Elisa Morgan: There is actually no such thing as a perfect family, and I kinda think it’s time to talk about that. Because we … I, I’ll speak for myself, stepped into this world thinking if I just did it all right, I could get one, right? And I believe this formula that giving our lives to Jesus and doing things obediently will guarantee, on this planet, in this world, in this life, a perfect end result, right?
John Fuller: Elisa Morgan is our guest today on Focus on the Family, and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. Thanks for joining us. I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: Well, John, I think most of us know that there is no formula to having a carefree, trouble-free life. Accidents happen, decisions get made, relationships break down, and when we go through a tough time, we often wonder why God allowed it to happen and whether he really cares about us. Does he notice? And that’s the essence of what we’re about to hear from our guest, Elisa Morgan, today and next time. Elisa was named by Christianity Today as one of the top 50 women influencing church and culture and is a popular author and speaker. She’s the host of Discover the Word from our Daily Bread Ministries, which can be heard on many of these stations, and as a podcast. She’s also the co-host of a podcast called God Hears Her.
John: Here now is Elisa Morgan speaking at an American Heritage Girls Leadership Conference on today’s Focus on the Family.
Elisa: I remember this quiet Sunday afternoon. I had been traveling, and I was tired. And when I got home on this Sunday afternoon, I also had the responsibility to take care of my then about two-and-a-half-year-old grandson because he lived with us with his single mom. And it was a-, my turn to watch because she was off at her work where she cuts and styles and colors hair, thank you-
Elisa: … very much. And I had put Marcus down for a nap, it felt like a really good idea. (laughs) K- kind of an old thing to do for me. I wasn’t that old, but it fit in that moment, and I gave into it. And I was just starting to, to doze off when I heard this crash, this eruption of noise.
I actually wasn’t even sure it had happened inside our house, but as I got up and I started making my way through the rooms, uh, down the hall, i-, into the entryway, i-, into the living room, and I rounded into the dining room, I knew exactly what the source of this sound was.
This three-shelf unit hutch that had hung on my wall in my living room and had housed my grandmother’s antique china collection-
Elisa: … had lost its grip and fallen. Every bit of it, fallen to the floor, and it was broken. It was ruined. I- I couldn’t believe it. These were the, the plates that my grandmother had bought as she toured Europe with other gray-haired ladies in little tour buses, you know? And she had gone in to purchase a plate at each little city, at each little shop, and bubble wrapped them and brought them home to me because she couldn’t wait to share that legacy with me. And honestly, it’s the only thing I really wanted to inherit from my grandmother, this antique china collection. And I bent down to all of these shards on the floor and there was nothing I could do with them and so I swept them up, a- and I walked them over to the trash, and I poured the pieces in.
It felt to me, as I continued to do this round after round, like everything was falling off of the walls in my life, in this season. And as I bent down, I had such grief, and yet I felt God wrapping his arm around me and saying, “I know you feel like you’re beyond help here, but you’re not beyond me.” And that moment has stuck with me. Thank God I- I wasn’t.
As we lean into this theme of leading from the inside out, from the heart, what I want to say is that that requires a kind of honesty, and I want to push it even further and say an unapologetic honesty, an unashamed honesty about the state of the family, the state of our families, the state of us, you and me. Within our own skins here, I want to ask you a series of questions, and do not answer them out loud, okay? Answer them only in your heart. Don’t look at me with your eyes and go … N- none of that, okay?
Elisa: Just in your own heart, I bet no one’s ever actually asked this series of questions to you. And only you need to know the answers. You ready? Are you a child of addiction, or of divorce, or of a single parent? Have you lost a child, or a grandchild? Do you have a daughter who became pregnant as a teen, and then a second time? Does someone in your home today struggle with alcohol or drugs? Has someone in your family been adopted or have you relinquished someone through adoption? Has someone chosen abortion? Have you received a recorded message from a school saying that your child is not there and you don’t know where they are, or maybe an call from a lab reporting a positive drug test, or, or may be an eerie in middle of the night phone call that someone you love has been arrested or has been injured in an accident or may be is drunk again?
