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Time to stand up to cyberbullies


Leave the children alone. And for that matter, leave my brothers and sisters alone. Leave my family alone.

It’s about time someone stood up to the bullies.

Even though I’ve had enough of pastors and others using the pulpit and the keyboard to embarrass, ridicule, and point to the “sins” of others, while hiding behind LLC’s, half-truths, and undocumented videos to spread misinformation–until now I’ve chosen to ignore such foolishness for the most part rather than to expend any energy on it.

Cyberharassment or cyberstalking that affects and targets a family, however, has now caught my attention, and those adults who engage children in such endeavors are no longer on equal ground and the ick gets ickier, the stakes are raised, and the bullies need to remember that words do hurt.

Adult bullies may easily forget they are dealing with children, and when children suffer, so do their families–and so do we all.

Many may have the misconception that anyone old enough to hold a phone, create a Facebook account, or set up a Twitter ID is old enough to defend themselves against an onslaught of vicious remarks and moral commentary–but they’re wrong.

Children and teenagers, especially those who are born into minister’s families, are especially vulnerable. They may already feel like they live in a fishbowl and have no right to privacy.

I should know.

It was my own imperfect son, now an adult with four children, who pointed out to me last night that one of my dearest friends’ own teenage son took his life following a month of what another close friend described as by being “cyberbullied” by “merciless” bloggers and Tweeters.

Just because the teenager chose to live in this century and engage in social media, didn’t mean he invited adults to engage in conversation or talk openly about his life choices without his permission. That’s called cyber-harassment and cyber-stalking, according to a law enforcement website.

Some of the folks who engaged in that egregious behavior have had a disagreement with my friend for years. And they’ve let him and others know it. They’ve contacted media outlets. They’ve broadcasted their concerns far and wide. They’ve put a lot of energy into telling their side of the story. They seemingly refuse to agree to disagree with my friend or others who don’t see things their way. They relentlessly stalk him, taunt him, badger him, and refuse to go away.

I can’t tell you the depths of despair I am in for my friend and his wife. For all of my friends out there who have been publicly flayed by a communications phenomenon that is easily and readily used to edify and exhort, to uplift and encourage, to hold accountable–but has all too often been used to destroy, damage, embarrass, ridicule, harass and vent–I’m sorry and disappointed.

Apparently, it’s now OK to go against the grain of what even those who are outside our evangelical world know is forbidden. Apparently it’s OK to draw the children in.

Oh, the stories we can all tell about this person’s daughter who got pregnant out of wedlock, or this person’s son who lived a homosexual lifestyle, or this person’s daughter who listened to crazy music and read trashy books, or this person’s son who spewed forth bad language in a public place, or this person’s daughter who has a drug problem, or this person’s son who spent time in jail for stealing or this person’s daughter who wore dresses that are shorter than we consider modest.

But to what end shall we go about airing the sins of our children or putting ourselves in the seat of judge and deciding about which aspects of their lives we should publicly comment?

Instead, friends, when tempted by the White Witch (Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis) who offers us bold words, or too much Turkish Delight–flee. Don’t be drawn in by those who are bent on destruction. Think about what might motivate men (and women) who lead by slander and by seeking to find fault with others–and post or RT with comments and photos of people’s families and children and grandchildren–in order to ridicule or belittle them.

Steer clear of preachers, ministers, writers, bloggers, and commenters who are so immature that they lead you down a path that mixes in just enough Bible truth with plain nonsense to make themselves sound reasonable. They are seeking to build their own kingdoms, not the Kingdom. Listen for the Holy Spirit to guide you.

And when you are tempted to tell me what is permissible according to the First Amendment, let me remind you that whatsoever might appear to be strictly legal, is not always the right thing to do.

Finally, brothers and sisters–we can and should agree to disagree on many issues, including how one should repent and what one should repent for.

I leave for you this passage my mother marked in her Bible many years ago from Philippians:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable — if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise — dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:4-9 ESV).

For our children–and for our families–stand up to the cyberbullies!


