Bearing Each Other’s Sorrows and Sharing Each Other’s Joys: Karen Kingsbury, Tyler Russell, & David Emmanuel Goatley
Karen Kingsbury: God has been so faithful, it’s just incredible. He’s so sincerely faithful with His Word that when it says that if anyone lacks wisdom, ask, and He will give generously to all without finding fault. And that is exactly what He has done, step by step by step.
Bearing Each Other’s Sorrows and Sharing Each Other’s Joys: Karen Kingsbury, Tyler Russell, & David Emmanuel Goatley – Episode #353
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. It’s a blessing to be able to celebrate with others when joyful things happen in their lives. But it’s also an honor to be able to stand by someone when they are heavy with sorrow and joy seems nowhere to be found.
Popular Christian writer Karen Kingsbury and her son Tyler Russell help others celebrate the joys of their faith by writing stories for families through their Baxter Family children’s books.
Pastor David Emmanuel Goatley, the sixth president of Fuller Theological Seminary, has traveled all over the world as a minister and has been inspired at how Christians from all walks of life hold each other up and bear each other’s burdens, no matter how much or how little they have.
Let’s start with Karen and Tyler’s story.
Karen: I’m Karen Kingsbury, I am a bestselling novelist and author of children’s books, also a movie producer.
Tyler Russell: I’m Tyler Russell, I’m actually Karen’s son, and I’m a writer and director and musician living in Nashville, Tennessee.
Karen Finds Her True Faith
Karen: My story of writing began with a prayer to make ends meet, but my faith journey began before that. I was raised in a home where we believed in God, and it was a denominational faith, but we really didn’t have any sort of relationship with Jesus. I’d never opened a Bible and never had I prayed a prayer other than like a memorized kind of a prayer.
When I was in my mid-twenties, I met this cute guy at the gym and he was super friendly. We got to talking after our workouts, and he was different than other guys. I could just tell there was something special about him, and I came to find out that he was believing that there had to be more to life than what he saw his friends doing.
So he had purchased a Bible, and he was in a place in life where he was just wanting to really dive deep into God’s Word. And so we’re having this conversation, he wants to go on a date, we had some friends in common. And I said, “Yeah, that sounds wonderful.” And he said, “Do you mind if I bring my Bible to the date?” And that was just, like, the craziest thing I had ever heard. And here I’m this California girl, and nobody did that.
So he brought it. He wanted to read Philippians chapter four, and I was completely undisturbed. I had no idea what that was. I didn’t know Philippians from any other kind of an ‘ippian’. And it was just one of those things where I just couldn’t wait to kind of be done with it. And that continued for the first three months of our dating days where he was just so in love with God’s Word and intrigued by it, and he wanted to bounce it off me, and I just kept feeling conviction.
Finally, at about the three-month mark, we were chatting by his car in a parking lot on a sunny California afternoon. I was done, and I took his precious, highlighted Bible and I threw it on the ground and I broke the binding in half.
And so he just kind of stood there for a moment. But then he picked up the pieces and just gave me a sad look and sort of drove off. And I thought, Oh my goodness, the earth is going to open and I’ll be the very first one on the down staircase to the place you don’t want to go because nobody can just break the Bible as a way of defending your faith.
And so I just got in my car, and I drove to this kind of crazy small, little store that I’d never been to, but I’d driven past it all my life, and it was a Christian bookstore. I asked if I could find a Bible, if I could get a Bible in English and a way to look up words because I really had this desire to prove him wrong, to kind of defend my worldly views, thinking they would be there. And they led me to an NIV Bible and Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, which, by the way, at the time was probably about a twenty-five-pound book. So then I took the books to the car and I was there eight minutes later, still in the parking lot, reading, looking up words, finding that my beliefs were not there.
It’s just incredible. He’s so sincerely faithful with His Word that when it says that if anyone lacks wisdom, ask, and He will give generously to all without finding fault.
And so I grabbed on, and the guy forgave me and we got married. The first year into our marriage, we were expecting a child, and we began to pray for a way for me to work from home. I was a reporter at the Los Angeles Daily News at the time and working for the front page and doing big, exciting stories, but I did not want to be working twelve-hour days with a child.
So God answered that prayer by letting me get a book contract, and I never would have seen it coming. That advance was exactly what I made in a year, and so that allowed me to quit my job and go home. And I’ve been at home writing books ever since.
