About the Guest
Julie Plagens spent years estranged from her family of origin. However, after much prayer and counseling, Julie began to see that the real enemy wasn't her parents, but Satan. She committed to do whatever it would take to restore her relationship with her family, with God's help. She chose to forgive them, and followed that with fasting and prayer, asking God to reach out. Julie's prayers were answered. Later in the year, Julie's mother invited her over for dinner. Julie shares a word of wisdom to those experiencing brokenness in their family.
Julie Plagens spent years estranged from her family of origin. However, after much prayer and counseling, Julie began to see that the real enemy wasn’t her parents, but Satan.
Bob: After more than seven years of being estranged from her parents, Julie Plagens sensed the Lord calling her to reconcile those broken relationships.
Julie: Let me tell you right now—coming back into a family is awkward, and the devil will try everything he can to push you back out. I’ve seen it, over and over again, how many people circle in and out of their family. They try and make it work, and then all the old family habits come back; and everybody gets back in their old family roles. You have to do some changing.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, December 4th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll hear today from Julie Plagens about the good work that God has begun in healing the relationship she has with her parents, a work that is still in process. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’ve been unpacking a family drama this week that is probably more common than most of us know; but it’s a drama that led to estrangement/that led to a daughter, in her 40s, saying to Mom and Dad: “We’re not going to talk anymore. We’re not going to see each other anymore.”
Ann: “My health depends on it.”
Bob: That’s right. “Maybe my walk with Jesus depends on it, too.”
Julie Plagens is joining us this week; Julie, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Julie: Good to be here!
Bob: Julie’s written a book called Estranged: Finding Hope When Your Family Falls Apart; a Biblical Step-by-Step Guide toward Healing Your Family Problems or Break—which is what you experienced.
Your family—your mom and dad came to faith when you were six years old. You started going to church. You were a church-going family with a lot of dysfunction still happening around the family—a lot of anger/a lot of confusion that you had, as a young woman.
Ann: But it was all hidden.
Ann: In the circles around you, people probably wouldn’t have guessed that.
Bob: You weren’t fully aware to be able to say, “Oh, I come from a dysfunctional family”; you just came from the family you came from.
Julie: Right; you just think it’s all normal.
Bob: When you were 40 years old, you got diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which God intervened and healed your colon. You look back on that and say, “This was God saying: ‘This is deeper than you think. Your family estrangement and the emotional weight of that is destroying your body.’”
I was thinking about—is it Psalm 32?—where the psalmist says, “When I failed to confess my sins, my bones were weakened.” We don’t recognize that our spiritual lives, our emotional lives, and our physical lives are intertwined; but you started to realize that, Julie, when you were 40.
You made a decision to cut off your family/ from your family of origin. That meant that you, and your husband, and your kids did not see your parents for the next seven years, with one or two exceptions over that period of time. Your body started to heal; God started to do a work in your own heart and life. What got you to a point, where you said, “Maybe we need to revisit the question of whether our family can be reunited”?
Julie: Well, I was talking about year six, when we had a few things happening with my own child, and the roles were reversed. I started really interceding for my child. This is when I really learned how to pray. I was on my knees; I used The Power of a Praying Parent, by Stormie Omartian. You need prayer to break this kind of stronghold.
I did not realize that, when I dealt with my child’s situation—and it resolved itself, thank the Lord—but it took an enormous amount of intercession to get that relationship right again. I’m just telling you—right now, I’m really close with both my kids—but it worked; so I started using that with my parents. I really started praying for my parents. This is when I really started understanding, “I need to pray for them.” I can’t tell you how much unforgiveness goes away when you start praying for the person that you are angry at. I realized also that, really, my enemy was not my parents; it was Satan. The stronghold was really about the devil; it was really working overtime in my family.
It wasn’t just what was going on with my parents and me, it was what went on with my parents and their generation. If you have family brokenness, chances are there are generational strongholds; and it takes, not only deep prayer, but fasting.
Ann: One of your chapter titles was, “I Choose to Forgive.”
Ann: I’m guessing that word, “choose,” was purposeful.
