Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

by Tara Johnson

Blue Weights, Green Apple, and Tape Measure

Push ups. Pull ups. Sit ups. Juice fasts. No carbs. All carbs. Cellulite. Lipsuction. Tummy tucks. Botox. Lunges. Slimming pants. Spanx. Colon cleanse. Burn, sweat and you’ll be ripped, finally attaining physical perfection and the fulfillment of your dreams.

Sound familiar?

 baby weights

Our culture is inundated with the strive for the perfect body. Whether it’s diets, workout plans, skin imperfections or the like, we have become a people obsessed. Just look at all the controversy that popped up weeks ago when a photo of Cindy Crawford hit the internet—a photo void of airbrushing and computer tricks. The media was all abuzz. “Wait…Cindy Crawford has stretch marks? Say it isn’t so!”

I fear we resemble the evil Queen from Snow White who started each day critically looking at her reflection and asking, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?” queen mirrorWe receive our compliments and our pride gets its needed puff for the day. All is well and good until that hateful mirror changes his tune one unexpected day and says, “Uh, you know Susie from down the road? Yeah, she’s looking way better than you. She’s been doing the 21 day fix while you’ve been plastering your face wrinkles with spackle and eating oreos. You’ve got some work to do.”

So we panic and throw ourselves into yet another diet, another exercise regimen, kicking ourselves for letting ourselves go while Susie receives the accolades for being the fairest in the land.

snow-white-and-the-seven-dwarfs-2

Put another way, some of us are trying to find our worth through our outward appearance.

I get it. I really do. I’m probably the worst offender in this area. At five foot, ten inches, no matter how thin I actually am, all I see is a hulking giant in my mirror and I envy my petite-I-can-eat-a-cheeseburger-and-still-look-ripped little friends. If it has the label Beachbody anywhere on it, I probably own it and am one of those strange people who truly enjoys a hard workout. I like the sweat and pain because it tells me that I worked hard and survived. It’s a great stress release and a fantastic way to manage depression and a host of other problems.

 exercise

Exercise and making wise choices is important. As a child of God, I’m only given one body and I need to take care of it. But sometimes my perspective gets out of whack, as I know it does for many of my readers.

I love the way Jennifer Rothschild put it in her book Me, Myself & Lies.

“Imagine your job was keeper of the temple in ancient Israel. Every morning you wake before dawn to enter the temple courts with your broom and mop. Throughout the day you are occupied with dusting, arranging, cleaning, oiling hinges and polishing wood…But what if you say to yourself as you sweep and polish, ‘I don’t need to worship in this temple. I’ll just spend time patching cracks in the plaster or sweeping along the baseboards. I want this temple to be the best-looking temple there is!’ “

paintingTemples can be pretty but their purpose is not to look good. They are designed for something greater…worship of God. And guess what? That’s what you were designed for as well.

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” ~ 1 Corinthians 3:16

Please don’t misunderstand. This is not a call for laziness. Should we pitch those workout DVDs and stop trying? Absolutely not. The purpose of taking care of your body, keeping your heart strong, eating healthy foods and exercise is to make sure you are fit and able to do whatever God is calling you to do. We shouldn’t be doing it to honor the temple but to bring honor to the One who dwells inside the temple.

We should worship in the temple, not worship the temple.

How often do thoughts of your physical appearance, your weight, body shape or any other physical ‘wrapping’ invade your thoughts? Keep a count. For most ladies in our culture, I fear the tally marks on the page make the white paper nearly black.

Beauty fades. Skin looses its elasticity. Joints grow stiff. Stretch marks abound but your outer wrapping does not determine your value. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” ~Proverbs 31:30

Please don’t build your temple into an idol for it’s a god that will only crumble. broken churchFocus on loving Jesus with all your heart, mind, soul and strength…and make healthy food and exercise choices along the way. We should not revel in our broken down temples any more than we should glorify the gleaming, pristine walls of the perfectly swept house of worship.

Aren’t you glad your worth is not dependent on your looks? It’s all about the condition of your heart and, really, being the fairest in the land has much more to do with the heart than anything else anyways.

Just ask Snow White.

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How to Help Your Preacher’s Kid Part 3: Feed Those Guppies

by Tara Johnson

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We’ve looked at the ups and downs of PK life, as well as the lasting scars inflicted by cruel people in many churches. But don’t throw out your fish food yet. Some guppies have tried to swim through turbulent waters and floundered. Others have thrived, even in a tiny fish bowl with hundreds of eyes on them, just waiting for them to go belly up.

Tired of the fish puns? Me too. Let’s swim away and take a look at what we can do to help the preacher’s kids thrive. I should add that this advice doesn’t just work well for preacher’s kids. It’s a good way to treat all children.

