My Story

Let me tell you a little about myself. I grew up in Dallas, Texas. My father was the associate pastor of two megachurches in the area, and my mother was the pastor’s secretary.

I guess that made me a “preacher’s kid.” Sadly, I found my worth in performance. It felt nice to be envied by other families. Many said they wanted to be just like us. We looked like the perfect Christian family. Let me break the illusion right now and declare that there is no such thing.

family picture of the Plagens.

As Featured In

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FamilyLife Today logo
Here View From Home logo. They published Julie Plagens article.

Sick of It All

Unfortunately, all of that “people-pleasing” had a cost. For many years, I internalized all my anger and unforgiveness toward my family. 

We were stuck in an unhealthy family system that became toxic. The IBLP (Bill Gothard) movement fueled some of the toxicity. In my parents’ defense, I will say that many evangelical churches followed these principles in the 1970’s-1990’s. Legalism was embraced as biblical. 

In 2008, I became dangerously thin. Nothing I ate would digest properly. Over a short period, 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. I knew I had to get away to heal mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. In 2009, my husband, children, and I left my family of origin.

Leaving the Family

I became estranged. We tried family counseling with my parents, but it only made it worse. How does a family 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 or most of my extended family. My kids lost cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. It was embarrassing and hard to explain.  I didn’t like the situation but also didn’t know how to fix it either.

Leaving the family was difficult, but we felt it was necessary then. 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, nor was God out to smite me. He loved me, broken and imperfect.

Being estranged turned out to be lonely and embarrassing. It was a shame-filled secret that was hard to explain. After many years away, my husband and I felt God calling us back to my family. So many bridges had been burned that I thought returning was impossible.

Since I couldn’t speak to my father, I prayed for God to talk to him in a dream. I fasted on a Monday and Tuesday (January 2017), and my father called three days later–Friday. It had been seven years.

And the reason he called…God spoke to him in a dream.

It’s pretty miraculous after seven years of no talking! This was not the only miracle. Seven other miracles happened over exactly one year, including remission from Crohn’s disease. (I tell about all of them in my book.) All I can say is that there is no explanation for this other than God was the bridge back to my broken family. Not many people leave and return to 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 to reconcile. If He can do it for us, He can do it for you.

Most of all, I invite you to pray about your family situation. Ask God to show you where you may need to draw some boundaries. Perhaps you need tips to manage the pain while you wait for God to work.  Family conflict is often a generational stronghold of learned behaviors that are not quickly broken.

I realize some of you may not be able to return to a toxic relationship, but God does require forgiveness. My book details how to forgive no matter what happened. God can work, whatever the situation if you allow Him complete access to your life. All things are possible when He takes charge.

Are you struggling to have a healthy marriage?

Do you want to change your spouse, but it’s not working?

Get Marriage Interrupted: How to Deal with Unexpected Conflict as a Couple and Stay in Love on Amazon.

Marriage Interrupted: How to Deal with Unexpected Conflict as a Couple and Stay in Love

Are you struggling to get along with family?

Do you want to forgive, but you just can’t do it?

Get Estranged: Finding Hope When Your Family Falls Apart on Amazon

Estranged; Finding Hope When Your Family Falls Apart book


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