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You Can Have a Healthy Family (Even if Yours Wasn’t)

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You Can Have a Healthy Family (Even if Yours Wasn’t)

In a discussion based on her book Mending Broken Branches, Elizabeth Oates describes the negative impact that previous generations of your family can have on you, sharing about her own dysfunctional past that's marked by divorce, neglect, and addiction. She suggests practical ways you can reclaim your family tree to become the spouse and/or parent God wants you to be.

Original Air Date: November 21, 2019
Mending Broken Branches

Mending Broken Branches

Receive Elizabeth Oates' book Mending Broken Branches for your donation of any amount! Plus, receive member-exclusive benefits when you make a recurring gift today. Your monthly support helps families thrive.

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Mending Broken Branches

Mending Broken Branches

Receive Elizabeth Oates' book Mending Broken Branches for your donation of any amount! Plus, receive member-exclusive benefits when you make a recurring gift today. Your monthly support helps families thrive.

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Episode Summary

In a discussion based on her book Mending Broken Branches, Elizabeth Oates describes the negative impact that previous generations of your family can have on you, sharing about her own dysfunctional past that's marked by divorce, neglect, and addiction. She suggests practical ways you can reclaim your family tree to become the spouse and/or parent God wants you to be.

Original Air Date: November 21, 2019

Episode Transcript

Elizabeth Oates: Divorce doesn’t just affect the married couple. It affects the kids. It affects the extended family. It affects friends. It affects generations to come. And I think we lose sight of that, and we just want the pain to end. And I think what I tell couples is, “You’re not going to solve your problems. You’re just going to trade one set of problems for another. And this person’s never going to be out of your life because there will always be birthday parties and graduations. And then your child’s going to get married. There will be a wedding. There will be grandchildren. And you will always have your spouse in your life in one way or another. So, fight for it.”

John Fuller: Elizabeth Oates joins us today on Focus on the Family. And your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, when you think of a family tree, you think of these nice, strong branches, uh, reaching to the sky. You think of the generations of your family, the great grandparents, the grandparents. You probably know a bit about them, maybe some photos, those kinds of things. But what do you do when those branches are broken, you know, by those heavy storms of life, abandonment, divorce, some kind of loss? And how do you become a good husband and wife? Or how do you become a good father or mother? You have lots of doubts. And I know that because I’ve lived that as well, you know, with my mom and dad dying at 9 and 12. I, uh – I had the family bush, as we called it.

John: (Laughter).

Jim: We didn’t have a family tree. Today, we want to give you some tools to help your family tree become strong and thriving. And if you’re the first generation that’s going to hold it together, uh, you’ve got to think about second, third, fourth generations. You’re going to be the root of this tree. And if you’re the beneficiary of a big family tree, that’s wonderful, and I hope that it’s been a blessing to you. Uh, to do this, we’re gonna invite Elizabeth Oates to join us. She’s been there. And with God’s help, she’s managed to work through a lot of pain in her past to reclaim her family tree.

John: Mmm hmm. And Elizabeth is a blogger and a popular speaker and really advocates for healthy marriages and families and generations. And she also encourages women to find purpose in the mundane things. And, uh, she and Brandon have five children. And, uh, her book, Mending Broken Branches: When God Reclaims Your Dysfunctional Family Tree, is available at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: All right. Elizabeth from Waco, welcome.

Elizabeth: Yes. Thank you for having me.

Jim: (Laughter) It’s good to have you. I love these stories in part because I share that story. Um, you do so many things. You have interviewed so many women. And you interviewed a lot of women for this book.

Elizabeth: Mmm hmm.

Jim: …All with some sort of dysfunction in their past…

Elizabeth: Right.

Jim: …Typically. I don’t know that any human being doesn’t have some kind of dysfunction in their background. Uh, but what kind of things did, uh, these women that you’ve talked to deal with, kind of to give our audience a general idea of those responses?

Elizabeth: Sure. I like that you point that out, that many of us have some level of dysfunction. And…

Jim: (Laughter) It’s hard to admit, though, at some level.

Elizabeth: Yeah. It is hard to admit. We don’t like to think of ourselves as dysfunctional or our families as dysfunctional. But, um, that was one of the reasons I wanted to include other women in this book, was to show the range of dysfunction. Because it can be anything from, maybe your parents were overly critical, or there were some sibling rivalry that never healed. And so, it can be on that end of the spectrum all the way to, you know, what we think of dysfunction, um, more like addiction or abuse or abandonment.