I told you I didn’t want you to answer these questions out loud. I want you to hold them inside. Chances are, if you’re in this room, you can answer yes to maybe one of those questions. Maybe someone in your family has answered yes to one of those questions. Maybe you’ve answered yes to many of those questions, and maybe no one else has ever answered yes to those questions except the same people who went through those moments with you, and you have this kind of sense of shame about your life that if anybody really knew, whoa, you wouldn’t even be included in this room, and you want to like run for the door right this second. I know, ’cause I’ve answered yes to every single one of those questions, and I didn’t want to, but it’s true.
I have the answer to every single one, and what I sh-, want to share with you is the fact that, that I come from a broken family. I- I do. When I was five years old, my, my father called me into his office, and he had this beautiful white easy chair with an ottoman. He beckoned me up onto his lap, and he turned me toward him, and he looked straight into my eyes and he said, “Elisa, I’ve decided I don’t love your mother anymore, and we’re going to get a divorce.” And I wondered what I had done. My family fell and broke in that moment, and I wondered h-, what I could do to fix it.
My new broken family, my mom, my older sister, and my younger brother and I, we moved across the continent of the United States and began a new life, and I remember when I was about 11 years old that my morning started with the sound of my mom’s alarm clock going off down the hall in our ranch-style home in Houston, Texas. “Ehhh,” like that. A- and I would pull back the covers and I would go into the kitchen and grab a glass and plunk some ice cubes in it and pour Coca-Cola over the top, and I would reach into the cookie jar and grab some chocolate chip cookies, and I would take them down the hall to my mom’s bedside, where I’d place them and turn off her alarm and begin the 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 get herself up because my mom struggled with alcohol, and it was my job to wake my mom up, and I felt like my family fell and broke, and I wondered what I had done wrong and what I could do to fix it.
When I was about 16 years old, I gave my life to Jesus, and I could remember one night shortly after I had a dream where I was falling i-, in slow motion like off of a cliff backwards, and I looked down below me, and there were these flesh-colored jagged rocks like the red rocks in Colorado, and just as I was about to hit them, suddenly I realized they weren’t hard at all. They weren’t jagged at all, they were spongy, because I was falling into the hands of God, and I heard this voice that said, “I am your Heavenly Father. I will never leave you or forsake you.”
Now, I made this pledge in those days as I looked around the, the lives of my neighbors, my friends, my schoolmates, and I saw their happy little families, the moms with pearls and little June Cleaver dresses and pumps like these, and they would sit down at 6:00 and have dinner exactly the same every night where everybody could count on it. I looked at that and I thought, “That’s what I want, and now that I have Jesus, that’s what I’m gonna get.” Right? And I gave myself to that, that incredible draw to build a perfectly intact second family.
As a young adult right out of college, I clarified God’s call on my life and I enrolled in seminary. I, I felt him calling me into ministry and there I met and married my husband, stable rock of a man. Because we knew immediately from a health history that we would been, be unable to have children biologically, we decided to adopt, and we began the process right then of waiting for a child through adoption. Can I just say that adopting is something like being dilated to a nine for like 4 1/2 years?
Elisa: It went forever, this wait for a child. First, we finally received our daughter as an infant, and then a couple of years later, our son as an infant. I loved these years. We hunkered down into them. We, we would read the Kenneth Taylor devotional books and count the ladybugs and get them right, you know? We would have Jesus time around our table. We went in and out of church constantly, lo-o-o-o-oved it, but there were some moments that concerned me, like, like one afternoon when my daughter woke up from her nap as a toddler and we were in the throes of potty training, and I reached down to grab her and hug her and realized she’d had an accident.
