Revive Our Hearts Podcast

In Spite of a Difficult Family Background

Episode Resources

Watch this series.

Learn more about You Can Trust God to Write Your Story.

Dannah Gresh: Erin Davis grew up feeling hopeless because of her broken family situation. But, there’s been a transformation!

Erin Davis: Somewhere along the line the narrative changed from, “This horrible thing that’s happened to me, I’ll never overcome it!” to “This horrible thing has happened to me, God’s already at work to redeem it!” 

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, along with Dannah Gresh, for September 9, 2019. 

Dannah: Last week we began a new series entitled “You Can Trust God to Write Your Story.” For the rest of the month we’re going to stay on this very topic. Nancy will continue to teach on some days, but we’ll have some days where we hear the stories of people who’ve been learning to trust God. Today is one of those days.

We’re going to hear the story of a woman who trusted God when her family situation was very painful.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I’m so thrilled to have Erin Davis with us in the studio today. Erin, we’ve known each other for a long time; we’ve worked together for a long time. We work on a lot of written projects together, but we don’t often get to talk together on our podcast or our broadcast.

You’re here at Revive Our Hearts doing some work on another podcast for us this week, and you had an open hour in the schedule, so I said, “Can we nab you to have a conversation here?” So thanks at the end of a long day, a long couple of days, for joining me for this conversation.

Erin: I’m so glad to get to! This is a treat for me.

Nancy: I’m amazed at your energy! You’re just like the Energizer Bunny . . . you just keep going and keep going. 

Erin: I have two speeds: awake and asleep, and I don’t have anything in-between, so I’m awake! We’re good! 

Nancy: You have four sons, so that keeps you awake probably more of the time than not!

Erin: Yes, I’m up from sunup to sundown, literally. 

Nancy: And probably after sundown sometimes.

Erin: Yes. (laughter)

Nancy: Thank you for being so much a part of the ministry of Revive Our Hearts over the years (let me say that first). You’ve been involved with us, I think initially in the Lies Young Women Believe blog. That’s one of the areas where you served for a number of years. You’ve now turned that over to others that you’ve mentored. 

But I just think of the teenage girls, now adult women, who have been mentored and trained and equipped through your work on that. Thank you for that! That generation of women is going to rise up and call you blessed one of these days!

Erin: Oh, it’s been one of the honors of my life! I didn’t know when I started running the Lies Young Women Believe blog that I would eventually be the mother of all boys! And so, those girls are the daughters of my heart. If I could put their pictures on my refrigerator, I would . . . but that would be a lot of pictures! That would have to be a big refrigerator.

It’s a great honor to get to speak into young women’s lives, and I love that blog. I’ve loved it for a long time, and I’m grateful for the work it continues to do.

Nancy: And, Lord willing, they’re raising up some true young women that will be the kind of wives that your sons—who are becoming true men—will need someday.

Erin: Absolutely!

Nancy: So hopefully this is going to benefit your family for generations to come.

Erin: If there are young girls out there that love the Lord, call me. We’ll arrange marriages now. I’ve got the paperwork. I’ve got cute boys. Let’s make it happen, because they’re going to need women who love Jesus.

Nancy: I love being around your kids. Your oldest son and myself, we’ve had conversations from the time he was little. They’re just so adult and thoughtful and fun. So you and your husband Jason, who also serves on the staff of Revive Our Hearts, have been a huge part of this ministry, but also, you’re doing such a great job with your family.

And now you’re overseeing and coordinating our publishing area. I don’t know what the official title is, but when we put out written material, whether it’s newsletters or Bible studies, you’re overseeing the team that produces those things. You probably don’t get a lot of public congratulations and thanks for what you do, but it’s really significant work! It’s good work.

I just want to say, on behalf of all the women who are benefiting from it, thank you, thank you, thank you!

Erin: Thanks. I’m so happy to get to do it.

Nancy: We’ve been talking a lot over the last weeks about this book that Robert and I wrote together called You Can Trust God to Write Your Story: Embracing the Mysteries of Providence. We’ve been wanting to not only unpack the theology of why you can trust God and what God’s providence means and why it’s a good thing . . . It’s something that should comfort us rather than scare us. But we’re also trying to listen to people tell their stories. 

