FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Unexpected Jesus: Eric and Erikah Rivera

with Eric And Erikah Rivera | October 19, 2023
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Authors and speakers Eric and Erikah Rivera have wandered roads complicated, bleak, and uncertain. But in the worst of times, they've encountered an unexpected Jesus. Tap into a hope that just might surprise you.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Speakers Eric and Erikah Rivera have wandered roads complicated, bleak, uncertain. But in the worst of times, they’ve encountered an unexpected Jesus.

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Unexpected Jesus: Eric and Erikah Rivera

With Eric And Erikah Rivera
October 19, 2023
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Ann: Hey, before we dive into today’s episode, we want to invite you to an exclusive Art of Marriage® preview event on November 1st.

Dave: Yes, you heard that right. FamilyLife® is releasing an all-new version of our flagship marriage study, Art of Marriage. You’ll get previews of the sessions, exclusive marriage teachings, and hear from us as well as other teachers. You can sign up in the show notes or on

Ann: We hope you’ll join us.


Eric: Jesus meets us in our mess. Our mess could be regret; it could be doubt; it could be sorrow. It could look a lot of different ways; but whatever it is, Jesus can meet us there.

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott. Your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: I don’t know if I’ve told this story on FamilyLife Today. I’ll tell it really quick. One of my most memorable pastoral moments [was] a couple in my office saying they’re going to get a divorce.

Ann: Your office at church, because you’re a pastor.

Dave: Yes, it was years ago. I didn’t know them, but as I got into it—she’s doing this, he’s doing that—there was no hope. I said, “You guys are believers in Christ, right?” [Response from counselee] “Yes, but it’s not going to work. We’ve decided it’s divorce.”

I’ve never done this before! I get sort of frustrated. They keep saying, “We’re never…”    I keep trying to give them hope. So, I literally stand on my chair. [Laughter] I’m in a tiny little office, maybe 10 x 10. I didn’t yell, but I got pretty loud. I said, “Do you know that Jesus rose from the dead?!” They’re looking up at me; they don’t even respond. It’s like Jesus in the temple, flipping the tables. “Jesus rose from the dead, and He can raise your dead marriage into a new marriage. I’m telling you right now: don’t quit!” And then I sat down. It got really quiet. He just looked at me, and they left. [Laughter] And guess what? They didn’t make it.

Ann: But what made you stand on your chair?

Dave: I just remember thinking, “They do not understand there is a Jesus who can meet them and heal this.” I know it’s a lot of work; but I just got more frustrated, and more frustrated, and more frustrated. They weren’t listening, and they weren’t willing to—it was like there was no difference because of Jesus. I wanted to highlight that Jesus can make a difference.

The only reason I bring that up is, we’ve got a couple in the studio today; they wrote a book called Unexpected Jesus. Here’s what made me think of it: How the Resurrected Christ Finds Us, Meets Us, Heals Us. That was what I was trying to communicate: “He sees you; He’s going to meet you right here and heal your marriage.”

Ann: And we forget that. We get so busy. We’re raising our kids or are in hectic jobs. I think, Dave, once a day we should have somebody stand on the chair: “Do you know who He is?” I feel like, with this book, we’re going to talk about that.

Dave: We’ve got Eric and Erikah—

Erikah: —yes—

Dave: —Rivera in the studio. Welcome to FamilyLife Today; first time ever, right?

Eric: It is our first time, and we are super excited to be here with you guys, for real.

Ann: Tell us a little about yourselves.

Dave: You’re on the Weekend to Remember® speaker team.

Eric: We are.

Dave: For how many years?

Eric: Yes, since 2015, [when] we got trained.

Dave: You’ve been on almost eight years.

Eric: Yes, yes; we’re still hoping they don’t realize they asked the wrong people to join the team. [Laughter] We still wonder why we’re on it. But we’ve been on the team since then. It’s been a really fun ride to speak with other couples and to be a blessing wherever we are. We love it; we love being on the team.

Ann: Erikah, how long have you guys been married?

Erikah: Twenty years.

Dave: Twenty years?

Ann: Twenty years.

Erikah: We’ve been married 20 years.

Dave: You don’t look old enough to be married 20 years.

Eric: Thank you. [Laughter]

Dave: Of course, you did start dating really young, right?