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July 30, 2014 · 7:17 pm

A Narnia kind of summer

Madelyn, 6; Joey, 7; and Ella, 1.75

Madelyn, 6; Joey, 7; and Ella, 1.75

One of the most positive things about being in a job transition is that I have been able to have a delightful time sharing unexpected moments with my grandchildren.

It’s been a Narnia kind of summer for me. Not all bad, not all good, but full of unexpected surprises.

Two days ago, after spending a delightful Sunday lunch with three of our four grandchildren and their other grandmother — my husband and I took Ella June, who is 21-months-old, and Joey, almost 7, home for the rest of the day.

We quickly changed into swimwear and headed to the neighborhood pool.

“Nana, nana, Papa, Papa,” Ella squealed. She relished at jumping into our arms, floating around using a special safety device, and climbing the steps to splash with me in the kiddie pool.

Joey jumped off the diving board a few times, raced me to the side of the pool to claim his goggles, and snorkeled with Papa for a bit before heading off to meet some of the kids from near his house.

It’s been a lot of fun to live in the same neighborhood just a few blocks away from our children and grandchildren for the past few months. They bring certain peace and great joy.

I really got a look when I suggested a popular burger place and ice cream for a quick dinner. I know my husband must have thought I got too much sun or something!

Tucking the kids into bed later and snapping off the light, I remember thinking about all of the little snatches of conversation we had. There was the “talk” about a new bedspread for the kids room I am making from a Bible storytelling cloth. There was the conversation about healthy food we eat (usually) to take care of the bodies God gave us. There was the easy choice of C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian to watch at home after dinner.

Prince Caspian through the eyes of a seven year old was pure joy. Instead of a typical war movie or a movie about the battle between good and evil, it was the opportune time for Joey to learn how C.S. Lewis wove biblical principles into almost every aspect of the battle–from the strategy of always being ready to give a good defense–to showing mercy and grace. The idea of how evil will tempt us and those whom we love. And how we can go to God (Aslan) who is waiting for us–on our behalf and also intercede for others. It was as if in every minute of the movie, there was another clear principle. And Joey got it. I mean he really, really got it. He was articulate about pointing out the principles all of the way through.

Wow. I really admired C.S. Lewis before and I’ve long been a fan, but now I know for sure. It’s not the writing, the actors, the presentation, the scenes, the technicians, or the moviemakers. It’s the sheer story in all of its glory that holds me and my grandchildren.

It’s the knowledge that in the background, all-knowing Aslan is watching over everything.

This morning, after I talked to his baby sister on the phone and after we discussed rewriting a story for a better lead, and I showed him the before and after story I recently completed for a client–Joey asked me about the genuine Turkish Delight he discovered in my food cupboard.

“Can I try it?”

“But of course,” I told him. “Who do you think I got it for.”

“I thought so,” he dimpled. “I thought so.”

So much fun in just a few hours.

Deeply enriching. Full of meaning.

All a part of our Narnia kind of summer.

Resting in the knowledge that our all-knowing God is ever present. He provides joy, peace, comfort and contentment. And often He does it through those little ones we are privileged to call grandchildren.

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July 29, 2014 · 11:27 pm

‘Radar’ Hannigan keeps our family on target

Papa and the grands on Father's Day 2014.

Papa and the grands on Father’s Day 2014.

His Army nickname was “radar” because of the way he could hone in on ball almost anywhere on the field and snatch it up in time to throw it across home plate.

I’ve watched him in action through more than three decades now—in his twenties, his thirties, his forties, his fifties. Though he’s less inclined to chase balls in the outfield, and he’s traded his bat for a nine iron—his laser focus to detail hasn’t waned.

John Hannigan is, as usual, right on target.

I was thinking of this as we celebrated his 58th birthday June 14 watching the Houston Astros beat the Tampa Bay Rays before celebrating with contemporary Christian artist Bart Millard, lead singer of Mercy Me.

My husband must be the source of my son’s affinity for the expression, “ah-ma-zing!”

