Lysa TerKeurst offers hope and encouragement to listeners struggling with life's hardships in a discussion based on her new book, It's Not Supposed to be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered. (Part 2 of 2)
John Fuller: Lysa TerKeurst was our guest last time on Focus on the Family, and she shared about a devastating blow to her marriage.
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John: Lysa is back with us today, and thank you for joining us. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller, and today we’ll hear more about how you can better cope with disappointing or even overwhelming circumstances in your life.
Jim Daly: John, last time we started a powerful discussion on what to do when we’re faced with disappointment. Um, sometimes it comes in a small form. Maybe your child spills their milk or, you know, a frustration with work. Other times, it could be very serious, the - the very depths of pain - the loss of a child, infidelity, whatever it might be. Regardless of how small or how big that disappointment is, we all know what it’s like to feel, uh, that life was supposed to be better, that I became a Christian. “Lord, I thought it was blessings.” And certainly those blessings are there tangibly. But as a Christian, should we be suffering the way we’re suffering? Uh, Lysa TerKeurst began sharing her story last time with us where, um, right there, 25 years of marriage, she ends up with her husband, Art, hitting the wall, uh, where he had an affair. And they are mending that even now. And then, uh, medical issues came to bear. We’re gonna pick the program up right there.
But here at Focus on the Family, the bottom line is we’re here to help you. That’s what this is all about, is to relate a story from someone who’s gone through that kind of pain. And I know you’re there. It may be 10 people. It may be 100 people. It may be several thousand people. Um, this program is for you to encourage you that God, even though your circumstances may not be suggesting He knows where you’re at, He does. And you’re gonna hear that from Lysa today.
John: Yeah. The script is, uh, one thing, but life is another. And God is active and present in those moments of deep struggle. And Lysa is certainly an encourager about how to manage all of that. Uh, she is the president of Proverbs 31 Ministries. Uh, she’s a very popular speaker and blogger. And she’s written a number of really excellent books, many of them bestsellers. One that we’re really dialing into today isAnd the subtitle is “Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered.” We’ve got copies of the book and CDs of our conversation from last time and today at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: All right. Lysa, welcome back to the program.
Lysa: Thank you.
Jim: As I’m becoming more familiar with your story, I mean, this is a downward spiral. I mean, you’ve gone through the marital issues. As we left off last time, uh, you were having pain in your abdomen. Uh, your family took you to the ER. The doctor says you have a twisted colon. It’s in serious condition. Pick the story up right there. What was the further diagnosis? What happened, and where do we go?
Lysa: Well, I’d been going through a lot of emotional trauma in our story. Um, and I think it’s important for the listeners to understand it wasn’t like I discovered what was happening with my husband, and then there was a quick turnaround. There wasn’t. Um, it’s been years of ups and downs and uncertainties. And so in the middle of those uncertainties, where I had no idea how the story of my marriage would end, I woke up in excruciating pain. My family rushed me to the hospital. They could not figure out what was wrong with me. They ran so many tests. And they said, “We’re gonna admit you to the hospital because you’re in so much pain; we wanna help you manage the pain. But we really cannot find anything wrong with you.” So I laid in that hospital bed on a morphine pump, and the morphine pump wasn’t even taking the edge off the pain.
Lysa: I was literally just weeping and writhing in pain Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Finally, on Friday morning, a surgeon came in. And, um, the surgeon said, “We’re gonna run one last test.” Now, let me tell you what was going through my heart and really through my soul spiritually. At this point, this was a real breaking point in my relationship with the Lord because I thought to myself, “Why, God? Why would You add this physical pain on top of so much emotional pain on top of so much hurt and anxiety that I’ve already been walking through not knowing how things were gonna be in my marriage?” And it was just really, really, really hard. And I started to develop this thought in my brain. “God, You can fix anything. So why in the world won’t You fix this?”
Jim: So now it’s abandonment?