Julie: Yes; forgiveness is a choice. It is a one-person thing. You do not need another person involved. Forgiveness is about you and your relationship with God and getting that straight; and with reconciliation, that takes two people. Forgiveness is required of every Christian, and I couldn’t go on living as a Christian when God had confronted me on my unforgiveness. I had to really confront that.
Bob: Let me just say here—because I want listeners to understand what you just said clearly—you can forgive someone else, regardless of how they respond to that. We talk about forgiveness at the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway; we define it this way: “It’s giving up the right to punish another person for either what they did or didn’t do/what you perceive. You can make that choice.”
But as you said, reconciliation is a different issue; rebuilding trust is a different issue.
Julie: Yes; yes.
Bob: So let’s understand that you can forgive someone. You may still have to work on rebuilding a relationship and rebuilding trust; in fact, you will have to work on that. I think there are people, who are saying, “I can’t forgive,” and what they really mean is, “I can’t see my way toward reconciliation or toward ever trusting someone again.”
I would say: “Step one is make the choice you [Julie] talk about—to forgive, to understand, to give the gift of compassion, to give the gift of mercy, to give the gift of grace to someone else—take away the right to punish that person; and then from there, now you have a platform where you can say, ‘Okay, let’s explore reconciliation and let’s explore what rebuilding trust looks like.’”
You were faced with this choice. Was it easy, or did you have to wrestle with forgiveness?
Julie: Oh, I wish—that chapter was the hardest chapter to write. I felt the least qualified to be writing a chapter on forgiveness, because I struggled with it the most. But it wasn’t until my prayer life changed that I really understood what God had forgiven me of and that I, in turn, was required to forgive someone else.
Forgiveness is a choice, but it is required if you’re a Christian. Some of you are sitting in your car, going, “Uh, no!” Yes, it is. If you’re a Christian/if you love Jesus, you are called to forgive. I can tell you it doesn’t matter how bad the crime is—if it’s been sexual abuse, whatever—that doesn’t mean you have to go back to reconciliation. It means that you choose to forgive because God forgave you for your heinous—we are all sinful, and none of us deserve to go to heaven. If God can forgive you, you can forgive others.
You may never talk to that person again—if there’s been a crime committed or something like that—but it frees you. That’s the irony of forgiveness—is that you put yourself in prison when you’re unforgiving; and you put the key in the lock and you open the doors when you decide to forgive, and you release yourself from jail.
Ann: Walk us back to that time. Can you remember like, “I’m free!”?
Julie: It was a progression.
Julie: The first week in January God told me to fast and pray. I asked God to talk to my dad in a dream. I thought: “Well, if He’s not talking to him in the daytime, maybe He’ll talk to him while he’s sleeping and send some sort of fire, and hell, and brimstone dream. [Laughter] Get him where he’s really scared; and he wakes up and he’s like, ‘Oh, I have to call her!’” Well, God answered most of that prayer, but He didn’t answer the hell, fire, and brimstone part. [Laughter]
Dave: But he did have a dream; right?
Julie: He did. I prayed Tuesday and Wednesday; my dad called Friday of the same week.
Ann: That is a miracle.
Julie: Yes; no one knew I’d prayed this. He dreamed—he woke my mom up, even, in the middle of the night, and said: “Julie’s coming home. I see her. She’s eating dinner with us at the dinner table. She’s coming home.”
Dave: Tell me if I’m right. You had already forgiven him, yet you hadn’t talked.
Julie: Right. I was scared; and I was thinking: “Oh, I really want to go back. I hate this, but I don’t want to go back and have their family system the same way.”
Bob: “What if those old patterns re-emerge?”—right?
Julie: That was the biggest fear.
Julie: We had to make changes for me to go back. We finally got together for dinner. We were at the dinner table, talking, and my dad said, “You know, I had a dream.” I’m thinking, “No way!” He said, “I dreamed we were sitting at the table, like we are right now, eating dinner.” He said, “I dreamed that you came back in the family.”
