Editor’s Note: Former CEO of MOPS International Elisa Morgan shares, for the first time, the struggles of her own family in her new book, The Beauty of Broken. May you find encouragement in Elisa’s story and be assured there’s no such thing as a perfect family and that God makes beauty out of the broken.
My husband, Evan, and I both invested our professional lives in nonprofit, cause-driven work. We loved and raised children who, we purposed, would one day be independent of our provision, would invest in our world in meaningful ways, and would live out their faith by loving and serving Jesus and his ways.
One night when my kids were in their teen years I had a dream. I was walking with Jesus through a home under construction. Our home. I paused at a doorway to a bedroom—with another bedroom beside it. Jesus turned to me and said, “These rooms are for your daughter and her baby.” I laughed and said, “She isn’t pregnant. She’s just a teenager!” To this Jesus responded, “yes, she is.”
When I awoke, I shook it off. But a few nights later the dream repeated itself. Even more concerning, a few days later as I sat in a meeting listening to research on teen moms with our team and considering the creation of Teen MOPS groups, I heard God heart-whisper again, Elisa, you are going to know more about this subject than anyone around this table.
I decided I should probably check in with my daughter. I asked, “Is there any possibility you could be pregnant?” My amazing daughter, just back from nurturing HIV/AIDS orphans in a Kenyan orphanage with her church youth group, my varsity swimmer medalist child, my full-of-life budding beauty looked at me and nodded . . . yes. Stunned, I worked to take in her response. I—never pregnant me—drove to the grocery store and purchased a pregnancy test. I took it home and stood outside the bathroom door while my child peed on a stick to reveal that, indeed, she was pregnant.
To me it seemed that my family fell and broke into a thousand pieces. Again. I wondered what I could do to fix my family now.
But it wasn’t just my daughter who surprised me—and there are so many more layers to this story yet to be told.
During those knock-me-off-my-feet years, my son began to leak out his pain. Perhaps because his sister’s teen pregnancy became the screen on which he watched his own intrauterine development play out as his birth mom was fifteen when she’d conceived and then relinquished him. Maybe his addictive genes were at work or maybe his own anger issues. Maybe it was my mothering deficiency (of course it was that, I concluded!). For whatever reason, my state-ranked swimmer, wry-witted delight, and tender-hearted son started down a slope of veering choices: pot, alcohol, truancy, troubled relationships, legal and money issues . . . until he veered off the road, losing himself.
The prospect of penning annual Christmas letters left my husband and me howling. Sure, with pain, but now also with black humor. We received stacks of end-of-the-year summaries from friends and acquaintances: “Rachel is an honor student at Stanford and headed to the mission field in Ecuador, and John Junior has signed a six-figure book deal, will be speaking nationally sharing his faith, and is bound for the Olympics. Hunter (the dog) just caught a mouse that has terrorized our home. We are so proud!”
In response we composed, “Our children are about to graduate! One from probation, the other into independent living. Our dog only threw up on the carpet four times this month!”
We never actually sent that letter, but oh how inadequate we felt in comparison to the “perfect” families we read about. Today I hear from friends, and even my kids, how very much they wish we had sent our make-believe Christmas letter! Why do we do this to ourselves?
Here’s the thing: I thought it was my fault that my first family broke, so I determined it was my responsibility to make an unbroken one in my second one. Problem is, I’m broken. Everybody is. So no matter what we do, we all end up making broken families. In one way or another.
Does this bump you? That everybody is broken and so everybody makes broken families? Is there a “But, but, but . . .” welling up in your throat? A “Hey, my family’s not that bad!” kind of wail? Gentle now . . . but honest: there is no such thing as a perfect family. And as long as we push this truth into the closets and cubbies of our well-planned and perfectly decorated family homes, we’ll be worshipping the false idol of the impossible. And likely missing some very rich realities in our very real lives.
I come from a broken family. And despite my very best attempts to produce a formulaically perfect Christian family in my second—the reality is that I still come from a broken family.
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord.” – Jeremiah 29:11
Plans for me—for good—for hope and for the future. I look at those words today and have to admit, in so many moments God’s plans haven’t looked so good to me. But they have been. Good. Maybe just a different kind of good? (Besides . . . I’m sure those words from Jeremiah to the Babylonians didn’t always seem good to them either.)
Today I’ve been married over thirty years. (Yes, that dear, stable soul has stayed!) We have two adult children: a son and a daughter and grandson—and her husband—in that order. We are messy. We are imperfect. Gooey in the middle still. All of us. My husband and I express our love for Jesus in full-time ministry. We’re involved in church. We pray over our meals. And we still slip into over-responsibility, we meddle in our kids’ lives, at times we forget to surrender.
My grown kids are paving their own paths. They love Jesus. Sometimes they go to church. They pray in text messages. They evidence their beliefs in inked symbols on their bodies.
My daughter expresses her love for Jesus in listening to people’s woes and wonders—with an exceptional emotional intelligence—while she cuts and styles their hair. She loves her son with fierceness and advocates for him at every turn. Her husband stands at her side through this that and the other medical issue and yields his heart toward good, even refusing to kill an intruding praying mantis but rather ushering it out of their house with a broom.
My son turns the pages of his Big Book, works the Twelve Steps, and bows his head with his sponsor. He’s transitioning the evil markings on his arm into symbols of redemption. He hugs until the air leaves our lungs. He looks my husband in the eye and thanks him for yet another chance. He turns his heart outward to offer grace to others.
We continue—each of us in unique and stumbling steps— the journey toward Jesus and Christlikeness. Instead of the dreamed-for final product of an unbroken family, I find my family and the people in it—myself included—still broken and in need of mending, and somehow likely looking more like we were meant to look all along.
I come from a broken family. I still come from a broken family. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.
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When you think of your family of origin, what comes to mind? Would you describe yourself as coming from a broken family? What would your Christmas card really say if you were being honest with friends and family? You’re invited to share your response to today’s post by Elisa Morgan on our blog – we’d love to hear from you!