Radio Icon Delilah's Calling

Delilah, "the most listened-to woman in America," opens her heart on faith career and fighting for children across the globe.

Delilah

Delilah begins an interview the same way she begins many of the calls on her popular radio show: “What’s on your heart?” she asks. It’s a catchphrase Delilah proudly owns, as those four words sum up the essence of the program. September will mark 45 years since she first began offering spiritually based love advice over the air—although she, too, has had some rocky love stories. Delilah has been married four times, a fact she says makes her suggestions more authentic to listeners.

While the radio icon is famous for asking about others, the reality is there’s been far too much on her heart and mind recently. Her oldest son, Zachariah, took his own life last year while Delilah was on one of her annual mission trips to Africa. He suffered from mental illness, which spiraled toward the end of his life. Zachariah was the second child Delilah has lost. Sammy, who Delilah adopted from Africa, passed away in 2012 from sickle cell anemia.

The loss of a child is unbearable for any parent. But the pain must be particularly acute for Delilah, who has dedicated her life to assisting in providing health care, education and other care for impoverished children across the globe. As if her day job wasn’t enough, she stays busy by running her own continuously growing household filled with little and not-so-little ones (13—three biological, 10 adopted—to be exact) in the Pacific Northwest. That doesn’t count the horses, dogs and other animals.

Connect Faith caught up with Delilah—on a phone call, naturally—to discuss her lifetime dedicated to helping others, how faith has shaped her path and finding a work-life balance through it all.

What’s it like to be the Delilah?

It’s wicked fun. I never get tired of hearing people say, “Wait, are you the real Delilah?” Then they sing “Delilah.”

Can you describe Point Hope’s mission?

Point Hope works here in the United States to bring awareness to kids in foster care and partnering with organizations that advocate on behalf of kids in our child welfare system. We work overseas with developing nations to get basic necessities—like nutrition, sanitation, those sorts of things—to kids to sustain their lives. We have a medical team going to West Africa in August.

How many children have you helped over the years?

We take care of 380 to 400 kids every year. We put kids through school. I don't even know. We’ve been doing it for a long time.

Could you have ever imagined doing all this for children when you were a child?

It is definitely my calling, my mission in life. I never pictured, when I was young, that this would be the path the Lord would lay before me, but I sure am blessed and grateful. As much as I love being on the air, in some ways it’s a means to an end because it affords me the ability to do what I do for kids around the world.

Why dedicate yourself to others?

Everyone has a calling. Everybody has a talent or a gift or a skill that the Lord put in them. The magic is figuring out your passion and how you can apply that passion to making the world a better place. There are a lot of people who know what their passion is and they apply it to making themselves happy, but that doesn't really accomplish anything except making them happy.

If your passion is skiing and you love to go skiing and snowboarding, that's great for you, but when you take that passion and give free ski lessons once a weekend for an hour or two to kids in a foster care program who otherwise would not have this opportunity, then you are using your passion to change the world for good.

Has it been a challenge blending your faith and career?

There is always a challenge, and I’ve been fired for it. But I don’t really care because every time the world closes a door, God opens a better one. I don’t shove my faith down anyone’s throat on the air. It is who I am and I am not going to make apologies for it.

Do your beliefs affect what sponsorships you take on?

All the time. I’m not going to lend my voice to something I don’t believe in. It can be a problem at times, but thankfully there are enough businesses that are family-focused and have great products and services I can say yes to. My job is not selling the commercials. But, the people who sell the commercials know me—they don’t even bring stuff to the table they know I am not going to like.

Can you share some examples?

Our national sponsors have been with me for years. A lot of them didn’t come to me. We went to them because they are products or services I use. I go to Home Depot at least once per week—usually two or three times—so we deciced to see if they are interested in sponsoring my show. That was a very organic, real thing—the relationship was in place years before the sponsorship was in place.

From your vantage point, what is the state of faith in this country?

I know it’s not politically correct to talk about your faith, but we have to. It’s the core of who I am and the core of everything I do. It’s why I do what I do. My faith is like my kids—I could never deny my children. I could never say they are not my heart and my soul. Yet there is this taboo in society you are not supposed to talk about the very center of your being, your soul connection. That’s crazy.

Can you describe the role faith has played in your life through the highs and lows?

The good times are easy—we celebrate. But the tough times, that's where I couldn’t carry on; I couldn't breathe. I couldn't put one foot in front of the other if I didn’t know the Lord is good and he is going to work things out, as painful as they are.

As more people use their phones for apps, are you worried they will stop using phones to call in to shows like yours?

We get over 100,000 calls a week—not a worry for me.

How many people do you talk to in a given day?

I talk to between 60 and 80 people per night, and 25 make it on the air.

Do you feel bad it’s so hard to get through to you?

I do, but I pray every day and I say, “Lord, whoever needs to hear from you, whoever you want me to talk to, let them get through, and give me the wisdom you would have me answer them.” I know whoever gets through, God wanted them to.

One obvious difference between the start of your career and now is the advent of social media. How does that affect your messaging?

It’s a different audience. My Facebook audience tends to be a little bit younger. My listening audience are more women in their 30s, 40s or 50s. But a lot of my Facebook audience is in their 20s or 30s, so it’s a little different.

What do you attribute to your lasting power?

I think people know I am real and speaking from my heart. What they see is what they get. I don’t go on the air and pretend to love God and then go off the air. I’m not a created character or entertainer. I am who I am. I think people recognize that within a few minutes of listening to the show.

How many more years will you keep going with the show?

I am adopting a 3-year-old and I need to get him through school. He is not even in preschool yet, so I have at least 16 more years ahead of me.

How do you manage your professional and personal lives?

I have help. I have a woman named Kim who has been with our family for 10 years who works four days a week. She helps with the laundry, cooking and child care. My son helps with the horses and animals. My niece is my personal assistant, which means she helps me get the kids to the dentist and the doctor and their appointments. You don't think about it—you just do it. I couldn't do it alone, that’s for sure.

You give out love advice on a daily basis but have been divorced three times. How do you square that with your listeners?

I think one of the main reasons I can give people advice is it comes from a place of authenticity. I repeated the same pattern that my mother repeated, and that my grandmother repeated. I fell in love with my first husband, a man who was an alcoholic. It was the way I was raised; it was what I knew. It took me a lot of work to break that cycle, and, thinking I broke the cycle, I rushed into another relationship with somebody. Though he was not an alcoholic, he was raised by an alcoholic and had a lot of the same characteristics and behaviors.

I can certainly tell people what to look out for, and the heavy work and hard work that need to be done before you commit yourself. If you have been brought up in dysfunction or brokenness, chances are you are going to repeat that pattern if you don’t get help.

What’s one takeaway our readers should get from you?

God tells us true religion—pure religion—is to care for orphans and widows and their afflictions. I don't understand why, in a country where over 80% claim to believe in God, we have 457,000 kids in foster care. Why aren’t we caring for the orphans and the widows like he tells us to?