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My Story

My family

Let me tell you a little about my family. I grew up in Dallas, Texas. My family owned an Italian restaurant from the 1940s to the 1970s called The Italian Village. It was family-owned and operated by my parents and grandparents. At the age of 23, my father took over the restaurant full-time. He added Gringo’s, the first disco/nightclub in Texas, and the Club Village, the first supper club in Dallas.

First nightclub in Texas called Gringo's.

The restaurant, club, and bar catered to people in the Dallas area (including the Dallas Cowboy’s), and many celebrities visiting from Hollywood and Las Vegas. In fact, some of the acts vacillated between Gringo’s in Dallas and the clubs in Las Vegas.

In the 1970s, my father created one of the first sports bars around. He televised the Dallas Cowboy’s games in the bar area (during blackouts), and he served food and drinks. This bar concept was the forerunner to the many sport’s bars you see today. My father had an uncanny knack for creating not only amazing new recipes but also new concepts in entertainment.

The Prayer

After about ten years of living in the fast lane, my father became disillusioned with the life he was living. He had all the money, fame, and success he could ever dream about, yet he was empty. He cried out to God and asked Him if He was real. Little did he know, God would answer that prayer within days.

The next week, my father was making a commercial for the restaurant at a local TV station in Dallas. The programming recently changed to Christian broadcasting. While making the commercial, he had an experience with God. Through a series of events, he accepted Christ as his personal Savior. Subsequently, my dad closed the bar.

This set off a flurry of reports from the media. My family restaurant made local and national news for several days. My parents lost their greatest source of income. The whole family was embarrassed. It caused a family break between my parents and grandparents. We were disowned. Estranged. (Italians really do this.)

My Story - Julie Plagens Newspaper article written in Panama City 1974The Ministry

In 1976, my family closed the doors to the restaurant. My father had no job offers other than to be a janitor at our church, so he took it. It was pretty humbling for an ex-millionaire to start so low, but God was in it. After several years, my father worked up to the position of business administrator and then to associate pastor.

Most of my growing up years were spent as a preacher’s kid. My parents served on staff at four megachurches in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. My father was the associate pastor at two of the churches. My mom, the pastor’s secretary at one of the churches.

Being in ministry was hard on my family. Everyone was expected to act in a certain way and not make mistakes.

We looked like the perfect Christian family.

My friends hated being compared to me. I was a high achiever growing up. I found my worth in performance. It felt nice to be envied by other families. Many said they wanted to be just like us.

Unfortunately, all of that “people pleasing” had a cost. No one knew what was going on at home. There was more law than grace, a severity I couldn’t bear. I felt like no matter what I did, it wasn’t good enough.

For many years I internalized all the anger and unforgiveness I had toward my parents. Actually, I wasn’t just angry. I was filled with hatred and bitterness. Slowly it ate away at my soul. I thought maybe after I left home, things would change, but it didn’t. We were stuck in an unhealthy family system.

Sick of It All

In 2008, I became dangerously thin. Nothing I ate would digest properly. Over a short period of time, I lost thirty pounds. Many tests were done. The final diagnosis was Crohn’s disease. After another round of tests, the doctors wanted to take out my colon.

I would have to have a bag attached to the outside of my body for the rest of my life, an ileostomy. The doctor informed me it would be irreversible because of the extensive damage.

At this point, I decided I could no longer handle being a part of my family of origin.

I had stuffed all my emotions over the last forty years and could no longer control how I felt. The relationship with my parents had become toxic to me. I knew I had to get away. In 2009, my husband, children and I left my family of origin. I became estranged. 

We tried family counseling with my parents, but it was a disaster.

How does a family, who has been in ministry for thirty years, break apart? It happens more than you think.

For seven years I had no contact with my family of origin and most of the extended family.  My kids lost cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. It was embarrassing and hard to explain. I hated the situation, but I didn’t know how to fix it.

Leaving the Family

Leaving the family was not easy, but we felt it was necessary at the time. It was the right decision as my colon started to heal within the first year. During that time, God took me, my husband, and my kids on the journey of a lifetime.

I learned I did not have to be perfect. God loved me broken and imperfect. Sadly, being estranged turned out to be lonely and embarrassing. It was a shame-filled secret that was hard to explain.

After seven years, my husband and I felt God calling us back to my family. So many bridges had been burned that I thought it was impossible to go back. Since I couldn’t speak to my father, I decided to pray for God to speak to him in a dream. I fasted on a Tuesday and Wednesday (January of 2017), and my father called two days later–Friday. And the reason he called...God spoke to him in a dream.

Pretty miraculous after seven years of no talking!

This was not the only miracle. There were seven other miracles that happened over exactly a one year period. (I tell about all of them in my book.) All I can say is that there is no explanation for this other than God. Not many people leave and come back into their family of origin once they have walked away. There is too much damage done.

It wasn’t easy for any of us to swallow our pride. It took a lot of courage on all sides.

Of course, we would not have reconciled without the main ingredient-forgiveness.

It has been the key to everything. Our family is a testament to what God can do when there is no human way across a broken bridge.

If He can do it for us, He can do it for you.

Most of all, I would like to invite you to pray about your family situation. Ask God to show you what to do. Perhaps you need to fast to get a breakthrough. Many times, family conflict is a generational stronghold not easily broken.

I realize many of you may not be able to return to a toxic relationship, but God does require forgiveness. My book goes into great detail about how to forgive even the worst of offenses. God can work, whatever the situation, if you will allow Him to have complete access to your life. All things are possible when He takes charge.

Family Estrangement from a Christian Perspective

Are you experiencing family problems? Perhaps you and a loved one are no longer speaking. Don’t go another day without reading this book. It addresses family problems and estrangement from a biblical point of view. Estranged: Finding Hope When Your Family Falls Apart is on Amazon or at your favorite digital bookstore. 

 

Estranged: Finding Hope When Your Family Falls Apart

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