There were three things Lisa Burkhardt Worley was afraid of.
The first was snakes. (Unfortunately, that’s a story for another day.) The second was horses. This fear stemmed from one day a couple months before her birth—the day her father, a Jewish doctor, fell off his horse at a competitive polo match because of a fatal heart attack at 39 years old. Lisa’s mother and half-sister were on the sidelines watching, and neither ever recovered from that moment. Lisa’s half-sister moved to Pennsylvania to be with her biological mom, which left newborn Lisa alone with her grieving mother. “I think she was shell-shocked. My parents hadn’t been married that long, and she was seven months pregnant with me,” Lisa says. “My father was making good money, they had a great house, and the American dream was right at their fingertips. And it was all shattered the day my father clutched his chest and fell off that horse.” Her mother didn’t handle it very well. She started taking prescription drugs for depression and would create what Lisa calls “a Molotov cocktail” of three different drugs that doctors later discovered caused brain damage. Unfortunately for Lisa’s mom, the damage had already been done, and it was getting even worse with excessive drinking. “I remember the liquor store would deliver to our house almost daily,” Lisa says. “A quart of vodka and 7 Up.” With a shell of a mother, Lisa often felt lonely and unloved. She found solace in athletics, filling the absence of any male figure in her life by watching basketball, golf, football, and baseball on TV each week. And in between her mom’s nervous breakdowns, Lisa lived off and on with her maternal grandmother. She didn’t want the same thing that happened to Lisa’s father to happen to her, so she begged her incessantly to never ride horses.
And Lisa’s third and most debilitating fear was being anything like her mother.
When Lisa was 13, she sat behind her friend Leslie in English class. One day, Leslie turned around and asked Lisa if she would like to accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior. Completely out of the blue. Unbeknownst to Leslie, Lisa had already started drinking—unwillingly following in her mother’s footsteps. “Accepting Jesus had to be better than what I was currently doing with my life, so I thought, Why not?” Lisa says. She prayed with Leslie and was soon invited into a world she had never known. Leslie’s parents were devout Baptists and Lisa started to attend church with them each week. “They’d invite me over afterward, and I would sit in the living room at Leslie’s mom’s feet and ask question after question about the faith while she patiently answered me,” Lisa says. “And since we never had much food at home, I was thrilled each Sunday to see what kind of delicious casserole she would make.” Desperate to escape from her lonely homelife, Lisa immersed herself in church. Leslie’s family and church were a good support system for Lisa for a short while, but when she graduated and started college, she drifted from her faith. “I was like one of the seeds cast into the soil in the parable Jesus tells. The cares of the world came and choked it out,” she says. “And I didn’t really grow in my faith once I left for college.”
Ambition took the wheel. She was hungry to do something with her life and be as vastly different from her mom as possible. Lisa started college as a pre-law student, but soon discovered it required too much studying. Then she went into secondary education thinking that with her love of sports she could be a coach. After all, she had fond memories of starting an unauthorized girls’ basketball team in her high school. But dreams of being stuck in middle school gymnasiums haunted her and she went back to the drawing board. That’s when Verne Lundquist came to speak at her school. He was a national sportscaster, and as he talked, Lisa knew that was what she was supposed to do. “In 1970s America, sports reporting wasn’t exactly a woman’s domain. There were only two or three females in that field, and they were former Miss Americas,” Lisa says. “Many people tried to talk me out of it or get me to come up with a backup plan.” But Lisa refused. She was a sports fanatic as a child, and clocking in at 5'9", she enjoyed playing basketball, which she continued to do at the collegiate level. She knew her stuff. She lived and breathed it. And it was time for a woman who knew and loved sports to make a splash in this field.
Lisa transferred to the University of North Texas to participate in their radio, TV, and film graduate program and landed an internship at Dallas television station WFAA. Lisa knew it was only the beginning. She had a game plan and lots of dreams. “At the time, ESPN was fairly new, but my goal was to be an anchor,” she says. “I loved that ESPN was sports 24/7! In the news business, if a breaking news story happens, the sports section gets cut. You’re never the priority. But I wanted to work at a place where the sports news was always the priority.”
