Shelby Abbott: Meet the New Guy
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Shelby AbbottShelby Abbott is an author, campus minister, and conference speaker on staff with the ministry of Cru. His passion for university students has led him to speak at college campuses all over the United States. Abbott is the author of Jacked and I Am a Tool (To Help with Your Dating Life), Pressure Points: A Guide to Navigating Student Stress and DoubtLess: Because Faith is Hard. He and his wife, Rachael, have two daughters and live in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.
Real Life Loading is FamilyLife’s brand-new podcast for young adults. Here’s your chance to meet its host, author and speaker Shelby Abbott.
Shelby Abbott: Meet the New Guy
Shelby: If you deal with stuff in an earlier age, you're able to be freed up to do more for the glory of God in your later years. College-age students—or young business professionals that are just getting started—they change the world; they are the future. Dr. Bill Bright was like: “If you reach the college campus today, you reach the world tomorrow.” Well, if you reach young people today, you will reach the world tomorrow. Young people today are experiencing struggles and difficulties in ways that have never been experienced before because of the internet age.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Okay; so what would you guess was pretty much my pet peeve with the church, growing up?
Ann: Being fake/people not being real.
Dave: How did you know?! I didn’t think you were going to get this one.
Ann: Are you kidding? Because you talk about that a lot.
Dave: Yes; I mean, it’s just/that was it, more than anything: is you sit there, and you feel like everybody’s sort of plastic.
Ann: —or you feel like: “I can never attain to what they have”; and so you think, “It's hopeless for me.”
Dave: Yes, I felt like I was probably the worst sinner: “I thought things/did things nobody else here does.” And then I found out: “Guess what? [Laughter] Everybody there is broken and hurting; but again, nobody would talk about it.”
And if I would say—the next generation: our kids and even our grandkids—“What are they looking for in a community of believers?”—realness.
So today, we get to talk about real life with Shelby Abbott. Shelby is in the studio with us. You're going to recognize his voice as soon as he says, “Hello.” But Shelby, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Shelby: Hello. [Laughter]
Dave: Now say/say a couple more words so people will go: “I think I've heard that voice somewhere.”
Shelby: On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I am here; yes.
Dave: Why would somebody recognize your voice?
Shelby: Because I recently took over for Bob Lepine as the voice of FamilyLife Today, talking to our listeners at the end of each program. It has been a huge learning curve for me. I sat under the best, who was at it for 30 years.
Ann: —as we did. It's not easy; is it?
Shelby: It's not easy; it's really not easy! I thought I would be able to translate the skills that I have—when I've done stage stuff in front of students over the last 20 years—I thought I'd be able to translate it pretty easily into communicating behind a microphone. It's actually been a lot more difficult than I anticipated and humbling—but in a good way—because I feel like I've grown and learned quite a bit in the last year or so, learning under Bob Lepine.
Dave: Yes, and Bob’s
Ann: He's the best.
Dave: the master coach.
Shelby: He is.
Dave: He coached and mentored us for almost three years in studio with him; and now, without him; and now, the same with you. And so I mean, we're/the three of us are sitting here, thinking, “Whoa!”
Ann: We’re like his children. [Laughter]
Dave: Yes, we are. We've replacedyou know, Dennis and Bob were legends; they had built something that Godit's unbelievable. And to sit here is pretty humbling.
Shelby: Yes; I'm just grateful to be in the room.
Ann: Shelby, tell us, like: “What's your past? What have you been doing?”
Shelby: The last two years, specifically, I've been with FamilyLife on the content team, writing. The previous 20 years to that, since I graduated from college at Virginia Tech, I was on staff with the Campus Ministry of Cru®. I was seven years at James Madison University in Virginia, working directly with students—discipling, evangelism—all that kind of good stuff.
And then, since 2006, I've been doing a number of different things with Cru, still in the Campus Ministry. I did some stand-up comedy for four years. Then I did some stuff with our publishing arm in the Campus Ministry, with marketing and things like that; worked with a media team of videographers and graphic designers. And always kind of writing in the background: I wrote a few books for the Campus Ministry as well.
Ann: Yes; we've had you on with a book that you've written. What are the books that you've written?
