Strength in Weakness
About the Guest
Heidi St. John, author of "Becoming MomStrong," talks about how a mother's past affects her present. Heidi delves into her own past, and tells how the discouraging words she heard from her parents haunted her once she began her own family. St. John talks about her struggle with general anxiety disorder (GAD) and tells how saturating herself in the Word of God helped her. She also shares how the Great Healer worked in her to help her truly forgive her parents.
Heidi St. John delves into her own past, and tells how the discouraging words from her parents haunted her once she began her own family. She also shares how the Great Healer worked in her to help her truly forgive.
Strength in Weakness
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, February 8th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Trying to parent in your own strength is a fool’s errand, but the Bible says that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. We’ll talk more about that today.
Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You’ve said this so many times. In fact, I quoted you the other day. It was in a sermon at church. I said, “Dennis Rainey always says, ‘Everybody’s got a context. When you understand the context from which people come, it can at least change your understanding of the situation that you’re in.’” As husbands and wives / as moms and dads, what we’re doing in our relationship all comes out of a context of the family we grew up in; doesn’t it?
Dennis: And when we find ourselves in a heated moment with a family member, I think it does us well if we just stop and go—“Now, wait a second. What’s the context right now?” But maybe, even more importantly, what’s the context of the person’s life over the long haul? If you have a good understanding of that, it may help you speak with compassion, understanding, and forgiveness to family members.
Bob: You’re not talking about how that context can excuse behavior. You’re talking about how it helps explain behavior.
Dennis: Exactly. I wouldn’t want to excuse behavior at all—certainly negative or evil or bad behavior—but I do want to call followers of Christ to be compassionate, and I think Jesus understood the context of where people were coming from. We’ve got a guest here who speaks about this to moms all over the country and around the world. Heidi St. John, welcome back. Heidi.
Heidi: Hey, thanks for having me. Glad to be here.
Dennis: She’s written a book called Becoming MomStrong. As we talk about the subject of a mom being strong, sometimes, a mom enters into her role as mom carrying all kinds of baggage; and you can be really strong, but if you’ve got a lot of weight that you are carrying, you can become weak in a hurry.
Speak to the mom who, perhaps, has never really thought about how the home she grew up in / the experiences she had as young lady have contributed to who she is today as a mom.
Heidi: Well, I think we all bring things into it. We bring things into our marriages. We bring things to the table in parenting. That certainly was the case with me. I wrote about this in Becoming MomStrong; and I wrote about it a little bit in The Busy Homeschool Mom’s Guide to Romance before that. Because the Lord has been in my life for the past, nearly, 50 years now doing a work of healing in my life, I think God is the Healer. We see Him as the Healer—that His heart toward us is always ever only good.
When you’re struggling with your identity—and that certainly was the case with me—when I got married, I saw myself—and before I became a mother—I saw myself through the lens of my father’s eyes. I saw myself as someone who—I had been told all my life: “You’re never going to measure up.” I was destined, I thought, for failure. I didn’t see myself through the eyes of the Lord.
And when I became pregnant with my first daughter—
—and I think, often times, we don’t realize that we’re dealing with stuff until we’re in the thick of it; right?—until you’re holding that baby in your arms; until you’re six months into marriage and you realize, “Boy, we’ve got issues that we’re going to have to deal with.” So, certainly, it was the case with me.
I discovered that I was afraid—that I had a real issue with fear—and this, kind of, came to a head when I was nine months pregnant with our first daughter who is now 27 years old. I can remember very clearly—I went to a child birth education class. Do you guys know what I’m talking about?
Bob: I do.
Heidi: Those are the classes where they lie to you. They tell you if you breathe a certain way, it won’t hurt. That’s the one. That’s the class.
Dennis: They give dads all kinds of false confidence that they’re going to make a difference.
Heidi: That’s the one. That’s the class. So, I’m there. We’ve gone through all of the breathing exercises, and we’ve changed the baby doll and all that stuff. The very last day of class everyone kind of shuffled out of the room. Nola, our childbirth instructor, is patting them all on their big, huge bellies and saying, “You can do this”; you know? I sat down on our couch. I was the last—Jay and I were the last couple to leave, and I had this overwhelming sense of—“I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“I don’t know what I’m doing.”
