Priscilla Shirer and Chrystal Evans Hurst are both incredible authors and Bible teachers, and they're also some of my good friends. They have an incredible family, and I've always wondered behind the scenes how their parents raised them. This is such a treat and I know you'll be encouraged by this conversation!
You guys have some really special parents that raised you and your brothers. You recently had to say goodbye to your mother, and that must have been really difficult. What was it like growing up in your house? Like did you think at 11 years old that your parents were killing this whole raising kids thing?
Chrystal: I remember thinking that at 10. On my 10th birthday party, I wanted to do things my parents didn't want me to do. I wanted to dance, have a DJ, and have a good time. My parents said no, we're not going to do that. You're going to have your friends come over and we can play games. I was like, games? That's whack! Who wants to play games? But I remember I got my hair pressed and could shake my hair and I thought I was looking real cute! It lasted a whole day. That day, my dad had us outside playing these games. As a prissy little girl, I was thinking, that's not what my friends wanted to do. At the end, my friends were like, that was the best birthday part we've ever been to. I remember thinking I didn't think my parents could throw me a birthday party that people would talk about. I just thought it was going to be corny and whack. I just remember thinking that my parents had gone all out for me, and they did a good job. I was thinking that at 10, but not at 13.
What about you Priscilla?
Priscilla: Mine's similar. I think you don't realize that your parents were really doing a good job until you become a parent yourself and realize the way your parents did it wasn't normal. That not every family was like that. The intentionality, the consistency, and the discipline they had to keep on showing up and doing the things was not something I appreciated in the moment. The discipline and the restrictions seemed unreasonable to us sometimes. We couldn't watch TV during the week. We just didn't have a lot of the freedoms that some of our friends did. At the time you're like, are you kidding?
Did you ever have to call your mom from a sleepover and have her come pick you up because they were watching a bad movie? Did y'all play by the rules?
Priscilla: We couldn't even sleep over! We had one or two friends, that are lifetime friends that I have until this day - Jada Edwards and Nicole. They were the only two homes my entire upbringing that my mom let me go to. But I do remember that growing up, my house was the house everybody wanted to go to. My mom made a place for them. There was always food and Kool-aid and basketball going on. So people would come over. Our whole youth group, the kids in the neighborhood, and I remember recognizing this is where my friends want to be.
Did you feel angry or resentful as you were growing up that they were protecting you from so much?
Priscilla: Oh yeah, totally. Didn't you Chrystal?
Chrystal: Definitely. They were just the fun stoppers.
Priscilla: But what teenager doesn't think that? You know what I mean? It's every family's problem.
Chrystal: I couldn't watch that movie. I couldn't go to that party. But I remember waking up to them being right, but it was slow. There was a party after a basketball game, and I wanted to ride with this girl. I was probably sixteen at the time. I asked my mom and she said, "what do you think? Should you go?" I was thinking, you're going to let me decide? So I said, "Well what do you think I should do?" And she said back, "I'll let you decide. I don't feel good about it, but I'll let you decide." The next morning I found out that that girl got in a fight and I would have been there.
Well that means you decided right too!
Chrystal: I mean yeah, I decided to listen to her. That's when I kind of started realizing that maybe I should listen to them. But in the middle, I just thought they were whack and in the way and totally not understanding my life.
So let's talk about their faith. How did they love Jesus the way they love Jesus? Because I think about both of their lives and that would be the one thing that would be very clear about them.
Priscilla: My parents were not perfect parents. I'm saying that because they would say that. They're not perfect parents at all, and there were things they would have done differently. They've told us ways they would've navigated raising us a little bit differently. But they were intentional and they had integrity. There are a lot of layers to this question, but I would say the way we saw them love Jesus showed us that loving Jesus and having a personal relationship with him was totally different than ministry. Ministry was an outpouring of that. So we didn't see them "turn on" when it was time for ministry and then they were a whole different person at home. They were exactly the same. My dad didn't preach to us like that, obviously, but we had family devotions as if that was the most important thing he had to do that day. We would have dinner and sit around the table. That was another thing I found out later, my mom and dad decided we were going to eat dinner together. It didn't happen every night, but most nights, mom actually cooked something and we sat around the table . They told us that was a decision on their part because they knew that around the table they would have our attention. And we were going to have their uninterrupted attention. We had devotions around that table too. In other words, they loved the Lord and loved his word when there was no audience and no pulpit and no microphone. That was the first thing that sort of taught me that ministry is what ministry is. But that's supposed to be different than me actually living in a way that honors God, loving his word, and having a personal relationship with him in private.
