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Focus on the Family Broadcast

Finding God’s Mercy When Life is Messy (Part 2 of 2)

Finding God’s Mercy When Life is Messy (Part 2 of 2)

Author Vicki Courtney encourages parents of prodigals to develop an authentic faith by allowing God to meet them in the midst of the emotional and relational challenges they face with their children. (Part 2 of 2)



Vicki Courtney: We are giving them a foundation of faith, but we don’t talk a whole lot about what do you do when you fall down? How do you get back up? And by not talking about that we, in a sense, perpetuate this pretender game.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: Authenticity is what she’s talking about. That’s Vicki Courtney. She was our guest on the last “Focus on the Family” radio program and she’s back with us again to talk about what a genuine faith looks like in times of hardship and also in times of joy. I’m John Fuller and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.

Jim Daly: John, Vicki Courtney, she has a powerful testimony, let’s just say it that way and she shares it so beautifully. She’s learned a lot over the last several years about what it means to be a true follower of Jesus Christ. And God has worked through her personal experiences to refine her faith and that faith goes beyond the surface. I can attest to that. She is so transparent about her life and I really appreciate that.

You know, for moms and dads of 20-somethings and 30-somethings, that’s what they’re thirsting for. They’re hungering for evidence that the faith is real. It’s not a façade. We don’t say one thing and do another behind closed doors. And Vicky brings that authenticity. I would say, if you missed yesterday’s conversation, I would strongly suggest you get in touch with us for a CD or go to the website for a download. It’s a story that you’ll want to learn from and perhaps share with others.

John: I hope you will share it with someone else that can be encouraged by Vicki’s perspectives. Get the download at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or call us for the CD, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

Jim: Let me reintroduce our guest today. Vicki Courtney is perhaps best known for her ministry to tweens and teens. I’m getting used to that with my 14-year-old and 12-year-old.

John: Uh-hm.


Jim: She writes on topics like modesty and purity and the worth of the individual. She’s also the author of Move On: When Mercy Meets Your Mess. And most importantly perhaps, she’s the mom of three children and grandmother of two, which is shocking. Vicki in your book you said something that just, it caught my attention and I truly agree with it. I guess I could say I wholeheartedly agree with it. You said, God may have set me free, but His people are ready to lock me up. (Laughter) It’s funny–

John: It is.

Jim: –because we are quick to judge. I mean, Jesus Himself said, “Look at the log in your own eye before you look at the speck in your brother’s eye. That’s really what you’re saying there.

Vicki: Absolutely.

Jim: It’s a different way of saying it. Jesus set me free, but His people want to lock me up. What did you mean by it?

Vicki: Well, that was actually said in context in the Move On book, I was talking about I think a particular, you know, struggle we have is our past and talking about the things that God sets us free from with His grace and His mercy.

And so, when I came to Christ in the 80s, this is a time period where the pretender game was at an all-time high, I would say.

Jim: Along with big hair.

Vicki: Right, along with very big hair. And so, as a college student, I remember, you know, sitting in my newfound, like college department Sunday school class and all the girls there with their Laura Ashley plaid, you know, jumper dresses and big hair and big hair bows.

And the topic was, it was Sanctity of Life Sunday. And that’s a very difficult Sunday for those of us who have made the decision at some point to have an abortion. And yet, that abortion that I had at age 17 was probably the biggest factor of what brought me to my knees at 21 in desperate need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Even though I can tell you, I felt like it was right at the time, very pro-choice, there was such a loss that was on my heart and a burden on my soul, that when I heard the Gospel at 21, that was at the top of my mind, yes. I need this desperately.

And so, all that to say, I’ve only been a believer for several months and I’m sitting in a Sunday school class and the topic that, you know, that we were discussing was pro-life. And a couple of the girls were piping in with their two cents and one of ’em said, “Well, I just don’t know how anyone could ever do; it is murder and you should go to jail. You should do jail time.”

Jim and John: Hm.

Vicki: And I remember in that moment, brand-new believer, wanting to shout from the mountain top over just the grace and mercy that had been extended to me and be able to talk about it. You know, and this is where again, this book has been so healing for me to go and write, but I remember, “Note to self: Do not ever, ever bring this up.” Because there was an assumption in place that, well, first of all, you should do jail time. You should be locked up. And that now, well, God’s people would certainly never do something like that, right?” And so …

Jim: So, you felt locked down—

Vicki: Absolutely.

