Imagine your life as an open book on YouTube. Harold and Rachel Earls, co-authors of the book, "A Higher Calling," share how God moved them from doing YouTube videos as just a fun hobby to making a difference as missionaries to the world.
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Imagine your life as an open book on YouTube! Harold and Rachel Earls share how God moved them from doing YouTube videos as just a fun hobby to making a difference as missionaries to the world.
Bob: When Harold and Rachel Earls decided to take their life public via vlog, they had a distinct purpose in mind.
Harold: I mean, we share everything—from our mundane life, doing the dishes and hanging out as a family—to some very intense moments of giving birth and finding out we’re pregnant. I think that God uses all of the ordinary moments of our life that, not only are relatable to other people, but bring glory back to Him. That was something, at the time, we could see but not really see how God is using our story.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, November 25th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. We’ll hear today from Harold and Rachel Earls about the joys and challenges that come with living your life out in the open, online, in front of everybody. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You guys apparently decided, at some point, early in your marriage, “We’re just going to be kind of open with everybody about the reality of our life and our marriage.” Because, as I’ve talked to people, who listen to FamilyLife Today, and ask them what they like about listening to you, one of the things they say is: “We like how real the Wilsons are, how transparent, how authentic, how they just kind of share real life with us.”
Dave: We actually make all that stuff up; we’re perfect. [Laughter]
Harold: No transparency! [Laughter]
Dave: We know other people have problems, so we make ours up. [Laughter]
Bob: Did you have a conversation, at some point in your marriage, where you said, “Are we going to keep our stuff hidden back here, or are we going to put our stuff out on display on the front lawn?”
Dave: Did we have a conversation?
Ann: I think we’re both pretty open, and it would be really hard for us to not reveal who we really were; it felt inauthentic. I don’t think we could do it; it felt fake.
Bob: We’ve got a couple joining us this week—
Dave: —they take this to a whole other level. [Laughter]
Bob: They do! Rachel and Harold Earls are with us. Welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Harold: Thanks for having us on.
Rachel: We’re excited. [Laughter]
Bob: You guys—actually, you kind of happened on this without being intentional about it.
Bob: You posted a video on YouTube without stopping to think, maybe, what the implications of that could be. Tell us about making this video right after you had started dating this cute guy from West Point.
Rachel: It was actually after I had graduated from college. Harold and I were supposed to get married the following year after he had graduated. I was a year ahead of him, and I had been wrestling a little bit of: “What was I supposed to do?” It felt like my life was on pause, because I knew we’d be getting married; he was in the military, and our life would be taking off in that direction. Just trying to figure out, job wise, what to do, I felt a little bit of emptiness.
One day, Harold kind of brought it up to me of: “Why don’t you make a YouTube channel?” I had no idea; I didn’t watch YouTube videos. I didn’t know that was a thing, but he knew that I had a love of videography. I used to always video our little dates together. I said, “Okay!” At the time, I was at my parents’ house. I just went into my bedroom, pulled up my laptop, did the little self-camera on the computer, sat down, and filmed a little video of signs: “You’re dating a West Point cadet.” I thought it was silly. I thought nobody would see it except for Harold and my mom, which I showed it to right away: “Look, who made this video.”
Harold: Boy, were we wrong?! [Laughter]
Rachel: We had no idea how it was going to change our lives. Yes, we just thought it was silly. The very next day—
Harold: I actually—to go back on my side—I was in my barracks room, doing homework—probably, not actually, at my desk—we had our door open. I had two cadets walk by; and they were like, “Are you Harold Earls?” I had no idea who these two were: “Yes, I am.” They just laughed and walked off. I was like, “What in the world?!”
Rachel had just told me that she posted a video. I had a buddy, right before that, actually text me and say, “Hey, man, how are you doing?” I literally just saw him at baseball practice like two hours ago. I was like, “What is this about?” I was like, “Hold on a second.” I texted my friend, wanting to know what was going on; talked to Rachel.
Turns out the video was spreading like haywire across the West Point community, specifically the cadets. It is a very microcosm at West Point: 4,000 cadets. Things spread very fast in that community.
Ann: It’s like a family.
