Turning Broken into Beautiful
About the Guest
Is your family broken? MOPS founder Elisa Morgan wants you to know that you're not alone. Elisa recalls the fear she had going to the board of MOPS to tell them about her teen daughter's pregnancy, knowing that the information would shatter her ideal family image. But grace won out, and Elisa watched amazed as God took the broken pieces of her family and redeemed it into a thing a beauty, as He will yours, if you let Him.
Elisa MorganElisa Morgan, one of Christianity Today’s top 50 women influencing the church and culture, is a sought-after speaker, leader, and author on mothering, spiritual formation, and evangelism. Under her leadership as CEO, MOPS International grew from 350 to 4,000 groups. Publisher of fulfill.org and on various boards, Elisa received a B.S. from the University of Texas and a M.Div. from Denver Seminary. She is married to Evan and has two children and one grandchild.
Elisa Morgan recalls the fear she had going to the board of MOPS to tell them about her teen daughter’s pregnancy, knowing that the information would shatter her ideal family image.
Turning Broken into Beautiful
Bob: When husbands and wives go through significant parenting challenges, it can often lead to isolation in the marriage. Elisa Morgan experienced a bit of that as she was raising her children.
Elisa: I would not let my husband help me. I thought I had to know how to do everything all by myself. I was the mom. I had been the “savior” of my family of origin, holding it all together. So, when my second family began to fall apart, I thought it was my job to fix it. My husband was awesome, but he also retreated because I kept pushing him further and further away.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, November 19th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. How can husbands and wives come together / parent as a team and keep their marriage strong in the midst of challenges raising their children? We’ll talk about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I don’t know if you realize this, but I have kind of a catalog I’ve been keeping for a while of what I call “Raineyisms”—you know?—just things you repeat over and over again.
Dennis: Thank you—thank you for clearing this with me before we came on the air. [Laughter]
Bob: There are more and more of these things you are repeating over and over again.
Dennis: We’re friends to the bitter end, and this could be the bitter end! [Laughter]
Bob: One of the most recent “Raineyisms” that has started to emerge—I’ve heard you say this on several occasions—is: “Everybody has a context.”
Dennis: Oh, yes. Sometimes our paths cross with people—we have no idea what’s taking place in their lives.
We have a guest with us, whom we have interviewed, here on FamilyLife Today,before—Elisa Morgan—back when she was the CEO of MOPS International. I told you, before we came in here, that I really appreciated your book because a lot of people look at Christian leaders—and you and I know this to be true—
Dennis: —just because you’ve got a title or because you’re having an impact in someone’s life—whether you’re a pastor / whether you’re a teacher—regardless of your place—if you’ve got this spot where you’re kind of up in front of people, people tend to put this idealistic expectation over the top of you, like: “Oh—Elisa Morgan!”
Dennis: “She and her husband Evan they’ve been married 35 years. They’ve got the perfect marriage—the perfect family.”
Bob: Well, in fact, it occurs to me that the last time we were interviewing you—you and you friend, Carol Kuykendall—
Bob: —we were interviewing both of you on a book called Give Them Wings—
Bob: —and all of this was going on at your house—the stuff we’re talking about this week.
Elisa: It was probably beginning.
Bob: You were at the beginning or in the middle of all of this.
Elisa: Yes—and, add to that—Carol is my children’s godmother.
Bob: So, how did you—as somebody who—you have a teenage daughter who gets pregnant out of wedlock and then is in an abusive relationship with somebody she’s not married to—all kinds of things going on—a son who has an addiction / alcoholism becomes a factor for him—how did you deal with that as the head of MOPS? Did you have to pull back and say: “How much do I share? Who do I tell?” How did you manage it?
Elisa: Yes, this was delicate. I want to be really clear that this was an evolving family matter. We had one step, and then the next step, and the next—and more and more things were being revealed and more and more things happened. What began as one issue kind of snowballed into many issues.
