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Focus on the Family Broadcast

Walking Through Life’s Valleys

Walking Through Life’s Valleys

Focus on the Family President Jim Daly describes how God carried him through the valleys of his turbulent childhood, healing his heart and strengthening his faith. He also discusses how the display of God's love and grace is the most effective way for impacting our culture.
Original Air Date: November 6, 2019



Jim Daly: “Character counts, and we learn character in the valleys. You learn who you are. And I would say, “Run to a valley to learn who you are.”

End of Excerpt

John Fuller:  And we’ll hear more insights from Focus President, Jim Daly, as he shares some ‘character-building’ events from his childhood on this episode. Thanks for joining us today.  And Jim, we’re going to presenting a talk that you gave to a group of homeschooling parents and their kids, just a few weeks after our Alive From New York! event last May, and the details about what happened in Times Square were really fascinating.  But before we get to those, we’re going to hear your insights on character, and how it is formed as we grow from children, to adults.

Jim: That’s right, John, you know our audience keeps increasing, so many people might not be familiar with my rather ‘eventful’ childhood, I’ll say it that way. And love sharing that story because it shows how God can work through any situation, no matter how difficult.  And when someone like me finds God’s love, in spite of terrible circumstances, you just want to share it!  And that’s my life’s mission – to share the love of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible.  And that includes people who disagree with the Christian viewpoint on cultural issues, as you’ll hear in this presentation.

John: Alright, let’s get to it. Here now Focus president, Jim Daly, talking to the Home Educators Association of Virginia, at their 36th Annual Homeschool Convention, on today’s episode of Focus on the Family.


Jim: So let me – let me speak to the leadership in this category. And I think with the tribe here, very capable parents – at least that’s my impression – and very capable kids. I mean, that is what you’re doing. You are critically involved in your children’s development, and that’s awesome.

I think if there’s a cautionary area, it’s going to be in this space where – how do we really develop good character in our children? So often – what I learned as an orphan kid, you know who you are when you’re in the valley. Being on the mountaintop, you can fake it. When you got cash in your bank account, you got everything you need or want, it’s easy to have a veneer of Christianity. It’s when you don’t have those things. All you have is your character. That’s who you know who you are. And for the young people in here, take that as the lesson out of the talk today. That’s what it’s about.

And for me, being that kid, I mean, I had – you know, the pages just kept turning and the life just kept going down. I mean, I was born into a family, I was the fifth child. All my siblings are a year apart – boom, boom, boom. And then six years after my closest sibling was born, I was born. I was the ‘oops’ baby. Anybody the ‘oops’ baby? The accident, that’s how you’re introduced. “Oh, this is our accident.” It’s very, you know, good for your confidence. “Yes, I’m the accident child.” But my mom and dad were struggling.

My dad had a problem with alcohol. And when I was 5, it was done. My dad got arrested. My mom was on the run. He was trying to get back with us, and my mom wanted to keep him away from the five kids and her. Every year, I was in a different elementary school at some point. Compton was the longest elementary school I was – a year and a half – but just a lot of change in my life – constantly, constantly, constantly.

And I remember my mom one day, she was not feeling well, she had remarried a guy, Hank, Hank the Tank. He was an ex-military drill sergeant. I had nicknames for everybody. I was 9. He was Hank the Tank. He would do a white glove test in our bedrooms. And if you didn’t pass, you had to do something. I didn’t hang up my jacket one time; he made me hang it up 500 times.

But, uh – but that was Hank. And they were married only for about a year and a half. And to Hank’s credit, Hank really loved my mom. But he hated the kids, hated us.  And it showed, uh, when my mom died of cancer, we came back from the funeral, and Hank had packed all of his bags, put our stuff in little boxes in the living room and sold all of our furniture. You know what I mean by that. That wasn’t Hank’s furniture. That was our furniture. But we came home to an empty house after the funeral. And, uh, Hank came out of the bedroom and said, “I can’t take this pressure. I’m leaving.” I’m, like, 9, going, “I can’t take it either. What do I do?” “Oh, you get to go to foster care.”