Growing Up in a Creative Environment
Tyler: Growing up in such a creative and big family was such a blessing for me. I have five siblings, so I grew up with one sister, four brothers, and three of my siblings my parents actually adopted from Haiti.
We had so many fun adventures growing up, and there were always multiple friends over. Our house was very full. And I remember our parents always reminding us, you know, to whom much is given, much is expected, and the door is always open for friends. The best friends are the ones around your dinner table. And the family that God’s put you in are the ones who are going to be with you forever, so really foster those relationships and pour into those relationships. And they have really proven to be correct.
“The family that God put you in are the ones who are going to be with you forever, so really foster those relationships and pour into those relationships.” – Tyler Russell
You know, as I become an adult, my siblings have become some of my best friends today as an adult. My parents just created a really great, safe environment for creating, for exploring our dreams. And I think having such an encouraging childhood and home growing up has really helped me become just a more confident adult and a creative person in the world today.
Karen: Tyler and I do the Baxter Family Children books. And the Baxter kids are learning this, the children are understanding what it means to actually be a Baxter. This is the fifth book in the collection, and it is called Being Baxters.
Being Baxters is really the story of what it means to be who God’s called you to be. And it’s just been great that the kids that we’ve been talking to about the book are really resonating with the idea that you have one set of fingerprints and no one has those fingerprints.
Tyler: I think what’s great is that we’re providing a book series for kids that really pushes them and stretches them and encourages them to be better, to be better siblings, to be better children, better students, athletes. And not better as in the best, you know, not like, “Oh, I’m the best.” But how can they serve better? How can they love better? How can they be honest and kind? And we’re so fortunate and blessed that in this time, we’re able to provide a book series that really encourages kids to really be who God made them to be.
Telling Stories That Are Real and True
Karen: I can remember when—it’s about twenty-five years ago now—it first occurred to me that I was being called to write inspirational or Christian fiction.
I had a secular publisher for my first four books. They were true crime books, the ones that allowed me to be able to be at home, but it wasn’t what I wanted to write. I wanted to write fiction like this. And so I wrote my first novel, took about a year to find a publisher, and I got some rejection letters from my secular publisher, so I was really at a loss.
And a friend told me about a Christian bookstore and she said, “You know, I think God’s calling you to write Christian fiction.” And at first, to be honest, I pictured it as very, very limiting. And I was sitting in the church by then, and I had a beautiful relationship with the Lord, but I was still seeing pain. I was still seeing people going through hard things. And I just didn’t think that Christian fiction would be able to handle that. I want to tell stories that are real and true, but show you John 16:33, that, “In this world, you will have trouble, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.” That’s Jesus’s promise to us.
“I had a beautiful relationship with the Lord, but I was still seeing pain. I was still seeing people going through hard things. And I just didn’t think that Christian fiction would be able to handle that. I want to tell stories that are real and true.” – Karen Kingsbury
And now, I have the privilege to be able to tell stories like that, that I can go deep and I can include the physical, intellectual, and emotional elements where they are appropriate and where they are deep. I think it’s what God has called me to do. I think it’s the reason He created me.
A Mother/Son Creative Team
Tyler: When Mom and I first started writing together…I have watched her throughout my whole life just how she conducts herself, how she schedules her time, and how she stays disciplined. And it’s always inspired me to want to be better creative and better when it comes to working. And so I really checked my pride at the door and really continued to try to do that whenever we work together.
I think we run into obstacles like every other collaborative team, it’s like story obstacles or maybe adding a new character or this new plot device. And we kind of talk back and forth about what really makes the story stronger.
She always wants to serve the Lord and serve the story and make sure that the readers are happy. She’s very tenacious, and she continues to pray for more wisdom and discernment on how she can use the gifts that God has given her to honor Him and to build the kingdom. And so I am continually blessed and grow by working together.
Karen: My heart is so full being able to see what God has done in all of our kids, but to see that Tyler has that same gift of writing, that God would be so kind as to pass that gift down from me to him, and to be able to see a legacy of storytelling continue to the glory of God in our family, [is] definitely so exciting.
Tyler: I think what’s really special about working with mom and having someone who has the same heart as I do, is that we really do both want to serve the Lord first. That’s kind of our top thing in everything we do, we want to please God first.