Harold: Exactly—both good and bad. [Laughter]
The next day, I actually was going to class into the historic Thayer Hall, walking through the hallway; and I heard my fiancé’s voice. I was like, “What is going on?” I look into classrooms, and professors/instructors had her video up in front of their classes. That’s when I was like, “Oh my goodness!” I think the whole transparency thing and kind of introducing us to a whole different world became very evident very, very quickly. [Laughter]
Ann: Rachel, give us a snapshot of what was in that video.
Rachel: Oh, it was so corny and cheesy. I was just sitting in front of my bed. I think I had a camo teddy bear. I said something about you have a bunch of camo; you start saying military phrases: “Roger,” “Hooah,” “Track in,”—just like so corny—but it was also relatable.
That was the thing for me, as I was dating Harold and seeing, not just the military, but West Point—it’s this whole other world that you don’t know anything about. It also was very relatable to the other girlfriends, who were excited that now there was a little bit of a voice—you know?—for what they were going through. I was getting a lot of pushback; people were making fun of me, giving Harold a little bit of grief; but then the girls really empowered me to keep going. I don’t know—just the fact that I did have a voice.
Bob: When you realize this thing has gone big time, and you’re being shown in classrooms at West Point, I’m thinking some people would go, “That is the last time I’m every doing a video like that and putting that online; I don’t want that.” Other people would go, “Oh, wait! I’m doing another one this afternoon.” Which were you?
Rachel: Yes, I think I filmed another one pretty much immediately. [Laughter]
Bob: It was kind of exciting for you that people were paying attention to this.
Rachel: Yes; yes.
Ann: What was number two?
Rachel: I don’t remember.
Harold: I remember it!
Rachel: Oh, I do remember.
Harold: She punched back at the cadets, which I love.
Ann: Oh, yes.
Harold: That’s her personality, too; it’s like: “Okay; if you come at me, like I’m going to punch back.” She actually played the song—
Rachel: —Shake It Off by Taylor Swift in the beginning. “Shake it off”—yes, for people making fun of me. [Laughter]
Ann: Good for you.
Bob: You weren’t thinking anything more than “This is kind of a fun hobby.”
Rachel: Right; I didn’t even know people made money doing it. It wasn’t until I was watching Dancing with the Stars, and there was a YouTuber called/or named Bethany Mota, who I, then, learned about. I was like, “Oh, wow; she makes a lot of money doing this! I could maybe turn this into a career.” So I just kept going.
Bob: This had been your idea in the first place. You’d been the one—said to your girlfriend, “Why don’t you make a YouTube channel?”
Ann: Yes; where did that come from?
Harold: Yes; so she had always had a passion with videography. I remember going to her house, and we would watch back old homemade videos. She called it The Rachel Show. She was like five years old/seven years old, just making all these videos about cooking and sprinkles and just like all sorts of things. [Laughter] Then, in high school, she was on the video production team. She had always had this passion that God had put there to do something with video.
She thought that that meant—and I’ll just speak on behalf of you—but thought that may have meant a news anchor/a weather reporter—because that’s all that she could see with her own eyes.
Rachel: Never wanted to be a weather reporter—and you always say that—[Laughter]—never in my life.
Harold: —100 percent did; I think she did; I think she did.
Ann: These guys are kind of like us. [Laughter]
Harold: It makes for a good story though. Let’s continue; alright? [Laughter]
I saw this one family on YouTube, and they made videos. I was like, “Why don’t you just post something on there?” What I think was interesting—she posted the video. It got some backlash; but for me, I loved how she felt empowered. It kind of was eye-opening to me that it gave her a voice, especially, in a world that was void of that voice. To me, it became very clear how: “Wow; God can use this in huge ways.” I honestly felt like I kind of saw that, from the very beginning, that this could be a part of our life.
Dave: What do you mean God can use it in great ways?—how?
Harold: Yes—so, now, if you fast forward—we have well over half a million followers just on YouTube—a little over a million if you cumulative across our different platforms—and that is a community that is rooted in who we are as a family. I mean, we share everything from our mundane life—doing the dishes and hanging out as a family—to some very intense moments of giving birth and finding out we’re pregnant. I think that God uses all of the ordinary moments of our life that, not only are relatable to other people, but bring glory back to Him.
That was something, at the time, we could see, but not really see how He would use it. I love how Rachel—if you want to talk about how we end every video—I think is really a testament of how God is using our story.