Jim: I mean, I – as I read your story, divorce is so prevalent.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: Um, speak to that description of your own family and why divorce was so constant in your family tree.

Elizabeth: Yeah. I grew up thinking that divorce was normal, that you would get married, and you would have some kids, and then you would get divorced, and that was just the normal pattern of life.

Jim: That’s what you thought of as normal.

Elizabeth: Exactly. Yeah.

John: Yeah.

Jim: Now, why?

Elizabeth: Uh, because every grandparent I had was divorced. So, I grew up with four sets of grandparents, and even then, they usually divorced a second time. Every aunt and uncle I had was divorced and either single or remarried. Even now as an adult, I have a cousin that’s divorced. And so, I was just surrounded by it. I had, um – you know, some of my mom’s friends were divorced. And so, most of my friends’ parents, you know, were divorced. And so, it was just kind of this culture that I was raised in. And I think I tell this story in the book. I was probably second grade, and I was at a friend’s house, and her dad came home. And her little sister ran up to him and was like – you know, just that, “Daddy” and ran into his arms. And I remember thinking, “That is so strange. Like, why is her dad coming home after work?” And then I remember thinking to myself, “Oh, that’s right. Her parents have to stay married because he’s a pastor.”

Jim: Oh, wow.

Elizabeth: And I just thought, like, that was just part of the deal. Like, he was obligated to stay married because he worked at a church. Um, but I thought everybody else gets divorced.

Jim: Um, your dad left when you were two.

Elizabeth: Right.

Jim: What do you remember about him? And did he stay a constant in your life, or was he gone?

Elizabeth: Yeah. I don’t have a lot of positive memories about him. Um, I do remember that we – you know, this was back in the ’80s, so big divorce boom in the ’80s with that generation of parents. And that was back when the courts would mandate that kids had to spend every weekend with their noncustodial parent or every other weekend. And I think we were ordered to spend every other weekend. Uh, my brother was four years older, and so he – you know, he was 6 when my parents divorced. So, he had more of a relationship with my dad, and he wanted to go spend weekends with my dad. I did not. Um, I remember, leading up to those weekends, having nightmares, stomach aches and just being very fearful. Uh, I remember being at his house and a lot of neglect, a lot of, um – it was just a really unhealthy situation. He remarried and had two stepchildren. And I just remember just being very fearful. And when I would go – um, yeah, just a lot – like I said, a lot of neglect.

Jim: Well, you had the one story that – you know, again, I resonate with so much of your story. But that – the one that caught me was going to your dad’s. And I think, um, they kind of plopped a mattress down for you.

Elizabeth: Oh, yeah (laughter). Yeah.

Jim: …I mean, no pillow, no blanket…

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: …And just kind of left you there.

Elizabeth: Yeah. We had flown. We had – at one point, when I was eight, we’d moved across the country. And so – but at that time, then the court said, “Well, now you have to spend summers at your dad’s.” So, we flew across the country to spend the summer with him. And our first night, you know, we were at this new house. And I think every time we went to visit him, he was at a new house, new neighborhood, so everything was always very unfamiliar. And I think that also led to my – my fears and insecurities around him. And he just led me to a bedroom, and there was just a mattress and nothing else in the room and just said, “OK. You know, go to sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.” And, you know, that next day, I remember him leaving and like, leaving all the kids. And there was no food in the house. And I remember my stepsister and I putting water in sugar packets in baby bottles and drinking that that day. Um, and he got home that night at, like, 10 o’clock at night and had Taco Bell for us. Um, but those were the kinds of situations that I remember with him. Looking back now, as an adult, I know that, you know, he was a drug addict, and he was an alcoholic. And so, he was dealing with his own demons and just was not able to parent us…

Jim: Yeah.

Elizabeth: …from a healthy place. Um, I don’t know that he was a Christian. I don’t have any memory of him ever talking about the Lord or going to church or anything like that. So, I think that also played into his parenting.

Jim: Yeah. Well, that really goes right to the question I wanted to ask you at this point as a, you know, 5-, 6-, 7-year-old, did you have a sense of God? Was there anybody in your life that was saying there’s a purpose for your life or…

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: …you know, there’s someone who cares for you more deeply than anybody?

