I Am the Mother This Child Needs
About the Guest
Motherhood can be overwhelming. MOPS founder Elisa Morgan shares how Christ changed her life at age 16 and led her to attend seminary. It was there that Elisa met her husband, Evan, and seven months later, they married. Their family would expand years later when they adopted two children. Raising children, Elisa explains, came with plenty of challenges, including her unwed daughter's two pregnancies and her son's addictions.
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.
Motherhood can be overwhelming. Elisa Morgan shares how raising children came with plenty of challenges, including her unwed daughter’s two pregnancies and her son’s addictions.
I Am the Mother This Child Needs
Bob: Elisa Morgan remembers being in a meeting at work when she had an impression that she needed to ask her teenage daughter a very important question.
Elisa: I stopped her in the hall. I said, “Is there any reason you could be pregnant?” And she looked at me and nodded “Yes,”—she’s pregnant. I’m blown away by this. It felt like, to me, that I had come from a broken family; and I had given all of my life to creating this perfectly intact second family—we’d spent time with Jesus / we did it right!—and it felt, to me, like my second family fell and broke again.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, November 18th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What do you do, as a parent, when things start going in a very different direction than you had hoped and prayed things would go? We’ll talk about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Recently, I got a number of files handed to me that were profiles of different couples—just some of their background/their information. I opened up the folders. I was looking through it, and the first thing you saw was the family picture. I thought, “These are some great-looking families,” as I looked at the picture.
Dennis: Sure; sure.
Bob: And then I would look at some of the stories behind the pictures. When I saw the stories behind the pictures, I thought, “That picture doesn’t really capture that story,” because here was one great-looking family—and well, there was adultery that had been a part of their story; and there was drug abuse that had been a part of their story. I thought, “You wouldn’t know that from the picture”; would you?
Dennis: Yes, Bob. What you’re touching on is what we’re all guilty of—we’re guilty of judging based on what we see. I had a young couple this past weekend walk up to me. They said: “We want to thank you for your ministry.
We just went to the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway,”—and they named the city—“and we hadn’t been away from the kids since we started having them a dozen years ago.” They had three, and they started unpacking a similar situation—not adultery—but their marriage was on a downhill slide. On Friday night, at the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, they were thinking about leaving.
Just looking at this couple, you would think, “They’ve got it together.” They were dressed handsomely / they were doing well in their business—yet, here they are confessing that he almost left the Weekend to Remember on Friday night because they had an argument / a disagreement, and he wanted out of there. His leaving would not just have been the Weekend to Remember. I think it was symbolic of maybe leaving the marriage. That weekend, they got the training—they got the help / they got the hope—that they needed, biblically and spiritually. They said, “We feel like we have a whole new direction in our lives.”
I just want to say, here at the beginning of the broadcast before I introduce our guest, I just want to say, “Thanks,” to the folks who support this ministry financially, because you’re helping us bring hope to literally thousands of couples like that at our conferences—I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say hundreds of thousands, if not millions, here on FamilyLife Today—through your financial support and all that you’re doing. You’re also helping support the broadcast today, which is going to be really good because Elisa Morgan joins us again on the broadcast. Elisa, welcome back.
Elisa: Thanks for having me back.
Dennis: She has written a book called The Beauty of Broken—how all of us kind of put on the air of perfection—but the subtitle is: There is No Such Thing as a Perfect Family: My Story and Likely Yours Too.
Bob: We’ve already heard from you this week about your family of origin. Your mom and dad divorced when you were five years old.
Your dad really was done with you guys / your mom was an alcoholic. You grew up with a sister and a brother in a home where you were trying to hold everything together and owning that responsibility. I’m curious about this—you came to faith when you were 16 years old in the midst of all of this. How did you hear the gospel; and what did that do, if anything, to what you were dealing with in life?
Elisa: Actually, I loved Jesus. I loved God, as a young child. Our mom would take my older sister and me to church—the local Presbyterian church—and drop us off on Sunday morning. I think she got a few hours to herself. We didn’t know what to do—so we joined the adult choir. It was kind of cute. We had these long stoles hanging off—it was just great. Think Charley Brown—that was us. [Laughter]
I knew about God, and I loved Him; but I didn’t really know what that meant.
So, when I was still in a church as a teen—but then began to hear more about Jesus through the ministry of YoungLife—I discovered what we would call the gospel—the good news that God, not only loves us, but He went so far as to give His Son on a cross to pay the penalty for all of our sins. I just grabbed on to that for dear life. I think it gave me a couple of things—it gave me reassurance that I was not alone and that I was not doing life alone.
But I think also, in becoming a Christian and starting this relationship with God, I think I began to develop an understanding of a mythology that: “If I give my life to God, and I’m obedient according to His Word, then He’s going to bless me! He’s going to give me the goods!” More than anything, I wanted to create a perfectly intact second family. I’d look at my friends—and they had moms with beehives, and pearls, and June Cleaver dresses, and they ate exactly at six o’clock every night—it was predictable / it was apparently loving—looked great on the outside.