Rachel: Yes; so we end every video with: “Love God, love people, make a difference, and be thankful.” That’s kind of just how we want to live our life; but it was after continually to post these videos that I was starting to get messages from the people watching them, who would then share their life story with me and their hardships. Maybe, it brought them back to Jesus or to know Him for the first time, or it saved them during a difficult time of deployment or a hardship in their marriage.
We actually just, I think, two years ago now, started the Earls Fam Foundation, which was my dream after I started to see and hear those stories—was to be able to give back to our community in a more personal way, financially, or we’ve done just a bunch of different projects that we could impact their lives even further than just sharing our personal.
Harold: I think we realized we were going wide—we were reaching millions of people in this community—but we also wanted to go deep, because we knew that there were personal things that people were really struggling with. We realized we honestly were standing on their shoulders/that we were able to be part of this because of them. It’s like, “What can we do to give back?” I think that’s beautiful how God has worked through that and allowed us to give back to people, really struggling, who follow us.
Ann: It wasn’t just about becoming famous—
Ann: —having a bunch of followers.
Harold: Far from it.
Ann: You had a bigger dream.
Rachel: Yes; it’s so funny that it’s kind of where God has called me, because I would actually say I’m way more of a private person. Any day, I could just not ever post anything ever again; but it’s that constant thing from God, just reassuring me through people, and sharing: “Okay; open up. Share what’s going on in your life, because it is making a difference,” and “I am able to work through you here.” But no; definitely never about any sort of fame or numbers—I mean, I’m not a money person—so just, really, “How can we make a difference?”
Harold: I think that’s the beautiful thing about it—is those raw and emotional moments that happen, like: “We’re trying to get pregnant. It’s not going our way right now”; but being raw on camera and sharing how you are feeling is so relatable to other people. It’s like, when we’ve had some hardships—we thought that our boy, Wyatt, at the time, we had gotten news in a call from the doctor that he could possibly have—
Rachel: —Spina bifida.
Harold: —Spina bifida.
For us, hearing that and recording that, it’s tough. It’s tough for us to go through, but we went through that with a community; and we were totally open. We just pressed, “Record,” and we just heard all those moments for the first time. We pressed, “Record,” when the doctor was talking to us. We just let the camera roll. We bring that community in on it, because we grow ourselves through life; and they grow alongside us. We don’t claim to have all the answers by far.
Harold: We don’t have close to all the answers, but I think it’s that growth—and them seeing that growth, and seeing the relatability, and seeing just how open and honest we are about our life—our failures, our family, our relationship with God—I think that’s really where that impact comes.
Bob: I’m listening to you describe this, and I’m thinking, “Are you every day, throughout the day, going, ‘Wait; get the camera on. I’m about to order lunch; turn on the camera’”?
Harold: It’s now ubiquitous; it’s part of our life. It’s wild; it’s a—we don’t even think about vlogging—it’s like we just pick up the camera and press, “Record.”
Dave: Why aren’t we vlogging this right now?—huh?
Harold: I should film your bald head. [Laughter]
Dave: Cameras—did you say about bald head?!
Bob: He did! [Laughter]
Ann: I like him! [Laughter]
Dave: I used to joke about bald guys, too; and now I’m bald. [Laughter] It may be coming, dude.
Bob: Be careful. [Laughter]
This has just become: “We are bringing our friends into our life.” Was there a time in your process of this, where you thought, “Wait a sec; do we really want to be this out in the open and sharing our life with people we don’t know?” I mean, what about privacy and what about independence? Do you ever take two weeks, where you don’t vlog?
Rachel: It’s definitely changed over the years. When I first started out, I was pretty much daily vlogging—so doing it every single day. Now, as we’ve become parents, and wrote a book, and we just have all these other things we are also doing, we cut our schedule back a little bit. We’ve just been posting four times a week.
Also, something I think people don’t understand is—there is so much control with vlogging as well. Most of the time, a video is ten to fifteen minutes. That’s ten to fifteen minutes out of my entire day. If I don’t want to pick up the camera and hit, “Record,” I don’t have to; you know? There is a lot that you see, and there is a lot that you don’t see as well.
Dave: Are there moments—I’m guessing there are—well, I don’t know—that you are like, “That one is too intense. We’re not going to let that out”? Even, maybe, you filmed it; but it’s like, “It’s just not appropriate,” or “It got too…”—do you know what I’m saying? I mean, when we’re on stage speaking, there are moments like, “We can’t go there.” Our congregation is like, “They are the most open ever,” and they don’t know. There are some things—
Ann: Are there times that we didn’t go there? [Laughter]
Dave: I don’t know.
