God does some of His best work in the deep. Suzanne Phillips is joining me on the podcast today and she’s sharing her story of the fatal diagnosis of her son in utero, how that lead to an abortion, and how she walked through those deep waters. Precious Mom, God is at work and He’s going to bring something good out of the pain—because that’s what God does. Listen in, and be encouraged!
Transcribed version of the podcast is below
Today’s Scripture Writing Challenge Verse
- Joel 2:25
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Suzanne Phillips is a storyteller with a desire for connection, a teacher with a heart for life transformation and a visionary with a commitment to the family and discipleship. A radical conversion to Christianity followed a three-year season of loss setting Suzanne on a pursuit of truth. The revelation that Truth is a person rather than an idea initiated a new-found freedom and a desire to share the hope of that freedom with anyone who would listen.
Suzanne, along with her husband Lane and Dr. Kathy Koch of Celebrate Kids, is a co-founder Ignite the Family with a mission to encourage, educate and equip parents to live out God’s design for family. In addition, Suzanne is the co-founder of Legacy Community Academy, a k-12 leadership academy partnering with the family to develop servant leaders through intentional education.
She is wife to Lane, mama to Ansley, Ward, and Lilly and mom – in – love to Will. At any given time, you will find Suzanne with a book in her hand, people at her table, an idea on her mind, and family in her heart. She is motivated by seeing others live out their unique calling and is passionate about the role of both family and education in leading the next generation to do so.
Connect with Suzanne Phillips: Website
Hey everybody. This is Heidi St. John. Welcome to the podcast. Today is Friday, January 31st. This is episode number 879, and it is meet my friend Friday. And I’m so excited today because I have a lady on the podcast who’s never been here before. Suzanne Phillips is going to encourage you and we’re going to talk about how we can encourage our family. Stick around, I think you’re going to be encouraged.
So you guys know that it is the 31st of January, which means that at MomStrong International, we are getting ready to launch a brand new Bible study. The Bible studies at MomStrong come out every first Monday of the month, meaning that this one will start on Monday the 3rd. And we’re going to be studying Chesed: the Lovingkindness of God all throughout the month of February.
This is a great time for you to jump in with both feet and really dig in deep to the rich soil of God’s Word with us. Also starting tomorrow, the scripture writing challenge starts. On the first of every month, we do a brand new Scripture Writing Challenge. It will correspond with the Bible study. And so if you’ve got children at home who you’re wanting to maybe practice their handwriting and you definitely know that you want them to know God’s Word, this is a way to do both of those things.
It’s completely free and you can join at momstronginternational.com. That’ll get you the Scripture Writing Challenge. And then if you want to do a deep dive with us, we invite you to join the Bible sStudy and there’s also a component in there called KidStrong, and we’re going to help you teach what you’re learning to your children. So check it out momstronginternational.com.
Also want to let you guys know I am going to be bringing my women’s conference, Faith That Speaks to Lakeland, Florida coming up on the 21st of February. We are very excited. This weekend is the very last weekend that you guys can get in on the early bird registration special. So you can go to heidistjohn.com/events. My friend Elizabeth Johnston, The Activist Mommy, and Kathy Barnett who is a contributor at Fox News, are going to be joining me out on the road this year. And you can meet them for the very first time in Lakeland. So check it out.
We’re really excited about what God is doing and have a heart to encourage you that our faith really should be a Faith That Speaks. God doesn’t mean for our faith to be hid under a bushel. He means for it to shine for the world to see. And so what does that look like? One of the reasons I love meet my friend Friday, which is today at the podcast, is because I get an opportunity to allow other voices to come onto my platform and encourage you. And today’s no exception.
Suzanne Phillips is on with me today. She’s a storyteller and she has a desire for connection, and I think you guys are really going to see that in her today as we talk a little bit together. She’s been married to her husband for 27 years. They have three children ages 17 to 22. So, she’s been doing this mommy thing for a while, and I know you guys are going to be encouraged. Suzanne, welcome to the podcast.
[Suzanne] Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here today.
