Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Gifts in the Wilderness

Dannah Gresh: Judy Douglass says parents of prodigals need to practice expressing gratitude to God.

Judy Douglass: The first thing that happens when I say thank you in a hard situation, or one I don’t like, is my focus shifts from negative to positive. Then I’m saying to God, “I believe that You’re God, and I believe that You’re good! And so, even if this is the most painful thing I’ve experienced, I can say thank You.”

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Surrender: The Heart God Controls, for June 4, 2020. I’m Dannah Gresh.

What a rich conversation we’ve been having with Judy Douglass this week as she recounts her time of walking in the wilderness of loving a prodigal. She’s even been audacious enough to say that that period of time in her life wasn’t just a wilderness, but a door of hope.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Yes, I love that.

Dannah: I love that. That just was such a picture. I think we see that in Scripture in lots of different places. I know the book of Hosea says there’s this husband, this prophet, loving a prodigal wife. And he’s instructed, “Listen, this Valley of Achor—this valley of trouble, this wilderness that you’re in—it is your door of hope!”

And Judy has helped us to see that this week as we’ve been hearing her story. I think she’s going to help so many people as they read her book, When You Love a Prodigal: Ninety Days of Grace for the Wilderness. They’re going to find their door of hope in those pages.

Nancy: Yes, Dannah, and I believe God has been infusing hope into many despairing hearts as they’ve been listening to this conversation. I’m so thankful that Judy has written this book that we’ve been talking about all week: When You Love a Prodigal: Ninety Days of Grace [Ninety Days of Daily Readings About Grace] for the Wilderness.

I believe God is going to use this as a means of great hope in many moms’ and dads’ hearts.

Dannah: I think that’s true, Nancy. I’m noticing as I look at the cover that there’s a familiar last name on this book cover. It looks like a relative of yours may have written the forward.

Nancy: Yes. “Forward by Dan Wolgemuth”; that is a familiar name to me. Dan is my sweet husband Robert's younger brother. He is the President of Youth for Christ. Judy, welcome to Revive Our Hearts. Tell us how my brother-in-law and you connected on this book.

Judy: Oh, thank you, Nancy. I’m so glad to be here! Your brother-in-law, Dan, is one of my favorite people in the world!

Nancy: Mine, too!

Judy: He just is such a joy . . . as is his wife, by the way.

Nancy: Yes, Mary.

Judy: But Steve, my husband and I, have the privilege of meeting twice a year with the presidents of student ministries.

Nancy: You and Steve are representing Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ, formerly); Steve is the President. So you meet with other student ministry leaders like Dan and Mary.

Judy: Right, the Presidents of Youth for Christ and InterVarsity and Young Life and Navigators and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. We meet twice a year for fellowship and prayer and to talk about common issues in our ministries.

During this one period of ten years, nobody changed in leadership in those six groups, so we had ten incredible years of loving each other, knowing each other, praying for each other. We loved, loved, loved it! And now, Dan and Steve are the only ones still there. There are other new people, and we’re loving them . . . but the richness of that ten years!

Not only do I love Dan’s heart, but Youth for Christ’s focus now is almost entirely on at-risk kids. Well, that’s where prodigals are. So he understands, and he’s done wonderful things to really begin to understand the prodigal. 

He doesn’t just lead from the top. You know, he went in and spent time in the juvenile detention center.

Nancy: Yes, he did.

Judy: And then, the last thing I would say about him is he’s one of the best writers I know. His writing is exquisite . . . and I wanted a man to write the forward.

Nancy: Because you know how important it is for men to be involved in this process of loving the prodigals, not just the moms.

Judy: Oh, if it’s just the moms, I don’t think you’ll usually find as great a possibility of things coming back. I wanted a man to write the forward so dads and other men would know, “This is for me, too!” And Dan did it beautifully. I’m so pleased!

Nancy: Well, Dan has such a heart for prodigals; you have a heart for prodigals. Many of our listeners are walking in that journey right now. I love how you keep taking us back to the grace that God has available in the wilderness!

