Editor’s Note: ‘Sunday Shows’ is an extra chaper from Dana Perino’s book ‘Everything Will Be Okay.’
Big sisters can be a real pain. And little sisters can be a real joy.
My sister, Angie, and I grew up arguing just like any other siblings. She’s four years younger, and I reminded her of that all the time. (I’ve since apologized to her for my behavior back then, and she forgave me.) And while I don’t remember much of what we bickered over, there’s one disagreement that sticks out:
Every Saturday we’d have a family meeting to discuss which church service we’d go to the next morning, 8:30 or 11:00 a.m., so that we could plan our weekend.
Angie wanted to sleep in a bit, take her time, and not be so rushed. I, on the other hand, wanted to go to the early service and then to Sunday school so that we could get home in time for me to watch the Sunday morning talk shows. Yes, I was that kid.
I loved Meet the Press, This Week, The McLaughlin Group — all the shows that debated politics and foreign policy. I grew up with the news you might say: My dad and I read the papers together and I’d been assigned to read two articles from The Denver Post or the Rocky Mountain News to discuss with him before dinner every night since I was eight years old.
This was great background and training for when I eventually joined the speech and debate team in junior high through college, and eventually served as the White House press secretary. Sometimes I’d be briefing President George W. Bush on a matter, and I’d have a flashback to the kitchen table when I had to explain my points and be ready to defend my position.
If ever there was a girl who knew exactly what she wanted to do when she grew up, it was me. It just took me quite a circuitous route, a lot of setbacks, and a ton of prayer to get there.
But here I am.
A quick look-back…
Some of my happiest memories from my childhood involved church and learning about God at home. I had an illustrated children’s Bible that meant the world to me. It had a white cover with black lettering and a rainbow on the front cover. Inside were the familiar stories we learned about, including Jonah and the Whale. I can still remember that illustration, with Jonah sitting in the whale’s stomach making a little fire and warming his hands over it. That one really made my imagination run wild. I mean, whales are that big, right?
I grew up Lutheran and attended Bethany Lutheran in Denver and Joy Lutheran in Parker, Colorado. I loved the challenge of memorizing Bible verses and every Sunday you could earn points to spend in the church gift shop. I had a great memory, so I got a lot of ‘Precious Moments’ trinkets. I kept them on the hutch over my desk, lots of little angels watching over my schoolwork.
I remember when I memorized the Beatitudes and was awestruck by their beauty and meaning. They helped me make a little sense out of the world. Blessed be…indeed.
I knew all of the main prayers and creeds and would recite them in my head as I walked to elementary school, each step adding a word.
When I was in fourth and fifth grade, I attended a school way across town as part of the busing system to integrate the Denver schools. It was tough on everyone, including those kids that were bused in the opposite direction over to my neighborhood. During those two years, I got picked on a lot and realize now that I’d been quite sheltered in my childhood up to then.
I was so stressed about being teased and bullied that I’d pray on the bus all the way to school, “Please don’t let them be mad at me. Please don’t let them be mad at me.” I didn’t tell my mom and dad about my problems, but I did tell my Father…and He comforted me for little snippets of time when I could let go of those worries.
Of course, my parents figured out what was going on. They went to the principal and the school board trying to get me some protection. Nothing worked. So we moved our family out to the countryside and I got a fresh start. Looking back, I’m actually glad I went through that. I learned an important lesson — lookout for bullies and help protect your people. Always.
Unlike school during this time, church was a safe haven for me. I sang in the children’s choir. (Not particularly well, but thankfully, the choir director was very forgiving.) Vacation Bible School was something I looked forward to all year, with the big payoff being a week in the mountains at Sky Ranch Bible Camp. S’mores and campfire songs. The best.
Part of our family’s faith involved service to others. My sister and I tagged along on weekends when my parents helped settle refugees, most of them fleeing the former Soviet Union. My dad had a pick-up truck, so when someone donated a washer and dryer, we’d pick it up to deliver to the refugees’ new home. My mom would teach the moms in these families how to read the bus schedule and show them where to catch it. Once, she went all over town looking for a store that would sell this very particular spice because one of the grandmothers said she had to have for her special chicken dish. My mom understood that it wasn’t just about a chicken dinner – it was about settling in and feeling at home.
We also delivered clothes for children and generally helped these families get their fresh start. This was all done legally through the immigration system and Lutheran World Relief. During car rides my parents would explain what was happening to the people living in (and escaping from) the Soviet Bloc, and that really hit me hard: Liberty and freedom were much-prized values in our house.
When I was in junior high, I joined the bell choir and really enjoyed performing concerts on special Sundays and at Christmas and Easter services. I was active in our church youth group, picking up on values through projects that the youth pastor organized.
After college, I moved to Washington and joined Reformation Lutheran, which sat just behind the Supreme Court. That felt right. Justice and faith, right there on the same block.
The singles’ group at Reformation was fantastic. We tutored kids from low-income neighborhoods on Thursday nights and went on long mountain bike rides on Saturdays. I made many friends who I still keep in touch with and rely on for guidance and support.
Church has been such an important part of my upbringing and I’m so grateful for it. Though it wasn’t until I wrote my first book, And the Good News Is…Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side, that I realized how much my foundation in faith and liturgy had been essential to my successful career and marriage. Every important moment I wrote about in my life, God and his grace and mercy were there. Just as all of those lessons taught me as a child have stayed present–indeed, God had my name written in the palm of his hand. He never forgot me.
