Elisa Morgan: Think of it this way. If God, who was the perfect parent, ended up with a broken family… why do we think we’re gonna do it any differently? Why do we think we’re supposed to make it perfect?
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John Fuller: Elisa Morgan reminding us that imperfection and brokenness are inevitable in this life. Of course, we don’t like that and we try to hide our mistakes from others, but what if God wants to use your brokenness for His glory? You’ll hear more from Elisa about that on today’s Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: I think many Christian families, particularly, struggle with this perfectionism and for most of us, it’s an honest mistake. We want to honor the Lord Jesus Christ by how we live and of course show the world how faith can transform our families, our work and everything about us. But sometimes, we work a little too hard on our image and portray ourselves, maybe as better than everyone else. That was the mistake the Pharisees made in the First Century and sometimes that spirit, that spirit of Phariseeism, lingers in the church today. But Elisa Morgan wants to challenge our perspective on this.
Several years ago, she wrote a landmark book calledThe Beauty of Broken, where she shared honestly about the brokenness in her own life. What I’ve always appreciated about Elisa, who has become a good friend, is how authentic and vulnerable she is. And in that vulnerability, we can see the Lord at work in her and through her.
John: Mmhm- and she’s probably best known for her 20 years of leadership for MOPS, Mothers of Preschoolers, which is a great ministry that offers a lot of support and encouragement to young families. Elisa continues to speak and write on family topics and we invited her to speak at the monthly Focus on the Family staff chapel.
Elisa: So, it was a Sunday afternoon and I had come home from some meeting or engagement I’d had and I was tired and this was a season when I was responsible to take care of my then little 2 ½ -year-old grandson, while his mama, my daughter, who was a single mom, went to work where she cut and styled people’s hair. Thank you very much.
And she needed me to take care of him, ‘cause she was a single mom and during this season, they lived with us. So, I put this little guy down for his nap and all of a sudden I thought, “Oh, my goodness, that word sounds so amazing, ‘nap.’ And I gave into it and sounded really old, but it also sounded amazing. And…as I started nodding off to sleep, I … I heard thiscrash, this eruption that went through our home.
I shook myself awake and I started walking through our hall into the entry way, into the living room and as my feet hit the floor of our dining room, I knew what had caused that crash, because you see, this hutch that had hung on our wall and had housed the contents of my grandmothers antique china collection had lost its grip, takingeverythingwith it.Everythingwas in smithereens on the floor. I knelt down next to these beautiful relics. They were the one things that I had … had wanted to inherit from my grandmother when she passed. And I picked them up a sliver at a time. There was like a saucer intact and maybe something with a big chip out of it. And I remembered that my grandmother had collected these as she had been in tour buses with other grandmothers—blue-haired women—all over Europe. And she brought them back to me. They were gorgeous. They were precious to me.
This was a season when I honestly felt like everything was falling off of the walls in my life. I’m sure you’ve had some moments like that and I honestly had no option, but to … to just get a broom and dust pan and sweep up the mess and walk over and trickle it all into the trash. There was no way I could fix it. I felt like in that moment I was beyond help and I told God that.And it was like He leaned down next to me and He said, “I know you’re beyond your help, but you’re not beyond Mine.”
The thing is, I come from a broken family. When I was around 5-years-old, my dad called me into his home office then. He had this fluffy white chair that was upholstered with an ottoman and he beckoned me up onto his lap and I clambered up there, ‘cause I loved “daddy time.” And he turned me toward him and met me eyeball to eyeball and put his hands on my shoulder and said, “Elisa, I’ve decided I don’t love your mother anymore and we’re going to get a divorce.”And I felt like my family fell and broke and as most children who have divorced parents struggle, I wondered what I had done to cause it. My new normal family of my mom and my older sister and my younger brother and I, we moved across the United States, where she raised us, my mom, in this ranch-style home in Houston, Texas.
I remember around uh … age 11, I can remember that my days would start off with the sound of my mom’s alarm clock going off down the hall, “aagh”in this home. And I would pull back the covers and I would go into the kitchen where I’d grab a glass and plunk some ice cubes in it and pour Coca-Cola over the top. (laughing) I’d grab a couple of the chocolate chip cookies and I would take these down the hall to my mom’s nightstand, where I’d turn off the alarm and I’d put this breakfast on the nightstand and I’d begin this process of trying to wake my mom up, because she was a single mom and we needed her to go to work.And my mom couldn’t wake herself up in the mornings, because she drank too much scotch at night. She struggled with alcohol, so it was my job to wake her up. And as this realization hit me when I was a young middle schooler, I began to think, oh, my goodness, my … my mom is fallen and broken. And I wondered what I had done to cause it.
