Interview with Emilie Barnes and Christian Book Previews' editor, Debra Murphy:
CBP: Would share with us your Christian testimony?
Emilie: I was raised in a Jewish home, and my father passed away when I was eleven. He was a German Jew. My mother was born in Brooklyn, New York, first generation. And then my father came to America and was a master chef at Fox Motion Picture Studios in Hollywood. My mother was the dress designer and seamstress for the Fox Motion Picture Studios. So I grew up in this home. My father became a raging alcoholic and when I was eleven, he passed away. My mother opened a little dress shop, and we lived in three little rooms behind the dress shop. She was really the one who taught me to be the maker of a home. She was busy in the front with customers and alterations, and I was responsible for those three little rooms, and I was responsible for the market list, going to the market and coming home and preparing the food. My mother was a wonderful cook and my father also, so I sat on the counters for many many meals and watched them both cook. So that was, kind of, my little life. And I was learning all of these things, washing and ironing, and sorting clothes and all of that, and little did I know how God was going to use that in my life later on.
CBP: How did you meet your husband?
Emilie: I met Bob on a blind date. I was 16 years old; I was very young. He’s five years older than I am, but I met him because his twin brother wanted a date with my girlfriend and she wouldn’t go out unless he found a date for me so that we could double date. And, as it turned out, it was my Bob. I was married when I was starting my senior year in high school; I was seventeen. He signed my report cards for me my senior year. It was interesting because my heart was really to be a maker of a home, and he shared Christ with me, he led me to the Lord. I am so blessed to have this man in my life. All I wanted to do was build my nest. So I worked until my daughter was born. I was 20 years old and then, shortly after my daughter was born, my brother’s wife left him with three little children. We took them in to care for them while he was pulling his life together, and then I got pregnant. So by the time I was 21, I had five children under five. God is so gracious, here I was learning how to be a maker of a home, and little did I know what was going to happen.
CBP: How long did you raise 5 children?
Emilie: The children were with us for four years and then we continued to raise our children. When our children went to college, I became an “empty nester”. My whole life changed. Everything I loved doing was over. I loved the hot cocoa, the cookies, and the pizza, the high school kids, and the great talks around the table – I loved all of that and it was like it was just wiped away from me.
CBP: So what did you do about your empty nest?
Emilie: I got on my knees to God, really in desperation, I said, “God, you created me, you’ve given me this wonderful life with a wonderful husband and children, I have no tools to work with, I graduated from high school, I have no profession, I have nowhere to go.” I felt like I had just lost my home, but God honored my prayer when I said, “Just use me. I don’t care what it is, God. I want to be your woman.”
CBP: What happened?
Emilie: It was just a few weeks after I had prayed that prayer that God brought into my life my mentor who is still my mentor after over 25 years. Her name is Florence Littauer. She was the one who took me under her wing; she saw things in me that I had no idea I had. She never criticized me at all, but she would always say, “You know, Emilie, if you share your testimony at the beginning, it will grab the women in to listen to you, and then you can give them the tools to work with.” And that’s what happened.
CBP: How did you get published?
Emilie: Florence connected me with Harvest House who published my first book in 1982. Everything in the whole wide world that I knew it seemed was in that little book.
CBP: Your husband works with you, how did that situation happen?
Emilie: My husband who had been in education for 14 years then mobile home manufacturing until the plant closed down in 1982. Afterwards Bob didn’t know exactly what his career was going to be and what he was going to do next. We were both young, I was 40. One day he said to me, “Emilie, I’ll go with you and I’ll put up the book table and I’ll put your book on the table. I’ll take care of that for you but when I get a regular job, that will be it.” And that’s exactly how it started. Churches started inviting me to come and speak. I was doing seminars and he was putting up the book table, and who would have known that together Bob and I have written over 70 books. He still has not gotten a regular job, so we are very busy with speaking and sharing with women the tools to be able to manage their homes.
CBP: Your focus on the home has been enduring, how is that?
Emilie: In 1982 when I released my first book, I said, “This is a fad, this is going to pass.” And as the years have progressed, it has been more valuable than ever because once the woman went in the work force, she not only walked out of her home to work, she walked out of her home as a homemaker. So she came back in the house and she didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know how to meal plan. So we’ve been able to give them the tools, not only in the books, but also through my speaking.
CBP: What about your health?
Emilie: In 1997 I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and that was a total shock. Our whole world changed in just 20 seconds. I went into treatment, and had a wonderful oncologist and I lost my hair, and then I went into remission. I was in remission for three months and then I popped out of it; my oncologist couldn’t keep me in remission. So I lost my second batch of hair and then he said, “Emilie, you have a choice to make. We can see if we can get an experimental protocol for you at the hospital in Seattle, WA. If they can come up with a protocol for you, would you be willing to get a bone marrow transplant and be experimental in this program?” So that’s exactly what happened. In looking for a donor it turned out that no one of my family matched. Then we were looked for someone not related. After five months someone popped up in the Minneapolis bone marrow bank. There was a young man 23-years-old in Toronto, Canada that matched my six components perfectly.
