Lori Wildenberg: Navigating Parenting When the Going Gets Tough (Part 2)

John FarrellBy John Farrell16 Minutes

John Farrell: I’ve read Messy Journey and was intrigued by the overall story. Could you tell me the story about your own prodigal child and how that shaped you as both a mother and a Christian?

Lori Wildenberg: I have to say, when you have a young person — a child who has wandered off the path — suddenly you start to realize that empathy for other people is hugely grown in you. To know that you’re not alone strengthens your relationship with the Lord and it gives you compassion that you may not otherwise have had if things have gone perfectly. You find a more loving way of looking at others.

In my daughter’s particular case, we are still in the middle of the struggle, but our relationship is strong. What I’m trying to say is my daughter is same-sex attracted and we believe that is not God’s best for her, yet she continues to pursue same-sex relationships. In the middle of that, we have come to love the people that she loves and we still are able — when the Lord moves us, which isn’t that often because Courtney knows what we believe — to speak truth and to demonstrate grace.

It’s tough when your kids are perhaps [struggling] with substance abuse or alcoholism, or they have wandered away from the faith. Those are all really hard things. In my mind, they’re all the same in terms of needing to have a stronger relationship with the Lord, and understanding that belonging and security and all of those basic needs can be met through Jesus. But it is hard because we want something tangible and some people may wander away from the faith for those reasons. Some may join a cult for those reasons, some may get into some sort of substance abuse.

The manifestation of the need might be different in my daughter than it would be in someone else’s daughter, but it is all the same thing. A wound in the heart that needs to be tended. I guess I would say that I have learned a lot and God has given me the opportunity to get to know some folks that I perhaps maybe wouldn’t have otherwise if my daughter wasn’t in this particular situation.

Listening Is Key

JF: If you could do something different, whether it was with Courtney or one of your other three children, what would that be and why?

Lori: I think listening more is really important. A lot of times I wanted to fix things right away and get my point across and have them see that the wisdom I’ve gained over the years really does work, but they also have to figure that out for themselves. If they ask for it or if you can dispense it in a way that is conversational, but I think being able to listen more is really important. I think that’s probably the biggest thing.

I was able to share personal struggles with my kids, but that wasn’t easy because you don’t want to look bad in their eyes. But what that does instead is it does the opposite. It lets them know that you’re human too and that mistakes can be made and God always gives us a do-over. I think those would be the things and just always remember to come at the hard things with humility because we all struggle with different things.

A Writer’s Life

JF: Tell me about your process for writing these books. Which of these two books came out first and when did they get published? In addition to that, how has the reception been?

Lori: It’s been great. I wrote Messy Journey prior to The Messy Life of Parenting, but what I would recommend to people is to read The Messy Life of Parenting first to get the thoughts and the philosophy of interdependence down, enabling versus empowering, and how to have an emotionally safe home and healthy relationships. I think that would be the better one to read first.

If your child or loved one is going through some difficulties and you need help and support, Messy Journey is the book that is really helpful. That was the hardest one to write because that’s one of my heart, Messy Journey, and my daughter actually helped me. Her voice is sprinkled throughout. That book has touched many people and I’ve had so many people even still write me and tell me that this book has been so helpful and encouraging to them.

JF: In the process of writing these, were there any roadblocks or difficulties?

Lori: The biggest roadblock was myself. The Lord continued to nudge me to write about our Messy Journey and because I’m a private person that was very difficult. You feel pretty exposed, but I knew that this is what the Lord wanted and I wanted to be obedient to that knowing that fruit will come from that because He tells us that. He’s demonstrated compassion to us, and He has helped us. We are meant to help somebody else with that.

I knew He wanted me to write it. It was very hard to write. I really was dragging my feet, but then once I started working on it and my daughter started helping me with it, it was the biggest blessing personally ever. Then when it got published, I was honestly a little scared because not only is it personal, but this culture — and this book isn’t only about same-sex attraction, it is about anything where people are wandering off the path — has a different view of same-sex attraction versus someone who has a biblical view.

The worldview or the cultural view is opposed to the biblical worldview. I had a little fear honestly, but I thought, “Okay, this is the Lord, so I’m just gonna go ahead and do this.” And He has been so gracious to us and we have had so many people get a hold of us with encouraging words of how much this book has helped them. I’m thankful that the Lord continued to impress upon my heart to put this down on paper.

