John Bradshaw - Conversation with Karen Phillips
She was married for 20 years, then divorced, but 10 years later, she was remarried to her first husband. It's quite a story. She is Karen Phillips, I'm John Bradshaw, and this is our conversation.
John Bradshaw: Karen Phillips, thank you for being here.
Karen Phillips: Oh, it's my pleasure.
John Bradshaw: Now, we're gonna have a little conversation here about a story that I think will give hope to many, many, many, many people. We're gonna talk about the God of restoration, who's able to restore broken relationships. Before we get into that, let's talk about you. Where are you from? Where's your background?
Karen Phillips: Well, we spent most of our years in Omaha, Nebraska. That's where I was born and raised.
John Bradshaw: Okay.
Karen Phillips: I, with a couple jobs, I lived in a few different places, but Omaha is what I call home. A year and a half ago we moved to Kentucky.
John Bradshaw: Mm-hmm.
Karen Phillips: And we were asking God to just get us out of the big craziness of the city, the large city. And we came to Stanton, Kentucky.
John Bradshaw: Yeah, that's out there a little bit. That's not Omaha by any stretch of the imagination. You had a career as a young person?
Karen Phillips: Yes, I had a career in accounting.
John Bradshaw: Mm-hmm.
Karen Phillips: And then when I got married, I stayed home with my children for 15 years. So, then my career changed after that.
John Bradshaw: Changed to what?
Karen Phillips: I worked in human resources...
John Bradshaw: Okay.
Karen Phillips: ...for 16 years.
John Bradshaw: All right, all right. Well, somewhere along the line back there, you got married. Who was this fellow? How did you meet him? How'd that all come about?
Karen Phillips: Well, we actually met rollerskating.
John Bradshaw: Okay.
Karen Phillips: I was working for Union Pacific Railroad. And I...really didn't wanna do the bar scene. So on Tuesdays, Tuesday evenings, they had an adult skate. So I would go roller skating, and this guy... I tell people he rolled into my life. He asked me to skate. I was amazed 'cause he could backwards skate.
John Bradshaw: Aha.
Karen Phillips: And it's in the parking lot when, you know, we had met and we exchanged our information, I actually told my girlfriend that I was with, I said, "I'm gonna marry that man".
John Bradshaw: And that was...first night?
Karen Phillips: Yes. And five months later we were married.
John Bradshaw: Well, quite the prophet you turned out to be. Now, you mentioned the bar scene. You didn't wanna do the bar scene. You were or were not a Christian at that time?
Karen Phillips: I was a Christian, but I hadn't really had a true personal relationship with Jesus.
John Bradshaw: Okay.
Karen Phillips: I was going through the motions.
John Bradshaw: Yeah. So that bar scene you mentioned might actually have been an option, but you just didn't wanna go there?
Karen Phillips: Right.
John Bradshaw: Okay.
Karen Phillips: I had gone there in the past, and I knew that it wasn't for me.
John Bradshaw: That's pretty empty, really, isn't it?
Karen Phillips: Yes.
John Bradshaw: Yeah, it's pretty empty. So you met this guy, and you decided on...day one you're gonna marry him. What in the world would lead a young woman to say something like that so hastily? Was this Mr. Perfect?
Karen Phillips: Well, my husband and I had both been through long relationships, like three-year relationships, that had broken up. And I think we really... I did, I formulated in my mind what I didn't need in that past relationship, what kind of had gone wrong, and I really believed that it was God leading, too.
John Bradshaw: Yep.
Karen Phillips: You know, it wasn't just me. It was God saying, "This is the person I want for you".
John Bradshaw: Yeah, my dad met my mother; first day, he turned to his best friend... he said, "I'm gonna marry that girl"... first day.
Karen Phillips: Mm-hmm.
John Bradshaw: She turned to her friend and said, "There have to be better than that around here". So I don't know whether he was super persuasive or what, but it worked out for them. And it worked out for you, too. So, you were married how long after you met, did you say?
— We were married for 20 years.
— Yeah, but that courtship, that dating...
— Oh, five months.
— Five months, yeah, not too long. Did anybody tell you, "That's not long"?
— Everybody felt like that was okay?
— We were both in our mid-20s, 26, almost 27.
— Oh, sure. Old enough to be able to make a decision kind of more rapidly.
— You know, we were stable in careers, you know.
— He was an electronic IT guy, you know. I felt that if we had a family, he could support us. You know, I had a career. So, we just felt that we wanted to be together.
— Yeah. So you said you're married for 20 years. We know already that 20 years after you both said "I do," you both said "I don't". But what were those early years like?
— Well, we had four children...
— ...two boys and two girls. So, I had continued working with my first child, but after about six months, I said, "No, I don't wanna work. I wanna be a stay-at-home mom". So I stayed at home. And I was very much the nurturer. He was the provider. And I loved being at home with my children.
— Mmm. What'd you love about it?
— Just the importance of being a mother, just knowing that God had given me these gifts in my life, and they were just so precious.
— And even though there were difficult times, you know, raising children, you always have things that happen unexpectedly.
— But... I really felt that it was my call; my home was my mission.