Ann: I don’t even think—I can’t think of one.
Dave: Probably not; but I think, if I had a camera on, there might be an edit coming, like: “I don’t know, honey; should we post that?—because it went to level 10, and we’re sort of capping everything at level 8.” I’m just asking; I don’t know.
Harold: Yes; for sure, we’re human; right? We make mistakes. I think for us, one stuck out, earlier on. We were vlogging, and I did a prank pregnancy announcement and acted like Rachel was pregnant; we did it to one of her friends.
For me, that was just me not realizing, at the time, there are so many thousands of people that struggle to get pregnant. For me to do that, and almost like poking fun, because we got pregnant—and it was relatively easy at the time—now, it is not so much the case. But we didn’t know that. We posted it in fun, but we got a decent amount of pushback—rightfully so—that was just us being young and not understanding that this could be offensive and hurtful to other people. Of course, we said, “Hey, that’s not okay,” and we take that down. I think we definitely learn as we go.
Ann: You talk about your community. Do you have a lot of people in the military that are following you?
Rachel: We do have a decent following in the military.
Ann: Dave and I just had the opportunity to do an online marriage conference with military.
Rachel: Oh, very cool.
Ann: I feel it was one of our favorite conferences that we’ve done, just because we were so thankful for how they’ve served us. We also—I don’t think we are really aware how hard it is: for deployment, for marriages that are struggling, for the insecurity of not knowing the future. That’s not an easy life.
Rachel: Yes; you know what’s interesting? Being a military family, I think—even just being online—we didn’t show too much of that side.
Rachel: But I think partly because I just wanted to show them that they could have an—
Rachel: —almost normal life; you know? That is a response I heard from a lot of the women, of saying, “I’m so glad I found your vlogs to just give me an idea of what my life could look like,” and taking away some of those fears, seeing that we still get to have time together, and love, and laugh, and be family.
Dave: Are there any people in your family, or close friends, that don’t like your vlog?—or do they push back on it at all?—or has it been relatively positive?
Rachel: Not that they don’t like the vlog, but we tend not to vlog other people. We like to keep it our just central family and respect other people. In the beginning, yes, there was a little bit of pushback. Specifically, more toward me—family members thinking I might hurt Harold’s career through vlogging.
Harold: I think what is interesting is—at first, you got pushback from your family and maybe some of your close friends—because “What was this world of YouTube?” and “You’re going to do this as—what?—a career?!”—right?
Harold: And because—
Ann: The older generation would totally think that—
Harold: Exactly; right.
Harold: Now, if you look—I mean, they did a study today—one in three kids: when you ask them what they want to be, is a YouTuber and influencer; right?
Dave: One in three?—wow!
Harold: One in three was the stat that came out.
Rachel: It’s wild.
Harold: Crazy; right? But at the time, they just can’t see that. They can’t see how God is working in you either; right? Sometimes, your family gives good advice; but sometimes, they cannot give good advice, because they want to protect you. They are like, “Hey, go out and get a ‘real job.’ Go out and get something that is safe and secure.”
But God doesn’t always operate you within that safe and secure area. Sometimes, you’ve got to get outside those comfort zones to really be where He wants you. I think Rachel is really a testament of that.
Rachel: Yes; I would say the cool thing about Harold and I—and our relationship is, like he said—even taking that scary step, a lot of people can’t see past that. So friends really doubting, like: “Why are you filming yourself? This is so silly; people are going to make fun of you.” But Harold and I have always been able to see further down the road of what this could be, but you have to take those scary steps to get there.
Dave: You even think of what we’ve been going through with COVID. As a pastor, if you are leading a church or part of a church that isn’t digitally savvy/hasn’t been up on, you are sort of lost right now; because that’s the way you’re going to communicate with your family/your congregation.
One of my phrases here is—which is so corny, but I’m—preacher rhyme things; right? I’ve always said, “Make a dent where you’re sent,”/ “Make a dent where you are sent,”—that is God’s call on our life. He has strategically placed us to make an impact. People always come up after and go: “So where am I sent?! I know where you are sent; you are a pastor. I know where a missionary is sent. Where am I sent?”