Elizabeth: You know, at that age, we would pop in and out of church every once in a  while. I remember my grandmother, um, my mom’s mom – we would spend a lot of time with her. She was almost like a second mom. And I remember her watching, you know, Robert Schuller’s Hour Of Power.

Jim: Right.

Elizabeth: …That Crystal Cathedral. I remember her watching that on Sunday mornings because I would say 90% of the time, we did not go to church. You know, it was very rare. Um, so I had a sense of God, but I did not know Jesus.

Jim: Yeah.

Elizabeth: I – I really did not know anything beyond God.

Jim: Yeah. That’s so helpful. I mean, in my story, you know, we had neighbors, the Hope family, and they became like grandparents to us. They weren’t blood related, but they would take us to church occasionally. And God bless those neighbors…

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: …Who notice a family like yours or like mine, they’re struggling, and they just engage.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: And that is a really good way for people of faith…

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: …to get involved right in their neighborhood.

Elizabeth: Absolutely.

Jim: And there are broken homes in every neighborhood.

Elizabeth: Yeah, look for those kids.

Jim: Yeah.

Elizabeth: And invite them because they’re hungry.

Jim: They are. You – another story – and your book is, you know, so filled with heart-wrenching stories, but the Nutcracker story that…

Elizabeth: Oh.

Jim: …You know, you got a part…

Elizabeth: Yes.

Jim: …In a play.

Elizabeth: Uh-huh.

Jim: You were excited about it. I can feel that same thing – something positive in your life…

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: …as little as that.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: You know, most people, if they’re coming from relatively healthy homes, they think, “Ah, that’s no big deal.”

Elizabeth: Mmm hmm.

Jim: But what happened?

Elizabeth: Yeah. So, I was in the third grade, and the school’s putting on a play, and it was only for fourth- and fifth-graders. But they chose, I think, about, you know, 8 to 10 little third-grade girls to be snowflakes in The Nutcracker. And, I was dying to be onstage and dying to be the center of attention. And I got chosen to be one of these little snowflakes. And just weeks before, you know, I remember we were evicted from our apartment, which – moving around was nothing unusual. We moved around a lot. And I think that is very epidemic of children raised in single homes or single-parent homes.

Jim: Yeah, can be.

Elizabeth: Yeah. And just the financial instability that they experience. And so, you know, essentially, we had no place to go. We had no place to live. And so, we had to – my brother and I flew across the country and stayed with my grandmother for about a month while my mom got back on her feet. But I remember having to give up that role in The Nutcracker. And as…

Jim: Aw.

Elizabeth: …An 8-year-old little girl, that was so devastating.

Jim: Heart-wrenching.

Elizabeth: And like you said, you know, you think about it from an adult’s perspective, and you’re – and you think, “It’s just a play.”

Jim: Yeah.

Elizabeth: “It’s not a big deal.” You know, your mom’s trying to find a house and food and, you know, just sustaining your everyday needs. But for an 8-year-old little girl, like you said, that was, like, the biggest thing to happen to me. And then…

Jim: Yeah.

Elizabeth: …To have that taken away at that time in my life was pretty devastating.

Jim: Yeah. I… it’s, uh, interesting to me how you began to shape your view of marriage. I mean, so take us into the teen years. What’s going on?

Elizabeth: Sure.

Jim: Are you – I mean, I don’t mean this – and I don’t know this part of your story.

Elizabeth: Mmm hmm.

Jim: Are you tame? Are you crazy?

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: Wild?

Elizabeth: No, it’s a fair question.

Jim: I mean…

Elizabeth: Very fair question.

Jim: You know, so many things happen in the teen years for kids who have marginal parental supervision.

Elizabeth: Sure. So, in my teen years, my mom remarried, and then she divorced. Remarried in middle school, divorced when I was in high school.

John: So that was second marriage.

Elizabeth: Second marriage. And, you know, I think I’m very fortunate in the fact that God just did not give me a rebellious spirit. I think, also, as I’ve learned through counseling, you know, I think kids from divorce can go one of two ways. They can either turn to rebellion, or what I did was, I felt like I had to be the one to hold it all together.

Jim: So, you became responsible.