— Let me ask you about that. So, motherhood is challenging. It's a full-time job. And I think... let me see... yes, I think the most important job... I'm calling it a "job"... on the planet. I don't think there's anything more important. Was it... you mentioned there were difficulties, as there are. But was it...difficult? You know, you hear mothers often saying, "I've gotta get a break from these babies. I need adult stimulation". "I'm going crazy, I've lost my identity". Did you have any of that?
— Well, I'll go back to my career. You know, some women, it's very hard for them to give up their career. And I didn't find that difficult. I wanted to be home...
— ...with my children. You can have very strong-willed children. You can have... I mean, my firstborn, he didn't sleep through the night till he was 2 years old.
— So sometimes you're like a walking zombie.
— That's what I'm talking about. There's just challenges...
— ...with different personalities and trying to know in your heart what is truly the right thing to do.
— Let me ask you this: What would you say to a young mother who's dealing with that kind of thing? This is difficult. And different children, different mothers, what would your advice be? You mentioned having a firstborn who didn't sleep through the night for two years. There are mothers of all ages relating to what you just said. What would your advice be to a young mother who is in the middle of that?
— Lots of prayer.
— You know, go to God for everything, even the tiniest things. Pray about it. Always take time for your devotions, whether you have to get up earlier than the kids do; just make sure you have that special secret time with the Lord. One thing that I would do differently in our home is the kids always try to divide the mom and the dad. If they don't get what they want from the mom, then they go to the dad. I would try to be more respectful of that. Sometimes I could be swayed.
— Oh yeah. When you say "more respectful of that," what do you mean?
— Of just what my husband wanted, you know, what he said, to know that your husband is the priest of the home and that you need to respect... and if you disagree, then you disagree in private.
— I was gonna ask you, what happens when this priest is wrong? Which, undoubtedly, he is sometimes.
— Yeah, then you do more prayer.
— Mm-hmm. But I appreciate what you said. The disagreeing comes in private, right?
— Yeah, there've been times with our children, who are not young anymore, and it would be, "Well, did you ask your mother"? "Yes". "What did she say"? She said X. "Well, what do you expect me to say"? We're together on this.
— And then maybe later on you may have a chat, but yeah.
— So motherhood went well, raising kids with love?
— Yes, yes, I loved it.
— Wonderful. How was your marriage doing?
— I believe our marriage was doing well. There were some issues with jobs, that John went and started his own company. So there was a lot of times when there was no job. And that brought a whole lot of issues.
— And just issues with, you know, sometimes we would have a lot of money, and then sometimes we wouldn't have any money, so it was a lot of emotional ups and downs.
— And I don't talk a lot about those 10 years of, you know, what actually happened during that time because I don't wanna give Satan the glory. You know, I believe that it was Satan that tore us apart. And I just give God the glory for during those 10 years we were separated, how God worked in both of us to bring us back together again.
— But I wanna talk about the dissolution of the marriage a little bit. You were Christians?
— Yes, Adventists.
— ...card carrying...
— ...Bible quoting...
— Even during the 10 years' divorce, we both went to the same church.
— Have mercy. Okay, we've gotta come back to that in a moment. So your faith in God was strong?
— Okay, then. Why do people whose faith is strong experience the breakup of a marriage relationship, given that marriage is one of only two institutions God put into the Garden of Eden? I don't ask this accusatorily, 'cause there are lot of people who love God, but things are falling apart at home. What enables that to happen when you have such strong faith? Can't you just pray and have God take all that away?
— Well, it's interesting. With my husband, when I met him, he was involved with martial arts. So he ran a couple schools. And, you know, he was not a Christian.
— He'd go to church with me; he'd fall asleep. You know, there was nothing there that he wanted. So, for a year's time period, I prayed for him to come to a personal relationship with Jesus. And so one week I saw he came, and he said, "You know, I think when we're in the car, all we should listen to is Christian radio".
— Oh, he said that?
— And I'm like, "Whoa, I can't believe you said that".
— Then the next week it was, "You know, I think that we should start having family devotions together". You know, just week by week there was this strong relationship. The Holy Spirit was working and bringing him, you know, to that point of full surrender. So I believe that your question... the answer to your question is that Satan works hard...
— ...that his main target, especially in these end times, is to divide families.
— And that's where he starts. He divides families; he divides, you know, extended families. Then he goes to the church and tries to divide the church. He is in the business of division. So when he works on somebody's heart and puts circumstances into a marriage that causes conflict... and there were circumstances that I really didn't know how to handle. I was there to take care of my kids. I was a nurturer; I was at home. He was a provider. When the providing stopped, then it caused a lot of issues.
— Issues with you? Resentment, insecurity, instability? Or issues with him? Because it's not a great feeling to be the provider, and there's nothing with which to provide.
— Well, it can almost come down to a faith issue because, you know, he started his own business, so he would get contracts, and when a contract didn't come... I mean, it could be nine months, a year... then he would say, "Just believe. You know, God's gonna give us a contract. Just believe that. You don't have enough faith". So it was kind of an issue of he really believed what he was doing. And here I was trying to take care of our home and our family, and it was very difficult.
