, to commercials that show dogs in the shelter while Sarah McLachlan sings. 

Can you relate?

Is that where you are? 

What about your kids? Your spouse? Your friends or co-workers?

Here is what I know: we’re experiencing a communal grief, therapeutically called ambiguous loss.

You’re probably aware of “the grief cycle”. We most commonly come into contact with it when we experience a death of a loved one. We attend the funeral, we attend all the duties, and when we get home, we don’t understand why we didn’t cry at all and now, three weeks later, we can’t stop. The first time we reach for our phones to call them, we realize how silly our brains are acting or how smells and sounds can turn our entire day upside down. Someone finally tells us, “oh honey, you’re not crazy, you’re just in the middle of grief. This is normal. You’re going to be okay.”

Ambiguous grief acts differently than the standard grief cycle. With ambiguous grief we never get the closure or the ending that we need. With the death of a loved one, the visitation and the funeral is a date, it’s set in stone. The rituals and the ceremonies, even with their hard parts, help us have an ending and a subsequent beginning that propels the healing process forward.  Ambiguous loss gives us no such foundation from which to propel. It just leaves us simmering in the unfulfilled dreams and plans we had set on our calendars, our minds and our hearts. Celebrations we will never get to gather for. Dreams or goals we will NEVER get the opportunity to achieve in the same way we would have originally planned. Pre-planned memories that will never come to fruition. Everything being up in the air, mandates changing daily, schedules array, stay-at-home orders, food and toiletry outages, role shifting, financial insecurities and worries, all of these have no end in sight, leaving us feeling like we are standing on quicksand. Vulnerable. Like our entire world could crashing down at any moment….or at least when the savings account dries up. 

All of us respond to ambiguous grief differently. If you’re a survivor like me, you’re already thinking it’s time to just go get a job at the local grocery store. Anything to give you a little bit of extra financial security. Just in case. Some of us “borrow trouble” from the hypothetical future….we’re already thinking about the chances of being able to sell our house in a recession. Should we cash in the 401k early? Others of us are worriers with an inability to even make a decision at all…the fear that we could get sick by going to the grocery store paralyzes us. 

You need to know that all of these reactions are completely normal. Again, read my words carefully: THERE IS NO MANUAL FOR THIS. WE ARE ALL FIGURING IT OUT DAY BY DAY.

Here’s the deal, despite all of this reality, we have to keep moving forward. The sun will continue to rise and set regardless of how we are responding to our new world. With all of the uncertainty that is a part of our daily existence, we must keep what IS certain in front of us. 

What Is Certain:

  1. Eventually, this period of intense, in-your-face, uncertainty will pass. Cities will open back up. Travel will resume. Grocery stores will be fully stocked. We will be able to gather in groups again. Give thanks that for us, especially in America, this is the case. Many nations have never had these luxuries to count on as certainties.
  2. Our bodies will tell us what we need if we take the time to listen. Take an inventory of how you’re feeling. Turn off the TV and put down the internet connected devices for 5 minutes. Close your eyes. Breathe in your nose for 5 seconds, hold your breath for 3, and then breathe out your mouth for 5 more seconds. Think about different areas of your body and see if there is stress, pain, or fatigue. I usually start from my head and go down to my toes. You might be surprised what you hear your body say. If you have children, show them how to do the same. Do you need time outside in the sun? Schoolwork won’t suffer because you stopped to take a 30-minute walk outside. Did you make a schedule with good intentions but have yet to follow it? Don’t come down hard on yourself. Your mental, emotional and physical health desperately need you to be kind to yourself.
  3. At the same time, getting ONE important task done each day will help you feel accomplished and like you’re not wasting away. As small as making the bed, putting away the clean laundry, or responding to an email. Lots of little things add up to the accomplishment of productivity.
  4. Connect with friends and family utilizing technology but be careful with your social media intake. “Let’s meet on Zoom” has probably become the most used sentence in the English language in the last month. We are blessed to have such technology in our survival arsenal AND just like pre-pandemic times, social media can be a leading cause of heightened anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation and loneliness. The comparison game is strong on these platforms. Seeing another parent leaping into their new position as Principal of PWHS—Pinterest Worthy Home School—does NOT inherently mean that you’re “doing it wrong” or that your kids will suffer. Those of us who aren’t homeschooling or worrying about little ones? You’re allowed to put boundaries on your time, just like before. Students? You do NOT have to be “extra-productive” because you’ve been given “extra time at home”. We still have the same amount of time as we had before. Most of us are just spending our time in different places.
  5. You don’t have to save the world. For empaths like me, the reality that there are so many needs all at once can hit hard. There are so many caring souls out there reminding us….or maybe bombarding us with all the groups we have to “think about”—children who are in abusive homes, now 24/7. Small business owners who can’t stay open. Medical workers without proper PPE. Residents of nursing homes who can no longer have visitors. And the list goes on and on. Help out as you can or as you want, but recognize there are so many needs, you’ll never be able to fill them all. Together, our communities must commit to taking care of each other. You aren’t anyone’s savior and compassion fatigue is a real thing.
  6. It’s okay to be sad that you’re missing out on things you REALLY wanted to do. Do yourself a favor right now and commit to NOT telling yourself what you should and shouldn’t feel. Yes, people are dying and its awful. AND it’s really sad that your child won’t get to walk in their high-school graduation. It sucks that you can’t celebrate your birthday the way you planned. Having to reschedule your entire family vacation IS indeed stressful. ALL of these things are true at the same time. You are allowed to feel both. Validate these things in yourself AND in your children. Your feelings aren’t “less real” because people are dying from this awful virus. (Real Talk: I CRIED when I got the news that my black-belt test wasn’t going to happen as scheduled…I knew in my heart that it wouldn’t be on April 4th, but the reality of it finally hitting was too much for me to handle at the time).
  7. Connect with your faith community to keep yourself spiritually healthy. Many churches have gone online. If yours isn’t capable of doing that, ask your pastor what he or she would recommend for connecting with the faith community on Sunday mornings. Many small groups and Sunday school classes are keeping up with each other via email, Zoom meetings, Facebook groups, and texts. Do your best to stay engaged with your church family and make space for your children to do the same. Taking time to study Scripture, read a devotional-no matter how short it may be, listening to music that gets your focus off of yourself are all helpful practices to keep your spiritual health, well, healthy. 

One last time, these are unprecedented times. Therefore, there’s no normal. There are no expectations for how to behave—other than law of common sense and the care of others and ourselves. We are ALL figuring this out as we go. We ALL deserve grace, space for our emotions, and empathy for our struggles in the midst of uncertainty. Make sure that in addition to giving it to others, you give some to yourself as well.

Creator of Nobel Peace Prize First Accused of Being ‘Merchant of Death’

It’s true. Alfred Nobel, the creator of the Nobel Peace Prize was once called the ‘Merchant of Death’. 

That doesn’t sound right, huh? 

It’s quite an interesting story that I ran across earlier this week while preparing a talk for my friends at Quad City Christian School. 

Before he was ever the creator of the Nobel Peace Prize, Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist and inventor, holding 355 patents. Most widely known, is his invention of dynamite. 

The story goes that Alfred’s brother, Ludvig had died. A few weeks later, while visiting France, Alfred opened up the newspaper and found his OWN obituary printed as a mistake—not his brother Ludvig’s. Intrigued by what might be said regarding his own life, Alfred read:

Le marchand de la mort est mort (“The merchant of death is dead”) and went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”

Alfred was horrified that the way he would be remembered is as a “merchant of death”. He devised a plan to remedy this—Alfred took 94% (at the time, this was a little over 3 million Swedish Kronor!) of his wealth and created a fund that would annually award those who helped create or keep peace-without regard to nationality. 

Alfred is reputed to have said, “If only every person had the chance to change their obituary in the middle of their life!”

As I learned of Alfred’s story, his labeling as the ‘merchant of death’ and his subsequent action to, as he put it, “change his obituary” it got me to thinking about what my obituary might say were it to be printed pre-mortem. 

I think we all believe that when we die, someone will miss us. Hopefully a handful of someones! They’ll place us on a pedestal, they’ll only remember the good, the times we shone, the highlights. 

Honestly though, the reality is that I have my moments. I can be quite annoying at times. Forgetful. Too busy. Too guarded. Too self-focused. I miss my exit too often, not knowing when to stop. The gift that gives me a quick-wit also gives me a swift and sarcastic tongue that bites. I may not have invented dynamite, but I know that I have killed a few people’s spirits throughout my time on this earth. (On the plus side, I have learned how to apologize really well!) 