Over the last few days you’ve been sharing with us out of your journey in the wilderness with a prodigal that you brought into your home as a foster child at age nine, then adopted when he was about twelve.

You walked through years of just hard, horrific challenges with this child. He is now in his late thirties, married, a dad, and God is doing a sweet work of grace in and through his life. But it was a long journey!

I love that you wrap this up book with a last chapter called “Gifts”—the gifts of God that have come to you through this journey with a prodigal.

Judy: “Gift” is an amazing thing! When we were talking earlier in previous days, I said when God sent this boy to us and He said he was a gift . . . I wrote a post one time called “Gratitude for a Grievous Gift.” I said, “God, if this is a gift, it’s a grievous gift.” 

And God said, “It’s a gift. He is a gift to you.”

And so, I at least had my eyes open to begin to see the gifts of what God has given us as a result of this long journey with this boy—now man. And so the gifts have been challenging, sometimes, but they have been such a blessing in so many ways.

Nancy: They are not always the gifts you would ask for and not in the wrap that you just love. But when you look back, you realize they really are gifts.

Dannah: One of those gifts is grace. You write so eloquently about it. Tell us, Judy, how that became a theme in your heart. 

Judy: Well, first of all, it was when God said to me, “When you make mistakes with this boy, make them on the side of grace.” He sustained me through this with grace for the hard times, grace when this boy disappeared, grace when this boy was in jail, grace when he almost lost his life in an accident because they’d been drinking. So many things that there was grace for!

But here are some things I listed: God gave grace to our son to lift him out of his unstable situation into a home where he received love and security and advantages that he wouldn’t have had. It took His grace to give me the understanding of His grace involved in this whole journey. 

I needed to go much deeper into grasping how God has shed His grace on me to endure and persevere through Josh’s wilderness journey. And it’s just been God pouring out His grace time after time after time! I thought I knew grace. Now I have a much better understanding of it than I ever did before!

Nancy: And when He says that His grace is sufficient for you in your need, you found that to be really true.

Judy: Absolutely true! Sometimes it took me a while to grab hold of it, or to even see it, to recognize there was grace for this, if I would let God do what He was doing. Sometimes I like to be in control and I would try to make things happen. God would say, “You can let me have this.” And that was grace.

Dannah: Yes, His timing is a really important factor, isn’t it? Waiting on God’s timing, being patient for His timing, trusting His timing. 

Nancy: Don’t you think we become more aware of our own need for God’s grace for our sinfulness, our prodigal ways? I’m thinking of some precious friends of mine who have a child who is an adult now, and in a very dark and sinful, broken place, and no evidence of that child’s heart being turned toward the Lord or toward home. 

But I’ve watched God give these parents a fresh sense over these . . . it’s been years. It’s been a long, long haul, but they have a fresh sense of how much their hearts are prone to wander and how gracious God has been to them. 

This child is an adult and away from home, and they’re not focusing as much on that child’s wrongdoing—grievous as it is. They are saying, “Lord, show us our own sin, show us our own needs. We need Your grace every single day!”

It’s made them more tender, more compassionate, more grace-filled toward everybody because of walking through this hard journey with their prodigal.

Judy: That is so true!

Dannah: You know, that really resonates with me, Nancy. I mentioned a few days ago that Bob and I adopted a fourteen-year-old girl, and it really wasn’t the kind of story that Judy’s describing. By God’s grace, this sweet girl is full of mercy, full of kindness, full of affection, full of love, full of forgiveness.

But, really, there were some attachment issues from past abandonment and neglect. I really entered into the relationship with her thinking, I’m going to fix her. God’s going to use me. I’m going to be the hero in the story! Right?

I wouldn’t have said that to you. Looking back, I realize that I felt that way. And slowly, God allowed me to see how sinful and selfish and self-absorbed a person I am, and I can see that God used Autumn to heal my heart, as He used me to heal her heart.

Judy: Praise God!

Dannah: And so, I think we have to come with our need for grace if we want to really be a conduit of that grace. Wouldn’t you say that, Judy?