Elizabeth: Yes, the very responsible one in the family. I felt like there was enough stress, um, going on that if I did anything wrong, that would just compound the stress in the family, and that would add to it. And I didn’t want to do that. I felt like I had to be the one to hold it all together. Um, again, I think that’s part of the way God wired me, and I think that’s just the way I was processing everything. Um, I also think a coping mechanism that I turned to was to create sort of a perfect world for myself at school. Where I could thrive and, like you said, I could find that validation, and I could be noticed, and I could be celebrated. So, I turned to a lot of extracurricular activities and things like that where I would receive a lot of affirmation that I wasn’t receiving at home.

Jim: Well, and that’s so key. And I think for parents listening right now with teen daughters and teen boys, that’s something to watch for.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: And how are your children finding affirmation?

Elizabeth: Yeah, exactly. Because if they’re not getting it from you, they will get it somewhere else.

Jim: Right.

Elizabeth: …Either positively or negatively.

Jim: And it’s all those good doses. You hear many experts talk about provide 10 affirmations for everyone.

Elizabeth: Yes.

Jim: …Uh, constructive criticism…

Elizabeth: Right.

Jim: …To say it in a healthy way. You know, don’t be…

Elizabeth: Yeah (laughter).

Jim: Don’t be just critical…

Elizabeth: Right.

Jim: …All the time. But that seemed to be your case. Now, you came into a relationship with Christ. Let us know about that. You were…

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: …Fifteen.

Elizabeth: Fifteen. So, I always tell my mom, this is the best thing she ever did for me. After her second divorce she decided that we were gonna start going to church. And I laugh about it now, but I fully admit I was not happy with this decision. I was not on board. And she said, you know, “We’re going anyway.” And so, she took me to this little Baptist church down the street because we lived in a small town at the time. And I wasn’t excited about it because I was this overachiever. And I would go to church, and I would listen to these Bible stories. I had no idea what they were talking about. They would say, you know, “Turn to 1st Corinthians.” I had no idea where that book of the Bible was. There’s first; there’s second. Is there a 4 Corinthians? I don’t know. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Jim: Right.

Elizabeth: And so, I just felt very behind. And I did not like that. I was used to being the straight-A student, the one with all the answers, and then you throw me into a church setting where I know nothing. And that was very uncomfortable for me. I also felt like youth group was a little cheesy. I felt like, at the time, I had seen real life, I had experienced

more than these kids, and I felt like, “Y’all don’t know. You don’t know what I’ve seen. You don’t know how real life works, and this is all child’s play.” So, I did not have the best attitude. I fully admit that now. But my mom just was very, uh, persistent and just said, “You know, you don’t have to go on Sunday nights. You don’t have to go on Wednesday nights. But we’re gonna go on Sunday mornings.” And I’m so grateful for that now, and I try to encourage other parents with that – of just, be consistent, you know…

Jim: Yeah.

Elizabeth: …Pray for them.

Jim: How did that break, though, I mean…

Elizabeth: (Laughter).

Jim: …That attitude?

Elizabeth: Yes.

Jim: I mean, that’s…

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: That’s the golden nugget…

Elizabeth: Right.

Jim: …Of the story. I mean, how did you overcome that, and where did you decide, “OK, I can embrace this”?

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: How long did that take?

Elizabeth: Good question. It probably took a good six months for my heart to soften. I would just show up. I would listen in Sunday school. I didn’t have a lot to offer because I didn’t know. I still remember one of my friend’s parents were my Sunday school teachers. And they were so patient with me. And they just loved me. You know, they didn’t expect anything from me. They just loved on me. They, um, would let me just sit there. They didn’t call me out on anything. And then in church, I would sit there and listen every Sunday. And I will say, you know, that church, it’s the first time that I heard the Gospel presented consistently on a weekly basis. And I think, at the time, I was so lonely. And I think that’s what Jesus brought to the table for me, was…

Jim: Huh.

Elizabeth: “…Everybody has left you. You have felt so abandoned and so alone, but I’m here, and I will never leave you.”

Jim: Yeah.

Elizabeth: And I think that’s what drew me in to a relationship with him.

John: This is Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller. And our guest today is Elizabeth Oates. And, uh, her book is called Mending Broken Branches. There’s a lot in here. And…

Elizabeth: (Laughter).

John: We’re gonna encourage you to get a copy…

Elizabeth: Yeah.