CBP: Matched perfectly, that is amazing! What happened next?
Emilie: We went up to Seattle leaving our home, our phone, mail, animals and everything else to get the bone marrow transplant. We have a wonderful couple that took over all of our needs; it was like God placed them in our laps. God orchestrated the whole thing. I am totally – I am not in remission – but I am totally cured. I have no cancer and I have no pre-cancerous cells. So the bone marrow was definitely the answer in saving my life.
In March of this year, through process of elimination, I had to have to have major surgery because when I had my tumor in my stomach, the radiation burned that up. Also, over the last few years, I developed scar tissue that was closing off my stomach from the intestine. I wasn’t able to maintain food. My doctor felt that I needed surgery. So in March I had major surgery. It was a very severe surgery in that they took out 2/3 of my stomach. I have recovered and I am better than I have ever been.
CBP: Recovered and better than ever! Now what are you up to?
Emilie: I am speaking again, and it’s just been amazing what God has done. And I know why I am here because women today, this whole new generation who’s coming up, they haven’t been mentored. They have no idea. They want to quit work, they want to have a family, they want to go back into the home. It has been a switch. Now young women are realizing that the dream they had was not really God’s dream for their lives. So when I speak, I share Being a Woman of Prayer, how we have the responsibility in our homes to be the parent who teaches and molds our children, and how we give children an example.
CBP: What do you share with mothers?
Emilie: I realized in raising our children that they didn’t necessarily do the things I was telling them to do as much as the things that they learned from watching me. And that has totally been a revelation to me because I see now our daughter who has three children in college – I can’t believe I’m old enough to have a 22-year-old granddaughter – but I see it also with our grandchildren how our daughter was able to teach them. It’s just amazing how the generations have come along. When I speak, I really feel that I want to be, for that moment of time, that mentor to show women and teach them, and then let them go home and implement. It is amazing to me the women who just – well, their eyes light up – it’s a whole new world for them. So I feel very blessed.
CBP: Where do you get all of your ideas? Did you have women send in letters/ideas to you?
Emilie: No, never. I just took the things that I was taught, and then God gave me all these ideas. It just totally came from Him. I did have a young mother come up to me after one of the seminars and she gave me this idea that I’ve incorporated. I wish I knew her; I would love to give her the credit. She said, “You know, when I pray for my children, I have them outline their hand on my little prayer page, and when I pray with/for them, I put my hand on their hand. They may not be there, they may be in school and I’m at home, but I can connect with them and pray holding their hand.” I have passed that idea on time and time again. It’s been very powerful.
CBP: How would you inspire those who feel household management is boring or meaningless? What is the value and importance behind it?
Emilie: Well, if we were to tally up all the time that a homemaker spends – she should make about a $120,000 a year. We don’t look at it as a job; we look at it as a profession, as your work for this period of time when you’re raising your children. This is a responsibility that your boss has given you. It is in the word of God, something God tells us. I don’t understand how it can be boring when you’re working for God. The other thing is, you can make it fun. Also, we don’t have a lot of time, but we have 15 minutes. Is that too much to give to God to start your day with 15 minutes of prayer? Even when you’re working around your home you can put on Christian music, and even as you’re working you can pray.
CBP: You cover so many subjects everything from; food prep, the kitchen, storage, cleaning, the garage, the laundry, the automobile, finances, time-savers, raising children, good health, sewing crafts, plants and the garden, beauty, moving, our wardrobe, and safety. There is something for everyone. What is the most valuable?
Emilie: I think everything you mentioned is valuable. I think though that the most important thing is something I shared the first time I ever talked to Dr. Dobson. He interviewed me on Focus on the Family, and as the interview went on, he was more curious about how do you do it all. And he said to me, “How long does it take you to clean your house?” And I said, “Fifteen minutes.” And he about fell off his chair, and my husband did too because he didn’t know what I was going to say. But it was just like God gave it to me, and I said, “Well, you walk out the front door, you turn around, you ring the bell and you step in, and the first room or closet or whatever, is where you start. And you set a timer for fifteen minutes, so if you do fifteen minutes a day, by the end of the week, you’ve invested an hour and thirty minutes and you still have Sunday off. So when you break it into little segments like that, it’s a lot easier.”
CBP: And a lot less intimidating by chunking it that way.
Emilie: Exactly. Because the woman is looking at her whole house, and she’s going, “What about the photographs? What about all the junk in the closet?” But if you just look at the closet and you invest that fifteen minutes, it’s amazing what can happen.
CBP: Well, thank you so much for your time and the interview. I read your early work as much as 19 years ago and it meant so much to me. I know this interview will mean so much to our readers.