Just a child of seven when his mom died in 1963, he quickly “manned up” as the eldest of an eventual six siblings before joining the Army at age 18.

Promoted through the infantry, he was known for driving, sharpshooting and logistics. By the time I met up with him he had already served in Germany and the Washington D.C. area, and was a rising star at National Security Agency (NSA) taking a refresher course in Texas.

God had a plan in mind. An Army Sergeant with an eye on a Navy Seaman isn’t supposed to fly—but we were on an Air Force base in San Angelo, Texas anyway. So since everything’s bigger in Texas, God went big. He decided we needed to be together and John made his move.

Just a few weeks later, we tied the knot. I have never regretted that decision. I was 19, and he was 24. Nearly 34 years later we are still open to God’s direction – and when people ask why we have moved around so much, my answer is simple—military, ministry, and education.

We began the journey from fulltime military to ministry nearly 30 years ago when John left active duty to pursue a call to church administration and education—and spent nearly half that time preparing for ministry. Since 1986 he earned two undergraduate degrees and a seminary graduate degree. He has pastored a few small churches, been on staff of a few medium size churches and more recently served as business manager for a state Baptist newspaper for more than a decade.

Of all the changes, however, this last move has been the most bittersweet. It wasn’t a transition prompted by any one thing, but instead was a move made completely by choice. I believe it was God’s prompting us to act, instead of react, to circumstances that could have quickly led to total burnout.

And for the first time in our 34 years of marriage, it wasn’t completely clear where we were to go. There were no job offers in a particular geographical location, no living arrangements already set up, and no commitments about what I would do next since our children had long since flown the coop. We just knew things had to change and because we had pledged to “finish strong” we left ourselves with few opportunities to plan ahead for the future.

Throughout the long afternoon on John’s birthday, watching the pitcher get ready to throw out the ball, I thought of how much we had grown comfortable with living in the same city, going to the same churches, driving though the same neighborhood, shopping at the same stores, and frequenting the same dry cleaners this past 12 years. I thought of the various doctors and lawyers and leaders and law enforcement personnel we met. I was struck by how much we cultivated relationships with staffs at certain restaurants, salons, and other service industries.

And then I thought of how easy it was to ignore the obvious. I don’t believe the choice we made to leave Florida was easy—but it has been a blessing to be able to reflect on what a gift it was to have been given so many opportunities and to build so many relationships while we were there.

And through it all, I have grown to appreciate John more than he will ever realize. Yes, he is willing for us to trust God more day-to-day so that we can spend more time with each other and with our family.

He is laser focused where it matters.

Did I remember to pack bathing suits? Does our granddaughter have her pacifier? Does our grandson need a new baseball glove? Do I need to teach our granddaughter to sew? Have I thought about a shower gift for our newest granddaughter? Do we have a date yet for our daughter’s wedding? Did our son call?

Yes, the world goes on. I have important communication-related assignments and I don’t think God is finished with me yet in that realm—but it’s John’s laser focus that helps keep me on top of it all.

It took only a few weeks of living out of suitcases to come to a conclusion that we would commit to living in Houston for this time in our lives. He is working from home and I have hung my shingle as the owner of “Intro,” a communications company providing editing, writing, photojournalism, and social media services.

It doesn’t take much to make Papa happy. Two great kids, a wonderful (and very pregnant) daughter-in-law, three adoring grandchildren, and a soon to be son-in-law who spends time with him on the golf course.

At the Astros game Saturday celebrating Papa’s birthday in a box overlooking the stadium, a treat our son John III planned—my heart was happy to see the family having so much fun.

And then, we realized that God had something even greater in mind. Bart Millard and Mercy Me were in the suite right next to us. Not long after our daughter, Belinda, realized this, Bart and the entire band stepped over into our family picture—and wished John a happy birthday.

It is a moment in time we won’t forget. During the concert, listening to the well anticipated, “I Can Only Imagine”—I thought about an evening years ago in my tiny kitchen in Germany when the children were young and how I thanked God for my husband and my life. I could never have imagined how blessed we would be.