John: …Of this conversation and to get and to get the book. And we’ve got details at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

Jim: Now, here’s – here’s where it gets good.

Elizabeth: OK.

Jim: And this is where the listeners are leaning in now because we’re gonna get to how you met your husband, and all your fears.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: I mean, so describe that for us, how you met Brandon.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: …And what was going on in your head about, “Uh-oh, I can’t do this.”

Elizabeth: Mmm hmm. Yeah. We met in college and, you know, that typical college sweetheart story. You know, we dated for about 3 1/2 years before we got married. And we had a pretty easy dating relationship. No drama, um, you know, always got along, fell in love, that whole thing.

Jim: That sounds like courtship.

Elizabeth: It was…

Jim: (Laughter).

Elizabeth: Yeah, it was pretty, um, uneventful and anticlimactic. I mean, we were just a really easy couple. You know, we weren’t – we didn’t have any major ups and downs. But when we got married, that’s when everything began to unravel. Um…

(LAUGHTER)

Elizabeth: We had a very short honeymoon period, uh…

Jim: Yeah.

Elizabeth: …About a month. And then I think I looked around and thought, “What did I get myself into?” Um…

Jim: Now – now, we got to tie this together.

Elizabeth: Sure.

Jim: I mean, you’re coming out of tradition of divorce.

Elizabeth: Right.

Jim: So, are you thinking, “Exit door’s easy; it’s what my family does”? Was that all connected for you? Did you think divorce was an easy option or…

Elizabeth: You know…

Jim: …an option at all?

Elizabeth: I didn’t think divorce would be an option for me, but I thought, “I’m just going to be stuck in this marriage, and I’m going to be miserable for the rest of my life” and, uh, because I came from such dysfunctional patterns and unhealthy communication, and Brandon came from a family where he never saw his parents argue. He never saw them fight. He never saw them raise their voices. So, the first time we had a conflict, he immediately thought, “She hates me. She wants a divorce. She’s gonna leave me. I don’t understand what’s happening.”

Jim: So, you were at two opposite ends.

Elizabeth: Yes, opposite ends of the spectrum. And the – also, the way we approach conflict, we’ve had to work a lot on. Because, I will – because I saw conflict in such an unhealthy way, a lot of times, I just retreat. I’ll get very angry, and then I retreat. I just don’t want to deal with it. I fear conflict. He, on the other hand, is such a – such a laid-back guy that he doesn’t want to deal with conflict either. He just is like, “Can’t we all just get along? Like, why do we even have to talk about this?”

Jim: Kind of sweep it under the rug.

Elizabeth: Yeah. “Let’s just sweep it under the rug and…”

Jim: Yeah.

Elizabeth: “…move on.” So here you have two people who are avoiding conflict for two very different reasons. And that was our No. 1 issue in marriage, was that we were both avoiding conflict. But underneath the surface, things were bubbling.

Jim: I want to speak to the parenting role, and then we’re gonna get into some help…

Elizabeth: OK.

Jim: …for those who are identifying with you…

Elizabeth: Mmm hmm.

Jim: …You know that they’ve got some portion of your story…

Elizabeth: OK.

Jim: …Or at least they have the characteristics of the fear of marriage. And – but the parenting space – so you’re married. You’re fighting through these issues the…

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: …First year. You’re learning coping skills through the great resources you mentioned – your church activity, et cetera. OK. But then you become a parent.

Elizabeth: Yes.

Jim: OK. So, on top of stress in the marriage and dealing with that, what happens when you find out you’re pregnant, and the baby comes? How are you and Brandon dealing with being parents?

Elizabeth: Yeah, parenting, has been a great journey. I mean, obviously I think, like many parents, we’ve had to learn how to parent together. But I think we have similar goals in what we want for our families. You know, we’ve – we created a family mission statement. We know what we want our family to look like and what’s important to us. So, when it comes to parenting, I feel like we approach it with similar goals. It has required a lot of healthy communication because we have – two of our five children are very challenging and have had some very specific needs. So that has been… that has been a challenge.

Jim: Sure.

Elizabeth: And it’s required us to be on the same page. But one thing Brandon always told me during our first year of marriage is, “We’re on the same team.” We’re on the same team. And he has drilled that into my head. Because me, coming from a family of divorce, I saw people who had that mentality of every man for himself. And…

Jim: Right.