I’m sitting here, going: “This dream is fulfilled. We’re sitting here at dinner because of the dream that he had that I prayed to God for him to dream!”
Bob: I would think that first dinner, after seven years, would be like super awkward.
Julie: It was awkward. Let me tell you right now—coming back into a family is awkward, and the devil will try everything he can to push you back out. I’ve seen it, over and over again, how many people circle in and out of their family. They try and make it work, and then all the old family habits come back; and everybody gets back in their old family roles. You have to do some changing.
Ann: Had your parents changed?
Julie: Yes, they had changed. I think they were broken. I think that they were tired of the way things were. But let me say that, when you’re back for awhile, then old habits start creeping in.
Bob: Sure they do.
Julie: There have been some boo-boos, and we’ve had to go back and try and work through things. This has been hard; it’s been a little stressful on my family.
Dave: I mean, did they say, “Don’t write about this”?
Julie: No, my parents gave me their blessing.
Dave: Did they?
Julie: Yes, but I had other family members that were scared. They were afraid it would retrigger another estrangement; which, again, is why there’s no book out like this; because it will usually trigger an estrangement.
Bob: Did you end that first dinner, saying, “Let’s get together next Friday night”?
Julie: No; you know, one of the things/the verses I want to bring up right now is: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit,”—and that’s Psalm 34:18. I think we were crushed. I want to speak to, not only the child that’s estranged or having problems, but I want to speak to the parent. I hear both sides, and I understand both sides.
You are crushed and broken, and this is not easy. There’s a lot of emotion and pain that goes into this, and a lot of questioning. I had to release a lot of that and say, “Okay, God, I give this up to You.” I had to release it daily, because I had expectations of things the way I wanted this reconciliation to look like; and it wasn’t perfect.
Bob: Here’s, I think, the other thing—you’ve mentioned this—but folks just have to recognize: “If you’re going to try to heal the breech”—whether it’s between you and your estranged parents, your estranged sibling, an estranged former spouse; whatever the estrangement is—you’re going to try to go back into this—“you just have to know that old patterns are going to re-emerge.”
Julie: They are.
Bob: It’s going to happen. If you go into it, thinking, “If that happens again, I’m out of here like that,” well, you might as well not try; because you’ll just wind up further alienated. But if you go in, saying, “I’m not going to be surprised when that happens; I’m going to give grace when that happens. I’m going to hope that grace is given to me when I fall into my old patterns and habits,” then there’s ground through which you can begin to heal and see that the years that the locusts have eaten are being restored.
When you started to see some of those old family patterns re-emerge, were you ready to dispense grace, or were you ready to go back and hide and protect yourself?
Julie: It’s funny you mention that Scripture, Joel 2:25: “And I will compensate you for the years the swarming locusts have eaten; the creeping locust, the stripping locust, and the gnawing locusts.” That’s exactly the Scripture God gave me. I had to sit on that; and there were other Scriptures that God gave me, because I had to just believe in faith: “God, You put me back in my family. You never intended to have me ripped out of my family. I know that You are going to help me.”
The thing about it is—you can’t change your family members, but you can change yourself. When you change yourself, it forces your family members to have to deal with you differently. That’s where the changes come. You just say, “No, I’m going to set these boundaries; we’re not doing that anymore.” You can’t change anyone else; so don’t go back into your family, thinking that you are going to change them. You can only set boundaries; you can only be responsible for you, and that’s enough. Let God do the rest.
I’m telling you—it really helps to pray and, not only just pray, but fasting. I still fast. What is happening when you fast is—you are breaking the yoke. I’m telling you—when you have family/generational issues, there is some serious breaking that needs to happen. I think entrenchment/family strongholds are probably the biggest entrenchment that can happen. It really requires weapons of warfare. We’re talking: “You have to declare war, and it’s not against your family. You’re declaring war against Satan.”
Bob: Yes; “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood”—
Julie: That’s right.
Bob: —that’s what Ephesians 6 says: “we wrestle against powers and principalities.” We say it at the Weekend to Remember; right?