The very first—when my daughter first became pregnant, I went straight to the board and talked to the board chair about it. I talked to our senior leadership about it and revealed it there. We were very clear—and then, of course—with our pastor, and my husband, as well with personal friends. We were very clear that our story wasn’t just our story. It was also our children’s developing story.
Dennis: To that point, you have their permission to tell your story.
Elisa: I do have their permission now, but I waited probably 10 to 15 years to talk about this more broadly. Number one—because they were still living their stories. Number two—because it was their stories—they were being formed. And, then, number three—because it wasn’t just me, you know, in this whole situation. So, I waited a long time. They have signed off on telling—my telling my story—it is my story—it’s Elisa’s. It’s not my daughter’s / it’s not my son’s / it’s not even my husband’s. It’s my story and how I experienced it.
Elisa: And, you know, during this season, I was terrified of what I—the word that I heard in my heart of “disfavor.” I was so terrified that everybody was just going to be like: “Yuck! You did all of this! You must be such a loser person.” I felt so disqualified. I was afraid I would bring disqualification to the ministries that I touched—to the lives that I was with.
Do you know what has been an amazing result of being honest in this book, The Beauty of Broken, subtitled, There’s No Such Thing as a Perfect Family: My Story and Likely Yours Too? The response that I’ve heard is “relief.” People come to me; and they go, “I’m not the only one. Thank you for telling your story.”
Elisa: “It gives me so much hope. I thought I was the only one.” I don’t care if I’m at a fundraiser, in a church with four services, or I am in a women’s conference, or I’m sitting across the table with a business associate—as we tell our stories, there is great community in the body of Christ to know that we’re not the only ones. It’s okay to suffer within the body and that you’re not just somehow thrown out and thrown away.
I should tell you this story—early on, in this journey, God used this metaphor. I was at home, resting—it had been a busy weekend. I was actually taking care of my grandson, at that time, who was about two-and-a-half years old. He and his mom lived with us.
This was my daughter’s second pregnancy. She was working, and it was my responsibility to take care of him. He went down for a nap, and I thought that sounded like a great idea. [Laughter] It was an old word, but I gave into it. I started to fall asleep. Just as I nodded off, I heard this eruption through our house—this crash through our house.
I didn’t know what on earth had happened. I started walking through my home, looking into the entry way / into the living room. Then I went into the dining room. As soon as my foot hit the carpet, I realized that this three-shelf unit hutch that had hung on the wall and had housed my grandmother’s antique china collection had lost its grip on the wall. It had fallen and had taken with it the entire contents.
I was so devastated! I leaned down to pick it up, and every single plate was broken. These were plates that my grandmother had purchased for me in little tour buses with other white-haired ladies all around Europe, you know, and brought them back.
They were the one thing I wanted to inherit.
And this was a season that I felt like everything was falling off of the walls in my life— my son / my daughter—so many situations. I was struggling through issues heavy at MOPS and feeling so alone; and now, this mess on my floor! I felt like all I could do was just sweep it up and take it to the trash. In the years since, God has shown me that that’s not what He does when things break in our lives. He bends down—and instead of throwing it all away—He picks up one piece at a time and thinks, “What can I do with this?” That’s what He’s been doing in my life in the decades since—is redeeming, reclaiming, reforming broken—into things of beauty.
Dennis: And you said something that I really want to highlight here. You don’t have to be a CEO of a ministry like MOPS to feel like you have to hide something.
I think you can be going to church and feel like you can’t come clean—you can’t let anybody in—because you can’t afford to let anybody know that this is happening in your marriage / with your—
Elisa: I’m afraid we actually teach that. I’m afraid that’s the mythology that we propagate. It is like: “Don’t share here. In here, you’d better be good,” when the opposite is true.
Dennis: Oh, yes! And that’s what I want to underline here. It doesn’t mean you need to go to the pulpit and tell everybody everything that’s taking place, but there does need to be a few—a significant few—who can shoulder the load with you. I would call them “burden bearers.”
