A Trip of a Lifetime
About the Guest
Parents are busy. And Brad Mathias, a father of three, is no different. But when he and his wife noticed their 14-year-old daughter pulling away from the family, they decided to act. Brad reflects on the night they learned of their daughter's molestation, and talks about the Holy Spirit led trip he took his family on that would turn around his daughter's life, as well as his family's.
Brad MathiasDr. Brad Mathias is president of Bema Media LLC, the parent company of iShine, the world's largest preteen Christian media group. He also serves as co-pastor of the Four Winds Anglican Mission in Spring Hill, Tennessee. Survivors of an almost-divorce, Brad and his wife, Paige, have been married for over twenty-two years and are the parents of three teenagers. Blessed with a redeemed marriage and a restored home, Brad is actively engaged in public ministry to families in crisis.
Brad Mathias and his wife noticed their daughter pulling away.
A Trip of a Lifetime
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, March 14th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll find out why Brad Mathias’s daughter was crying and what he did about it on today’s program. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, I think every parent, who has ever had a teenager, has looked across the table at your spouse and said: “What do we do? In this moment, what do we do with the child thinking, acting, and behaving the way they’re acting? What do we do?”
I don’t know how many parents have ever answered the question, “Let’s pile in the car and go on a road trip.” That seems like an unusual answer to me.
Dennis: Yes, it seems like you would flee in the other direction. [Laughter]
Bob: “Grab the keys!”
Dennis: Barbara and I, at many points—
you know, many of our listeners support us in this ministry, financially. You help keep us on the air. By the way, if you do want to follow me on Twitter®, it is @DennisRainey.
Bob: What is this?—just a shameless Twitter plug?
Dennis: It is! It is. Also, join me on my Facebook® page. Hit a “Like” on there and join me.
Dennis: Let’s keep in touch.
Back to what I was getting ready to talk about—there are many of our listeners who have gotten Christmas cards from us.
Dennis: And they’ve seen a picture of this big family—now approaching 20 grandchildren—and all the siblings, and their spouses, and everything. You can get a good picture. You can make it look like it’s a perfect family; but when they were growing up—
Bob: But you have to take several shots to get a good one.
Dennis: You have to take several shots. [Laughter] And it’s not a perfect family—trust me. But when they were growing up, there were many times when we thought, “Are we raising juvenile delinquents?”
Bob: Right. Sure.
Dennis: “Are we?”— you know? And that’s why the road trip—I don’t think I would have chosen that.
We have with us, in the studio today, Brad Mathias, who wrote a book about a road trip. The book is called Road Trip to Redemption. Brad, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Brad: Thanks. I’m looking forward to it.
Dennis: Brad is a pastor. He has three teens, currently. This is kind of a dangerous book to write—about teenagers and about the road trip—in the midst of still being in the process. You’re a brave man. You’ve done it. You and your wife, Paige, have been married since 1991. Take us back to the time in—was it 2009?—when something occurred with your daughter—that didn’t tip you off—but caused you to wonder if something was going on that, ultimately, led to this road trip.
Brad: Every parent is running at Mach 3. We’re all red-lining our schedules. If you’re in ministry or you’re a pastor—or even just a reliable volunteer at your local church—you’re busy.
Brad: You’re trying to keep up with school. You’re trying to keep up with church. You’re trying to keep up with your life. You occasionally take a date with your spouse.
So, you run at that speed. It becomes easy to only react to the problems. I was a victim of that. I definitely am guilty of being one of those dads that, if it wasn’t a problem, I wasn’t trying to fix it.
That’s how this snuck up on us in 2009. We had a 14-year-old daughter who just suddenly wasn’t at dinner very often—who suddenly just withdrew from her family life. She was a freshman in high school. There were some transitions happening. It took me several weeks or months before I even began to notice: “Where’s Bethany? What’s going on?”
Dennis: The family dynamics that were occurring at that time weren’t your average run-of-the-mill type of stuff. Half a dozen years before, you and your wife had separated—almost divorced. Do you think that contributed, ultimately, to this situation with your daughter?