Eric: We sure did.

Erikah: We did; we started dating when we were 14 and 15.

Dave: And now you have a 15-year-old, don’t you?

Erikah: Yes; we have a 15-year-old daughter, a 14-year-old son, and a 10-year-old son.

Dave: Wow. And pastoring; you started the church?

Eric: Yes, back in 2013, God just put a very clear call on my wife and I to leave from our former church, with their blessing, to start a new church in Chicago’s Northwest side. Our church that we planted in 2013 is called The Brook. We believe that Jesus wants to satisfy the thirst of people who are longing. Jesus says that, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.”

When we came to our neighborhood, we saw it as a thirsting community. We’re just thrilled that the Lord would call us to be there to plant that church. It’ll be ten years, so it’s been a wild ride, a beautiful ride.

Ann: Wow! You guys, what did that calling look like? You said it was very clear. How did you know? What was going on?

Eric: It wasn’t clear at first.

Erikah: That’s for sure.

Eric: We were very resistant at first, because we loved our former church that we were a part of, and we didn’t want to leave, obviously.

Ann: Were you on staff there?

Eric: I was an associate pastor.

Ann: Okay.

Eric: I had been for almost five years at that point.

Erikah: And I grew up at that church and had never known anything different.

Ann: Oh, so it was home.

Erikah: Absolutely: home, family, all of it.

Eric: Our denomination that we’re a part of reached out to me, saying that there was an opportunity to plant a church in the Montclare neighborhood of Chicago. God started us with a great team of people: five people from our former church joined with us, and then, some others who were a part of the community already. Here we are. It’s been really wonderful.

Erikah: And when we look back, we see, “God, You are so faithful. You called us at the right time for this. And we got to embrace another family; a group of people that otherwise would not know Jesus.”

Dave: How about pastoring and marriage? How’d that go for you guys, because we almost lost our marriage. Did you ever struggle?

Ann: Well, especially—he’s getting his doctorate; you’re pregnant with your third child. You had a lot going on.

Eric: We were on the same page stepping into the school year, but about eight weeks—nine weeks, ten weeks—into the semester, she hasn’t seen much of me. I’m at the desk: I’m reading. I’m studying. She’s upset, and I’m like, “Hey, you agreed to this,” you know? [Laughter] She said, “I signed up for this, but I did not sign up for this, the way it’s turned out.”

We learned a lot about each other, because she just said, “You know, I understand it’s going to be hard; but if we could at least put a date on the calendar for us to go out. It doesn't matter if it’s soon or far. I’ll just have something to look forward to.” I learned: “All you need is a date on the calendar?!”—I could have avoided a lot of drama at this point. [Laughter]

That's really learning pastoral ministry—this school of family—how each of us feel loved and to serve one another, because there are the pressures of pastoral ministry. There are the burdens of other couples you carry. You love people; genuinely love them, so their thrills are your thrills, but their brokenness—it hurts; it hurts. We’ve had to learn to walk together, but we realized the more we do ministry together, the more joyful it is. We’re not on two separate tracks. We are linked up, arm in arm, as we’re serving the church.

Erikah: We never—we didn’t plan pastoral ministry—any of that.

Ann: We didn’t either.

Erikah: But I feel like it’s the small “yeses” that we give to God that He begins to help us see where He is calling us and giving us purpose in that. I’m grateful we gave our “Yes” to things like Bible college when we felt called. I didn’t understand. “Well, what am I going to do with Bible?” Or after that, when Eric felt, “I feel called to go to seminary,” I said, “Okay. I’m going to give my ‘Yes,’ to working fulltime in this season.” Just giving God our “yeses” in small ways. I’m grateful. We don’t look back and regret the ”yeses” that we give to God.

Ann: That’s good, Erikah, just the “Yes.” “Have you been giving God your ‘Yes’?” because that’s scary sometimes.

Erikah: Absolutely, yes.

Dave: Talk about the Unexpected Jesus concept. I mean—even as I started reading it—I know you’ve had issues in your marriage where you needed Jesus, in an unexpected way, to show up. Walk us through where this idea—what is this?

