In a world of facades, Lysa TerKeurst’s transparency is a breath of fresh air. That’s why people are gravitating to her newest book, Unglued. There’s something empowering about accepting you can’t keep it all together, but realizing that God loves you too much to let you keep losing it. Our recent interview with Lysa had us feeling like we were catching up with an old friend…
Family Christian: Hey Lysa, could you start by telling us a little about your upbringing?
Lysa TerKeurst: I was raised by a dad who was an atheist and a mom who went to church when she could. I had a chaotic upbringing in that my parents got divorced. When my mom got remarried, they started having more children. One of my sisters, (my half-sister, but still very much my sister) tragically died at a very young age because of some medication that a doctor gave her that was in too high a dose for her small body. So a lot of heartbreak, chaos and a lot of sadness in my upbringing, but at the same time I still very much remember my mom, even in the midst of so much brokenness being such a cheerleader for me. I always thought that I would grow up to be either a country music singer or the President of the United States. But as I got older I realized that I couldn’t sing and I didn’t like politics (laughs), so that proved to be a little problematic. But even so, my mom was such a cheerleader. She would always say, “Honey I think you sing great!” and “I still think you’d be a fantastic president,” so she’s just the ultimate encourager. I finally did find my niche in writing and then eventually in speaking. She’s continued to be such a wonderful encouragement to me. And so that’s a nutshell of how I got to be where I was. The country music singing and the road to the presidency didn’t really pan out like I thought it would when I was a small child (laughs), but I love what I do today.
FC: So who is your favorite country artist?
Lysa: Well when I was a little girl I was an absolutely huge Loretta Lynn fan. Of course she’s not really on the radio that much anymore so now I guess I’d say Taylor Swift, although I’m not sure people would qualify her as country music, but maybe. I like her music and maybe it’s because I have five teenagers and they like her music. So then in terms of Christian music I love good old fashioned praise and worship songs. Hands down that is my ultimate favorite. I’m so fortunate, I go to Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC and our worship team is amazing. That’s probably my favorite.
FC: Lysa would you mind giving us a glimpse into how you were introduced to Jesus?
Lysa: Yeah, well, like I said, growing up going to church was very hit or miss. We didn’t go on a consistent basis. One of my memories about going was when I was little (I was probably about 8 or so) and the pastor was one of the preachers that would bang his fist on the pulpit. Very animated. I just remember sitting there as a small child and thinking, he needs to try to relate to the younger generation a little better. And I don’t know why I thought this was a good idea, but I told my mom that I’d really like to go have a meeting with the pastor and she thought that I wanted to get baptized, but that’s not at all what I intended to speak with him about. When we got into his office I started telling him all of the mini-ways that I thought he could be a better communicator. And my mother was absolutely horrified, we didn’t really go back to that church after that. So we took a break from that for awhile – so when I say it was hit or miss, it was probably more misses than hits. Even when I was there I was always thinking of how people could do church a little bit more effectively and probably listening from the wrong vantage point. So I knew about Jesus but I can’t say that I understand what it meant to have a personal relationship until I was in my early 20s and it was after my baby sister died. I was very angry and running away from God and I wound up getting into a relationship where I got pregnant before I was married and made the really, really sad choice to have an abortion. There was something about the depth of brokenness that happened in my heart after the abortion that I cried out to God in complete desperation. Really what I was doing was begging God to let me die – to put me out of my pain. But God was so sweet and sent a person into my life that constantly put Scriptures in front of me. At first she really got on my nerves, but eventually the Scriptures started connecting deep in my heart. One night after reading one of her notes and pondering the truth of the verse that she put in front of me, I didn’t know how to accept Jesus Christ as my personal Savior so I just kneeled down right beside my couch in my little apartment and I just said yes to God. And my life has pretty much been a string of many days and years that followed of me continuing to say ‘yes’ to Him everyday.
