Counting On Season 8, Episode 1: It’s All Greek to Me!

The episode opens with a voiceover from Jessa to remind us viewers exactly where we are in the TLC timeline. Life is busy, as always: Jinger and Jeremy are still living in Laredo, Joy and Austin are having a baby (Joy is 5 months along), Joe and Kendra are newlyweds about to embark on their honeymoon, Jana is “doing her own thing,” John-David spends lots of time flying, and it looks like it’s Josiah’s turn to court, because Jessa “has a feeling” that he is seeing a special someone. As for our narrator herself, Jessa takes the opportunity to firmly establish herself as the wise, married sister- after all, with Josh and Jill out of the running, and Jana and John-David still unmarried, Jessa and Ben’s three years of marriage, two children, and willingness to toe the party line make them the model standard for The Duggar Brand.

The first scene is at the main Duggar home, where twins Jeremiah and Jedediah inform us that Josiah has started to use more deodorant, which apparently is not just a matter of basic hygiene but rather a sign of his impending courtship. The camera watches Josiah groom himself in front of the mirror in the boys’ dorm for a moment, where we can see multiple sets of bunk beds in the background, and even a mattress on the floor. Now that even the youngest Duggar boy is a teenager, it must have been jam-packed in there, even with Josh and Joe already out of the house at the time (and maybe even John-David if the rumors are true). The photo frames next to the mirror are crooked, but Josiah doesn’t seem to care- his mind is on LAUREN.

Lauren Swanson is Josiah’s “special friend,” and today Josiah plans to ask her to court, which is !shocking! news for those of us who didn’t know that Josiah and Lauren are already married. Josiah explains that the Duggars have known the Swanson family for “about 7 or 8 years,” after meeting when the Swansons visited the Duggars’ home church. The Swansons’ visit to the Duggar home is documented in the 19KAC episode “Duggars Do Dinner,” which aired in September 2010, and Josiah also mentions that the Duggars have seen the Swanson family several times since then at “multiple other conferences.” It’s probably safe to assume that Josiah is referring to family conferences held by the IBLP, which the Duggars attend frequently, but for the cameras he keeps it vague.

Josiah tells us that he already secured permission from Lauren’s dad a few months ago. Dwain Swanson is the founder of a Christian men’s ministry, and rumor has it that he already knew Josiah quite well because Dwain has counseled him in some capacity. Josiah says that he waited several months because he wanted to take some time “to be friends, really,” which begs the question: was he not even friends with Lauren before deciding to court her (which in his world, is practically deciding who to marry right then and there)? While Josiah brushes his teeth (another new courting ritual?), Jana says that “Lauren has brought life into him in different ways that maybe hasn’t been there before,” and Jessa declares that Josiah and Lauren are already best friends because they have been talking nonstop for “quite awhile now.”

As Josiah heads down the TTH stairs, he shares his plan to surprise Lauren. He has asked some of his older sisters to help by taking Lauren out for a meal, and then he will show up at the end for dessert (which he loves, apparently!) and ask her to court. He’s “a little nervous,” and we are left in suspense as he heads out the door and the scene changes to the Swanson family’s Very Large, Very Nice home.

Lauren herself opens the door to welcome Jana, Jessa, Joy, and Kendra in- Jill of course, is nowhere in sight. Lauren introduces herself and reiterates what Josiah has already told us about their families having known each other for several years. She also mentions the fact that her family has coincidentally just moved to Arkansas, although she doesn’t give a clear reason for the move. At this point, Jessa the narrator jumps in to list the similarities between the Duggar and Swanson families- they both have lots of kids, and they homeschool. It probably also helps that they are both members of the same religious cult, but Jessa doesn’t really touch on that.

Jessa describes Lauren as a “sweetheart” and says that they already consider Lauren to be one of the sisters, which makes sense given that her marriage to Josiah has basically been a done deal since he spoke to her father. The girls wave goodbye to Dwain and Lauren’s sister, Lily, and then TV magic transports them directly to the Marketplace Grill, home of the infamous “chocolate mess.”

The group is already seated- water with lemon all around- and Lauren is not-so-discreetly positioned at the head of the table, where she gushes over how the Duggars have made her feel at home, and they gush right back and tell her how happy they are to have her there. Jessa makes the pointed remark that “one particular person especially is glad to have y’all closer” and Joy takes the opportunity to crack a joke: “That’s me!” she exclaims, and everyone titters, because of course it’s JOSIAH who is the happiest to have Lauren nearby.

As the food arrives, Josiah talks about what initially attracted him to Lauren: She has a “head on her shoulders,” she was in college (and apparently just graduated, although from this episode it’s unclear what type of degree she received), she likes to encourage others, she has a lot of character…and to remind us that this is the Duggars we’re watching, Josiah also lists the fact that she comes from a large family, “so she knows how to handle all that.”

Moving the conversation along, Jessa candidly asks Josiah and Lauren where they see themselves in the timeline of their relationship- so presumably, this “special friend” stage appears to count as part of their overall journey to the altar. Lauren says she feels like they are “ahead in their relationship more than what they are,” which doooesn’t really answer the question. Cut to Lauren’s talking head, where she tells us that she noticed Josiah’s interest in her when they were helping prepare for Joe and Kendra’s wedding, which TLC helpfully reminds us was in September 2017 (for reference, based on Joy being 5 months along at this point, this episode was probably filmed in October 2017).

Jessa asks Lauren if her and Josiah video chat, to which Lauren replies, “Yes, we did it for five hours one day.” Kendra erupts into giggles, and all Jessa can say is “wow.” Lauren, I think you win best line of the episode. Jessa’s talking head interjects for a moment to discuss her own courtship experience- apparently she preferred talking on the phone over video chatting, because her phone conversations with Ben were not chaperoned.

We learn that Lauren’s family has only been in Arkansas for two weeks, but it sounds like she and Josiah have managed to squeeze in lots of time together already. Joy’s talking head tells us that Lauren is levelheaded, she is not a drama queen, and that while she has a sense of humor, she can also be serious- cue more tittering as Lauren says that while she laughs at Josiah’s jokes, she tells him when they aren’t funny. Next, Jana gets a turn to describe Lauren: she’s organized, she tells it like it is, she likes to have fun, and again, she laughs at Josiah’s jokes.

Speaking of Josiah, it looks like he’ll be arriving any minute now, because Joy starts talking up the “chocolate mess,” even though Lauren says that she told herself not to have any sugar (another round of laughs ensues). Jessa explains that Lauren is very health conscious, which is ironic because Josiah has such a large sweet tooth. Impressively, Lauren sticks to her resolve and orders fruit, while the other girls split a chocolate mess and an apple tart. Meanwhile, Josiah is now en route to the restaurant, and the camera shows him walking up to the door as he explains that his biggest worry is that Lauren might just want to remain friends- although considering the fact that he is doing this on camera, I think it’s safe to say that he is fairly confident. Now inside, Josiah pulls up a chair and acts like he is a waiter to get Lauren to turn around- and just as a look of mild surprise crosses her face- BAM!- time for a preview of what’s coming up later in the episode to ramp up the “suspense.”

When the commercial break is over, Lauren is pleased to see Josiah, of course, and the girls tell him that they’ve been talking about him. Josiah takes the opportunity to jump right into the Big Question, and Lauren puts her hand to her mouth and  asks, “Are you serious?” with a smile and a giggle before extending her arm for a side hug and answering, “I would love to, Si!” Lauren tells the camera that she was very surprised, and that it doesn’t seem real yet. Josiah tells Lauren that he is going to enjoy learning more about her, and that he’s “kind of speechless right now.” As the group finishes their dessert, Josiah and Lauren look into each other’s eyes and they each tell each other “I’m so grateful for you.”

Next we get to hear “advice for courting” from Joe and Kendra, which turns out to be foreshadowing for the next segment of the episode. Kendra says “enjoy the moment” and Joe adds, “you only get to do it once, might as well enjoy it.” Kendra concludes with the prediction that while it’s a fun stage, she can see marriage around the corner pretty fast for Josiah and Lauren, punctuating her input with a giggle. This prompts Josiah to ask Lauren, “Do you think we’re gonna go fast or really slow?” to which she replies that it’s up to him! Josiah says that he wants to make sure they get to know each other “enough” and that when the time comes, they’ll know.

Now that the courtship proposal drama is over, the focus shifts to Joe and Kendra, who are embarking on their honeymoon. The destination? Greece! They hold hands in the car on the drive to the airport while talking head Joe explains that they decided not to go on their honeymoon right away, because they wanted time to recover from the wedding. They chose Greece because “they wanted to go somewhere where they could do fun activities, and also see some history and experience the Greek culture.”

As Joe and Kendra roll their bags into the airport, Joe states the obvious and says that this trip will be different than the other international trips he has been on, because this time he’s traveling alone with Kendra versus some or all of his family. Kendra says she’s never been this far from home, although she has been as far as Central America. And of course, they’ve certainly never traveled alone together- Kendra tells us that the first time they were alone together, it did feel strange, but they got used to it after a few days. Joe and Kendra board the plane, and they kiss as they settle in to what look like pretty nice seats. Kendra says that it’s been nice to practice kissing and “not just hold hands”- “the whole kit and kaboodle,” she says, giggling, as they give each other a meaningful glance. “We enjoy being married,” Joe agrees.

On their first day in Greece- specifically, Athens- Joe and Kendra begin their day by visiting Mars Hill, a biblically significant historical landmark. Kendra seems surprised that the inscription on the plaque is written in Greek, and Joe gets his first opportunity to say “it’s all Greek to me,” which apparently won’t be the last time, because TLC marks the statement with a “ding!” to let us know that they’d be counting. They take a selfie with the Acropolis in the background, and Kendra says that they take a lot of selfies now because they no longer have a chaperone with them to take their picture. A disembodied producer asks talking head Kendra if she ever misses having chaperones around, and she answers that while having a chaperone “can add a different dimension” to the relationship and “you can have a lot of fun with them,” it’s “super exciting and special” to be able to spend time together alone.

Next, Joe and Kendra head to lunch, and not just at any restaurant- they are having lunch in the sky, by way of a crane-powered contraption that lifts diners up as they eat. Apparently, neither of them are scared of heights; in fact, Kendra says it’s “thrilling.” (It definitely looks like an amazing experience, adding this to my bucket list now!) Their position in the air gives them a great view of Greece, and we are treated to another round of “TLC producer asks the Duggars a question that none of them know the answer to”- in this instance, Jeremy, at least, is able to name Zeus as one of the Greek gods, and Josiah throws out the name Hercules, but Ben really blows it out of the water and names five.

During the meal, Kendra begins to chat with the woman seated next to her, while Joe quietly chows down on her other side. He finishes off his soup and then some of Kendra’s, while she answers her seatmate’s questions about her future plans- “I’m just going to stay at home,” she says, and when the woman seems confused, Kendra adds that she’s going to help Joe with his “business.” The conversation moves on to kids (prompted by TLC, perhaps?), and Kendra delivers the Duggar party line: “We’re planning on having however many that the Lord gives us,” she recites, and follows up her statement by telling the woman how many siblings Joe has, as if to say “no really, we mean it!” She’s shocked, of course, but quips, ” Your dad? He’s still at home? Or he run away?”

Once lunch is over, the scene changes to Laredo, Texas, where Jinger and Jeremy are headed on a date to take an art class. Jinger says that she was really nervous, because she thought that she would be out of her comfort zone, and they certainly do hit the ground running with a challenging task: drawing each others’ faces! Boy, is TLC good at creating drama out of absolutely nothing. They stretch out the storyline even further by asking some of the Duggar siblings and spouses to draw portraits of each other on whiteboards, and hilarity ensues. The whiteboard drawings, predictably, are mostly various shades of awful, although Ben and Jessa did give it some effort. Jessa calls herself a cougar, and back in class, Jinger avoids critiquing Jeremy’s work. Do they have potential? Yes, says the art teacher, they just need to practice.

Back in Greece, it’s time for another meal, and this time Joe and Kendra are planning to take a walking food tour. They’re going to take the subway to get there, and they quickly run into a bit of a language barrier when they arrive at the station. The signs are in English, but it takes them a few minutes to figure out how to switch the language on the screen used for ordering tickets. Joe and Kendra evidently haven’t become tired of holding holds yet, and they stay firmly connected as they push through the turnstiles. Joe asks for directions- he’s not afraid to even though he’s a guy, he says!-  and a helpful gentleman shows them where they need to go. Kendra has never been on a subway before, and she says that she “hasn’t experienced a whole lot,” which is probably a lot more true than she realizes.

They arrive at the food market, and their personal tour guide materializes from the busy crowd. Introductions are exchanged, and then the group of three hits the pavement, starting their tour with breakfast food. Kendra says that “experiencing the local cuisine is definitely a good way to kind of get a look into the culture, and kind of experience the heart of the country, really,” but she hesitates to try the spinach pie, and shares that she’s not very adventurous with food because she’s averse to certain textures. Luckily Joe is there to polish it off, and he teases Kendra by telling her it had the right consistency to “slither right on down in there.” Okay, now Joe gets a point towards “best line of the episode.”

Next, their guide warns them that they are heading to “a vegetarian’s nightmare,” which elicits a giggle from Kendra. They head into a meat market, and it looks like the guide wasn’t kidding- there’s raw meat everywhere, and according to Kendra, the smell was “pretty rank.” The guide points out various types of meat, including tail, liver, brains, tongue and- !shocking word alert!- testicles, which makes Kendra giggle even more- that’s what this episode really needs to start counting! (We’ve only heard “it’s all Greek to me” three times so far, and the third was from a producer, not Joe).

From the meat market, they walk to the vegetable market, and this time Kendra is the more adventurous one. She tries an olive, and when Joe says that he’s never really liked them, it’s her turn to tease him by kissing him right afterwards. Their tour guide gives them a list of ingredients that they need to find to make a Greek salad, which they gather with her help, and then they head into what looks like a little shop to put it all together. The guide (I’m starting to feel bad about not getting her name, I just didn’t want to butcher it!) asks Joe and Kendra who does the cooking at home, which makes them laugh, because Kendra is the woman and of course SHE does it, duh! Joe says Kendra is the better cook, and when the guide suggests that now he might be able to help out in the kitchen, they just laugh again and Joe says, “oh my, I don’t know how I’d do there!” Aren’t fixed gender roles just so hilarious!?