And I put her in front of Sesame Street on those days and I balled up the sheets, and I was so frustrated because I thought, “I will never get this potty training thing down,” and I stomped down to the basement where our washer and dryer was, and I shoved the sheets into the washing machine, and this really weird thing happened, I looked up and there was this, there was this box of detergent spinning around the ceiling i-, in my washing r- … I’m not kidding. I’m not kidding.
And I watched it. It was going in arcs, and I realized it was attached to a hand, and the hand was attached to an arm, and the arm was attached to, ha, me. I was hurling detergent. You’ve never done such a thing? And all the while I hear this, “Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah,” and I translated it, “Why does the mom be the one who has to have all the answers? Why can’t the mom be the one to ask the questions?” I called is my sud slinging moment. I-, I-, It was a time when-
Elisa: … when I came very clear into the reality that, that I was needy a- and I was messed up, and during these years, no kidding, I’ve got like a five-year-old and a three-year-old. The board of MOPS International calls me to see if I’d be interested in applying to become the first president of this grassroots movement organization that had already been around 15 years but it’d never been formally lead, and I’m like, “Uh, what? Do they not know me, the woman who th-, hurls detergent?”
Elisa: “U-, uh, me, the one who curns in, turns into Monster Mom. That one?”
Elisa: I was like, “Do you have the right number? This is mother Elisa, not Mother Teresa.” Oh, my.
Elisa: But I hunkered down and doubled up my therapy sessions and figured out-
Elisa: … that as I went into the grocery store praying all the way, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” He just directed me to look around to all the other moms in the store with their kids climbing out of the carts too, right?
Elisa: And he was like, “Look, you have the same Swiss cheese holes that they have. Just minister hole-to-hole.”
Elisa: “Let me take your deficits and make them your offering.” That’s what it means to lead from the heart, from the inside out, unashamed as to who we are, not covering it up, but clearly being who we are because of Jesus and what he’s allowed, and also what he’s done to provide for us.
John: You’re listening to Focus on the Family, and that’s Elisa Morgan, and we’ll recommend her book The Beauty of Broken. We can send that out to you for donation of any amount, and, uh, we’ll also include a free audio download of her entire presentation. Donate today and request those at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or call us for details, 800-A-FAMILY, 800-232-6459. Let’s return now to more from Elisa Morgan as she fast-forwards about 10 years in the story.
Elisa: An interesting thing happened. I had a dream, another dream one night, and in this dream I was walking through a home that was under construction. My kids were in their teen years by now. My husband and I both served in full-time ministry. We divided up the chores. We stayed way focused on them and said no to so many things so we could be present.
But in this dream, I was in this home under construction and Jesus was my tour guide, and he walked me first by one bedroom and he said, “This room is for your daughter,” and then he walked me d-, by another bedroom and he said, “And this room is for the baby,” and I said, “Well, we don’t have a baby.” He said, “Oh, yes, you do.” And I woke up going, “Weird.” A- and just a few nights, no kidding, the dream repeated itself. Jesus, tour guide, home under construction. “This room is for your daughter. This room is for the baby.”
A few days later I’m in a meeting at MOPS International sitting around a conference table and we’re discussing how to form an entity called Teen MOPS for moms who are themselves teenagers. I felt God lean and whisper to me, “Elisa, you’re going to know more about this than anyone else in this room.” I decided I better go home and talk to my daughter, and I asked my beautiful, state-ranked swimming daughter, 5’7″, amazing teenager, “Is there any reason you could be pregnant?” And she nods.
And me, never before pregnant me, I drive to the grocery store and purchase an at-home pregnancy test and take it home and wait outside my bathroom while my daughter pees on a stick to find out indeed she’s pregnant. Me, president of MOPS International.
Elisa: My family fell and broke in that moment, and I again wondered, what had I done and how can I fix it? It wasn’t as my daughter who surprised me in these days. My son began to veer off of the road that was prescribed as he entered his adolescent years as well. He began to lose himself into drugs and into alcohol little bit at a time until other issues begin to surface, truancy, some legal issues. There is so much more to my story. There’s so, so, so, so, so much more to my story, but here’s the thing, I come from a broken family, and despite my very best efforts, in the hands of Jesus, led by him, having quiet times, going to church, being in full-time ministry, not ignoring my family, I still come from a broken family. I still come from a broken family. And here’s the thing, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.
