Good Girl, Humanized

I’m a pastor’s kid, AND . . . (I learned about the power of ‘and’ from my friend Cindy, who recently said labels too often keep us stuck. She said, for example, that although she is often impatient, she likes to say it like this – “I am impatient, AND I am learning to wait”).

So, I’m a pastor’s kid, AND I am learning to live boldly in spite of people’s opinions of me.

I was born to a Bible college student, and my younger brother was born to a seminarian. Our mother was a Bible college student’s wife, and then a seminarian’s wife, AND . . . although she wasn’t much encouraged to imagine the other side of the AND.

Officially I became a pastor’s kid (PK) when I was four and we moved to a tiny town in Rhode Island where my father became the pastor of a proportionally tiny church just about as old as America, with real steeple bells that the big boys got to ring every Sunday morning.

Two memories of our time at that church stand out to me. One morning, sitting in the front row with my mother and brother and a friend, I entertained myself and my friend during my father’s sermon by copying his gestures (with a bit of extra animation). Another Sunday, as my mother stood and sang in the choir, my three-year-old brother, terrified by a spider crawling on the pew beside him, ran to her and jumped in her arms.

After each of those services, I and my brother were respectively reprimanded for our antics. It may not have been spoken, but somehow we got the message that everyone was watching us, that we must behave well and not reflect poorly on our family.

It’s a lesson I learned early and well. Pastors’ kids, as people have over-generalized, are either angels or demons. I, proving the generalization, was a good girl in every way imaginable. Stepping into any new place when I was a child, my first concern was what the rules were, to make sure I kept them. As I grew into adolescence, so did the good girl. She was smart but quiet, pretty but safe in her always-modest dresses, passionate but only daring to hint at those passions through her handy talents of singing and writing.

Over the years my father went on his own journey of self-discovery and admitted that pastoring was something his mother had pushed on him more than he had desired. For a while I was a Bible college professor’s kid, at other times a salesman’s kid, a freelance writer’s kid, an unemployed man’s kid.

This past year I once again became a pastor’s kid, now with kids of my own. I’ve moved a long way from the good girl of my youth, not to rebel daughter, but to more confident, willingly weak, hungry, less-afraid, question-asking human. Very human. Repenting of the “we-they” “saved-lost” country club mentality from which I have operated most of my life growing up a pastor’s kid in church. The suitable-for-framing theology of my youth now looks to me just about as quaint and useless as my senior pictures.

This pastor’s kid wears shorts, drinks alcohol, plays rock music, goes to movies, and often votes Democrat. She also leads worship music in local churches, and regularly prays and reads her Bible. And she’s learned that abstaining from or exercising any of these things is a poor indicator of anyone’s faith.

The pastor whose kid I am has also changed. Now, when we meet on a Sunday evening after a morning when he was preaching and I was lounging in the back yard with my family and a cup of coffee, we smile and hug and talk about the past week, and the thought of what people might be thinking is as far away and irrelevant as the choir robe my mother wore that Sunday in Rhode Island.


  1. Julia, I think we have a lot in common. Although there weren’t really initials for what I was, I grew up at camp. I sometimes say it felt like being PK for a few dozen churches, with the good behavior rules changing every week. In contrast to you, I tended to walk more on the demon side (but only so far as to keep the approval ratings high enough for my satisfaction). One of the most damaging lessons I learned was that people were watching, and their opinions mattered.

    The church we’re in now has been good for me in that way. Our pastor is skilled at teaching (from experience) how to run from the people-pleasing drug. Pretty soon he’ll think he created a monster with me, though, because I doubt he’ll be pleased with where I’m going. But I believe one Person will.

    • thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Jodi. i’m enjoying reconnecting with you! julia

  2. “The suitable-for-framing theology of my youth now looks to me just about as quaint and useless as my senior pictures.”

    That is brilliant writing!

    Keep up the good work!

  3. I totally agree with Nathan…I said it out loud after I read that line! I LOVE IT! You are an amazing writer and if it’s okay with you…I may wander over to your blog quite regularly in the future. May I add you to the sidebar of my own blog? This is for my own selfish convenience, so if you are not comfortable with it please say so.
    seriously, Julia…LOVE THIS BLOG!
    I’m looking forward to future posts.

    • Hi Bethany – thanks very much! You’re welcome anytime 🙂 – and yes, feel free to add my blog to yours. I’ll do the same with yours if you don’t mind – it’s fun (and sometimes poignant and sad, as with the Auschwitz photos) to have a friend living in and posting pictures of Poland!

  4. “She was smart but quiet, pretty but safe in her always-modest dresses, passionate but only daring to hint at those passions through her handy talents of singing and writing.”

    This is a great description of how I remember you…and I always suspected there was more to you than that. I was always a little sad we weren’t closer. But, I was only a deacon’s kid….

    • “I was always a little sad we weren’t closer.” –
      Me too, Holly! Next time you head to Owatonna, please let me know. I’d love to get together.

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