— Did you have enough faith, or did you lack faith? How do you see that now looking back?
— That's a tough question. I prayed a lot.
— Maybe the question's immaterial. Maybe it's one that's really difficult to answer because you had what you had at the time and... oh, let me ask you this question. At the time, did you feel like your faith was strong?
— Okay, okay. That's probably all that matters, really. So...things start sliding, and you are watching your marriage go south. How did that impact your faith? Knowing that as a good Christian, you shouldn't be having a marriage go bad. Did that impact your faith and your relationship with God, or were you able to avoid that being impacted?
— I never blamed God. I never thought that this was something that God couldn't handle and that He was causing or anything. I have never blamed God through the whole thing. I believe that He was always there, that He loved me. I just didn't understand how to react. I never thought... my parents were married for 62 years. I mean, I lived in a very loving home. I never thought I would ever go through anything like a divorce, ever. I never thought that would happen to me.
— How did you feel knowing now... there must have been a realization: This is doomed, over. When you were approaching that realization... four kids, Christian husband, Christian home, go to church every week... how'd that affect you? When this realization is becoming clearer and clearer and clearer... it's going to end... how do you feel about that?
— You go into survival mode. And I had been in survival mode trying to keep our family going. You know, it was not... it was financially, but it was also emotionally, mentally, you know, watching what the kids are going through, just...
— And what were the kids going through?
Karen Phillips: Well, and like I said, I don't really like to give Satan any glory for what happened during all this. You know, during my time, well, we'll get into that, but God gave me a verse, Isaiah 43:18 and 19. It said, forget about the past; look to the future. I have something new for you. Can't you see it? Can't you perceive it? So when I give my testimony about this whole time of upheaval in our marriage, I really don't get into the deep details because I don't wanna give Satan that glory. You know, God told me to forget about that. And I thought, well, maybe someday I'll write a book, you know, 'cause in 2003 when I filed for divorce, I started journaling. And I had all these journals about everything. I mean, I had stacks of spiral notebooks that, you know, and I still journal to this day, every day. So I could write a book. But God said to forget about the past. So it's not that you... don't learn from it, but He really does not want me to dwell on those things.
John Bradshaw: Were you condemned? Did you experience condemnation or criticism that your marriage was dissolving? You're in a Christian context. It's not supposed to happen to good Christians. I just throw that out there as a stereotype. How did the community, whether your family or a church community, how did they respond to what you were going through?
Karen Phillips: There was no condemnation, but there also was no help. I was a single parent with four children. And, you know, I pleaded to the elders of the church to, you know, speak to my husband and you know, to counsel with him, and, you know, that we could work things out. They would pray with me, but that's where it ended. There was no help at the church. And some people at the church didn't even know we were divorced.
John Bradshaw: When you say "there was no help"... you mentioned they wouldn't intervene, to speak... is that the extent of what you mean? What might there have been that there wasn't that would've been a help to you?
Karen Phillips: For them to actually go and talk with him and speak with him.
John Bradshaw: They didn't do that?
Karen Phillips: No.
John Bradshaw: The pastor, was the pastor involved?
Karen Phillips: No. No.
John Bradshaw: Pastor did not in any way intervene?
Karen Phillips: No. I had one pastor tell me that originally we should have never been married, even though we were both Christians, that... because we were unequally yoked.
John Bradshaw: Unequally yoked, why?
Karen Phillips: Just because of the circumstances. He had... he did not make any sense to me because I had another pastor that said, "Oh, you're equally yoked, and God wants you to be together, and you should do everything you can to restore that marriage". So I had two pastors telling me two separate, different things.
John Bradshaw: Yeah, very interesting. Did that leave you confused, angry? How'd that leave you?
Karen Phillips: Well, during those 10 years, I was pretty angry. I was pretty...upset about what had happened. I never thought I would go through divorce. I was watching my children suffer a lot of pain because of it. It was a very, very difficult time.
John Bradshaw: Mmm. But what's interesting about it is that God brought this back around. And after a period of separation, he brought the two of you back together. We'll talk about that in just a second. I'm glad you are here for this. She is Karen Phillips, I'm John Bradshaw, and this is our conversation, brought to you by It Is Written.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to "Conversations," brought to you by It Is Written. My guest is Karen Phillips. After 20 years of marriage, you saw it, your marriage, fall apart. When the judge or whomever it was said, "You are divorced-divorced now," was that... what was that moment like?
Karen Phillips: Well, it was kind of a relief for me because I could then do what I needed to do. It was difficult because after 15 years of being a stay-at-home mom, I had to go find a job.
John Bradshaw: With four kids?
Karen Phillips: With four kids. I had legal custody of all four kids. And, you know, I started out as a paraprofessional at a school, an elementary school, making $8.50 an hour. And, you know, I only worked 9:00 to 3:00 when my kids were in school so I could be off with them. But that was not making it; I was not making it. Sometimes we didn't know where our next meal was gonna come from. So, my niece, who was in human resources, a manager, she hired me at her company. And she got me every kind of training that I would've ever wanted to have. And I started out working at that company and then, you know, 16 years in HR, worked up to a very, you know, very good salary and being an HR manager, so, God provided; He provided for us.