To my delight, Kendra says the guide’s name again, giving me a chance to look up the spelling. I believe her name is Eirini, which means peace in Greek. We also learn that a Greek salad never has lettuce in it, which I did not know! Joe and Kendra mix the ingredients together with gloved hands (a very romantic thing to do on your honeymoon together, says Eirini), and then they dig in.

The honeymoon isn’t over yet, and in the next scene, Joe and Kendra are onboard a ferry on the way to Santorini, one of the Greek islands. Joe tells us that they opted to travel via boat versus plane because it’s part of the experience, and I have to agree- it looks beautiful. As they drink coffee and look out at the water, talking head Kendra shares what she has learned about Joe so far: he is a deep sleeper (okay, normal)…aaand that he likes to lick his plate when he finishes his food, which is not a fact I expected (or wanted) to learn. Kendra says she’s asked him not to do it in public, but it sounds like he still does so at home, because she tells Joe that he probably wants to start working on breaking the habit so that he doesn’t set a bad example for their future kids (foreshadowing, anyone?). With a sheepish smile, he defends himself by saying that he’s not the only one in his family that does it, and Kendra says, “I’m sure you’re not!” And who was the sibling who taught Joe to lick his plate? Jessa!

Now it’s Joe’s turn to tell us what he has learned about Kendra: she loves sharing food with him, and she is always “extra giggly” when she gets tired- according to Kendra, “things get exciting late at night.” Oh my! While Joe and Kendra (likely unknowingly) reenact the “I’m flying” scene from Titanic, we also get to hear from the other married couples: Joy learned that Austin can’t snuggle and sleep at the same time, Jeremy has been learning how “bubbly and humorous” Jinger is, and Jessa says that Ben is very meticulous- apparently he likes to iron. Back to Joe, he says that married life is great because he and Kendra can talk and grow closer every day, and that it’s amazing to have a “soulmate.”

As Joe and Kendra arrive in Santorini and settle into their resort, viewers are hurtled back to Jessa’s home in Arkansas for a Seewald family update. Ben is still in school with one year left (he takes classes online through the Moody Bible Institute), and Spurgeon and Henry are growing up, as children do. Ben walks in the door with some grocery bags, which we learn hold ingredients for a special dinner. It’s Ben and Jessa’s third anniversary, and Ben plans to cook dinner and watch the boys while Jessa goes out for a mani/pedi with her sisters. He also tells us that he has designed a necklace for Jessa for an additional surprise. Luckily for Ben, Spurgeon is down for a nap when Jessa heads out the door, but I sense some “dad’s watching the kids alone!” antics ahead.

Back in Greece, Joe and Kendra hop into a 4×4 to drive around, which I kind of suspect was more Joe’s idea than Kendra’s, but if her giggles were any indication, she enjoyed it, too. They stop at a beach to go paddle-boarding, and the sand is black- Joe has never seen anything like it, but Kendra knowledgeably explains that the sand is an exfoliant. Getting into the water, it is clear that Joe, and especially Kendra, are wearing very modest swim attire, but at least Kendra’s dress doesn’t look bulky like some of the “wholesome” swimwear we have seen the Duggars, etc. wear in the past. The windy ocean air creates lots of waves, which makes it difficult for them to stand up on their paddle-boards, and we see multiple shots of both Joe and Kendra falling into the water. They do sort of get the hang of it by the end, but they both agree that paddle-boarding would be easier on a lake.

Flip-flopping once again to Arkansas, the next scene opens at a nail salon, where Jana, Joy, and Jessa are getting pedicures as part of Ben’s anniversary gift to Jessa. They chat about how “crazy” it is that Ben and Jessa have already reached their third anniversary, and Jessa says it’s been a “whirlwind.” Joy asks Jessa, “Ben has both of the boys? AND he’s making supper?” as if Ben was out singlehandedly building a rocket ship and watching 100 children at the same time. Cut to the Seewald home, where adorable Henry scoots across the floor in the living room while Ben pokes around in the kitchen. Spurgeon is still napping, so Ben rolls up his sleeves and gets to work.

For dinner, he is preparing a salad and cooking some quinoa and steak, but with Henry making his way into the kitchen and demanding attention, Ben says, “this is going to be a little harder than I thought!” Isn’t putting a man in the kitchen and asking him to watch his own child just SO wacky and hilarious!? Ben tries to distract Henry with the pack and play, but he isn’t having it, so next Ben tries putting Henry into his highchair, which seems to do the trick. After munching on some cereal, Henry’s eyes droop shut and he falls asleep right there at the table- and Ben carefully wedges a stuffed animal between Henry’s head and the chair next to him to make him comfortable without waking him up, which is genius. I don’t think Ben is as helpless around his children as TLC is trying to make us believe.

Meanwhile at the nail salon, the Duggar sisters are watching Joy’s belly move while they get their pedicures, which gives talking head Joy an opportunity to update us on her pregnancy. She hasn’t had any morning sickness or weird cravings, but she is tired a lot. Talking head Austin says that it’s slowly sinking in that he’s going to be a dad, but it hasn’t fully hit him yet. Jessa asks Joy about how she thinks Austin would handle keeping a baby on his own, and Joy says that he has only changed one diaper- talking head Joy chimes in to tell us that Austin’s only has one sibling who is older than him, which explains his lack of diapering experience. Jessa is clearly the one in charge of moving the conversation along, and as the girls leave the nail salon she also narrates, taking a moment to reflect on the passage of time.

At the Seewald house, both boys have woken up from their naps just in time for Jessa to arrive home. She tells us that while she’s not surprised that Ben was able to multi-task, she is surprised that Henry did so well, because he has a hard time being away from her. Everyone seems happy to see her, and they all sit down at the table to eat while talking head Ben lists some of the qualities that make Jessa a good mother: she has a lot of patience, she’s gentle, and she’s caring. Ben puts a cartoon on his phone for Spurgeon to watch, and then Joe and Kendra’s talking heads tell us that they admire Ben and Jessa because they put each other first and help each other out. Kendra makes a point to say “it’s not just mom doing everything,” and maybe it’s just me, but her comment appeared to make Joe a little nervous.

As Ben and Jessa eat their dinner, they briefly reminisce about the past three years, and the producers ask them the question, “How is marriage different than you thought it would be?” Ben responds that it isn’t all just butterflies and romance, but also “just doing life together”- there are ups and downs. Jessa chimes in to say that they have arguments that they have to work through, and she also mentions “everything my family walked through years ago,” which I assume is a reference to Josh. They briefly tease the possibility of having more kids, and Jessa talks about what having children has added to their relationship. “I’ve fallen in love with him even more than I could imagine was possible,” she says.

It’s finally time for Ben to surprise Jessa with the necklace that he designed for her, and he places a light blue box on the table in front of her. Jessa jokes, “Is this dessert?” as she opens the box, and either she had seen it already and her reaction was staged, or she didn’t actually like it, because she had seemed more excited earlier about the steak than she does now about the necklace. For Ben’s sake, I hope that my impression is wrong, because it really did seem like he put a lot of thought into the gift.

Across the ocean, Joe and Kendra’s Greek honeymoon is finally coming to an end. In their last scene, they are exploring the town of Thira when they run into a local theater group. Joe and Kendra stop to watch the singing and dancing and end up briefly getting swept into the performance, which wouldn’t be significant at all except for the fact that one of the female performers gave Joe several kisses on the cheek. Because this is the Duggars, this requires a quick explanation of Greek culture from Joe to assure us that no, he wasn’t unfaithful to Kendra. With the encouragement of the performers, Joe and Kendra smash some plates on the ground and shout “Opa!,” and just like that it’s time to start thinking about heading home and getting back to everyday life.

And what, exactly, does everyday life have in store for Joe and Kendra? “Do you guys think you’re gonna be having a baby soon?,” a producer asks, and Kendra says that she’s not pregnant right now, “that she knows of”- but only because she hasn’t taken a test. Guess we’ll have to wait until the next episode to find out the news that we already know!

Image Sources:

  1. Josiah grooming himself in the boys’ room mirror
  2. The Swanson family, taken in 2016
  3. Lauren sharing a meal with several of the Duggar sisters and spouses
  4. Josiah and Lauren enjoy video-chatting
  5. Joe and Kendra hold hands in the car on the way to the airport
  6. Kendra and Joe take “selfies” in Greece
  7. No, Jana can’t name any figures from Greek mythology
  8. Another person is shocked at the idea of 19 kids
  9. Joy and Austin share their drawings of each other
  10. Is it Jack and Rose? No, it’s Joe and Kendra Duggar!
  11. Kendra Duggar paddle-boarding on her honeymoon
  12. Joy and Jessa chatting while getting pedicures
  13. Ben wedges a stuffed animal under Henry’s head
  14. Ben and Jessa enjoy their anniversary dinner
  15. Joe Duggar receives several scandalous extramarital cheek kisses

I’m back!

Well, it’s been months since I’ve had a chance to sit down at the computer and even log in, but my “season of life” known as “kids home from summer vacation” is over for the year, and just like that I can hear myself think long enough to string together a complete sentence again! My blog is pretty dusty- the biographies that I’ve written so far are out of date now (John-David is engaged, whaaaat?!), and I feel like I’ve barely even gotten started on everything I want to cover- but rest assured my hypothetical readers, I’m about to start writing again. Stay tuned for:

-Updated existing biographies, plus new biographies (I’m currently working on Jessa!)

-Counting On Season 8 episode recaps

-Research into the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP)

In the meantime, thanks for visiting!

The Illusion of Choice: A Fear-Based Faith

When I started to work on the biography section of this site, I was surprised to find a quote from Jim Bob Duggar that I could actually relate to. In the book The Duggars: 20 and Counting!: Raising One of America’s Largest Families- How They Do It, Jim Bob says, “I was born on a Sunday in 1965, and the next Sunday I was in church.” Okay, so I was born on a Thursday, and it definitely wasn’t in 1965, so in that our stories differ. But my parents did bring me to church from the very beginning, which is where many of my first memories took place.

A lot of it has been lost to childhood amnesia, so my memories before the age of six or so are rather vague. I remember pictures of sheep, dressing up in uncomfortable clothes (I hated wearing tights!), and playing the part of Mary in a preschool rendition of the nativity scene before I recall actually listening to the lessons I was being taught, yet they were repeated so frequently that all of the most well-known Bible stories felt like they had come preloaded onto my brain at birth. As far as I was concerned, they were just a part of history, and I was far too busy with my life listening to cool Steve Green music and watching The Donut Man on VHS to give any thought to the boring past.

That changed when I was close to seven years old, and began to realize that my parents had expectations for me beyond the absolute obedience they had required from day one. As my Sunday School lessons gradually became more grim (a little less “Noah’s Ark” and a lot more focus on Jesus’ crucifixion, graphic details and all), it dawned on me that they were waiting for me to make a choice. I knew I was supposed to feel lucky, for being born into such a devout Christian family and having all of the “right” answers already there in front of me, but instead I was scared.

Although based on the information I was presented with, becoming a Christian was the obvious way to go- after all, who in their right mind would pass up a chance to go to heaven, especially when the alternative is hell?- what bothered me is that I didn’t really “feel” anything. At that point I was a voracious reader, and a lot of the books that were available at home had been hand-picked by my mother, who must have spent hundreds of dollars on catalog orders from Christian booksellers over the years. The characters in the books I read- even the ones who experienced doubt- all seemed so much more certain in their faith than I ever was, and not for lack of trying. In addition to my participation in church, which was a given, I earnestly read my children’s study Bible, memorized verses, thoughtfully completed my devotions (supplied by my parents), tried my best to be obedient, sung hymns and worship songs with enthusiasm, and above all I prayed.

I prayed with the innocence of a child, initially thinking that it would be easy to communicate with God, who I had been taught was everywhere, even inside my mind! But when I tried to speak to him- first silently, and then eventually out loud as well “just to be sure”- all I heard in response was silence, and that made me feel a little nervous. Was there something wrong with me? I reassured my seven-year-old self that God probably had more important things to do than directly respond to prayers from a beginner, but as I kept trying and still didn’t receive even the slightest indication that anyone up there was listening, I continued to feel uneasy.

Meanwhile, between Sunday school, church service, and the strict religious environment that my parents had carefully cultivated at home, I was hearing left and right that if I did not “ask Jesus into my heart” before I died, I would spend an eternity burning in hell. I wasn’t allowed to watch cable television because my parents didn’t want me to be exposed to the evils of the secular world, but I WAS allowed to listen to and read about Satan, hell, and eternal damnation. I didn’t know why God wasn’t answering my prayers, but I did know that hell was a terrible place that I wanted to avoid at all costs.

The problem was, even though I knew what I needed to do in order to be “saved” from the fiery fate that I had been taught I deserved just for being born, I felt uncomfortable committing my soul to a God who I still hadn’t personally experienced. From what I had learned at church, I knew that I would need to recite the “sinner’s prayer” in order to receive the “gift of life” (or in other words, to avoid being burned alive for all of eternity), but I also knew that my prayer needed to be sincere, and that’s where I was worried. As much as I wanted to genuinely believe in the message that had always been presented to me as the absolute truth, and as much as I wanted to perform the logical next step and officially become a Christian, the continued silence from God made me worry that to go any further without some sort of sign would make me a fraud- and I would end up getting sent to hell anyway. Yes, I was still seven.

The summer before third grade, my family moved for the seventh time since I had been born (relocating about 500 miles away, to a suburban town we had lived in several years before), and we settled back into the familiar-to-them church community just in time for me to participate in the church’s traditional rite of passage for rising third graders. I had probably only been a member of the Sunday School class for a few weeks before I was lined up in front of the congregation with a bunch of kids who I was supposed to remember but didn’t, and presented with a fancy (to me) study Bible as a symbol of my growing spiritual responsibility. If it hadn’t been clear already, I was now more aware than ever that I was expected to make a declaration of faith, and soon.