So tell me about times that you all made mistakes and how they handled it. Was there grace for that? Because a lot of parents are facing that with their kids and don't know what to do.
Chrystal: There was grace, but there was also disappointment. For both of our parents, they were making an investment for the Lord, but also to see fruit. So when you put in the time and energy with your kids and they're not making good decisions, they're not maximizing their potential, they're not fulfilling what you dreamed for them, that's disappointing. Especially as you were doing all the things: spending money, running them around, all of that. I've got adult kids, so I've experienced some of that myself. I wrote about it in She's Still There when I got pregnant and all that. They were disappointed for sure. But they didn't stop loving me and parenting me in very tangible ways. But I remember when I came home in the 5th grade and I had gotten 10 demerits because I cussed on the playground. The thing was, I was a goody two shoes and a rule follower. But then one day somebody made me mad and I just wanted to show her that I could say something too, you know? I remember coming home with dread in my heart, because I had that pink slip that said 10 demerits.
Priscilla: I never felt dread over my parents! I didn't!
Chrystal: I walked in the door and I handed it to them and I said, "I got ten demerits today!" and my dad said, "for what?" I told him I said a bad word and he was like, "you did what?" It was disbelief. I think for me a lot when I would screw up, it was disbelief. Because I really tried to do the right things most of the time.
So for a little perspective, you're the oldest.
Chrystal: Oh yeah, I'm the oldest. Rule follower. Firstborn things.
Priscilla, you're a middle child, you rebel.
Chrystal: But I think that that's the thing. They dealt with things. They didn't glaze over them, they didn't not tell truth, they didn't not love tough, but I don't think we ever doubted that they loved me. From the fifth grade to being 19 and pregnant to be an adult woman. I don't think I've ever doubted that they loved me because through it all, they just kept saying, "this is the truth. This is what's going on here. But what's next? How are we going to love you through the next steps?"
I want to go back to some things we were talking about before we started recording. You said something really beautiful, Chrystal. You said, "she gave me things so well that I don't miss her because I need her. She grew me up. She gave me what I needed so I could live without her one day." I thought that was really beautiful. Priscilla, talk a little bit about how you're feeling in this season.
Priscilla: I would probably say the same. Mom did the thing. I have a friend named Tammy Franklin and I feel the same way about her children. They're just coming out of college and getting married. I looked at Tammy the other day and I said, "girl, you did that thing." She was fully invested while her kids were at home. That's how mom was with us. She was so up in our lives, supporting us, encouraging us, disciplining us, all of the things. I do feel a sense of wanting more time with her now that I'm in my 40's, but like Chrystal said, it's not a sense of I'm missing a bunch. I just feel like it's a longing for her. Not because she didn't do what she should've done or could've done. I think I feel a bit numb, and I don't know if that's healthy or not, but that's how I feel. I think it's because we've had so many things happen all at once. So it's been this quick succession of really hard, devastating circumstances and then surgery for me and now the coronavirus hitting on top of all of that. I think I feel a little bit numb and I'm expecting that at some point the grieving process is going to surprise me and start and it might be a little bit overwhelming. So I don't know yet how I'm doing with the grieving process. I haven't had time to figure all that out.
When you think about your parents right now, and I know you've been doing that a little bit with her passing, is there anything you'd do differently than them? Because they feel perfect to us on the outside, especially because they raised four awesome kids.
Chrystal: One thing honestly that this season is reminding me of, partially because I'm thinking about my parents, but more so because I think about how I raised my older children - my youngest is 11 and my oldest is 28 - of my presence. I remember when my 28 year old was in the 9-11 stage and he said to one of my friends, "my mom doesn't have time for me." So I'm very conscious of all of us being at home, and me working in front of the computer. Or me being on the phone and not being able to participate. I'm just thinking of how that's resonating with them, even if it's for good reasons. I just remember that with my older child. I want to not just be here, but to be really here. To smile when they walk in the room, to not be irritated, to let them know that I'm personally available to them. Not just dutifully available to them. My mom and I had a pretty good relationship, but as a child I remember the duty of motherhood. I don't know that that's a bad thing, because you can't be your friend's kids when they're 10. You're their mom. There was a lot on my mom's plate with ministry and four kids and building the church and external ministry. My mom helped my dad build everything. Later on, she made room to play. I think what I want to do differently because of my experience with my parents, and my older kids, is just making more room to play. My dad played with us while my mom was cleaning up and doing the dishes. My philosophy is we're going to all clean up the kitchen together so that we can all play.