[Heidi] So I found out about you from, we have a mutual friend Kathy Koch, and she works with you. And you guys together have … you guys are doing some amazing kingdom things, not the least of which lately has been Ignite the Family. And so can you tell listeners a little bit about that?
[Suzanne] Absolutely. Kathy and I about two years ago acquired a ministry that had previously been called Hearts at Home. It was a ministry to moms that was 24 years old, and it was about to dissolve. Kathy and I had actually met at that ministry as she was keynoting that year. I listened to her, completely resonated with everything that she was teaching and saying.
Her husband and I and three other people had just started a new school here in the Atlanta Metro area, and everything that Kathy was speaking resonated with what God had put on our heart for the families of the school. And so, I introduced myself and we’re kindred spirits, kind of formed a relationship over the course of the years and had really been talking about how to reach parents together. And talking about doing something together for about three years.
And when this opportunity kind of presented itself to maybe step in and help with the ministry that had been struggling, Kathy reached out and we decided that we would move forward and rebranded last year as Ignite the Family. And our passion is really to encourage, educate, and equip families to live out God’s design for their family.
We really want to awaken a movement of parents to lead their families with both an eternal perspective but also a generational perspective. And so, we relaunched last March and you’ll be joining us at a conference this March.
[Heidi] Yeah, I’m really excited. That’s coming up in Peoria, right?
[Suzanne] It is.
[Heidi] You got two conferences coming up. But tell us a little bit about what you’ve got going on. Because I’m a huge fan. I feel like the internet, Kathy and I were just talking about this last year for all of “social media” has really made us less social. And so, I think we kind of start to think that we can get everything that we need online.
If you don’t know how to do something, you can watch a YouTube video. If you need some encouragement, you can get on a Facebook live or talk to somebody online. But there really is something powerful about being together in one place, which is why I love conferences so much. And so, can you talk to the mom who’s listening going, “I don’t know. Should I really make the effort to come out of my home when I could just read a book?” Why should somebody come to a conference?
[Suzanne] Well, we really like to point back to three things, that it’s powerful to gather together, it’s powerful to grow together, and it’s powerful to launch and leave and go together. It’s so we say at conference: together, grow and go. And so as we do that, the funny thing about this conference is I attended this conference as a mom from Atlanta. I had a friend who was insisting, wanting me to go, gifted it to me.
And I really at the time felt like I was busy. We had just started this debenture and probably said no about three times. And eventually I thought, “Maybe I should pray about it. Maybe this is something that God really wants me to do.” And I landed in about the third seat on this conference with a million moms sitting there.
And within about the fourth sentence of the first person who spoke, I found myself in tears and cried through the entire weekend, was so touched, was so encouraged by the moms around me. Laughed. There was a comedian, we laugh together. I was sitting in that seat realizing I needed something that I didn’t even know I needed. And part of it was just I needed to step away for a few minutes.
It’s so hard when you’re a busy mom to stop long enough. It’s not that we don’t sometimes think that we need the help or the pause. It’s that we forget to take it. You have to plan that. And so, I think when moms come together with a common heart around a common part of our life and we’re encouraged together that we know we’re not alone, we hear things from a perspective that we might not hear in our home when we’re so focused on what we’re doing day in and day out.
And it causes us to reflect and remember God’s faithfulness and maybe where God’s challenging us a little bit to shape our own hearts, to shape our lives so that we can then go back. So we gather and we grow, but then we go back to shape the kids that are under our roof and the families that are around us.
And so, I think just stopping long enough to take care of ourselves for a few minutes and realize that God loves us as moms and He wants to pour into us as children of his so that we can pour into our own children—is so critical.
[Heidi] Yeah, it’s true. And you have a really amazing story. You have a passion for the family and for God’s designed for family. And as I was reading a little bit about you and talking with Kathy about you, it struck me that and my life I have a different story, but I do think that the element is the same. That God does His best work in our lives, not in the shallow places, but in the deep.
And you have an incredible story of the pain of losing your third child and also kind of what you got is a really deep look into the heart of and what’s in the medical community right now. You and I have a similar story in this regard. And so, I’m wondering if you can share about what happened. Where is this passion coming from?
