The popular radio personality has known many heartaches—a troubled childhood, crippling addictions. Find out how she triumphed.
Settling into my chair in the broadcast booth, I slip on my headphones and adjust the big yellow mike, then give my producer a thumbs-up through the window. I glance at the clock: 7:00 P.M. Time for my radio show, “Delilah After Dark.” Buttons on the console start blinking, calls coming in from listeners across the country. I push a button and say, “Hello, this is Delilah. How are you doing tonight?”
“My wife’s away on a business trip, and I really miss her. I was wondering, could you play something to let her know I’m thinking about her?”
What a sweet, romantic gesture... “Sure,” I tell the caller, signaling my producer and sound engineer to cue up “Wind Beneath My Wings.”
I say hi to another listener. “Delilah, I really need someone to talk to. My marriage is falling apart, and I’m worried what it’s doing to my kids.” When she tells me about the hurt and anger that have swept over her house, I ask her, “Have you thought about getting counseling for your kids? And yourself. You don’t have to go through this alone.”
“Maybe... ” she says slowly.
“I’m going to play a song for you. Call me back in a couple weeks and let me know how you’re doing, okay?”
“I will. Thanks for listening.”
I sit back as “You’ve Got a Friend” goes out over the airwaves, hoping I’ve helped that caller. When we break for the local news, I take off my headphones and pick up the phone to check on my own kids.
“Hi, Doug,” I say to my husband. “Did TJ get back home from basketball practice? Is Zacky asleep yet?” I ask after Sonny, Manny, Tangi and Shaylah too. It’s always an adventure having six kids in the house!
“TJ wants you to know he hit a three-pointer. Zacky dozed off halfway through his mashed bananas. Shaylah found her inhaler.” Doug laughs. “Everyone’s doing fine, Dee, don’t worry.”
We hang up, and I say a prayer for the woman who’d called me earlier to tell me about her marriage troubles. As blessed as my life is now, I understand where people like her are coming from. I’ve been there myself.
Growing up in small-town Oregon with an alcoholic dad and a codependent mom, I knew all about living in a house ripe with hurt and anger. My refuge was the local radio station, where I’d apprenticed since the owners heard me in a speech contest and decided a girl who liked to talk that much had to be on air.
Radio was how I survived when I ran off to Seattle after my dad kicked me out for breaking curfew. I married young—too young to know the difference between wanting the big happy family I never had growing up and being truly ready for the kind of commitment that would take. The one good thing that came of the marriage was my baby, Sonny, whom I loved with a completeness I’d never imagined possible. I threw myself into being the best mom and best DJ I could be.
I landed my own show and really got into talking to the people who called in to me with song requests and finding out more about their lives. I should have been paying a lot closer attention to my own life, should have seen that the eating binges and diet pills provided only paltry relief at best from the pain of my failing marriage. My brother, Matt, tried to get through to me.
“Take your problems to God,” Matt urged. “He’ll always be there.” Yeah, right. So where was he when Matt and his wife were killed in a plane crash? When my husband walked out on me? When the station manager fired me for playing songs that were too sentimental?
In a matter of months I’d lost almost everything that I cared about. I felt a pain so deep that food and pills and the string of men I dated couldn’t touch. Only when Sonny looked up at me, his dark eyes full of trust, did I find some solace.
But I’m such a mess, I thought. Do I even deserve his love? Late one night remembering my brother’s words, I broke down. “I can’t go on like this,” I said. “God, if you’re real and you care about me, I need to know.”
The next day I went to Pike Place Market to do some grocery shopping. Going back to my car, I noticed something stuck beneath the windshield wiper. I looked around at the other cars in the lot. Nothing on their windshields. It figures, I thought. I’m the only one who gets a ticket.
I got nearer and saw that tucked under my wiper was a tiny book—a Bible. I took it off the car and opened it. Inside someone had written the words “Jesus Loves You.” I stood there, my hand shaking so hard the pages of the Bible rattled.
Could this be the God my brother had been trying to tell me about? Someone who was always with us, who loved us, whether we knew it or not?
I started going to the church just at the end of my street. A friend there took me to my first 12-Step meeting. That night I stood up in a room full of people I didn’t know and for the first time talked openly about my unhealthy relationships with my parents, men, pills, food. The more of these meetings I went to, the more I felt the incredible sense of connection that comes when people share their lives with one another. Fellowship, some people called it. To me, it was God using us to spread his love.
I braved a move all the way across the country to host a nighttime radio show in Boston. One of the first things I did was find a church. That’s where I met Doug, the man I would marry. Not that I realized it then. Sure, he was cute, and good with Sonny. But given my romantic history, I’d decided to focus on my son and my career. Doug and I were casual friends for a while before we had our first real conversation.
I noticed then how much Doug made me laugh, plus he talked about how as an only child, he’d always wanted a house full of kids. This is the kind of person I want to build a future with, I thought.
Doug and I had been married just over a year when our daughter Shaylah was born. I had secretly feared I couldn’t love a child as completely as I had my first. But the minute I held my golden-haired baby girl to my breast, I started to fall in love.
Thank you, God, I prayed. It’s good to know there’s always room in my heart for another child.
We moved back to Seattle in 1997 so I could do “Delilah After Dark” and once we settled in, Doug and I found ourselves talking about turning our family of four into more. “There are so many kids who need homes,” I said. “Who need love.”