  1. Pray for your pastor’s children. Lift them up the throne by name. They are under enormous pressure and need all the strength God can give. Love and pray for them daily. Do something special for them or surprise them with a gift every now and then. They need to be surrounded with thoughtful care.pray
  2. Love them for who they are. Don’t impose your own projections about who they should be. Just because the PK’s dad is the pastor doesn’t mean he enjoys speaking in front of people. Or that she can memorize verses fast than the other kids. Or that he can explain Ezekiel. (Consequently, pastors’ wives commonly complain that the first time they visit a new church, someone asks if they can play the piano. Why the two are always linked remains a mystery.) God made the pastor’s child with his own amazing set of talents and abilities, talents that may not fit the mold.

Get to know your pastor’s child and his or her unique personality. What are their favorite hobbies? Favorite movies? Ask questions. Show interest. A little attention goes a long way.

  1. Make sure to include them in social activities.No one likes being excluded. Be aware of any clicks that may have developed, whether by accident or otherwise. Pastors’ families have interests that go beyond church. They might love to fish, hunt, take fun vacations, enjoy a good barbeque or a night out bowling. PKs desperately need to feel accepted and included yet often they are not. I’ve even heard some folks say that they feel they can’t be themselves if they invite their pastor or his kids to an outing.

Girl being left out

Let me add that if you feel you can’t be yourself around your pastor’s family, you’re probably living in a way you shouldn’t. If you don’t like to be excluded, they won’t either.

  1. Respect their family time. Many PKs fear the pastor, due to his highly demanding schedule, care more about the church than he does his child. It’s important that your pastor’s family has their own bonding time. A good rule of thumb is to call on the Lord more than you call your pastor. His family is a ministry too.
  2. Remember they are children. Children are not little adults. They are still trying to understand their world. Expecting them, even if they are the preacher’s kid, to be perfect is crazy. It can’t be done. No one can. They are going to wiggle in church, talk back, have cranky days and struggle just like all of us. The difference is they will have dozens of eyeballs trained on them as they try to figure it out. Be patient. Be kind. And don’t expect more of them than you would your own children.

kids are kids

A side note to the Pastor and his wife: don’t tell your child that they must behave properly or their behavior will ruin their father’s ministry. The Lord himself directs where the pastor and his family go. Putting such a burden on a child can crush him. Either that, or he will develop into a ranting and raving perfectionist, fearing nothing he does will ever measure up. No ministry should rise or fall on a child and his ability to perform.

A Final Word

Perhaps you’ve done everything right and your guppy is still swimming fast and furious for open water. If your child is rebelling and pushing God away, take heart. Their condition now may not be their conclusion.  It’s easy to run through a list of “I should have been a better mother…”, “Did I do something wrong as a Dad?”…or the ever popular, “I failed my kid.”

Just because your child is running away from God doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Most people reading this article would agree that God is the perfect Father, yet His children rebel all the time. Pray, love, hope. Keeping feeding them. As long as they have breath in their lungs, there is hope.

Guilt won’t keep your kids in church for the long term. A sense of duty doesn’t always last , but if we teach our children to fall in love with Jesus, the chances that they will remain faithful to Him throughout their life skyrockets.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

 love never fails

Loving people the way Jesus loves us never fails. It’s never in vain. Love those guppies. They just may turn the world upside down someday as a result of how they are fed now. Love well.

The Preacher’s Kids Part 2: Don’t Kill the Guppies

by Tara Johnson

dead guppy

I was surprised seeing all the hands raised in the room. A room filled with inmates. I was surprised but not shocked.

When I asked the inmates at Tucker prison if there were any preacher’s kids in the audience, at least one sixth of those in attendance raised their hands, sheepish smiles ghosting their faces.

From PK to inmate. How does it happen? And why are preacher’s kids, those who have been raised in the faith, leaving their churches as adults?

Let’s review Part 1 of this blog series, The Fishbowl, The Glass House and Other Annoyingly Transparent Cages. What are the pros and cons of the PK life?

Advantages:

  1. Having a wide circle of friends from various churches and different places.
  2. Getting to see God move behind the scenes.
  3. Enjoy the material gifts and benefits when the church does something nice for the pastor.
  4. Being raised in church ingrains the truth early into hearts and minds.
  5. Accountability

Disadvantages:

  1. Moving often. 
  2.  Church members pulling their father away from them. 
  3.  People set higher standards of behavior for the preacher’s kids than they do their own.
  4. Being treated badly because someone is mad at their Dad.
  5. Interrupted vacation and family time.
  6. Living on a lower income than many of their friends.
  7. Constant criticism of their parents or bickering among the church members.

Although the reasons vary (and the last thing I want to do is stereotype preacher’s kids more than they already are), many of the PKs polled in research confessed deep scars from being raised in ministry. Not because their parents were horrible, not because the ministry was too taxing. Their predominant reason? The cruelty their parents faced from disgruntled and vindictive church members.