Jim: –at that point, which is interesting, because it’s a different way of looking at that Scripture in the book of James in chapter 5, which says, therefore, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.”

Vicki: Right.

Jim: And in reality, what you experienced there is, oh, no, I can’t confess my sins, because no one will accept me.

Vicki: Right.

Jim: And it is the exact opposite of how Scripture is clear, that we should be behaving when it comes to our shortcomings. So, we hide the shortcomings; project perfection, which nobody can attain—

Vicki: Right.

Jim: –and then we silently grieve what we did.

Vicki: And that’s exactly what I entered into, was a silent, you know, a silent grieving over a sin that there was an understanding in place back then that you just didn’t admit to things like that.

Jim: When it came to this issue though, your chemical engineering husband, Keith and I love that (Laughter), ’cause my wife Jean has a biochemist background.

Vicki: Oh, wow.

Jim: So, these are science people.

Vicki: Right, right.

Jim: And it’s black and white and before you were married, I think, or at some point you had to have that discussion with him about what had happened to you. How did that conversation go?

Vicki: It didn’t, no. In fact, I share this I believe in the Move On book, my husband, you know, had kind of a checklist and so, he knew that I had, had sex outside of marriage, but we agreed that there’s just no reason to bring details into the picture. And I was so burdened by the shame of this abortion, that I just couldn’t bring myself to tell him about that.

So, it was about two months into our marriage, I will never forget this moment. And there was a trigger, some story on the news, I can’t remember what it was. And I began to weep and I said, “I need to tell you something. And I was so afraid that you would not marry me if you knew this, but I had an abortion when I was 17, and I’m so ashamed of this.”

And I will never forget, because he raced over, held me tight and said, “God has forgiven you. I forgive you, as well.” Now the mistake that we made is, we probably should’ve called a counselor to help me unwrap a lot of that, because I chose to bury it deep after that.

I’m still in a mind-set of shame and God’s people don’t ever bring this up or they assume that, you know, no one’s really out there doing it. It’s those really bad people that don’t know Jesus. I still didn’t really find healing for it until about eight years later.

And finally with the help of a counselor, walking me through that, it was very just healing part of my journey and my husband, being just [a] tremendous supporter during that time. I began speaking even on the topic of it back around 1994, ’95. And I would say that was probably the turning point in my ministry. That’s when God called me out into ministry. That’s when He gave me a burden originally for young women. Now my ministry has transitioned more to, you know, women in general. But that was the turning point, when I began to talk about painful parts of my past and how mercy met me in my mess.

Jim: You talk about the idea that shame can manifest itself in a lot of different ways, and this may be one of the reasons there’s so many psychoses going on, because you connect shame to addictions and abuse and bad choices. There may be that connection there. Define that for us. If we’re parenting with shame, that 20-something child that has been shamed their entire life about how they’ve lived, they are more prone or susceptible perhaps to these addictions that you’re talking about—pornography or drugs. They’re trying to find some escape.

Vicki: Right, right. I absolutely agree with you. I think that we could cut back on a lot of these if we would spend more time not just with our children, but in our own lives unpacking that. And one thing that concerns me is as you’ve said, it just seems like we’re so heavy on rules and do we not remember in the New Testament, Jesus had a few not-so-kind things to say about when we get carried away with legalism and the law and the rules? And we leave out the part of, oh, but by the way, sin is a condition and we’re all infected with it. And we’re going to make some mistakes along the way. And when we do, this is where I go back to, when we fall down, do we know how to get back up?

Jim: Hm.

Vicki: And do we know how to basically receive that grace and mercy, acknowledge that it’s there. But I would say even take it a step further and celebrate it. The Samaritan woman, and we forget about the part at the end of that passage where she went into the village and some translations say, “She told the men of the village, come meet a man who told me everything I ever did.”

Jim: Yeah.

Vicki: That’s celebrating living water and the Messiah.

John: Yeah,she was a broken woman and they all knew it.

Vicki: Right.

John: And she found something in Jesus. You know, it occurs to me, Jim, that we do have parents who are listening thinking, I hear what you’re saying and we’ve done a good job. It still just didn’t turn out well. I mean, I know a lot of good parents whose kids have just really gone off the deep end, at least for a season. And I think as parents, we need to hold onto the hope of the long view, but what was your words be to that parent who is dialing in, thinking okay, we’ve not done heavy rules. We’ve tried to be grace-based, as you’ve talked about, Jim. But it’s not working right now.