And the day before my mom died, the Hope family led her to the Lord. They were our neighbors. I’m not kidding. Is this God or what? H-O-P-E, Hopes. The Hopes came and said to my mom, “Jan, you need to know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.” They’d been friends and neighbors for a couple of years. But they had the courage to go and mention this to her. My mom knew the golden rule. It was of that era where she taught us the right stuff. She had a great sense of humor – all those things. And she had a lot of great character. But she didn’t have a relationship with Christ. And so that changed that day. And I think it was the relationship with my – between the Lord and my mom. I can’t imagine my mom’s prayers in those last 24 hours of her life, with a child 19 and then 17, 16, 15 and 9, what she must’ve been praying, knowing she was going to die and not knowing what – perhaps knowledgeable, but not knowing exactly what Hank would do.

And so we went into foster care, my – my brother Dave and Dee and I. And the name of this family was the Reil family. I’m not joking – the Reils, R-E-I-L, the Reils. I remember I didn’t really know the Lord. I had heard my mom accepted Christ, but nobody spent time telling me what that meant at 9 years old. Isn’t that sad? And I can just remember going to this family and thinking, “this is the Reil family?” They had four sons. The 18-year-old son, Dave, that year married his 42-year-old cousin Maggie.

Come on. It may be the morning, but did you hear what I just said? You guys, come on. He was 18. She was 42! Yeah, thank you. Thank you very much.  (LAUGHTER)

And, uh, Paul knew my brother Dave. And then there was Gary, who died of AIDS. He was one of the early same-sex homosexual activists in San Francisco. He was 14 at that time but died of AIDS probably seven years later. And then Marky (ph) was 8 years old. And Marky was great. He is now a state trooper in Utah. He used to steal my toys.


This is a true story. You know, and my mom was so good. She’d always address – taught us how to address adults. So I would go to Mrs. Reil, and I’d say – yeah, I’m 9 years old – “Mrs. Reil, Marky took my four headless GI Joes. They’re in his drawer.” I mean, I was asking permission to re-steal my GI Joes. And she looked at me. And she said, “You know, Jimmy, you’re just not fitting in with our family. Marky would never steal anything.” “Well, you don’t know your son (laughter).” And I just remember – I remember when she said that I was thinking – in a 9-year-old way, I was thinking “that’s a good thing I’m not fitting in with your family (laughter).” I mean, “I’m no genius, but thank you for the compliment.” (Laughter)

That’s so sad, I know. And at least the Reils did open their home up to us. And I’m grateful for that. But the point of that, really, is where are you learning who you are?

And at a very early age, I had to figure out a couple of things. One, adults had a hard time telling the truth. That was my world. I mean, it was crazy.

Six months into living with the Reil family, the social worker came out for a first-case visit. She was a very wise, older woman, probably 24. (laughter) You know those social workers?

Yeah, they’re, like, 24, just out of college and gung-ho for a couple of years till we foster kids beat the snot out of them. (laughter) But she was sitting across the table from me. It was a kind of a puppy crush, my first one. She was very cute. And I fell in love with my social worker.

And my brother Dave was sitting at the table. And she looked at me, and she said, “Jimmy, we have a problem.” And I said, “Yes, we do.” Thank you, the first adult that has recognized it, even though she’s only 24. But she looked at me and said, “No, Mr. Reil said you tried to kill him.” Thank you; that was exactly my response. And there’s one or two of you going, “Well, did you?”  (LAUGHTER)

No! I wasn’t – no, I was, like, as shocked as the social worker was. In fact, I – remember, I’m 9 years old, and I said, “How did I try to kill him?”  (LAUGHTER)

That was probably what tipped her off, right? And she looked at me with a little wry smile. And I’m telling you what. A child can pick up on drops of affection, of affirmation. That little smile she had in her face as she was talking to me told me everything I needed to know that she did not believe him. She believed me. And she smiled. And she said, “Well, he said you tried to push him off a cliff.”  (LAUGHTER)

And in my little voice, I said, “But we live in Morongo Valley.”


That is an absolute true story, verbatim. “But we live in Morongo Valley.” And she said, “Yeah, I don’t know what we’re going to do, but there’s two options. You can hunker down here at the Reils” – I didn’t know what that word meant; it’s the first time I had heard it – “Or we can split you into different foster households.” And I remember she’s looking at me. My brother, who’s 18, is sitting there. He’s not saying a word. So she’s looking at me, “What do you want to do?” I said, “Well, I think hunkering down here would be better.” So we had to live there another six months with this guy thinking I was trying to kill him. It’s a little odd. Then my – my dad reappeared, my bio dad. And I hung on his leg the whole time while he visited us at the Reils. I mean, at the end of the day he said, “Would you like to come and live with me?” Yes!