An angry nerdy woman.

Preacher’s kids see it all. They see the draining work, the exhausting schedule. They often have to give up special time with their parents so another person can be comforted. They see the tears, the confusion and hurt. And they often see the meanest side of people, church members who act one way on Sunday and another the rest of the week.

It’s a lot for a kid to take in, especially when you consider the child’s worldview, perception of God, and the ministry is still being formed.

What many folks forget is that being in the pastor’s family puts them and their children on the front lines of spiritual warfare. The enemy comes at them with all he’s got. Fiery darts, pain, exhaustion, misunderstandings, discouragement. It’s a nonstop battle and Satan does his best work among fighting church members. Eventually the pastor gets dragged in, someone becomes angry at him because they didn’t get their way and drama escalates. It’s almost so formulaic, it’s sad.

But the preacher’s kids don’t understand the ins and outs of Satan’s schemes. All they know is that their Dad or Mom is being attacked. In short, someone gets ticked off at the preacher and, let me say from experience, when someone is mad at the preacher, the PK is often treated with contempt as well.

pk

Hurtful words are flung like stones. Reputations shredded. Long buried wounds fester until the disease infects the church. The preacher’s kid is in the middle of all this, watching, wondering, worrying. Some begin to wonder if ministry is even worth it. What’s the point when people are so mean to each other? Others feel trapped, stuck in a cycle of trying to keep everybody happy or masking their true feelings with a facade of perfection so their father’s ministry won’t suffer. They try to live up to everyone’s expectations…a very hard load for little shoulders to carry and, I might add, an impossible task.

If enough of this kind of drama is seen on a regular basis, it’ll mess a kid up. So what happens when this child reaches adulthood? Those with deep scars and blistering burns leave without a backwards glance.

I personally know several PKs who left church once they were grown but the concern goes deeper than church attendance. These PKs abandoned the faith completely. They had children. Children who have never yet darkened the doors of a church or know a thing about the saving grace of Jesus.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying these preacher’s kids are justified. Each person has to take responsibility for themselves. But the trend is heart breaking.

Is it right to ditch church because of bad experiences? No, not at all. God said He would receive His glory through the church. (Ephesians 3:21) Honestly, I’ve had bad experiences at grocery stores and restaurants and I usually still go back. We humans are good at picking and choosing what we’ll be offended about. People are people wherever you go. We’re a messy, cranky, broken lot. My concern in this blog isn’t to argue about the importance of serving in a church (although it is important) but instead my sore heart aches for those who are so wounded, they can no longer embrace what their parents gave their entire lives for.

How we treat people, even in our anger, matters. It matters a lot. And that includes how we treat our pastor. Little eyes are watching. Minds are being molded. We can do better, folks. Lives and souls are counting on it. The ripples of our behavior affect more than just ourselves. It reaches far into eternity.

So I’ve said all this to say: please don’t tap on the fishbowl. We really don’t want any dead guppies.

cat and fishbowl

Stuck in Second

by Tara Johnson

My car is stuck in second gear. True story.

 second gear

Actually, it’s my husband’s car but I had the distinct displeasure of driving ‘the turtle’, as I call it, yesterday while taking my middle child to Speech so my hubby could use our good vehicle for a short road trip. I’d totally forgotten his car had seen better days until I slipped behind the wheel. Not just better days. Faster days. Cooler days.

Did I mention the air conditioning doesn’t work either? Oh, and some of the windows won’t roll down. Limited ventilation. No air. In Arkansas. With summer quickly approaching. I think you’ve got the picture. I was creeping our little family down the road in a slow-moving crockpot on wheels.
turtle

I tried not to complain. Really, I did. After all, my husband never complains about having to drive The Turtle. Not much, anyways. But as my tee shirt began to stick like glue to my perspiring back, I wiped another trickle away from my damp brow and pushed back a sigh of irritation. The kids were sweaty, it was dreadfully hot and the line of irritated cars behind me was growing steadily longer by the minute.

That is, until I turned the corner and spied three police cars, their radar guns pointed and ready.

You want to know the good thing about driving a car stuck in second gear? No tickets. I smiled, noting the irony of my suddenly brighter situation, and waved as I slowly moved by, rotating my hand like a queen stuck atop a float.