Watching them all at the game, still thanking God for my husband some thirty years later, I could never have imagined my life with my wonderful husband who is a great father and a beloved grandfather.

I love you John Hannigan. I hope you had a happy birthday and a happy father’s day.

John C. Hannigan is the CEO of Hannigan Companies, LLC a business support company assisting Sonova Systems LLC. He holds the Master of Arts in Christian Education (church administration) degree from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo., 2000; and a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies (business) degree and a Bachelor of Religious Education Degree from Hannibal LaGrange University (Hannibal, Mo.), 1989. He retired from the United States Army Reserves in 2000 as Sergeant First Class and is a disabled American veteran with a service-connected disability.

Joni B. Hannigan is president of Houston-based Intro, LLC. She is wife to John; mom to John III (Melissa) and Belinda; and Nana to Joey, Madelyn and Elizabeth. Joni holds the Master of Education degree from Park University (2000) in Parkville, Mo., and the Bachelor of Science in Education (Secondary-English/Journalism) from Hannibal-LaGrange University (1992) in Hannibal, Mo. She was formerly the managing editor of a newspaper in Florida for 12 years, a public high school teacher, a BSU director,  and a veteran of the United States Navy. She and John have been married nearly 34 years. They reside in Houston, Texas.



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Memorial Day memory: Freedom is not free

IMG2242903HI (1)Every Memorial Day is made more poignant to me by the memory of U.S. Army Specialist Eric Ramirez.

I didn’t know personally the 31-year-old soldier who died Feb. 12, 2004 when his patrol was attacked near Baghdad, Iraq – but I covered his military funeral and burial for the newspaper I managed in Florida.

Eric’s dad was a bilingual pastor and the mayor of a central Florida town, when his son, a San Diego sheriff and father of two, was set to return home just a month before he was slain.

Over 200 mourners packed the 190-seat church, while 200 more outside under an American flag at half-mast watched the service on monitors.

Eric’s grieving wife joined military officers and friends and family from across the country to talk about his commitment to God and about his love for his family.

He was said to be a “man of action” who will be remembered for his service to his country. Almost expected, said one, is the bravery, that young people have exhibited in times of war.

It was a school board member’s comments about living in a free nation that caught in my heart, however. Glancing down at Eric’s flag-draped casket, and talking about responsibility, he said, “Freedom isn’t free.”

Freedom isn’t free.

It’s the sacrifice of the men and women who have fallen in times of war. It’s the sacrifice of men and women who have been willing to fall. It’s the sacrifice of men and women who have put their lives on hold for something bigger than themselves, to devote themselves to the security of our nation.

Clutching my camera and trying not to intrude upon the family’s private moments, and yet heeding their wishes for me to be there—I felt my heart tear with theirs at the realization that they will live with Eric’s sacrifice—forever.

My service was only a drop in the bucket of time, filled to overflowing with the other gushes and drops of others. Eric’s time cannot be refilled or repaid. We owe his family a debt of gratitude that cannot be repaid.

And it reminds me of another debt we cannot pay. Jesus took the sin of the world on His shoulders. Only through grace is redemption and salvation made possible for all mankind.

In this season of remembrance and reflection, think on these things: Huge sacrifice, and no repayment on our part. Just grace.

The original story I wrote appeared is here

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May 28, 2014 · 2:46 pm

Weighty words for Mother’s Day

“You did good.”

Just three fleeting words uttered by a kind-of-grumpy man trying to read a newspaper while his zealous wife pumped me for information on my family made a huge impression.

Catching up last Sunday at a Mexican restaurant with most of the family in one place was pure pleasure. We have just made one of the biggest leaps of faith ever. I gave my notice at work about four months ago. I left a job I loved because after 12 years of continual RIF and increasing Social Media ROI—it simply consumed me.

At the end of a double table, while my tortillas grew chilly, I bounced my 18-mos-old granddaughter back and forth between my husband and me.