What might I need to change in order to leave a better legacy? 

If the entirety of my life will be boiled down to one sentence, amongst my friends and colleagues, etched on my tombstone in the cemetery where I’m buried, what would I want that one sentence to be?

I am unable to put together that one sentence at this moment. However, it has got me thinking of what direction I’d like to head. Afterall, Alfred Nobel’s life has taught me that it’s never too late to change your obituary while you’re still living! 

How To Help Your Kids Process Kobe Bryant’s Death

The tragic news out of California today has so many in the nation in shock and disbelief. When I first saw an article posted on Facebook, I admit, I rolled my eyes and thought, “no way. I hope this is one of those fake news articles that’s meant to just get everyone all riled up.” Unfortunately, I was completely wrong. It soon became all too real: Kobe Bryant had passed. Later news including the death of his 13 year old daughter, Gianna, and thus far a reported teammate of Gianna’s, that teammate’s parent and the pilot of the helicopter.

One of my brothers is a big sports fan. He’s usually who I reach out to when there is shocking news regarding any sports issue. As we texted for a few minutes, we acknowledged that this news hits hard. Kobe is close to my brother’s age. I made the comment to my brother that Kobe is to this generation of kids what Michael Jordan was to me and my siblings growing up….the G.O.A.T. Like him or dislike him, I believe Kobe was respected across the board for his skills, stats and mamba mentality. 

So, how do we help our kids process this event? 

1. Be aware of their news and social media intake during this time. Be willing to cut them off from the over-intake of “news”. Updates will of course continue to be released as time goes on. However, the news media can become never-ending “loops” of non-information, information. It is important for their mental and emotional health not to get stuck in this loop—-encourage a walk outside (yes, even in this cold weather); play with toys away from iPads and other electronics that access news; a family activity….coloring, board-games, baking a sweet treat, etc. Give their brain and emotions a break from the 24/7-ness (is that a word?) of the bad news cycle.

2. Don’t minimize their feelings. For some parents, it may seem odd that our child is having BIG FEELINGS about a person they’ve most likely never met. However, with any celebrity death, there is a degree to which we feel like we “know” the person. When it’s a movie or TV star, we think of the characters they played. There is a degree to which they were “in our homes” on a regular basis. If you’re old enough to remember Princess Diana’s death or more recently Robin Williams, Luke Perry or Carrie Fisher….there are celebrities that create a national (or global) type of mourning. It can be similar with sports stars. Often, sports celebrities are where kids find heroes, role-models and inspiration for who they want to be when they grow up. It’s important to validate their feelings of loss and grief—big or small. Reminding them they’ve never met a person doesn’t take away their feelings about it, rather it communicates that they shouldn’t feel how they feel which is more confusing than helpful.

3. Celebrity deaths can stir up previous loss and grief memories. This is quite normal, especially if the loss was recent and even more so, especially for children. The news of a celebrity death bombards most people’s lives in an intense and saturated way. With children especially, associating a high-news-event such as this alongside the loss of a pet, a grandparent, or other significant loss in their life is common. Be prepared to answer basic questions regarding death and loss. 

4. Questions and fears are normal; give them space to express those without dismissal or minimizing. For some children this may be their first experience with death. The added layer of Kobe’s daughter having died alongside him might also hit deeper as the realization that “she was just a kid too” can hit hard. In most kids’ worlds, death is something that happens to “old” people….like grandmas and grandpas. Not someone they watch on TV, follow on social media, or another kid like them. This realization can spark questions (and fears) about their potential death (or yours). It can feel tempting to promise them that you’ll never die as a way of subduing their fear in the moment. However, this is inaccurate. First, you (as well as everyone on this earth) will eventually die. Two, none of us know when we will die. Making a promise like this to our children is not healthy and could potentially cause greater damage in the future. So what are things we can say that are honest but still help our children calm their fear or anxiety?