“We really do both want to serve the Lord first. That’s kind of our top thing in everything we do, we want to please God first.” – Tyler Russell
So at the end of the day, we are family and we’re believers in Jesus and so we say, “All right, we’re not going to let our egos get in the way. We’re not going to get in the way of what God’s trying to do. We want to serve Him first and then we want to serve the reader. So how can we be humble in this endeavor and make sure that we’re speaking to this group of people who we just want to bless and we just want to encourage and we want them to enjoy what we’re writing?” And I think that in all we do, the Bible says, “Do it for God and not for man.” [Colossians 3:23] And so I think that sentiment to me is how can we serve God and serve others in the work that we’re doing? And whether that’s a book or a song or someone going to work at their office, how can you serve to the glory of God and do it with all of your heart? And so I think that that’s why that sentiment is important to me.
Prayer is All Day, Every Day
Karen: Prayer is an all day, everyday thing for me. I am so thankful to be able to walk through this life not alone, but with Jesus, and knowing that I have His presence beside me.
“Prayer is an all day, everyday thing for me. I am so thankful to be able to walk through this life not alone, but with Jesus, and knowing that I have His presence beside me.” – Karen Kingsbury
Prayer is having that all-day conversation, and I find that on my busier, crazier days when I don’t have that, I miss it. So every day, I start the day by thanking the Lord for the day and for what He’s given us and whatever He has for that day, because everyday is a gift. It’s a beautiful gift. We only have a certain number of pages in the story of our life, so I believe that we need to kind of love and laugh often and look for the miraculous in the everyday and lean hard into our relationship with Jesus.
“I believe that we need to love and laugh often and look for the miraculous in the everyday and lean hard into our relationship with Jesus.” – Karen Kingsbury
Tyler: The Bible says pray without ceasing [1 Thessalonians 5:16-17], and lately, I’m really finding that I’m connecting with God in nature, whether it’s on a walk or just even getting up and trying to step outside. It’s so easy to grab your phone and just instantly dive into the noise that our culture has created there, but I’m trying to avoid it as much as I can in the morning and really start the day off with prayer.
I think devotions are so helpful in our walk with God, because sometimes life does get busy and there are things where, yeah, it’d be great to spend an hour in the Bible, but sometimes, we slept in and we don’t have time to do it, or maybe we don’t know where to start when it comes to studying Scripture, so something like Jesus Calling is so helpful because it really points you to exactly where you can go for that day. I think Jesus Calling is such a great resource to just get us in that practice of going to the Word and being encouraged through writing.
Karen: Jesus Listens, May 28th:
It comforts me to know that You are writing the storyline of my life—through good times and hard times. You can see the big picture: from before my birth to beyond the grave. And You know exactly what I will be like when heaven becomes my forever-home. Moreover, You’re constantly at work in me— changing me into the person You designed me to be. Your Word assures me that I am royalty in Your kingdom.
One of my favorite ways to draw near You is to lovingly speak Your Name. This simple prayer expresses my trust that You are indeed with me and You’re taking care of me. You, the God of hope, fill me with all Joy and Peace as I trust in You.
In Your refreshing Name,
Narrator: To learn more about Karen’s work, please visit www.karenkingsbury.com. Be sure to check out Karen and Tyler’s new children’s book, Being Baxters, at your favorite retailer, and tune into their show, A Thousand Tomorrows, on PureFlix.
Stay tuned to David Emmanuel Goatley’s story after a brief message.
A Meaningful Gift: Jesus Calling for Moms
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Fifty Jesus Calling devotions speak to the power of love, the gift of strength, trusting God’s guidance, and so much more. Also included are: a prayer for mothers from Sarah Young, Scripture verses, journaling prompts and space for women to write their own prayers.
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Our next guest is Pastor David Emmanuel Goatley, the sixth president of Fuller Theological Seminary. David has always felt the hard work of Christian leadership can be challenging at times, but it is always worth it. Today, he shares about the lessons in leadership and community that he has learned over his career.
David Emmanuel Goatley: I am David Emmanuel Goatley. I am the sixth president of Fuller Theological Seminary.
I was blessed to be born to a Christian home in Louisville, Kentucky. My father was my pastor. He served the First Baptist Church in Eminence, Kentucky, for forty-seven years. My mother was a homemaker, she also served in a number of professional positions from banking to human resources.