The Other Stuff

JF: What is 1 Corinthians 13 Parenting?

Lori: 1 Corinthians 13 Parenting is a ministry that Becky Danielson and I co-founded. It exists as a resource for parents and for churches. We have a breadth and depth of people in our network: single parents, stepparents, all experts in their field, experts in adoption, experts in special needs, experts in faith, and so on. We are able to present conferences at various churches and tailor those conferences to the needs of the churches and their congregants.

JF: What is the Mom Initiative?

Lori: The Mom Initiative is a group that was started by Stephanie Schott. I am one of the writers in her Mom Initiative where we reach out in sort of the tightest woman fashion of mentoring moms. And then Moms Together, which is the group that I am the lead mentor mom for on Facebook, has a similar passion but we’re Moms Together, so it’s the idea of a family where seasoned moms and grandmoms all the way down to expectant moms learn from each other and get compassion for various stages and phases, and we get perspective during those phases as well. We try to function as a family. It’s a Facebook page and a fairly active Facebook group.

Lori’s Testimony

JF: What is your personal testimony?

Lori: My personal testimony is definitely not a road to Damascus one. You always think, “Oh wow, I wish I had that kind of cool story.” But then again, you have other things and other wounds that you have to work through. I was raised in a Christian home, and I have always had a faith. I can point to moments when God used difficulties to increase my faith and my relationship with Him.

As a young person, one of the times was going to a Christian camp. That was a huge thing. Now, you know it was church choir if they took me because I couldn’t sing, but the church choir as a young person was another place where I really felt like my faith grew. Then once my husband and I got married, we started taking a three-year Bible study at the church we joined. It was a study that went through the entire Bible. That was highly impactful and we learned a lot, but at the same time Tom’s dad died and then I was going through infertility. Those were times when the Lord really drew us to Himself and really increased our faith greatly. I would say also going through the adoption process with my oldest, Courtney, the one who helped me write Messy Journey, was another time when it was very clear that this was God’s timing and that I needed to be able to let go and trust Him with that.

So, there are various times in my life that through difficulty and struggle when the Lord has really increased my faith. But I was one of those people who never really questioned it and maybe I should have. If parents have a child who is questioning it, I would say that’s a very good and strong indication that they’re really understanding and owning their space.

I recall a time during my freshman year of college when my Ethics and Society Philosophy professor really challenged Christianity, and I was the only one in the room that attempted to speak up for it and I was very ill-equipped. I had a very hard time being able to answer his challenges. Of course, going back perhaps I would do a better job now, but at the time I didn’t really know. So, I would encourage parents who have kids to ask the hard questions — that’s a really good thing — and not to be afraid of it because they’re trying to own it and they will be able to answer someone else’s questions later.

JF: Where can people find your books?

Lori: It’s very easy to find them online. You can go to newhopepublishers.com and find two of my five books there. Those would be the books we’re talking about today, The Messy Life of Parenting and Messy Journey: How Grace and Truth Offered the Prodigal a Way Home. You could also go to Amazon and either plug in my name, Lori Wildenberg, or the names of the books, The Messy Life of Parenting or Messy Journey. You can find those books plus a few others on Amazon. Probably anywhere where you buy books you can get them and if they don’t happen to be on the shelves in the brick-and-mortar stores, they have the ability to order them.

JF: Is there anything else that you’d like to like to share that I perhaps left out or just didn’t ask?

Lori: I would love to let people know how to connect with me and they can connect with me on my website at loriwildenberg.com. I’m available to do retreats and speaking engagements. I can put together seminars or even a conference with the 1 Corinthians 13 Parenting Ministry. A seminar could be tailored to whatever the needs of the church or the congregants are. You can also find me on Instagram and on Facebook. On Facebook, I have an author page and I also have that Moms Together page and the Moms Together group. Those are all places where I can be found and connected with.

Order your copy of Messy Journey: How Grace and Truth Offer the Prodigal a Way Home by Lori Wildenberg

Order your copy of The Messy Life of Parenting: Powerful and Practical Ways to Strengthen Family Connections by Lori Wildenberg