Lisa landed her first job at a television station in Chattanooga, Tennessee. But soon after, she got an offer to go back to her hometown of San Antonio. She would be covering some of her favorite teams like the San Antonio Spurs, the Houston Oilers, and of course, the Dallas Cowboys. “But I didn’t really want to move back to where my mom was,” Lisa says. “She was having some struggles. She would go off her medication and some bad things would happen. She was in and out of mental health care facilities.” But her aunt and uncle and grandmother were handling that tough situation, so she felt comfortable going back. Even though Lisa worked in the same city as her mother, she might as well have been across the country. Not ready to face the storm of emotions involved, Lisa avoided her mom. “For years, I was embarrassed by my mom and all her problems. I didn’t want my friends to know her,” Lisa says. “She never hugged me or showed affection. Out of all my years playing sports, she didn’t come to any of my games, except one time in college. By this time in my life, I was done with her.”
Lisa poured herself into her career. Thankfully it was something she adored, and regardless of her emotional ties to San Antonio, she loved covering some of the teams she grew up rooting for. Being a sportscaster was a superfan’s dream because of the prime reserved seats at the most exciting events of the season and access to the players. Lisa ate it up. She was also getting traction as one of the only female sportscasters in the country, so she hired a New York City agent to look for other opportunities. And she met her husband.
Six years, a wedding, and a new baby later, after becoming a correspondent on the HBO Sports show Inside the NFL, Lisa got a call from the Madison Square Garden Network. They wanted her too. Suddenly, Lisa had two jobs doing sports journalism. She and her husband, their son, a nanny, and two dogs made the move to New York where her career skyrocketed. “I got to cover the Yankees, Rangers, and Knicks. I even covered the Giants’ Super Bowl win over the Buffalo Bills,” Lisa says. “I had a sweet husband who moved his real estate business across the country for me and an eight-month-old I adored. It was such an exciting time.” But that didn’t mean that her career didn’t have its challenges. She was sometimes ignored, and she struggled to get attention in large press conferences with mostly male sports journalists. Postgame locker room interviews were especially awkward at first, but Lisa remained professional and players often followed suit. “I learned very early to have someone announce that I was entering the locker room!” Lisa says with a laugh. “And I learned to be bold and get the interview regardless of how awkward I felt. I once lost an interview with basketball legend Larry Bird because I was hesitant to approach him in the locker room. I never made that mistake again.” Once the conversations started, people loved talking to her. Lisa’s sharp wit, genuine smile, and easy, professional demeanor made her interviews with players intriguing and enlightening. She was at the top of her game.
Then one day, the bottom dropped out. She got two calls in one week: one telling her that her contract was not being renewed and the other telling her that a more prestigious sportscaster wanted her position, and although they assured Lisa she did a great job, they wouldn’t need her anymore. “It was a humbling way to lose a job,” Lisa says. “I went from six figures to zero. I just plummeted. We knew we had to move out of our house and relocate somewhere cheaper. I hadn’t connected with God in 17 years, but He was the first person I blamed.”
Lisa was angry. She loved her job, her house, and especially New York City. She moved to Connecticut kicking and screaming, already missing the restaurants, the Broadway shows, the shopping, the hustle and bustle. She had so many questions for God, and He wasn’t exactly answering. But nevertheless, she and her husband felt it may be time to get involved in a church. “I took out the yellow pages, closed my eyes, and pointed to a church,” Lisa says. “It was a small Presbyterian church in Fairfield, Connecticut, and the moment we walked in, an elderly lady put her arms around me and said, ‘We’re so glad you’re here.’” This woman connected Lisa to a group of other young moms, who invited her to join them in a Bible study. With nothing but time on her hands now, Lisa agreed.
They studied the book of John, and she began to pray and read the Word of God again. It was then that God finally answered Lisa’s constant questions on why He let her career flatline. “I felt like He said, ‘I gave you a national platform to glorify Me, and you didn’t do it. I had to take it away from you to get your attention,’” she says. “It hit me like a ton of bricks. I was so repentant.” She told the Lord that if He gave her another opportunity to be a sportscaster, not only would she give Him her career, she would give Him her life. A week later, her agent called. ESPN wanted her as a freelance reporter. “It didn’t take long to think about that one!” Lisa says. She immediately accepted, and knowing God was the catalyst, she got back in the game.
Soon after, she got another call from her old news station back in San Antonio. They wanted to know if she would come back and do the Monday through Friday, noon and six sportscasts again. “The old Lisa would never have gone backward,” she says. “But the new Lisa said, ‘What do You want me to do, Lord?’” She decided to see if ESPN would offer her a sports anchor position, because that was her ultimate dream, but if they didn’t, she would go home to San Antonio. After a conversation with ESPN execs, they told her they couldn’t give her a full-time anchor position at that time but would love to have her as a full-time reporter instead of just freelance. With finality, she declined. She knew what God was asking her to do, and she knew why.