Lysa: And so now I feel almost abandoned by God. And so the surgeon goes and runs one last test, comes back in my room and said, “Lysa, I finally know what’s going on with you.” He explained that the right side of my colon had torn away from the abdominal wall, wrapped around the left side of my colon, cutting off the blood flow. And he said, “Your colon has distended four centimeters past where it should have ruptured. And if it had ruptured, your body would turn septic, and you would die. So we have to rush you into surgery right away. We’re gonna have to remove most of your colon. And I’m not sure if you’ll make it through the surgery.” And, um...
Jim: My goodness.
Lysa: ...So I did make it through the surgery. And the um, the surgeon came back in my room several days later. And he said, “You do realize that as much as you were begging us to take away the pain” - and I translated in my head, as much as I was begging God to take away the pain...
Lysa: ...The surgeon said, “Lysa, it’s actually the pain that saved your life because had the pain gone away on Monday, you would have gone home. Your colon would have ruptured. Your body would have turned, and you would have died. And he said, “It was the pain that actually saved your life.” And now I have a completely different view of God. Now I picture that it took every bit of holy restraint for God to not answer my prayer and take away that pain because God loves us too much to answer our prayers at any other time than the right time and in any other way than the right way.
Remember I was talking Jim, like, when we’re going through something really hard and horrific, and we look at the landscape of our life and we only see the hard and horrific, we have to remind ourselves, “Even if I can’t see God right now, I can trust and know simultaneously He is working and He is working for good.” And so this was one of those times that I got to glimpse God’s story being woven into my story. Yes, my physical reality was very bleak. My husband was not sure that he wanted to stay married to me. I am now laid up in the hospital having had most of my colon removed. I am devastated emotionally, physically and, at moments, spiritually as well. So the physical reality of what I saw was not very good. But, ah, the spiritual component of recognizing God loved me too much to take away my physical pain - He used that physical pain to save my life - that helped me so much physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Jim: And that - you know, that’s where - some people, they get to that point where there’s nothing left in the tank. And then, in some ways, your heart begins to open up. I mean, like you said, the Lord spoke that pain analogy into your heart. You had that observation. In some ways, that gives you hope, right? That’s the moment that hope sparks.
Lysa: Yeah. And I also - I had that conversation that I mentioned, um, the last broadcast about, um, God telling me, just a few weeks before I found out my marriage was falling apart - and at the end of a 28-day time of praying and fasting - the Lord spoke so clearly to my heart and said “Trust My timing, and love your husband.” I had that to cling to. And you know, sometimes when we can’t understand what’s right in front of us, sometimes we have to go back to a moment in our life where we know we had really strong faith, and we heard clearly from the Lord and almost grab that past faith, bring it into your present situation, and cling to the last time you clearly heard the Lord encourage you or help you so that it can strengthen you in that moment. But Jim, I was just at the point where almost - I was just saying to God, you know, “It’s okay if you want to take my life because honestly, at this point, it would be a relief.”
Jim: I mean, and that’s despair.
Lysa: It’s despair.
Jim: I mean, that’s where you’re at the bottom. And you can be a believer. You can be a nonbeliever. That’s just the human condition where you get to the end of your rope. You speak in the book about the counseling, and you referenced it there a moment ago about you and Art fighting through the difficulties, not knowing where this would end up, not really seeing counseling having an impact. I believe, uh, you talked about your counselor giving you his Purple Heart...
Jim: ...To take. Fill that in for me. Why did that make such a profound impact on you, and what was his point in doing it?
Lysa: Well, um, we were at the point in our counseling where we had spent so many hours with the counselor, and I thought we were at the end of our journey. But...
Jim: How much time was this?
Lysa: Um, this was over 75 hours-worth of counseling at this point.
Jim: Over a year or two years?
Lysa: Um, yeah, for the better part of a year.