Eric: Several years ago, I was preparing a sermon series that would take us from Easter, out of Easter. I began to study the resurrection appearances of Jesus. I was at a Starbuck’s® at the Brickyard Mall by our house. As I was there, reading through the different resurrection appearances, I was blown away, because I felt like I saw something I never had pointed out to me. It’s the fact that, every time Jesus appears to someone after His resurrection, He appears to them and offers them a question.

He gives them a question that relates to the circumstances they’re in at that moment. For example, Mary Magdeline is there by the tomb. She doesn’t know it is empty. She’s preparing to put spices on His body. Jesus says, “Woman, why are you weeping?”; or He tells Peter, “Do you love Me?”; or He says, “Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” With all these resurrection appearances, there is a question.

Right away, I thought, “This is great. Jesus always asked questions in His ministry, but He’s even doing so in His post-resurrection ministry; specifically, that these questions are directed to the situation or the circumstance that those people are at, at that very moment.” That, to me, was really beautiful because it reminded me that Jesus meets us in our mess. Our mess could be regret; it could be doubt; it could be sorrow. It could look a lot of different ways, but whatever it is, Jesus can meet us there.

After studying that, I thought, “This is really special.” I began to teach and preach it, and [I thought], “This would be really great to put in a book form, because I believe God’s people everywhere need to be reminded that the same Jesus who met them still meets us, today, in our mess.”

Dave: Now, when you think about Jesus meeting you guys in your mess, what comes to mind?

Eric: There are all kinds of messes. [Laughter] We still need Him to meet us in our messes. But there’s one in particular, that I highlighted in Chapter 2, that had to do with Erikah’s health journey. That was a mess that we didn’t expect. It was something that we weren’t prepared for, but it’s something that God saw fit to bring us through.

Several years ago, she began to feel various symptoms in her body that she knew weren’t right, like something was off. We were actually at a camp, speaking at a retreat. When we got home, she just said, “Something’s not right here.” Immediately, she began to reach out to her doctor, saying, “I’ve got to make appointments; I’ve got to find out what’s going on.” What happens in those situations is, they put out a list of what it could be. There are all the best-case scenarios; and then, there are maybe a dozen or 30 things down the list, where—okay? You don’t want to get down to the bottom of that list.

Ann: Oh wait! Erikah, were you scared?—as you saw this list?

Erikah: Yes, absolutely. I think maybe one of the hardest things is, you kind of know when you feel in your soul, “I think this is what it is.” I really did think, “Maybe I have Multiple Sclerosis.” Recently, there was a young woman in our church plant—we walked with her—whose mother was sick with MS and just really struggled with the disease very difficultly. We were with her and her mother the day before her mother passed away in the hospital. So, when I say that I knew that was a possibility, that was the only thing that I could see as my future, my potential. So, the fear was overwhelming.

Ann: You had three kids by then?

Erikah: Yes, yes. They’re littles. You know, also going through the symptoms, but not wanting them to know what we’re going through; what I’m experiencing. Yet at the same time, here’s Mommy in bed, and I can’t do a whole lot right now. I know they’re feeling these things. Isn’t that the weight of fear and anxiety of what is to come? It was kind of paralyzing at times.

Dave: Yes.

Ann: Was it for you, too, Eric?

Eric: It was terrifying. I mean, the thing that was scary—again, just hoping that it would be something else—

Ann: Yes! At the top of the list.

Eric: —and to keep checking off, “No, it’s not this,” “It’s not this.” At first, “Maybe it’s a vitamin deficiency,” or “Maybe it’s…”—whatever it might be. Right away, she thought, “I think it’s MS.”

As the tests were going forward, we started realizing, “Okay, these options—none of them are really what we want.” It was scary because you have these moments where, “Lord, this is not what we wanted right now,”—in particular, because Erikah was in the middle an MS attack, and her body was responding in different ways. There were days she’d be in bed for hours on end in bed. I’d be with the kids. The kids would be like, “Something’s not right with Mommy,” you know?

Our daughter—she’s more perceptive—I’m tucking them in at night, trying to assure them, “Everything’s going to be alright.” God’s in control, yes! So, in that sense, it’s going to be alright, but I don’t know what this is going to look like. I remember even, one day, just tucking my daughter in bed. Erikah had been in bed the whole day. I just went into the kitchen, just cried my eyes out, saying, “Lord, I don’t know what to do. This is beyond us.”