But if you came from an alcoholic home, it was like, Dad – huh, Dad. Which dad would I get? So my sister and I moved in with him for about a year. And he was still struggling drinking – better, but still struggling. I remember when my sister turned 18 one year later, and we’d lived there a year and a half or so. At the end of the Reils, I was going to be coming up on 12 years old, so I’m 11-and-a-half. And I remember the family, my siblings, didn’t think I should live with my dad by myself. So they said, “You know, we think you should move out, move in with Dave,” my brother, who was now 19 or 20, married to his pregnant 16-year-old girlfriend.

I remember when they got married, I looked at her, I said, “Do I call you Mom?” I mean, you’re closer to my age than my brother’s age, but (laughter) – this is crazy, isn’t it? God does get into this story. Hang on. And if you notice, the Bible’s full of messy people. Have you noticed?

I had to tell my father because the siblings said, “He will not hear it from us. You have to tell him.” I’m, like, 11 1/2. You get a theme here? “Figure out where you’re going to live, tell your dad you don’t want to live with him anymore.” I remember at the family conference, looking at my father and saying, “You know, Dad, I just don’t think I should live with you anymore after Dee is moved out.” And he looked at me and said, “Why?” Nobody had prepped me for that question, so I’m sitting there for what felt like eternity, thinking “what – what do I say to my father?” And I remember after a long silence, I remember looking him in the eye. He was on this side of the room. I said, “Well, because of the way you treated Mom.” And to his credit, he stood up, he came over and hugged me. And he said, “I love you, but I wasn’t a good husband and I’m not a good father.” In many ways, that’s character, recognizing your failure. And I hugged him. And he walked out. And he died four months later. I never saw him after that encounter. He died, frozen to death in a building, an abandoned building, drunk. I usually don’t share that part of the story.

The amazing thing is the last two weeks of his life, he volunteered at a church. So it may be odd. I may end up seeing him in heaven. I don’t know. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

So you’re going, “OK, what happens next, little orphan boy?” Well, then you just have to say, “Lord, you’re in control, right?” I’m not yet acquainted with the Lord and Savior. I’ve heard about him. Nobody spent time telling me about him​yet.

Program Note:

John: This is Focus on the Family and we’re hearing from Jim Daly today, his own testimony of God’s intervention in his life. And you can get a copy of Jim’s book, which chronicles his rather amazing and chaotic child childhood. When you make a contribution of any amount to the work of Focus on the Family — either monthly or one-time gift. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY, 800-232-6459, or donate and request that book focusonthefamily.com/broadcast

Let’s go ahead and return now to Jim Daly as he speaks to a group of homeschooling parents and their children.

End of Program Note

Jim: At 15, a football coach I had, Paul Morrow, who just died – I did his funeral, and he was awesome. He was a believer, he and his wife Joyce. And they invited me and paid the $500 for me to go to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp in Point Loma. And this guy – he was the quarterback of the San Diego Chargers at the time, the speaker that was there. Jeff – I think his first name was Jeff. I can’t remember his last name. And he came up to the podium. There’s only 40 of us guys, play football all day and then listen to a speaker and laugh and giggle at him because he’s a Christian. “Oh, that guy. What’s he know? He thinks there’s a God.”

And this guy got up there and said, “Has your father let you down? Has your stepfather let you down?” I thought the next thing he was gonna say, “Has Mr. Reil let you down?”


Right? You just go, “Whoa, this guy’s got my dossier.” And he said, “I’ll introduce you to someone who will never let you down, Jesus Christ. He’ll be a father to you, especially if you don’t have a father. He’ll be a father to the fatherless.” Wow, I was bawling. I went up there as a 15-year-old and accepted Jesus as my savior.

And I’m telling you what – and I guess this is the point, the clear point – character counts, and we learn character in the valleys. You la, learn who you are. And I think for all of us in the room, especially if you’re being raised in a good home, a home of love and kindness and joy and peace, you can take those things for granted and forget or not realize, because you’re on the mountaintop, what the valley is. And I would say, “Run to a valley to learn who you are.

Let me say to, uh, some of the young people in the audience, I want to make a little transition about where you’re at in your life and what’s, in my opinion, what’s going to happen. You’re going to have lots of challenges. Let’s face it. For me, you know, football was my little god. I love football. I played it. I did well. I got scholarship offers to TCU and other D1 schools to play quarterback. I thought I was good. I wanted to play the pros.

