Newsletter

Weathering Life's Storms

Photo of Dr. Dobson

Dear Friend,

Thank you for the opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Michael Tomlinson, and I work closely with Dr. James Dobson at Family Talk as part of the team responsible for communications and family resource development. Like many of you, I first became aware of Dr. Dobson’s work by listening to his radio broadcast in the early 1980s.

As the eldest of five children, I remember my mother tuning in to the good doctor for solid advice on managing her wily brood (as we fought and bickered while riding without seat belts, of course, in the rear-facing seat of the family’s mammoth station wagon). She gained valuable perspective from Dr. Dobson and was better prepared to face the many storms that our family encountered over the years, including sickness, loss of employment, death, and divorce.

When I became a husband and father myself, Dr. Dobson was the trusted guide I sought to help my marriage and family thrive. Several years ago, in a flight for quality of our family life, my wife Kelly, our three boys and I moved to central Colorado, and an opportunity to serve families with Dr. Dobson came to fruition. When he launched his new ministry, I couldn’t wait to be a part of it. Truly, it has been an amazing experience. With sons that are now 8, 10, and 18 years old, the chance to study and be mentored by the expert is a tremendous blessing.

Observing Dr. Dobson at work and the impact of both his clinical expertise and practical experience has been inspiring. However, it is the heart, compassion, and integrity of the man himself that has been most life-changing. Ours is a second generation “Dr. James Dobson-trained” family, and I thank our Heavenly Father that He has anointed him to continue his critical work to support families in this hour of great need.

The Lord works in mysterious ways. It’s probably no surprise to you that as a ministry we work for months in advance to develop the topical themes and resources that are made available for families to help strengthen marriages, support parents, preserve life, and encourage one’s walk with Jesus Christ. For the month of October at Family Talk, our theme is “Weathering Life’s Storms.” Of course we had no idea that our fearless leader would be literally thrown directly into such a situation just a few short weeks before this letter was written.

While enjoying fellowship with friends in Montana, and attempting to take a break from the incredible pace of the ministry this year, Dr. Dobson suffered serious injuries while horseback riding.

Mrs. Shirley Dobson recently provided an update on Dr. Dobson’s health and recovery:
"As you know, my husband had an accident while riding a horse in Montana. He fell off and incurred fractures to his clavicle, scapula, and broke several ribs. After being stabilized in a local hospital he was airlifted to a medical facility in Colorado Springs. Although he is in significant pain, the orthopedist said surgery is not necessary. Today, he is not in a life-threatening situation, for which we are very grateful.

Jim is a very active person, and it is hard to keep him down, although, I don't think he will be riding horses in the near future. We are moving through this stressful time with the Lord's grace and loving care." Shirley Dobson

One significant point of praise is that the fractured bones in Dr. Dobson’s chest, sides and back were not displaced, which would surely require surgery and both complicate and delay the healing process.

While trying to rest and preparing to embark in a rigorous rehabilitation program, Dr. Dobson personally added,

“I would like to sincerely thank everyone for their thoughts, well wishes, and prayers in this challenging time for the entire Dobson family, and Family Talk. Your support is encouraging, and I look forward to returning to the broadcast studio and ministry soon. In the interim, while I cannot physically write this month (Dr. Dobson’s entire right arm and side are immobilized), I would like to share a portion of a letter I wrote previously, that is as timely and important today as then, if not more so. It deals with the crucial role that marriage plays in this human journey. Shirley and I just celebrated our 51st anniversary, and I suppose that is why my thoughts turned to this subject as the topic for this letter. I thank God for giving this wonderful woman to me. The letter appears below.”

Dr. Dobson expects to be back on campus at Family Talk in a few short weeks and on-air with the broadcast team providing new and original Family Talk with Dr. James Dobson programming to be heard coast-to-coast and worldwide on the web.

One of the greatest storms any family can experience is the breakdown of a marriage. In this month’s letter, Dr. Dobson refutes our culture’s casual acceptance of the death and burial of a family’s most fundamental institution via divorce when the clouds roll in, when love turns cool, and lightning threatens to strike.

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Who can comprehend this mysterious bonding that enables a man and a woman to withstand the many storms of life and remain best friends for the rest of their lives together? This phenomenon is so remarkable that the Apostle Paul chose it to symbolize the unfathomable bond of love between Jesus Christ and his bride, the Church.