An older woman at a small table just a few feet away looked over at our table with unabashed curiosity—peppering me with questions about where we lived, how many children I had, who were my children, how many grandchildren I had, where they went to school, etc.

My head was swiveling back and forth while I tried to pay attention to the delightful chatter of my son and his pregnant wife, two of their three children, my newly engaged daughter, and grinning Papa—who finally tried one last time to place Ella in the high chair.

The child was having none of it. She had missed all of her naps on this worshipful and social Sunday. She finally cuddled up and let me rock her. My guacamole was glazing over at this point.

“Oh, she is just so adorable,” the curly-haired, distracting woman said.

“Thank you.”

“What’s her name.”

“Ella—er, Elizabeth.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful. And she looks like her mom and her brother.”

The woman pointed to my side of the table where my daughter sat with my 7-year-old grandson, her nephew.

I explained patiently that all of the children belonged to the young woman on the other side of the table. The beautiful, obviously pregnant, brunette.

“Oh, my. That’s going to be a handful,” the old woman said in surprise.

Actually, I said, that’s not all. Five-year-old Madelyn is with her other grandmother right now. So they will have three girls. “Charlotte, the new baby; Elizabeth; and Madelyn.”


Then without missing a beat—my new-found friend said, “Well, at least she looks calm.”

Indeed, she did. After a long week sorting, packing, doing laundry and cleaning; driving children to and from school; managing the finances of her husband’s business; and preparing for a move into a new home—she was chatting at dinner with the family.

I am proud of Melissa. Motherhood can be a challenge at any stage—but with two elementary age children, and one in diapers and one on the way—she does an excellent job of caring for her children and her home.

I am proud of my son, John, who supports his wife, and for both of them who know that Christ alone offers the true source of strength and success.

As my daughter, Belinda, finished her meal, she scooped Ella up so I could eat. I turned and asked my new friends to excuse me.

Lost in a quick discussion of wedding colors, we ended dinner on a high note.

Giving the couple a quick wave as I picked up my purse in one hand and the diaper bag in another—I barely heard the words over the top of the newspaper—but I saw the intensity of the man’s gaze through his glasses, and that look stopped me in my tracks.

A man of few words—he had mostly observed the exchange at our table and the one between his wife and me. But his words have meant a lot this week as I ponder what kind of mother I am, what kind of helpmate I am to my husband, and what the future holds for me.

“You did good.”




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These people see and hear more than most

Two years ago I got a strange phone call. It was Russ Rankin, then president of Baptist Communicators Association, a 60-year-old organization comprised of individuals who narrate the story of what Southern Baptists do to carry out the Great Commission worldwide.


Russ wanted to know if I would serve as the awards chair-elect for 2013 and the awards chair for 2014. The call was strange because though I have been a member of the organization sporadically for a number of years—I had never attended its annual workshop.

My networking with most of the individuals in BCA had been through Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings and the now defunct Baptist Press Collegiate Journalism Conference that involved an average of 15-20 of our state Baptist colleges and their advisors, some of whom are BCA members.

Nonetheless, after consultation with my supervisor at my former job, I agreed to take on the responsibility. It was my pleasure to observe at the BCA workshop in Little Rock, and then jump in these past several months to recruit judges, record evaluations, create certificates, select award trophies, create a slide show, plan an awards room, plan an awards banquet—and celebrate the giftedness of our Baptist communicators.

This past week at the workshop at Ridgecrest Conference Center in Asheville, N.C., a verse shared during a devotional time caught my attention. In Luke, there is an account of Jesus sending out the 70 to be ahead of Him and prepare the people for His coming. He talks about “unrepentant towns” and when the 70 return He tells them to rejoice “their names are written in heaven.” Jesus tell them not to belabor over their power and the authority He gave to them.

After praising His Father, Jesus rejoices in the Holy Spirit about what has happened and then turns to His disciples and says “privately”: “The eyes that see the things you see are blessed! For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see the things you see yet didn’t see them; to hear the things you hear yet didn’t hear them.”

