Aimee Byrd

Inside the word. Outside the box.

It’s time to prepare for the summer reads list and Girls and Their Monsters: The Genain Quadruplets and the Making of Madness in America needs to be on it.

“One by one they’d come into the world, and in the very same order, they lost touch with it.”





These are the Morlok identical quadruplets, born in 1930. This is a non-fiction account of their lives—that were “real, but not quite.” The story opens in 1954, with Dr. Seymour Perlin from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) visiting the now grown sisters at their home in Lansing, Michigan. What brings him there? All four sisters are diagnosed with schizophrenia and he and his collogues see the opportunity—about one and one and a half billion chance for births of identical quadruplets all diagnosed with schizophrenia—to study this mental condition and whether its causes are genetic or due to social and familial factors.

Author Audrey Clare Farley takes us on a journey, revealing so much more behind mental illness, family dysfunction, and trauma. It’s a web that she carefully navigates and turns into a page-turner witness to the testimony not only of these sisters and their mother, but of our disordered society—even now. The Morlok sisters’ lifetime was not that long ago, enabling Farley to develop a relationship with and interview the youngest daughter, Sarah. But in reading we question how far we’ve really come, and who are our monsters?

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Acrylic painting by Haydn Byrd

It’s that season of the year when all of the theo-dude bros want to start telling women what they should not wear. Jacob Denhollander has joked that it enters with condemning yoga pants and soon makes its way to the bikini. I’ve seen the posts about the horror of bearing our shoulders. We women are terrifying to these theologically superior men. Their downfall is right around the corner and it will be all our fault!

I tend to just scroll past all the bait, too weary to engage with such rigid faux piety. I remember responding to some of it in my early blogging days, when I was naive enough to think Christians used common sense. And naive enough to think we were talking about the dignity of men and women. I wrote an article suggesting we are putting false confidence in our “Christian” dress codes. I challenged the “bikinis are evil” trope and was shocked by how controversial that made me. But here I am, allowing myself to enter into the fray again. It’s literally 13 years later and things are getting worse, not better.

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“At least the sermons are practical…”

That was the best thing a friend had to say after a church visit.

Is that really a good thing, though?, I responded. Is that what we are getting up early for on Sunday morning and schlepping our families to assembly for?

What have we settled for? What is it that we really want and expect and need to hear?

Another friend:
“I shared something in Sunday school, as I was bursting inside about the wonder of how Christ was so alive in the text. The pastor responded, ‘Now, let’s not get carried away…’”

A pastor, saying Let’s not get carried away about the wonder of how Christ is being revealed in his word and in his people. Keep it manageable. Keep it practical. Keep it in the left hemisphere of our brains, please.

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On the way to visiting yet another church a couple months ago, I shot up one of those arrow prayers, Lord, I am looking for Christ in your church. Help me see him if he’s there.

It’s been an agonizing search. The Friday before, I wrote this in my journal: It’s Friday. Black Friday. Christ seems to have died in the church. We crucified him a second time. Who—we are looking—who has tasted God’s good word and the powers of the coming age (Heb. 6:5)? If so, we would walk into your church and see resurrection living. Where are you?

That was a low point of despair. We are on a search for the living.

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After listening to the interview with Joshua Butler on Theology in the Raw regarding the controversy over a concerning excerpt of his book that was posted on The Gospel Coalition, I was glad to see healthy critique and for Butler to be given a friendly platform to respond. However, by the end, my whole body was signaling to me that I was disturbed by it. I have a lot in common with Butler in delighting in the allegory and symbols in the Song of Songs. I too resource Roman Catholic theologians on it, even as I don’t take it all in the same direction and have plenty of disagreements. I too think our sexuality tells the story of a beautiful union. I too think temple language is used in Scripture to describe woman (even from the beginning of creation when it is revealed that God fashioned woman from man’s side, which in Hebrew points us to the tabernacle walls).

In the interview, Butler did not sound like someone who intends to use theology to subordinate women. I appreciate that he is speaking out against abuse, and how he even explains in the podcast how allegory itself does that. But sadly, he did not see the problem with the language in chapter one of his book, Beautiful Union. He just said that in hindsight it was unwise to use as the excerpt for TGC out of context. There are multiple things that troubled me, but given my love for the Song and typology, and that I wrote a book about that myself, I want to focus on this one aspect. I’m not disturbed that Butler wants to emphasize that our bodies tell a story. I am disturbed by the way he does typology in that chapter (I’ve only read what was shared online) and how that can ruin the beauty that is meant to delight us. I’m disturbed that while modeling to us the “right way” of doing critique, we were distracted from the wrong way Butler does typology. And that really matters. So let’s go to the Song.