But I remember this Friday night, praying before a game. And I knelt down with Danny Paul, the tight end, and I’m praying. We’re playing Big Bear, Calif., and I’m praying because they’re big. And I’m saying, “Lord, if you don’t want me to play college football because it’ll take me away from you, break a bone today, but don’t let it hurt.”

Third quarter of this game – third quarter this game — hut, I take the ball. I’m looking. I see my guy, go to throw the ball, and I can see this outside linebacker coming right here. He’s gonna T-bone me.

I throw the ball. This guy hits me right in the armpit so hard he jacks me up in the air, pile drives me straight into the ground. And I get up, and something’s a little odd, but it doesn’t hurt. And it’s my left arm. I’m a right-handed quarterback. And I’m in the huddle. And I reach under my shoulder pads, and my collarbone is snapped in two. And I’m going, “You guys, you guys” – in the huddle – “You guys, God has answered my prayer.”


And what was so funny is they went, “Timeout, quarterback has a concussion. He’s talking about God.” And that was it.

And my point in that whole story is faithfulness. You want to put a smile on God’s heart? Be faithful. Be faithful. You know, for the Christian life, we can blow it. We always have the Lord to turn to. We repent of our sins, and we go back to the Lord and say, “I’m sorry.” It’s an awesome thing. God is an awesome God that way. But I’m telling you what, you have to recognize where you’re blowing it, right? And when cannot see your failures any longer, that’s the weakest place to be. And I think – and I’ll end with this.

I think where we’re at in the church, the challenge I’m challenged with every day is how do I treat the person who opposes me? You guys struggle with that at all? Am I the only one that struggles with this?

OK, so we were up in New York — we did Alive from New York. We did live ultrasounds in Times Square. (applause) Did you guys see that? It was amazing. So we’re – we’re sitting back at Focus, and, you know, the governor of New York had come out with his abortion bill and the Virginia governor, who just talked about infanticide. And we’re literally going, “What can we do? We got to do something. This is unbelievable.” And one of the staff members who works for Joel said – had sent a memo and said, “Why don’t we do live ultrasounds in Times Square?” We’re like, “That’s a God idea.” And in about 10 weeks we pulled that off. We called and we got the permitting going. And NYPD got our paperwork. And they said, “Are you talking about this year?” That’s how bad it was. And we’re going, “Yeah, 10 weeks from now. Is that doable?” “Not typically. It’s usually a year in the planning.” But they said, “We like your message, so we’ll do what we can.” Isn’t that awesome? Thank…


Thank the Lord for, uh, Irish Catholic cops in New York (laughter). But anyway, it was just an amazing event. And I want to tell you a couple of these things because, again, I think it fits into the moment that you’re in in the culture, and especially to the young people, you have an exciting life ahead of you. Oh, my, are you going to live in some amazing times. And I believe in you. I think the younger generation knows how to combine orthodoxy – and they’re going to learn this even more so as they mature – the speaking of truth, orthodoxy – and they’re going to match it well with orthopraxy, the doing of truth. Do you guys – you know what I’m saying? Speak truth, but I’m telling you, like the Book of James, more importantly, do truth. That’s why we do foster care.

So there we are in New York, and we’re getting ready to go, and 400 protesters are bashing drums and blowing tubas. They’re comprised of three groups, we were told, by the NYPD. It’s Planned Parenthood supporters, LGBTQ people and Black Lives Matter. And we’re going, “That’s interesting.” And the first three speakers were Alveda King, Christine Bennett and Benjamin Watson, the big tight end from the New Orleans Saints. And Benjamin Watson – the protesters are over here. Benjamin Watson gives a data point, which is true, that abortion has killed more black babies in New York City than were born. The Black Lives Matter people put their signs down and came in and joined us.


Is that awesome? That’s awesome!! That – to me, that was the victory. That was the victory of the moment. And then I’ll never forget – never forget, right about halfway through – halfway through the New York event, we said, “OK, it’s that time. We’re gonna do – we’re gonna do the live ultrasound.” It’s Abby Johnson. You know, Abby Johnson from the movie “Unplanned”? She – we hadn’t told anybody, but she’s eight months pregnant.  And so we’re doing the ultrasound on Abby, and her baby is asleep.