I wanted that!—I wanted predictability, and safety, and security—and I wanted to give that to children myself. So, I think there’s a kind of double-edged sword there. My faith sustained me, and gave me a calling, and gave me a purpose and a reassurance; but I think I also assigned to it some impossible expectations.
Bob: I think a lot of people think that faith in Jesus is the pill you take that cures all of the bad in your past. There’s a sense in which that’s true, but the dysfunction of our lives isn’t immediately erased. The transformation of our lives is on ongoing process; isn’t it?
Elisa: Yes. We don’t understand—I think we understand salvation. It means you’re going to go to heaven / it means you have a relation with Jesus. But we don’t understand sanctification, which is the process—and by the way, it’s a process—of being conformed and shaped into Him. In Elisa-everyday-talk, I would just say: “Basically, we’re not done. If we were done, we’d be dead.”
This is an ongoing life process. I didn’t understand that until I was much older—that everything we go through in life really does belong—that this stuff does fit together / that God doesn’t break us, but He does allow us to break. The first family was a broken family; and every other family ever since breaks in some way, shape, or form because we’re broken people that God died to fix. He will do that, but not necessarily by Thursday at 7:00 p.m.
Dennis: As you, a young person, grew up in your family—you were 16, you said, when you came to faith in Christ—how did that impact your relationship with your dad, your mom, your stepmom, your sister, your brother? I mean, did it change anything?
Elisa: My sister, and brother, and I all came to faith in a season of about three to five years. My mom, I think, was a little threatened by it—just confused. She had become a Christian, as a young girl, in a Baptist church at 12—and went forward and was baptized—but her life, then, went away from God / the church—any expression of religion.
I think she was confused and thought maybe I was a little eccentric in my faith.
My dad thought I was a wacko. Truly, I remember, at one point, when a six-year relationship I had had with my boyfriend ended. I really had to clarify God’s call on my life and “What now?” I was just out of college. I felt God asking me to go to seminary and to formalize my education around being full-time in a vocation for Him. My dad thought I was going to become a nun—and freaked out and called me and said: “There are other men out there, Elisa. You don’t have to give up on them.” He didn’t understand that. It was a dear moment, actually, that he showed concern.
Bob: It was actually in seminary that the new perfect family that you were going to form had its genesis; right? [Laughter]
Elisa: I got the perfect guy. I will say that—perfect guy for me. Yes, I met—
Bob: Love at first sight.
Elisa: It was. I met and married Evan Morgan within—I think it was about seven or eight months—we met and were married.
Bob: With this ambition in your heart that: “This is going to be what I didn’t have, growing up. Here’s my chance to get it done right.”
Elisa: Right. Yes.
Bob: When did it first start to dawn on you that maybe there were going to be challenges in this new godly two seminary students getting married to one another, with the ambition of a perfect family?
Elisa: We knew, immediately, that we weren’t going to be able to have children, biologically, because Evan had incurred and survived cancer. So, we knew we would be adopting children. I think that we went into that very innocently and naively—thinking that was going to be awesome and we’d be saving children as well as saving the world together. While it has been a total fulfillment to adopt children, it has not come without challenges.
So, the very first thing I would say is—we waited forever to have these children / to adopt these children.
They just were infants when we got them; but I think the first, Eva, our daughter, was four-and-a-half years in a wait.
Bob: Four-and-a-half years from initiating the adoption process until you brought Eva home?
Bob: And how long had you been married before you began initiating the adoption process?
Elisa: Three-and-a-half seconds. [Laughter]
Bob: So, you started in on kids pretty quick.
Elisa: We did. Well, we did because we knew it was going to be a long wait—we didn’t expect it to be that long. As we waited, we both served in full-time ministry—I as a Dean of Women at a college and Evan in administration at the seminary. We were very full in ministry, in church, in friends, growing, and then came, finally, children.
Dennis: I have to stop you, at this point, and say it’s not a forgone conclusion, with a lot of couples who can’t have children, that they’ll adopt. How did God put on your hearts to confirm He wanted you to do something that really is noble? It really is selfless / it’s self-sacrificing—but it’s go give a child who doesn’t have a family / a home.
Elisa: It wasn’t noble for us. I’m going to be just really clear. We wanted to have children, and that’s the only way we could have them. Evan knew it, immediately after his surgery, that he’d be unable to have children. He felt God calling him then to raise a child that wasn’t his own. I knew, as Evan and I fell in love, that that would be my journey toward motherhood. The process of being a woman who doesn’t bear children is huge, and mine was voluntarily.