My mom was a super smart single mom. She would take my … my sister and I to the local church on Sunday mornings and drop us off there (Chuckling), 2 ½ hours of free childcare. She was so super smart, it was awesome. We didn’t know what to do, so we joined the adult choir. They were super nice to us. We had these long burgundy robes with creamy satin stoles and we would stand very obediently and sing, (Singing) “Low how a rose ‘ere blooming.”
I remember sensing that God loved me, but I still didn’t really know Him. When I was around 16 years old, I discovered that God really did love me so much that He actually gave His Son, Jesus to die on a cross so that I could be in a relationship with Him. That was through a ministry called Young Life.
And Igave my lifeover to God and I thought, honestly, you know what? I may have come from a broken family, but I’m gonna create aperfectlyintact second family because now I have Jesus, right?
I remember I had this dream shortly after this time and I was falling in slow motion off this cliff and I looked down at these rocks. They were flesh colored, kinda like Red Rocks in Colorado. I thought, my goodness, I’m gonnadie! But just at the last second, as my body hit the rocks, they were spongy and soft and I realized I hadn’t fallen into rocks at all. I had fallen into the hands of God and I heard this voice in my dream that said, “Elisa, I am your heavenly Father and I’ll never leave you or forsake you.”
I clarified God’s call on my life and I moved from Texas up to Denver, Colorado, where I enrolled in seminary. And there I met my husband, stable rock of a man, Evan. We were both training for full-time ministry. And we fell in love quickly. We got married. We made a commitment that we would never even use the word “divorce.”
Because we knew we couldn’t have children biologically, we began to very long process of adopting children, which took four and a half years and can I just say, it’s like being dilated to a 9 for 4 ½years! Oh! (laughter) We finally received first our little baby girl at 13 days and then a few years later, our son at 3 weeks. They were wonderful days where we would have Jesus time every night and we would go spend our lives at church and in Bible study with other young couples raising kids. We were doin’ itright!
When my kids were, oh, maybe in their preschool, the kindergarten age, I … I received this phone call. Would I be interested in applying to become the first president of an international mothering organization called MOPS International. It was a 15-year-old grassroots movement of moms led by volunteers. Would I be interested in formalizing the organization? I go, “Do you know who I am? I’m the one from the broken family. I’m the one with the alcoholic mother. I’ve never even been pregnant. How would you want me?”
Some years into it, maybe like 15, I had this dream. I was in a home that was under construction, just the framing. Jesus was my tour guide. He had a little hard hat on and a denim shirt. He was guiding me through and He stopped and He said, “This room right here is for your daughter. And this adjacent room is for her baby.”
I was like, “What! She’s only 16.” Woke up, pshew! Shook that puppy off, right? But a few nights later the dream repeated itself pretty much identical, Jesus, the tour guide, home under construction, this room is for your daughter; this room is for her baby.”
I ignored it and maybe a week later or so I was in a conference room at MOPS International—Mothers of Preschoolers—and we were talking about the creation of what would be called Teen MOPS, for moms who were themselves still children having babies. And I felt God bend down next to me and say, “Elisa, you’re gonna know more about this than anyone in this room.”And I decided, oh my, I better go home and ask my daughter, mybeautiful5’7” daughter, who was a state ranked swimmer, who had just returned from a missions trip to serve HIV Aids orphans inKenya, “Is there any reason you could be pregnant?!” And she nods.
And me, never before pregnant me, I get to get in my car and drive to the grocery store and buy an at-home pregnancy test and bring it home and wait outside the bathroom door while my daughter pees on a stick to find out, yes, she’spregnant.
And it’s not just she, my daughter, who … who lost herself in this season, my son, my wry-witted dimple-cheeked gorgeous son, a few years younger, began to steer his life into the pitfalls of addiction and legal issues and truancy and all the while, I’m thepresident of MOPS International,a mothering organization, me. Seems to me like my second family fell and broke. There’s a lot more to my story. There’s so much more. But here’s the thing. I come from a broken family and despite my very best attempts to create a perfectly intact second family. I still come from a broken family.
Think of it this way. If God, who wastheperfect parent, ended up with a broken family, why do we think we’re gonna do it any differently? Why do we think we’re supposed to make it perfect?
I think it’s time to talk honestly from the vantage point of survival. I … I thought it was my fault that my first family fell and broke and so, I decided that it was my responsibility to create a perfectly intact second family. But the problem is, I’m broken. (laughs) I’m a messed-up human being and I can’t do what is impossible.