Because something has to drive you to organize a women’s conference to say, “Listen, I’m going to get out, I’m going to leave my home in Georgia,” where I’m sure you’re very comfortable and doing just fine, and come up to Illinois and try to get moms to come out of their homes and say, “We need to do this thing called life together.” Where does that passion come from? Tell us a little bit of the story of what God has been doing in your life.
[Suzanne] Absolutely. I mean it’s been about 18 years now. It’ll be 19 on May 12th. But I was pregnant with my third child and I had grown up in church, had been confirmed, and church was a normal part of my life. God was absolutely a part of growing up. But I like to say I knew about God, I knew about Jesus, but somehow in all those years, I missed the memo on the Holy spirit and how God actually has a relationship.
That point says back to Him and back to His word so that we know how to live, His design for living. I missed the memo on the connection. And so I was pregnant with my third child and found out in week 17 that the baby had a fatal genetic disorder. And I was told immediately that the baby will not survive outside my womb and all the details.
And for about 10 days while I was waiting on the testing to come back, I realized it didn’t sit well with me, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t know that advice that I was getting from my doctors, from all the people around me and probably most importantly, from a pastor pointed towards God, this baby is not meant to be.
And so we need to “interrupt the pregnancy” and induce you, you need to deliver as quickly as possible. Now, I didn’t know at the time what was really happening, but it would put me into my 20th week of pregnancy, there are laws and all kinds of stuff that I won’t go into. But the bottom line is in that 10 day wait on day number nine, I called the church, and I had never called the church about anything in my life. I honestly didn’t even know why you would really call the church, but I called and said, “I’m kind of losing my mind. I need to speak to someone.”
And they sent a pastor, and as I kind of repeated over and over, whatever this meant to me at the time, I don’t think this is supposed to be my decision. I think this is God’s decision having no idea what I was saying. I really was counseled that God had made a decision the baby was not meant to be and I needed to follow the doctor’s orders to deliver. And so on day number 11 after I got back, 20 weeks into this pregnancy, I did deliver a little boy.
[Heidi] So this is what the pastors were telling you also?
[Suzanne] The pastor very blatantly did. Yes.
[Heidi] Wow, that’s amazing to me.
[Suzanne] And so when all you know is that I need help. And I knew enough somewhere deep down like call the church and that’s what I was really doing. That’s why I was calling the church. But the counsel that I was given was based on this particular pastor’s pain from childhood. And experienced that happened in their own family, which I found out six years later.
I went back six years later with my Bible and said, “Could you please tell me, show me where you found this council?” And I was told at that point after I was very deep into God’s Word at this point, that the Bible is not a recipe book. And I paused and said, “I disagree. I believe I’ve been following this Word now for several years, and it’s never led me astray.”
I started reading the word with nothing to really undo because I’d never really been in the Word. But as I would read, when I read it, I kind of saw it as it says do this. And so that’s what I’m going to do. It was just very basic. But I found that so few people as I started to do Bible study, and then pretty soon after that lead Bible studies, so few people around me who had been following God for a long time actually looked at the word of God and said, “It says do this, and we’re actually really going to do it.”
And I was in such a desperate state for three years after this, having really no idea what I had done or what had happened. It took a long time to heal. But what I began to realize is that there was an answer there. I mean, there was an answer had I gone. I just didn’t know to go. And the answer was life. And I started to see the word of God as truly life, number one, that through the lens of a creator, not just a father.
Yes, I saw the father, I guess I saw God as a leader in all of the things. But I started to see God as a creator God and a creator has a design and this design is meant for life. It brings life in all areas of our life. And so as I began to pursue, it just came alive to me and I could sense around me, I don’t think that’s going to bring life. I don’t think that decision’s going to bring life. And so, I came to the word of God through such intense pain and overcame such intense confusion and really deceit.
[Heidi] I think it’s interesting too, because I’m going to stop you for just a second because I want to point something out. So you went in 20 weeks pregnancy, you’ve had now your pastor council you— yes you should interrupt or really terminate— is really the word that they should have used.