Lysa: And I really thought, at that point, that we were almost ready to graduate from our counseling. Um, my hope was that we would renew our vows. This would become this beautiful, amazing story. And I was already running ahead writing the redemption story, so that’s where my heart was. But I think our counselor, in one of the last sessions that we were with him during that year, I think he sensed that we weren’t coming out of the battle, we were just heading into it. And so he went over to his wall. He pulled the framed picture off the wall. He tore the back off. He reached inside and pulled out a Purple Heart - the highest honor that you can be given. Um, and it was given to his family because his brother-in-law was killed in the line of duty. And, um, he took it out of the frame, and he placed it in my hand. And he said, “Lysa, if God were giving out Purple Hearts today, He would surely pin one on your chest.” And he said, “I want you to take this, and I want you to carry it with you so that when the battle gets really intense, you can remember Genesis 50:20: ‘That what others meant for evil, this will be used for good for the saving of many lives.’“ And he said, “You know, you have been wounded in this battle, but you’ve demonstrated courage. And God sees your courage up to this point, but He needs you have courage to keep going.” And so I walked out of the counselor office that day holding his Purple Heart, and I kept it for two years. I just returned it - just in the last couple of weeks. But what I couldn’t have known at that point is that, um, leaving that counseling session, I would discover what I thought had ended, and that the healing had begun - that was not the case. I made another discovery. And the second round was so much more fierce than the first round.
Jim: The same situation?
Lysa: Same situation.
Jim: Same topic? Affair and...
Jim: There would be a natural inclination to say, “Turn him over. Give up.” What kept you from doing that?
Lysa: Well, you know, I continued to have hope that what I had said to my husband the very first day that I had discovered something was going on, um, was “This isn’t who you are” - I continued to cling to that because, Art is a great man. He is. Um, but he got caught up in some things that, um, blinded him.
Lysa: And I had days where I was angry. Please don’t mistaken that. But there were other days where I could see he was in the battle of his life. And so instead of anger, I could have great compassion not on what he was doing, but I could have great compassion on the hurt that had to be underneath this to cause such an amazing man to walk out - choices that I never ever thought he would make. And so there were enough moments where the Lord would give me a glimpse of Art in the middle of a battlefield that was just fierce and horrible. And he was getting so beaten up. And so I could see, again, the story behind the story. And no man does this to his family without there being such significant hurt underneath. And so I could have compassion for the hurt.
But there did reach a point where I had to draw a line, finally. And it was in June of 2017 where I finally just had to draw a line. And I just said, “I can love you. Um, I can forgive you, but I cannot share you.” And I posted on my blog that day that, unfortunately, we’d reached a place where it was no longer gonna be possible for me to continue the journey as it was. And I asked people to please pray for Art. And I have to say, I thought that blog would unleash a fury of people coming against me because that was my fear in that moment. And there were some vocal people that came against me. But a bigger part of what happened is it unleashed an army of prayer warriors.
Lysa: And when I asked for people to pray for me and I asked for people to pray for Art, that’s exactly what happened. Now, I will say there are some friends of ours that think that that’s the worst thing that I could have ever done. But if Art were here today, he would boldly say me posting that blog was the best thing that ever happened to him because it finally made him face his issues and go and get real help.
Jim: Wow. And that is the goal, right? For healing. It’s just how long will our patience endure? And how long can we stick with whatever it might be in ourselves or in our spouses or in our children? Our prodigal children...
Lysa: That’s right.
Jim: ...Fit this pattern as well.
John: Yeah. And if you’re finding that you are feeling alone in that kind of a difficult moment, uh, please let us offer some counseling, um, some encouragement for maybe just one more step toward the Lord and in this journey. We have caring Christian counselors here, and it would be a privilege for us to schedule a time for you to talk to them. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY - 800-232-6459. And, Jim, I’m thinking about our Hope Restored outreach right now. They’re - it’s a lifeline to couples that are right where, uh, Art and Lysa were.
Jim: It is. And, uh, you know, it’s a wonderful intensive program where you go for four days - is the most typical experience. And these are people who have, in many cases, signed divorce papers. And this is the last-ditch effort. And I’m proud to say that post-two-year survey work that we do with those who go - they’re married and doing better - 80 percent. I mean, that is fantastic. And I would encourage you, if you’re in that spot where your marriage is suffering to that degree, risk it. Do one more thing. Here’s the question they’re gonna ask you, and I’ll - I’ll share it publicly - do you believe God can work a miracle in your marriage? They have found that to be the most effective question as to whether or not a couple can pull up and actually make it. You have to have an open heart: “Even though my spouse did this to me or wounded me, I do believe God can do a miracle in our marriage.” If you have that hope, you have enough to make it. So that - that is really an important step. And if you’re in that position, call us. We have had thousands of couples go through that program. And, again, we’re here for you. Uh, Lysa, let me turn to the next phase. I mean, it’s not over yet for you.