John Bradshaw: Yes, He did. Now, you mentioned a moment ago a lack of support. So, there are frequently divorced people in our midst. I'm not talking about the rights and the wrongs of it. God hates divorce, but the ball doesn't always bounce the way you want it to bounce for a variety of reasons. How can... I think I'm really talking about two things, the church or individuals... how can they show support for somebody... whether it's the mother with children or the husband in this situation... how can we show support to people who are going through divorce? It's a very difficult time.
Karen Phillips: Well, I think when you see a mother sitting there crying during a church service, that you should certainly go up to her and love her and tell her you're praying for her. I did have one friend that took my kids for the day on Sabbath, brought them back after Sabbath was over at nighttime, and they all had new shoes on.
John Bradshaw: Oh, nice.
Karen Phillips: My kids needed new shoes, and she, you know, she just got 'em all new shoes. So that was a blessing. Support, just inviting the kids over to their houses to play with their kids. You know, I never... we didn't have that. We had a lot of families that just shunned us for some reason. My kids got isolated. And single parents are very isolated in a church, unless you have a single parent ministry or something like that. But I hear that from a lot of other single parents, especially single dads; they are... they feel like you go to church, you know, and then you go home, and there's nothing else. Nobody invites you over; nobody calls you, say, "How are you doing"? Those types of things.
John Bradshaw: Mm. Mm-mm-mm. Yeah, real challenges. You and your husband got back together, married again. When you were divorced, you got those divorce papers, was there any part of you at that time that wanted to be reconciled to your now ex-husband?
Karen Phillips: Well, before the divorce we had gone through counseling several times. And I had one pastor tell me that, you know, 93% of the people he counsels will get back together again, but he didn't see any hope in our marriage.
John Bradshaw: Oh, wow.
Karen Phillips: So it was just, you know, I just trudged on; I was in survival mode. I had four children to take care of. I needed to provide for them. It was difficult.
— But you didn't think, one day we'll get back together, or you wanted... did you want to get back together at that stage?
— At that stage, I didn't.
— No? So what changed? I mean, you ended up marrying him again. Talk about that journey back.
— When did the light start coming on? What happened?
— In 2013, my son, my youngest son, came into my bedroom, and he said, "Mom", he was the only one still living at home at that time... he said, "Mom, I think that you and dad... I want us to pray that you and dad would get back together again". And he keeps telling me, "Mom, I said pray and fast that you get back together again". And I just, I was so angry at him. I just said, "Rob, I have prayed for him for 10 years. I don't have any prayers left in me. I've just given him to God". But my son, through the Holy Spirit, planted that seed in my mind. So in May... that was April... in May, I sent him an email, and I said, you know, "Is it possible that we could talk, that we could try to get back to counseling, you know, try to restore, you know, get remarried again"? And after a few days he answered, and he says, "No, I just believe that God's taking my life in a different direction right now". So he said no.
— Oh. Yeah.
— So we both went to the same church. And I couldn't go there anymore because I would be in the front, and he would be in the back, and I would just cry.
— All throughout the 10 years you attended the same church. How difficult was that for you?
— I was fine. I was separate from him. I was separated from him. And neither one of us dated anybody during that whole time. My focus was on raising my children. And I believe the Lord kept us from dating to bring us, you know, to keep us together. Now, at the very end, he started bringing another woman to church. And I had a friend that was there and said, "That woman does not belong next to your husband; you do. I'm gonna start praying that God removes her".
— And this is after 10 years of you guys being apart?
— 'Cause she was the only one that I told about my prayer time. So we'll get into that. I was teaching the book of Nehemiah in my women's Bible study. I had a women's Bible study for 12 years every Monday night at our church. And we were studying Nehemiah. The first chapter in Nehemiah is powerful. His prayer there starts out with praise. He praises God for who He is. And then he confesses sins. He takes those sins on, of Israel, as if they were his sins. And then he speaks God's Word back to Him. He starts talking about Moses... "You made this covenant with Moses; You said that if we obey Your laws and we stay away from idolatry, that You will bless us". And then he has the petition of, you know, what he would like the Lord to do. So, I really took all of those lessons. So in May when I got this rejection email, God would wake me up every night, and I couldn't go to sleep. I just absolutely couldn't go to sleep. So I would get up; I got my Bible out. There's an amazing book called "Exalting His Word" by Shelley Quinn, and in the back of it, it has like 150 life scriptures, affirmation scriptures. So I thought, okay, I'm just gonna take a page of these each night, and I'm gonna start writing 'em down, and I'm gonna start speaking God's Word back to Him. And that's when that verse just popped on the page to me, Isaiah 43:18, says, forget about the past; look to the future. I have something new for you. Can't you see it? Can't you perceive it? And I'm going, okay, something new. Does that mean that we get back together? Does that mean I stay single? Or does that mean that he has somebody new for me in my life?
— And you wanted to get back together?
— You know, when God brought that other woman into my husband's life, I believe He did that because it showed me how much I still loved him.