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I don’t know how many women today would be turned on before lovemaking if her groom told her that her neck was like a tower. But the Groom in the Song goes for it, telling her,

“Your neck is like the tower of David, constructed in layers. A thousand shields are hung on it—all of them shields of warriors.”

(Song 4:4)

Her neck is likened to a military structure.[1]

What’s the deal with towers and why is this a sweet nothing? We see the advantage of a tower throughout the Old Testament canon. As Carol Meyers explains, “Whether as an isolated structure in the field (Isa 5:2; Mic 4:9; Gen 35:21) or as the stronghold of a city (Judg 9:46–49; Neh 3:1; 12:39), a tower represents strength and protection.”[2]  Meyers notes how we don’t ever read about an actual tower of David, the military commander extraordinaire, so this is more of an abstraction. [3] It would be the tower of towers. In this verse, this sweet nothing whispered to the bride before lovemaking on her wedding night associates her neck with top-notch military language: tower, David, a thousand shields, warriors.

This is how the Groom sees her.

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This isn’t a book review. Reviewing someone’s memoir doesn’t seem quite right. They just shared their life with you. It’s a brave act. I think it has been Beth Moore’s superpower in her ministry. She is beloved because of how she gives herself to others. And she is a great storyteller. This time, Beth (it seems more appropriate to use her first name given the nature of her communication) tells some of the secrets of her knotted-up life.

In reflecting on the conversation she had with her husband, Keith, about what to share of his own story intermingled with hers, she says,

Vulnerability, in and of itself, is sacred because it mirrors, if even in a glass darkly, the image of Christ.

All My Knotted Up Life

That’s a powerful word. And sharing our stories with the secrets we are still trying to dig out of our own guts is incredibly vulnerable and powerful. I think about how this act images Christ in a way that teaches us to be human.

Frederick Buechner, in his memoir, says, “I am my secrets. And you are your secrets. Our secrets are human secrets, and our trusting each other enough to share them with each other has much to do with the secret of what it is to be human.”

They are often knotted up inside of us and we need the help of others to untangle them, gaze, hold, and make sense of them. Do they define us? Why are they there? All the while, we are trying to answer the questions, Am I known, am I loved, am I okay?

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Sometimes Christians have a hard time talking about our grief. We think we need to be happy all the time. Like our witness to Christ depends on it. Seeing the news from the Southern Baptist Convention yesterday, even though it’s no surprise, still made me sad. And mad. It’s just one snap shot of the condition of the church. And I think we need to grieve that. Maybe right now that is what we need to do as a church. Lament to God. I have been journaling to God some since the new year and this is a short meditation on the personal grief I’ve been carrying in my experiences with church the last few years. And practicing gratitude for it. Grief does something for us and we can embrace that.

I am going to try and practice gratefulness for grief. It’s been over three years of carrying a grief. Much joy and newness has been given in it. Because there was much death. Today, I am grateful for that agony that refused to let me stay numb. The agony that woke me up to then die to faux blessings in my life. To false belonging. To success. And to even being the one to give my kids the “right” path to the faith.

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“Wicked people despise the cost of growth”

I heard someone say this the other day, attributing it to Dan Allender and Tremper Longman. It really stuck to me. We like to think in terms of discipline when we consider the cost of growth, and that is certainly part of it. We can feel good about the cost of discipline as we understand its investment. But what if we have to go backwards some to go forward? What if part of the cost of growth is unlearning?

I’m learning to be grateful for unlearning. What misery it would be if we had to retain what we learn as certainty for our lifetimes! Unlearning is a part of learning. And this gives us freedom and humility, then, to explore who you are, Lord, and your world with your people.

Isn’t repentance also a form of unlearning? Dallas Willard paraphrases Jesus’ words in Matthew 4:17 like this: “‘Rethink your life in light of the fact that the kingdom of heaven is now open to all.’”[1] Because repentance is just that. It is a rethinking, seeing what’s real, turning towards it, shedding the counterfeit, and walking through the door. There’s an unlearning involved.

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I made this in high school
Talk about hoarding.

What a love/hate relationship we have with time! The memories that haunt us, that we cannot get back. The things we wish we could change, the words we wish we said or hadn’t said. The opportunities that we missed out of fear and numbness. The ignorance in us.

But also those moments we wish we could live in again, store them up in a bottle and put it on the fireplace mantle. If only we could pop the cork and enter back into the laughter, the gaze, the touch, the playfulness of a moment. Or if I could just have a day, 24 hours, when my kids were little with chocolate on their faces and mischief in their eyes. Or smell their little baby heads and feel the dimples in their knuckles.

And there’s the moments of trauma we wish we could erase. But they return and intrude, unwelcomed, into our present, saying this is who you are.

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