There is actually no such thing as a perfect family, and I kinda think it’s time to talk about that. Because we … I, I’ll speak for myself, stepped into this world thinking if I just did it all right, I could get one, right? And I believe this formula that giving our lives to Jesus and doing things obediently will guarantee, on this planet, in this world, in this life, a perfect end result, right? But here’s the thing, we all come from a broken family, every single one of us, and so in some way we all end up creating broken families.
In the beginning, God created man and woman, Adam and Eve. They were a family, a man and a woman, evidencing in their beings the image of God, right? Created as an expression of who he is, holding the divine imprint upon them, but before they even got around to making children, they fell and broke.
The original family is a family that was divorced, divorced from the heart of God, and God’s heart grieved over them. The very first child is born into a broken family, and it continues breaking in the space of the first five chapters of the Bible, the first couple disobeys God’s only prohibition for their own good and then gives birth to two sons, one of whom murders the other. The result is that, by Genesis 6, God is so grieved over the state of the family that he decides to wipe it out and start over again with Noah. God, the perfect Father, the Creator, God, who, who, who pants to bring his children into being, and then his heart tears in pain as we push away from him and demand our independence and say, “We know better.” That our Father God, who christens us sons and daughters, and then he stands in the road waiting for us to come back home after we hightail it out of his Kingdom purposes, and are here after God dreams of redemption when we are restored to the original purposes that he imagined when he first made us that only come as we know Jesus, the redeemer.
We come from a broken family. The family fell and broke before it was ever fully made, and just as my efforts will fall short of creating a perfectly intact second family, so will all of our efforts. You think of it this way. If God, the perfect parent, didn’t create a perfect family, why do we think we will?
I think it’s time to talk. From the vantage point of survival, I can see that I swallowed wrongly the thought that it was my fault that my family fell and broke, and so I decided wrongly that it was my responsibility assigned to me by God to create a perfectly intact second family. Neither is really true. And I want to say this to you right now: the problem is that every one of us is broken. I’m broken, all of us are broken. We share in brokenness. God’s children are broken, and I’ve come to understand that, that God can offer a form of broken family values that we can still shape a beautifully broken legacy. We don’t have to apologize though for our neediness. It’s not like once we become Christians we’re done struggling, okay? We’re not. Every day, we get up and we mess up. Pretty much if you’re just mother normal, you are messing it up by 9:30 in the morning.
Elisa: We all are. If we were done, we would be dead. Okay? So we’re not done. The thing is, is that God gets it that abnormal is pretty much normal, that his children are wayward beings, and his heart leans toward us. He is so committed to us that he knows that we are never, ever, ever, ever, none of us, without hope, without the hope of what he can do in redemption. And this is as true for you as it is for the moms and the girls that you serve. Do not swallow the myth that there is some kind of (Squeaky High-Pitched Voice) thing out there of perfection.
Elisa: What you are calling yourself and others to is a life of yielded-ness to God’s formation in you. That will not always look perfect. That will look real. That will look messy at times, and that will give God glory in every single moment, unapologetically. This is the time we’re supposed to be human. We’ll be perfect later. Right now we’re human. Humans in need of a Savior, sinners in need of a Savior.
The brokenness, I want you to hear this. In your first family is not your fault. It is not up to children to keep their parents married. It is not up to children to make sure their parents don’t abuse drugs or alcohol. It is not up to children to earn a living for their family. It is not up to children to make sure their parents have appropriate sexual boundaries. It is not your fault if you come from a broken family. Yes.