I think that's an awesome answer. Because I think with parents like yours and how all of you turned out, it's easy to think your parents were perfect and that they're this unattainable standard. But hearing that is just helpful. I think about both of you, and you all have really strong personalities. How did that happen? How did your parents build these kids that were self-assured and unique in their own right. And confident in yourselves, even though you all have different gifts?
Priscilla: This probably is true across the board, even though I'll just tell you how it fleshed out for me. A lot of what the Lord would use in my life as an adult was getting me in trouble as a kid. So it took someone with a discerning eye, which my dad and mom had, where they would discipline me when I needed to be disciplined. But they would always point to the fact that the actual thing that just got me in trouble could be the thing that God has actually wired me for. And that's the reason why I'm prone in that way. I would get in trouble for talking in class all the time, talking out of line, talking when I wasn't supposed to be talking, having the wrong tone, you know. So I would have to be disciplined because I have to obey the teacher and be respectful and all that stuff. But at the same time I would always have conversations with my dad where he would say, "Priscilla, I really feel like God has wired you for communication. We need to refine it, but you don't throw the baby out with the bath water. There is a reason why communication comes so naturally to you." I remember that with my parents and I think about that a lot with my kids. Because I get discouraged when they make poor choices, but I try to look at what they're doing and figure out if there's a wiring in there that shows me something about them. Then I can reinforce that, and show them that God has given them something specifically for what he may be calling them to do.
We're talking about toxic thought patterns for our kids. After I wrote Get Out Of Your Head, the number one question I got was, "how do I help my kid?" Because a parent sees something different in their kid than we see in ourselves. So when you think about how your parents really shepherded you, even just mentally to not be fearful, to not have anxiety, to move forward even if you do have fear and anxiety, what would you say was the most helpful thing that they did to help you process your emotion and your thoughts?
Chrystal: I have five kids, and my biggest challenge has been getting my kids to talk. With one in particular, we have worked really hard to give him spaces where he can talk. Because I think that a lot of times the scariest part, the most toxic part of our thoughts, is them just swirling around on the inside of us and not going anywhere. To get them outside of yourself so that they're objective and then somebody who is wise, who's mature, who is a spiritual mentor for you that can call out truth where you may not see it because you're so used to ruminating on a lie. My dad still talks about how he would spend hours with me just going around and around and around on my thoughts and emotions. He was patient and he listened and kept speaking truth to me. He basically was my counselor. He let me talk to him and cry and not make sense. I think being available to listen to your kids and knowing you don't have to fix it all the time. You don't have to solve it. You don't have to argue with them. You don't have to be right and they're wrong. They just need to know first and foremost that their feelings are valid, that you are there to listen, and while you are going to speak truth, you're not going to judge them or rail on them on what is a very real thing in their head and hearts. I think half of the battle with our kids is just being there. Not trying to fix it, but just being there. One time this mother of seven kids told me that every night, she would cycle through her kids, but every night she would go sit with one on the edge of their bed and rub their feet. She would ask them a question, "how was your day today? What's going on?" When they were teenagers they didn't want to talk, she would still do it. She was tempted to think this doesn't matter and they don't want to talk to me. But she kept going. Because they knew she was coming. When they needed to talk to me, I was there. They could depend on me being there and when they decided to talk, I was there to listen. That is the biggest thing - to just be there and letting them talk.
I will say that is one takeaway I've had from both of you and your friendships. I remember Priscilla, when I was just starting in ministry, you were making some pretty hard decisions to be home with your kids. I remember watching it even from a distance and thinking I want to make decisions like that. Can you talk a little bit about how you've juggled ministry and family?