Jim: And, again, when I look at this, I have sympathy for you. My heart breaks for you. You’re going through this with Art. You have this, you know, near-death experience with your surgery. And now you get a diagnosis. You know, with time there - I don’t know the timeline. But the third big fastball that the Lord is throwing you - I use a baseball analogy - is a diagnosis of breast cancer. So what’s left in you to say, “Okay, Lord. I can do this. I can fight this” - seriously?
Lysa: Yeah. At first, I did have some of those feelings. And what’s funny, though, is I didn’t say, “Seriously, God? You’re gonna do this to me, too?” That’s not the way I phrased it. The way I phrased it is, “Lord, do you know how many people are going to be so upset when they hear now that I have breast cancer? This is not going to make you look good, God.”
Jim: Well, that’s a negotiation tactic.
Lysa: And so - I’m not saying that was right that I said that. But...
Jim: No, I’m hearing you.
Lysa: I just - I just remember thinking like, “How am I gonna tell my parents this? How am I gonna tell my kids this? How am I gonna tell my friends who have loved me through this season of my life? Now this.” You know? But something back to what you said just a minute ago, Jim, about asking those couples, you know, do you believe that God can work a miracle? I’m so glad you said that because it reminded me of what I kept saying to people who encouraged me to give up. And there were a lot of people that encouraged me to give up. I kept saying, “I’ve got to make sure that I have left room for God to do a miracle.”
Jim: And that’s such a tough place because you want to see the Lord honored...
Lysa: That’s right.
Jim: ...In your pain...
Lysa: That’s right.
Jim: ...That you can stick with this marriage even though it is going from bad to worse.
Lysa: That’s right.
Jim: ...And to have friends. It is like Job to have friends come to you. Let me ask you this about what you learned through that experience with your friends saying to you, “Do the right thing. Be done with it.” What motivation do they have for that? Why are they - are they looking out for your best interest? Are they trying to rationalize?
Lysa: Well, of course, you know? I mean, I think some of their motivation - and let me clearly state, too, I had lots of friends who said, “Lysa, I will walk this out with you no matter how hard it gets, no matter how deep it gets” And they encouraged me that they believed God could work a miracle. And that was a gift to me. But then there were some who had pretty strong opinions in the other way. But, you know, when I was saying, “We’ve got to leave room for a miracle,” I could see evidence even in the midst of my breast cancer of such a miracle. So remember when I said, you know, life kind of imploded for Art and I in February of 2016? So now this is June of 2017 that I discover that, you know, he had not ended the affair. I thought he had. So that’s very painful going through all that counseling. And then the affair had not ended. So that’s when I posted the blog. And when I posted the blog, Art went off to treatment. And he did it himself. And I was very thankful for that. But I decided to take a season off.
So I took a good, long season off. And I’m such a high-achieving person that I could only sit sad for so long, right? So then I decided, “Well, I’m just gonna make all the doctor appointments that I don’t have time to do.” One of those appointments that I made was a mammogram appointment. I would not have made it right then if I wouldn’t have been in this, you know, season of taking time off. And I never - with my breast cancer, I never had a lump. I never had any physical indication at all. Mine was a flat line. And they discovered it from that mammogram. And they were able to diagnose me so early that I was able to have a double mastectomy. And I didn’t have to have chemo. I didn’t have to have radiation. That caught it very early. And so leave room for God to work a miracle. I thought the miracle would be, “Okay, God. Now, You’re gonna miraculously fix everything in the marriage.” And he’s like, “Nope. Actually, I’m going to save your life again by making sure you have a season of slow where you get your breast cancer detected. And we get that taken care of. And that, in and of itself, is gonna be a miracle right then.” And so you see we can’t - we have to be so careful that we don’t run ahead of God and write the story. We have to let our story unfold and look for the hand of God in the midst.
Jim: And that’s one of the themes that comes out strongly in the book is this idea of slow and the virtue - if I could say it that way - the virtue of slowness. And how have you learned to go slow with God and the beauty of that?