Too many of today's marriages end on a less inspirational note. Over decades I've seen an escalation in these wounded, dying relationships, and I've witnessed anew the agony that divorce inflicts on its victims. Everyone loses when a marriage turns sour.

I came across a secular book that expressed the pain associated with divorce more dramatically than anything I've read. It is entitled DEATH OF A MARRIAGE, by Pat Conroy. I've obtained permission to quote a short passage from this book in hopes of helping someone who is contemplating a divorce. If you are such a person, and you've been asking the Lord for guidance, perhaps this is His answer. If you know someone who is considering that decision, you might send them a copy of this letter. Urge them to beware! There is even greater pain down that well-trodden road, as Mr. Conroy states so eloquently:

Each divorce is the death of a small civilization. Two people declare war on each other, and their screams and tears infect their entire world with the bacilli of their pain. The greatest comes from the wound where love once issued forth.

I find it hard to believe how many people now get divorced, how many submit to such extraordinary pain. For there are no clean divorces. Divorces should be conducted in surgical wards. In my own case, I think it would have been easier if Barbara had died. I would have been gallant at her funeral and shed real tears - far easier than staring across a table, telling each other it was over.

It was a killing thing to look at the mother of my children and know that we would not be together for the rest of our lives. It was terrifying to say goodbye, to reject a part of my own history.

When I went through my divorce I saw it as a country, and it was treeless, airless; there were no furloughs and no holidays. I entered without passport, without directions and absolutely alone. Insanity and hopelessness grew in that land like vast orchards of malignant fruit. I do not know the precise day that I arrived in that country. Nor am I certain that you can ever renounce your citizenship there.

Each divorce has its own metaphors that grow out of the dying marriage. One man was inordinately proud of his aquarium. He left his wife two weeks after the birth of their son. What visitors noticed next was that she was not taking care of the aquarium. The fish began dying. The two endings became linked in my mind.

For a long time I could not discover my own metaphor of loss - until the death of our dog, Beau, became the irrefutable message that Barbara and I were finished.

Beau was a feisty, crotchety dachshund Barbara had owned when we married. It took a year of pained toleration for us to form our alliance. But Beau had one of those illuminating inner lives that only lovers of dogs can understand. He had a genius for companionship. To be licked by Beau when you awoke in the morning was a fine thing.

On one of the first days of our separation, when I went to the house to get some clothes, my youngest daughter, Megan, ran out to tell me that Beau had been hit by a car and taken to the animal clinic. I raced there and found Ruth Tyree, Beau's veterinarian. She carried Beau in to see me and laid him on the examining table.

I had not cried during the terrible breaking away from Barbara. I had told her I was angry at my inability to cry. Now I came apart completely. It was not weeping; it was screaming; it was despair.

The car had crushed Beau's spine, the X-ray showing irreparable damage. Beau looked up at me while Dr. Tyree handed me a piece of paper, saying that she needed my signature to put Beau to sleep.

I could not write my name because I could not see the paper. I leaned against the examining table and cried as I had never cried in my life, crying not just for Beau but for Barbara, the children, myself, for the death of a marriage, for inconsolable loss. Dr. Tyree touched me gently, and I heard her crying about me. And Beau, in the last grand gesture of his life, dragged himself the length of the table on his two good legs and began licking the tears as they ran down my face.

I had lost my dog and found my metaphor. In the X-ray of my dog's crushed spine, I was looking at a portrait of my broken marriage.

But there are no metaphors powerful enough to describe the moment when you tell the children about divorce. Divorces without children are minor-league divorces. To look into the eyes of your children and to tell them that you are mutilating their family and changing all their tomorrows is an act of desperate courage that I never want to repeat. It is also their parents' last act of solidarity and the absolute sign that the marriage is over. It felt as though I had doused my entire family with gasoline and struck a match.

The three girls entered the room and would not look at me or Barbara. Their faces, all dark wings and grief and human hurt, told me that they already knew. My betrayal of these young, sweet girls filled the room.

They wrote me notes of farewell, since it was I who was moving out. When I read them, I did not see how I could ever survive such excruciating pain. The notes said, "I love you, Daddy. I will visit you." For months I would dream of visiting my three daughters locked in a mental hospital. The fear of damaged children was my most crippling obsession.