Ann: And you didn’t even have a diagnosis at this point?

Eric: Not yet.

Ann: But you’re just living in the fear.

Eric: Yes.

Ann: But you cried out to Jesus.

Eric: Yes, absolutely; because honestly, these are those moments where we had nothing else. We had a loving community around us; we had the support of people. But in that moment, it’s just you and the Lord, saying, “God, either I’m going to run away from You, or I’m going to run to You right now.” I’m thankful that the Spirit of God impressed upon us to lean into the Lord and not push Him away. That was something that really gave us peace, even though there were storms all around us.

Ann: Erikah, what were your prayers like at that time? Did you run toward Jesus or away?

Erikah: I ran toward Him. I had heard, in my college years—you know how you hear a message and it never goes away?—I had heard Jill Briscoe talk about being in the hospital with a woman who said, “I don’t feel God right now—I don’t—I’m upset; I’m frustrated.” She [Jill] said that she took her by the hands, and in that moment, she said, “Well, we can’t rely on how we feel, but this is what we rely on—our knowings: ‘What do I know about God to be true?’” She began to say, “Tell me something that you know about God, even if you don’t feel it right now. What do you know about God to be true?” She [the woman] started to run through them: “God is faithful.” And then she [Jill] said, “And I’ll say something that I know to be true about God. God is here; God is with me.” They just went back and forth.

It was just that I feel like that is what we need when we don’t feel it. But we know that God’s character is unchanging, and He’s trustworthy. Even if I can’t feel it in the moment, that’s what I’m going to rely on and just ask God that somehow that heart and head connection will match. That’s where I was. “I don’t necessarily know what’s next, but I know that You are good. I’m going to trust You in the midst of what we don’t see, because I know that You are already there—You’re ahead, and You love me, and You love my kids. You love my husband more than I do. This doesn’t make sense, and is not what I want, but I’m going to trust You.”

That’s what my posture was. I think that was both of our postures in saying, “We just want to do this together.” We know what it is to walk through something difficult, and we drift a little bit more—that happened early on in our marriage when we didn’t grieve the same through a miscarriage. That was difficult, and we drifted. We didn’t know how to partner together in that. So, “Okay, we’re going through this. We’re handling this grief differently. Let’s learn with that.” It’s so interesting the ways that God can use when we allow Him [to in] the dark places. That is kind of what my posture was.

Ann: I’m thinking of—there are so many listeners who are in that space of not knowing something, when our kids have maybe walked away from Jesus, or we’re in the midst of not knowing a diagnosis yet, or there’s so many things we’re waiting for. I love that! “What do we know about God?” That’s really helpful.

Dave: It’s pretty interesting that you said you went back and forth.

Erikah: Yes.

Dave: I’m sitting here thinking, “Oh, pickleball theology,” or “Tennis theology.” [Laughter]

Ann: Was that your friend you did that with?

Erikah: No, this was a message. But I feel like I do that to my own soul: “Who is God?” “Who are You?” and “Who am I?”—because that is the foundation.

Ann: So, you know it in your head, and you are reminding your heart of this.

Erikah: Oh, yes. Think of the psalmist, right?

Ann: Yes.

Erikah: He spoke to his soul.

Eric: “Why are you downcast, o my soul? …hope in God.” [Psalm 43:5]

Ann: Yes, that’s good.

Dave: I remember when I was in seminary, Ron Jensen—you probably don’t know him—was on the [Weekend to Remember] speaker team, way back. He was President of our seminary. I remember him saying, “I often, when I get up in the morning and I’m in the shower, will quote Psalm 103. It’s like I quote it this way: ‘Bless the Lord, o my soul.’ [I say,] ‘Come on, soul, bless the Lord; let’s go! Bless the Lord.’”

Erikah: That’s so good.

Dave: “I’m telling myself, ‘Let’s go bless the Lord,’ rather than just reading it. It’s like an inspiration to say, ‘This is what I’m going to do today.’”

Where we left the story, in terms of you, [Erikah], was still in bed. You’re [Eric] taking care of the kids. How long did that season go?

Eric: It felt like longer than it was. [Laughter] It was about a month and a half until we got a diagnosis. In fact, the diagnosis came as she was getting MRIs done at a hospital nearby us. By this point, we had been dropping our kids off at people’s houses while we went to doctors’ appointments.