  • Every day that we get to spend together is a gift of time from the Lord. There is no way to predict when one of us will die. That is why it’s important to make the most of everyday.
  • One day I will die, that is true. However, God’s Word teaches us that we do not have to fear death because He will bring us all together again. And we can trust in God’s promises.
  • It is true that people die. Unfortunately, this happens to everyone eventually. And it’s important that we don’t spend all of our time together worried about what will happen in the future.  God wants us to make the most of the time that we have in the present, right now. 
  • One day, yes, I will die. However, I don’t live in fear of that day because I trust that God keeps his promises and that He will make sure that you’re (and/or other family members) are okay. He will always be with you.

5. Although not as likely, some children and teens might experience clinical depression (of any severity). While this is normally a symptom of a more underlying issue, it is important to be watchful and attentive of the bigger signs that something is wrong (lack of appetite, over or under-sleeping that is not normal, lack of desire to engage in activities that were previously fun, lack of hygiene (that isn’t normal), and lethargy. If you begin to see these signs, it would be recommended to get your child to a doctor or therapist.

Book Review: The #MeToo Reckoning

An Overview:

In The #MeToo Reckoning: Facing the Church’s Complicity in Sexual Abuse and Misconduct, author Ruth Everhart bravely weaves her story of abuse throughout a larger call for churches to properly respond to the vulnerable in their midst. 

Ruth is a survivor of rape and clergy sexual misconduct. Her story and experiences have merged alongside her ministry of compassion to make her voice a staying force in the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movement. She boldly shares her own story as well as those of other survivors of clergy sexual abuse and misconduct. 

As a pastor, Ruth has a unique perspective to offer her readers. She is in a unique position—having survived clergy sexual misconduct while in the ministry and coming out on the other end still interested in the things of God–continuing work in the ministry in fact, is a rarity. For the average church-goer (or church leader) the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements can feel so far removed and a faceless disturbance. 

This is not just a memoir, however, it is a call to action for churches today. We have reached a point in time where churches can no longer ignore (not that they ever should have!) or stick their heads in the sand with regards to abuse that happens under their roof or on their watch. Inaction will be taken as tolerance. Silence as a seal of approval. 

Why I Read This:

From the moment I realized this book was forthcoming (January 2020 is its official release date), I knew I had to get my hands on it! That makes sense, right? I’m working on my doctorate in the area of abuse and women in the church. In the thick of my research journey, anything that mentions abuse and the church catches my eye. 

It makes sense for a student doing research on abuse and recovery from abuse to read this book. It is both narrative and studious–weaving together the author’s story with others from today while simultaneously expounding on several narratives from the Bible.

I have a passion to educate the average congregant, lay leadership and survivors themselves about abuse. This book is a book for me. But is it a book for you?

Why You Should Read This:

The #MeToo Reckoning reminds all of us that real people have experienced real abuse by churches and are often re-victimized when they cry out and are not heard or dismissed completely by those in authority. 

For abuse to be eradicated, we have to be aware. We can’t fight something we can’t see (or refuse to see). Studies have shown that the most significant factor in preventing abuse in churches is the intentional education and awareness of the congregation—that’s right—you, as the average congregant or church-attender, need to understand and recognize what abuse is in order for successful prevention.

You may not be passionate about this issue. You don’t have to be in order to benefit from reading this book. You may not know anyone who has been abused. (Most likely, you DO know someone that’s been abused, you just don’t know that you know). You may know someone but have never known what to say or how to listen with sensitivity or wisdom. This book can help with that. 

As a community, as a family of believers, we all have a responsibility to be present, to listen, to encourage, to guide, to help heal. Let your first (or next) step be picking up a copy of The #MeToo Reckoning by Ruth Everhart. 

A Tale of Two Pastors: How One Pastor Blessed Me and Another Told Me to Go Home

This past Sunday, I attended the ordination ceremony for my friend, Tyler. It was a beautiful service that was holy and reverent and so uniquely tailored to who Tyler is as a person and as a minister. This was first time to attend an ordination ceremony of any type, despite being a follower of Jesus for over 20 years and serving in full-time ministry for eight years. Every denomination has its own rituals and in this particular event, there was much symbolism that I was unfamiliar with as a part of my own faith journey. The ministers wore robes, and each had a personal stole around their neck, candles were ceremonially lit and there was a procession of ordained clergy before the program began. The sanctuary was ornate, complete with an organ and a split chancel pulpit ( ß don’t let my confidence here fool you, a friend told me that was what it’s called.) The woodwork was ornate and dark brown in color, matching the wooden pews with velvet red cushions on which the audience was seated. My regular church experience feels nothing like what I was a part of at that moment. 