Going back home wasn’t about covering every Cowboys game or even the Super Bowl that season. It wasn’t about floor seats to see the Spurs in the playoffs or going to the Winter Olympics in Norway. It was about honoring her mother for the first time in her life. “After Bible study one morning, I thought back to my college days. They were formative for my career, yes, but I also did a lot of things I’m not proud of. I drank a lot and was promiscuous. I ignored God for many years,” Lisa says. “Yet, He loved me and forgave me for all my sin and pride. And one day I thought, Who was I not to forgive my mother?” At this time, Lisa’s mom had been having trouble, so she was sent to live in a group home. For Lisa, honoring her mother meant forgiving her and taking care of her. This was completely new territory for Lisa, who spent so much time bitter and broken for the way her mother abandoned and neglected her as a child. But on a regular basis, she began to visit her mom, bring her clothes, and give her money. “Eventually, I grew to love my mother. I can’t even imagine what it was like as a young, pregnant newlywed to lose a husband so suddenly,” Lisa says. “I realized I didn’t know how I would handle that situation. God gave me such compassion for her.” Her fear of becoming like her mother slipped away, and what started off as an obligation to honor her mother became a joy—something she actually wanted to do.
“One morning she called me and asked for a pair of shoes. I told her, ‘Don’t worry, Mom. I’m gonna get you the shoes.’ I felt an urgency, so during my lunch break, I ran out to buy them,” Lisa says. “I got a call from her caretaker right then who told me my mom had a heart attack and was in a coma.” Lisa spent a week by her mom’s bedside, stroking her hair and telling her how much she dearly loved her. When she did pass away, Lisa made sure her mom was wearing the new shoes.
After that, God began calling Lisa into ministry, and her family moved to the Dallas/Fort Worth area. “I finally had peace with my mom, but I was still intrigued by my dad and his Jewish heritage,” Lisa says. “I prayed one day for the opportunity to visit Israel. I wanted to connect with my dad in that way.” A week later, Lisa was having a conversation with a Messianic rabbi when he asked if she’d ever been to Israel. He then invited her to go on the next trip his team was planning. Lisa excitedly agreed and was told in a prophetic word that God had a message for her there. And one afternoon in Jerusalem, a local man was teaching them about olive trees and how they can live for 800 to 1,200 years. “He said that the leaves and fruit die and rebloom, but the roots never die,” Lisa says. “At that same moment, I felt the Holy Spirit whisper, Lisa, your Jewish father died, but your Jewish roots never died.”
Lisa and her husband found themselves visiting Gateway a few years later. They loved the worship and atmosphere but weren’t sure about the size. “But then we saw how much Gateway loves Israel,” Lisa says. “God brought me to a church that teaches ‘to the Jew first’ and has a Shabbat service once a month. He brought me to a church that has a Havdalah class about Jewish roots, so I can learn about my heritage.” Lisa finally came full circle—finding peace in every hurtful piece of her past.
Today Lisa runs a ministry called Pearls of Promise, which helps women overcome past dysfunction, fatherlessness, trauma, and trials. “It’s a far cry from major national sportscasting, but when my mother died, all of her possessions fit into a shoebox,” she says. “I don’t want to see that happen to anyone else’s mother or sister or wife or friend.” She also just released a book called The Only Father I Ever Knew, which combines her story as well as other testimonies of the fatherless and then points to attributes of God as a true Father. God did not waste Lisa’s time in the media world. All the skills she picked up and honed for years have made her a great listener, a voracious fighter, a bold advocate, and an incredible communicator. These skills help her to impart in others the message of God’s truth, unconditional love, and forgiveness that healed her life. “God doesn’t tell us to just love the loveable. He says to love your enemies. God called me back to San Antonio all those years ago to love and honor my mom,” Lisa says. “And it wasn’t until I did that that He was able to heal me and use me to help heal others.”
Lisa and her husband, Jeff, have two sons. They attend the Southlake Campus weekly and the Gateway Shabbat Service every month. Lisa still loves all sports.
You can learn more about Pearls of Promise or Lisa’s newest book at pearlsofpromiseministries.com.