— I would just cry and cry and cry. You know, I was broken. So I spent this journey with the Lord for five months. I call it "my Gethsemane". I'd been through the wilderness for 10 years, and now this was my Gethsemane. And I was claiming those promises that Nehemiah did. So number one, I praised God. I didn't know what He was gonna do, but I was gonna praise Him. Number two is... this is the biggest lesson I learned through the whole thing... was I had to confess my sins. I had prayed for my husband, but I had to pray for me. I had to confess my sins, because that's the key to any type of restoration of any relationship, is confession. God cannot work until sins are confessed. You know, and then I started reciting His Word back to Him...
— ...these life affirmation scriptures every night, just writing 'em down, reading 'em back to Him. And another thing that Nehemiah encountered... first of all, I wanna talk about Nehemiah because I see Christ in Nehemiah. You know, Christ was close to the King. He was in the King's palace. You know, He went to His Father and asked Him to help restore His people, and He left all of that and went to earth, just like Nehemiah left that palace and went to Jerusalem to help his people restore and build up those walls. And they weren't just physical walls that had broken down. They were spiritual walls. And those spiritual walls had to be rebuilt. But Nehemiah encountered opposition. Satan was gonna attack.
— Oh yeah.
— And I knew, just like Nehemiah... I didn't tell anybody about what I was praying for, except my one friend at church, 'cause I knew she was a prayer warrior. I didn't tell my family; I didn't tell anybody. I just spilled it all out to God and said, "God, I need You to help me". So, time went on, and my friend said, "He's not bringing this woman to church anymore", 'cause I was going to church in Lincoln. I drove an hour away 'cause I could not sit in my church. I was just too distraught. So I came back to church. And this was the first part of September, in September. And I walked to the back of the church, where he was, and I said, "Do you think we could talk"? And so... he said, "Sure, come over to my apartment on Tuesday. So I went over to his apartment and knocked on the door, and he opened it. And the first thing he said to me was, I think we should forget about the past". It was the same thing that the Lord had given me.
— What brought that on?
— Well, the Lord working in him. You know, a lot... during those 10 years he became very much service- and ministry-oriented, and, you know, worked at the Open Door Mission; you know, he was doing Bible studies. He was just becoming more fully involved in God's hands and in God's work and that was changing him. Because I would've never went back to what I had left. Those 10 years, God did a mighty work in both of us.
— So your ex-husband says, "I think we should forget about the past," and did you have to pick yourself off the ground after he said that? How did that hit you?
— I was just like, "Wow, this is God". So we saw each other every day. And I wanna tell you, John, it was like God made us brand new again. It was like we first met. All of that stuff was gone. We fell in love again. After two and a half weeks, we decided that we wanted to get remarried.
— After two and a half weeks?
— And we thought, "This is crazy. Our family's gonna"... and our kids, they thought we were crazy.
— Oh yeah.
— They thought we were crazy. And so we got down on our knees that night. 'Cause we... his apartment lease was gonna be up November 1st, and so we looked at the calendar, we thought, okay, December... November 30th... so, "December 1st, we should get remarried". He can come and live... I had bought a house. He could come and live in the house with me. And so we got down, and we prayed about it: "God, is this Your will"? I got up the next morning, and God spoke to me, clearly. He said, "I want you to count the number of days when you first started talking at his apartment door to when you wanna get remarried". So I went and I found a calendar, and I'm counting the days. It was 52 days, the same number of days it took them to rebuild the walls in Jerusalem.
— Oh, that's really interesting, isn't it?
— That was my answer.
— I knew that it was from God. And we got remarried, and I have never looked back.
— Now, so the two of you getting together; there's been a lot of water pass under the bridge. Were there conversations like, "Hey, now, remember that time..."? or, "I've got a bone to pick with you," or, "I feel really badly about" X, Y, Z?
— No, we forgot about the past.
— Okay, okay.
— We left the past.
— There was no attempt to resolve... "You remember that night you threw the plate and said that awful thing to me"? There was never "let's go back there and clear that away"? It was just gone?
— So I had to leave John with God. You know, John has his own story. He has his own journey of what he went through. And I just know what God had laid upon my heart. I know my oldest son cornered me one time and he said, "Mom, are you sure about this? I just want you to be happy". I said, "It's not about being happy. It's about doing what God wants me to do". And the way I looked at it was through the lens of the cross...
— ...because I'm a sinner. I disappoint Jesus every single day. And He went to that cross for me, and He died, and He loves me unconditionally. Why can I not give that grace to my husband?
— A lot of people would find it...surprising that there wasn't... after apartheid in South Africa, they had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. People could show up in court and tell their story, no judgment, no nothing, but it was getting it out, and getting it out was healthy, and it helped to take care of the past and move on. You didn't have your own Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the restoration of your marriage?
— My journal was my...
— So that was it?
— Yeah. So there was no need...
— I just gave it all to God.
— So there was no need for you to go back and go, "I remember it was the 14th of August, and you said X, and it's bothered me ever since"?
Karen Phillips: No, all of that was gone.