As a nearly 60-year-old woman, I have to tell you there are very painful times when I still grieve that—that reality that I haven’t borne children—but I do think that, for me, and I’m just being blunt honest—is that I didn’t do it nobly. I didn’t do it because a daughter, out there, needed me. I did it because I needed a daughter / I did it because I needed a son. I hadn’t really understood that until later in the process; but, for me, it was kind of a selfish decision.
Bob: Did you guys become instant parents? Was it one of these you get a phone call one day and, all of a sudden, you’re a parent?
Elisa: Yes. After the four-and-a-half years—yes, we got a phone call on a Saturday of Easter weekend that we would be getting our daughter on Monday morning. I remember standing in church on Easter Sunday singing, “Christ the Lord is risen today…” with tears streaming down our face.
That next day, we were in the adoption agency, walking through. There was this little bundle of pink, lying on a hard kind of banquet folding table. I’m looking at the woman standing above her, going, “She’s crying. Pick her up!” In my heart, came this, “Well, you’re the mother.” I knew I was that baby’s mother, and I went over and picked up my daughter and bonded on the spot.
Dennis: I want to ask you to fast forward. I want to get more of the story here in a minute—but just looking at that moment, when you picked that baby up—what was the most important lesson you were about to learn?
Elisa: It would take me several years to really hear this, but that “I am the mother this child needs.” God began to speak that to me.
When she was about three years old—I remember, truly, one night putting her to bed. Then she called me down the hall to come back, and I did. I had nothing left. I was like, “Seriously?” I was so close to getting to watch ER and George Clooney, and I was just done! I go back in the room. I am on empty, and it wasn’t a pretty moment—Monster Mom emerges. I got through the moment, but I went back to my bed. I didn’t feel like I deserved Mommy Time any more.
I found myself praying Hannah’s prayer from I Samuel, Chapter 3: “For this child I prayed, and now I give her over to the Lord all the days of her life because You’re going to be a better parent than I am, God.” It was like God just pushed at me there and said, “Elisa, do you really trust Me with her?” and I’m like, “Sure, You’re God.” It was like “Well, do you trust Me to decide if she should get married or not or see her through a life-threatening illness?”
He pushed me; and He goes, “If you trust Me with her truly, then do you trust Me to pick for her the very best mother for who I know she will become?”
I have gone back to that moment for 30 years now and said, “Yes, I trust You.” So, everything that she goes through—that I go through / that we go through—I go back to that moment, trusting: “Do I trust God that He picked me to be her mother?” And I do.
Bob: This issue of releasing your kids is one of the things that you talk about in the book. You describe it as a core family value that moms and dads have to have the illusion of control pried from their fingers. They have to surrender to God’s plan for their child’s life; right?
Elisa: Relinquishment is the word I think I use, which does mean to let go. It doesn’t mean to stop caring, and it doesn’t mean to be uninvolved. It doesn’t mean to take a hike because there’s no off-ramp in parenting. But it does mean a letting go—you are called to relinquish them to Him.
Dennis: That commitment you made to God, when she was three years old, is one thing; but you say, 27 years later, you look back on it. That was a watershed moment.
In your book, you talk about several additional times when that commitment was put to a severe test. Which test do you think was the most difficult?
Elisa: When she was a teenager, I had a dream. I was walking through a home. In this home—it was under construction—and Jesus was my tour guide in this dream. He led me through different rooms, and He stopped at a bedroom. He said, “This bedroom is for your daughter”; and then He went to the one right next door to it. He said, “And this bedroom is for the baby.” I went “What?” and I woke up. The next night, truly, I had the same dream repeated—home under construction—Jesus is the tour guide, “This room is for your daughter; this room is for the baby.”
And I remember saying, “She’s not pregnant.” He looked at me and said, “Yes, she is.” I truly shook this off. Just a few days—maybe weeks later—I was at MOPS, where I served as the CEO in those days. We were sitting around at a conference table, talking about the formation of teen MOPS—for moms who were teenagers themselves.
I felt God whisper to me, “You’re going to know more about this than anyone in this room.” I thought, “Oh, my gosh—I better talk to my daughter.” I went home. I asked my beautiful varsity-swimming medalist—back from a missions trip in Kenya, serving HIV orphans / just back from that—I stopped her in the hall. I said, “Is there any reason you could be pregnant?” She looked at me and nodded.
I—never-before-pregnant me—I get in my car, and go to the grocery store, and get an at-home pregnancy test, and I bring it home. Yes, she is pregnant; and I’m blown away by this. It felt like, to me, that I had come from a broken family, and I had given all of my life to creating this perfectly intact second family—we had spent time with Jesus / we did it right!—and it felt, to me, like my second family fell and broke again.
Dennis: And the lessons of love, forgiveness, compassion of a mom who had chosen this little girl really came to bear in a big time way; didn’t they?