Ultimately, what I thought was logic at the time won out- even though I hadn’t ever felt God for myself, I knew (based on everything that I had been taught) that I was living in his universe, so if he hadn’t bothered with my prayers yet, it was up to me to have faith that someday he would. Given the options- heaven or hell- the obvious choice was to play by the good guy’s rules, and while I still worried that my empty acceptance of this “truth” wouldn’t be enough, I figured that it was in my best interest to make the most sincere attempt at faith that I could, so that when Judgement Day rolled around, God would see my effort and maybe show me mercy.

When I was about eight years old, I earnestly recited the sinner’s prayer privately at home, fully believing that I was making a life-or-death decision. Even though I knew that telling others was a necessary step in taking on my new identity as a Christian, I dreaded the obligatory conversation with my parents, who always treated any situation involving emotions with a weird mix of awkwardness and disdain. Talking to them about something that I felt was a personal matter of the heart would undoubtedly be uncomfortable, because I knew that they would react with the fake affection that they pulled out when they knew they absolutely had to acknowledge a significant milestone. And while it did feel wrong to celebrate what was supposed to be such a profound moment with two people who otherwise couldn’t have cared less about me as a person, ultimately my most vivid memory of the event was just the relief of getting it over with.

But even though I had checked off all the boxes and my name was now supposedly written in the Book of Life, I still experienced intense doubt, especially when it came to my salvation. I thought that officially becoming a Christian would ease my fear about my fate in the afterlife, but now that I had crossed over the threshold and still didn’t feel any different, I was convinced that there was something wrong with me. I blamed myself for not having enough faith- a belief that was reinforced by what I was taught about doubt at church- and I sent up many desperate, pleading prayers to the God who was supposed to make me feel complete. I had been taught that without his love, I would never feel whole, and I did truly feel empty- but that probably had more to do with being raised by cold, authoritarian parents than being ignored by their God.

By the time I was nine years old, I had become so consumed with anxiety about hell and my salvation that I began to exhibit my first symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which I was formally diagnosed with as an adult. Although my illness presents itself in a much different manner today, my first experience with obsessive thinking came from the fear that despite all of my exhaustive efforts to be a good Christian, my thoughts would end up betraying me. I was so terrified of the possibility that I would accidentally allow my mind to slip into sin that I became convinced that the only way to prevent that from happening was to repeat the phrase “I don’t like Satan” over and over again in my mind. My original idea was to say “I hate Satan,” but I changed the wording out of the fear that I would be condemned for hating even the devil himself. You can read more about scrupulosity, the form of OCD involving religious or moral obsessions, here, although I hope to eventually address the topic in greater depth myself.

Looking back on my childhood as an adult who has now had years of freedom to learn about about the world around me, it is so clear to me that what I experienced was religious indoctrination, although I had virtually no frame of reference to recognize what was happening at the time. Jean Piaget, a psychologist who is known as a pioneer in the study of child development for his theory of cognitive development, describes the way humans acquire, construct, and use knowledge in four stages. According to his theory, children are first able to use logic in the concrete operational stage, which begins around age seven. Well, by that point I had already been educated by my Christian parents and their Christian church for years, and despite my public school attendance (which my parents worked furiously to counteract every second I was at home), the only truth I ever really knew at that age was that Christianity was the one religion that had all of the “right” answers.

And as far as the capacity for abstract thought goes, which is necessary to fully grasp religious and spiritual concepts, metaphors, and symbols, Piaget’s theory asserts that this emerges only in the formal operational stage, which is the final stage of cognitive development that begins around age 12. I’m not going to say that I didn’t at least somewhat understand the intended metaphorical meaning of some of the most basic teachings of Christianity- for example, when I became a Christian at age eight, I understood that the dry crackers and grape juice that we solemnly consumed once a month weren’t actually the body and blood of Christ- but mostly because all of these metaphors had been explained repeatedly to me for as long as I could remember, not necessarily because I could grasp these concepts on my own. I remember being amazed by Jesus’ parables when I was first introduced to them in Sunday School, because I thought it was just so clever that Jesus could tell a story about lost sheep and turn it into a profound lesson about redemption- with such wisdom, surely he must have been divine!

It took me a really long time to learn how to think for myself, because I had been so conditioned to believe that my parents’ religion was the only answer to all of life’s questions. I don’t want to go so far as to say that parents shouldn’t teach their children anything about their personal beliefs, because I don’t think that’s realistic. On the other hand, I do believe that it is wrong to teach children that their parents’ religion is the absolute truth, and that to choose any other path will result in eternal damnation.

I don’t necessarily think that parents who do this are all evil dictators who sit around plotting how to control their children’s lives, but at the same time, many parents, like the Duggars, do take their efforts to provide spiritual guidance for their children to unhealthy extremes- and based on my own experience, I can at least somewhat understand why. If I truly believed that all non-Christians will go to hell when they die, I could see how the fear that my children might end up there would motivate me to do everything in my power to secure their salvation as soon as possible. I remember worrying about the fate of my friends from school, and as a parent now I can imagine how the fear for your own child would be exponentially worse. Why risk exposing your child to an “incorrect” belief system when you already have the knowledge that will save their soul? I see many parents patting themselves on the back for raising their children without any “worldly” influences, but there is nothing honorable about taking away a person’s choice to explore the rich landscape of human religion and spirituality for themselves.

Even though my parents were certainly strict in their own right, I’m well aware that their (still not great) approach to godly parenting was far less restrictive than what we know about Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar’s methodology. I may have been somewhat of a social outcast due to my frumpy appearance and complete cultural naiveté, but my public school education gave me access to the outside world that the Duggar children have never had. Having been raised in such a sheltered environment where the only available educational material is hopelessly inadequate, and access to the open Internet is heavily monitored and restricted, it is no wonder that so far, all of the adult Duggar children appear to have taken on their parents’ core beliefs as their own. Here are several of their testimonies, which all have elements that remind me of what seems like another lifetime:

 

Jill (Duggar) Dillard

On the “About Us” page of the Dillard family website, Jill tells readers that she became a Christian at the age of 12, and she cites uncertainty about her fate after death as a significant factor in her decision. In her prayer, she specifically asked God to take her to heaven when she dies, which suggests that at least on some level, she was motivated by fear.

Jinger (Duggar) Vuolo

In a videotaped interview between Jinger and her brother-in-law, Ben Seewald, she tells viewers that at the age of six, she “realized” that she had a sinful nature and was in need of a savior, which prompted her to imitate her siblings’ prayers even though she admits that her faith was not genuine. When she was 14, she worried that her sins would prevent her from “getting to heaven,” and in her self-described brokenness, she prayed for forgiveness.

Joy-Anna (Duggar) Forsyth

Although to my knowledge, Joy-Anna has not shared her testimony with the public, at the rehearsal dinner before her brother Joseph’s wedding last year, she talked about her struggle to take on her parents’ faith during her teen years. Considering Joy-Anna’s dramatic transformation from tomboy to teenage bride and her tendency to echo her parents’ ultra-conservative beliefs so far as an adult, it’s pretty safe to say that whatever doubts she had, her parents’ expectations won out.

 

I don’t include these testimonies to mock or belittle the Duggars listed above, but just to point out that although they have obviously made the choice as adults to continue following their parents’ faith, their experience has undoubtedly been rooted in obedience and fear. Yes, many of the beliefs that the adult Duggar children (and their spouses) have publicly expressed are repulsive, and I don’t think the childhood conditioning they endured should necessarily give them a free pass. However, I do at least somewhat understand where they are coming from, and when I think about young Jill, Jinger, or Joy having some of the same fears as I did, it’s a little easier to see them as human beings rather than characters on a TV screen.

 

In my next post, I plan to talk about experiencing Christianity as an adolescent, specifically as a young girl being raised as a “daughter of Christ.” In the meantime, feel free to share your own story in the comments below.

 

Image Sources:

  1. Featured image

Growing up Christian: Losing my faith as told through books

From a very young age, I have been an avid reader, and although my love of reading can be partially credited to encouragement from my parents, at some point I looked back on my childhood and realized that despite having thought that learning was encouraged in my home, that really was only true to a certain point. I read all the time, we had tons of books in our house, and we visited the library frequently- but I was only allowed to read material that met my mother’s strict approval, and as I grew older, it began to dawn on me that there was a whole world out there beyond what I had been allowed access to. It’s a little saddening (and also cringe-inducing!) to go through this list and remember just how sheltered I used to be, but I still find it interesting to reflect on my literary journey and watch my spirituality evolve over the years. Here are some of the Christian books I read as I was growing up:

 

The Three Cousins Detective Club series by Elspeth Campbell Murphy

I had zero memory of this series until I started Googling and unexpectedly recognized a few of the covers. Seeing the author’s name brought up the memory of writing some of her book titles on a reading list- possibly for a summer reading program, but just as likely one of the many personal lists I kept as a kid. I would have read these when I was about 5-6, so it’s no wonder that I can’t really remember anything about the books, but a description I found online tells me they include lessons about Proverbs, the Ten Commandments, and the Fruit of the Spirit- in other words, it’s not exactly a shocker that these were floating around in my house.


The Mandie series by Lois Gladys Leppard

Even just looking at pictures of the book covers from this series gave me an all-too-familiar headache, because apparently my mind still associates these books with the impatience I felt towards the boring main character. I read quite a few of the 40 books in the series (I was reading these in the mid to late 90s, so the last several were published well after I lost interest) and multiple times at that, yet I can’t really remember anything about the series other than the headache.

The Young Women of Faith: Lily series by Nancy Rue

This series from ZonderKidz (the children’s division of Christian publisher Zondervan) was aimed at pre-teen girls, in case it wasn’t obvious from the “funky” covers that definitely succeeded in catching my eye when I was that age. I didn’t read all of them because they were fairly new at the time, and my church library only had the first few. When I looked up the series to refresh my memory, I was surprised to learn that each book also has a non-fiction companion that explains the lesson the book was supposed to have taught you- but somehow I don’t think the extra reading would have told me anything I hadn’t learned already in a Sunday school lesson.

The Christian Heroes: Then & Now series by Janet Benge

I have always had an interest in history, and as a kid I enjoyed that aspect of this non-fiction series, although obviously, that’s not all I was supposed to be getting out of these books. For awhile, my mother used to give me a new biography from this series every Sunday, and I would usually be done with it by the end of the day (if not by the end of church). I envied the missionaries who were so certain in their faith that they devoted their entire lives to sharing it with others, and I used to wish I felt the same way. Some of my favorites: Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a LifetimeAmy Carmichael: Rescuer of Precious Gems (pictured above), and Corrie Ten Boom: Keeper of the Angels’ Den.

The Trailblazers series by Dave and Neta Jackson

This was another series about Christian missionaries that we had on our bookshelf, and from what I remember it was a little more fictionalized than the biographical series listed above. I enjoyed these books too, partially because I could get away with reading them at church, and the adventures that played out on the page were always far more interesting than the droning sermon that was going on in the background. Interestingly, the series’ take on Amy Carmichael (The Hidden Jewel, pictured above) was one of my favorites, and looking back I have to wonder if my interest in this particular missionary was related not to her work, but instead a subconscious curiosity towards some of the beliefs of the people she was trying to convert.

The Brio Girls series created by Lissa Halls Johnson

I had to link to Amazon because apparently this series is so obscure that it doesn’t even have a complete Goodreads page- but I can’t be the only one who remembers these literary masterpieces from Focus on the Family! They were a companion to Brio magazine, which was basically the Christian, “good girl” version of Seventeen magazine, and if there was ever the slightest doubt as to the type of young woman who my parents expected me to be, I had the Brio gold standard to remind me. Interestingly, the creator of the series, Lissa Halls Johnson, only wrote 5 of its 12 books- I wonder if that’s because even she got bored by these sermons in chapter book form.

The Jennie McGrady Mysteries series by Patricia H. Rushford

Once upon a lifetime ago I had the whole series in a boxed set- if I remember correctly, it was three boxes with five books each. I really don’t remember the books being too preachy, and even though I’m sure there’s plenty that would make me roll my eyes these days (which can probably be said for a lot of young adult fiction), the overarching “is her father dead or alive?!” plot held my interest, and with a little suspension of disbelief the individual mysteries were highly entertaining for my not-allowed-to-watch-television younger self.

The Cooper Kids Adventures series by Frank Peretti

Out of all the Christian books I read growing up, the one pictured above, Escape from the Island of Aquarius, is among the top few that affected me the most. I did read a few of the other Cooper Kids books- my small church library didn’t have the entire series- but my memory of the first time I read this particular title is quite vivid, and was probably the most alert I had ever been in the middle of a church sermon. I was part horrified- in the context of what I was being taught around the same time about hell, the plot was terrifying- but also part fascinated. I’ll give him credit, Frank Peretti knows how to tell a good story, especially for a reader who shares the Christian perspective that provides the basis for his writing. Reading this book sparked my lifelong interest in the supernatural, and although it also contributed to my fear, ultimately my strong emotional response planted a lot of questions that would eventually help me see the world from a much grander perspective later on- even if that’s probably not what the author intended.

The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis

I don’t think any list of Christian children’s fiction would be complete without mentioning this classic series. The picture above shows the same cover art from the boxed set I used to own, which brings the memories flooding back- along with images and emotions from my childhood nightmares about the White Witch, which feel important even though I don’t know why. In spite of these negative associations, and in spite of the fact that I felt a little bamboozled when I realized that the series was chock-full of religious symbolism, I still feel a little bit nostalgic towards this series because its most well-known installment, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, was just as familiar to me as some Bible stories. My brothers and I watched this movie version of the book I don’t know how many times, which in retrospect is probably where some of my nightmares came from. My favorite book from the series, however, was The Magician’s Nephew, which gave my soul another tiny nudge with its description of “The Wood Between the Worlds.” Something about this concept resonated with me, and I always wished that Lewis hadn’t limited this part of the story to just one book.