Vicki: I would just encourage, you know, and I share at the beginning of Move On and Move On is actually not parenting related, but I was hoping that was one of my prayers, that it starts with mom or the wife, of the woman who’s reading it, looking, unpacking, you know, their own heart before laying them bare before the Lord, becoming more authentic about the things that get us stuck in the journey.

And the beautiful part about that is, when we do that, when we can bravely confront those things in our own life, then it bleeds over into our marriages in a great way and then to our parenting, as well. When we look at where do I stand in regard to legalism? Where do I stand in regard to this idea of shame?

Well, of course, once we nail that down and see, I think what happens is, we go to all these parenting conferences and we read all these parenting books and we now load ourselves down and burden ourselves with more of rules, if you will, that can help us accomplish the formula of raising happy, healthy, successful, whatever that looks like children from the outside, but we don’t deal enough with, let’s go back and unpack our own heart and take a look at, where do we stand in regard to some of these issues? Have we gotten off track in our beliefs about grace, mercy? You know, do we have some false beliefs that we’ve absorbed along the way?

Jim: Well, idolatry.

Vicki: Right.

Jim: What are those idols that we now possess? You know, the thing that you mentioned there, I love that Scripture where in Acts, I think it is, where the disciples are talking about the yoke of Moses. Who can bear it? Not even we can bear it. How can we expect these Gentiles to bear it?

Vicki: Right.

Jim: That’s what we’re talkin’ about. When you lay that yoke on your spouse, on your children, on the culture, it’s a hard yoke, the old covenant.

Vicki: Right.

Jim: That’s why Jesus said, no one’s gonna live up to it. It’s too difficult.

Vicki: Right.

Jim: It’s too onerous. It’s too much. What we need is sacrifice that God provided, that’s through Jesus Christ. We should be the happiest, most joyful people in the world, saying hey, God has given us a gift, everybody! He loves—

Vicki: Right.

Jim: –us so much, He sent His only Son to die for us, that we can have that relationship with the heavenly Father. That’s exciting stuff to me and yet, we want to say, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. You know, you gotta follow the rules. This is how it goes. He’s not gonna bless you in that way unless you do A, B, C, D. That wasn’t the message, was it?

Vicki: But Jim, what you’re saying, like can you imagine if our churches were, you know, if we had this sort of wake-up call where we’re like, wait a minute. You know, if we could celebrate grace and mercy and some churches are doing this. I go to a church where you can be authentic. But I share in the book that so many of our churches have become showrooms for polished pretenders, rather than hospitals for messed-up sinners.

Jim: These are powerful statements, but I think you’re right.

Vicki: Well, why can’t we celebrate, you know, those things that when mercy showed up, like that woman at the well, when mercy showed up, met us in our mess, why can’t we like that woman, go into the village and talk about, “Hey, I just met mercy.” I mean, my life will never, ever be the same. And so, when we do that, when we acknowledge that, and I again, I’m not endorsing a TMI, grab the microphone at church this Sunday, take over the service and share your past sin list. So it’s not what I’m talking about.

But I am talking about a balance of, instead of zipping our lip, remaining silent, looking down our noses at everybody else out there who’s breaking all the rules, you know, why don’t we start talking about some of these ways that God has met us in our mess.

Jim: Well, and I think, put it in the context when Jesus was walking this earth and as you said earlier, how He encountered the various people, you know, whether it was the Pharisees, which today those people would be highly respected, paying their tithe, living lives that were very straight, very ritualistic. They would dress a certain way to identify themselves as committed to the old covenant and to God’s laws. And people would esteem them. That’s what they would be projecting. And the question I’ve often asked is, have we recreated that today—

John: Uh-hm.

Jim: –in so many ways? Or are we being vulnerable like you’re describing, which I would describe as a more new covenant way under Christ. You know, in Galatians, I was thinking about this during my quiet time, that Scripture in the first chapter of Galatians, verse 10. It says, “Am I now seeking the approval of man or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Now that’s being written by Paul.

Vicki: Right.

Jim: The question I’ve asked myself is, who’s he talkin’ about there? ‘Cause he’s coming from a [background], the Pharisee of Pharisees.

Vicki: Right.

Jim: You know, who—

Vicki: Biggest like …

Jim: –who is he thinking about? Who am I not trying to please? I think in part, Paul was saying, my life has been about pleasing my superiors, my pharisaical superiors.

Vicki: Right.