My answer is profound—do you know what it is?—“Where you are is where you are sent.” I’m listening to your story; and I’m like, “Look at this. Who would have every thought, ‘Make a dent where you are sent,’—online through YouTube—that’s your congregation; that’s your call.”
For us, who grew up in a world that didn’t have that, we’re like, “YouTube!” But when you listen to it, you’re like: “Oh my goodness! What a world we live in that God can use a couple shooting a video in their house to lead people to the King of the kings.” That’s making a dent where you are sent. That’s beautiful; it doesn’t matter what it is. God has given you/given me—given us different realms. Do you think it has to be in a building on a stage?—no; it doesn’t. Wherever you are sent, use that as a strategic move of God and make a difference. You’re doing it; way to go! I mean, seriously, way to go!
And to the listener, I want to say: “Where are you sent? Where are you living right now? Where is your apartment building? Where are your kids in school?” I remember when our kids were playing sports, we were like, “We’re not here to play sports; we’re here to impact all the other parents, whose kids are on these sports teams. That’s where we are sent right now.” So anyway—
Harold: Man, this is good; buckle in and listen up!
Dave: I get excited thinking about it. I’m like, “Wow; who would have ever thought this is a mission and a ministry?”; and it is.
Ann: And to even explain it to your kids like that: “This isn’t about our family. This is about helping other families.”
What do you guys—just a quick summary—what do you hope your followers will gain?
Rachel: I think it all kind of rests on that final saying that we say of: “Love God, love people, make a difference, and be thankful”; but really, it’s just to know that they can have a great fulfilling life if they are pursuing Jesus. They can find hope and joy. I just hope that they see that life is worth living every single day and to choose love. It’s so easy to just get caught up in whatever is going on and mess up relationships, but to choose each other every single day.
Harold: Summing it up in one sentence: “My hope is that they could see what a God-fearing, God-loving family looks like.” Undoubtedly, it has its faults; it has its screw-ups; but it also has its beautiful moments. Our hope is, through all of this, we can show all those moments to them.
Ann: Many people have never seen that.
Bob: Yes; I’m thinking about the one-third of kids, who say, “I want to be an influencer.” I’m thinking most of them either want to be rich or they want to be famous. You guys want to be missionaries, and that’s a completely different motivation. All of a sudden, now, it’s: “Okay; how can we point people to Jesus? How can we point people to the kingdom?—rather than drawing attention to ourselves—
Ann: —“and to family.”
Bob: —“or getting rich off of this.”
I’m glad we’ve had a chance to talk to you guys about your marriage, about Mount Everest, about your vlog. I hope our listeners will go to our website, at FamilyLifeToday.com, get more information about the book and about how they can connect with you guys, online. Thanks for being here; thanks for coming and doing this.
Harold: Yes; it’s our honor.
Rachel: Thank you guys.
Bob: The book Harold and Rachel have written is called A Higher Calling: Pursuing Love, Faith, and Mount Everest for a Greater Purpose. You can go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com to get a copy; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also order Harold and Rachel’s book, A Higher Calling, by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Well, here in the United States, we are preparing for the annual day of thanks, our celebration of Thanksgiving. I hope you are able to be with friends or family.
We want you to know that we are thankful for FamilyLife Today listeners—and especially for those of you, who have moved from being regular listeners to becoming supporters of this ministry—those of you, who donate, so that FamilyLife Today can continue to be available, not only on this local radio station, but through all the channels through which this program is now heard. Some of you are telling Alexa® to “Play FamilyLife Today”; some of you are pulling us up on the new FamilyLife® app; or you’re streaming FamilyLife Today as a podcast. However you listen, we’re glad to have you along. For those of you who make the production and syndication of this program possible through your donations, we just want to express our thanks for your support.
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Again, “The Twelve Names of Christmas” is our thank-you gift to you when you make a donation today to support the ongoing work of FamilyLife Today. You can do that, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make your donation. We want to say, “Thanks,” in advance, for your support. We appreciate hearing from you.
We hope you can join us, again, tomorrow on Thanksgiving Day when we’re going to hear from Doug McKelvey about how we can set apart moments in our day to remind ourselves that God is, not only present, but He is active and involved in everything going on in our lives. We’ll talk about how we can make every moment holy tomorrow. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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