Bob: “My spouse is not my enemy.” Now, we have an enemy; it’s the enemy of our souls, but it’s not your spouse. When the two of you can look at each other and say: “You’re not the enemy, but we have an enemy. Now, let’s get together and let’s fight him together.”
As a family, you’ve been able to get to that point, where you recognized your battle’s not against your parents, and their battle’s not with you. You both recognize there’s an enemy and: “Let’s fight him together.”
Julie: Yes; I didn’t realize how much our family was quenching the Holy Spirit. You can be a Christian, and you can live a Christian life, and be quenching the Holy Spirit. The Bible talks about, in Ephesians 4:30; it says, “And do not grieve [or quench] the Holy Spirit, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” We can quench what God’s doing in our lives. That process is called sanctification, and you have to continually be working on yourself and taking inventory of where you are. If you’re hiding stuff under the rug, it’s coming out; it is coming out.
Dave: I find it interesting—just listening to you, how important spiritual disciplines—spiritual training/rhythms—whatever you want to call it—is to recovery.
Dave: I mean, I keep hearing you talk about prayer, not just asking God, but listening to God and following Him and obeying Him. I hear you talking about fasting, I hear you talking about the Word of God, and you’ve quoted several times. It isn’t just, “Oh, I’m going to pull a verse.” This means this woman’s in the Word; it isn’t something she just does flippantly. You’re a woman of the Word, and that Word became truth that pushed the lies out and was part of what God used to transform your life.
I would just say to anyone, especially I’m looking in the mirror right now, this is critical to a walk with God. They aren’t just little—
Ann: —and a healthy relationship, as well.
Dave: Oh, yes!
Bob: Strongholds are not broken with pebbles.
Dave: No; generational sin that was going to go right through you to the next generation is not broken just with a little, “Oh, help me, God.” It’s like, “I have to go to battle.”
Julie: Yes; it is battle.
Julie: You have to decide. You know, you not only choose to forgive, but you choose to do war. You choose to say, “Okay, it stops with me.”
Bob: Tell us about when your dad asked for your forgiveness.
Julie: Oh, I cried. We were in Applebee’s; we were at dinner. [Emotion in voice] He just said something like, “You shouldn’t have had to go through what you went through, and I’m so sorry.” You know, that meant everything to me; because I knew he meant it.
Even since then—at Father’s Day, he recently just said, “I just want you to know…” I can’t tell you all the times I see him, the first thing he says is: “I’m so glad you’re back in our family. I love you so much, and I’m just so glad you’re here.” [Emotion in voice] He says that all the time to me, and it covers a multitude of sins.
I’m sorry for some of you all that will not ever get that apology, but you can still go without it. I went—you know, I’m 51, and he’s almost 80. I didn’t think I’d see it. It’s okay if I didn’t. I had already released that years ago; but it was icing on the cake, and I’m so grateful. My mom had apologized a lot earlier, so I appreciated both of them apologizing. I had a few apologies to make, too; it wasn’t one-sided.
I think one of the things that really meant a lot to me—God’s love surrounds you, whether you’re estranged or you’re not estranged. His love is not conditional on your behavior. Yes, He’s disappointed with you; He may not like some of the things that you’re doing or what’s going on in your family, but He loves you. I can finally say, “I know/I know He loves me.”
One of the Scriptures that just absolutely just broke me down was Zephaniah 3:17—it says: “The Lord your God is with you, the mighty warrior who saves you. He will take great delight in you in His love. He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” [Emotion in voice] Our God is singing over us!
Ann: That’s one of my favorite verses, too.
Julie: I know He’s singing. I know that everything’s not perfect, and that that’s okay.
I have a story to tell; and it involves reconciliation, and hope, and forgiveness. I know that there are so many people out there that are broken. People walk up to me and just start unloading their family problems. You are not alone, and that is the thing that the devil wants to tell us—is that: “You are isolated; you’re the only one that feels this way; no one else knows/no one understands; and you’re a mess.”
Well, okay; we are a mess, but that’s why we have a Savior. The Savior is Christ, and He came to die for you and your family, and there is no problem that is big enough that He can’t fix it. It may not be the way you like it; but it is the way of Him reaching down, where we are, and taking a mess and seeing glory out of it.