Shelby: With the Campus Ministry, I wrote a book called Jacked, which is a devotional about motivating and inspiring students to share their faith. It's kind of like short little snippets to help them gain a heart for communicating the gospel with others.
Dave: How did you come up with a title named Jacked?
Shelby: I thought: “If you had a proper perspective on what the Scriptures communicate on how you should communicate, you get totally amped up; you get jacked for it.” [Laughter] It's not like jackedlike messed upbut jackedlike super-ripped and energetic.
Shelby: That's where that came from.
I decided, at one point, too, that a lot of students, who I was working with, had a lot of great qualities in a lot of different ways; but they were getting it wrong when it came to relationships with the opposite sex. I decided to write a book—kind of to what would have been my college self—about dating and how to handle dating in this modern world of internet technology, and smartphones, and
Dave: That one’s called Amped? [Laughter]
Shelby: That one is actually even more clever. It's called I Am a Tool:
Dave: I remember that.
Shelby: To Help with Your Dating Life. Yes, so I wrote that one as well.
Dave: Yes; by the way, you can go back and listen to those interviews on FamilyLife Today. Just go to our website.
You're also married.
Shelby: I am.
Dave: Talk about that: how long?kids?
Shelby: Rachel and I have been married for 15 and a half years. We got married in the early part of the summer of ’06. We have two daughters: a 10-year-old named Quinn and an 8-year-old named Hayden. They are delightful and very difficult at the same time. High highs have been with my kids; low lows have been with my kids—and the most sanctifying work that Jesus has done in my life, apart from a couple of physical ailments that I've had, has been being a father. But I've loved it.
Ann: —said every parent:—
Shelby: Yes, exactly. [Laughter]
Ann: —“The high highs and the low lows.”
Shelby: Everyone’s like: “Yes, I'll raise my hand to that too”; yes.
Dave: And you have a passion for an age groupcollege age/18 to 28and have launched a podcast with FamilyLife called Real Life Loading...
Shelby: That's right.
Dave: Talk about that; what is that all about?
Shelby: I wanted to be a part of the solution when it came to the real issues that young people wrestle with—that is a unique period in their life—they're out from under the kind of label of high school; so they're out, either in college or doing some sort of vocational work. They're not in grade school anymore, so they're making decisions that are impacting their future. They're doing it, not because their parents want them to do it, generally; they're doing it because they make those decisions to do them on their own.
And leading from the college-age years, 18 to 22—and then 23 to 28 or so—you're starting to get your feet under you. You're starting to figure out: who you are, what you're passionate about, what you're going to be gifted at the most, what kind of contribution you can make to the world. That unique period of time will often lay the groundwork for what the rest of your life will look like; not always, of course.
But I've also found that, in those moments, it is formative in a number of different ways; because you can't lean back on the experience that you have, because there is not a whole lot of experience. But you have all this energy, at the same time, to be able to pour your life into something and be passionate about it. I found that college-age students—or young business professionals that are just getting started—they change the world; they are the future. Dr. Bill Bright was like: “If you reach the college campus today, you reach the world tomorrow.” Well, if you reach young people today, you will reach the world tomorrow.
Young people today are experiencing struggles and difficulties in ways that have never been experienced before because of the internet age. I really wanted to create a podcast that was Christ-focused, theologically sound, super real and honest about the struggles that they go through in order to help kind of be a well-trusted guide to come alongside of them/a well-trusted friend, to say, “Let me help you walk with Jesus in the humor and hardship of life, because it's a combination of the both.”
Dave: Yes, so let's talk about Shelby Abbott when he was that age. [Laughter] I mean, partly, we want to talk about Real Life Loading… and hear some more, where you're going with that; but our listeners are like: “Who is this guy that does the intros and back-ends of FamilyLife Today?—Shelby Abbott.”
So when you were 18better than that—go back to like 7/8 years old. Tell us a little bit about your family. If you could think of a word or two to describe your home, or your upbringing, what would it be?