On any given Sunday you can find me wearing jeans with holes in the knees and a t-shirt, shying away from the moment when someone accidentally calls me “Pastor” Taryn, all while enjoying a full band worship experience in your individual green padded chair. Being a pastor, I don’t really get the opportunity to experience other church experiences or denominations on Sunday mornings. So on this particular afternoon, my mind and spiritual eyes were attentive to all our differences united under our common faith in the one true God. 

The Reverend Carey brought a message from 2 Timothy while giving a blessing and imparting wisdom that can only be found in having walked the ministry life journey. In the passage, Paul is writing to his student and spiritual son, Timothy. Timothy for all intents and purposes is now ministering in his own right and like anyone who has been in ministry longer than 3 days can tell you, situations and people can make the calling pretty tough at times. Paul is writing to encourage and remind Timothy of this calling and he makes an analogy of the work of a pastor being similar to the work of a soldier, an athlete and a farmer all wrapped up in one. It was during this message that I heard something I’ve never heard before.

The Reverend Carey, while expounding on the passage, referred to a pastor as a “she”. Regularly using both male and female pronouns for his analogies of ordained clergy throughout his message, Reverend Carey, included people like me: the female clergy. It was such a new thing to hear that it stood out like a sore thumb—but a sore thumb you want to brag about. At first, I thought I had zoned out. I thought, maybe I missed the context while I was taking in the sights around me. I went home and found the service online, listening again to make sure I had heard it correctly. I had heard it correctly. It was the first time, I’ve ever heard any person, male or female, refer to a pastor in a message as a “she”. 

On that very same evening, with my brain still tingling with the new experience I’ve had, (yes, my brain tingles…it’s hard to describe so you’ll just have to trust me) a friend posted a video clip of well-known pastor John MacArthur celebrating his 50th year of ministry and preaching. For some reason….I’m not sure who thought this would be a good idea….the moderator of this particular session introduced a word-association game. As he snickers, the first “word” he says is Beth Moore. John MacArthur immediately says, “Go Home”, resulting in laughter from the majority of the audience. 

Ahhh, yes. This feels more familiar than what I had experienced just a few hours before. 

Honestly, at that moment I thought to myself, “surely, this is an old clip.” And I went to the source to find the date. Nope, it was from this week. All the hope and the joy I had felt from Reverend Carey’s message became lost and jumbled up in the midst of MacArthur’s two-word admonishing reply. 

I thought about Beth Moore, wondering how she would choose to respond (because as a woman you HAVE to respond…but carefully….because too strong will come off as too emotional and not strong enough will come across as too-soft with a slight hint of door-mat, both of which will allow others to disrespect or deny you future ministry opportunities). 

I thought about my own calling. I haven’t had any one directly tell me to go home, but after interviewing multiple times, feeling called to a new context and hoping for the final vote, I’ve been told, “we really like you. We are all on the same page. But the church and some of the leadership just isn’t ready for a woman pastor right now.”  (Okay. I feel like I was upfront from the get-go about being a woman this whole time.) 

When putting together a message to share with the congregation, the male-pastor who has closed the service with a prayer has thanked me “for sharing a few scriptures.” (Ummm, I didn’t just read some Scriptures there, buddy! I put my heart and soul into that sermon.)

Well-meaning hearts have relayed to me, “you know, I voted no for you because you are a woman and I didn’t really believe that women could be ministers, but now that you’re here, I just want to tell you that I like you.” (Ummm, thanks?)

I am new to this world of standing for women’s equality in the calling of Christ. I think it’s safe to say I’m a recovering complementarian. For the past several years, God has been enlightening me on my journey, changing my theology and the way I understand long taught Scriptures in a new way. 

While I’m NOT here to vilify Pastor MacArthur, I wonder about how he could’ve responded in a way that was more Christ-like. Outside of choosing not to play a dangerous game of “word association” (which if we are honest was simply a platform for this sort of thing to happen), there were certainly better responses available. 

  • For most of us, our theology doesn’t sway in the wind, nor is it changed based on our feelings. Most of us, take time and give serious educational effort to understanding God’s word and standing firm upon that which we feel God is calling us. 