[Suzanne] Yes. That was not used.
[Heidi] What I see in this, and this was certainly the case and I’ve shared this in the podcast, our listeners already know. We had a similar diagnosis with our second child who is now 26, and they were wrong. Their diagnosis was wrong. What was so interesting to me was my husband and I sitting in a genetic counselors office and them showing us the ultrasound, showing us the test results and saying this is wrong and this is wrong and this is wrong. And the language that they use in the doctor’s office is so covert. They don’t say…
[Suzanne] It is. It absolutely is.
[Heidi] … what exactly it is that they’re going to do. And I was probably farther along than you were when this happened to me. Had a very good handle on life. And Jay and I had determined at that time, “No, even if she’s uncompatible with life or incompatible with life, even if …” we didn’t feel like we could take her life. But what was interesting to me was no one ever said that’s what you’re doing.
They make it sound like it’s a medical procedure. And so you went ahead with it. Right. This is where you were at 20 weeks pregnant. So walk listeners through what that looks like. It is a passion of mine to expose the abortion industry because frankly, we live in a culture of death. We do not respect life as God created it, as God is the creator. And I love that you’re pulling that out. Yes.
[Suzanne] He designed that little life for whatever time and whatever purpose and however that would come.
[Heidi] Supposed to play out.
[Heidi] That’s right.
[Suzanne] Yeah. It was fascinating to walk through the healing process because as I did, I went back. I went back probably two years later to the doctor and said you never used the term abortion, you never used the term terminate. You used the term interrupt the pregnancy.
[Heidi] That’s amazing.
[Suzanne] Here’s something else about the language. I’m passionate about words. I’m a wordsmith and it’s because of this, I’m not sure at the time I would have even had the strength or have known what to do with the words, but I didn’t even have a chance. There was nothing in me as a mom who was expecting, who wanted a baby, who was halfway through the pregnancy and had the nursery ready to like trigger an issue about me.
All of a sudden the language changed overnight with everybody around me from baby to fetus immediately. And I caught it. I thought this is the strangest thing and then this interruption, interruption and there was a rush and the X’s and the Y’s on a piece of paper with the geneticists and literally was told by the geneticists, I said, “I don’t know. Maybe this is a wrong diagnosis, maybe I’m not as far along as I thought I was.”
And she point blank looked at me and said, “You do not want this baby.” And I looked at her and said, “I do want this baby.” But then was whisked off to an amnio. And then it’s like the train leaves the station and you’re so confused. The language is confused. And as the healing process began to happen and I was trying to get a grip on the nightmare that was happening after.
And the anxiety that overtook me that I didn’t know that even what it was, I did go back to the doctor and I literally said to him, “Will you just please tell me, you used the term interrupt the pregnancy. But did you know that this is an abortion? Was that something that you were aware of and just chose not to use that language?” And the answer was yes.
And I said, “Could you please tell me why you didn’t use the term with me?” And he said, “It would have been too much for you to handle.” Now Heidi, I went on. Shortly thereafter, I called the counseling center at the hospital that was sending me all this content after. And I called them and said, “Nobody had this conversation with me.”
If someone came to you and I gave them my entire with this diagnosis, with this, if they came to you and said, “This is going on and I’m struggling with what action to take, would you say to them that this is an abortion?” I was told no by the counseling center. I then called the chaplains, the head of the chaplains at this hospital, very large hospital here. And I asked them the same thing. By the way, no chaplain came to visit, nobody … There was nobody in the hospital that showed up.
[Heidi] Yeah. It’s amazing.
[Suzanne] It’s amazing. I asked the chaplains, I was told by them, no, that they would not use the word for the same reason. “It would have been too much for you to handle.” And then eventually, I did go back to the pastor and was told … never an apology. I did forgive her and everybody involved over the course of time because I came to understand, their perspective is just so off. It’s just twisted and I’m only going to live with bitterness. And that was part of my healing.
But I did go back and ask the question like, “Was I crazy? Did I just miss something?” But it was intentional. It was intentional for the purpose “of protecting me.” But what it did is it put me in a position that caused me, really, to make a decision that I didn’t understand, that I had to wake up to it.