In fact, we did a lot of that in the book. One couple, one of our staff members, three weeks later after the conversation we had with them, we were at his funeral. And they talked about trusting God to write your story when you’re dying.

This is somebody who has been on our staff for decades. I knew them before they were married, and it was a hard, hard thing, but a really sweet thing. We talked with couples who had had serious marriage issues. Some of them, the marriage got put back together . . . some of them not.

We talked to people who have prodigal children. Some of them the children have returned to the Lord, and some of them, the children are still way out in a far field. But I think listening to those stories, as we wrote the book, and then since the book has been released, we’ve heard more and more stories. 

People are sharing, “This is the laboratory of life that the Lord put me in, or us in as a family, and we have been learning to trust Him to write our story.” That can be really, really hard, but I think hearing stories of how other people find God’s grace and find the wisdom and the help of providence—even if it’s a mystery, which it often is—is something that encourages us in our own story.

We all have a story; we all have hard parts of those stories. I’ve watched you and your husband walk with grace through some really hard seasons, as we all must. And really, your learning to trust in God to write your story goes back to before you even knew the Lord, because your story had some hard parts about it before you were even in the faith. 

Erin: Yes, from a little girl. We’re all sinful since birth, sinful since the time our mom conceives us, so there’s brokenness for all of us. But my childhood had a nuclear bomb go off in the middle of it, when I was ten. That was when my Father decided to leave our family. I was raised in a family with a believing mom and an unbelieving dad.

I can tell you, young women, when I encourage you to yoke or to marry or to spend your time with someone who has the same values as you, I know . . . because I was in the blast zone of what can happen when that isn’t the case.

So my unbelieving dad made the decision to walk away from us, and you know what? The Lord can bring redemption, the Lord has brought redemption. But I can tell you without a moment of hesitation: that is not God’s plan for a family to be broken in that way.

It’s not God’s plan for a child, a daughter maybe especially, to navigate life without a father. My life was never the same since then. It’s not irredeemable, and the Lord has done such a healing work in my heart and in my home, but it changed everything when my dad walked away!

Nancy: And you were how old when that happened?

Erin: I was ten.

Nancy: So you’re very aware of what’s going on, and the shrapnel affects you (and a lot of other people, too, I’m sure). So then fast-forward. You’re in your teenage years, and you become a believer. Tell us in a nutshell how that happened.

Erin: Sure. My mom was a Christian, so we were raised in and out of church. There was a loss of stability a little bit as a child. We would go to church sometimes and not go to church sometimes. I’d heard the name of Jesus; it wasn’t a foreign concept.

My mom is a praying woman, and I’m sure when all things are revealed, I will see that she prayed prayers that mattered a great deal to me. But I didn’t have a concept of the gospel at all. I didn’t read the Bible for myself. I don’t remember my mom reading the Bible to us. She might have, but we weren’t that kind of home where we kind of gathered and read the Bible.

I do remember in middle school—you know, middle school drama is hard!—and I seemed to always be in the thick of it. I have a pretty tornadic personality, so I think I drew some of that to me. But my earliest memory of opening the Bible for myself was as a sixth-grade girl. I was in the middle in girl drama, and I just felt hopeless!

Nothing my mom said made a difference. I felt abandoned by my friends. In that moment it seemed like a very big deal. I remember lying on my bed and pulling out a Precious Moments Bible that I’d been given at some point—a little girl’s Bible with a pink cover—and opening it. I remember saying to Mom, “Wow! There’s some pretty good stuff in there!”

What I remember is, it gave me hope! And I can look back and say, “That was a spark!” A spark was lit in that moment that the Lord has grown into a bonfire of hunger for His Word! But that was the moment. 

And then my mom remarried, a Christian man. He said, “We’re getting the kids to church.” And so he actually did his research, identified a church in the area that had a thriving youth group and decided our family was going to go to that church.

So we did! I was fifteen. I’m sure I had all kinds of teenage angst. I probably had my arms crossed! (I don’t know.) But the youth pastor in that church walked up to my twin sister and I that first Sunday and said, “We’re leaving tomorrow for a conference called Christ in Youth. Do you want to go?” And we said, “Yes!”