The Christy Miller series by Robin Jones Gunn

This series was another top influencer, and not necessarily in a good way. Christy was the godly girl I knew I should have been- sure, she had her “tough decision” teen moments that were clearly included to teach a certain lesson, but ultimately she was a good Christian girl who was eventually rewarded with a perfect, godly, surfer husband. Reading about Christy formed so many unrealistic expectations in my mind of what my life “should” look like, and often made me feel “less than” for not being as dedicated as her in my own attempt at faith. The series, not surprisingly, also sends some damaging messages about purity, and having read it at such a formative time, it directly contributed to the low sense of self-worth that I struggled with as an adolescent girl. Did I enjoy the books when I read them? Yes, maybe because their fairy tale quality gave me a sense of escapism from a not-so-fairy-tale life. But when I look back, I wish I had realized that I didn’t need a Todd, and that I would end up being glad that I wasn’t a Christy.

The Sierra Jensen series, also by Robin Jones Gunn

The “Sierra Jensen” series is a spinoff of Robin Jones Gunn’s Christy Miller series, and as far as entertainment value goes, as a teen I thought it was much better. Sierra was spunkier than Christy, she wore cooler clothes, and she worked at a bakery! Ever time I read one of these books I craved cinnamon rolls. But ultimately, the same underlying themes from “Christy Miller” were present in “Sierra Jensen,” and perhaps to an even greater degree. There was a whole book about sexual purity (“With This Ring“), and yes, it includes a full-blown explanation of the “wrapped present” metaphor. Gunn may have succeeded at creating a more relatable character this time around, but it’s just a prettier package for the same ugly message.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl series by Melody Carlson

I only read the “Caitlin” and “Chloe” installments of this series, but that was more than enough to make it clear that whether I was a straitlaced believer like Caitlin, or a “punk” with a a dark side like Chloe, the only way I would ever feel whole was to follow this “right” way to believe. I actually did strongly relate to Chloe because I read these books at a time when my own life felt pretty dark, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t duplicate her enthusiasm for worshipping a god whose presence I didn’t feel. As a teen, I was bummed that Chloe’s part of the series only included four books, because I really wanted to see how her story played out with her more free-spirited approach to faith (I could totally see her becoming “spiritual but not religious” later on down the road).

The Left Behind: The Kids series by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye

This was another church library find, and just like Frank Peretti’s Cooper Kids Adventures series, these books used fear to get readers hooked- and boy, did it work on me. I can’t remember if I had been introduced to the book of Revelation before then, but I definitely studied it in depth (as much as I could with the resources available to me) after beginning this series, which is the children’s version of the well-known Left Behind series for adults. I was TERRIFIED at the prospect of being “left behind,” and I was almost certain that I would be, because no matter how hard I tried over the years to make my faith “real,” I could never feel anything. I read probably the first half of the books with a sort of morbid fascination, but I never bothered to find out how the young characters’ stories ended before moving onto the adult version as a teen, which I did read in its entirety.

The Left Behind series by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye

I mostly said it above, but after reading this series, it’s no wonder that I continue to have apocalypse-themed nightmares over ten years since I finished the last book. Obviously the fictional plots weren’t exactly solid Biblical doctrine, but that didn’t stop me from worrying how I would hold up in the Tribulation, which I felt doomed to endure. I looked forward to the last installment because I knew it would end in heaven, but I was surprised to realize that I didn’t actually find this Biblical interpretation of the afterlife very appealing. It was the first time that it dawned on me that an eternity of worshipping the Christian version of god sounded more like my idea of hell.

Karen Kingsbury

Oh, Karen Kingsbury…I’m not going to list a specific series because I read so many of her books, and a good number of them took place in the same “world.” She’s the Danielle Steel of Christian publishing, and her heart-wrenchingly emotional plots always made for a good cry. I started off with the Redemption series, which I found copies of in the church library, and over the years I made my way throughout the entire collection of books related to the fictional Baxter family, in addition to reading many of Kingsbury’s stand-alone novels along the way. The Baxters, and also the later-introduced Flanigans, were the picture of loving Christian families, and everything my family pretended to be but wasn’t. Kingsbury’s books gave me a temporary escape from my home life, but whenever I turned the last page and returned to my reality, I realized that it wasn’t a perfect Christian family that I wanted, but a life free from the confines of religion altogether.

FUN FACT: The first series featuring the Baxter family is co-authored with Gary Smalley, who confronted Bill Gothard about his inappropriate behavior in the 1970s, and later refused to help Gothard remove a Wikipedia article that described an incident in which Gothard was witnessed having a nighttime visit with a young woman who was wearing a nightgown and sitting on his lap, because Smalley himself was the witness.

Ted Dekker

I discovered Ted Dekker as a freshman in high school (pictured above is Blessed Child, the first book of his that I read- interestingly the newer cover pictured on Goodreads lists Bill Bright’s name in much smaller letters) and I was immediately drawn to the supernatural elements in his stories. Nobody actually ever talked about things like that out loud, at least not at the various conservative churches my parents were members of (we moved a lot), and I tore through his books without realizing that my soul was looking for something beyond what I could find in writing that was confined to the Christian worldview. Some of Dekker’s books are kind of weird (The Circle series in particular) and his later books became too grim for my taste, but the books I did enjoy (Blink, the Martyr’s Song series, as well as A Man Called Blessed, the companion to Blessed Child) all stoked my curiosity in the supernatural, even though the significance of my interest didn’t become clear until much later on.

Frank Peretti

Sometime around the beginning of high school, I decided to give one of Frank Peretti’s adult books a try, since I had enjoyed his Cooper Kids Adventures series when I was younger. My first pick was his 1999 book The Visitation, which definitely delivered on the supernatural elements I had been hoping for- with a large dose of fear to go along with it. However, as I read several of his other novels over my freshman and sophomore years of high school, I began to experience a subtle shift in my perspective as a reader, although I didn’t fully realize that a change was happening. Somewhere along the way, even before I admitted it to myself, I just…stopped limiting my thoughts to the worldview that is centric to Christian fiction, and after that Peretti’s stories just weren’t as entertaining anymore.

Dee Henderson

I didn’t read any of Dee Henderson’s books until after I had already stopped regularly attending church (around age 15), but even though I managed to put my foot down when it came to waking up on Sundays, I still had to deal with my parents’ restrictions in other areas, including their strict standards for my reading material. By that point I had long since perfected the art of smuggling contraband books in and out, but if I wanted to read out in the open, it had to be something that would meet my parents’ approval. These books fit the bill and are pretty much exactly what you’d expect from Christian fiction- even though Henderson does her best to keep it interesting by giving her main characters impressive careers designed to generate suspense (hostage negotiator, forensic pathologist, and U.S. Marshall just to name a few), a few books in and you begin to realize that the plot details are just an interchangeable vehicle to get to the character’s inevitable “come to Jesus” moment, which is the true climax of each story.

Beverly Lewis

By the time I was 16, I had pretty much admitted at least to myself that I no longer wanted to be a Christian, but even though I didn’t go to church and spent most of my time doing other things (the academic rigor of junior year, a part-time job, and a new boyfriend kept me pretty busy), I still managed to keep the peace with my parents because I didn’t really have a desire to rock the boat while I was still living under their roof. So although I may not have been studying the Bible in my free time, I wasn’t against curling up with a mildly religious book every once in awhile to give the impression that I still had enough of an interest in Christianity to keep them from taking any drastic measures. Reading Beverly Lewis’ fictional take on Amish life gave my mind an occasional break from an otherwise stressful schedule, and getting a peek into an unfamiliar world that I had always found intriguing was enough to make up for the religious themes that are present in her books. Even though at that point I had no interest in a faith of my own, I appreciated the distinction that Lewis made between genuine and obedient faith, and I enjoyed her stories because they didn’t feel like preaching in disguise.

Bibles

In case you’re wondering what Bibles I used growing up, the first one I distinctly remember owning was the NIV* Adventure Bible. Although the cover pictured above looks similar to what I remember, I couldn’t say for sure whether or not it’s the exact same one. My grandmother gave this Bible to me as a gift when I was about 6 or 7 years old. She had come for a visit from out of state, and brought me on a special trip to the Christian bookstore without my younger siblings. Her purchases for me that day included the Bible, a copy of the book Christy (which even as a precocious reader was a little over my head), and a sparkly “WWJD” bracelet.

The very next year, I was presented with this beauty in front of the entire congregation, at a special ceremony for rising third graders at the beginning of an otherwise unremarkable church service. It was a Big Deal to be receiving this fancy Bible with its holographic cover (the above photo doesn’t do it justice!), and the fact that it was a “study Bible” was supposed to encourage me and my Sunday school classmates to become personally committed to the religion that most of us had been born into, now that we were reaching the age of accountability.

Somewhere along the line I graduated to the teen version of the study Bible, which was pretty standard amongst my fellow church-going peers. Because I am super cool, I turned the cover into a collage of words that related to Christianity/faith. I must have spent hours on the project (it received tons of compliments at the all-girls Christian summer camp I attended!), which in retrospect was probably because I was sick of reading the actual book.

 

This isn’t an all-inclusive list- many titles have long since been forgotten- but I think it provides a pretty good picture of the “Christian bubble” that helped form my worldview when I was growing up. I was allowed to read books that didn’t belong to the Christian genre, which I will list in an upcoming post, but even with the influence of the limited selection of secular books that were permitted in my home, I was still incredibly sheltered. Even so, I consider myself lucky, because going back to the main theme of this blog, I have no doubt that at least a few of the books on this already tame list would NOT be allowed in the Duggar household.

Could you picture any of the Duggars reading some of the books from this list? Did you grow up in a Christian household and have your own memories of these titles or others? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Image Sources

  1. The Mystery of the Zoo Camp by Elspeth Campbell Murphy
  2. Mandie and the Secret Tunnel by Lois Gladys Leppard
  3. Here’s Lily! by Nancy Rue
  4. Amy Carmichael: Rescuer of Precious Gems by Janet Benge
  5. Stuck in the Sky by Lissa Halls Johnson
  6. Too Many Secrets by Patricia H. Rushford
  7. Escape from the Island of Aquarius by Frank Peretti
  8. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  9. Summer Promise by Robin Jones Gunn
  10. Without a Doubt by Robin Jones Gunn
  11. Becoming Me by Melody Carlson
  12. The Vanishings by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye
  13. Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins
  14. Return by Karen Kingsbury and Gary Smalley
  15. Blessed Child by Bill Bright and Ted Dekker
  16. The Postcard by Beverly Lewis
  17. NIV Adventure Bible
  18. The New Adventure Bible
  19. Teen Study Bible

*NIV stands for “New International Version” and was created to be a more modern, easier to understand translation of the King James Version (KJV) Bible. I am pretty sure all of the Bibles in my home growing up were NIV translations.

Biography: Jill Michelle (Duggar) Dillard

Jill Michelle Duggar was born on May 17, 1991 to Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar. She is the fourth out of their nineteen biological children, and their second oldest daughter. She was purposely given a name that starts with the letter J because her older siblings’ names all began with the same letter, and Michelle didn’t want the new baby to someday feel left out.  At the time of Jill’s birth, her family was living in a house at her parents’ car lot. Michelle describes Jill as an “easy” baby, which to her was a sign that God was rewarding the Duggars’ decision to not use birth control.

Jill herself uses the word “reserved” to describe her personality as a child. She enjoyed make-believe play, and often pretended to be either a mom or a nurse. She began taking piano lessons when she was five years old, adding the violin several years later at eleven, and eventually the harp.

When Jill’s oldest sibling was about eight- making her about five- her parents began to implement an early version of the “buddy system,” and although it isn’t clear who the older buddies were at this time, the first member of Jill’s eventual “buddy team” was her sister Joy-Anna, who was born when Jill was six years old. The exact nature of Jill’s responsibilities at this time are unknown, although she has stated in the past that she used to change Joy’s diapers.

When Jill was a child, she wanted a pink blanket that looked like the one Jana owned. The Duggars couldn’t afford to buy Jill another blanket when she already had one, so upon her mother’s suggestion, Jill decided to pray. Soon after, her father found a quilted pink blanket in a wrecked and abandoned car that he was about to send to the crusher, which became a symbol for Jill’s answered prayer.

When Jill was seven years old, her father decided to run for the Arkansas House of Representatives. During his campaign, she would frequently accompany her family as they went door-to-door talking to voters. After Jim Bob won the election, the Duggar family temporarily relocated to Little Rock, Arkansas, and Jill often went with her father to work. This inspired Jill to later become active in politics as a teen, including campaigning for Rick Santorum in his 2012 bid for President of the United States.

At age 12, Jill decided to become a Christian because she wanted to make sure that she would go to heaven after she died, and shortly after she was baptized by her father. Some of the reading material available at the Duggar family home included biographies of well-known Christian missionaries, which Jill greatly enjoyed.

In 2005, Jill attended the birth of her younger sister, Johannah Faith, and in 2008, she attended the birth of her sister Jordyn-Grace Makiya. She credits these two experiences for initially sparking her interest in midwifery. When Jill was 16 (sometime between May 2007 and May 2008), she attended twelve weeks of childbirth classes as the support person for a friend of hers who, at just 14 years old, was about to become a single mother.

As early as 2008, Jill begin participating in short-term mission trips with family and friends through SOS ministries. Several of these trips were documented on the show 19 Kids and Counting, and Jill’s experiences inspired her to start learning Spanish.

At the end of 2009 and through part of 2010, Jill spent a lot of time at a hospital after her youngest sister, Josie was born prematurely, and watching the nurses in action provided further inspiration. Jill, along with three of her sisters, completed neonatal resuscitation training around this time. In 2010, Jill and Jana also became certified first responders and joined the local volunteer fire department, following in their brother John-David‘s footsteps. In May 2011, Jill traveled to Joplin, Missouri along with Joshua, John-David, and Jana to assist in relief efforts after an F5 tornado destroyed much of the city.