–There were hundreds of other responses MacArthur could have responded with outside of “Go Home” that would’ve allowed him to maintain his theological beliefs without being disrespectful, divisive, rude and unkind. Answering with “servant of God”, “faithful”, “passionate”, or “a godly woman” all would have been true without having to bend on what he felt was his theological position.

–In the Gospel of Luke, John the disciple says to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.” And Jesus replies, “Don’t stop him….for whoever is not against us is for us. And whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in my name, because you belong to Christ—truly I tell you, he will never lose his reward.” 

–Jesus is saying, “hey, we’re all on the same team here.” And I believe that Jesus would challenge all of us to see who is working in His name and to bless them in their ministry, rather than tearing them down.

  • Regardless of where we fall on the theological spectrum, we are called to be Christlike in our behavior and our treatment of others regardless of where THEY fall in their theology. 

–Christ reminded us multiple times in the Gospels that the words from our mouth actually pour out of our heart. What’s on the outside reflects the measure of health of our insides.

–We must remember this as we encounter different experiences and expressions of faith. 

  • As we continue to behave with Christlikeness, we see in Jesus a model for how to respond to women…. we invite them along in God’s work, we see their gifts, we acknowledge their calling, we train them, we educate them, we pave the way for them, we bless them.

I’d Rather Not Remember

If you are over the age of 22 or 23, today is the day you tell your story of “where you were”. Its hard to believe its been 18 years since I was pulling into the parking lot of Blackman High School for another day of my junior year in high-school. We were listening to the radio and the short news break in between songs said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York. I remember my mom gasping, “oh my God!” when she heard the news. “How in the world does a plane hit that big of a tower?” I shrugged my shoulders, more willing to assume that it hadn’t been intentional, “Maybe they got off course or just had an accident?” She quickly replied, “There’s no way you can accidentally hit the World Trade Center. Its huge.” She rounded the corner to drop me off and I got out of the car like every other day, “love you Mom.”, closed the door and walked into school.

It wasn’t until the end of our first period of class that we understood what was happening that day was an act of terrorism. In a world with no cell-phones and no text-messages, we were glued to the TVs and live coverage. In our second period, we saw the buildings collapse. By the third period, we were braced for where the next point of impact was going to land. 

I remember walking the halls from class to class that day, so silent and somber. In a school of about 2000 students, to have the hallways be absent and void of the usual chatter, jovial greetings, and even occasional fist-fight was striking. The silence of the day felt so loud. As 15, 16, and 17 year olds, we looked to our teachers for cues on how to properly respond to the events that were literally changing history right before our eyes. I remember at the close of the day, our principal Gary Nixon coming on the speaker to tell all of us, “what has happened today is a moment of history. It is scary. It has brought out fear and sadness. Take notice of yourself and those around you. Take today and be with your friends, family and loved ones. And, overall, we will rise out of this and we are going to be okay.” 

Soon after the day was over, cries of We Will Never Forget sprang up alongside American flags all over the nation. It was the most patriotic I’ve ever felt in my life. United over tragedy and grief, it felt GOOD to be an American. I swore to not forget this day nor its impact on me.

Eighteen years later, I’d rather not remember the events of that day. All this time has gone by and it seems impossible somehow that 9/11 wasn’t just a few years ago, that it was actually almost two decades ago; that anyone who is a senior in high-school has no personal memory or attachment to the day. If I’m perfectly honest, their naivety and blissful unawareness seems like a gift. I’d rather not remember the day that we helplessly watched-live on TV-planes filled with people, REAL people, have their lives stolen from them. I’d rather not remember watching the buildings fall, the people run, and the screams and cries of the victims on the ground. 

But I must. I must remember. I must force myself to watch the videos that make me uncomfortable. Avoiding it won’t make it never have happened—it will make me not care that it really did happen. Not caring that it happened is the equivalent of saying that 3000 people’s lives were stolen for no reason and were insignificant in the grand scheme of things. It is the very opposite of what I swore—to never forget. 

So, I watched the 4 minute montage today—I heard the recordings of the confusion in the air-towers; the last “I love you’s” being left on answering machines; the panicked 911 calls; the screams from the ground; the moments when those who were helping realized there was nothing more they could do to help. And I felt the pain all over again, just like I was a 16- year-old walking into another day of high-school. Because I swore I’d never forget—and keeping that promise means forcing myself to remember.