We hadn’t planned on having a baby that early in our marriage. We were going to wait. Like everyone, we were going to wait several years. I started crying. Nola came over to me, and she said, “Well, Heidi, you know you were born for this. Your body was made for this.” She didn’t understand. I wasn’t afraid of childbirth. I was too dumb to know anything about childbirth. After my first baby, then I was afraid of childbirth; but before her, I was more—in my spirit, I felt so inadequate. I was desperate for anyone to be this child’s mother but me.
I told Nola—I said, “I am afraid that I will not be a good mother to this baby. I’m afraid that I will do to her what was done to me. I’m afraid she’ll grow to fear me the way I fear my father. I’m so afraid.” She looked with me with all the compassion of a woman who walked many years with the Lord. She put her hands on my huge belly, and she said, “You don’t know who you are.” She said, “God has made you new. You are new. He’s going to start right now writing a new story in the life of your family.”
She prayed over me, and she prayed over my husband.
It was less than a week later that Savannah made her entrance into the world; and at that moment, the Lord—I was filled—like all mothers—with such a love for this child. You can’t comprehend that kind of love until you hold a child—your own child in your arms. I can remember just saying, “Father, help me. I want to break free.” I realized, “I don’t see things the way that You see them anymore.”
So, I started asking the Lord: “Help me see myself through Your eyes. What does my role look like for the life of this little girl through Your eyes?” And the Lord’s first thing to me was that He loved me. That was the very first thing I heard Him say: “I love you so much.”
When you know you’re loved / when you know / when you know that you know that you’re loved by the Lord, it changes the way that you see the world. I began—the Lord began to do a work in my life, and it wasn’t a simple work. It’s been a work—a heart work—deep heart work; but it required me to not go backward. I’m actually not a huge fan of going backward.
I think the Bible says we forget what’s behind us and we move forward. Not that you—you can’t forget what happens to you; but I think, often times, the enemy can use it to trip us up when we start thinking and dwelling on the past. I felt like the Lord was asking me to go forward in this new role as a mother. So, I began to do that; and my husband did too. He was a huge part of that healing—to remind me when I felt like I didn’t measure up, or I was worried about where my emotions would take me as a mother.
Really, that was my first delve into looking at the Word of God just for me: “Lord, what does it look like to walk out this life, even though I’m broken?” I’m broken in so many places, and my heart was broken. My emotions were broken, and I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. I was diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder. That’s GAD for those of you who aren’t familiar with the psychology of the whole thing.
And I remember just sitting there thinking, “I’m 21 years old, and I’ve just been diagnosed with an anxiety”—this was before I had the seven children.
I thought, “How am I going—how am I going to do this?” The Lord just—“One step at a time. Come back to Me. I am the Healer.” He is the Healer, and it was me being willing to see my situation with open eyes the way that God saw me—not the way that other people had seen me or the way I had defined myself.
Dennis: You know as you were talking, I was thinking, “The way we are designed by God to press forward is a lot like driving a car. You’ve got to be looking ahead at where you’re going. You can’t be forgetful or not mindful of what’s going on around you and behind you. You can look in the rearview mirror and glance at it occasionally to see what’s back there”—
Heidi: So good.
Dennis: There may be an occasion where you are backing up for a period of time, and you’ve got to look in the rearview mirror. You’re gazing forward at Christ. That’s where you find the healing.
Heidi: That’s right.
Dennis: You’re glancing occasionally at where you’ve come from, what’s your story, what’s your journey, and not discounting those things;—
—but realizing that it’s God out in front of you Who walks with you. He is our refugee, our strength, and our healer as you’ve said.
Bob: I remember my mom watching afternoon television talk shows where, for a while, it seemed like everybody was coming on and talking about their dysfunctional family that they grew up in. My mom, at one point, said to me, “Everybody grew up in a dysfunctional family. What are they talking about?”
Dennis: I could hear your mom saying that.
Bob: That’s true because we all grew up in families with other sinners. We were sinners. Our parents were sinners. There’s dysfunction in everybody’s background. The level of dysfunction you dealt with included physical and emotional abuse that was pretty regular for all of your childhood.
Bob: Were you / are you able to look back on your childhood with some islands of fond memories?