Judy: I would say that for sure, but sometimes it takes time for us to see our need for grace. We think we’re pretty good. We’re not doing terrible things; our sins aren’t so public, as Dan Wolgemuth said in the forward.

But, yes, when we realize we are hopeless and helpless without the grace of God, then we can cling to him and let that grace flow into us for our needs, and onto those we love . . . and the people all around us, for that matter. We become different people when we let God’s grace do it’s work in us!

Dannah: I love that!

Nancy: Another gift of grace that you talk about in this chapter of the gift of God giving you this child is just the love of God, the love that He’s given you for this son.

Judy: I had a very specific experience with that. As God gave His love to me for this boy, and he really became the son of my heart. I’m falling in love with him, like you do a child. I thought it would be nice if he could love in return.

I just found myself saying, “Lord, can’t he love? I mean, could he give me a happy birthday card and sign it, ‘Love, Josh’? Anything to say that he had some love back.” 

And God said, “Oh, Judy. Don’t you know? Unconditional love has no conditions! It doesn’t require love in return.”

Nancy: Because you didn’t get that for a very long time from Josh, right?

Judy: That he ever could say he loved me?

Nancy: Right.

Judy: About twelve years.

Nancy: Wow!

Judy: It took him about that long. But there was a very specific reason, which he actually could verbalize later. He said, “My birth mother was still in the picture.” She was around occasionally at his grandparents, and he really loved her. For a long time he kept thinking, I’ll get to go back to her—because what child doesn’t want his or her mother?

And so, for him to love me was a betrayal of her, and so he just couldn’t even let his heart go there for the longest time. One night he and his first wife had a big fight and he passed out and apparently had hurt her, which was something he never did. He was never physically violent.

He saw men be violent to his birth mom, and he really hated it, so that was not a part of him. And when he woke up in the morning and realized that he had actually hurt his wife, he was devastated! And for some reason, that caused him to call me. I was away; I was out of town.

And he said, “I love you! I’m so sorry! I love you!” And, you know, tears came. That was like the dam broke, and now he tells me he loves me all the time. I was just up helping take care of their three-year-old while they moved this weekend, and he texted me, “Thank you. I love you.” And he tells me he loves me all the time now.

But the lesson was that my love could not have conditions, for it to be the kind of love that God was flowing through me. So I had to learn to let my own personal selfish needs get out of there so that God’s unconditional, never failing, everlasting love could keep flowing through me to him.

And you know, you don’t just learn it in one place; you learn it in other places. So I was able to begin to treat others with God’s unconditional love. There were very little expectations or requirements for love; love would be given freely, as God has given it to us.

Dannah: And another gift is perseverance. Judy, tell us about that.

Judy: Well, I certainly never asked for it! I do think that it was a lesson that God has been working on for a long time with me. First of all, when my husband and I dated for five years, while he decided that God wanted him to actually get married someday . . . that was perseverance!

My first daughter cried for four months and hardly ever slept! And so, that was perseverance. So I thought, Okay, I’m getting this down. It was always about who’s in control. (“Judy, you think you’re in control!”) But then He sent Josh, and perseverance was a whole different thing.

I wrote something: 

Sometimes it seems to no avail. You love unconditionally as best you can; you apply some tough love, you encourage, affirm, look for the good. You set boundaries and enforce consequences. You forgive and forgive and forgive again. You pour out mercy and grace. They keep going their wayward way!

They reject you, disappear from your life . . . or even when they make better choices, they take you for granted. The casual ‘thanks’ hardly conveys gratitude; the off-hand apology seems barely sincere. Coming around again with outstretched hand, then gone until their next neediness.

You cry, you pray, you reach out, you let go, you wait. And God says that we can persevere because He has, in waiting for us. He has in waiting for us to grow, to become more like Christ, to be obedient to where He wants us to go and what He has for us to do.”

Life is not short. I mean, it is in some ways. But it’s full of opportunities to persevere, to keep on, and God says, “I will be with there with you the whole time!”

Nancy: And there’s only one way to learn it, according to Scripture. 

Judy: Go through it!