Dennis: It’s Galatians, Chapter 6: “Bearing with one another.” It’s sharing the load with someone who’s going through a desperate time. You undoubtedly had some friends that you let into your life, at that point.
Elisa: I couldn’t have survived—that’s right! I couldn’t have survived without that—prayer warriors—a group of women, older than me by ten years—eight of them. I joke that it took eight women to mother me because I needed extra help.
And then, different prayer partners—yes, we could not have made it through. And there’s great wisdom in putting duct tape on your mouth during seasons of intense suffering. There’s great wisdom in stepping back as God leads. I used to beg God, “If I quit, would Satan leave my children alone?” He pretty much said, “No.”
Actually, in talking to the board and the chair of MOPS International, I offered to resign multiple times, feeling like such a disqualified mess. Truly, I remember them saying: “Why would we want you to step down when, now, you know even more about moms of preschoolers? There’s another one, and she lives under your roof!”
I began to gradually see that those things that we think disqualify us—when put in God’s hands—actually can further qualify us for His work.
Dennis: I just want to put another double underline underneath another statement you made.
And that’s that we kind of encourage people not to be real at church. Bob knows I’ve shared this story on FamilyLife Today probably a half-dozen times: When our kids were teenagers, I took one of them with a friend, who was an alcoholic, to an AA meeting. There were like 300 people there—they were wearing three-piece suits to having come off the street, living underneath a railroad trestle. There were all of these people coming together—they were hugging each other and: “You’re back! You’re still here! You’re still in the battle! Way to go!” And I thought, “That’s church!”
Dennis: “That’s church!” It’s people who are honest at the point of being incredibly raw, who are attempting to love them in their brokenness and call them out of it to a better life. Frankly, our church needs to be that kind of place where—maybe not where you tell everybody everything but some people—there’s somebody in your life who knows what’s going on in your marriage.
You’re not hiding it because, as long as you hide it, I think you give the enemy far more power in your life.
Bob: Well, I love what I’ve heard Pastor Matt Chandler say about this. He says, at his church, “It’s okay not to be okay. It’s just not okay to stay there.”
Bob: And that’s the message. I remember—when we were raising our teenagers—the nights that we would drive away to our small group meeting with our church folks. We’d be on the way there thinking, “We have juvenile delinquents at home and the police are just going to come and shut us down, at some point.” [Laughter] We would go to the small group. We’d drive back from the small group, having shared a little of our burden, and having other parents say, “Let me tell you what we’re going through.”
Bob: And just having other people who are in the same battle with you—there was something about that that caused you to go: “Okay, we can make this because we’re not alone. We’re not isolated in all of this.”
Dennis: Elisa, I have to ask you—in the midst of everything that was taking place with your daughter / with your son—Barbara and I have been through, not the same thing, but similar; okay?
Dennis: What was taking place in your marriage with Evan? How did this impact your marriage?—because it does dramatically have an impact on that marriage.
Elisa: It does. And, specifically, you know, my daughter becomes pregnant, as a teenager; and the baby comes dramatically in a crisis way, early. She eventually relinquishes and then she has another baby. She’s in an accident and crazy things happen there. My son begins to lose himself in alcohol. These things just start to amass. I have a gay brother—my dearest friend in the world. How do we figure these things out together?
During this season—we talked in an earlier broadcast—that I became the “hero” in my family of origin. That’s from the Adult Child of Alcoholic system. I was over responsible—I’ll put it that way—I just took charge of everything. Well, that pattern emerged again during all of these family crises.
As I was writing this book, I knew I had messed up with some stuff—but, as I was writing this book— actually, I was writing the chapter on our marriage—I realized, for the first time—and this is how life is, guys. You know, we don’t get it all figured out in ten minutes and then it’s done! We are evolving all the time in our relationship with Jesus, as He shows us more and more about ourselves, and we bring those things to Him.