John Bradshaw: Somehow it was...
Karen Phillips: All of it was gone. God just took it from me.
John Bradshaw: That's miraculous, miraculous.
Karen Phillips: Yes. He's a miracle-working God.
John Bradshaw: Oh yeah.
Karen Phillips: You know, and He can restore relationships. And whether it's a wife and a husband, or whether it's a parent and a child, or whether it's two friends, or even if it's your relationship with Jesus, He can give you total restoration.
John Bradshaw: Did anything about what God did surprise you? Maybe you were surprised when you walked in the door of his apartment and he said what he said, but how much of this shocked you? Was there a time you said, "I didn't think it would work out quite like this".
Karen Phillips: No. I was just surprised about how much we both truly loved each other again. You know, like I said, we both had our own stories, and he had his own reasons, and I had my reasons, and... I truly believe that God brought us back together again to complete His end-time ministry, and there was a purpose for us to be back together again, not only to do ministry together but to glorify God and to tell people and give people hope that God can restore. Now, I tell some of my friends... and they've been through divorces, and their exes have remarried, and, you know, it's just an impossibility that that first marriage is gonna be restored. But God is gonna restore that person.
John Bradshaw: Sure.
Karen Phillips: I tell them, "You have hope, because God knows exactly what you need, and whether you remarry again or not, whether that was a mistake on your part or a mistake on his part, God is still the God of restoration".
John Bradshaw: Do you ever look back towards... the first go-round with any regret? Do you ever look back and say, "You know, if the two of us had handled it like this, we could have saved ourselves a lot of heartache"?
Karen Phillips: I do. I... like, we talked a little bit about not always supporting the other spouse... you know, I wish I would've done that. Things were happening. And if you talk badly about the father to the children, then they're absorbing those things, and, you know, I did not do things perfectly. And that's what I had to confess. I mean, I had to tell God that part, a lot of this is me too. You know, I didn't think it was me. You just wanna blame the other person for everything. But there were things that I had to own. And yes, there's regret. I think, on every parent's part, you look back and you wish that you could have done something a little differently.
John Bradshaw: Yeah, no doubt. Well, life has taken on some interesting shades since you were remarried, and today you work in a health ministry. You mentioned earlier you've left Nebraska, where you were; you've moved to rural Kentucky, and we'll talk about some of that in just a moment. With Karen Phillips, I'm John Bradshaw. This is our conversation, brought to you by It Is Written.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to "Conversations," brought to you by It Is Written. My guest is Karen Phillips. Karen, what do you say to a... well, I was gonna say a young woman... might be a young man whose marriage is falling apart. They're looking into the future. Their hopes and their dreams are disappearing before their very eyes. The castles that they've built in the air don't exist anymore. The future now looks very uncertain. If you were to lean into that situation and speak to someone going through that, where would you begin? How would you encourage them, or what would you advise?
Karen Phillips: Well, always to seek the Lord, you know, be in prayer. You know, I prayed a lot, too, but you have to realize that that other person has their own choice to make. So you pray for that other person. But, you know, even with perfect parents... God's a perfect parent; Adam and Eve sinned. Their children, you know, one of their children killed one of their other children. So, you can't always orchestrate circumstances the way you want them to.
John Bradshaw: It's important to know that, isn't it?
Karen Phillips: Yes. And sometimes you have to go through those wilderness experiences in order to be taught. It's character development. God is trying to reform us to be able to have the character that we need to be in heaven with Him. So, there's always hope. You know, God is always there. He never leaves you. If you're in dire straits, you know, God will send people to help you. I believe that. He did when I needed help. It was outside the church, but He brought, you know, He brought people in to help me. He sees everything. He knows everything. He can change people's minds if those minds will allow Him to do that. So you just continue praying and not giving up hope. And you keep it as a holy secret between you and the Lord, that it's not something that you just put on display and blurt out to everybody. You know, it needs to be a, you know, a conversation with God that isn't always shared with everybody because it's so personal. And you don't wanna badmouth that other person. You know, that's one great lesson that I've learned. It's easy to do. Hurt people hurt people.
John Bradshaw: Sure.
Karen Phillips: And you're gonna hurt the people that are closest to you. So you want... it almost makes you feel better if you can put that hurt on somebody else. But you have to own that hurt. And you have to give that hurt to God and ask Him to show you, to have the mind of Christ. "Give me Your mind about this whole situation, Lord. Help me see it through Your eyes".
John Bradshaw: It sounds to me... you haven't said this... but to sum up what you have said, it sounds to me like the church let you down. The church cannot be all things to all people. Sometimes we don't have the funding or the expertise or the whatever. But a church can... the easiest thing in the world is to come alongside a hurting person and say, "We care". How did you process this... absence of care on the part of the church?
Karen Phillips: I shut down.
John Bradshaw: Tell me about that.
Karen Phillips: You just close yourself, and especially when you're in survival mode. You're just surviving. You know, and I've realized through these past years that I have...I've become a lot more task orientated instead of relationship oriented. And I will busy myself with tasks, as opposed to sitting down and, you know, really discussing something with somebody. I do better one on one, but in a group, like at church, I see myself not sitting at the table where everybody's talking about things; I'm up doing things. So it really shut me down. And I'm praying to God about that, to open that up in me again, that I can be more relationship oriented, more compassionate. It takes your compassion away.