[Heidi] Because ultimately, they don’t live with that decision. They go on with their everyday life. You’re the one who lives with it. You’re the one who carries it.
[Suzanne] And I have such, such a passionate. I mean obviously God gives us choice, but He tells us, and even in Deuteronomy, that today I put before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life.
[Heidi] Choose life. Yeah.
[Suzanne] And that now is forever. I mean it’s now, today, now, yesterday. His word doesn’t change. Now choose life. And so this passion to understand the design of what is God’s design for life, for the family, for a marriage, for me in wholeness? What’s His design? Because He’s created it. But it’s design for life.
[Heidi] That’s right.
[Suzanne] And, it came from death, and the trauma that came after that for me and this passion that I have for what is it now, like one in four women sitting in a pew.
[Heidi] Yeah. That’s right.
[Suzanne] Believers. I mean the statistics are very, very high. I have lived through this trauma and don’t feel safe often to have the conversation and my heart is for life and it is absolutely pro-life because I’ve lived on the other side of the death. It’s not just the death of that child, and it’s so painful. I probably lost two years with my children as I was trying to just get my head wrapped around what in the world had happened to me.
So very much went through a healing process. But I have such a heart for moms who are either put in a situation to make that kind of decision and don’t feel like they have the support to process what’s actually happening or make it out of … It’s just fear. It’s just fear.
[Heidi] Yeah. Well, it’s amazing too because that’s how the enemy always works. It always is fear. And I’m always taken back to 1 Timothy 1. God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear, but power and love and a sound mind. It’s that power that comes from the Holy spirit that allows us to be able to have a sound mind, to make a good decision, and ultimately, that results in love.
And I wonder sometimes. I was just in Houston and we were talking to the women that were there and I was saying, “Listen, I know that in a room this big with this many women, there have got to be women in here who have struggled through the pain of an abortion.” And people need to understand abortion isn’t just about the child whose life is taken wrongfully. Abortion takes out a child’s life and it devastates the life of the mother.
And we’re not talking about that. We should be talking about it. And to me, somebody who has had an abortion is the person who is the most able to be able to minister hope and healing to another post abortive mother, or a mother who is considering abortion. And she can actually look into the eyes of someone who’s been there and done that and she can hear the truth behind it.
And to me, what God is doing with your life, and that’s what I was saying at the beginning of the show today, God does His best work in the deep.
[Heidi] And this is deep water and you have walked through deep water. And I’m so blessed by hearing your story because rather than to let the enemy either make your heart callous to it, which I think there’s two outcomes that I have seen from this, particularly with Christian women. You either your heart becomes callous and you just go, “You know what, choice, whatever.” And it becomes part of the cultural narrative.
Or the shame overtakes you and you lose your own life in the process. Maybe you lose relationships with your husband or your children. And I love your story because you were able through the power of the Lord and the truth of His Word to say, “No, that’s not going to be me. I’m going to speak life.” And that’s the power of the brokenness from which you’ve come.
And I think women listening to this need to hear whatever your story is, whether it’s post abortive or whether it’s you grew up in abuse or whether you’ve struggled through the pain of a divorce or infidelity or whatever it is, God is at work and He’s going to bring something out of that and it’s going to be good because that’s what God does.
[Suzanne] Absolutely. I always go back to freedom is for freedom’s sake, and to kind of keep this and not share it when so many people are hurting or haven’t necessarily healed. That’s the healing process. But as you go through the healing process and when you know God has … actually I have to the degree that I understand the distinct that I lived in and the action that I took.
I had to face the fact that I actually made the choice. I was blinded at the time. I was ignorant at the time. Certainly the motive was not … I was confused. But…
[Heidi] And you were in pain. I think when someone gives you a diagnosis like that, immediately you’re..
[Suzanne] Shocked and pain. I just..
[Heidi] Yeah. When we find out that we’re pregnant, we don’t dream of this kind of thing happening. And so when it happens, it’s almost like, and this is certainly what happened with us, with our daughter, we get this terrible diagnosis and then they immediately come in and take advantage of a mother and a father really who are grieving and trying to understand.