Shelby: Well, I come from a broken home. My folks got divorced when I was three, and then my mom remarried when I was six. When my mom remarried, the man who I call my dadhe's raised me since I was sixhe was in the military. So military lifestyle—like if you know it—you know it and you understand it. I went from being in one place in California my whole life to, all of a sudden, moving all of the time. And relatively—at the time, [at six,]—I used to be a relatively inflexible person: not wanting to take many risks, kind of very shy and wanting to keep to myself, just always do the right thing.
The military lifestyle forces you out of that, for good and for bad. It makes you into the type of person: you’ve got to make friends quickly, or you're not going to make friends at all. Being the constant new kid in school came with its significant challenges; but at the same time, it also made me into the person I am today. Looking back on it, I probably wouldn't choose it, again, for myself; but I'm also deeply grateful for it.
I mean, just to give you a small example of what that means:
- My freshman year of high school, we were in Stafford, Virginia. My dad was assigned to the Pentagon, so he worked at the Pentagon that year.
- My sophomore year, we were in Montgomery, Alabama.
- My junior year, we were in Great Falls, Montana.
- Then, my senior year, my father got an assignment to go to Panama, Central America. I decided to stay behind and live with a different family my senior year, while my family moved to a different country.
I had four different experiences for four different high school years. So being the new kid, and being constantly uprooted with that, is just—you can grow bitter and cynical about those kinds of things—part of me did in a lot of different ways. But I look back on that, and I'm actually/I see the finger of God leading me, through those difficult years, to shape me into the person I am today. I'm grateful for the pain, so to speak.
Ann: We kind of sidestepped thatlike your parents got divorced when you were three—tell us about your dad a little bit/your biological dad. Do you have a relationship with him? And was that divorce somethingbecause a lot of kids in that 18- to 28-year-olds/they've gone through that experience of their parents being separated, or divorced, or there's just so much going on in their lives—was that difficult for you?
Shelby: Yes, of course. I mean, it was one of those things, where my mom got full custody of me and my sister; but then we had summer visitation rights with my father. We would spend the school year with my mom and my dad/my stepdad; and then, during the summer, for about 8 weeks or so, we would go back to California and spend the summer with him.
When it came to my father, he was interested in me until he wasn't. I kind of recognized that he talked a big game about a lot of stuff; he was kind of an over-promiser and an under-deliverer. My eyes were open to that around the age of ten or so. When that happened, our relationship fractured when I discoveredI kind of lost a little bit of that childhood innocence, of like, “Just believe whatever Mom and Dad tell you,”—all of a sudden, I questioned that, specifically with him; and that changed everything.
I think even, it changed for him, too; because he wasn't used to being questioned by his own children. Since that age, he popped around a few more times. I didn't have to go back for summer visitation when I reached adolescence, and so I chose not to. Then I saw him at my high school graduation. He came to my graduation; and then I didn't see him again for close to, I think 17 years. That was the: “…just not interested anymore in me.” There was no phone calls, no cards at Christmas, no “Would you be willing to come down and visit?” I think, at one point, he had said, “My door’s always open,”—kind of putting it on me, like, “You can always come down and visit me,”—but not taking an interest in my life.
I became a Christian in that period of time, January of my freshman year. I tried to reconcile with him. I remember specifically, through email my senior year, emailing him back and forth, seeing if he wanted to connect. There's just not a lot of reciprocation there either. So the last time I saw him was at his mom’s funeral, back in 2017; and that is the first time I had seen him in almost two decades.
Ann: Okay, that's big stuff.
Shelby: Yes, it’s a lot.
Ann: You’re kind of going through it: “Yes, this happened…” “This happened...” As we all do when we've gone through anything traumatic, growing up; it's just: “That's my life; that's normal.”
But now, as a man—and now, as a dad—like that probably broke you in many ways inside, of feeling—I'm guessing as a kid—like that's rejection and abandonment.
Shelby: Yes; I don't think I would have ever labeled that when I was younger as that, but seeing a counselor in my late 30s helped me to recognize just exactly what you were saying. I was struggling with a lot of anger, particularly manifesting itself in kind of road rage. [Laughter] I would just scream and be angry in the car, and yell at people—and while I was in the car by myself—like just yelling at people.
Dave: You mean, that’s not normal, Shelby?
Shelby: No, it's not normal. You need to see a counselor. Dave. You need to see someone.
