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To Live and Love Like Jesus

Pastor and author Shawn Thornton shares about his childhood, and how it was anything but normal. Read Transcript

Well you've heard the story, Dr. Jekyll, Mr Hyde.

Now imagine living it.

That's what life was like for Shawn Thornton, whose

mother was kind and loving one minute,

and a violent monster the next.

Take a look.

SHAWN THORNTON: Growing up, my life was anything but normal.

But then, so was my mom.

After waking up from a coma following a car crash,

her gentle and sweet disposition had

been replaced by violent mood swings,

profanity laced tirades, and uncontrollable fits of rage.

A moment of frustration might make her hurl a knife at me,

my little brother Troy, or my dad, or just cuss us out,

only to shower us with love and affection

in the next moment like nothing had happened.

Yet, this same woman was also a Bible reader, Sunday school

teacher, and a friend to the elderly, poor,

and marginalized wherever she went.

How the same person could be a saint one minute

and a nightmare the next was a constant source

of frustration for our family.

Then, one day, after decades of embarrassing outbursts,

a surprise discovery finally helped

us come to grips with my mom's mysterious condition,

and brought me to a startling realization that changed

the course of my life forever.

Well Pastor Shawn Thornton is here with us

now for the rest of the story.

And Pastor Shawn, it's so good to see you.

Good to see you Wendy.

Great to see you.

You know, I used to visit your church

in Charleston, West Virginia.

You were a pastor there for, how many years, 12 years?

About 12 years.

12 Years.

And then I moved to Virginia Beach.

And then you went out to LA and started a big megachurch

out there.

Yep, I moved into a church that was already a sizable church

and get to pastoring the greater LA area.

Yeah, but you don't start a megachurch.

Yeah, no.

And there had been some great leadership

before me and a wonderful church.

And God brought us there after a season

of brokenness for the church.

And things are going great now.

Well, your memoir is amazing.

Shawn, you say in your book that you lived in fear of your mom

for most of your life.

But at the same time you call her a spiritual hero.

How do you reconcile those two?

Well, it's hard to reconcile when you're just trying

to explain it to someone.

But when you live it-- my mom had been in an accident

when she was 14, as you saw, had physical, emotional, and mental

problems because of that.

So she could be calm, reading her Bible, praying.

She had a prayer list.

She could be just sweet and things going fine.

And all of a sudden something small would set her off

and she's cussing, she's throwing things.

My dad would yell to us at the dinner table, "Kids,

under the table."

I have one brother.

"You guys, under the table," and we'd go under the table.

And then we'd try to disarm her.

And then she'd calm down again and--

WENDY GRIFFITH: And not even know that she had been there.

SHAWN THORNTON: Barely know it.

She would know it, but she'd say,

this is because of the accident.

And she'd get frustrated.

She was tormented in herself.

So just as much as maybe we felt the torment from her,

she was tormented on the inside.

So at first, I mean you're a little kid.

You're not thinking-- you're thinking everybody lives

like this, right?

Yes, that this is normal.

And then around 10 or 11 you visit your friend's house.

And you think wow, it's different over here,

not as much volatility or not any volatility.

And the house was very neat and clean.

Your house not so neat and clean--

No, it was a mess.

-- --because your mother-- it was kind of a mess

because your mom wasn't able to clean.

How did that affect you when you realized, this ain't normal?

Yeah, when I'm a little kid, this is normal.

I get to be 9 or 10, I start realizing

other people's homes are different

and that that's more normal.

So I'm giving excuses to friends that are coming to our house.

And in my early teens, I'm begging

God to put me in any other home, because I

don't want to be in this home.

And it was one of those nights when

my mom was having a breakdown, just tearing the house apart.

It was all this.

Police come, take her to a mental institution.

That night I remember just saying to God, "Why not put me

in some other home?

If you know who I am--" and we went to church Sunday morning,

Sunday night, Wednesday night.

She was a Sunday school teacher, sang in the choir.

So I'm saying, "Put me in some other home."

But then later in my teen years and college years

I start realizing, wait a minute,

everybody's got some brokenness.

It may not be as extreme as mine.

It may not be the same.

But everybody's got brokenness.

And Shawn, you talk about a surprise discovery

that really changed your life.

What was that?

Well in 1962 when Mom had the accident, at 14,

and was in a coma for three months,

and coming out of that, recovering from that,

she did not know, and the doctors

didn't know, about a thing called traumatic brain injury.

And so for a couple of decades, they're

trying to treat her for this and that and pastors

and psychologists and doctors.

And finally my dad starts collecting articles out

of the local newspaper in Northern Indiana, the South

Bend Tribune, he starts collecting articles

about this thing called traumatic brain injury.

Now we hear about it all the time

with the NFL and concussions, people

returning from Iraq and Afghanistan

with injuries to the brain.

WENDY GRIFFITH: And that's what she had.

So we figured out she had traumatic brain injury.

Her personality had changed, all this chaos.

And in the midst of her brokenness,

she still loved Jesus and still became

my greatest spiritual hero.

Well you said that sometimes the broken people in our lives

are the ones that need fixing the least.

How can that be?

Well in her case, we pray for God

to heal someone who has this kind of brokenness and mental

illness and difficulty.

But in her case, I watched my mom

be drawn to the child in the wheelchair, the woman in church

who was a little odd and her wig was off

and her makeup was all smeared.