So the next morning we got on a bus with a bunch of kids we’d never met in our lives! We took a seventeen-hour road trip to Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.

Nancy: You knew them by the time we got there!

Erin: Yes, we knew them by the time we got there. The first night there was such a stirring in me. I didn’t understand it. I can look back and still go, “I still didn’t understand the gospel.” I just knew the Lord was doing something. There was no call to action that first night. I didn’t even really know how to respond. But the second night they called people to respond.

I raced down the aisle! I could have stayed in my seat, but it didn’t feel like I could; I just felt compelled! I came to the front of the church. I didn’t have any Christian language. I didn’t know what to say. The pastor asked me what I was there for. I don’t even know what I articulated. 

But that was the moment that I can look back on and say, “That’s when I fell in love with Jesus! That’s when I surrendered my life to Jesus.” It’s the moment, I say, when He “ruined” my life (in the best possible way!) because I had all these plans for my life that had nothing to do with Jesus and the Bible, but that was the moment.

He very quickly gave me an appetite for His Word and, fortunately, I was in a Bible-teaching church and youth group. He’s been so faithful to me!

Nancy: So as you began to grow in your faith, to put down roots into the soil of Scripture, what was the process like for you of coming to see your past, your family issues, in the context of God’s bigger plan for your life?

Erin: Well, I celebrated my twentieth spiritual birthday a few years ago, and it was a marker. I celebrated in all these big ways because I wanted to declare, “Wow! Look what the Lord has done!” I walked twenty miles to celebrate my twentieth spiritual birthday. 

Nancy: I remember that.

Erin: It’s a pretty good picture for the process for me. I’ve said many times, “Man, the Lord could have just given me a USB drive and downloaded it all to me, but He’s chosen not to do that.” He has re-shaped me. Yes, I’m a new creation, but He is a really careful sculptor. He takes His time.

So, yes, over time I have learned to see the implosion of my family. And by the way, those explosions continue. There continues to be deep brokenness in my family. I don’t know that we’re more broken than most—every family has brokenness—but we are broken. So I haven’t arrived, but over time, and I think primarily through the Word of God, I started to see that it was redeemable. It seemed irredeemable for so long. 

I mean, my parents split up. They were not getting back together. It changed me; it changed who I was. It took me from this little girl who was safe and secure to a little girl who . . . the world was no longer steady underneath my feet. And then I became a teenager who was still off-kilter, and even a young woman—a young married woman—who was still off-kilter.

In Jason and my early married years, I was still having regular panic attacks in the middle of the night because of the abandonment of my father . . . and that was fifteen years after that initial leaving! But gradually, over time, I learned that it is redeemable.

There are passages in Scripture that talk about, “Though my father and mother forsake me, You will never forsake me.” (see Ps. 27:10) Those are not figurative to me; those are literal to me. Those make sense to me, and brokenness is the only lens through which I understand the world.

I understand my own brokenness and my father’s brokenness and my family’s brokenness. And what I’m hearing the Lord saying to me through His Word, over and over and over, is not that He’s sorry that it happened (although I think He’s grieved), but that He is working it to my good and that there is a redemptive plan.

The redemptive thread that I see all through Scripture, I see it through my life! And I see it with clouded, sinful eyes, so I can’t wait until I see it all.

Nancy: From His perspective.

Erin: Yes! I just think over time, through His Word and through being in a Bible-teaching church . . . And God has been so faithful to bring me godly mentors. You’re among them. My pastor has pastored my church for thirty-six years. He’s very paternal towards me. He speaks truth to me. There are friends that do the same.

Somewhere along the line the narrative changed from, “This horrible thing that’s happened to me; I’ll never overcome it!” to “This horrible thing has happened to me . . . and God’s already at work to redeem it!” 

Nancy: So when you say it’s redeemable, that doesn’t mean that God’s going to magically or mystically undo what has been done. He didn’t put your nuclear family back together. That was past that, so in what sense is it redeemable?

Erin: Even now, my father and I barely speak. He lives about a mile from me, as the crow flies, but that relationship remains really, really strained—really, really painful for both of us. The door to reconciliation is always open on my part, and I believe he wants to be reconciled, but he’s just a broken man.