And there may be ways in which, honestly, there are pieces of our second family, which is broken … Okay, yeah, I told you not to raise your hand, don’t look at me, but you know. There are things in our second family that are broken. Some of those may be part by our hand, and if so, we need to say we’re sorry. We need to go and say, “I, I was way over involved. I took on responsibility that was yours. I smother-mothered,” you know, whatever we did, or we need to say, “I really had a problem with my anger and I’m dealing with it,” or we need to say, “I don’t even know God for the first 10 years of your life,” whatever. There are things we need to apologize for. Sometimes I have had to gather up the messes I’ve made it’s like walking along with toilet paper hanging off my shoe ’cause I just can’t get it all up in my arms and say, “I’m so sorry. Now I can see, I would’ve done things differently.”
So in our second families, there may be some things we wanna take responsibility for, but here’s what I love, love, love, love, love about God. When that hutch cluttered off the walls in my home and it felt like everything was toppling before me, yes, God bent down next to me and he says, “You’re not alone. You’re not beyond me. I’m here,” because God does not sweep up the shards and walk them over to the trash. He picks up one shard, and he looks at it, and he knows exactly what he has in mind that that can become. Because God takes the pieces of our brokenness and he craft a beautifully broken legacy that becomes our offering.
John: We’re listening today to Elisa Morgan on Focus on the Family, and we’ll hear the second half of her presentation next time.
Jim: Yeah, I’m looking forward to part two, John. Elisa is going to share, u-, um, how God redeemed these broken situations, so be sure to tune in or listen on our broadcast app. There’s a lot more encouragement still to come. And you know, encouraging families is what our mission is about here at Focus. We want to help you and your family thrive. Uh, sadly, today’s culture is resisting God’s plan for families, and we’re seeing even more pain and brokenness all around us. Uh, here’s an example of how Focus and you are helping marriages from Kathy in Kentucky. She said, “I grew up in a broken home, and when my marriage got difficult, I didn’t want my kids to suffer like I had. Focus on the Family gave my husband and I the tools we needed to turn our marriage around. Years later, God used our example to encourage our adult children to nurture and protect their own marriages. God also prompted me to use Focus on the Family materials to help two coworkers avoid divorce.”
Jim: “We are living proof that when you give your life and your marriage to God, he will bless your relationship. Thank you, Focus on the Family,” and let me just extend that to all who support us. Thank you.
John: Hm. Yeah, there really is such an amazing God-created ripple effect, Jim, that happens, uh, through the ministry. It’s, it’s wonderful.
Jim: It’s so true, John, and I’m so glad Kathy tuned in to Focus on the Family, and that we together were able to help her. And if you want to help families like Kathy’s, let me encourage you to lock arms with us as we provide Bible-based counter-cultural advice and encouragement. The best way to join us is by becoming a monthly sustainer, and if you’re already helping us in that way, let me say thank you for answering that call. Uh, you are providing the fuel that we need to keep this ministry machine going. It’s how Jean and I support the ministry. I know it’s how you and Dena support, John.
Jim: If you’re not a monthly donor, can I ask you to pray about becoming one? It doesn’t have to be a large amount. It’s the consistency that helps us even out our budget throughout the ups and downs of the year. And when you make a monthly pledge of any amount, we’d like to send you Elisa’s book called The Beauty of Broken, and that will be our way of saying thank you for joining the team. And if you can’t make a monthly commitment right now, we understand. We can also send you the book for a one-time gift of any amount. The message is, let’s do ministry together, and to do it, get in touch with us today.
John: Yeah, and just give us a call. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459, or you can donate online and request The Beauty of Broken by Elisa Morgan at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And this reminder, when you get the book from us, we’ll also include a free audio download of Elisa’s entire two-day presentation so you can listen to it again or share it with a friend. Next time, we’ll hear more from Elisa.
Elisa: Because God takes the pieces of our brokenness, and he crafts a beautifully broken legacy that becomes our offering. Things put in his hands, our brokenness put in his hands, can actually be more effective than those things that have never broken and fallen.
John: On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening today to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back, as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.