Tags: Featured Feature story, Geneva Lake West
July 24, 2012 | 03:24 PMBefore her Sunday morning radio show, Judy Hehr is already crying.
"I'm just a spaz in a padded room," she said from the WLKG studio. "And I come in here, I cry, I laugh. It's all real." Hehr sets down a roll of toilet paper near her microphone. "We always need more tissue."
She sits across from Dave Michaels, show producer, and clutters the desk between them with notes and Bible verses.
Michaels quiets as Hehr bows her head and prays for guidance for her program and open hearts for her audience.
A crumpled ball of tissue wet from tears shed during the prayer will grow into a pyramid of used tissue by the end of her show.
"I think it's so funny that people call me an inspirational speaker," she said on a previous show. "I'm so not inspirational."
Michaels reminds her of the focus of the show.
"Real is real, whether it's happy or sad," he said. "It's honest. That's what the show is."
Emotion flows from Hehr, Fontana resident and host of "Journey with Judy" on WLKG, who said her heart was re-created in 2003. Now, she will often switch from laughing to crying and back again within minutes.
"I watched the Lord pick up my broken and shattered heart, piece by piece," she said off air. "He restored that heart, and he replaced my sorrow with joy."
That year, Hehr's life was falling apart. Her marriage was "unrepairable," and her faith was nonexistent.
"I didn't marry a godly man," she said after the show. "He was not a godly father. He was not a godly husband. That is what he has become." Sharing the story of her heartbreak nine years ago, Hehr has to pause again to regain her composure.
"I don't talk publicly about why our marriage fell apart," she said. "But we gave it one chance. We went to a Retrouvaille weekend."
Retrouvaille is an intense Catholic marriage repair program. According to the program website, the program emphasizes communication between spouses. It includes six to 12 weekend sessions over three months.
"I really don't think it's any different than anyone else's story," Hehr said. "As a family now, though, we have way more good days than bad days. And everyday, every time that we fall, we're reminded that we need a savior."
The program helped Hehr and her husband, Bob, save their marriage and brought her back to her Catholic faith.
"I was like a Pharisee," she said, regarding her own faith before 2003. "They were so about obeying the law but in a very self-righteous, condemning, judging way of everyone who didn't. They didn't obey the law because it was their hearts desire. They obeyed the law so they could lord it over you. I was like that."
Even while growing up, she said she just went through the motions of her faith. She felt a gap between the theology she was taught and the reality in her life.
"We were all about our Catholic faith and fulfilling those obligations," Hehr said. "Had Catholic schooling, all the sacraments and we never missed a holy day of obligation. The disconnect was not having our theology and reality collide in our everyday life."
She describes her childhood and parents in reference to the Bible.
"I believe that my parents wanted nothing more than to provide a loving, nurturing faith-filled home," Hehr said. "My dad was the Old Testament, my mom was the New. My dad was all about fulfilling the law, and my mom was all about love, mercy and forgiveness."
Because of the different ways her parents approached their own faith, she struggled with her personal beliefs.
"I promised that I would do better than my siblings and do all the right things in order to get the attention and the affection that I so desperately craved," Hehr said. "That was my motivation for the majority of my teen years."
That lifestyle continued into her adulthood. It wasn't until her near divorce that God made the connection in her life.
"When my mom died, no one stepped in and said that God makes all things good," Hehr said. "I know now that there is a plan and a purpose for your future."
Since October, Hehr has broadcast these same struggles of integrating her faith into real life on the air.
"I get to do this," she said, gesturing around the production room at the radio station. "I tell these stories that are real and make everything about God."
Last summer, a radio show wasn't on Hehr's radar. When asked to host a show, she refused for months.
"Who am I to tell people what to do?" she said. "How can I help someone else? Now I know that that's the best time for us to minister to others."
WLKG isn't a religious station, and Hehr didn't want to suppress her own beliefs in order to do the show.
"I was fearful," she said. "I had my own fear because it's a secular station with no faith perspective, never mind a Catholic faith perspective."
The invitation for the show was still open, and after much prayer, she accepted in October. Weekly, she shares her joys and fears, her laughter and tears and tries to convey "something" to her audience.
"I want to give hope and healing," Hehr said. "I want to introduce to them a god who loves them."
Though she doesn't get immediate feedback from her audience, she sometimes hears comments from unexpected sources.
"I love when I have a 16-year-old girl that walks into my house with my son, who says, 'I listen to your show Mrs. Hehr, and I'm that person,'" she said. "That makes it worth it."
On her most recent show, July 22, Hehr told listeners about her road trip to a family reunion.
She shared heart-breaking stories about her youngest brother who had drug addictions and was in federal prison for three years.
"(The reunion) was planned by a 45-year-old man who at one point couldn't be faithful to a commitment one minute from now," Hehr said of her brother. "If you couldn't find him where he was supposed to be then you could find him sitting on the floor at a crack house for days at a time, or you could have found him at a federal prison for about three years of his life."
Now, her brother is married and has a son, and he kept the commitment to his family with the reunion. Hehr credits her father for bringing the family back.
"My father was present in this place and in this space," she said on air. "I'm going to reference God in the same way I'm going to look at my father in this place and this space because what my father does is that he demands the best version of yourself. And when you're in his presence, you just step up and you (become) somebody that you know you're called to be, that you know you're expected to be."
She imposes this same standard on her own four kids today.
"I refuse to let [my kids] be anything less than what they're meant to be," Hehr said on an earlier show.
She mandates all her kids go to Mass and the sacraments with the family, and she hopes they will continue as they leave her house.
"They are forced to walk in the faith that we profess," she said. "Unfortunately, they do not see the relevance. But I believe that you raise a child in the ways he should go, and when he's old, we won't depart from it."
Hehr said her kids often tell her to quit "preaching and teaching," but that's what she does. Not only is she a radio show host, she's a motivational speaker.
"My daughter says that I make everything about God," she said. "Well it is. Everything is about God, and I use that idea to drive the show."
As such, she has no fear of public speaking, but she still worries about the show.
"The most difficult thing for me is that I really thrive on people's responses," she said, gesturing around the studio at the lack of a physical audience. "You just have to trust that it's not about you. If someone doesn't say something, it doesn't mean that God hasn't touched them or planted a seed."
Yet, she'll continue on the show, as long as she's helping people.
"Even if it's just one who understands that she's a child of God and has this dignity," she said. "Or someone, who's all messed up on drugs, who hears on a Sunday morning that it's OK, there's hope. Then it's worth it."