Bob: So when you told your mom and dad, “I’m going to go be on the radio to do this national program and tell them all about our story,” what’d they say?
Julie: It’ll be hard when this program comes out. I don’t know anybody that’s done this, and I pray that God will give them extreme grace; because they have given me their blessing. My mom even wrote the afterward in my book. I have had their blessing all along, and I’m so grateful. But to think that they’re not going to hurt some, and it’s [not] embarrassing—I think is to be foolish.
Bob: Well, I hope they know and I hope you know that, first of all, we’re all fellow travelers on this road. We all have our own stories/our own junk, so you’re not alone in this situation.
Secondly, the courage and the willingness to be open about it and to share is going to be used by God in the lives of lots of people, and that’s what God does. He brings beauty from ashes in other people’s stories.
I don’t know if your parents are listening right now or not, but if they are: “Thank you for your blessing”; and Julie, thank you for your courage to write the book and to come and share the story.
Julie: Thank you for having me; I appreciate it. It’s been a blessing for me.
Bob: We have copies of Julie’s book, which is called Estranged. It’s in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is our number. Again, the title of the book is Estranged. Our website is FamilyLifeToday.com, or the number to call if you’d like to order Julie’s book is 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, the story Julie has shared with us this week is a lot like stories we hear from FamilyLife Today listeners throughout the year. David Robbins, the president of FamilyLife®, is here with us. David, this month, we are sharing with our listeners some of these stories that listeners have shared with us during the past year.
David: I have to think that what Julie has shared with us this week has been an encouragement to so many folks—people who are dealing with hurt, and shame, and anger, and unforgiveness in their own family.
Julie’s story made me think about a note we received earlier this year from a FamilyLife Today listener. This listener said:
I was raised in a loving, healthy family; and I want to provide that for my own wife and children. As I have come to understand, it is not as easy as my parents made it look; and not everyone’s home life was as ideal as mine. The reality is that the family I grew up with is not the norm as I thought. So many homes are broken; so many homes are dysfunctional, and it’s tragic.
I want to thank you for the years of encouragement you have provided to me and how FamilyLife has spoken into my life and given me valuable Christian influence and resources. Your program has been a joy to listen to over the years. My wife and I make up a blended family, and we’ve been so encouraged by FamilyLife Today and by Ron Deal and FamilyLife Blended®.
Bob, this reminds me of a story that I heard this week, where a couple came up to me; and the wife was reflecting back, when she was a teenager, and was saying: “My parents used to listen to FamilyLife Today. I would always roll my eyes at those Bob and Dennis guys.” But then she realized, “No, it was instilling into me things that, now, I listen with my teenagers and parent—not only things I heard back then—but I keep hearing today.”
We are so grateful for ministry partners. Thank you for helping keep us engaged on the air as long as you have and continuing the ministry of FamilyLife going strong.
Bob: Well, and of course, this is a significant time of year for us, as we head toward 2020 and want to make sure we head into the year in as good a financial position as we can be in. We’re asking listeners to be as generous as you can possibly be, here at yearend, knowing that the donation you make in December is going to be matched, dollar for dollar.
We’ve had some friends of the ministry, who have gotten together and put together a matching-gift fund. Every donation we receive during the month of December will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $2.5 million—that’s a very generous offer. It’s going to take a lot of FamilyLife Today listeners for us to take advantage of that; so would you, today, make a yearend contribution to help support this ministry? Be as generous as you can be.
If your donation is $50 or more, we’d love to send you, as a thank-you gift, the brand-new couples devotional that we’ve put together, here at FamilyLife, called The Story of Us. There’s a devotion each week for you to go through, as a couple, in the year ahead. The book is our gift to you when you help support this ministry, again, with a donation of, at least, $50. You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to donate: 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to answer a question that was posed during a recent Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. We had a couple that was asking about communication during conflict and how you keep from becoming critical with one another or what you do when criticism enters into the conversation. We’re going to talk about that tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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