In September 2011, Jill announced that she would be pursing a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing, however, she ended up choosing quite a different path. Around Christmas 2011, Jill met Derick Dillard for the first time when he came to her house with a church group of carolers- but just like the first time her mother met her father, Jill doesn’t really remember her first encounter with her future husband. Not long after their meeting, however, Derick asked Jim Bob to be his prayer partner as he embarked on a two-year mission trip to Nepal.

In the book Growing Up Duggar, which was published on March 4, 2014, Jill writes that “several years ago” she did some baby-sitting for a doula. Although she states that she wasn’t initially interested in entering the field herself, Jill began attending births with her doula friend, and eventually became her assistant. This experience put her into contact with a licensed midwife who moved to the area “last year” in relationship to when Jill was working on the book. She offered Jill an apprenticeship, and after Jill prayed and discussed it with her parents, by June 2012, Jill was listed as a lay midwife apprentice for Venessa Giron.

After assisting in a number of births, Jill decided to get officially certified. She enrolled as a distance learning student at a midwifery school in Texas, and although the program requirements included occasional on-site training and testing, Jill received most of her hands-on experience throughout her apprenticeship with Venessa.

Meanwhile, Jill’s father had been playing matchmaker between his prayer partner, Derick Dillard, and his daughter. He had been impressed by Derick’s “godly” character, and started to talk to each one about the other. After listening in on a few phone conversations without Derick’s knowledge, Jill had her first real conversation with Derick in March 2013.

They didn’t speak again until August, but at the end of the summer, Jim Bob provided Derick with Jill’s phone number, which allowed them to talk about their values and life goals- under supervision, of course. Over the next few months, Jill and Derick bonded over their similar beliefs and shared interest in international missions, and although at that point their budding relationship was completely long-distance, the miles between them didn’t stop Jill from falling in love.

In November 2013, Jill- accompanied by her father, Jim Bob- traveled to Nepal to meet Derick in person, which is shown in the 19 Kids and Counting episodes “Going the Distance for Love” and “The Big Question.” Jill spent two weeks in Nepal, and while she was there, Derick asked Jill to enter into a courtship.

Jill and Derick’s relationship was long-distance until Derick returned from his mission trip in January 2014. The next month, Derick asked Jim Bob for Jill’s hand in marriage, and he proposed in March 2014 using a song that he had asked someone to write just for the occasion. At the time, followers were hopeful that Derick might be slightly less extreme in his religious beliefs, especially because he attended college at a secular university.

Jill and Derick were married on June 21, 2014 in front of over a thousand people, with the TLC cameras rolling. By that time, Jill states that she had finished her clinical hours and had turned her focus towards studying for the certification exam. Jill and Derick agreed to a covenant marriage, which is an option in Arkansas and two other states that makes it harder for couples to divorce.

That August, Jill announced her first pregnancy, and from the start she planned to give birth at home. She went 11 days overdue, and when her water finally broke, she spent 48 hours in labor before noticing that her baby was in fetal distress and heading to the hospital. After declining Pitocin to speed things up, Jill labored for about 12 more hours before Israel David Dillard was born via c-section, about ten minutes before midnight on April 6, 2015.

In May 2015, Jill’s older brother, Joshua, became the center of a public scandal when a police report that had been obtained through the Freedom of Information Act was published by InTouch Weekly magazine, revealing that when he was a teenager, he had been accused of molesting five underage girls, four of whom were his sisters (his sisters later filed an invasion of privacy lawsuit over the release of the reports).

The next month, Jill and her sister Jessa identified themselves as two of Joshua’s victims when they participated in a television interview with former Fox news anchor Megyn Kelly. Both sisters defended their older brother, stating that they forgiven him long ago and that the release of the police report was “1,000 times worse” than Josh’s actions. However, the girls’ responses gave some viewers the impression that they were not speaking for themselves.

That same month, Jill’s husband left his job as an accountant for Walmart, which according to the Dillards was a decision made earlier that year. This became publicly known in early June, when an online gossip magazine sent an e-mail to Derick’s Walmart account and received an automated reply which stated that he was no longer with the company. On June 17, Derick and Jill registered a non-profit organization called Dillard Family Ministries, and a few weeks later, the Dillards announced that they would be embarking on a long-term mission trip the next month.

By July 5, they had traveled to an undisclosed location in Central America, news which they shared in a since-deleted blog post that also asked for donations to help fund their “family ministry.” The Dillards cited security concerns as the reason they did not share their exact location; however, it was later revealed that the Dillards had been participating in a short-term mission trip sponsored by SOS ministries.

 

Despite giving followers the impression that they would be overseas for an extended period of time, once the trip ended, the Dillards returned to the United States for a month-long respite from the mission field, including a trip to New York in mid-August to participate in the taping of a TLC documentary about sexual abuse, as well as a jaunt down to Tennessee to attend the wedding of family friend Michael(a/la) Bates on August 15. The next day, the Dillards returned to Central America, accompanied by Jill’s younger sister Joy-Anna and family friend Carlin Bates, who stayed for about two weeks.

On August 31, Jill published a blog post explaining that the trip to New York had been planned in advance, which also happened to coincide with the Bates wedding, and the very same day, the Dillards headed back to the United States for yet another wedding. By then, about half of their time as missionaries so far had been spent traveling, and they were widely criticized for spending money so extravagantly- which also prompted many people who donated to Dillard Family Ministries to question how the funds were being used.

At the beginning of September 2015, Derick claimed that the Dillards had been “commissioned” by their home church, implying the official support of a regulatory organization; however, without a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, neither he nor Jill had the necessary qualifications to be an appointed missionary (although on September 16, Jill became officially certified as a CPM, which Derick claimed would benefit their ministry). By the end of September, many angry donors were asking for their money back, and in spite of this, the Dillards attended a church fellowship event in their honor on October 3, where they continued to ask for financial support.

By the middle of the month, the Dillards’ website had been altered to allow previous donors to request refunds, possibly in light of a new source of income: at the end of September, TLC had announced the production of 2-3 television specials that would feature Jill and her sister Jessa, and promotion of the series began a few weeks later. Although TLC assured viewers that Josh Duggar would not appear in any future programming, many critics were unhappy that the Duggars were returning to television in any capacity.

Meanwhile, the Dillards returned to Central America on October 19, this time letting the public know that they were headed to El Salvador. Their departure was shown in the Jill & Jessa: Counting On episode  “Baby Shower & A New Home,” and after the conclusion of the original three-part special, the show continued to focus heavily on the Dillards’ life in El Salvador throughout its first full season.

Upon their return to Central America, Jill and Derick spent several weeks studying Spanish in Guatemala, and in January 2016, it was announced that they would once again be working with SOS ministries. While they were overseas, the Dillards were criticized for spending most of their time and donors’ money proselytizing to Catholics, especially in light of the ongoing Zika virus outbreak, which prompted a CDC recommendation that women in the area take measures to avoid becoming pregnant- something that Jill had no intention of doing.

Over the year, the Dillards frequently emphasized the dangers of their life overseas. Historically, Jill had been vocal about her passion for international missions, but her emotional reaction to a crash that occurred when a shower curtain rod fell in her El Salvador residence made many followers wonder if she was struggling with depression. In August 2016, amid rumors that Derick was struggling with his health, the Dillards returned to the United States, with plans to take Bible classes and do ministry work until returning to Central America the upcoming fall. Followers noted that Jill appeared noticeably more relaxed while she was home, although Derick’s sickly appearance continued to elicit concern.

By December 2016, the Dillards were still in the United States, but an announcement made just before the end of the year revealed a possible reason for the delay- Jill was pregnant with their second child. They didn’t end up leaving again until February 2017, although the couple stated ahead of time their plans to come back to the U.S. for the birth. By the end of the month, the Dillards were being criticized once again for soliciting donations, especially in light of their continued participation in the show Counting On (shortened from its original name the previous summer).

In the middle of May, Jill wrote a post on the Dillards’ website telling readers that a friend of theirs had been murdered in an El Salvadorian slum, and by the 21st, the Dillard family had returned to the United States, just ahead of Joy Anna Duggar’s wedding and the upcoming birth of the Dillards’ second son. In June, Jill and Derick took an anniversary/babymoon getaway to a bed-and-breakfast in Pennsylvania.

On July 8, 2017, Jill gave birth to Samuel Scott Dillard, and the announcement posted on the Dillard Family website- along with a photograph of Derick and his newborn son- immediately prompted many followers to begin asking questions. The information that Jill labored for forty hours and ended up delivering via another c-section, paired with the monitoring equipment visible in the photograph, prompted wild speculation about the details of Samuel’s birth, especially in the weeks following as the Dillards continued to be unusually silent on social media, at least regarding that particular topic.

At the beginning of August, a surprising distraction shifted focus away the mysterious birth, but not in a positive way for the Dillard family. On August 2, Derick lashed out at teenage reality star Jazz Jennings (whose show is also on TLC, and follows her life as a transgender individual) in a series of transphobic tweets, which sparked immediate outrage across social media. Amidst the harsh criticism, on August 10, the Dillards announced the discontinuation of Dillard Family Ministries, along with the news that they would not be returning to Central America.

Although the wording of the announcement gave the impression that the decision had been theirs, a report two days later suggested that Jill and Derick had actually been fired for coming up short as missionaries in numerous ways. But the Dillards rebounded quickly, and by August 16, they appeared to have shifted their focus to the college ministry at Cross Church- turning to their fans once again to ask for financial support, a need that was perhaps related to their notable absence from the latest promotions for the upcoming season of TLC’s Counting On. Not surprisingly, the request was not well received, and by September, the online fundraiser had been shuttered.

Up until this point, the Dillards had resided in housing provided by Jill’s father in between their stints as missionaries in Central America, but by the beginning of September 2017, they had moved, which sparked rumors of a rift between the Dillards and the Duggar patriarch. Even if the reality wasn’t quite so dramatic, it was clear that the Dillards were beginning to move in a new direction. Despite his fundraiser woes, Derick managed to enroll in the Cross Church School of Ministry for a year-long program, and Jill by default was coming along for the ride. It quickly became clear that their new ministry was slightly more liberal than the home church Jill had attended as a Duggar, and some followers wondered if Jill would benefit from being exposed to a more mainstream brand of Christianity.

On November 9, Derick posted another series of vitriolic tweets aimed at Jazz Jennings, and this time the public outcry drew a response from TLC. Although the statement was worded in a way that did not make it clear how the decision was made, they announced that Derick had not participated in the show Counting On for several months.

Quickly, the online chatter turned to the question of whether or not Jill would still appear on the series, and her surprising behavior over the next few weeks suggested that she was moving on from the Duggar brand. Just days after the news of her husband’s departure from Counting On was announced, she was photographed wearing pants, which was a big deal in light of the strict modesty rules she had followed up until then. Later that month, she also added a nose piercing to her look. In December 2017, Derick confirmed that Jill would no longer be participating in Counting On, which elicited some concerns from followers who understood that Jill herself likely didn’t have the final say in the matter.

Since leaving TLC, Jill has maintained a social media presence, although she often receives less positive feedback than she appears to be seeking due to the somewhat awkward nature of her posts, which often include over-the-top praise for Derick. Many have speculated that she is attempting to deflect from the antics of her increasingly unpopular husband, whose Twitter activity came to a head at the beginning of March, after a particularly offensive Tweet that took aim at survivors of the February 2017 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The flood of responses to Derick’s post unleashed yet another storm of tweets from the raging ex-reality personality, which is described in excellent detail here and here, but in summary insinuated that neither he nor Jill had ever been paid by TLC (and also revealed that their son Samuel had spent two weeks in the NICU). Derick’s claims have raised many questions about the level of control Jim Bob has retained over the money from TLC; however, despite reports of a feud between the Duggars and the Dillards, a recent video of the Dillard family at the home of Jill’s parents suggests otherwise.

As 2018 ticks on and Jill adjusts to a life that is perhaps turning out to be different than she had imagined, she has spent her time tagging along on her husband’s school mission trips, attempting to revamp the Dillard family website, and continuing to attend home births with her former mentor, who lost her license several years ago. It is unclear what Jill’s plans are after Derick completes his ministry program later this year, although based on her latest social media activity, it’s relatively safe to say that they won’t involve a radical shift in her beliefs anytime soon.

If there is any information that I haven’t covered, let me know in the comments or via e-mail, and I will update this biography accordingly. I try my best to be factual, but feel free to give me a heads up if you find a mistake and I will make the correction as soon as possible!

Image Sources:

  1. A recent photo of Jill (Duggar) Dillard
  2. The four oldest Duggar children
  3. Young Jill Duggar holds a baby
  4. Jill Duggar in Central America for a short-term mission trip
  5. Jill Duggar holding two newborn babies
  6. Jill Duggar and Derick Dillard in Nepal
  7. Derick Dillard proposing to Jill Duggar
  8. The wedding of Jill Duggar and Derick Dillard
  9. Derick, Jill, and Israel Dillard
  10. Jill Dillard and Jessa Seewald on The Kelly File
  11. The Dillard family in Central America
  12. Jill & Derick Dillard traveling with Joy-Anna Duggar and Carlin Bates
  13. A promotional image for Jill & Jessa: Counting On
  14. Israel, Jill and Derick Dillard (as Pistol Pete) with Cathy Dillard
  15. Jill Dillard at a Cross Church college ministry event
  16. Jill Dillard wearing pants
  17. Jill Dillard excited to drink chocolate milk
  18. Jill Dillard attends a home birth with Venessa Giron

Biography: John-David Duggar

John-David Duggar was born on January 12, 1990, three minutes after his fraternal twin sister, Jana. They were born via emergency c-section after their mother developed preeclampsia. He is the third of Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar‘s nineteen biological children. After the twins were born, Michelle took them, along with their older brother, to stay at her parents’ house for six weeks while she recovered from the birth. At the time, Jim Bob was working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

John-David began walking at twelve months old- four months later than his twin sister- which Michelle attributes to the fact that he was larger than her. They were both very rambunctious as toddlers. As a child, John-David operated a neighborhood bike repair business with his older brother, called “J & J Bike Sales.”