Heidi: Oh, yes. I want to—I just want to make it really clear. When I say the Lord’s the Healer, this is what I mean. I have so much joy in my life. The Lord has come in and done—I love my parents.
Both of them came from very different backgrounds. And as I look back on my life now, I’m able to see things I couldn’t see as a child. I have a deep love for my parents.
And I think the place that comes from is by recognizing: (A) I have been given an opportunity—the Lord has set me free—and I’ve been given an opportunity to take what the Lord is teaching me now and see an entire generation—my children be set free. You can’t help but be thankful for that. It makes me thankful. I’m always telling moms: “Joy is not dependent on your circumstances. Joy is the unmistakable sign of the presence of the God in your life.” That is certainly been the case in my life.
As I look back now—and of course, I’m a grandmother myself, now—but I’m looking back over my life now, and there are moments when I see with such clarity—I think hurt really—I see a lot of hurt in both of my parents for different reasons, and the Lord has given me a tremendous compassion for them.
I think my message to moms, particularly through Becoming MomStrong, is that God wants you to be free;—
—and freedom starts with forgiveness. I think sometimes, we think forgiveness means that we have to invite that person back into our life. We, all of the sudden, start doing family dinners together again. It doesn’t always look like that. I think forgiveness is me looking at that person and saying, “You know what? I have been forgiven. God forgave me. I can forgive you.” Sometimes, that means we don’t hold that person responsible for an apology that we think we want, but we’ll probably never get.
Bob: Heidi, your book, Becoming MomStrong, is all about challenging moms to be strong and to embrace the role God has given them. When you’re trying to be strong as a mom and you’ve got scars that are still not healed, that zaps and drains the strength out of you and inhibits your ability to be the mom your kids need you to be; doesn’t it?
Heidi: Well, it certainly can. There have been points in my life—I would say—I told my husband once—I said, “At some points, it was crippling for me in some ways.”
When I was faced with that, then he and I would go back to kind of—“Okay, we’ll take a couple steps back and kind of see where we are now.” We began to bring it before the Lord.
And I think, for me, the forgiveness that the Lord gave—it really is from the Lord. We can’t forgive in and of ourselves; right? We forgive because we realize that we’ve been forgiven; and whenever I talk to moms, I say—they feel broken—God is saying, “He wants to offer healing.”
I think for mothers to know now—my message in Becoming MomStrong is that God’s strength is actually found in weakness. That’s what His Word says. His strength is found in weakness.
One of my favorite examples to talk about with women when I’m at retreats and things like that is just to say, “Listen, who is going to be the better woman to minister hope and bring healing to a woman who is struggling with breast cancer? It’s the woman who has walked that road and found healing in her life who can come sit next to that mother and put her arms around her and say, ‘You’re going to be all right. There’s light on the other end of that.’”
I feel like that is a large part of what the Lord has done in my life.
People say—it’s a dumb question; right?—“If you could go back, would you do that again?” No! But it’s a silly question because you can’t go back, and what I realize now is: If I could change it, I wouldn’t change it because I’m watching the Lord do such a beautiful thing through the broken places in my own life.
He wants to use our brokenness to give Him glory. The Lord doesn’t want us to get to the end of our lives and say, “Well, you know what? I found this awesome book by Heidi St. John, and I wouldn’t have had such a great life had I not read that.” No, I think the Lord wants us to get to the end of our lives, fall flat on our face before Him, and say, “Thank You, Jesus, that was all You”—to give Him the glory, to recognize that healing comes from His Word and through His spirit.
As we walk through those places, the book of James comes alive to us; right? We realize the Lord really is growing our character; but it requires a willingness to let the Holy Spirit do the heart surgery in you—that healing comes from the deep places in your heart. It doesn’t mean that you are never afraid.
My grandmother used to say to me, “Heidi, you can do anything just do it afraid.”
What she was doing was she was setting me free from this idea—
Dennis: Yes, that’s good.
Heidi: —that if I struggle with fear, somehow, I’m sinning. “No”—she said, “No, this is an emotion that you deal with; and you say, ‘Father, I recognize You didn’t give me a spirit of fear but of power and love and a sound mind. Help me to be the woman that You’ve created me to be and to walk in that healing.’”