Other Ways To Remember Well:

  • Reading out loud the names of those who lost their lives
  • Observing a moment of silence in remembrance
  • Praying for the families/friends of those who lost their lives
  • Taking a meal or a sweet treat to your local firehouse, police station, or hospital emergency room
  • Sharing our stories with children who were not alive at the time
  • Visiting one of the memorial sites in Washington DC; New York or Pennsylvania—they are breathtaking and reverent
  • Making a donation toward the continuing health and treatment funds for those impacted by being a first responder or immediately on site
  • Inviting a neighbor over for dinner; intentionally building relationships with those around us—today more than ever, we need community in all new ways

The Big Leap

My therapist looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Taryn, I think this is gonna be the absolute best thing for you.” I couldn’t contain my tears as I thought about everything that this decision entailed. She continued, “I think you’re going to love Iowa.” 

I couldn’t even think about loving Iowa. I was still too numb from the hurt and betrayal that had come just two months prior. How had my life taken a path that was leading me away from everything and everyone I had ever known? Away from anything familiar. Away from my whole life. How in the world was I going to “love” a place that wasn’t Nashville, TN?

I remember going home that afternoon and continuing to pack up my things. I had moved twice before but those times had felt more like a choice. Each time had come with excited anticipation about a new beginning. This time was different–it felt like a “have-to”. The presence of deep grief and loss overshadowed any excitement possible. I called my mentor that afternoon and asked, “Do you think moving to Iowa is just me running away from my problems?” Without hesitation she answered me, “Taryn, I don’t think you’ve ever run from any problem in your entire life!” Despite her reassurances, I felt like Daniel (from the Bible) must have felt when he was thrown in that lion’s den….before God showed up; before God rescued him from certain death.

Have you been there my friend? Have your dreams and plans fallen and shattered all around you? Where you once felt control over your future, you now feel like a pawn being aimlessly moved around a chess board by someone else’s hand? After experiencing this myself I can assure you of one thing:


This week, I celebrate my two year anniversary of calling Iowa home. My therapist? She was right. Moving to Iowa WAS the best thing for me. And I do love it! I mistakenly thought that I had to completely heal first before I should make a move (both career wise and on the home-front). “God’s going to use this move to continue your healing,” were wise words from my mentor. I couldn’t see it at the time. I was going through the motions, I was doing the next best thing, I was making decisions based on logic rather than emotion and I was scared to death of it all. I tend to be an all or nothing kind of thinker—since I wasn’t all healed up, I wouldn’t (and shouldn’t!) have a position in ministry. 

(Sometimes) God doesn’t need you to be all healed up before moving your influence or using you for a new task. Sometimes the new task or environment will be the source of healing. For me, moving to Iowa was the biggest leap of faith I’ve ever taken. I moved here scared, shaken, ashamed, my self-confidence depleted, my trust destroyed, my ability to let others love me gone, my belief that I was worthy of anything good completely dissipated. I remember driving across the i74 bridge, crossing over the Mississippi River and the Iowa state line right around sunset thinking, “God, I don’t know what the hell you’re doing. But please don’t let me be hurt again. My heart can’t take it and I won’t be able to afford a move back to Tennessee anytime soon.”

Oh if the Taryn of 2019 could be in the truck with me that day! She’d be able to say, “Oh honey (I call everyone honey), God’s gonna blow your mind! He’s not giving you one last chance with a side of left-overs….just you wait! He’s gonna give you more than you could even ask for or imagine! Right over this bridge is gonna be a new church family that’s going to straight up LOVE you, literally hundreds of kids that are going to fill your heart up; friends that are going to honor you; the chance to fulfill your calling of pursuing your doctorate; a crazy intro into the world of Taekwondo (which will also play a part in your healing); Whitey’s Ice Cream; a little orange cat named Theo; being just two hours away from the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois; a house that has a basement and where there aren’t any shootings or drug deals on a regular basis; the wonder that is the annual TugFest; a T-Rex costume that’s going to get you in the paper and not only that but a Triceratops AND a Pterodactyl to go with it; access to beautiful river sunsets that are going to help you breathe and bask in wonder on a regular basis; and SO. MUCH. MORE. 

I’m so glad I didn’t let my (what turned out to be) momentary fear get in the way of all this blessing!