Elisa: Such a long journey and a beautiful one, where God began to reveal in ways that I couldn’t translate at first the beauty in broken. My daughter went through this process of this pregnancy and ended up having a baby way early through an abruptio placenta—made the very painful decision, but important decision, to relinquish this baby—and then continued with her life but veered off into some other surprising choices.
During this time, my son—a few years younger than his sister—began to lose his way as well—him into addiction, and into legal issues, and truancy. We wondered, “Was it because he was watching his own intrauterine development play out before his eyes because he also came from a teen mom, just about his sister’s age, who carried and then relinquished him?”
We wondered, “Is that what’s happening, or is it all just my fault?”—which is where, of course, I went.
And the story goes on in our family—of my daughter with another pregnancy, and an accident that changed her life in dramatic ways, and an abusive relationship. We go on and on here, and this is not a tied-up-in-a-bow story. This is a real life—like everybody listening—story of people who want to cling to God and do—and sometimes bump along behind Him, trying to find our way—and find ourselves broken, and in need of healing, and discovering a God who gets that abnormal is very normal, and that His people are wayward people, but they’re never beyond His reach for redemption and healing.
Bob: You had a pastor or a seminary friend who shared with you that our kids—there are really three factors that determine who they become; right?
Elisa: It’s really rich. Yes, this was a wise learned man, who has since gone to be with Jesus; but he talked about heredity, which you really can’t control—and he talked about environment, which we can control to some extent—but the surprising element that shapes kids, as well, is free will. We can’t control it at all—each of us gets to make our own choices.
God began to show me that I am responsible to mother my children as best I can, but I’m not responsible for their choices and their responses. I’ve had to relinquish that understanding as well. I can throw myself over a pothole. I can say, “Don’t go near that pothole,” and put my body on top of it. They may pick me up, and throw me out of the way, and dive down by their own choices. In those moments, I need to relinquish responsibility of their choices.
Dennis: What you’re illustrating here, Elisa, is really what I think James, Chapter 1, commands us to do.
He says, “This is pure and undefiled religion”—basically, to go near the widow and the orphan in their distress. When you go near the orphan, you go near the heart of God. And in the process of going near the orphan, you find Life Himself, even in the midst of some of the drama that you live out because you chose to adopt.
FamilyLife is an advocate. I am bullish on the orphan—on foster care / on adoption—because I think it’s upon the heart of God. It’s why He adopted us—it’s at the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If He hadn’t adopted us, we’d be lost. We’d be without an identity / without a family.
I know it’s been hard—I read your book—but I thank you for living out and modeling the love of Christ with your daughter and with your son through some very treacherous, turbulent days—but for exhibiting the love of Christ in the midst of that.
I think that’s a message more and more of the church today, and followers of Jesus Christ, need to hear and see.
Bob: Yes, and I think for those who will read your book, they will get some insight and some wisdom that comes from having traveled down a hard road as you guys have done, relying on the grace of God in every step along that journey. We have copies of that book, The Beauty of Broken by Elisa Morgan in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
You can go, online, to FamilyLifeToday.com. There is a link in the upper left- hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” If you click that link, it will take you right to the spot where you can order a copy of The Beauty of Broken by Elisa Morgan.
Or if you prefer to order by phone, the toll-free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY. So, again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com / the toll-free number: 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
I was reflecting with some friends recently about the fact that all of us in the journey of life are going to experience these kinds of detours, like you’ve talked about here today, Elisa, where you wind up on a very different stretch of highway than the one you had thought you were going to be on when you started your journey. That’s the reality of the path that God has us on. He sometimes assigns us to a different road than the one we thought we were going to be on.
The question is less about what highway you’re going to be on—the question is: “Are you headed the right direction, and are you aware of the fact that God is with you? Is He your sustaining grace, however rocky the road might be?” Here, at FamilyLife, we want to be providing ongoing help and encouragement so that, when things are smooth, you’re in good shape; but, when things take a turn, you are able to rely on God’s grace to help you through the hard times.
We appreciate those of you who share that vision with us—to see every home become a godly home. We appreciate your support of this ministry that helps to make all of that happen. Right now, if you can help with a donation, we’d love to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a resource that Barbara Rainey has designed. She calls it “Untie Your Story.” It’s a spool of napkin wraps. Each wrap has a question on it so that, after a meal is over, you can read your questions to one another and share your answers—and have a little more substantive conversation than you might otherwise have around the dinner table.
It’s our thank-you gift to you when you support the ministry today. You can do that by going online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper right-hand corner that says, “I Care,” to make an online donation; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation over the phone. Of course, you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR.
Our zip code is 72223. Again, ask for the “Untie Your Story” resource when you get in touch with us to make a donation.
Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about the impact that parenting challenges can have on a marriage relationship. What do you do in the middle of a stretch of bumpy road to try to make sure your marriage is staying solid? Elisa Morgan will help us with that tomorrow. I hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with 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.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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