It suddenly struck me that my attitude had seen better days as well. The entire grump-saturated morning could easily have been reversed by flipping my perspective. Sure, the car would still be slow as molasses, the air would still be sweltering and my hair would stay a chaotic mess from the wind. But I realized I wouldn’t have been complaining at all about my wind-whipped hair if I was driving a convertible. Or better yet, one of these bad boys which we spied later in the day.

sweet car

But I digress…

It’s really about attitude, isn’t it? Being thankful no matter the circumstances because we rely on faith that God is working all things together for our good, no matter the daily frustrations and seeming ‘set backs’. If I had been in my normal ride, I could have easily gotten a ticket…or worse yet, been in an accident.

ticket

When we’re stuck in second gear, it might seem like opportunities are slipping through our fingers, that life is moving faster than we are, but it might be God’s way of filtering out the noise and distractions to get us to the place He intended for us to be all along. And those disappointments? Those moments might be God’s way of keeping us safe.

If you’re stuck in second, don’t grouse. There’s a reason, at least for now. Sing a song of praise with those windows rolled down. Let everyone hear. Oh, and another good thing about being stuck in second gear? You’ll have plenty of time to sing as you creep towards your destination. You’ve got all day.

All the better.

What about you? Have you had your own ‘stuck in second gear’ moment?

The Fishbowl, the Glass house and Other Annoyingly Transparent Cages: The Life of the Preacher’s Kid

by Tara Johnson

They see much. They hear more than you think. And all of it leaves an indelible impression on their young hearts. Who am I speaking of? I’m talking about the preacher’s kid.

caution pk

Speaking as a PK, I can tell you that being on the ministry front lines is a unique experience. You see it all: the good, the bad and the…cranky. For most, being thrust into such a colorful and eye-opening existence is usually accompanied with, what I call, God’s coping mechanism: humor. Learn to laugh or ministry will eat you up.

You Know Being a PK has warped you when…

  1. You get excited about the church giving your family a food pounding because it’s the one time out of the year when you’ll be able to enjoy brand name cereal instead of the knock-offs.
  1. You constantly get in trouble for things the deacon’s kid thought up.
  1. You blame everything in your life on the deacons’ kids.
  1. Every time your family goes on vacation, you know it will doom some poor unsuspecting church member to an early death.
  1. You won’t go out with anyone on a date who hasn’t formed an opinion on pre, mid or post trib.
  1. You understand number five.
  1. You can speak “Christianese” with a skill rivaled only by Charles Spurgeon or D.L. Moody. If someone asks you to explain Ezekiel, you can totally fake your way through it.
  1. Upon hearing you’re a preacher’s kid, people naturally assume you are either a perfect specimen of Christianity, or you’re a rebellious, wild-spirited, hell-raising demon. (Not true. Well, not all the time.)
  1. Your parents encourage you to dress nicely for church, because, after all, we don’t want them taking up a love offering for us because our clothes are shabby, do we?
  1. You’re the first one to church and the last one to leave.

All joking aside, I love meeting other PKs. I love hearing them open up to the fun parts, and sometimes miserable parts of growing up in ministry. All of it is instructive, whether laughable or painful. All of it can bear fruit of wisdom and teach important life lessons.

fishbowl

I was one of the rare oddities that actually enjoyed being a PK. Well, most of the time. Just like anything in life, there are pros and cons. So whether you call it a fishbowl, a glass house or any other structure of visibility, we’re going to take a quick snapshot of what it’s like to live with hundreds of eyes on your every move.

What are the advantages of being the preacher’s kid?

  1. Having a wide circle of friends from various churches and different places.
  2. Getting to see God move behind the scenes.
  3. Enjoy the material gifts and benefits when the church does something nice for the pastor.
  4. Being raised in church ingrains the truth early into hearts and minds.
  5. Accountability

accountable

Some PKs might argue with me on this last one. Accountability can taste like a vile word but it’s really not. Learning to be responsible and set an example is always a good thing. The problem comes when accountability grows into a fishbowl. When you’re taught that approval is given based on your ability to maintain a lofty standard, it’s hard to break free of such a stifling, perfectionist mentality. A lot of preacher’s kids are inadvertently taught by the congregation that approval equals love…and nothing could be further from the truth. Perfectionism always shoves away grace.

In short, a lot of PKs believe the lie that performance is more important than anything else. Either that, or they run hard and fast from impossible expectations by acting out in defiance instead. Both responses are harmful.

Disadvantages:

  1. Moving often. Along with this comes fear of getting too close to someone at the risk of being forced apart by a move.
  2. Church members pulling their father away from them. The pastor’s kids are a ministry too. Be respectful of their family time.
  3. People set higher standards of behavior for the preacher’s kids than they do their own.
  4. Being treated badly because someone is mad at their Dad.
  5. Interrupted vacation and family time.
  6. Living on a lower income than many of their friends.
  7. Constant criticism of their parents or bickering among the church members. PKs often see the meanest side of people and it leaves lasting scars.

This is just a snapshot of the PK life. We’ll be digging much deeper in Part 2: Don’t Kill the Guppies. Stay tuned!

What other insights could you share about the ups and downs of the PK life? I’d love to hear from you!