When John-David was twelve, he began assisting his father and his older brother Joshua in the construction of their family’s new home. He helped operate the crane when they put up the framework for the house, and has enjoyed operating heavy machinery ever since. Some of his other duties have also included cutting firewood for the family’s wood-burning furnace, maintaining the yard, and helping his father restore used vehicles.

John-David has spent lots of time working for his father, which often involves keeping up with the maintenance of Jim Bob’s various rental properties. Unlike his sisters, John-David and the rest of the Duggar boys have been expected to pay for their vehicles themselves. When John-David earned his driver’s license, he began driving the Duggar bus and pitching in with the family towing business. As a teenager, John-David also showed interest in video production and graphic design. When the Duggar house was being built, the boys decided to use the space that would have been their walk-in closet for a production studio.

In 2007, John David traveled to El Salvador with several family members to join a group called SOS Ministries for a short-term mission trip. This led him to participate in a number of other similar trips over the years, including a month-long trip to Southeast Asia in 2010. He is pictured here on a trip to the Philippines in 2014 with Lawson and Nathan Bates.

By 2008, John-David was in charge of operating the towing business. Around this time, he and his brother Joseph also traveled to Tennessee to help the Bates family with a home remodeling project.

While the Duggar family was temporarily living in Little Rock, Arkansas after the premature birth of youngest daughter Josie in 2009, John-David- along with Joseph- often helped keep up with the maintenance of the family’s Tontitown home.

In 2010, John-David became a certified first responder and also began volunteering at the local fire department. That November, he ran for Alderman of Tontitown, and lost by 60 votes. He ran again in 2012, and lost by only 12 votes. In January 2013, John-David began serving as a constable in Washington County, Arkansas, which is an unpaid position.

Around this time, John-David was also hard at work earning his pilot’s license. The April 2013 19 Kids and Counting episode, “Duggars Take Flight,” shows John-David logging some flight time by flying his younger brother Joseph to the ALERT academy in Texas. Although his parents purchased a plane for him around September 2014, John-David was still plugging away in October 2014, and he completed the requirements by January 2015. Since then, he has kept busy flying friends and family around the country, and he has also earned his instructor’s license. In the Counting On episode “Meet the Parents,” John-David gives his younger sister, Joy, a flying lesson.

Although John-David does not receive nearly the amount of attention as his twin sister Jana does for “still” being single, just like her, he remains a bit of a mystery because he does not use social media and he tends to stay out of the spotlight. John-David is often described as soft spoken and laid back, but he also has a dry sense of humor. In 2014, at his sister Jill’s wedding rehearsal, John-David made a joke about accepting applications for a wife, and he received calls from many interested ladies who took him seriously. In 2016, it was rumored that he was involved with Tabitha Paine, the Duggars’ former live-in tutor, but she denied the rumor and married someone else the next year.

John-David has owned a home since at least 2013, and although there have been rumors that he is living there, an interview that Michelle gave in 2013 stated that he was leasing it out for rental income, and as of 2018, there is no concrete evidence to suggest that he has moved out of the Duggar family home.

If there is any information that I haven’t covered, let me know in the comments or via e-mail, and I will update this biography accordingly. I try my best to be factual, but feel free to give me a heads up if you find a mistake and I will make the correction as soon as possible!

Image Sources:

  1. A recent photo of John-David Duggar
  2. The Duggars as a family of five, with John-David in the middle
  3. John-David videotapes a construction project
  4. John-David Duggar in the Philippines with Lawson and Nathan Bates
  5. Campaign material for John-David Duggar’s race for town Alderman
  6. John-David Duggar in front of a plane

Biography: Jana Marie Duggar

Jana Marie Duggar was born on January 12, 1990, three minutes before her fraternal twin brother, John-David. That small margin makes her the second of Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar‘s nineteen biological children, and she is also their eldest daughter. Although Jana as an adult is known for her quiet demeanor- which is often a source of intrigue– as a child she was described as “rowdy” and “outgoing.” She began walking at eight months old and according to her mother, she was quite a handful.

In the book The Duggars: 20 and Counting!: Raising One of America’s Largest Families- How They Do It, readers learn that the Duggars began enrolling their children in music lessons when their oldest son was six, and although it is unclear whether Jana began at the same time, music has undoubtedly been a significant part of her life. In addition to the piano and violin lessons that every Duggar child was enrolled in, Jana also really wanted to learn how to play the harp. She was able to begin taking lessons after the family received a harp as a gift, which they considered an answer to prayer.

As the family’s oldest daughter, Jana has been responsible for a significant portion of the childcare for her younger siblings. By the time the Duggar’s first television special aired in 2004, she already had several years of child-rearing under her belt: under her mother Michelle’s famous buddy system, Jana’s first official “buddy” was her younger brother Jason, who was born in the year 2000, when Jana was ten years old. However, Michelle’s response to a Facebook fan question suggests that the buddy system existed in some form at least four years before that, when oldest son Joshua was eight years old, and Jana was six.

When Jana was eight years old, she slept in the top level of a bunk bed that she shared with her younger sister Jessa, who was six. Their parents purposely put them in a room together because they hadn’t been getting along, and in the book Growing Up Duggar, Jana tells readers that Jessa used to repeatedly kick Jana’s mattress at night, which made Jana so annoyed that she began to avoid spending time with her sister. After feeling personally convicted by a nighttime family devotion (and additional prompting from her mother), Jana decided to give forgive Jessa, which she demonstrated by giving her a treasured pink jewelry box. Both of them credit this moment as the beginning of a genuine friendship.

In September 2009, Jana first attended Journey to the Heart, an IBLP program for young women. She was led by Anna (Keller) Duggar’s sister, Priscilla (Keller) Waller, and eventually she became a leader herself. In the book Growing Up Duggar, Jana describes Journey to the Heart like this:

Journey leads participants to study eighteen “heart conditions” described in the Bible, both good conditions (like a pure heart, humble heart, or forgiving heart, for example) and bad conditions (for example, a “murmuring heart” focused on negativity and complaining). This journey helps participants focus on getting their heart “right” with the Lord and understanding His heart’s desire for them. In addition, powerful video messages and testimonies help attendees understand who God is, and they learn how to trust Him more fully. As a Journey leader, I get to see God working in the hearts of these individuals, and there’s just no experience like it.

(The above excerpt is from Growing up Duggar by Jill Duggar, Jinger Duggar, Jessa Duggar, and Jana Duggar)

In 2010, Jana was inspired to join the local volunteer fire department after her twin brother, John-David began volunteering and she became interested in his work. The 19 Kids and Counting episode Duggars on Fire shows Jana, John-David and Jill at work, but was perhaps more memorable for the “fire skirts” created by their sister-in-law Anna for the purpose of protecting the girls’ modesty on the job. Jana and Jill did wear regular protective gear on site; however, in their book they make a point to mention that the girls generally ran the pumps on the fire trucks as opposed to entering burning buildings, a task they left to the men. Eventually, Jana decided to leave the fire department because of the demands of her involvement with Journey to the Heart.

Over the summer of 2010, Jana and her twin brother John-David went on a month-long mission trip to Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. They both became sick while they were away. During the trip, Jana befriended Jonathan Hartono, who she was rumored to be in a relationship with several years later. That same year, a TLC interview with Michelle Duggar suggested that Jana might be pursuing a career in playing the harp; however, she has never received any formal musical training.

Jana attended Journey to the Heart again in June 2011, April 2012, June 2012, August 2012, and November 2012. The rather vague “About the Journey” section of the Journey to the Heart website markets the program as a relaxing retreat; however, it also includes a prison ministry component. A prerequisite for prisoners who wish to participate is successful completion of the IBLP “Basic Seminar.”

In 2012, Jana joined the rest of her family in their endorsement of Rick Santorum in his campaign for President of the United States, and she helped by driving the large family bus- which had been decked out in vinyl lettering for the campaign- and by providing childcare, both on the road and at home.

Over the years, Jana has continued to go on many short-term mission trips with family and friends. Pictured above is Jana with her father, Jim Bob Duggar, and four of her sisters, on a 2013 trip to Honduras.

That year, Jana continued to stay involved with the Journey to the Heart Program. She was an instructor at a Journey to the Heart seminar for inmates from a Florida prison, and she also promoted the program by participating in an IBLP-sponsored interview about Journey to the Heart, along with Erin Bates.

In a June 2013 TLC interview, Jana shared that she had been working as a midwife assistant while her sister Jill trained to become a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM). Jana’s limited contribution to the interview- in comparison to Jill’s enthusiasm- made some readers wonder if Jana’s real job was to chaperone her younger sister. The next year, Jana, along with her younger sisters Jill, Jessa, and Jinger, wrote the book Growing Up Duggar: It’s All About Relationships, which was published on March 4, 2014. The four sisters also narrated the audiobook.

In a spring 2014 interview with Crown of Beauty Magazine, a Christian online magazine for girls, Jana is described as “quiet” and “reserved,” which is evident in the fact that she does not share much about herself in the interview, other than her favorite travel location (Israel). Readers also learn from Jill that Jana has good leadership skills.

Jana is known for being a talented seamstress, and by the age of 15 she already had a reputation for being quite skilled. Ahead of her sister Jill’s wedding in June 2014, Jana was put in charge of altering the bridesmaids dresses to fit the Duggars’ strict modesty standards, which is shown in the 19 Kids and Counting episode Duggars Girls Go Glam. In the episode, Jana is cited as the main family seamstress, although some viewers have wondered whether or not this role was her choice. She is often referred to as “CinderJana” because of how hard she works for her family, who sometimes appears to take her for granted.

In the summer of 2014, Jana accompanied her brother Joshua, his wife Anna, and their three children on an RV trip from Washington, DC to Chicago, Illinois. The trip is shown in the 19 Kids and Counting Episode DC Duggars Hit the Road; however, Joshua’s family appears to be traveling without any assistance, which led some viewers to believe that Jana had been purposely cut from the storyline. That fall, Jana traveled with her brother’s family once again on a “Stand for the Family” bus tour sponsored by the Family Research Council. Jana helped out by driving the bus.

Although by October 2014, Jana appeared to have stepped back from her work as a midwife assistant, since then she has been present for several family births, including the birth of her sister Jill’s first child in April 2015, the birth of her sister Jessa’s first child in October 2015, the birth of Jessa’s second child in February 2017, and the birth of her sister Joy’s first child in February 2018 (Jana has had varying degrees of involvement in these births because each one has required different levels of medical care).

Because Jana, who is now in her late twenties, is currently single in a culture that emphasizes the importance of becoming a wife and mother, there is a lot of (often wild) speculation about why she hasn’t gotten married yet:

Despite this fascination with her love life- or perhaps because of it- Jana has not yet publicly expressed romantic interest in anyone. However, she has stated in the past that she does want to get married, but that she is waiting for the right guy. In a 2016 episode of Counting On, Jana stated that she has had multiple suitors, but that so far none of them have been the right one. She also mentioned her preference for a guy with “dirt under his nails” versus a guy who works in an office. In a March 2017 Crown of Beauty magazine interview, Jana says,

I know how it feels to wait for ‘Prince Charming’ to come along. I’m still waiting. Waiting is not always easy. Especially in those times when all the married siblings are getting together and you can’t go along because your [sic] not part of ‘that group.’

When she is not busy helping her entire family stay organizedbaby-sitting for her younger siblings, or acting as a bridesmaid, Jana enjoys gardening, which she has a clear talent for. She also has an eye for interior design, and her projects have been featured several times on the show Counting On.

 

If there is any information that I haven’t covered, let me know in the comments or via e-mail, and I will update this biography accordingly. I try my best to be factual, but feel free to give me a heads up if you find a mistake and I will make the correction as soon as possible!

 Image Sources:
  1. A recent picture of Jana Duggar
  2. Twins Jana and John-David Duggar with their dad and brother
  3. Jana Duggar playing the harp
  4. Young Jana Duggar feeding a baby
  5. Jana Duggar and Priscilla (Keller) Waller at Journey to the Heart
  6. Jana Duggar working as a volunteer firefighter
  7. Jana Duggar (5th from left) at Journey to the Heart
  8. Jana Duggar holding a child at a campaign event
  9. Jinger, Jill, Jim Bob, Jessa, Jana, and Joy Duggar in Honduras
  10. Jana Duggar at a Journey to the Heart prison ministry in Florida
  11. Jana Duggar altering her sister’s bridesmaids dresses
  12. Jana Duggar gardening

Biography: Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar

Jim Bob Duggar was born on July 18, 1965 in Springdale, Arkansas to Jimmy Lee and Mary Duggar. He writes in his first book, “I was born on a Sunday in 1965, and the next Sunday I was in church.” By the age of seven he had decided to become a Christian after attending a revival service with his mother. As a teenager, he began to doubt his salvation, which prompted him to recommit his life to God.

He has one older sibling, a sister named Deanna. His family was relatively poor growing up, although his parents still managed to send him to a private Christian high school that was affiliated with First Baptist Church in Springdale, Arkansas (known today as Cross Church, the name it adopted in 2010). He was part of its first graduating class.

Michelle Annette Duggar (née Ruark) was born on September 13, 1966 in Springdale, Arkansas to Garrett and Ethel Ruark. She is the youngest of seven siblings, most of whom were significantly older than her. Their names are: Pam, Evelyn, Carol, Freda, Kathie, and Garrett, Jr. By the time Michelle was in elementary school, only her sister Carol was still living at home.

As a child Michelle did not attend church, and she did attend public school. Throughout junior high and most of high school she was a cheerleader and reportedly quite popular. However, despite spending several hours a day practicing both cheerleading and gymnastics, she struggled with body-image issues, and at the age of 14 Michelle began to show signs of bulimia.

At age 15, while continuing to battle these issues, Michelle became a born-again Christian after attending a church event with a friend. Soon after, she was introduced to her future husband when he visited her home with a friend of his, although she admits to not remembering their first meeting. It took about a year for their paths to cross again, when Michelle applied for a job at a yogurt shop that was managed by Jim Bob’s mother in the spring of 1983.