Fast-forwarding over some typical struggles to make it in the world, I’ve had incredible opportunities in my career. I worked on Capitol Hill, then at the Justice Department, and the White House. Since 2009, I’ve been a part of Fox News Channel, and I get to anchor news coverage, comment on events of the day, and even be a part of the channel’s Sunday show.
The first time I ever appeared on Fox News Sunday, I was so nervous you’d think I’d never stood in front of live cameras and briefed the White House press corps. And the first time I guest-hosted, I had so much adrenaline working that I sweated right through my dress—even though it was so cold in that studio the stage manager was wearing a turtleneck and a fleece! My hairstylist noticed I was burning up during the half-time touch-up she did during a commercial break. She told the control room and they couldn’t believe it: the temperature was down as far as it could go! The next time I filled in for the regular host, I wore a sleeveless dress.
Because of my career path, I’m regularly asked for advice from young women who are trying to figure things out for themselves. As I describe in my latest book, Everything Will Be Okay, many young women face quarter-life crises, where nothing feels like it is turning out the way it was supposed to. And this anxiety can carry on for years as they go through new and different problems in place of what they felt and feared at twenty-five.
While I can offer very good practical suggestions for how to position a young woman for a promotion or a change in career, I’ve been trying to dig a little deeper. I’ve found that what’s often at the root of their anxiety isn’t just wanting more responsibility at the office; rather, it’s wanting to live better, more fulfilled lives. To be their most authentic selves. To return to a place of serenity that they remember learning about when they were younger.
While I stress personal responsibility, commitment, and good decision-making, I also add a little heart. I remind them to think about those lessons they learned as a child, and that maybe they’ve been distanced from as they became busy adults, wives, moms, and bosses. I stress that faith is not separate from all of the “to do’s” on our list, but a part of it.
In giving advice to other women, I relate stories about how I needed to surrender to God when I have been distressed, or when I feel like I’m living in a much too comfortable bubble and feel a need to reconnect. I explain what it’s like to be told by people that I’m too nice – which basically means they think I’m a pushover, especially with how I handled the press when I was the White House press secretary. But I’m old enough now to accept that I am who I am, and that God not only gave me talents, but also the ability to cope with the worries that creep into my thoughts. How I choose to deal with these things is up to me.
I’ve learned that I have to actively integrate my beliefs into my daily life. One thing I’ve done to help keep me grounded and on track spiritually is to receive the daily hope devotional email from Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church in California. My mom gets the same email. There are so many days that we forward one of the devotionals to each other saying, “We were just talking about this yesterday!” It’s amazing how often that happens. It’s a little wink and a nod from above—proof God is listening and providing a lighted path, as long as I have my eyes open enough to see it.
When I’m mentoring young women, I suggest my mentees remember to ask God for guidance when they are:
unsure what they want to do in a career facing tough choices about work and familydealing with disappointment – didn’t get the job, the raise, or the husbandexperiencing success, perhaps being promoted over a friend and coworkerfeeling out of control schedule-wise, and accepting new responsibilities with excitement and believing they have earned it
In all of these moments, prayer helps. Without it, you can just churn on an issue, get yourself worked up, and lie awake all night with tortured thoughts. The only sure-fire way to settle yourself is to go back to what you learned as a child: Say your prayers, remember that God has you in the palm of His hand, and He will never forget you.
Having a spiritual partner, friend, or spouse, is also very important to your well-being. And social media is not the same as having a church youth group or circle of confidantes. Though social media can be a source of inspiration, you have to be smart and twice as careful about how you interact on those platforms. If social media is dragging you down, making you feel bad, or causing you to act in a way you would never have imagined you would – that’s a clear sign to end your interactions. Mute or unfollow. Delete your accounts. Put down the phone. Be free!
I realize that I make this sound kind of easy, but believe me, I know it is not. I still struggle with remembering to turn things over to God. Why do I try to solve these problems by myself? I should know by now what the answer is: life becomes easier when we walk in faith.
Lately, I’ve taken to saying a prayer for everyone I see on my commute. I pray the bodega owner has a peaceful day, that the bus driver knows he is loved, that the young mother pushing a stroller has all the patience she needs to get through the day. I constantly remind myself that everyone is going through something, and that we all need to help one another in order not just to get through life but to enjoy it as God meant for us to do. Thinking about others helps me stop thinking about myself so much.
A few years ago, I was walking home from the studio when a woman from Ohio stopped me on Broadway.
“Are you Dana Perino?” she asked, “Oh you are!” I smiled and offered a hug (this was pre-Covid 19 of course). It was my way of taking the embarrassment of being recognized out of the moment – I just wanted her to know I appreciated her greeting me.
She and her husband were on a trip to Manhattan, and they were on their way to see a musical. She said she didn’t want to bother me but wanted to thank me for being willing to express my faith publicly. She said that isn’t easy to do, and that it was very much appreciated.
I was surprised to hear that. I thanked her and gave her another hug. We took a selfie, and they went on to the theater.
I walked home thinking that over.Maybe God has a way for me to spread His word in subtle ways when the opportunity arises. Maybe I should shake off my hesitancy to talk about my faith on air.
I reflected on how my former boss President Bush was not afraid to talk about his faith, felt sustained by prayer, and relied on God to help when he was making big decisions. If he could do it, there on the world stage, surely I could do it on The Five.
And I can write about it for my readers. If it can help one person have a more peaceful heart, it’s worth it.
Sometimes I’m asked how I stay so calm when there’s so much strife, anger, partisanship, and rancor. I think it is because I truly believe that everything will be okay – ultimately, it surely will be. That’s something we can count on.
Well, that and the Sunday shows. Those have staying power, too.
400 Bad Request
400 Bad Request