I began to realize, just in writing that chapter, that I would not let my husband help me. I thought I had to know how to do everything all by myself. I was the mom. I had been the “savior” of my family of origin—holding it all together. So, when my second family began to fall apart, I thought it was my job to fix it. My husband was awesome, but he also retreated because I kept pushing him further and further away.
It was when my daughter had this first child, who had emergency needs and someone had to go with that baby to a NICU—a neonatal intensive care unit across town. Someone had to stay with our daughter, who had emergency surgery. We had to divide—my husband went with this new little baby, and I stayed with my daughter. I could not have even survived that night without him. I began to see how much I needed him and how powerfully strong he was—in a different way. I knew it, but I began to see it in a different way.
Dennis: So, to that husband—who has a wife who won’t let him help shoulder the load—what would you say to him?
Elisa: [Laughter] Don’t push her too hard. [Laughter] She doesn’t value that! [Laughter]
Dennis: Elisa doesn’t have fangs; but it was close, at that point! [Laughter]
Elisa: Oh, love her! Love her, love her, love her—and stay. Find a crack and get in it, and stay in that crack. As you’re in that crack, with your presence and your love, more space will be made for you to be even more present with more love.
Dennis: Just kind of make your way into the relationship.
Dennis: Don’t let her push you out—keep pushing you out. She doesn’t necessarily know what’s best for her right now.
Bob: Were the trials bringing about isolation? Were the two of you living as strangers at some level in your home or not?
Elisa: No, I don’t think so. Evan and I have always been uberly communicative. We both were in full-time ministry. We thrive in that, and we have always shared our work together. So, we stayed very much communicative—it’s just I thought I could shoulder everything on.
It’s interesting—one Christian writer talks about a habit in World War II, where Japanese soldiers had a really difficult time being reconnected to their society after they had served. The Japanese government came up with a retirement ceremony for the soldiers—to discharge their loyal soldier and then become regular human beings again.
I kind of had to do that to myself—you know, this in-charge special Elisa / the survivor Elisa—I had to discharge her and say: “You’ve done a super job surviving your family of origin. Great job, Elisa! Now, you don’t need that defense anymore. You can lay that down. Bottom line—let God love you and let the people He has placed in your life love you and share the load with you.”
Dennis: We’ve talked this week with you about your family of origin—that broken family—and we’ve talked with you about your broken family that you write about in the book as well. We haven’t really talked about how your relationship with your mom ended because you talked about how your dad announced a divorce when you were five years old—he went his way/remarried. Your mom didn’t. She got off into alcoholism. Although she did provide for her family, it was a tough go of it.
How did your relationship with her turn out, and how did her life end?
Elisa: My mom was diagnosed with cancer when I was in my early 30s. It was during a season when I was working very hard to understand who I was, separate from her. You know, as we said, I was over functional—I was codependent—to use that term. I lived in Denver / she lived in Texas. There was good distance there; but I was actually in counseling and working on how to understand my separation from her, as a woman.
It was difficult, then, when she would call and need me because she was very codependent with me. That dance continued in our lives; but when she got terminally ill, I flew down to be with her. We each arrived to her death bed—first, my brother got there, who is younger than me. He shared that he had a really significant time with her, and she had said that she loved him. It was really dear.
I arrived next. I sat on her bed. I told her that I loved her, and we had some time. Then my older sister, who had really left the second she could from our home to take care of herself—her own needs / my sister’s needs—she came back. My mom had really waited for her because the relationship had been broken. My mom took her in her arms and told my sister that she loved her, and it was beautiful.
Actually, in the next days—just a couple of days that she remained—we saw her reach out to Jesus at her bedside as she saw Him there really being present with her. We knew that she actually did give her life into Jesus in her last minutes. What I want to say is that my mom died over 20 years ago. It is just now, as I continue to work on understanding what God wants to show me through this—and I think it’s important for us to understand that our parents may be dead—but they still teach us, and God still uses them.
I was wondering, “Why have I never felt loved by my mom?” I kept processing this. I went back to that death bed scene that I just described—my brother being there, me being there, then my sister.