Brad: At the time it occurred, I did. I saw that there were patterns in my kids and in my own behavior that were really different than a healthy family should be. In particular, Bethany struggled with anxiety. She felt like she would be left if we didn’t constantly reassure her that Mom and Dad would be there in the morning. She was very fearful at night, even as she got into her late pre-adolescent years. I definitely can say I see a link between that and her dad leaving when she was very young—and those memories.
Bob: Now, I’m imagining myself being in your situation, at this point, with a 14-year-old daughter dealing with anxiety and pulling back a little bit. Mary Ann and I would have had conversations about: “What do you think is going on with Bethany? Do you think we need to be doing anything? Do you think we need to get her to talk to a counselor? Maybe, I should be spending a little more time with her.” Were you having those conversations with Paige?
Brad: We were. In fact, Paige and I were really paying attention to the things that are obvious—the triggers—the different makeup, the different style of clothes, the music she started listening to, the people she was hanging out with. These were all radically different at the beginning of her freshman year in high school than they had been in junior high. There was this period of time where Paige and I really began to wonder: “Okay, is she sneaking out? Is there a problem? Is there a boyfriend issue? Is she lying to us?” We went through the whole checklist of parents—double- and triple-checking if she was where she was supposed to be.
We started to figure out that there was something going on; but it wasn’t as dangerous as it, maybe, first looked—until—I was lying in bed. I said to my wife: “Honey, something is wrong with Bethany. I think we need to pray, right now.” And we did. The Holy Spirit intruded in our life and in our marriage, at that moment. I describe it in the book. There was this moment where I just suddenly—Bing! —you have this awareness. The light bulb goes on in your spirit.
Brad: I said, “We’ve got to go ask Bethany what she’s hiding from us—
“right now—right this moment.” I remember that it was late at night—10:30 or 11:00 at night. I remember getting up and going to her room with Paige. As we neared her room, I’m thinking in my dad-mind: “What did she hide? What is she doing? Is this drugs?”
Bob: “She is so busted!”
Brad: Oh, “She’s about to get it!” You know, in my mind, I’m already going through the checklist: “I’m going to ground her.” “I’m going to take away this.” “She’s going to know that she’s not going to fool me.” I came to a screeching halt as I came to her door, and I heard her silently crying in her room. I realized: “Something’s really wrong! This is not what I thought it was.”
Dennis: She needs a shepherd—not a judge.
Brad: Right; yes. So, as a pastor and as a really passionate Christ-follower, I was all about black and white—everything getting check-listed—doing the things you’re supposed to do. I read the books! I mean, we were supposed to have good kids because we did all the books.
Brad: And yet, here was something I hadn’t accounted for. My daughter was broken in her spirit, and I had missed it.
Dennis: And you walked into that room. What did you say to her? How did you become the shepherd?
Brad: I walked into that room, and I just saw the brokenness in her. I saw the weariness in her eyes that broke my dad-heart for—that she didn’t expect me to be compassionate. She was looking at me as if I was about to come down on her.
I just said: “Sweetie, what’s wrong? You need to tell us.” She looked at me for a moment and then it was like the dam broke. There was this really tough, pre-teen/teenage look—you know, this sort of rebellious moment in her eyes—and then, she broke. The Holy Spirit had timed it perfectly that our awareness was peaked in a time when she was most desperate.
We found out, in that moment, that our daughter had almost taken her life. There had been a series of events that had occurred, six months earlier, with abuse and molestation that she had completely hidden from Paige and me.
We were in the dark. She didn’t feel safe enough to come and talk to us about it. So, she hid it and reacted to it. It was this painful moment, as a dad, where you’re suddenly aware of all the things you may have totally misunderstood about your own child—and also, this amazing gratefulness to God that He interrupted this cycle and where it was headed.
Bob: Of course, I’d also have some feelings in the back of mind about whoever had abused my daughter.