Jim Bob wasted no time asking Michelle to accompany him to his junior/senior banquet, and she wasted no time falling in love with him. They spent several hours talking about scripture, and by the end of the evening she claims that she was certain that Jim Bob was “the one.”

She was 16 when they began dating, and still bulimic, but Michelle confided in Jim Bob early on, because she didn’t want to keep secrets from the man she intended to marry. He became an accountability partner of sorts for her, and helped her get through the first six months of breaking the habit.

On Christmas Eve in 1983, Jim Bob proposed to Michelle in her parents’ living room. When she accepted, he began preparing for their life together by trading in his car to put a down payment on a house, as well as obtaining his real estate license. Three months after Jim Bob’s proposal, Michelle’s parents announced that they would be moving out of state, which prompted the couple to schedule their wedding that summer. They were married on July 21, 1984, at First Baptist Church in Springdale, Arkansas. Michelle was 17, and Jim Bob had just turned 19.

After the wedding, they altered their honeymoon plans at the last minute because their first destination turned out to be a disappointment, but they still spent several nights at Mount Nebo State Park in Arkansas as planned. The honeymoon was cut short due to car troubles, so the couple returned home to the 900 square-foot fixer-upper that Jim Bob had been getting ready for Michelle, which was still a work in progress.

Michelle and Jim Bob decided not to have children right away, and Michelle began taking birth control pills. In the first year of marriage, they purposely did not have a television or any pets in their home. They both worked: Jim Bob at a grocery store where he had already been employed for several years, and Michelle as a substitute teacher. Although it is unclear exactly when, Michelle obtained her real estate license early on in their marriage, and they both obtained life insurance licenses, which they dabbled in for awhile before opening a used car lot. Jim Bob had been selling used cars that he repaired on his own, and he decided to pursue this full time in 1985. He stayed on at the grocery store for the first year, with significant help from Michelle at the car lot, and eventually they added a towing service to the business.

After several years of preventing pregnancy, Michelle stopped taking birth control pills when the couple decided that they were ready to start a family. By then they were living in a small house that was also the site of their used car business. Their first child, Joshua James, was born on March 3, 1988. After his birth, Michelle resumed taking birth control, and while she was still on the pill, she became pregnant again, but miscarried early on. Michelle and Jim Bob consulted with a Christian doctor, who told them it was the birth control that had caused them to miscarry. As a result, the couple decided not only to stop using oral birth control pills, but to eschew all forms of contraception in favor of leaving the size of their family “up to God.”

It didn’t take long for Michelle to become pregnant again, and this time with twins. Around the same time, Michelle and Jim Bob attended a religious seminar on financial freedom, which inspired them to live debt-free. At the time, they still held a mortgage on the house that Jim Bob had purchased before they got married, which they had been renting out. They decided to sell the home, and then they invested that money into the used car business. However, they still experienced financial hardship due to a failed business venture, as well as large hospital bills following the birth of Jana Marie and John-David on January 12, 1990 via emergency c-section.

Even so, Michelle and Jim Bob continued to stick to their position on family planning. Michelle became pregnant again later that year, by which time their eldest son was beginning to reach school age. They had decided to homeschool their children several years earlier, and when he was four, the Duggars attended their first Advanced Training Institute (ATI) homeschooling conference and began the curriculum.

Jill Michelle was born on May 17, 1991, and by the spring of 1992, Michelle and Jim Bob had saved up enough money to pay cash for a bigger house. However, because it was a repossessed home, it took about a year to make it move-in ready, during which time Michelle once again became pregnant. Jessa Lauren was born on November 4, 1992, while the Duggars were still living in their house at the car lot. They moved into the new house, located in Springdale, Arkansas, in March 1993. The house was located next door to First Baptist Church (a.k.a. Cross Church).

Despite having greater financial security as a family, Michelle cites this period as a particularly difficult time due to the challenges of raising so many young children at once. Jim Bob’s mother, Mary came by frequently to help out, but even with the extra set of hands Michelle was overwhelmed. In one of the Duggars’ books, Michelle recalls breaking down in tears during a 1:00 AM laundry session because of the exhaustion and stress. Nevertheless, Michelle’s next pregnancy was just around the corner, and this time around she opted for a home birth. Jinger Nicole arrived safely and uneventfully on December 21, 1993.

Due to the influence of the conferences that he and Michelle had been attending (held by the Institute in Basic Life Principles, a non-denominational Christian organization), Jim Bob decided to sell the towing portion of the car lot business in order to make more time for his family. Michelle was pregnant once again, and they sold the towing company for a profit in June 1994, which they used to pay cash for a commercial real estate property. Then, they rented the property out, which not only partially replaced the lost income from the sold business, but also paved the way for several other successful real estate ventures.

Because Jinger’s birth had gone so well, Michelle decided to try for a home birth again. Although there were some complications, Joseph Garrett was born at home on January 20, 1995. Michelle and Jim Bob state that after Joseph’s arrival, they decided against the home birth route, and when Josiah Matthew arrived on August 28, 1996, he was born in a hospital, as was Joy-Anna Duggar, who was born on October 28, 1997.

Meanwhile, through a series of coincidences which Jim Bob attributes to God’s will, he began to feel called to become involved in politics. He decided to run for a position in the Arkansas House of Representatives, and in November 1998 he won the election. The next month, Michelle gave birth to Jedediah Robert and Jeremiah Robert several weeks earlier than expected, on December 30, 1998. They spent 11 days at the hospital before coming home, during which time Jim Bob was officially sworn in to the Arkansas House of Representatives. He represented the sixth district and served as the vice chair of the Judiciary House Corrections and Criminal Law Subcommittee.

Because Jim Bob would have to temporarily relocate to Little Rock, Arkansas to perform his duties, he decided to sell the car lot to a friend who had helped out with the business in the past. Jim Bob traded the business for a valuable car, which he sold along with the rest of his remaining inventory to prepare for the move.

Now that many of their children had reached Sunday School age, Michelle and Jim Bob decided that they did not want all of their family members to be separated into different classes every Sunday at church. After spending awhile attending a senior citizens’ Sunday School class together as a family, the Duggars eventually joined their friends Clark and Denise Wilson at their newly planted church, which met at an office trailer. The group later began to hold services in its’ members homes, and although the Duggars would have been away in Little Rock during some of this period, in A Love That Multiplies, they state that they have been worshipping in this type of setting since 1999.

The Duggars’ next child, Jason Michael was born on April 21, 2000, and that same year Jim Bob was re-elected to another term in the Arkansas House of Representatives. Michelle gave birth to James Andrew on July 7, 2001, and one month later the Duggars sold their Springdale house to First Baptist Church (a.k.a. Cross Church). Jim Bob had experienced another feeling of divine inspiration that persuaded him to run for the United States Senate, which he announced in April 2002 after his final term in the Arkansas House of Representatives.

He did not have the support of the Republican Party because the incumbent, Tim Hutchinson, was already a Republican, but Jim Bob was convinced that he was following God’s calling, and used a significant amount of money from the sale of the home to finance his campaign. On May 21, 2002 Jim Bob Duggar was defeated in the primary by Hutchinson, who ultimately lost to the Democratic candidate, Mark Pryor.

After Jim Bob’s failed Senate bid, the Duggars continued to live in the Springdale house, which was now owned by First Baptist Church (a.k.a. Cross Church). The church planned to tear down the house and use the land for an expansion, but they allowed the Duggars to stay until it was demolished, and according to Michelle and Jim Bob, they paid the church rent while they looked for a new place to live.

After being unable to find anything big enough within their budget, they decided to build a house by themselves, and in July 2002, after being unsuccessful once again in their search for land, they decided to build on the edge of one of the commercial properties they already owned. In August, they purchased a steel home kit as the framework for the house, and Jim Bob decided that he, Joshua and John-David would lead the family in doing most of the labor themselves to avoid paying for outside help as much as possible. On November 15, 2002, their fourteenth child, Justin Samuel, was born.

Meanwhile, the Duggars were beginning to experience media interest in their family, which they credit to the above photograph from the primary. It was taken at the polling place and ran in the New York Times, which led to an interview with Ladies’ Home Journal, although the magazine ended up deciding not to publish it. However, the interview eventually ran in Parents magazine in the spring of 2003*, which caught the eye of Eileen O’Neill, president of the Discovery Health Channel.

The Duggars were asked if they would like to participate in a documentary about their large family, which they agreed to do as long as their faith would not be edited out. Their first television special, 14 Children and Pregnant Again!, featured the birth of Michelle and Jim Bob’s fifteenth child, Jackson Levi, on May 23, 2004. It aired on the Discovery Health channel on September 6, 2004, and its success paved the way for several follow-up specials.

The Duggars next appeared on Raising 16 Children, which shows their March 2005 move to a rental house, where they lived while working on the construction of their new home as funds allowed. First Baptist Church had been forced to asked them to move because they could not push the demolition date of the house back any farther, and because their new house still wasn’t ready, they had to find somewhere else to stay in the meantime. Finding a rental had its own challenges due to the size of their family, and the Duggars ended up staying in a house that was scheduled to be torn down already, which is why the owners didn’t mind renting it out to a family with 15 kids.

This special also shows the Duggars attending an Advanced Training Institute (ATI) homeschooling conference in Big Sandy, Texas, although the nature of the event is presented in rather vague terms, which some suspect was one of many purposeful decisions to disguise the true nature of the Duggar family’s extreme beliefs. The episode ends with the October 11, 2005 birth of Johannah Faith, and it aired several months later on March 13, 2006.

Even with the whole family pitching in under the guise of “hands-on education,” the expertise and assistance of Michelle and Jim Bob’s former pastor Clark Wilson, who moved his family from Mississippi to Arkansas for an entire year to help oversee the project, and help from various unnamed “friends and family,” construction on the Duggars’ new home was very slow going, which viewers received a peak of on their next special, 16 Children and Moving In. The project ended up going three years past its original deadline, and a professional contractor was brought in to finish it up, along with plumbers, electricians, and an interior designer who were paid by The Discovery Channel.

The Duggar’s house, located in Tontitown, Arkansas, is noteworthy for its upstairs floor plan- instead of individual bedrooms, there are two large, dormitory-style bedrooms for the children: one for the boys, and one for the girls. Michelle and Jim Bob claim that their children requested this design, which is partially true, but it was eventually revealed that the parents also had a more serious reason for wanting to keep the boys and girls apart.

With all of the professional help, the rest of the house was completed quickly, and the Duggars moved in during the first month of 2006, footage of which is included in 16 Children and Moving In. The extra space allowed them to host extended family, including Michelle’s father, who had been in an accident involving a driver high on methamphetamine shortly before the house was finished.

The Duggars were also able to host financial seminars in their new home, now teaching the same exact principles that they had learned in the early years of their marriage. The program they used was endorsed by the IBLP, and created by Jim Sammons, a real estate developer who was on Bill Gothard’s Board of Directors. In addition, the Duggars held weekly home church services with around fifty attendees, which has fueled unsubstantiated rumors that they classify their home as a church for tax purposes.

By now, the Duggars had attracted worldwide attention with their first three television specials, in addition to numerous radio interviews and media appearances. They furthered their fame with two final stand-alone specials: On the Road with 16 Children, which aired on June 11, 2006,  and Duggars’ Big Family Album, which featured the August 2, 2007 arrival of Jennifer Danielle and aired on September 22, 2007.

Almost exactly one year later, the first episode of The Learning Channel’s show 17 Kids and Counting aired on September 29, 2008, amidst criticism of Jon & Kate Plus 8, another reality show on the same network. Some viewers were concerned about the damaging effects of putting children on reality television, but TLC marketed the Duggars as a wholesome Christian family, and many bought into the charade. Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar published their first book, The Duggars: 20 and Counting!: Raising One of America’s Largest Families- How They Do It on December 2, 2008.

The first three seasons of 17 Kids and Counting (changed to 18 Kids and Counting in the middle of the second season, which aired in the first half of 2009, to reflect the birth of Jordyn-Grace Makiya on December 18, 2008, featured snapshots of the family’s ultra-conservative lifestyle, including moments both big and small. The show did feature the Duggars’ faith, as they had requested before signing on to participate in the original special, but even though TLC filmed the Duggars attending an ATI conference in a 2009 episode and were undoubtedly aware of criticism surrounding the family’s membership in the IBLP, their beliefs were generally presented in a positive light.

On December 10, 2009, the Duggar’s 19th child, Josie Brooklyn, was born via emergency c-section at just 25 weeks gestation, after Michelle was diagnosed with severe pre-eclampsia and airlifted to a hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas. She weighed 1 pound, 6 ounces at birth, and was in the hospital for about six months before going home. For most of that time, the entire Duggar family relocated to Little Rock and stayed in a five-bedroom rental home. Josie’s birth, hospital stay, and long-awaited arrival home are documented in the fourth season of the Duggars’ TLC show, which was now 19 Kids and Counting. The season aired over the course of 2010.

After the Duggars returned to their Tontitown home, they returned to “normal” family life, which for them included homeschoolingspeaking engagementsmedia appearances, and TLC-funded trips. Michelle and Jim Bob published a second book, A Love That Multiplies: An Up-Close View of How They Make it Work on June 7, 2011. The book covers Josie’s birth and the Duggars’ adjustment to life in the spotlight, and includes insight into their daily life as well advice on relationships. The book also includes a defense against the criticism Michelle received for protesting a nearby convenience store’s request for a beer license less than two weeks after giving birth to Josie, who was still in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the time.

On November 8, 2011, Michelle and Jim Bob, along with their children, announced on the Today Show that they were expecting their twentieth child, which received mixed reactions from the public. One month later, on December 8, 2011, a routine prenatal checkup revealed that Michelle had miscarried the baby. She had been in her second trimester and was close to halfway through the pregnancy. On December 14, 2011, the Duggars held a memorial service for their stillborn daughter, who they named Jubilee Shalom.