Jim: And I have been doing a good job. I was willing to go out and kill Christians and to find those Christians and to imprison those Christians. There’s a part of me that thinks Paul was addressing that context. You know, I’m not pleasing Caiaphas right now when I’m talking about grace.

Vicki: Uh-hm.

Jim: Wow. That’s a different way to see that.

Vicki: Yeah.

Jim: We always tend to put that in the context of being a friend of the world and the Scripture is clear about warning us not to do that, not to participate in that, to be separate from that. But in our heart we have to have grace toward them.

Vicki: Absolutely, yeah. It’s a tough one. You know, as you’re saying that, there was a moment when, after my son, you know, announced that his fiancée was pregnant, once, you know, she was a little bit further along, a couple months into it, you know, we sat the family down and we made a decision. I said, “With your permission, I would like to basically let the world know with a blog post or whatever, that, you know, this is where we are. I don’t want seven more months to go by.” I told ’em, I said, “I don’t want to have a secret grandchild.”

John: Hm, wow.

Vicki: That there has been a mistake, a sin was made. There was this godly sorrow that led to repentance. And you know, they have done the right thing. Let us celebrate what God is doing. Let us celebrate His mercy, His forgiveness, His grace and that blog post that I put out was the most trafficked blog post to date on my blog.

Jim: Why?

Vicki: And the title of it was, “A Godly Sorrow and a Celebration of New Life.” And Jim, as you were describing that, I think we’d lean over, well, this is what we did that was wrong. If it ever gets to the confession part, you know, like the woman at the well, that it would be like her coming out and saying, “I’d had five husbands and the man I’m not living with is not my husband. You know, I’m this big sinner and now I’m sorry.”

Well, now let’s go a step further and just celebration of new life, the before and the after of grace and mercy. And one of the things that I realized is, when I pushed “publish” on that blog post, you know, I waited for the “meanies.” I call ’em the Christian “meanies.” You know, I’m gonna do a Vicki Courtney book burning, you know (Laughing) with all your parenting books.

And I received not one single one. In fact, what came in that day was a flood of just overwhelming women saying, “I had to keep my pregnancy a secret.” You know, “Thank you for being a safe place for your son. I made the wrong choice.” Or “I made the right choice, but I had to leave my church.” I mean, just the stories, it gave other people permission to be a mess–

Jim: Well, I think that’s—

Vicki:–or to acknowledge their mess.

Jim: –that’s part of it. I think as we look, you know, and it’s an attitude that we possess, all of us as Christians. One thing that has struck me is, that the more perfection we project, people have described that to me as “porcelain.”

Vicki: Hm.

Jim: They’ll say, you know, the Christian life seems porcelain to me. It seems like something fine and rare, but I can’t achieve it. Isn’t that an interesting way to describe that? So, we’ve made the Christian life into something that’s unachievable for the “unchristian.” And that’s exactly—

Vicki: I’ve never heard that.

Jim: –opposite of what Christ is saying.

Vicki: Right, because see here, I can speak firsthand from the 21-year-old girl who was at a college retreat that she got drugged to by a friend who was a believer. I heard the Gospel and I was so attracted to the grace and mercy that I was hearing about this Jesus Christ, Who would save me from my sins and then within one week, I saw porcelain.

Jim: Yeah. How do we attain that authentic faith? Let’s talk about that. What is authentic faith?

Vicki: I think we have to be willing to acknowledge that the journey’s messy. And I think this is not just speaking in reference to things that, you know, happened in our past and mercy showed up in a big way, but difficulties of life.

You know, I have a friend right now who’s struggling with infertility and it just doesn’t make sense to her, you know. I mean, [she] waited until she was married to have sex and all she ever wanted was to be a mother. And yet, you know, those are the things we have to be willing to say, I don’t understand why we have disappointments in life and heartbreaks.

And so, you know, I cover that in the Move On book. Really the whole message of Move On is that we need to be more authentic, that mercy will meet us in the mess, whatever that mess looks like, whether it’s a mess that was within our control and we messed up or a mess that, you know, there are those messes out there like my friend. She didn’t ask for that. She’s not being punished for anything. It’s not collateral damage for something she’s done.

And so, to be more authentic, we have to be willing to resist the pretender game and when someone says, “Hey, how are you doing?” There are those that we need to say, “You know what? I’m really not doing that well. Here’s what’s going on in my life. I have a rebellious teenager.” Or “I’m struggling with infertility. I could really use your prayers.”

I think we have such a tendency to put porcelain out there, you know, that there’s no cracks in there. There’s, you know, [the projection that] it’s all good.