[This time] we said, “Let’s bring them with us.” It was Erikah’s birthday weekend. The kids and I had prepared a surprise birthday gathering for Erikah. We were going to wear black ties, white shirts—a white glove-kind of thing—and serve them.

Dave: Now, bowties? you’re sort of a bowtie guy. [Laughter]

Eric: Yes, that’s right. I did have a bowtie ready for that one.

We went to the hospital to get the MRIs done. As we drove home, we pulled into the garage of our house, when Erikah got a call from her doctor. Her doctor said, “Erikah, we got the results, and we’re going to need to admit you tonight.”

Ann: Oh!

Eric: “We need to begin some steroid treatment. We found lesions on your brain and spine. We’re going to need you to come back here.”

I could kind of hear on the phone as Erikah’s listening to what the doctor’s saying. Of course, at this point, we’re realizing, “Okay, this is our reality.” All the thoughts are coming to our mind. I’m thinking, “Okay, I need to tell the kids, ‘We’re canceling Mommy’s birthday party, because Mommy needs to go to the hospital to begin treatment.’” That was pretty tough.

I get to the backdoor of our house, and I see our doorknob is bent and our door is slightly off the hinge. Somebody had tried to break into our home—

Dave: No way!

Eric: —while we were at the hospital to get MRIs done.

Ann: Ahhh!

Eric: At that point, it’s like, “This is so diabolical, the enemy trying to attack us in the midst of what we’re going through.”

I search the house; it’s good. We all come inside. I’m like—the kids don’t even know that the party is canceled yet. They’re already frantic because of the potential break-in. We just circled up and told the kids what was going on. We’re all in tears, but we just said, “This is why we study the Bible. This is why we memorize the Bible.” One of our favorite verses as a family is Isaiah 41:10—which we circled up, held hands and said together: “Do not fear, for I am with you. So not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” It was like God was reminding us: “I’ve got you guys. This is scary, but I’ve got you guys.” That’s where we had to cling in that moment of despair.

Dave: There is a family listening right now that is in a valley—maybe the same valley; maybe, totally different. What would you say to them? Because you’ve been through that valley. It’s not like you’re out of it, but you’ve walked where maybe a family is right now. Is there anything you would say to them?


Shelby: You know, valleys in life are inevitable. Suffering is something nobody on this planet can avoid. The Riveras are going to share their thoughts with you here in just a second. But first, I’m Shelby Abbot, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Eric and Erikah Rivera on FamilyLife Today. The Riveras have written a book called Unexpected Jesus: How the Resurrected Christ Finds Us, Meets Us, Heals Us. This is a really important book that explores how Jesus surprises us in unexpected places and offers guidance and healing amidst sorrows and uncertainties, which I know many of us go through, myself included. You can get a copy of the Riveras’ book at, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

Earlier this week we had one of our favorite guests, Paul Miller, on the program. He’s written a book called A Praying Church: Becoming a People of Hope in a Discouraging World. This book is going to be our gift to you when you partner with us financially. You can give online and get your copy of Paul Miller’s A Praying Church at

Okay, if you are currently in a valley in life right now, or maybe you’re experiencing hardship and trials, the Riveras want to share something specific with you.

Erikah: There are so many things that are not promised to us, that we can’t cling to, right? We can’t cling to healing on this side of heaven. We can’t cling to the things that we might want to have happen to be true, but we can cling to God. He says that He wants to give us peace, that He wants to give us joy in the midst of what we’re experiencing. Clinging to Him really, truly does provide that for us. It doesn’t always make sense; it’s not always this beautiful, picturesque thing, but it is a firm foundation. He's worthy to be trusted. So, I would say, “Cling to Him.”

Eric: He’s still working in the valley. He’s still working. Even when we feel like there’s a storm everywhere; life is a big mess, God is still working. The mess doesn’t mean He doesn’t love you. He does love you; He is near you; He is with you. Cling to Him, because He wants to meet you in that place.

Shelby: Coming up tomorrow, we’re going to hear more from Eric and Erikah Rivera as they share unexpected ways that Jesus transforms our lives in the midst of things like health issues, parenting, and education. That’s tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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