I’ve come to discover that God offers broken family values — things like love and courage and commitment and respect. Things like forgiveness and thankfulness and partnership and these are the things that now hang on the walls as heirlooms in my home.I believe that God gets it that abnormal is pretty much normal and that the waywardness of our loved ones is never a surprise to Him and no one is ever, ever beyond His reach. I think God brings beauty in the broken and I think people like you and me, we really need to know it.
Isaiah 53:5 says “But He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him and by His wounds, we are healed.” That word “wounds” means “black and blue marks.” It means broken blood vessels. Jesus’ broken blood vessels are His wounds. And “healed,” it means to be “made whole again,” to be restored, to be complete. So, by Jesus’ broken blood vessels, we are made whole; we are redeemed.
When we sit amongst the shards of our shattered hopes, God does something different. I realize looking back at that mess on my dining room floor, that I began a kind of a toppling of my own and I didn’t have a choice but to throw me away.But God bends down and He picks up a piece and then another piece and another piece and He holds it up to the light of His grace and He goes, “I know exactly what to do with this.” And that’s what I want to give us hope for today, because I believe we broken ones need hope.
So the hope I want to offer us today is two sentences and the first one I want to hand out is this: God loves the broken. He loves the broken. He loves the broken so much exactly the way we are and yet, He loves us too much to leave us this way.
I am broken and the pieces of me don’t go back together the same way! Oh, I still find my giggle when I chase my grandsons around the island in our kitchen and I can still enliven a discussion on strategy and vision. And I love to open up the Bible with neighbors and talk about how this guy, Jesus could be real.But when people have real questions about life, I am much more likely to kinda go quiet and grab a box of tissues and put my arm around somebody, than hand out five Scriptures. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. All I know is that God loves the broken and He’s reshaping and He’s reforming us into who He always imagined we would be.
A friend of mine, okay, my therapist said , “Elisa, I really want you to try out an experiment with God’s love. I want you to sit every single day and think about God’s love for five minutes.” I thought how hard can that be, right? So I’d sit down for five minutes. I would think about God’s love and maybe 29 seconds into it, (Sound of snoring) I’m asleep. I mean, you know, woman, quiet, sitting, that’s what you do. But I kept at it day after day and like the third or fourth day it was like, “God loves me.” And I need kitty litter and I’ve got … and … anyway. I kept at it. And finally, this … maybe seven days into it, I … I heard this amazing sentence from God. I heard this sentence and it said, “I love you, Elisa.” I have never heard that before. I had heard God loves you, right? I had heard, Jesus loves you. Sure. But I’ve never heard first person, God to me, “I love you, Elisa.”
Here’s the thing! He’s not done with this process with us. If He was done, we would be dead. We’re not done. He continues His work in us. God loves the broken. And the second sentence: God uses the broken.
It’s really hard to understand that, isn’t it? We think that those things that have broken us actually disqualify us for meaningful service. We could have a list of them all. We think those are the things that make us excluded and yet, in Scripture, God’s very clear that these are the things that God uses. God uses the broken. We see example after example. God used two broken stone tablets in Exodus to bring the Israelites back from their disobedience. He used a broken heart in Psalm 51 to return King David to Himself.God uses the broken until He uses the broken body of His Son to die on a cross for you and me, that by His wounds we might be healed. God uses the broken.
Think of it this way. Maybe you’ve incurred cancer and you’ve been through the surgery and you had to have the radiation. Your skin burned and then you had to have the chemo and you lost your hair and it was so diminishing. You lost your energy. You lost your stature. You thought I’m never gonna come back from this. But time passes and the healing progresses and you find your feet again.
And when your … your coworker is diagnosed, you rally and you come up to them and you say, “You know what? I know it’s cold in chemo room and I know it’s embarrassing to ask for help, but I know you want to reject it, but I’m gonna just make a pact right now. I’m taking you to chemo and every Wednesday I’m gonna be there for you and we’re gonna go, because you know what it’s like.
Maybe you’ve felt a life forming inside you and it was so early that you could hardly contain it besides you and … and your spouse and so, you tell a girlfriend about it. Then a few weeks go by and suddenly that life that was life, is not life anymore. And you don’t know how to name it and nobody notices and nobody celebrates that due date that was on your calendar, circled big on your phone.
But when your dear friend, your MOPS group, your “motherings” group at church, your neighbor finds out she’s pregnant and she whispers it to you and you’re thrilled for her, but boom! Suddenly, that life is gone from her. You know. You circle up that date and you send her a card and you show up in that spot where there’s no definition of grief and loss and you celebrate the life that was, that you wish could return and have had a fuller experience.
God uses the broken. In fact, I want to suggest when we put our brokenness into His hands, into the hands of Jesus who redeems us, I want to suggest that instead of disqualifying us, our brokenness can further qualify us. Instead of excluding it, it can make us more included. God doesn’t sweep up the mess. No, it’s what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:7. “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” Why would we want to cover that up? Why would we want a garb of shame to hide that from our world that needs the hope that we’ve discovered in our brokenness?