Jim: They have her back there drinking Mountain Dew, jumping on one leg. This is a true story. I mean, they’re praying back there. There’s – “Wake up, baby. The whole world’s gonna see you, baby.”  (LAUGHTER) (snoring sound) And just no movement. And so right at the right moment – I mean, I’m, like, on stage going, “OK, let’s go to the ultrasound.”


“…The ultrasound.” And the stenographer, the nurse, is on the mic in the mobile unit right behind the stage, and she’s going, “Oh, there’s the yawn. Baby’s waking up.” (light applause) And then the picture comes in on the 4D ultrasound, and then, “Let’s hear that” – the stenographer says, “Let’s hear the heartbeat.” Whoosh (ph), whoosh, whoosh. You’ve heard it. OK, I’m on the stage – 20,000 people all the way down Times Square. I can see everybody – 400 protesters right over here. Here’s what they did with their signs. They got their signs – right? – which – one was, “Focus on your own family.” That’s my favorite.


And they’ve got their signs, and they’ve – their jaws are set (ph). K-choo (ph), k-choo, k-choo – they went like that. I was looking right at them. They were like – I don’t think they’d ever heard it before. They were like…  (APPLAUSE)

Isn’t that awesome? And so when it gets to this area of leadership, how do we engage the culture? It goes back to 2 Timothy 2:22 through 26. Don’t get bogged down in these, like, silly quarrels. But when it comes to truth, we stand for truth. We’re firm on the inside, soft on the edges, inviting a world to know who Jesus Christ is. That is our only hope. Don’t you agree? God bless you guys.


John:  You know Jim, I really love how you wrapped up, standing for truth. We have to do that but “being soft on the edges” inviting to a world that doesn’t know Jesus. We have to be ambassadors of our Lord.   What a great message.  And let me just say a big “thank you” to the Home Educators Association of Virginia for ‘capturing’ and allowing us to share the audio of that presentation today.

Jim:  It’s true John. And you know we don’t need to go out of our way to be hated.  Let the gospel be the offence — we should be the aroma drawing people toward us.

You know, the Alive From New York event really is a great example of standing for the Truth without getting ‘bogged down in silly quarrels.’ Like I quoted from 2 Timothy.  We went to Times Square, we proclaimed the fact that Life begins at conception, and we sent a baby’s heartbeat echoing through the streets of New York City, along with that baby’s image. And people were stunned!

And we’re planning to build on that success of Alive From New York with a nationwide pro-life celebration that we’re calling ALIVE 2020.  And we’ll be that on May 9th, the day before Mother’s Day. You can find out more details and register for this free event at our website.

In the meantime, John, you and I are hitting the road next week to talk about the importance of every human life – we’re calling it Focus on the Family LIVE, and we’re interviewing great pro-life guests at five cities from coast to coast!

John:  That’s right! We’ll start with Joni Eareckson Tada, Monday the 11th, in Anaheim….and then Tuesday we’ll be in Dallas to talk to Stephen Arterburn, about how abortion impacts men. Wednesday we’ll be talking about the value of life with Emily Colson in Tampa, Florida. Thursday the 14th Atlanta with Al & Lisa Robertson, from Duck Dynasty.

And Lisa will share her personal experience with teenage abortion.  And how that single decision affected her for years.  And we’ll wrap up, what somebody called a rather ambitious week, in Chicago with Scott Klusendorf who, of course, is a great defender of life and so very winsome in his presentation.

Jim: Man John, we’re going to be tired aren’t we.  I mean wow…but it is invigorating to speak to audiences of this topic of life.  They’re going to be wonderful events with live music and so much more!  We still have free tickets for some of the locations, so visit us online for more details.  Just look for Focus on the Family LIVE! at our website.

And let me just remind you, we need your support as we speak out for the value of every human life! Please donate to Focus on the Family if you can and stand with us.  And when you make a donation of any amount, I’d like to send you a copy of my book, Finding Home.  It provides a more in-depth look at all of those crazy events in my childhood, and the Lord used to shape my character and where I am today.

John:  And we’ll invite you to join the team with a generous gift when you call  800 the letter -A- and the word FAMILY, or you can donate and request Jim’s book, Finding Home, at focusonthefamily/broadcast that’s 800-232-6459.

And coming up next time, some common mistakes that parents make.


Dr. Timothy Johanson:  Threats are things that are vague. They tend not to have a lot of meat behind them. You have to do this or else. Well, what does or else mean?

End of Teaser

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