Priscilla: Yeah, it was specific to us in ministry, but the truth is every mom is having to juggle that. Whether it's work or other involvements, something is always trying to steal their attention. It's certainly not an easy thing. The hardest thing about it is as soon as you feel like you have it figured out, it all changes. The dynamics of all your kids' lives change and the activities they're involved in change. So I'm still trying to figure it out too. But actually, my sister is one of the people that probably gave me the most freedom in those years when my kids were young to remember that I could have an unconventional looking family. There was not a model that it had to look like in order to be considered right. We need to just do what worked for us. So when they were little, which is when I met you Jennie, that's when I was trying to figure out what worked for us. It seemed like ministry was right for us, but I struggled in my mind in thinking that I needed to be like my mom. She stayed home. That's what she did. That's what I intended to do too, and I was excited about it! But it became more and more clear to me and my husband that God had something else in mind. I was praying about it, and my mother in law who was in Alabama taking care of her mother, came back to Dallas and lived five minutes away. She wanted to travel with us, be home with us, and just be all up in our lives. It was the Lord's way of saying, "I've got this. Go do what I've called you to do and I've got this." But I knew I needed to be there too. I needed to be available to my children. For me, the adventure that they would get to go on if they came with us, doing what it felt like God called us to do, being able to travel with us, and being able to set my children up so they could serve. My children have always had to serve at any church we go to. They can go to one session or one service, but after that, they're serving. We've called ahead of time and told the church to have jobs for our kids. I didn't care if they were cleaning the bathroom, passing out programs, or taking the offering. They just needed to serve. It was such a gift for all those years we homeschooled, so that our kids could come with us and do it. For the purpose of us just being in their lives and them being in our life. I wouldn't have done ministry the way I did it if I had to leave my children home to do it.
My problem is I like my kids! I know that's not everybody's story, but I don't want to be gone because I like them so much. Okay, last question. I want to hear you speak to the women that are overwhelmed and that are sitting there right now in the midst of this season and they're homeschooling for the first time. I know both of you have done that and can identify with that. What pep talk would you give them?
Chrystal: We were talking about this earlier today. You just have to figure out what you're not going to do. If all of your life you have prided yourself on a beautifully decorated dinner table with everything in a beautiful bowl, and you just need to go get those Dixie plates and litter the earth for this season so you can have some sanity, so be it. Hot pockets didn't kill us. Twinkies didn't kill us. We survived the Ding Dongs. You have to figure out what you're not going to do. I'm still homeschooling and have been for years, and of all the subjects, we have not done Bible for two weeks. It'll be alright. You just have to remember that you're only one person, you're in a new season, you've never done this before, and this is not what I thought my life would look like. Give yourself grace. Give your space grace. Give your kids grace. They haven't done this before either. When a baby falls down you don't slam them - you encourage them to try again! Because they're learning. Well you and your kids and your spouse are all learning. So give yourself some grace and figure out what you're not going to do and just do your best.
Priscilla: I would just echo that. We give everyone else a break except ourselves. If I could just layer on top of what Chrystal said - a part of that is adjusting your expectations to your reality. We don't even realize our expectations sometimes, until they're not met. Then we're so disappointed that our family dynamic is different than we expected. We often think our family dynamic will be like the one we were raised in, particularly if our family dynamic is healthy. But then you might marry someone who doesn't have that picture of family. It doesn't make their picture wrong. But it's different. So my husband and his siblings, they are very healthy, well adjusted adults, who love the Lord and are kind and compassionate and amazing. His mom did it completely differently. Their dad was not even there. They didn't sit around the table and have dinner and have devotions and kumbaya because they were all trying to work to put food on the table. So they didn't do all that. They had a lot of time alone. They didn't have dedicated family time because my mother in law was working all the time! My idea was we were going to sit around the table every night and have devotions and my husband was supposed to lead because he's the man and all that stuff. It's unfair for me to bring that expectation in and say it has to be this way or it's wrong. No, I need to adjust, not lower, but adjust my expectation to the dynamic I live in. I wanted my house to be where all of my boys' friends came over to play, but it turns out two of my boys are wired like my husband and are a little bit antisocial. They don't want their friends to come over! That's devastating to me. I can either force this square form into this circle, or I can adjust. The Lord knew how my kids were going to be wired and he knew the dad they were going to have, who is an amazing father but does it differently than me. So I either can adjust and relax and enjoy it the way it is or I can make myself frustrated trying to force it to become something else.
That's super helpful. Everyone does it in their own way. Our big win is if they like God and they like us. We hardly ever ate dinner together at night! So that's helpful to me. You guys are such fruits of your parent's legacy, and so are your brothers, and I know they're so proud of you guys.