FC: That’s powerful. Thank you for sharing. Let’s switch gears a little and talk about your family’s story of adoption. Those who are familiar with you have probably already heard it, but could you tell us a little bit about how you and your husband decided to start down that path of adoption? And then how did that turn into impacting not just your family, but your faith community too?
Lysa: Well, I did not have any plans to adopt because we already had three little girls. My husband and I felt very complete and I kinda always thought that adoption was for people who A. Either wanted lots of kids and had a real international perspective of family and maybe a missionary family or B. Families who couldn’t have children. And we weren’t either of those! We were an everyday family living in America with three little girls just trying to get through each day. My kids were small at the time (they were 9, 8 and 4). Life was very busy, very full. We didn’t feel like I was a good enough mom to have more children – I felt like I was barely hanging on, but the Lord directed us to go to a concert one night because one of my daughters was in Brownies (a division of Girl Scouts) [and they were] studying Liberia, so we thought it would be a good cultural experience for her. In the middle of the concert the Lord clearly said to my heart “Two of those boys are yours.” And after the concert two of the boys walked up to me, wrapped their arms around me and called me ‘Mom.’
FC: And you had never met them?
Lysa: No. I had never met them before. So it was a crazy thing. I never thought my husband would agree that we should adopt two teenage boys from Africa. It sounded scary and unreasonable, I didn’t think we could afford it, I didn’t think it was safe for my girls, I mean there were a lot of obstacles and lots of fears. And really, they were healthy fears. I mean, when you have three little girls, it doesn’t sound reasonable to adopt two teenage boys from the other side of the world. But God confirmed over and over and over to me and my husband that this was part of His unique plan for us. So while it might not make sense for most situations, God just assured us by paving the way, opening every single door, helping us to meet every single obstacle. He really calmed our fears by sending people into our lives who would speak truth to us. It was really pretty amazing how God just said, ‘maybe this isn’t an assignment that sounds reasonable or rational for anybody else, but it is my assignment for you.’ And so we agreed to adopt and then our friends all thought we were crazy. But we decided to have a concert to invite all of our friends just to get to know our boys a little bit better and to see them sing as part of the last stop that their choir was going to do. At that concert all of our friends who thought we were so crazy, the Lord moved in their hearts and they eventually all came forward and decided to adopt the rest of the boys in the choir, and then we ran out of choir boys! So then mission trips were formed and they went over to Liberia and more and more kids were brought back. As of now, we’ve had over 45 kids from those orphanages adopted into the families of our community.
FC: That is unbelievable. Is it primarily people within your church or outside of your church too?
Lysa: Yeah, it’s outside of our church. And really, it’s even outside of our community now too. There have been many children that family members in other cities or states have adopted, so it’s expanded out probably more than we’ll ever know. I mean, those 45 kids are just the ones that we know about, but I’d imagine that there have been many, many others that have been adopted, because we were on the Oprah show and the Today Show. We could look at the rate of adoption from Liberia into America, it grew dramatically. And we didn’t know all of those people, but we definitely saw a spike in interest after our story went so public.
FC: We don’t know if you knew that here at Family Christian our calling is James 1:27, to look specifically after the orphan and the widow, so we have this huge campaign both inside and outside of our building to bring awareness and action. We are all about foster care and adoption. So to hear stories like yours is fantastic, near and dear to our heart.
Lysa: Yes, I spent some time looking at your website, so I could understand fully what you’re doing. It’s called The James Fund, right?
FC: Yes, The James Fund is our non-profit organization, and what they primarily do is help to seed other organizations and defray some of the cost of adoptions, but also to help build housing and make lives better domestically and abroad. We’re also part of the Nehemiah Project whose number one goal is to eradicate the foster care system within the United States. It’s bound and determined to find homes within the faith community for all of the kids within our foster care system. We believe that this is the church’s responsibility, and we want her to rise up and take initiative in this arena.
Lysa: That’s amazing, I love that.