I was in an antique shop and I ran across this stack of plates. They caught my attention, ‘cause they looked so much like the ones from my grandmother’s collection. And I picked the first one up and I was like, “What?” Because there was a crack running through it–stem to stern, this crack right across this plate. And I was really scared to hold it, because I was afraid it would fall apart. But I turned it over and on the back along that crack, I could see these brass rivets had been stapled into the plate. And I, with nervous hands, took this plate up to the … the shop owner and I said, “What is this?” She said, “Oh, this is a technique for repairing porcelain china in the Victorian ages.” I said, “Why would anybody bother? (Chuckling) Why wouldn’t you just throw it away?” She said, “Well, think about it. If you had the choice between throwing out your porcelain plate and eating off of a board, or repairing it, what would you do?” I thought, oh, my gosh. That’s what God does with us. He doesn’t throw us away. He repairs us. He staples us. He stapled His Son to a cross, that He might bring beauty in our brokenness.
This year my husband and I have been married 38 years. That dear stable soul has stayed. We still serve in full-time Christian work. We still make a lot of mistakes. If you were to take us out of the oven, so to speak and put a toothpick into the lives that we are, it would come out kinda eww, you know? A little gooey in the middle. You’d say, “Let’s put that back in a little bit longer. They’re not done.” No, we’re not done.
My kids love Jesus. Sometimes they go to church. They pray in text messages. They evidence their beliefs in inked symbols on their bodies, all over their bodies. (Laughter) My daughter cuts and styles people’s hair and listens to their woes and their joys. She advocates for her sons at every turn. Her husband is so gentle that … that he doesn’t want to kill an intruding praying mantis, but he ushers it out of the home with a broom.I’ve got this daughter and this grandson and then her husband and then another baby in that order. We’re messy. But my son bows his head over his big book and looks up at my husband and … and myself and he thanks us for another chance. And then three years ago, he stood at an altar and exchanged vows with a beautiful young woman. We’re still messed up though.
You see, I come from a broken family and despite my best efforts, I still come from a broken family and I honestly think we look more like Jesus now than we ever have and I thank God because there’s beauty in the broken.
John: Speaking at a recent Focus on the Family staff chapel about her book,The Beauty of Broken, that’s Elisa Morgan.
Jim: What a fantastic message, John. I remember thinking at the time how God uses brokenness as an arrow to pierce our heart of pride… the brokenness we go through is really an important ingredient in knowing our own humility. I love this quote from C.S. Lewis, “When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good. A thoroughly bad man thinks he is alright.” That’s probably the clearest way of seeing it and isn’t that awesome? Here’s the thing– our humility, not our perfectionism, but our humility– is what the world finds attractive. When we’re honest about our own mistakes, people find us more approachable and are willing to hear more about the love and power and grace of Jesus in our lives.
John: Yeah, and I’m sure that as some people are listening, they’re relating to that brokenness that Elisa expressed but they feel stuck and they just don’t have hope for any kind of resolution– it may be a broken marriage or a wayward child where the relationship just seems beyond repair.
Jim: Well, and if that describes where you are at, I want to urge you to contact us here at Focus on the Family. We want to help you in any way we can– we have our counseling team and so many other great tools for your family to get on a better path. It won’t be a perfect path! It will be a better path that honors God. Allow us to pray with you, to encourage you and to give you the practical help that you need. And for our friends who want to help families thrive, I invite you to contact us as well– we need to hear from you. We need your financial support. And as our way of saying thank you, I will send a copy of Elisa’s book along with the CD of our program today as our way of saying thank you. And I’m sure you know someone– if you can’t use it, you know someone who can benefit from this story.
John: Yeah, there are folks all around us who need some encouragement. Contact us and donate at focusonthefamily.com/radio or call us a 1-800-A-FAMILY, 800-232-6459. And let me mention that the CD of today’s broadcast has more content than we could share in this radio program, so ask for that when you get in touch.
I hope you’ll make plans to tune in next week– you’ll hear a follow-up program with Elisa Morgan. Her next book is called Hello, Beauty Full and Jim and I enjoyed a great conversation with her about it. Look for that broadcast on October 26th and 27th.
We trust you’ll have a great weekend and coming up Monday on Focus on the Family: a powerful message from Emily Colson– she’s the daughter of Chuck Colson– talking about her son, who has autism.
Emily Colson: But I can tell you this– that I have watched Max teach us, teach others, about love and compassion and kindness and gentleness and patience and joy and perseverance.
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