Lysa: Well, because when you’re in a situation like mine, you really don’t have a choice any other way.
Jim: He slows you down?
Lysa: Yeah. And it’s hard. You know, it’s hard to plan for the future when today still feels a bit uncertain. It’s hard to dream big dreams for a year down the road or two years down the road, you know, when you’re not even really sure what tomorrow’s gonna look like. You know, Art and I have not lived together through the wise counsel of really smart people helping us through this who know what they’re doing. We haven’t lived together in two years. And I can tell you those are the hardest times. When I go home at night and this season of being an empty nester - you know, I went from having five kids in the house being so full to now everyone’s left home. And even my husband’s not there. And so it’s a daunting daily reality.
Lysa: So you have to go slow so that you can catch your breath and remind yourself tomorrow’s a new day. There’s still hope. Now, I will say - I think it’s important to say that Art and I are pursuing the path of restoration. We have a plan that we want to renew our vows. But trust is built - time plus believable behavior. There’s a lot of believable behavior now. We just have to have more time.
Jim: No. I appreciate that. And I appreciate that update particularly. It feels like you’ve lived a modern-day version of Job. I mean, it really does. You’re the poster person. Why do you think God has said, “You’re my girl? I’m gonna do this through you?” I mean, why?
Lysa: I have no idea. You know, I end the book telling an allegory where I’ve cried out to God asking the why question so much. And surprisingly, God hasn’t scolded me for asking why. And instead...
Jim: I don’t think He ever does, actually.
Lysa: Yeah. Instead, He has helped me see that my why questions - all those why’s have actually made me wise - W-I-S-E. And that’s how the book ends - I feel like the Lord has said to me, “Lysa, you’ll never understand why some of the facts of what happened to you happened. You’ll never understand that on this side of eternity. But you’ll...”
Jim: That’s important.
Lysa: Yeah. “But you’ll find your answers for purpose for the pain in the eyes of other people who had drowned in their own sorrow if not seeing that it is possible that you survived so so will they.”
Jim: I mean, that’s what it’s all about, right? That right there. That’s what testimonies are.
Lysa: And to give people a glimpse that our God is good. And even more importantly than that, our God is good at being God. And no human should have to carry the weight of trying to be their own god and figure out why do we all have bad stuff that happens to us in our life. No human should have to carry that weight. But so many people do. And so I feel like if I can report having freshly licked the floor of hell, and I can still give a report that our God is good and our God is good at being God - and if I can say that, maybe people can find that same hope in their story.
Jim: Well, Lysa, you have said it. And again, that vulnerability has been refreshing, maybe even a little unsettling because we’re not used to it. But I do think this is the early church on display. They were out there. You knew everything about your neighbor. And there are people who are hurting right now. I mean, I can feel it. I know that there is pain. That’s what life is to a degree. And you give people hope that they can lean into God not away from God.
Lysa, thank you so much, and you know, again, I just love your actions that demonstrate that you’re a child of the Most High God. Thank you for being there and living it out. We so appreciate it.
Lysa: Thank you.
John: And please know that Focus on the Family has caring Christian counselors here, and you can call us to schedule an appointment by phone. We’ll encourage you as well to get a copy of Lysa’s really helpful book,, and then a CD or a free download of our conversation. All of this available at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or call 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY - 800-232-6459. Remember when you get in touch to support this ministry. We have financial needs. We rely on folks like you to donate and to help us help hurting couples every day. Your financial gifts to Focus can make a difference in a marriage for a lifetime. So be generous today, and if you can make that a monthly pledge, we’ll have an even greater impact on marriages. We’ll be able to rely on those gifts coming in every month. So if you can, a monthly pledge, if you can’t, even a one-time gift would be appreciated. Either way, we’ll say thank you by sending a copy of Lysa’s encouraging book. Donate and find help you need at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Next time, we’ll hear from Dr. Mark Regnerus as he encourages young men and women to understand God’s design for sexuality.
Mark Regnerus: The healthiest thing, of course, is to hold on to this thing of great value, until he has paid the highest price, right? Has signaled sacrifice, commitment, stick-to-it-iveness.
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