John Bradshaw: It's interesting that you recognize that. So you're almost recovering from that still, even after all these many years. You've been married again for how many years?
Karen Phillips: Ten... well, it'll be 10 years December 1st. And I really... I mean, that's almost like a jubilee year for us because Satan stole those 10 years from us, and now we're gonna have this 10 years of restoration on December 1st.
John Bradshaw: Yeah, fantastic.
Karen Phillips: Yeah.
John Bradshaw: You're very involved in ministry now. You traveled to Kentucky from Nebraska to get involved in ministry. That's a leap. How did that come about?
Karen Phillips: Well, our son, our youngest son was working for Red River Outpost, which is in Stanton, Kentucky, and he was a farm manager there. So we would travel every year to go see him and go to the camp meetings and just fell in love. You know, we're 15 minutes from the Red River Gorge. It's an absolute beautiful area., a lot different than Nebraska.
— Yes, it is.
— I'm a flatlands girl.
— There are such things?
— Yeah, I...
— ...oh man...
— You can be a flatlands girl?
— I was plains all the way.
— How in the world?
— You know, you can see 200 miles into the sunset...
— Ah, that's true, yeah.
— ...so... your mind... my mind, at least, had to go through an adjustment to go through those Kentucky roads, and it's like, "Oh, I'm just gonna close my eyes; I can't". You know, but it is adjusting. I'm getting used to going on those hikes and different things.
— But...so he was involved with Red River Outpost. And I went to a camp meeting a couple years ago, and they said they needed an HR person. I've done HR for 16 years. So I went to the director, to Narlon Edwards, and I said, "You know, I can do HR". So we were still living in Omaha, and I did a lot of the work on job descriptions and employee manuals and all that stuff remotely. And then we had been praying about, you know, leaving the city. And it just seemed logical that... and we had left, we left Omaha in January of 2022.
— And no disrespect, that sounds like a really good time to leave.
— It was 10 degrees.
— Think the wind chill was 10 below.
— No doubt.
— ...But everything we owned, we fit into an 18-foot pod. I've spent a couple years just praying to the Lord, "Okay"... 'cause I started packing before I knew where we were gonna move. I just started. I thought, I know God's gonna move us somewhere. So I just started packing. And so I would ask God, "Okay, what do You want me to keep? What do You want me to get rid of"? So everything we owned fit into this 18-foot pod. And we moved, and we stayed at Red River for three weeks and didn't know where we were gonna move to. We didn't have a house or rent anything. We found one place in Winchester, which is about a half-hour, 40 minutes from the lifestyle center, and that's where we moved, into our townhouse. And then six months later, we moved, again, with our son to a rental house in Stanton. So, that's where we are right now. And we run our ministry out of one of our bedrooms. It's called HeReturns.org.
— Yeah, tell us about that. What do you do?
— My husband started it with two other guys from the church in 2011. And they wanted to do what the church was failing to do. They wanted to do the impossible.
— What's that?
— To reach people all over the world. And so...
— You say the church is failing in that?
— The church is... our church in Omaha was not doing...
— I see.
— ...any type of mission work.
— Oh, wow.
— So, we...he started that. And he was also doing a nursing home ministry. So I joined him; he did that for 15 years. Every Sunday we would go to a nursing home in Omaha, and we would... I would do the song service, and he would do the New Beginnings Bible study for 15 years. So, that was part of the ministry. But it has evolved. It started out in media with trying to download 3ABN to some large cities like Kansas City and Denver. But God expanded us into publishing ministry in Africa. So we have a publishing director, Russell Thomas, and he goes over to Africa. He was a missionary there in Tanzania with his wife Beats for 12 years. And he grew up in Korea. His father was the publishing director in South Korea when he was a little boy. So he has this in his blood. So we go all over the United States to buy equipment to help these publishing houses get new equipment, get started because their equipment's so old it's broken down. Their Bible workers were quitting.
— They didn't have any materials, and they were so expensive to import in from Germany. So these huge machines, one of our machines that we sent over, it took four containers to fit one machine in. And I don't know anything, any of the technical things about the slicers and dicers and printers and, you know, all the things that we send over. But...then we work with the conferences and the publishing house directors, and we develop a five-year plan to help them get on their feet and help them to have goals. And HeReturns is on their board, so they're accountable. Well, they're accountable for what they do and how they spend that money. And we also partner with Light Bearer ministries and train them to fish in the D.R. of Congo, and we have helped with their medical clinics. We have also sent containers of literature over to them, millions of pieces of literature to go to Congo, and their Bible workers are handing out millions of pieces of literature.
— So it's really exciting. We're actually in 15 different countries... Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, I know I've forgotten some.
— Only nine, that's six so far, but we get the idea.
— And then we're in Mexico and Guatemala...
— ...and, you know, Cuba. We've helped with sending Bibles to Cuba and just, you know, all over...