Brad: I try very hard not to go into that too much in the book because it was another student, and it occurred in a public setting. We dealt with that publicly. I did have to go through that. I did have to go through, as a dad, guarding my anger. The deeper wound was my feeling that I had failed my daughter.
Brad: You know, as a dad, we’re supposed to protect our little girls.
Brad: So, here, I had failed twice. I failed in being a good husband to my wife, and now I had failed in protecting my daughter. I bring those points into this story because I don’t care what parent out there is hearing this right now—I don’t care how badly you’ve messed up—I don’t care how far you’ve gone into the negative territory of being a good dad or husband—there’s redemption.
There is a process that God has for you to restore your marriage, and your home, and to heal your kids. I want my story to at least give a real-life, transparent, honest look at what that would look like if you were to trust God for your kids.
Dennis: What I want the parents to hear, coming loud and clear out of your story, is that teenagers don’t need their mom and dad to be their friend. I’m not saying you don’t to have a good relationship with them, but they need a shepherd.
They need someone who cares for them, but also does protect them and provide the boundaries for them.
What I hear you doing is responding to a prompting of God. I think, many times, parents miss the opportunity to truly engage with their kids because they’re not in constant conversation with God about their children: “Lord, help me catch them doing what’s right. Help me catch them doing what’s wrong. Help me stay engaged with them. Help us keep our relationship intact,” because the world is competing for your child’s heart. If we, as parents, aren’t in the game, pursuing them—but also pursuing God and pursuing His heart—we’re going to miss some opportunities and walk by some of these situations like you just described. The results could be devastating.
Bob: When did the thought hit you, “I think we’ll pack up the car and get out of town”? Was it that night—in the middle of that moment in your daughter’s bedroom?
Brad: It wasn’t. The time between meeting with Bethany in her room and us going on our crazy road trip was about nine months. There was a pretty good season of time between those events. But I can tell you that there was a great awareness that I had really miscalculated, as a dad / as a pastor. I believed that if I put my time in and did the right things, that my kids would turn out a certain way. I had taken away the role God needed to play in their conversion.
Brad: You see—I had made it something I did.
Brad: And it’s really something that God does!
Brad: I think there are a lot of parents, especially in the church, who are so stressed out—trying to get it ”right,” trying to make sure that their kids come out exactly healthy, identical reproductions of themselves. We forget that God has a role to play—a dominant role to play! We’re just caretakers in that process.
Without going into too much detail, the shift in my understanding of God, my Father, from a God who is loving and true to me versus this old, angry man—that I had in my mind of Him—affected how I parented.
Brad: Because I had messed up so badly, as a husband—in the beginning of the story—my understanding of God was this angry person, who I should be afraid of. So, I parented out of fear. All of my relationships were dominated out of fear.
Dennis: So, you didn’t have a good understanding of grace—
Dennis: —and of a right standing before God because of what Christ had done on the cross for you.
Brad: I mean—I believed it for everybody but me.
Dennis: You preached it at church—
Dennis: —because you’re a pastor.
Brad: Yes, yes! I mean, I knew the doctrine. I know the theology, but the reality was that I was an extremely good example of messed-up.
Bob: So, the inspiration to pack up and do a road trip—you said it was about nine months after you learned what had gone on with Bethany. Was this just, “Let’s take a family vacation,” or did you have something deeper and bigger in mind for this trip?
Brad: The book goes into the details of processing, as parents, how you deal with something like what happened with Bethany. It’s not a simple thing. It’s not an easy thing. You can’t do it alone. There are a lot of conflicting emotions. But as I began to process with God, I said, “God, you’ve got to help my daughter!” His response was to change me—
Brad: —which is always the case. So, as parents, when we’re concerned about a child and their behavior, and we start praying, watch out!
Brad: Immediately, what He’s going to do is top-down!
Dennis: Oh, yes!