I wanted to adopt a child other people might not consider, and Doug agreed. We wanted to be sure, though, that bringing a new child into our home would not hurt Sonny and Shaylah in any way. One day Sonny said wistfully, “It would be nice to have a brother my own age.” It was all the nudging we needed. Doug and I signed up with an adoption agency and had to go through extensive screening before our caseworker would tell us about a child.
“He’s twelve, badly abused by his parents.” She handed us a photo of a boy with a shy yet beguiling grin. “His name’s Emmanuel. Manny for short. Why don’t you take the weekend to think about it?”
We took the photo home and put it on our refrigerator. “I want to see,” three-year-old Shaylah said. I lifted her up. “Shay, that’s Emmanuel. He needs a home. Daddy and I are praying about whether it’s right to have him live with us.”
That Sunday in church the choir started singing, “God be with us, so close to us, Emmanuel...” Shaylah tugged at my sleeve. “Mommy,” she whispered, “they’re singing about my new brother!” First thing Monday morning we called up the adoption agency. “We’re sure. When can we meet Manny?”
We took Sonny with us on our first visit to Manny’s foster home. We all talked for a while, then the boys went down to the rec room to play video games. Pretty soon we heard them busting out laughing. Manny started coming over for weekends, then longer.
By the time we were given custody of Manny, it was hard to imagine our lives without him piggybacking Shaylah around or battling it out with Sonny on the chessboard. I was watching one of their games when Manny said, “I wish TJ and Tangi could be with us, too.” His brother and sister, 9 and 11. Even though Doug and I were expecting our second baby, we went to see our caseworker.
“I know you mean well,” she said, “but you don’t understand the kind of deep-seated problems TJ and Tangi have. They’ve been through a whole string of foster homes. Tangi has temper tantrums. TJ’s been kicked out of school so many times I’ve lost count.”
She paused and gave me a long look, her eyes dropping to my rounded belly. “You’re pregnant and you want to take on more children? I don’t think you have any more room in your lives.”
“Yes, we do!” I cried. “Just give us a chance with Tangi and TJ.”
We started out with short visits, which went better than we’d hoped, especially with TJ, who seemed hungry to be part of a family again. It nearly broke my heart when he asked, “Can I call you Mom since I don’t have a real mom anymore?”
Then a crisis at their foster home sent TJ and Tangi to stay with us sooner than anyone had anticipated. “The kids are really confused about what’s going to happen to them now,” the caseworker warned us when she dropped them off. “They’re going to act out.”
It didn’t take long. I asked TJ to clean his room. He exploded, tearing up everything that he could lay his hands on.
For a moment, I stood in the doorway, paralyzed, remembering my father’s alcoholic rages and how I’d been powerless to stop them. Then I remembered something I’d heard in a parenting class about how kids in TJ’s situation would lash out to test our love. God, help me show TJ that we won’t stop loving him any more than you’ll stop loving us.
“TJ, maybe it’s hard for you to believe right now,” I said, “but Dad and I aren’t going to go away. We love you, and we want to be your forever family.” TJ didn’t respond. I could only pray that he had heard what I had said to him.
Seven months into my pregnancy, the doctor put me on complete bed rest. One morning I woke to the smell of frying sausage. A few minutes later, TJ walked into my bedroom carrying a tray.
“Morning, Mom,” he said softly. I half-sat up. On the tray were two fried eggs, yolks runny the way I like them, sausage and toast. “Did Dad cook breakfast?” I asked.
“No, I did. I wanted to surprise you.”
It took a little longer for Tangi. She was gentle and calm with baby Zacky, born two months after she moved in. Otherwise, there were tantrums on a daily basis. Doug and I had no idea how to cope with her moods. Sometimes Tangi wouldn’t even talk to us.
The caseworker called us in. She said, “We know that you have done your best, but we don’t think you’re capable of meeting TJ and Tangi’s needs. We’re going to place them with experienced foster parents who are specially trained to deal with dysfunctional children.” God, I thought you said that love never fails. Why aren’t we getting through to Tangi then? I asked. Why are they taking her and TJ away?
That same night I invited Tangi to come over to the radio station with me to help me watch Zacky. She was thrilled to be trusted with the baby, but once he dozed off on the way home, Tangi withdrew again. A painful silence filled the car. I heard a sniffle. I glanced at Tangi. Even in the darkness, I could see tears glistening on her face. Suddenly she let out a cry that was raw with pain. I pulled the car over to the side of the road, and she collapsed into my arms, sobbing.
Out poured the story of how frightened she’d been living with her biological mother, whose boyfriend had hurt her and her brothers. “But this hurts even worse. You and Dad are my family. They can’t make me leave!”
Next morning Doug and I called up the caseworker. “TJ and Tangi belong here with us,” we said. “How can we make them a part of our family forever? We’ll do whatever it takes.” That’s how it came to be that now, when I sit back during a break and call home to check on the kids, I have six to ask after. Sonny, Shaylah, Manny, Tangi, TJ, Zacky. My forever family.
The buttons on the console are blinking again. I slip my headphones back on, ready to say hello to more listeners. I can’t wait to talk to them about their lives—and to share part of mine. Especially some of the love I have been so uncommonly blessed with.
This story first appeared in the November 2001 issue of Guideposts magazine.