— ...building churches, building Bible worker houses, supporting pastors. It's a real blessing. And my husband does most of it, but I tell them I feed the missionary. I keep him well and keep him healthy and going. But I'm really into vegan cooking, and I wanna have some cooking classes in my home. I've done one at the extension office right there in Stanton talking about the eight laws of health. And so God just keeps opening up ways for us to serve, if we're willing to serve Him.
— So your marriage was well and truly down the drain. You had this desire...grow within you that God would bring you back together. Did you... I'll ask the second question or the first question first: What did you think that might look like? God brings us back together, and we will... we'll do what?
— I didn't know. I mean, just to get to the point where God would bring us back together...
— ...seemed an impossibility.
— Sure. Well, the reason I ask is because what would it have taken to enable you to think, God won't only bring us back together after a decade, but together we would end up in global ministry...
— ...taking the gospel to people all around the planet. That seems like way too much to entertain or to dream of. That's... now, we're talking impossibilities.
— It's a God thing, you know, and I give Him all the glory. It was not me. You know, it's God taking our lives, and we are willing now to let Him use us for His purposes. And, you know, you ask my husband... it's all about saving souls.
— It's all about ministry. It's, you know, nothing else is important at this point in time because time is short. And, you know, we really need to help people understand who Jesus is. And that's why, you know, I tell God, "I will give my testimony wherever You have me give my testimony because I want people to know how powerful You are".
— And I want people to know that they can be used by God, even if it's in small little ways. You know, I just started writing about my story. You know, I write for the Adventist women's devotionals, so I wrote a little devotional. I just started writing and telling and giving it in churches and just, you know, wherever... I just told God, "Wherever I can give hope and tell about how powerful and mighty You are, that's what I wanna do". And when you give yourself to God like that, He will use you. He needs people like that.
— You mentioned before a church, which we won't name again, that you felt was not really involved in mission and ministry. What in the world is going on when a church isn't fulfilling the very purpose for which it was raised up? How did we get to that place, and what do we do about churches that are cumbering the ground?
— There are many churches that are just maintaining the fortress.
— It's not good.
— You know, they want people to come in, come to them, and, "We'll tell you everything that's right and true". That's not Christ's method alone; Christ's method alone is going out. That's why we started at the nursing home ministry, was we wanted to go out and be with those people that may not ever hear that message. You know, we started HeReturns so that, you know, we can do more of that outreach and send more literature and equip the people in these other countries to be able to tell their people about God in their way, you know, and in their language. It's a very, it's huge crisis because...
— It's interesting you use those words "it's a huge crisis". I would agree with you. I think if there's one church that's not active in outreach and mission and ministry, that's a crisis. But...there's more than one.
— They're too self-focused. And we've lost even our Mission Spotlight; many churches don't even show that anymore. There's never missionaries coming in to talk about their experiences. You know, we had a missionary come in to preach a sermon at our church, and the pastor told him that he couldn't preach about missions.
— He could only preach about God's Word. He couldn't preach about missions.
— Missions is God's Word. "Go ye therefore and teach all the nations".
— He told him that.
— The Word is missions. If you take missions out, there's no Word.
— So anyway, there are churches out there that are so self-focused, and they think that they have to have all these programs within their church. But the Christ's method is to go out and to tell people.
— That's why I... and whether you're going out physically... you can go out like I do with my writing. You know, you can reach people through writing articles. You can reach people through song. You know, we have music ministry with our HeReturns. You can reach people through cooking classes and the health message. There's a whole lot of different ways to reach people.
— It occurs to me that when your marriage was reborn, you were reborn.
— Yes, absolutely.
— What do you say to somebody who's in a rut, and they want to have a vibrant Christian experience and outreach-focused mission experience? Perhaps they wanna find a ministry. That looks very different for different people, but they wanna find their, some kind of calling to get busy for God. How would you advise? Because that's what God has done in your life. What would you say to somebody who's saying, "I just am tired of treading water; I'd like to walk on water"?
— I'd give God that rut. You know, you have to give Him the rut. You have to give Him all those pieces inside of you that are broken, that are darkened, that are deep. Some people carry a lot of unresolved bitterness, so you have to give Him... you know, I had a lot of bitterness through those 10 years.
— I had to give that to the Lord. And through that, if God wakes you up in the middle of the night, then get up and be with Him, say, "Okay, Lord, what do You want me to read? What do You want me to pray? How do You want me to think"? You know, that's my advice, would be just really, really give it to the Lord.
— Karen, it's an incredible story. And not just that God brought your marriage back together, which is incredible enough, I can't downplay that. It's remarkable.
— It doesn't happen very often.
— No. And then what God has done with what He brought back together.
— It's a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it. I wish you the very, very best and hope that lots of people will not just hear, but that you'll have the opportunity to continue to write and speak and send literature and do great things because God is certainly doing a wonderful work through you and your ministry, you and your husband's combined ministry.
— Yes, praise the Lord.
— Thanks for being here.
— Thank you so much.
— Thank you. And thank you, thanks for joining us. She is Karen Phillips, I'm John Bradshaw, and this has been our conversation.