And so, redemption doesn’t mean that we moved on from it and we have a happy, functioning relationship. We don’t; we have a dysfunctional relationship. But the Lord’s helped me have a longer view of redemption. Redemption in this situation didn’t happen in a year, it didn’t happen in ten years, it hasn’t happened in twenty years.

Will it happen in thirty or forty years or even in my lifetime? I don’t know. But the way the Lord has brought redemption is, He’s given me a deep hunger for fatherhood. I think that the Lord created the family as a picture of that relationship. It’s supposed to show us who God can be in a good way. But in my case, it makes me need God desperately! I know how much I need God!

I know that He’s my only hope, because I from a little girl had to navigate life without the person who was supposed to be that for me, and so there’s redemption in that. There’s redemption in not depending on myself, which is similar. I’ve operated “with one leg” all this time. I’ve needed Jesus! And everybody needs Jesus, but I know that. 

There’s redemption, I think, in my own family at home. The Lord has given me the most faithful man! (I’ll cry, thinking about him.) He is so faithful. He’s not going to have an affair and abandon me; he’s not going to abandon my sons. And every day I get to watch this redemptive work in the next generation.

The statistics for the children of divorce are devastating. The statistics for what my life should look like are devastating . . . and my life doesn’t look like that! I am twice as likely to have divorced, myself. I’m way more likely than that to have multiple divorces, based on the statistics. My children are likely to have multiple fathers because of that.

I’m likely to have all kinds of addictions because of the brokenness it causes, and God’s redeemed that! I’ve said my “picker outer” is broken. Before I knew Christ, if a guy was a loser I would gravitate towards him. It’s part of the brokenness. I should have married the wrong guy. I didn’t! I married this man who loves Jesus and cares for me!

So, the Lord has covered over a lot of things that should have happened in my life, and He’s done the same thing with my twin sister. He’s done the same thing with my brother. He’s done the same thing with my mom. My mom, who did not want to be divorced, who loved my father faithfully, I’ve seen the ways He’s cared for her and loved her.

So there are all kinds of earthly redemption, but I’m talking about the redemption that is to come. I’m talking about the day when there is no more crying, when I no longer wear the label, “child of divorce,” when there’s no more pain, when those things are reconciled because there’s a new heaven and a new earth and He’s my husband. And so there’s a long game of redemption that I think I ultimately put my hope in.

Nancy: He is redeeming and making all things new. And that includes us, right? That relationship hasn’t experienced reconciliation, but you have experienced restoration. And what about the dreams? What happened with them?

Erin: Oh, that’s a great story! I had panic attacks for years in the night; it was our “normal.” It’s funny when something is dysfunctional, but it’s normal to you, you don’t see it as dysfunctional. And so, I’d had those panic attacks for a long time.

I went to visit our shared friend, Dannah Gresh. I said, “I’m so tired, Dannah.”

And she said, “Why?” 

And I said, “Well, I had a panic attack last night.” We were in the Blockbuster parking lot, which tells you how long ago this was. 

She just stopped right where she was and she said, “What is that? What are you talking about?”

And I said, “Oh, I have these panic attacks in the night.” 

[Dannah:] “What are they? What’s happening?” 

And in the dreams I was never being chased; nobody was ever trying to hurt me. I was totally alone. It was abandonment that I was afraid of. 

Dannah said, “Erin, that is not what God wants for you!”

And I said, “Well, I know; I’ve prayed about it, but they’re not going away.” 

She called some friends that next day and we met in her basement, and we actually walked through the process that you take women through in the book Lies Women Believe and in Lies Young Women Believe. We would pray, and we would ask the Lord to identify a lie.

And the lies were things like: “Everyone leaves,” or “I can’t trust anybody with my heart, or it will be crushed!” And then we would pray again, and we would ask the Lord to reveal truth, and He would reveal things like: “[Surely] I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). “I am with you always, [even] to the [very] end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

Nancy: So truth to counter the lies.

Erin: Truth to counter the lies. Where the lie was, “I can’t reveal my heart or it will be crushed.” The truth is, “They’re going to know you are Christians by your love” (see John 13:35). Those biblical truths. And we prayed, and she wanted to talk about my dad, and honestly I was like, “Uhh, I’ve talked about this. I don’t want to talk about it any more!”