I realized, she told my brother that she loved him. She told my sister that she loved her. I told my mother that I loved her—she didn’t tell me. I thought, “Why?!” I’ve just turned that, and turned that, and turned that in my mind. I began to realize, “I don’t think she told me because I don’t think I would let her.” I think I was still in that in-charge mode of “I’m not going to let you hurt me.” I think my mom was either sick enough, or tired enough, or smart enough to know that I couldn’t receive that.
What God is doing in my own development is—He’s changing the way I look at how He loves me. I think it’s Henri Nouwen, who wrote in his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, that he spent all of his life trying to know God, and to find God, and to love God. He realized that he was doing it upside down—
—that what God really desires is for us to let God know us—for us to let God find us / for us to let God love us.
I thought to myself: “That’s what I was doing with my mom—I push her away. How am I pushing God away because of what I assume?” God loves me! Maybe the way I love Him back is to let Him! I continue to embrace this beauty of broken. The further I go into understanding the broken, the more I see of the beauty. God loves broken people! He reclaims and reforms us. He uses broken people.
Dennis: What you just painted is really a beautiful picture there. You made the statement, earlier, that God uses our parents to teach us lessons, even as we become adults. I think there may be one additional lesson your mom may want to teach you. I don’t know if you know this or not, but I have written a book called The Forgotten Commandment.
It’s about the fifth commandment of the Ten Commandments—that talks about honoring your mother and your father. I want Bob to tell folks how they can get a copy of your book. At the end of the broadcast, I want to come back. I can’t do this in reality—but what I would like to do is seat your mom across from the table and give you a chance to give her a verbal tribute.
Elisa: That’s beautiful.
Dennis: Would you do that?
Elisa: I would.
Bob: We do have copies of your book, The Beauty of Broken, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. I’d encourage our listeners to go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” You can order a copy of Elisa’s book from us, online. Again, FamilyLifeToday.com is the website. Click the “GO DEEPER” link when you’re on our website; or simply call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
And, real quickly, let me say a word of thanks to those folks who made today’s program possible—it’s our Legacy Partners—those of you who give on a monthly basis to help support this program—and those of you who pitch in, from time to time, to help with the financial costs of this ministry / help to cover the cost of producing and syndicating this daily radio program. We appreciate your support and couldn’t do what we do without you. We’re grateful for your partnership.
Today, if you can help with a donation, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a resource that Barbara Rainey has put together. It’s called “Untie Your Story.” It’s designed for use at a family dinner table to help you ask one another some questions that you might not normally ask one another.
You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I Care,” to make an online donation; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make your donation over the phone. Of course, you can mail a donation to FamilyLife Today. Our mailing address is PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. Our zip code is 72223. Dennis—
Dennis: Well, I want to say, “Thanks,” to Elisa Morgan, who has written The Beauty of Broken. Before Bob shared about how to get a copy of your book, I told you I was going to come back and wanted to really challenge you to give your mom a verbal tribute that honored her.
Elisa: How much time do I have? [Laughter]
Bob: Well, now—again, the context—this is your alcoholic mom.
Elisa: Yes; but she’s more than that—yes.
Bob: Who, in your years, growing up with her, there was more challenge than blessing; wasn’t there?
Elisa: It felt that way.
Bob: So, if she were here, and you were going to honor her, what would you say to her?
Elisa: I would say, “Paige,”—that’s her name—“I love you. I understand that you did what you could. That is not a settling kind of a statement—that is an honoring statement. There were many days you got up when you would rather not have gotten up. You went to work when you would rather not have gone to work. You did crazy, wonderful, creative things like prepare for Christmases for us and other holidays. You taught us to be adventurous, and loving, and non-judgmental. But, mainly, what I want to say to you is, ‘Thank you for loving me.’ I’m sorry for the times I made it hard for you to love me. I receive your love. I’m really glad you’re with Jesus, and I look forward to being with you in eternity.”
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