As you take those little baby steps—and sometimes, it is two steps forward and three steps back. Sometimes, it’s two steps forward and four steps back; but the point is we’re always moving forward.
When we struggle and when we stumble or when—I know there are women who are listening to this right now who, like me, have struggled with anxiety and panic attacks; and when those things happen, we come back to the Lord, and we say, “Father, this is who I am in You.” I began to say out loud: “This is who I am. This is who God says I am. This is what He wants me to do. This is how much He loved me.”
When you allow the Lord to re-center your thoughts—because really it’s a battle for the mind; and so much of it is to get control your thoughts, to really have them be captive to the Lord. That is when healing begins.
Bob: How do you think the baggage you experienced as a child affected you as a mom? As you were raising your kids—the fear / the anxiety—
Bob: —how did that spill out into how you were raising your kids?
Heidi: Well, I would say one of the things that I noticed right away was that I startle really easily. So, I would tell my kids: “Here is the rule in the house.” Some moms like it when you put toy spiders in the bathtub. I actually don’t like that. If you scare me, it’s going to take me six hours to come down off of that; right? So, there are some rules / some basic—we call them—rules of operation in our home. “Don’t scare the Momma” was at the top of the list.
I realized, “This is going to be a weakness in my life. I’m always going to have the startle reflex.” We would sort of laugh about it. I have been very open with my kids as they’ve gotten older—especially about the weaknesses in my life. It’s—my kids have been tremendously compassionate towards me.
Having seven children—I would love to sit here and tell you I never lost my temper / never screamed at my kids. Sometimes, I said things to my kids that I was like—“I cannot believe that just came out of my mouth.”
The Lord’s so patient; and your kids are forgiving; right? If you can go back to them and say, “You know what? Wow. I am so sorry. I just said that, and I’m not even going to try to excuse myself. I am—please forgive me.”
It’s amazing what the Lord—because (A) you’re modeling to your children what it looks like to be broken and to operate from a place of humility and ask for forgiveness; and (B) the Lord is growing you up in the process of all of that. So, for me, it was being very clear-eyed about my own struggle and my own weakness, being clear-eyed with my children about it, being willing to deal with it, and then finding a group of moms.
I’ve had several moms in my life over the years who have just been encouraging. You’ve got to find people that—you’ve got to find your people.
Heidi: Find your people. You can’t find them—I’m sorry—you can’t find them on social media. You’ve got to find them in real life.
I think moms today are struggling with that. We’re struggling with—we’ve got Pinterest, for goodness sake. We’ve got all of these things that we see on social media, and moms are hurting. Nobody on social media—they are not the people who are going to come to your house and bring you a casserole when your kids are sick,—
—and you’re throwing up, and no one is taking care of the Momma; but you develop those relationships in real life, and then you learn to be real.
I think that vulnerability—that’s what the Lord showed me when I was speaking all those years ago. That vulnerability—you guys, the line of women that came up to me after I shared my story—I mean through brokenness, I was crying. It changed the trajectory for what I was willing to speak on from then on out because I realized that my vulnerability and being willing to say, “I’m hurting in this area, and the Lord is showing me healing in my life. It doesn’t mean it’s perfect; but I know He’s there, and this is how I know.” It’s powerful. It really is.
Bob: Well, it changed how you speak to women, but I don’t want our listeners to miss something that, I think, you said that was very significant; and that is, for your own kids to see you in process, stumbling, confessing—
Bob: —to see a mom in process instead of seeing a mom who is trying to be a poser and say, “I’ve got it all together,” that’s more healthy for your kids to see you in the midst of that process—
—than it is for them to grow up thinking, “Gee, it seems like Mom is perfect, and I can’t be perfect like Mom. Therefore, I shouldn’t try.” They need to see you wrestling, and your kids did. As you said, that was a healthy, good thing for them.
Dennis: Yes, and I’m reflecting on the New Testament. Our Heavenly Father didn’t write a storybook ending to a bunch of disciples’ lives. They betrayed Christ, they denied Him, their character was flawed, and it gives us hope that if we don’t quit / if we hang in there—the problem is—and I was thinking about this all the time as you were speaking—we’re carrying these bags; and unfortunately, the bodies that are carrying these bags are flawed.