Nancy: Romans, 1 Peter, James . . . it’s suffering, trials, that produce perseverance. You know, the person who’s going to get that (I’m going to talk about something I really know nothing about) is runners. 

You see these people who run marathons, and you say, “How can they persevere? How can they endure twenty-six-point-two miles!?” Well, they run and they run and they run. Their muscles ache, and it seems to me like everything aches! 

But that’s how the muscles are strengthened; that’s how the lungs are strengthened. They develop their ability to endure by running these long-haul races. And this loving of a prodigal is one of those marathons for many people.

It’s not short. It’s not just, you know, get your kid through seventh grade. 

Judy: We’re told in Hebrews 12:1–2 we’re to run the race that God has marked out for us, with perseverance . . . not quitting.

Nancy: Keeping our fixed eyes on Jesus, who endured. 

Judy: Yes, who endured for us!

Nancy: Right, right.

Judy: So, yes, perseverance has not been an easy one for me to learn, and I certainly haven’t said, “Oh, thank You” very easily. But I have learned. 

And the last gift I would mention, is the gift of gratitude. Scripture tells us to give thanks in everything. And that’s not easy!

We tell our children—and I have ten grandchildren now—so I’m still in that: “What do you say when someone’s done something? What do you say? You say ‘thank you.’” You hope that by the time they are older, they’ll actually remember to say thank you. And so, God kind of does the same thing with us.

He gives us opportunity after opportunity where He gives and gives to us. We get to learn to say “thank you.” But sometimes the gifts are like this son has been; they’re grievous gifts, they’re hard gifts, they’re perseverance-requiring gifts. And we need to learn to say thank you.

And so, when Paul tells us to always give thanks about everything and to be praying with thanksgiving as we ask for our needs, how do we do that when our hearts are not thankful for what we’re receiving?

And so, your diagnosis of cancer or the child who dies. Yeah, I know a lot of those. 

Dannah: I just keep thinking how many of the friends I pray with for their prodigals, one of the things they say to me is, “I’m just so angry that they never say ‘thank you.’ They never say, ‘Thank you, Mom, for picking me up.’ ‘Thank you, Mom, for bailing me out.’ ‘Thank you, Mom, for fixing that financial mistake.’ They never say thank you!’”

And then, you’re saying that as you walk through that, God turns you into a person of gratitude! 

Judy: Yes, He takes what we’ve tried to teach them, and He’s doing the same with us. He’s a little better at it, but we’re pretty stubborn. He just really began to help me to see that when I say “thank you,” you know what happens the very first thing? When something I don’t like happens and I say “Thank you, Lord.” The very first thing that happens when I say “thank you” in a hard situation or one I don’t like is my focus shifts from negative to positive. 

Now, it’s not like, “Oh, I’m excited,” or “I feel all this gratitude.” But I have this little switch, that I go from negative to positive.

Then I’m saying to God, “I believe that You’re God, and I believe that You’re good!” And so, even if this is the most painful thing I’ve experienced, I can say “thank you” because You’re in it. You’ve allowed it in my life. You’re doing the work in me through this, and I can be grateful for that and the changes that creates in me.

But the third thing that happens is He tells us to look for the good. He’s always doing good, but if we’re not looking for it, we won’t see it. If when I say “thank you” my focus also becomes more positive, in that I can look for good instead of all the reasons why this is not a desirable thing that God is allowing in my life. 

And so, I really began to practice it. I will say I am not perfect at this, but I will also say, I’m relatively consistent at giving thanks in everything. I’m not perfect by any means, but I can say “thank you.” And here’s an example, because Josh has learned it, too.

Josh used to do landscaping work, and he was trimming a huge hedge and was using a chainsaw. Behind that hedge was a chain link fence. So he’s doing his chainsaw thing and the saw hits the fence and it causes it to jerk back and it hit him on his head—from the edge of his forehead down to his eyebrow.

Now, this is how things unfolded. I got a phone call from his wife who said, “Josh just cut his head open with a chainsaw!” 

And you go, “Oh, dear!!” So, I go over to the hospital where he is, in the trauma area. And as it turned out, it wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be. It had only chipped the skull; it didn’t actually break it.