Community in the Church
My father’s orientation was that you always talked about church and community together. You never spoke of church in isolation from the community because the church should be embedded in community, and the community was informing the life of the church. And community, initially, had to do with your geography and your location but not exclusively. Because your community—depending on the horizon of your vision—could also include your region of a state or the part of the world you’re in, or the entire world. We were raised to understand that the world was our village and the life of our church.
“My father’s orientation was that you always talked about church and community together. You never spoke of church in isolation from the community because the church should be embedded in community, and the community was informing the life of the church.” – David Emmanuel Goatley
We were engaged in local missions and service and state and national and even global missions. We would regularly support a missionary who was a schoolteacher in Liberia. So that helped to form who I am in terms of seeing and understanding church and community together rather than in isolation. We weren’t taught that you withdraw to some isolated Christian community. We were taught to be salt for the earth and light for the world, and so you have to engage the world that God puts you in so that you can bear good and faithful witness. I think that that kind of nurture helped to inform who I have become and how I see the world.
“We were taught to be salt for the earth and light for the world, and so you have to engage the world that God puts you in so that you can bear good and faithful witness. I think that that kind of nurture helped to inform who I have become and how I see the world.” – David Emmanuel Goatley
I’ve studied or served in thirty-five countries. It’s difficult to appreciate the struggles that so many Christians go through around the world.
Sometimes in the United States, those of us who are Christian leaders, we have a lot of things to prop us up and tools and technology and talent around us, and financial resources and financial instruments and we just have so many tools at our disposal. Then you go to a place like Liberia or many places in the global South, for example, where they just don’t have any of that but they keep on proclaiming the good news of Jesus and the Word. And indeed, they continue to bear each other’s sorrows and share in each other’s joys. They continue to share what little resources they have so none have to go without. Those are some of the lessons that we can learn when we come alongside our siblings around the world who are living in very difficult places. I think it’s important for students to listen to and learn from the testimonies of people in the global church.
“I think it’s important for students to listen to and learn from the testimonies of people in the global church.” – David Emmanuel Goatley
The Responsibility of Leadership
I’ve been a church musician, I’ve been an urban missionary, denominational staff member, a congregational pastor, theological educator, a global missions executive, higher education administrator, and now a president of a theological seminary. And that trajectory—one of the things that as I look back, I’ve been able to draw on each previous experience to help me do the next piece, even at this stage of my life and ministry of having the privilege of being the president of Fuller Theological Seminary.
I’ve had the privilege of being able to serve in a variety of kinds of ways for which we are trying to help equip people for the work God has called them to do. And so that has been a part of my learning, that leadership continues to build and we need to pay attention. Some things kind of happen without our knowledge, but we also need to pay attention to where we are on the journey and what are lessons that we can learn and be open to the Lord bringing to our recollection the Spirit, bringing to our remembrance the things that we need to know from before. One consistent lesson is that people are people wherever they are. And, whether you’re in a small town or whether you’re in a gritty, urban area or whether you’re in some cultural context on another continent, people are people. And if you treat people with respect and dignity and with the love of the Lord, generally, people will respond in positive ways.
I think that it is important, also, to draw on the wisdom of elders along the way. Those of us in the United States sometimes experience people who seem to believe that everything new is improved, but I think that when you’ve been around a while, you come to learn that some things are old and still very, very good.
I’m thinking now of an elderly pastor whom I asked about secrets for leadership, and one of the things he said is, “Do not use your influence before you get it.” That’s pretty wise. Sometimes you have leaders who step into a position and they assume that because they hold an office that they have influence, but you have to be given influence, and people have to learn that you’re trustworthy before they trust you.
I had another wise, older pastor advise some of his young proteges that when the Lord sends into a new place, you need to unpack your bags. And what he was trying to say is that when the Lord sends you someplace to serve, then settle down and serve in that place. And you need to do things both symbolically and substantially that demonstrate to people that you’re here to be a part of their lives in whatever ways that they will allow you, and that you are not serving in this place or in this position simply as a stepping stone to another place in your professional career.
So my recommendation to people is to mind your business, behave yourself, do your work, be faithful where you are, and the Lord will get you ready for what the Lord is getting ready for you. And in the right time, the Lord will send for you and place you where the Lord wants you, but you need to get to the place as a leader where you’re satisfied to serve where the Lord has sent you. And if you don’t get to that place, you really are not going to be able to be effective and you’re also not going to be able to be happy, because you’re always working for what’s next rather than doing what the Lord has assigned your hands to do.