I don’t respond right. I don’t think rightly about myself. I think that’s something that an older woman stepped into your life and said, “You need to think rightly about who you are. You don’t have a good identity.” I think it takes a while to get that.
Ephesians, Chapter 4, talks about how He gives some as teachers / preachers for the purpose of equipping the saints for the work of service; and it talks about, also, that until we mature and grow up. I think sometimes we turn this Christian life into some kind of mythological point of arrival. The only point of arrival is Heaven.
Dennis: That’s when you’re perfect. Until then, you are in the process. The word the Bible uses is sanctification. You’re being made like Christ. I wish I could say I was becoming like Christ, and there were no moments / no seasons when I blew it; but just like the disciples—and God again gives us an illustration—how do you handle your failures. That’s key, and I think you sharing with your kids how you failed and how you were impacted gave them freedom in their lives to be able to mature as they go through life.
Bob: I’ll tell you what’s been coming to mind as I think about your book, Becoming MomStrong.
I’ve been thinking about 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul talks about his thorn in the flesh. He goes to God and says, “Will You take this from me?” God says, “No, I’ve given this to you for a purpose.” He then says, “In my weakness”—this is Paul—“In my weakness, I am strong.”
If you want to be momstrong, I think the point is you’ve got to acknowledge: “I’m weak, and the only real source of strength I have is Christ in me.” That’s where strength comes from; and rather than trying to be supermom, be weak mom and let God function through you; right?
Heidi: Yes. When we start to realize that there is no such thing as supermom and that God wants to be glorified in our weakness, then, when we encounter our weaknesses again and again and again, we can go back to what we know to be true about ourselves and say, “Father, please help me. Here I am again.”
Dennis: Yes. I just appreciate you and what you’re modeling here on the broadcast—speaking about your weaknesses,—
—speaking about your struggles, and also writing about them. It’s why I think every mom who is listening to the broadcast right now ought to pick up a copy of Becoming MomStrong and just process it yourself. Relax, take a deep breath, and find a way to hole up and read a good book that’s going to stimulate you to love and good deeds.
Heidi, I want to thank you for being on the broadcast.
Heidi: Thank you for having me.
Dennis: Come back to see us again soon.
Heidi: I would love to.
Bob: We’ve got copies of Heidi’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to order your copy of Becoming MomStrong: How to Fight With All That’s In You For Your Family and Your Faith. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also order by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY. That’s 1-800-358-6329—1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Let me also mention. FamilyLife has got some great resources to help you grow as parents.
Dennis and Barbara’s new book, The Art of Parenting, is available, as is the video series that goes along with that book. Eight-sessions, you can do in a small group setting or a Sunday school class; and there is the movie, Like Arrows, which is now available. It’s out on DVD.
You can order your copy from us here at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can get your copy in your local Christian bookstore, or they are available at Wal-Mart as well. So, look for resources to help you as parents on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com or call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Now, this weekend, we’ve got hundreds of couples joining us in Norfolk, Virginia for a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. Next weekend, I guess that’s kind of officially Valentine’s weekend—even though Valentine’s Day will have passed—but we’ve got six getaways happening in Ashville, North Carolina; Colorado Springs; Hershey, Pennsylvania; Montgomery, Alabama; Hilton Head, South Carolina; and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Would you be praying for the couples who will be a part of these—
—getaways both this weekend and next weekend?
And on behalf of those couples, let me say, “Thank you,” to those of you who are regular supporters of this ministry / those of you who are Legacy Partners who support us each month and those of you who donate from time to time to help support the work of FamilyLife Today.
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If you can help with a donation today, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a book written by our friends Crawford and Karen Loritts.” They’re going to be on FamilyLife Today next week, and their book is a terrific new book. It’s called Your Marriage Today…and Tomorrow. It’s our thank-you gift to you when you support the ministry with a donation of any amount today. You can donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com or call to donate, 1-800-358-6329.
That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
And with that, we’ve got to wrap things up for today. Hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday. As I said, our friends Crawford and Karen Loritts will be with us to talk about marriage and how your marriage impacts your legacy. I hope you can tune in to be with us for that.
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.
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