But the Lord used her to expose that, yes, those abandonment fears were there. They were deep. And they weren’t true! So I drove home from Pennsylvania, stayed the night alone in a hotel for the first night nightmare-free in I don’t know how long! And I don’t have them anymore! I haven’t had them for a long time. It was the truth that reversed the power of those lies in my heart.

Nancy: Wow! And that’s all part of God writing your story. And what I love, Erin, as I listen to this is thinking of how many women with that background would become a statistic. And that story of the brokenness and dysfunction in their family of origin would become their identity.

And yet, not only has God rescued and redeemed you from having that identity, He’s now using your identity in Christ to give you a ministry into the lives of your own children, the women that you’re ministering to through Revive Our Hearts, through your local church. 

It’s like, if the devil wanted to take you out—take out a bearer of the gospel, someone who would be fruitful—he picked the wrong person. Through letting God write your story and embracing the mysteries of Providence—as complex and confusing as they can be when we’re looking at it this side of eternity—“Why does this happen? How does this happen?” 

I mean, you could just be so resentful. You could say, “This man messed up my life!” You could have lived a life bitterness, but God has delivered you from that. He’s protected you. He brought Jason into your life. He’s written your story, and now He’s writing other people’s stories through your story.

Erin: Yeah. There’s that passage that says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story, those He has rescued from the pit!” (see Ps. 107:2) And He has rescued me from the pit, and I will spend my life telling—not my story—but the gospel story.

Just last week I was teaching in Minneapolis, and there was a woman there so broken because her husband had left their family, and she had five little kids. She was just so broken, and I held her face in my hands, and I said, “Your children will not get through this unscathed; that is not the hope. But there will be redemption, because I am your daughters in twenty years.”

And I’ll say that as many times as I can say it, because to her there was no way out. That’s trusting God to write your story. I trust for her that God will bring redemption in the lives of her daughters. I trust for me that God’s not done bringing redemption. I don’t know how things are going to end up with my dad. He’s aging; I’m aging. I love him.

He knows that I love him. He knows that I’m kind of like the dad of the prodigal son: I’m always watching the horizon, and when he turns for me, I want to be in relationship with him. But I don’t know how that’s going to end, but I trust God is writing the story. And not just my story; God is writing my dad’s story. 

I don’t know how far my dad has to be removed from his children and grandchildren to know his need for Jesus, but I want him to just get there! Get to wherever that wasteland is, so that he knows his need. And God is writing His own story, He’s writing my story, He’s writing my sons’ stories. Do I wish my sons had grandparents with a cleaner story? Yes.

Do my sons ask hard questions about, “Why don’t we ever see Tom Tom?” and “Why isn’t Gigi married to Tom Tom?” Do I wish I didn’t have to have those conversations with my five-year-old? Sure! But God is writing my sons’ stories, and I don’t know what part in that all of that plays. But I absolutely trust that, in the providence of God, He is working all things to my good and His glory. There’s not a single piece of the puzzle that He doesn’t see and He can’t use.

Dannah: That’s my dear friend, Erin Davis. She’s in the middle of a conversation with our host, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. Now, I had the privilege of having a front row seat when Erin was in high school and struggling with that paralyzing fear. And it’s been such a joy to watch God work in her life as she chose to trust Him to write her story!

It makes me realize that nobody’s from a perfect family. All of us struggle; all of us have pain and brokenness in our lives. That means we all need to learn to trust God! Nancy and her husband, Robert, help us do that in their new book You Can Trust God to Write Your Story: Embracing the Mysteries of Providence. 

It’s available this month for the first time, and we would love to send you a copy when you make a donation in any amount to the Revive Our Hearts ministry. Your donation helps us to bring you programs like this one, but it also helps us to reach women all across the world as they’re facing difficulties in their lives and need to learn to trust God.

You can make that gift at ReviveOurHearts.com, or just call us at 1–800–569–5959. And when you make that donation, be sure to ask for the book on trusting God to write your story.

Erin Davis has been continuing to learn to trust God in areas that are painful today. God has given her more opportunities to embrace those mysteries of Providence. You’ll hear more from Erin Davis tomorrow. I’m Dannah Gresh, hoping you’ll join us for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you trust you God with your painful past. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

Join the Discussion