For a year, I walked around feeling as if I had undergone a lobotomy. There were records I could not listen to because of their association with Barbara, poems I could not read from books I could not pick up. There is a restaurant I will never return to because it was the scene of an angry argument between us. It was a year when memory was an acid.

I began to develop the odd habits of the very lonely. I turned the stereo on as soon as I entered my apartment. I drank to the point of not caring. I cooked elaborate meals for myself, then could not eat them.

I had entered into the dark country of divorce, and for a year I was one of its ruined citizens. I suffered. I survived. I studied myself on the edge, and introduced myself to the stranger who lived within.

Barbara and I had one success in our divorce, and it is an extraordinarily rare one. As the residue of anger and hurt subsided with time, we remained friends. We saw each other for lunch occasionally, and I met her boyfriend, Tom.

Once, when I was leaving a party, I looked back and saw Barbara and Tom holding hands. They looked very happy together, and it was painful to recognize it. I wanted to go back and say something to Tom, but I mostly wanted to say it to Barbara. I wanted to say that I admired Tom's taste in women.1

Reading these powerful words helps explain why Family Talk is so thoroughly committed to the concept of lifelong marriage. That's the way it was intended by the Creator when He laid out the blueprint for the family. Of course, we must acknowledge that divorces do occur and many of my readers have undoubtedly gone through this tragic experience already. In those cases, we must do all we can to care for them, to pray with them and help them deal with the pain that Conroy graphically illustrated.

If we can prevent even one unnecessary dissolution from occurring, with its terrible implications for three or more generations, we will have fulfilled one of the critical purposes for which this ministry was ordained.

Thank you for making it possible through your contributions for us to reach out to families in crisis. We will continue to offer our meager fishes and loaves to those who seek our help as long as you stand with us. And speaking of support, your gifts would be especially welcomed as we continue to equip the Family Talk ministry to respond to the escalating needs of families as they weather life’s storms. Coming off a slow summer season, contributions trail current expenses. That's probably not new news, but it is my duty merely to remind you of our financial situation.

Meanwhile, I urge those of you who are married to cling tightly to one another! The culture in which we live is hostile to marriage and the family. If you don't "water" and maintain your relationship, it will slowly wither and die. That is a preventable tragedy if there ever was one.

Sincerely in Christ,

James C. Dobson, Ph.D.
Founder and President
Family Talk

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Over the past 18 months, we have weathered many storms as a ministry too. From starting a brand new organization from scratch (on a shoestring), to the growing pains of trying to keep up with the needs for help and advice, to the challenge of letting the world know that Dr. Dobson is still broadcasting, still writing books, and still completely dedicated to helping families – the road travelled has been a difficult one.

We, like you, are entirely reliant upon the Lord, and simply cannot go it alone. We have been firmly rooted in prayer, seeking His will for both the ministry and our own lives. Family Talk also depends on you, the community of like-minded, family-oriented Christians for prayer and financial support.

Will you join Dr. Dobson in providing shelter for families from the storms of life that would erode their foundation and wash them away?

As Dr. Dobson nurses his injuries and begins rehabilitation, many friends have asked, “how can I help?” Providing a generous donation to Family Talk this month is a concrete and valuable way to support the ministry, the cause, and Dr. Dobson’s efforts in his divine calling.

"But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year, you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.” 2 Corinthians 8:11-14

The wonderful truth is that each storm will pass. We will bond together, arm-in-arm resolutely continuing our God-breathed mission, seeking to grow in capacity and remain an important family resource for generations to come. Together, and only by our mutual labor and investment in this Kingdom work, we will prevail in navigating through the river of culture and emerge with our values intact and our families thriving.

When Dr. Dobson addresses us each month with a salutation of “Dear Friends,” I can tell you, he means that genuinely. What a blessing friendship is!

“... I have called you friends, for all the things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15

It is a pleasure to serve alongside our friend, Dr. James Dobson, and to labor for a great harvest of healthy, happy, and grounded marriages and families with you.

Michael Tomlinson
Integrated Marketing and Communications
Family Talk

ENDNOTE:

1. Pat Conroy is currently working on The Death of Santini, a family memoir about his relationship with his abusive father and their final reconciliation.

This letter may be reproduced without change and in its entirety for non-commercial and non-political purposes without prior permission from Family Talk. Copyright © 2011 Family Talk. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. Printed in the U.S.A.