Brad: It began this process of me learning about crazy love. I read Francis Chan’s book. It really affected me at a time in my life when I needed to understand the simplicity and the profound nature of God. In the process—I am an avid outdoorsman. I love to climb mountains. I drive all over the United States—taking pictures, and climbing, and crazy things. I do it with pastors, and I do it with artists in the Christian music world.
I said: “God, I fell in love with You in those mountains. I want my kids to fall in love with You like I did.” That’s when I felt the inspiration to take a road trip with my kids—to take them to the places that had really changed and transformed my understanding of God from this angry guy to this loving, creative artist that He is.
Bob: Two weeks—7,000 miles; right?
Brad: Insane; right?
Bob: That’s pretty crazy!
Bob: You went through tornados; right?
Brad: We did! You’re not supposed to have a tornado in Billings, Montana. [Laughter]
Bob: You climbed mountains. Bethany saw her first moose.
Brad: That’s my favorite part of the book—Chapter 11 is “Bethany’s Moose.” It’s a special story.
Bob: And what is special about it?
Brad: Well, you don’t just walk up on a moose; you know? You don’t just find a moose.
Dennis: They’re dangerous.
Brad: Yes, they’re dangerous—more than you would think. But more than that,
Bethany is—she’s, in this moment, 15 now—so, nine months later—
Where she’s beginning to thaw to Mom and Dad. She’s starting to unleash herself a little bit. She’s starting to relax a little bit; but she has, by no means, embraced our faith. She’s not decided that God is trustworthy. She’s just beginning to think that Mom and Dad might be cool.
So, here we are on this road trip. I have a daughter who is convinced that God does not actually answer prayer. Nothing I can do can convince her of that. So, she says, “Well, I’m going to pray to see a moose.” That’s tough stuff for a parent. You’re on a 14-day road trip. You’re 11-12 days into it. Guess what? No moose.
Dennis: Did you go to a zoo? [Laughter]
Bob: You’d start to come up with the idea, “I’ve got to get a moose in here somehow!”
Brad: Somehow, that might be counterproductive. I’m not sure. [Laughter]
Bob: Hire a moose guide.
Dennis: So, how did it happen?
Brad: At Rocky Mountain National Park, we wake up in the middle of the foggiest morning I can ever remember.
It’s early July. God wakes me up, literally, and says, “Get her. Go. I’ve got it.” He says, “Tell her.” I’m thinking, “If I tell her there’s a moose out there—
Dennis: “You’d better deliver!”
Brad: —“and this is the pizza I ate last night—
Brad: —“I’ve just dug a deeper hole than we’re already in.”
You know—the story just is beautiful because God did talk to me. He does talk to parents, specifically, about their kids. I drove about 15 miles, and I knew exactly where to go. We walked off the side of the road, and through a stand of trees, and there was a moose 30 feet from us. I have a picture of it in the book.
Brad: It’s unbelievable. It was so specific of what Bethany had prayed for.
Bob: There’s a chapter in the book that you title, “A Week in God’s Country and the Hike that Changed It All.” What was the hike?
Brad: You can visit a beautiful place; and then, you can explore a beautiful place. You visit a beautiful place on a tour bus. You stop at the scenic overlook. You take the picture; and you say, “I’ve been to Bow Falls, Canada,” which is a beautiful place. You can do that.
If you take the six-mile hike to Bow Falls, which starts at the scenic overlook, then you’ve actually experienced it. The “Hike that Changed It All” was this moment in the journey where my kids actually experienced the glory of God in the cathedral of the wilderness. They saw for themselves the dynamic beauty that is creation.
When those things happen—no matter how many times Dad comes back, excited with his pictures and tells them about how awesome that was—until you actually experience that and you smell that air, you walk through those fields, and you see that water—there’s no way to appreciate what God has for us. The “Hike that Changed It All” was this hike—where my kids began to see that there’s a difference between knowing what Dad described and what they experienced, and also between knowing about someone and actually knowing that person.
Bob: Yes. I was thinking that as you were saying it. There are some people whose experience of Christianity is the scenic overpass as opposed to the walk with Jesus; right?