Ann: I've been telling him that about his driving. [Laughter]
Dave: My wife has told me that multiple times; she really has.
Shelby: I got to a point, where I was like: “This is abnormal. I should not be this angry over someone not using their blinker.” [Laughter] So my wife Rachel
Dave: How about the guy that drives in the left lane/the passing lane at 55? [Laughter]
Shelby: Yes; [Laughter] “Move!” “Move!”
Dave: “Move over.” Okay, sorry.
Shelby: The problem I discovered was with me, not necessarily with traffic. My wife Rachel was like, “Why don't you see someone about it?” I was like, “Okay”; so I decided to.
It took a while to peel back the layers in the course of meeting with my counselor; but he put his finger on something specific, and said, “Do you see what happened with your father in this moment?” It was right around the age of eight, where I began to discover some of the truths about who my father actually was. I was able to trace that all the way up to the things that I fundamentally wrestled with, as an adult—of like acceptance, love, trying to perform in order to gain people’s approval—things like that.
Then after I said that, he goes: “How old is your oldest daughter right now?” “She's like seven/eight.” He goes, “Do you think that's a coincidence?” And it/my world just opened up there; and I was like, “Oh, I'm seeing my life, again, through the eyes of my daughter in this moment, when she is the age that I was when I experienced this moment of deep wounding that made mewell, it made me understand who I am in a lot of ways, and what my motivation is behind stuff—but it also made me to go, ‘Okay, now I can understand that; see it; label it; and then be able to get on the solution side of it, through the power of God's redeeming work in my life/through the power of the Spirit.’” So it's beautiful.
Dave: Yes, talk about that a little bit. Because in some ways, I have a very similar story, when I was watching my five- or six-year-old son play on the carpet in front of us, a Sunday afternoon, and said, “Can you believe my dad left when I was that age?” And she, with wisdom, says, “You know, you’ve got issues with your dad.” I'm like, “What are you talking about?! My dad and I are fine.” She literally said, “You're going to have to choose to forgive him one day.” I sort of laugh like:
Ann: like: “I'm a pastor; I've forgiven him.”
Dave: Yes, I just didn't think I really needed to take that journey. And lo and behold, my wife was right again.
Shelby: Yes; yes.
Dave: But it started me on a—I thought it would be a week or two journey—and it was almost five years of this journey toward forgiveness of my dad. Have you gone on a similar journey, or are you still in the journey?
Shelby: Yes, that's a good question. I'm still in that journey.
This is Shelby Abbott and you're listening to Dave and Ann’s conversation with me actually. We’ll hear about the journey of forgiving my dad in just a minute; but first, I want to jump in here and say I joined Family Life’s team because I believe in the mission: biblical truth, applied to today's family, is arguably more important now than ever.
If you feel the same way, would you consider supporting FamilyLife Today with a donation? When you give any amount this week, we want to send you a copy of my book called What's the Point?: Asking the Right Questions about Living Together and Marriage. It's our way of saying, “Thanks,” when you give anytime this week. You can do that, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, the number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright; now, back to my conversation with Dave and Ann and the ongoing struggle to forgive my dad.
After the funeralhis mom's funeral—when I saw him most recently, it was an open bar; and he was about four or five drinks in. He came and sat down at my table; and said, “Can't we just put all this stuff behind us? You know, I want to have a relationship with you.” I was like, “If you want to talk about this for real, when you're not completely hammered, like I'm willing to do that.”
When I got back from that funeral, I was really angry/just really angry. I remember telling my wife: “I'm just angry, because he did this and said this again. There's never going to be any kind of reconciliation.”
I remember, driving back from something one time, listening to a Tim Keller sermon on forgiveness. The Holy Spirit just super—super just specifically convicting my heart of the fact that I had not forgiven my father—I was like [whispering], “Man, I need to forgive my father.” I'm like coming, face to face, grips with it.
I got home. We had little kids, so I told Rachel/I was like, “Hey, I need to talk to you about something after we put the kids to bed tonight. If I don't tell you right now that we need to talk about it later, I'm going to stuff it and not want to talk about it.” She was like: “Ugggghh, is this—
Ann: “Well, that’s scary.”