Jim: It’s all together.

Vicki: It’s all good. But you know, that’s what authenticity looks like to me and it’s refreshing and it’s inviting to others to be able to be authentic in turn.

Jim: I think it does draw people in and that’s where the Holy Spirit then can work on their heart and open their heart. Vicki, you talk in your book, Move On about a track meet you went to and I guess the metaphor that popped in your heart and your mind as you watched this. Describe that event for us.

Vicki: Sure, it was the race right before my youngest son ran track and it was his senior year. And so, it was the race before his. And my husband and I were visiting in the bleachers with another couple. And you know, we heard the gun sound in the background, announcing hurdles. And then we heard, you know, that groan of everyone in the crowd, where you knew someone missed a hurdle.

And so, it caught my attention and I looked up and here this young man was going for the second, you know, set of hurdles and he tripped again and fell to the track. And your heart, you know, again, everyone let out this collective, “Ooh!” you know, a groan. And he got up and he headed for the third set of hurdles and he tripped again. I mean, you’re just dying at this point. You’re just wanting this young man to make it over the hurdles.

Jim: Everybody else is done at this point.

Vicki: At this point, everyone’s crossed the finish line. And I remember even thinking to myself, just you know, walk off the track. Just walk off the track. Save yourself the embarrassment. You know, there again, the porcelain, you know.

Jim: No, that’s interesting, that I think—

Vicki: Right.

Jim: –most people would have that reaction there.

Vicki: Oh, absolutely.

Jim: Just you know, just step off the track now. Don’t humiliate yourself any—

Vicki: Exactly.

Jim: –further.

Vicki: But he got up and he had a couple of more hurdles to go and I so desperately wish I could tell you in the story that he cleared the last two, but he didn’t. He fell again and again. But what I share in that chapter is, it was such a beautiful picture to me of what our faith is supposed to be, that we are called to “fall forward,” not fall down.

And so, in a sense, we’re all gonna fall, but this young man knew how to get back up and he knew how to keep going, because he was focused on the finish.

Jim: He was humble enough to say—

Vicki: Right.

Jim: –okay, that’s the goal.

Vicki: Yeah. And I think, as you were saying, Jim, so many of us think, okay, well, this is where I head to the bleachers.

Jim: Yeah and hide.

Vicki: This is where I go to the sidelines—s

Jim: Right.

Vicki: –here, you know, and bask in embarrassment. But you know, he had a plan and he got up and even if he was gonna stumble all the way, you know, to the finish in this race, he knew what it looked like to fall forward.

Jim: And really, what you’re describing there is character.

Vicki: Yes.

Jim: Character isn’t always found in success. Quite frankly, I think there’s less character in success—

Vicki: Yes.

Jim: –so often, because it masks true character, which comes in hardship and that’s what you’re talkin’ about, when—

Vicki: Right.

Jim: –the hurdles are goin’ down, when you’re goin’ down (Chuckling)—

Vicki: Right.

Jim: — that’s where you learn who you are.

Vicki: And a new attitude, you know. I have one of my favorite broadcast teachers [who] said, two steps forward and one step back is still progress.

John: Hm.

Jim: Yeah.

Vicki: And I think we forget that.

Jim: Especially in the United States—

Vicki: Right.

Jim: –where nothin’ less than five steps is acceptable.

Vicki: Right.

Jim: So, Vicki Courtney, author of the book, Move On: When Mercy Meets Your Mess. Thanks for bein’ with us.

Vicki: Thank you for having me.


John: Some great stories, memorable stories, especially about the hurdles and learning to fall forward in life, despite odds and difficulties. And I know Vicki’s book will encourage you in that direction, if you will, to go deeper and to be honest and authentic in your walk with God.

And so, look for a copy of Move On: When Mercy Meets Your Mess at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or call us and also ask about the CD we have of this two-part conversation, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And when you get in touch, if you can make a generous donation, we’ll send that book to you. It’s out way of saying thank you for your generosity to support the work of Focus on the Family. I know you’ll find that book, Move On to be of great help in your personal devotions or perhaps in a group discussion setting. One reader said that Move On was one of the most life-changing books she had read in a long time. And so, please donate as you can and ask about that book when you get in touch.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow. We’ll have a message from Pastor Tommy Nelson about how you can boost your child’s emotional and spiritual well-being. It’s a great, encouraging, practical program as we once again, help your family thrive in Christ.

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