Elizabeth: …I want what I want, and you want what you want. And so, we’re gonna fight for our own agendas. And so, what he tried to teach me was we need to fight for what’s best for the marriage. And I think we take that approach into parenting of like, hey, what’s best for our kids? And what’s best for our family as a whole?

Jim: That’s really good and important. I think sometimes, uh, coping mechanisms get started in childhood, right?

Elizabeth: Yeah. Yeah.

Jim: So that every-person-for-themselves attitude, I can relate to that, you know.

Elizabeth: Right.

Jim: I have to look out for my space. And through Christ, that’s where we learn to lay those things down.

Elizabeth: Mmm hmm.

Jim: And it’s not that. It’s the people around you.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: Look out for them. Additional coping skills… what are some other things people can do differently to help them get through these difficult pasts?

Elizabeth: Yeah. Well, I love how you said crying out to God. That’s – you know, one of the first things I mentioned in the book is just letting him know where you’re struggling, where you’re grieving, where you’re hurting. Um, I mentioned journaling a lot. You know, I’ve journaled – gosh – since I first became a believer when I was 15. I’ve journaled all these years. I think meeting with mentors is a great idea, whether that’s someone on your church staff. Whether that is, you know, a friend’s mom, or dad, if you’re a guy – you know, meeting with someone in a different season of life than you who can walk you through some of the areas where you’re struggling. I think that’s maybe getting an accountability partner, you know.

Jim: Yeah.

Elizabeth: Hey. This is where I’m struggling as a parent or as a wife or as a husband. You know, can you help me walk through this journey with me? You know, I’m not looking for a counselor. I’m just looking for somebody to hold me accountable in areas where I feel like I need to improve.

Jim: Yeah.

Elizabeth: And then maybe counseling is something you need, you know?

Jim: Right.

Elizabeth: Um, unpacking…

Jim: Well, we encourage that (laughter).

Elizabeth: Yeah. Unpacking trauma is tough work. And I think a lot of us are hesitant to say we lived through trauma. Um, but if you grew up in some sort of dysfunction, there might be some trauma there. So, having a professional help you unpack it is sometimes necessary.

Jim: Another important feature is forgiveness. And we didn’t – we haven’t touched on that.  Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: Um, that’s huge.

Elizabeth: Yeah. Absolutely.

Jim: How to forgive people that hurt you, especially your family.

Elizabeth: Right. Yeah. If you don’t forgive, you are just leaving that splinter in there.

Jim: How does a person truly know they’ve forgiven someone? I get that question all the time. Did I forgive my stepdad for walking out the day of my mom’s funeral?

Elizabeth: Yeah. Wow.

Jim: And I’ll say, “Yeah. I think I have.”

Elizabeth: Mmm hmm.

Jim: I don’t think about it.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: I’m not resentful toward it. So, I think that’s evidence of forgiveness.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: How would you answer that question? How – how have you forgiven your father, your mother, your grandparents?

Elizabeth: Yeah. I would say forgiveness, kind of like you said, like you don’t feel anger or bitterness or resentment toward that person.

Jim: You’ve let it go.

Elizabeth: You’ve let it go. I think someone told me once, um, “If you can move to a place of empathy for that person, then you know you’ve forgiven them.” And I think also if you can look at the situation from the person’s point of view. Dive into their history, try to understand what they have been through.

Jim: Yeah.

Elizabeth: Uh, you know, I look at what my parents went through, my grandparents. They had very difficult lives. No one in my family has walked an easy road. But I think just looking at the situation from their point of view. And what did they go through that led them to this point? And letting that be part of your healing journey.

Jim: Yeah.

Elizabeth: And – and like I said, finding that piece of empathy for them.

Jim: Your daughter once asked you something about your dad.

Elizabeth: Mmm hmm.

Jim: What did she ask? And how did you answer?

Elizabeth: Yeah. I think she asked me where does he live, or do you see him, or something like that.

Jim: So how old was she when she observed that?

Elizabeth: Oh, gosh. She was around 8 years old.

Jim: Yeah. That’s incredible.