Let Jesus Lead You
When you have the privilege of leadership, and if the Lord blesses your efforts that things are going reasonably well, then it’s not difficult for you to start thinking a little more highly of yourself than you should. And you really need the Lord to let the air out of your ego, and it’s painful at the time, but if you’re trying to be faithful to the Lord and you submit yourself to what the Lord is doing in your life, then you’ll get over it. You get over hurt feelings.
I don’t recall ever feeling like the hard work of Christian leadership has not been worth it. There have been times where the weight of it has been heavy and wearisome and draining and fatiguing. There have been those times where it’s been a headache, but I have not felt that it’s not worth it. I’ve been fortunate to sense that I am where the Lord has sent me.
“I don’t recall ever feeling like the hard work of Christian leadership has not been worth it. There have been times where the weight of it has been heavy and wearisome and draining and fatiguing. There have been those times where it’s been a headache, but I have not felt that it’s not worth it. I’ve been fortunate to sense that I am where the Lord has sent me.” – David Emmanuel Goatley
I started out a long time ago, and there’s no doubt in my mind I’ve decided to make Jesus my choice. And so I think that as long as we are seeking to be faithful to the Lord and we’re seeking to be disciplined and discerning…there’s another old gospel song that says, “Let Jesus lead you.” So if we don’t try to get out in front of Jesus and we let Jesus lead us, then we’ll make it through the sleepless nights and we’ll make it through the anxious moments, and then we will be able to look back on it and say, “The Lord both led me through it and taught me something in it.” So that’s been my testimony, for which I’m grateful is not of my own doing. The Lord has been exceedingly kind. And for that, I’m grateful.
“If we don’t try to get out in front of Jesus and we let Jesus lead us, then we’ll make it through the sleepless nights and we’ll make it through the anxious moments, and then we will be able to look back on it and say, ‘The Lord both led me through it and taught me something in it.’ The Lord has been exceedingly kind. And for that, I’m grateful.“ – David Emmanuel Goatley
Part of my discipline is daily reading Scripture. People use different tools and text, I use daily lectionary. And so it gives me a disciplined and orderly way of reading. It’s just spending time daily with the Word.
I’m blessed to have been introduced to Jesus Calling and to the important work that’s going on. I’ve been introduced to it recently and have been blessed by hearing some of the stories and the testimonies of leaders. One of the beautiful things about hearing people’s stories is that our lives are a story that we’re writing. And to hear other people’s stories, it gives us an opportunity for our stories to intersect with other stories. Our lives intersect with other lives where we find places that are familiar and similar. And we also find new insights and new ideas and new places of awareness.
Those are just some examples of my trying to have habits and rhythms that keep me intentionally connected with the Lord. And if you don’t do things deliberately to maintain your connection, then you’ll find yourself being distracted and being more disconnected. I’m reading a prayer from Jesus Listens, October 2nd:
How comforting it is to know that the One who leads me through each day will never abandon me. You are the Constant I can always count on—the One who goes before me, opening up the way, yet remains close beside me.
Because You’re my Lord and Savior, I have a completely trustworthy, infinitely wise Leader who is always with me. You guide me in Your truth and teach me, equipping me to make good decisions.
As I journey with You, I’m thankful for the magnificent map You have provided: the Bible. Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Help me to follow this Light and follow You—for You are the One who knows the best way for me to go.
In Your trustworthy Name, Jesus, Amen
Narrator: To learn more about Fuller Theological Seminary, please visit www.fuller.edu.
If you’d like to hear more stories about trusting God and your intuition, check out our interview with Nikki DeLoach and Pat Bradley.
Next week: Cleere Cherry Reaves
Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll hear from mom, business owner, and podcast host Cleere Cherry Reaves, who wrote a book called The Miracle of You inspired by her experiences with her son, Sledge. She opens up about how she sees God’s fingerprints all over her son’s precious life.
Cleere Cherry Reaves: God is everywhere. He is always up to something. His goodness cannot be explained. It certainly can’t be deserved and you cannot predict it. So you should just live in a way that assumes that He knows exactly what He’s doing, that He’s for your life, and that you would pray for exactly what He’s going to do if you knew all that He did.