Because so the reality I thought was going to be my reality now is no longer my reality. And then these people swoop in and their way to sort of “make it better” is really inflicting more pain in the long run.
[Suzanne] In the long run.
[Heidi] And to me, it’s taking advantage of a mother particularly who is grieving.
[Suzanne] I completely agree. And once you have kind of processed through what really did happen and where was my responsibility and how did it happen and where were other people’s responsibility and kind of walk through that process, then you really do like to the degree of where you kind of lived out really that sin really, which I got to experience the grace of God to that degree though.
[Heidi] Yeah. And that’s powerful.
[Suzanne] And the forgiveness of God. I am not confused about the forgiveness of God. And when I’m talking to students or when I’m talking to parents or when I’m just talking to friends and they maybe don’t want to share something that they’re going through or they’re steeped in shame or guilt or they don’t want to share. I’m like, “Look, you are not going to shock me with anything you say. There was a baby in me that I wanted and yet I was still so confused and deceived that I went against God, but I went against myself even. You’re not going to shock me.” And God’s big enough to forgive. He forgives it all when we come to Him, and He heals. He heals.
[Heidi] That’s right. Yeah. He does. And He is the heeler. And I think that really is the message. And to me, it’s also the reason why these conferences are so powerful because when women will take some time and just unplug from their normal, the everyday of raising children, whatever, and come away and especially to a conference like this, they’re going to hear the real thing.
We’re not going to come and stand in a circle and sing Kumbaya and talk about what a hot mess we are. We’re going to say, “This world is hard, but God is the healer. God is the healer.” And that’s what I think resonates with me so much about your story. It’s not just a story of hurt, it’s a story of healing. And God is the healer. And I love that He was able through this, through this very painful thing, He took your life and really it seems to me anyway, He changed the trajectory of your life.
And now you’ve got this sold-out mother for the Lord in passionate pursuit of the Lord and saying, “Lord, what can I do to share the hope and healing of Jesus through my own hurt to a generation around me?” And you’re highlighting God’s precious gift of family and the precious gift of legacy that He gives us when we raise our children to love and follow Him. So I think it’s amazing. If these women, the women who are listening, tell us a little bit about the conference you’ve got coming up. So Peoria again and what’s the date?
[Suzanne] Peoria, Illinois, March sixth and seventh. So, it’s Friday night. We open a big mom’s market. Right now we have about 40 vendors and we still have people calling. So, that opens at four o’clock, from four until nine that night. And we do have some programming with the comedian and worship and a panel discussion on Friday evening. And then all day Saturday with five speakers.
We have a guest, a surprise speaker, I guess I’ll say, but there’s a really, really neat story that’s going to be shared in a way that is unique to open up, and we go until five o’clock that day.
[Heidi] Right on. So, that’s really exciting. And where’s the website? Where can they find you?
[Suzanne] Ignitethefamily.org, and you can go on, there’s a place to look at our conferences there. We have a membership. That’s something that we kind of walk with people throughout the year. You can find a lot on the website, but if you go to our conference page on ignitethefamily.org, you can get all of the details, and we’re Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois.
[Heidi] All right. Well, I’m super excited. I’m just so honored that I’m a part of the speaking team this year. Cannot wait to see what God does. And Suzanne, it’s a privilege to be able to hear your story, and thank you so much for being willing to share it.
[Suzanne] Absolutely. Thanks. Can’t wait to see you and thanks for having me today.
[Heidi] You’re so welcome. For more information about Ignite the Family, go to ignitethefamily.org, or you can go as always to heidistjohn.com/podcast, and I will link back to this event and several others that I’m going to be speaking at this year. But I hope you guys will take the opportunity wherever you are and say, “This is important.” Invest in your family.
You guys, we love you. Thank you so much for listening. As always, thank you for leaving reviews for the podcast over at iTunes. And don’t forget, this is the best time of the month to join us for the brand new study at momstronginternational.com. Thanks for listening, everybody. Have a great weekend and I’ll see you back here on Monday.
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Heidi St. John
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