As the Duggars began to close in on almost a decade of being on television, they continued to make headlines for various controversies, usually related to their polarizing religious and political beliefs. In 2012, they endorsed Rick Santorum and participated in his presidential campaign; that same year, Michelle spoke at a Conservative Political Action Conference and criticized the Susan G. Komen Foundation for reversing their decision to pull funding from Planned Parenthood. That March, Michelle herself was criticized for calling overpopulation a “myth.”

In 2013, Michelle was in the news once again for comparing abortion to the Holocaust, which was offensive to many and elicited a response from the Jewish Journal, a weekly newspaper that serves the Jewish community in Los Angeles, California. In the summer of 2014, Michelle recorded a robocall asking residents to vote against an anti-discrimination measure that would strengthen protections for transgender individuals, a move which prompted many to sign an online petition asking TLC to take the Duggars off the air.

In November 2014, following the marriage of their daughter Jessa to Ben Seewald, Michelle and Jim Bob issued a “kissing challenge” to their fans. Jessa and Ben famously did not kiss at the altar; however, they later posted a picture of themselves kissing on Instagram. After the picture received negative feedback, Michelle and Jim Bob followed suit with their own snapshot that was posted on Facebook, where they encouraged other married couples to post similar pictures. However, followers quickly noticed that photos of same-sex couples were being deleted, which fueled the growing movement of people asking TLC to take the Duggars off television.

However, the final straw for TLC didn’t come until May 2015, when InTouch Weekly published a police report that had been obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, detailing the Duggars’ oldest son Joshua’s molestation of five underage girls, four of whom were his younger sisters. Joshua quickly issued a public apology in a statement to People magazine, which included comments from both his wife, Anna, and his parents, Jim Bob and Michelle. But just a day later, after advertisers began pulling out of the show, TLC announced that 19 Kids and Counting had been canceled and that reruns would no longer appear on the air.

In the press and across social media, Michelle and Jim Bob were widely criticized for failing to take appropriate action when they claim to have first been made aware of Joshua’s behavior in March 2002, and for continuing to mishandle the situation after several subsequent incidents. Although Joshua’s statement mentioned counseling, further investigation revealed that his parents failed to get him proper treatment, and IBLP literature that has surfaced online suggests that any counseling his sisters received would have likely taught that sexual abuse is the victim’s fault. Michelle and Jim Bob were also criticized for over-emphasizing the concepts of modesty and purity, which some believe was a factor that contributed to Joshua’s actions.

In June, Michelle and Jim Bob agreed to an interview with Megyn Kelly, who at the time was the host of The Kelly File on Fox News. Many criticized Kelly for being overly sympathetic to the Duggars, who appeared to choose their words very carefully in what many viewed as an attempt to salvage their reputation.

In August 2015, a second scandal hit the Duggar family when the gossip blog Gawker announced that Joshua had a paid account on the adult website Ashley Madison, which had recently been hacked. This prompted him to enroll in a Christian rehab program, and although Jim Bob and Michelle took in his wife and children while he was away, Michelle wrote a blog post that October instructing wives to always be “joyfully available” for meeting their husbands’ sexual needs, which many interpreted as indirect criticism of Anna.

That same month, TLC released a trailer for a three-part television special called Jill and Jessa: Counting On, which addressed the past several months’ events and provided updates on Jill and Jessa’s lives. The series aired in December 2015, and in February 2016, TLC announced that it would be expanded into a full-fledged show, which premiered the following month and consisted of eleven episodes.

TLC dropped Jill and Jessa’s names from the show’s title ahead of its second full season, which premiered on August 23, 2016, likely because it primarily featured their sister Jinger’s courtship, engagement, and wedding. Although it was widely believed that the show would not feature Michelle and Jim Bob, they gradually began to make appearances as their daughter’s relationship progressed. Meanwhile, that September they opened up their home to Michelle’s 8-year old great-nephew, whose mother was unable to properly care for him. In November 2016, they became his legal guardians.

2017 was a busy year for Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar, who saw two of their children get married within the span of four months. While Counting On’s third full season (generally referred to as Season 4) was still airing coverage of Jinger and Jeremy’s wedding preparations, daughter Joy-Anna was rapidly heading towards her own engagement and wedding planning, which provided plenty of excuses for her parents to show up on camera. After they gave away the bride, Michelle and Jim Bob continued to keep busy with a trip to Hawaii before getting back into wedding planning mode for their son Joseph’s marriage to Kendra Caldwell that September. They finished off the year with a child-free getaway to the Bahamas with their friends Gil and Kelly Jo Bates.

So far, 2018 has been business as usual for Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar. In January they traveled to Australia with fourteen of their children for an IBLP speaking engagement, where Jim Bob was criticized for making an insensitive remark about his daughter, Jana. The next month the couple traveled alone to speak at a Valentine’s Day event at a church in Michigan. In March, son-in-law Derick Dillard posted claims on Twitter regarding his lack of compensation for his participation in Counting On, which sparked much speculation about how much control Jim Bob has over the Duggars’ earnings from TLC despite no longer being primarily featured on the family’s current show.

If there is any information that I haven’t covered, let me know in the comments or via e-mail, and I will update this biography accordingly. I try my best to be factual, but feel free to give me a heads up if you find a mistake and I will make the correction as soon as possible!

*I have not yet been able to find a link to or copy of an article from the spring of 2003; however I did find this article from the September 2003 issue of Parents magazine. If anyone happens to have the original article or if my timeline is incorrect, please use the e-mail button to contact me and I will gladly credit you for finding the information!

Image Sources:

  1. Current picture of Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar
  2. Michelle (Ruark) Duggar as a cheerleader in high school
  3. The young couple at Jim Bob’s junior/senior banquet
  4. Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar’s wedding invitation
  5. Michelle Duggar holding newborns Jana and John-David Duggar
  6. The Duggars as a family of six
  7. The Duggars as a family of eight
  8. The Duggars as a family of ten
  9. The Duggars get political as a family of thirteen
  10. The Duggars make a Senate bid
  11. The Duggars vote in 2002
  12. The Duggars as a family of seventeen
  13. The Duggars as a family of eighteen
  14. The Duggars as a family of nineteen
  15. The Duggars as a family of twenty
  16. Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar with their daughter, Josie
  17. Members of the Duggar family with Rick Santorum
  18. Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar share a kiss
  19. Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar speak with Megyn Kelly
  20. Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar with Gil and Kelly Jo Bates

Introduction

For the past few weeks I’ve been toying around with the idea of starting a blog to talk about the Duggars, an ultra-conservative Christian family from Arkansas who has been on TV since 2004, when they participated in a one-hour special called “14 Children and Pregnant Again!” The Duggars went on to film several subsequent television specials about their growing family, and they eventually landed their own TLC show, which first aired in 2008 with the name 17 Kids and Counting, and ended as 19 Kids and Counting in 2015, amidst a series of scandals involving the oldest Duggar son, Josh. The show was then rebranded as Counting On at the end of 2015, which continues to follow the lives of some of the married adult children, and just wrapped up its seventh season.

Although the Duggars have worked very hard to brand themselves as a model Christian family by making an exhibition out of some of their most extreme values to give themselves a niche (i.e. strict courtship rules, over-the-top modesty standards, condemnation of television and secular music,  and perhaps most notably Michelle and Jim Bob’s renouncement of birth control), the reality is much darker. Even just a quick Internet search will tell you that the Duggars are strongly associated with the Institute in Basic Life Principles, a non-denominational Christian organization which is widely considered a cult because it promotes a strict belief system that is designed to control every aspect of its’ members lives. I will talk about the Duggars’ involvement with the IBLP (and its homeschooling program, the “Advanced Training Institute”) in MUCH further detail later on, but I bring it up now because learning about this sinister side of the seemingly wholesome Duggar family is what motivated me to do more research on their beliefs.

I found this topic particularly interesting because I was also raised in a very conservative Christian home, and while my parents weren’t nearly as strict as Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar, I could still relate to the Duggar kids. I went to public school and was very lucky in that regard, but otherwise most of my time was spent in a Christian bubble, where I interacted with many children from families who really were very similar to the Duggars. Even though I did get to attend school, I was still extremely sheltered, and my home life was governed by rigid, Bible-based expectations for my behavior. However, by the time I first stumbled upon the Duggars on TV (which wasn’t until I was an adult and they had already entered the 19 Kids and Counting era, since my parents didn’t allow cable TV when I was growing up), it had been years since I had regularly attended church, so while I could relate to the children on some level, I kept up with the show from the perspective of someone who had “broken free” from that culture. The first storyline that I remember specifically tuning in for was Jill’s courtship, and I watched with a sort of horrified fascination at what the devoutly religious version of my life could have been, since she is the Duggar who I am closest to in age.

What really affected me, however, was not the show itself, but finding an online discussion forum where users had some really thought-provoking things to say about the negative impact of Christian fundamentalism, particularly on girls growing up in that sort of rigid religious environment (I want to say it was Free Jinger, but I really don’t remember for sure). At the time, I was no longer attending church and had definitely made a conscious decision to lead a secular lifestyle, but I had never really addressed how my childhood had affected me, and it had never even occurred to me that much of my experience (which was my “normal” for so long) was actually rather traumatic and likely contributed to the mental health issues I had struggled with for years.

I was still very much afraid of hell, and up until then part of me had always believed that I deserved any hardship that I had been through because I hadn’t been faithful enough to hack it as a Christian. I also didn’t really know how to express or even acknowledge the resentment I held towards my parents, because according to the religion that they still very actively practiced, everything that they had done in their quest to raise an obedient Christian daughter was perfectly acceptable, and questioning their actions would have been seen as a moral failing on my part. It wasn’t until I read about the Duggars that I realized I had a right to be angry about the way I was raised, which actually ended up marking the beginning of a long period of bitterness that in retrospect was probably something that I needed to go through as part of my deconversion, but at the same time is not a “season of life” that I ever wish to revisit.

For awhile I didn’t really think about the Duggars, mostly because my own life was too overwhelming to care much about theirs. Jill’s wedding happened around the same time that I was separated from my husband, so I was busy easing the pain by binge-watching Pretty Little Liars on Netflix. By the time Jessa’s wedding rolled around I was onto Gilmore Girls, and it wasn’t until Josh’s first scandal in 2015 that I started paying attention to the Duggars again. I was shocked that their hypocrisy had been exposed on such a massive scale, and saddened not only for Josh’s victims, but also for the rest of his siblings, who have all undoubtedly been affected by their oldest brother’s actions. When I heard about the Ashley Madison scandal a few months later, my heart ached for Anna and the children, and like so many others I hoped that she would have the courage to break free from the cult, or at least her unfaithful husband.

Instead, as readers probably already know, less than two years later Anna and Josh had not only reconciled, but had also conceived a fifth child. In the Duggars’ world, Anna’s pregnancy was a shining testimony of forgiveness and redemption, but the public announcement was met with loud criticism. I was disappointed too, not because I wanted her to sell out and write a tell-all book (although I won’t lie, I would have read it), but more out of sadness that even with Biblical support for a divorce, Anna chose to stay with Josh. Her decision was such a heartbreaking consequence of being immersed in a culture in which women are given virtually no opportunities to succeed in any role other than daughter, wife, and mother- and even then, only under the strict supervision of her male headship.

The ensuing discussion online motivated me to gradually become more involved in the growing community of people who follow the Duggars (and several other well-known fundamentalist families) not as fans, but rather as critical observers who gather on sites like Free Jinger and Reddit (including here and here) to talk about all things “fundie” related from an outsider’s perspective. Participants in these forums come from a wide spectrum of sociological backgrounds, and each site has a distinct tone and unique take on the overall discussion. Personally, I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading what others have to say and occasionally piping in myself, to the point where I’ve become an embarrassingly thick encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to the Duggars. But even though I do usually find the snarkier side of the conversation entertaining (I know I’m not the only one who considers it a guilty pleasure!), I believe that it is also worthwhile to explore some of the more serious points in greater depth.

After all, we are aware of the Duggars because they are on TV, but how many other families are looking to them as role models? How many other fundamentalist parents have isolated themselves from normal society in the name of religion, often to the detriment of their children who are so sheltered from the bad parts of the world that they are also deprived of the many good things that it has to offer, including access to quality education and even in some cases basic healthcare? I would never say that religion is bad in its entirety, because I know that many people do find value in their religious beliefs, which can have an undoubtedly positive effect on the lives of those individuals. However, it is clear that extreme forms of religion often have an ugly relationship with abuse, as well as a laundry list of various other mental, emotional, and physical problems that can impact a person throughout the course of his or her entire life. As someone who continues to struggle with these issues well into adulthood, I want to do everything I can to make sure that we keep talking about this long enough for even the most adamant defenders of fundamentalist religion to realize that they too have the choice to live free of legalism and fear.

So what am I going to be covering in this blog? Honestly, I’m just going to see where my thoughts take me, although I do have a number of topics that I know I want to address. I definitely plan to talk about the Duggars’ specific beliefs and lifestyle, as well as include more general discussion about their culture as a whole. I also want to give this tiny corner of the Internet my own personal touch, so even though I absolutely intend to post about the latest Duggar news, discuss specific episodes of Counting On (both old and new), look back to even earlier Duggar TV from the perspective that we have today, and provide related links that I think readers might find interesting, I’m also going to be writing about my own experience- mostly how it relates to the Duggars and their world, but maybe occasionally my thoughts on religion and spirituality in general. I realize that not everyone who follows the Duggars wants to take their interest in this direction, so I welcome all visitors to read what you like for you own entertainment, and not feel obligated to care about anything that has to do with my personal reflections. For me, this blog is just a way to channel my own admittedly unusual interest in the Duggars into a project that also ties into my personal journey, which has also been pretty unusual so far.

As a final note, please feel free to leave comments below with your thoughts, opinions, and criticism. I’ll try to reply in a timely manner because I am always open to further discussion! Thanks so much for reading this far, and I invite you to check back frequently as I work on getting this blog up and running!