And Mom would talk to that lady or to the child in a wheelchair

just as much, and with the same dignity

as she talked to the pastor.

And so I learned that God loves marginalized people

through my mom.

And so I think in her brokenness,

God used her to teach a lot of people,

including me, how to care for the marginalized,

the hurting, the overlooked.

That's so, so good.

Now your mom did pass away in 2000.

In the shower, she hit her head.

She hit her head.

As a result of the car accident,

she always had balance issues and would fall.

And her fine motor skills wouldn't let her reach out

and kind of grab herself.

If you or I fall, we'd brace ourselves.

WENDY GRIFFITH: She must have been very young, she must have.

She was 52.


She slipped and hit her head and drowned in the bathtub.

And what are some of the things that people told you

about your mom Shawn, after she was gone?

People told me even, since the book has been out,

people have said, we didn't know this,

because we didn't tell these stories.

I didn't tell any of these stories from the pulpit

until the last year or so.

And people have come to me and say,

"You know your mom encouraged me to be a missionary.

When people didn't notice me, your mom noticed me.

When there was a Bible study and all the women were talking

and I was new, your mom walked over and she talked to us.

And your mom was such an encourager.

Her laugh was so great."

And a lot of times outside the home,

she didn't show all of the emotions

and all of the outbursts.

And so people talk about how she genuinely loved them,

would stop and pray with them.

And those are the things-- because she pointed me

to Jesus and others to Jesus-- those are the things that make

her my greatest spiritual hero.

You waited 20 years.

You know, I understand this, because I got

fired from my second TV job.

And I just-- I took it off my resume.

I didn't talk about it.

I mean, it was like a shame thing.

And now it's like a badge of honor, like I survived.

I overcame.

It's a part of your story.

It's part of my story.

Is that what happened to you, because you

didn't talk about this?

Nobody knew about your upbringing.

Everybody just though you had the perfect Leave It to Beaver


It was factory workers, simple home.

It was 20 years.

Why now?

Well I think the main thing I used to think

was, OK, yes, this shaped in me a pastor's heart

and I care for people, this experience growing up

and this chaos of this home with a mom who loved the Lord

but had all these difficulties.

But I thought nobody cared about the story.

And then I shared it with Joni Eareckson Tada.

And a big part of the story of "All But Normal," the book,

is that my mom loved Joni and would say if Joni can do this,

if she can make it, I can too, in her brokenness.

And so I started to share it with Joni.

She had me share with others.

Max Lucado, the Christian author, heard it.

He said, "You've got to tell your story

or I'm going to write it into one of my books."

So he encouraged me to write the book.

But I thought, does it really matter?

And what I'm finding is I thought

this story didn't matter only in that people

got the byproduct of know I'm a pastor

with a compassionate heart, because my mom helped

me develop that and the Lord used her.

But now I'm seeing telling the story,

there are people who are writing me, stopping me, saying hey,

I didn't have the exact same circumstances,

but I have some brokenness in my past.

And you're embracing yours.

I'm encouraged by your embracing yours.

I'm finding hope and healing in my brokenness

in reading your story.

That's so good.

And Shawn, when you got out to California

and your new church-- what's your church's name?

Calvary Community Church, Westlake Village, California.

I love Westlake Village.

So you get out there and there's a note on your desk.

What did it say?

So I go to the empty office.

I'm moving into the church, a big move for me from the East

Coast to the West Coast, from the Bible Belt

to the not so Bible Belt. And there's a note on my desk.

Only thing in this empty room is a note

from Joni Eareckson Tada and her husband Ken

that said, "Welcome.

We've been praying for the new pastor at Calvary--"

because they're only one exit up is their ministry headquarters.

She said, "We've been praying for the new pastor."

And she had no idea what that meant to me because

of how much she meant to my mom and my mom's brokenness

that Joni was an inspiration to her.

And did she know it was going to be you?

She didn't.

She didn't know the link.

She didn't know all the connections.

And my mom was already gone at that time.

So I haven't even been able to share that with my mom.

And I will one day.

And I hope in some way she knows that now

in heaven that Joni and I crossed paths

and now I serve on the board of the Joni and Friends


So what a blessing.

Well you know, there's a lot of people back in Charleston--

I was just there over the weekend.

My niece got christened-- who miss you.

And I drove by your old church Bible center.

So this is your chance to say--

I love the people of West Virginia.

I love the folks of Bible Center Church.

And we mourned leaving there.

Sometimes you mourn when God is calling you to a new place.

And those folks have a special place in my heart,

very much so.

It was actually a friend of mine

from West Virginia that said "Hey, you

need to have him on your show."

Oh, because they'd seen the book.

They saw the book, right.

That's great.

That's great.

But actually it was our producers

that made the final decision.

I don't have that kind of power.

I don't, I know.

I'm glad for the opportunity because I'm

hearing from so many people how it's

helpful with the brokenness, the mental illness,

the traumatic brain injury a loved one had,

something about their childhood.

And God's using it to bring hope and healing

to people I've never met, and I'm humbled by that.


Well it's a fantastic memoir, fantastic

book with a great message.

And Pastor Shawn, God bless you.

Thank you Wendy.

Thank you so much.

Thanks for being here.

The book, again called "All But Normal-- Life on Victory Road"

is available in stores nationwide.

You definitely want to get a copy of this.


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