Brad: I would even suggest that maybe most people have had that experience.
Dennis: Yes. As I look at the assignment of being a parent, Brad, I think there are two things God commands us to do with our kids—one is to teach them the truth about God, which is the scenic overlook—it’s the character of God, what He’s like, His attributes, who He is, and how He works. You can take your kids only so far in introducing them to God, at that point, around His characteristics. As you’ve just described, you’ve got to get off on the trail. That’s where you teach them to experience God and begin to see Him work in and through their lives, by challenging them to pray.
One of my grandkids called me the other day and asked me to pray for him. I’ll not get off into that—it was a pretty dramatic situation that was occurring in this little guy’s life.
He thought enough of his Papa to give him a call to ask him to pray for him. I’ve had conversations with my grandkids about who God is; but in that moment, we both, over the phone, experienced who He is. We had an experience of really trusting God with a fearful situation that he was encountering.
I think you’ve done a great job, here on the broadcast, and also in your book, Road Trip to Redemption, of challenging parents to—not just go down the highway—but to take their kids with them—and, yes, stop at the overlook—but get out and truly make sure you’re fulfilling your assignment of introducing your kids to God but also giving them experiences with God.
Bob: And I just have to know—because Bethany, obviously, was okay with you writing this book and telling her story; right?
Bob: This is three or four years later. How is she doing?
Brad: She’s a freshman in college. She’s doing great. She wrote a part of this book. So, as we go through this story, you’re going to hear her version of the same events that I described so that parents can see: “This is messy—working with teens. They have all kinds of crazy ideas in their heads; but, at the end of the day, God comes for their hearts just like He came for yours and mine.”
Brad: The reason I included all of those stories about myself is because I wanted to show that there’s no situation that can’t be redeemed. There’s no circumstance that can’t be healed. There’s no child whose heart can’t be reached by our Savior.
Dennis: And that’s a great reminder for all of us. Thanks for being on the broadcast.
Brad: Thank you guys.
Bob: We have got copies of Brad’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. I want to encourage listeners to go to FamilyLifeToday.com to find out more about the book, Road Trip to Redemption: A Disconnected Family, a Cross-Country Adventure, and an Amazing Journey of Healing and Grace.
Again, the book is called Road Trip to Redemption;and you’ll find it online. You can order, online, if you’d like at FamilyLifeToday.com—is the website; or call 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
Now, you should know that today’s program is brought to you by folks, just like you. We have a team of people, all across the country—we call them Legacy Partners—folks who have gotten in touch with us and said: “We believe in what God is doing through FamilyLife Today. We think marriage and family are important. We believe that people need to hear biblical truth about marriage and family, and we want to help make that happen.”
These folks have signed on to be monthly supporters of this ministry. We’re grateful for our Legacy Partners, but the truth is our team of Legacy Partners could use some new teammates.
So, during the month of March, we’re asking regular FamilyLife Today listeners—those of you who have tuned in and listened for a long time—you like the program, maybe you’ve been to a Weekend to Remember ® getaway, maybe you’ve used some of our resources, or been on our website—would you consider making a monthly contribution to support FamilyLife Today? If you sign on as a new Legacy Partner this month, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a welcome kit that includes the brand-new Legacy Partner Cookbook—recipes from all across the country—from some of our Legacy Partners. Dennis and Barbara have got some recipes in there, some of our staff, Mary Ann and I have got recipes in there, as well.
We’ll send you the cookbook as a thank-you gift when you become a brand-new Legacy Partner. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE.” You can sign up, online, as a Legacy Partner or find out more about the Legacy Partner program.
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I hope you’ll join us—join the Legacy Partner team. We look forward to hearing from you.
And I hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you’ll join us back on Monday when we’re going to talk about one of the Ten Commandments. This is the commandment that Dennis Rainey thinks is the forgotten commandment. Do you know which one that is? We will talk about it Monday. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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