What an incredible description of how blessed we are as Baptist communicators!

Indeed as we hear and tell and see and show through a variety of mediums ranging from state Baptist newspapers to denominational magazines, from social media campaigns to unique websites and more, we are blessed. I was doubly blessed this past year as awards chair for BCA to see and hear what our members submitted to be judged as their very finest work. Some of it I had seen and celebrated in the course of following Baptist work—and some of it was brand new to me and I marveled at the stories. I wept as I watched the videos and read the words that will forever burn in my heart. The images have already imprinted themselves on a page in my mind’s eye.

If you are a Baptist communicator, or you supervise those who are involved in this important labor of sharing what Baptists do to extend God’s Kingdom here on earth, to be involved in Great Commission work—then please consider membership in BCA if you are not already.

This year’s program was loosely themed, “With Purpose,” and as I thought about that—I was struck by the fact that our purpose never changes. We strive always to be about bringing glory to God.

The contest over which I had responsibility is designed to recognize the best work, and yet, through a rigorous evaluation process by teams of excellent, professional judges, our members are also given helpful evaluation for each piece they submit.

They also receive the encouragement and feedback from their peers that keeps them connected in a way that many who are from very small shops and operations may not otherwise receive.

For some, the BCA contest seems overrun by the larger ministry entities whose members outnumber the smaller organizations, but in fact, it’s a beautiful thing to see healthy competition. Many of our members have swapped ministry positions through the years in answer to God’s calling and the organization facilitates this by providing networking opportunities for building relationships and showcasing skillsets.

If there is an elephant in the room about BCA, it has been the way in which people are truly focused on the task of communication and don’t seem to waver from it. State Baptist papers, the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, GuideStone, Golden Gate Seminary, and several of our state Baptist colleges were represented this year at the conference, as were freelance writers and graphic designers and others.

Although the leadership changes on an annual basis, the fellowship and networking stays the same—and withstands what may be a pendulum swing of various program items and speakers based on a particular leader’s choice. At Little Rock and Asheville, I found the speakers and mission activities resonated with my own views on many levels and I am looking forward to more of the same in San Francisco next year and in Oklahoma in 2016 at the Falls Creek Conference Center.

As Southern Baptists move forcefully ahead into the 21st Century, my challenge is that communicators will be bold in telling the story of how God is at work in the hearts and minds of those who seek to extend His Kingdom.

And ultimately, they tell the same old story, of Jesus and His love.

To find out more about Baptist Communicators Association, go to



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The day after doing the unthinkable

jbhphotoYesterday I did the unthinkable–I walked away from a job I really loved.

Yes, in today’s dismal job market, as a woman over 50 with a job making over $50K annually, I turned over the keys to the company car, turned in my company credit card, handed over the company phone, digital recorder and lap top (which I promptly bought), and signed off as an administrator on Facebook and Twitter.

Months ago I came to the conclusion that God was in this decision and it would be a good thing.

I still cry. Real tears. I am still passionate about that which I did. I loved to hear Florida Baptists tell their stories. I loved to orchestrate what each issue of the 130 year old publication would look like—how it could also appear online or in social media. I took pleasure in the pursuit of truth when it came to reporting public policy issues. I desired to give God glory in reporting about His Kingdom on earth.

This transition is not going to be easy for many reasons, but God is in control.

I think about what I would have told my children had they wanted to give up a “good job.” Would I ever encourage them to give notice, walk away, leave the keys on the counter, pick up their last check, cash in their unused vacation?

And then I rest in the thought, that yes, I have done just that. I have always urged them to think through their priorities, to never be so dependent on a job that they couldn’t give it up and start over. I taught them to work hard and trust God for the next step. I taught them that no one is irreplaceable and to work as unto the Lord and to guard their hearts.

My hope is in the Lord, He knows the desire of my heart is to serve Him. He knows that in my vanity I want to feel needed and desired, but that truly He needs me to trust Him.

Yesterday I had a job; today I am learning all over again to trust God—for every little thing.


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