Shelby: —“does have to do with me?” I was like: “No, no, no; it's about my father, and I think I need to forgive him.” And she was like, “Oh, okay.”
Sure enough, a couple hours later, we finally get the kids down. She's like, “Alright, we need to talk about it.” I was like, “I don't want to talk about it.” She's like, “You told me that you want to talk about this.” I was like, “Okay, I think I need to forgive my father.”
This was a few years ago that I said that to him, but I'm still in the midst of that journey. I'm very close to writing something. We have been emailing, back and forth—me and my father—just kind of news and weather type stuff, saying in a couple paragraphs, really nothing to one another. Sometimes, I'll respond to him; and sometimes, I won't, depending on how I'm doing in those moments.
But God has really been working in my life that, if I truly believe that God—in His infinite purity, [holiness], and wisdom, decided to reach out to me and forgive me for my cosmic sin against His purity and holiness—I need to be willing to forgive others, who have sinned against me as a reflection of what Jesus has done for me. So when I focus on the person of Christ, and my relationship with God, then I'm able to see forgiveness in a new light.
I'm not where you're at, Dave; but I'm in the process. I'm steadily inching closer, all the time, to getting to that moment.
Dave: It can be a long process. Again, I thought—Ephesians 4:32—I preached that, as a preacher: “As Christ has forgiven you, so you forgive others.” I just was naive enough to think: “Oh, okay; I know this; I teach this. Let's do this.” Four or five years later, I'm struggling along, like, “Oh, my goodness.”
I remember, when I was reading a book, Forgive and Forget by Lewis Smedes. Lewis Smedes says in this book: “When you forgive someone, you set a prisoner free, only to discover you’re the prisoner.”
Shelby: Yes, yes.
Dave: I can tell you, on the other side of that, the freedom that's on the other side of forgiveness. And again, it isn't like one-and-done; because you still get triggered, and there’s still things that come up. But when you really do give up your right to punish—I used to stand in front of the men at our church and say: “I became a man at age 35,”—you know, it's like: “Well, you've been a man since…” “No, I was not free until God did that/what Smedes calls spiritual surgery.”
Here's the question: in your own life, you're walking that journey; we're going to talk more about this—but that's a journey that the 18- to 28-year-olds that you are speaking to, and passionate about—man; oh, man—“Our kids/they're walking that journey as well”; right?
Shelby: Yes, they are. They may not be able to put their finger on it the way that they want to or if they've been to a counselor. A lot have been to a counselor. I've seen some pretty emotionally-healthy and really emotionally-intelligent young people be able to pinpoint exactly what was going on in their lives, when they were younger, and say, “This is why I am this way.” It took me until my late 30s to figure that out; and I'm, obviously, still in the process.
The reason that I wanted—specifically, with this podcast that I'm starting with FamilyLife—to get into these things, early on—the more you allow God to work in the reality of your life, earlier on, the more God uses you—without all your: “It's all about me and my issues,”—and you get tripped up over that.
But if you deal with stuff in an earlier age, you're able to be freed up to do more for the glory of God in your later years. That often comes with someone putting a mirror up to your face and saying: “Is this the issue that you're wrestling with now?” If we can deal with those things, early on, in someone's life, they're going to be able to be freed up to do the glorious work that Jesus has for them in their later years, and not be tripped up by the issues that have tripped me up, for example, for so long.
So we're not just talking about father wounds, which you know, there are plenty of those—but we're talking about: anxiety; we're talking about fear; loneliness; addiction; all the new problems that come to the surface as a result of social media and the internet, which are, in reality, old problems that are just being forced to the surface a lot quicker because of the internet and social media. I want to confront those—head on/deal with them—allow people to work through them in a healthy way and be able to point to Jesus and say: “He deserves the glory for this,” and “There's grace for the failings that you're in right now. It's going to get nothing but better as you get older.”
I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to my conversation with Dave and Ann Wilson on FamilyLife Today. If you know anyone who needs to hear conversations like this, we'd love it if you would tell them about this station. You can share today's specific conversation from wherever you get your podcasts.
Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson will continue their conversation with me. I open up about some of my struggles from trying to earn my own salvation, to opioid addiction because of chronic pain. It's about to get, for real, real. That's tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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