Elizabeth: Yeah. And, you know, I had to tell her. At the time, he lived in a different state. And that was kind of the beginning of explaining I don’t see him, and this is why. I haven’t seen him since I was probably your age. And, it was tough because I wasn’t prepared for it. So that’s one thing I try to encourage parents is, hey, be ready for these conversations because kids are going to ask. And my dad has actually since passed away. And so that’s another conversation I had to have with my kids. And having to grieve, you know, a parent who wasn’t really even in my life.

Jim: Right.

Elizabeth: And so that’s a whole different kind of grieving process.

Jim: Right. And grieving the fact they weren’t engaged in your kids’ lives, right?

Elizabeth: Right.

Jim: So, I mean, that’s horrible.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: Elizabeth, um, I think this is the – the golden moment of the question. There may be a couple who’s thinking of divorce, a woman or a man who’s listening right now. And they’re tired. They have fought the fight. And it’s just not there.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: There’s no more spark. They may believe in Christ, and they just, you know – again, they just can’t find it, the energy to press on. Speak to that person.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: About the family tree, about what you have fought through. And there’s somebody on the precipice of either starting or continuing that legacy of destruction. Why is it so important to fight through that and stay married, and honor God, and do the right thing?

Elizabeth: Yeah. That’s such a good question. I would encourage someone by saying that marriage is a marathon, not a sprint. So, you might think you are at mile 26, and you just – you can’t do any more. You’re done. But I would encourage you that maybe God has you at mile six and that he has so much left in this race for you and just to keep going.

Use all of the tools at your disposal. And there are an endless well of tools. You know, like we’ve mentioned, there are books. There are podcasts. There are, you know, obviously, Focus on the Family has an endless amount.

Jim: We feel like a resource center.

Elizabeth: You are. You are.

Jim: I mean, that’s what we feel like.

Elizabeth: Um, there are mentors in your life if you just look around. There are counselors. There is just so much available to us in this generation to help us. And then we have to do a lot of work on ourselves. You know, I think I hear a lot of people say, “Well, you know, my husband won’t go to a counselor,” or, “My wife – she won’t sit down and talk to me.” Then work on yourself. Because God is not done with your story yet. And, you know, you asked about generationally. I once had a friend say, “I think the church doesn’t know what to do with divorced people because the ramifications spread so far and wide.”

Jim: Yeah.

Elizabeth: And I think that’s true. You know, divorce doesn’t just affect the married couple. It affects the kids. It affects the extended family. It affects friends. It affects generations to come. And I think we lose sight of that, and we just want the pain to end. And I think what I tell couples is, “You’re not going to solve your problems. You’re just going to trade one set of problems for another. And this person’s never going to be out of your life because there will always be birthday parties and graduations. And then your child’s going to get married. There will be a wedding. There will be grandchildren. And you will always have your spouse in your life in one way or another. So, fight for it.”

Jim: Yeah.

Elizabeth: “Fight for it because there is joy and hope on the other side.”

Jim: That’s the reward. Elizabeth, this has been so good. And I – I love it. I think I’m drawn to that Scripture where the Lord says, “Choose life, or choose death.”

Elizabeth: Mmm hmm.

Jim: And I would speak to the person. If you’re on that path of destruction, you know, and you’re blaming your past for it, you know, “I didn’t have a mom,” “I didn’t have a dad,” “I don’t know what to do” – stop it.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: Get back on the road of life. And the Lord is there to help you. Start there. Make that commitment to Christ. And then there are plenty of people and resources to tap into to help you grow in that journey.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jim: And one of the things is your great book, Mending Broken Branches.

Elizabeth: Thank you.

Jim: What a wonderful place to start to talk about your past, grieve your past and then move forward in Christ. Thank you for being with us.

Elizabeth: Aww, thank you for having me.

John: And you can get your copy of the book, Mending Broken Branches, and other helpful resources, regardless of where you’re at in your faith walk, or in your marriage, or your parenting journey. Our website is focusonthefamily.com/broadcast and our phone number, 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.

I do want to mention that we have caring Christian counselors here. And if you don’t know where to turn, but we’ve surfaced some issues that you want to address, call us. And they would be happy to schedule a time for a phone consult with you so we can kind of get the ball rolling on a healing journey for you.

Well, join us tomorrow as Dr. John Trent helps us to balance the two sides of love in relationships.

Teaser:

Dr. John Trent: So, I’m going to go see, Lord, what can I do today to add softness or strength to somebody who needs it? To step in and help them if they’re struggling, or to really affirm ’em.

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