FC: It’s a tall task, but we’re excited to see what God does with it. Ok, let’s talk about your new book Unglued. There are a few topics covered in your book and we were hoping you could comment on a couple of them. First ‘the working mother’s balancing act.’ You mentioned that “Women need to lean on other women to support them so they can let down their guard and become transparent.” How do you see that in your own life?
Lysa: I definitely think motherhood – no matter if you’re a working mom or stay at home mom – is really tough sometimes. It can really leave us each day with a sense of wondering if we’re doing it right. You know, it’s a long term investment. You don’t see big returns in the short term. Raising a child can easily pull you into being hyper-focused on the tough everyday moments of life. The toddler that doesn’t want to be potty trained and the infant that won’t stop crying and the middle schooler who is just getting into these hormonal fluxes – happy one minute and so upset the next that you can’t even figure out what happened, then teenagers who are really trying to push the limits – I don’t want to be a child, and yet I need a parent, but I’m not yet an adult. It’s all these things, I mean; it can be really hard on a woman’s heart especially when the everyday is filled with moments that don’t feel so wonderful. We love our kids, we treasure our kids, but it’s so easy to get caught up in the chaotic emotions around trying to understand how to raise a child. So in Unglued, I really go right into a big issue that mom’s face, women face, even a lot of men face, and that is: how do we react in that moment of conflict? There’s going to be lots of conflicts that we face every single day, but what do we do in that split second when we’re just about to react to that thing that’s happening? The relationship conflict, or the situational conflict, or the stresses of everyday life that pull at our emotions. And so in Unglued, I really help people see that it is possible to exercise self-control in that split second before we react to the circumstances of our life.
For the purpose of people better understanding themselves, I list out four different reaction types; there are two kinds of ‘Exploders’ and two kinds of ‘Stuffers.’ The Exploders need to add into that split second moment a pause and a dose of perspective. And in Unglued I show them how to do this. And then the Stuffers need to let go of pretending and let go of approving and I show them how to do those in the split second right before they react. It’s really amazing to see what kind of feedback we’ve been getting from people – not just moms. Certainly we’ve been hearing from moms because at the heart of who we are, we want to raise our kids right and be good examples, but sometimes the chaos of everyday emotion or circumstances make us question if we’re being good examples for our kids. We have been getting letters of marriages being saved, moms feeling like they’re becoming better moms, friendships being saved because people are having kind but honest conversations for the first time in their friendships, even work relationships are being repaired as people are learning how to better handle their reactions in the workplace. So it’s really cutting across all of the circumstances and situations that people face and equipping them to have better reactions. If you equip people to have better reactions, you’ll equip them to have better relationships.
FC: You’ve said that the purpose of Unglued is not to get people to a place where they are perfect at keeping their emotions in check; the goal is “imperfect progress.” What would you say to the woman who looks at your life or people on a talk show who appear to have it all together and think “they have a perfect life, but mine is a complete disaster”? How do you address this person who sees their imperfections, or their messy house and compares it with this pedestal of perfection?
Lysa: Well yeah, I’m one of those people because I look at other people all of the time and I think man, they’re so much better at life than me. So I am the woman who has the pile of laundry and the dirty kitchen (laughs) and the five kids who are sweet but sometimes disrespectful. It’s easy for me to compare myself to other people and really start feeling down because I compare their perfect outsides to my very imperfect insides. But here’s what the Lord’s really been teaching me: We aren’t supposed to strive for perfection everyday. If we were perfect, we’d have no need for Jesus. And it’s through our imperfections that we really feel the pull toward our need for a Savior. So the imperfections serve a wonderful purpose if we’ll let them. Now, do we always need to be striving to be better? Absolutely. But I encourage people in Unglued, to seek to make imperfect progress. Seek to get a little better each day. Wrap each step in grace and be okay that imperfect progress is at least moving forward, it doesn’t have to be perfect…
FC: Thank you Lysa so much for talking with us today and for your insight. Keep up the good work, and we’ll keep helping to get the message out.
Hearing From God In Your Daily Life
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