And it stopped right at his eyebrow, so it didn’t do damage to his eye. He does have a scar that his friends love. So I asked him how he was doing, and he used an expletive to describe how much it hurt when they were cleaning it out. But then he said, “After I called 9-1-1, I said, ‘Thank You, Lord!’” 

And I said, “Honey, when I heard that you’d cut your head open with a chainsaw, the first thing I said was, ‘Thank You, Lord.’” So, God did the same thing in both of us, having worked on us for years to learn gratitude, even for the hard things.

We can be thankful for the wonderful things, and we can make a list of a thousand good things God has done for us, but those hard things, it’s a little harder. And yet, to be able to say, “Thank You, Lord!” and then see what God will do as a result . . .

I’m so grateful for the gift that Josh has been in our lives, for all of us!

Nancy: And your gratitude isn’t just because the prodigal has come home; you’re certainly grateful for that.

Judy: Of course I am!

Nancy: But God was teaching you and giving you that gift of gratitude when you couldn’t see where this was going, how the story was going to unfold; that was the test.

Judy: Right, oh yes. All the way through, God is working all these things. He’s a very efficient God, you know. He can take one event—a hard, grievous event—and do an amazing number of things in me and in my prodigal, in my husband, in my daughters, and in the people who listen to this story. And so, He’s a very efficient God to accomplish so many things with one gift!

Nancy: Well, Judy, I’m grateful for the gift of your journey and your willingness to walk through it with the Lord, to embrace this prodigal child as a gift from the Lord. That’s what can help make you grateful, when you see that God is giving you this gift—not the gift I would necessarily have chosen, but this is God’s choice for me. 

And out of your journey, out of your pain, out of your perseverance, out of those years of seeing no end in sight, the Lord has birthed this book called When You Love a Prodigal. It’s ninety days of short readings (so they’re digestible), but Ninety Days of Grace for the Wilderness. 

Each section of that book talks about a different dimension of loving a prodigal: love, grace, time, rest, trust, prayer, promise, hope—that’s a big one—spirit, and then this one, gift, that we’ve been talking about today.

I know that many of our listeners want to have a copy of this book, and we’ll be glad to send this to you as our way of saying “thank you” when you make a donation of any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts as we’re ministering day after day to prodigals and those who love prodigals.

You can make your gift by going to You can call us at 1–800–569–5959.

And when you make your donation to Revive Our Hearts, be sure and let us know that you’d like a copy of Judy’s book When You Love a Prodigal.

Dannah: Judy, I just know people are going to be so encouraged as they hear these words! I know I’m encouraged, and I haven’t had a prodigal walk, the way that your son has walked. But as a mother, as a grandmother, I feel like you have taught all of us how to love better those God has entrusted to us to love.

Judy: That’s the right word, by the way: “entrusted.” They are entrusted to us.

Dannah: Exactly. Since there are mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers listening whose hearts really are still bleeding as they’re waiting for the story of their prodigal to unfold, would you mind lifting them up in prayer?

Judy: Oh, I would love to! 

Father, Your father’s heart is filled with love and compassion, extending mercy and grace so beyond anything any of us deserve. Some of us have turned from our prodigal-ness more quickly than others; we’ve all been there.

Some of us come sooner and stay better, and then we get blindsided as a loved one chooses to walk away, to make those destructive choices . . . to just turn their back on You or to put their life at risk. 

Father, I pray for those who love a prodigal right now, that You would comfort them with the comfort that only You can give; that you would bring people into their lives to walk with them and pray for them and encourage them.

I pray that they would be in Your Word, so that You could remind them of Your great love for them as well as for their prodigal, and so that they can understand that You are going to be there with them every step of the way—giving them wisdom, giving them hope, filling them with unconditional love and giving them the perseverance to keep trusting you as they keep loving that person. And we hope and pray, with you, that they will see the joy of their return. Thank You in Jesus’ name, amen!

Amen. Pointing you to the Father who calls us home, Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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About the Speaker

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love …

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