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Harnessing Your Strength to Transform Your Marriage (Part 1 of 2)

Original Air Date 03/30/2015

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Kimberly Wagner, author of the book Fierce Women, explains how women with strong personalities can damage their marriage if they are not careful. Kimberly and her husband, LeRoy, also describe how God transformed their marriage by giving Kimberly the wisdom to temper her own strong personality. (Part 1 of 2)

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Episode Transcript



Jim Daly: Ashley was ready to call the divorce attorney and end her marriage, but then she heard "Focus on the Family" on the radio and found hope. Hi, I'm Jim Daly. Every day our counseling team hears from people ready to give up--hurting marriages, broken families, people in despair. But when we give them the gift of family, they have hope for the future. Help us save and strengthen more marriages today. Any gift you give will be doubled, thanks to a matching grant. Call 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

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Kimberly Wagner: A fierce woman that is beautiful is under the Spirit's control. A destructive fierce woman is self-focused and self-centered and living for her own glory, rather than God's glory.

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John Fuller: Thoughts from our guest today on "Focus on the Family." That's author and speaker, Kimberly Wagner. I'm John Fuller and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.

Jim: John, it's December 1st. I just love it. This is it. This is the beginning of a great month ahead for all kinds of reasons and it also means we're kicking off a month-long look at our best of the year programs. This one today was with Kimberly and LeRoy Wagner and it struck a chord with all of you. In fact, it was our No. 1 program of the year, receiving the most response from you. And Kim was a self-proclaimed fierce woman, as you heard in that clip and that led to a major rift with her husband, LeRoy. They share their compelling story about the Lord's redemptive power in their marriage and restoring their shattered relationship in such a beautiful way.

John: Yeah, we receive e-mails and phone call every day from people who are struggling in their marriages.

Jim: You know, John, that's why Focus on the Family is here. We want to offer you hope and healing, as you work towards strengthening that marriage bond and it is so important. I've said it many times, people are watching, both Christian and non-Christian and I want to encourage all of us, Jean and me included, to make sure our marriage is as healthy as it can be, so that it can be a witness to other people.

Here at Focus, we offer counseling services if you need help and beyond our counseling team, we have the National Institute of Marriage, which is an intensive counseling program really aimed at those marriages that are on the last rung. I mean, they're really losing hope that they can make it. And I am so proud to say they have an almost 85 percent success rate. And if you're in that spot, let the Lord have a chance at repairing the brokenness. I think He'll do a great job.

John: Well, so many have found that kind of redemption in their marriage and please, get in touch with us today if you're struggling, if you need the counseling services or you'd like to learn more about Focus on the Family's National Institute of Marriage. Our number is 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

And we mentioned Kimberly and LeRoy Wagner and she's written a book called Fierce Women: The Power of a Soft Warrior and together, Kimberly and LeRoy have two adult children, Rachel and Caleb and what they describe as a growing tribe of grandchildren. They've been married over 30 years and here now is our conversation with the Wagners on this "Focus on the Family" best of presentation.


Jim: Now let's set a bit of the picture, here. LeRoy, your background, you're a pastor, right? How long have you been pastoring?

LeRoy Wagner: Well, actually I started pastoring when I was 18-years-old. Surrendered to preach when I was 13, so the Lord knew I needed a head start; He called me early to get me going so …

Jim: That's terrific though. At 13, you knew you wanted to be a pastor. That Lord laid that in your heart.

LeRoy: Started preaching youth revivals and youth meetings and then at 18, started pastoring my first church.

Jim: An, Kimberly, what attracted you to LeRoy?

Kimberly: Well, to begin with, I wasn't attracted to him actually. Our first conversation didn't go so well.

Jim: What happened?

Kimberly: Ah, well, I didn't (Laughter) realize it, but he was in my Greek class.

Jim: Your Greek class.

Kimberly: Yes.

Jim: Okay, that's a great place to meet your future spouse.

Kimberly: Yeah, we were at a Christian university and it was about 38 preacher boys and two women and I was one of those. And so, after class one day, he followed me to the cafeteria and he started with an opening line that I would not suggest most men use.

Jim: How'd that go?

Kimberly: We had never met, see. I didn't even know his name. And he just said, "Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?" (Laughter)

Jim: Okay.

Kimberly: And so, I looked at him and I'm a pretty transparent person, as you'll see today. So, I said, "Well, no." And he looked at me with just a, kind of I felt like a male chauvinistic look.

Jim: Yep.

Kimberly: And he said, "Why are you in Greek class?"

Jim: And how did you take that? What did that question mean to you?

Kimberly: Oh, it went all over me. (Laughing) I was like, who are you? And why are you asking that question? So, I just looked at him and you know, I don't suggest others doing this, but I looked at him without blinking an eye and I said, "Because I want to better study and prepare myself. I want to be able to read the original language for myself, so I can be prepared to shepherd my flock when I pastor."

Jim: Well, that's a good answer, but LeRoy, why'd you ask the question?

LeRoy: Well, I was of course, interested in her. She was not only absolutely stunningly gorgeous, but she was in Greek class. So, that piqued my interest of [the fact that] this young lady probably has a great interest in God's Word, in which I had a great interest. She might be a prospect for a future pastor's wife.

Jim: So, you meant it for good and she took it for ill.

Kimberly: I was offended.

Jim: I mean, what did it communicate to you? Did you hear, "I don't think a woman should be studying Greek?"

Kimberly: You know, I heard that; I don't know that, that's what he was saying, but Jim, I have to confess that I was lying when I answered him. (Laughter)

Jim: Oh, this gets better.

Kimberly: 'Cause I was not (Laughing) planning on being a pastor, a woman pastor. That was not my plan. And before I left that lunch line, the Holy Spirit convicted me and I turned around and I said, "No, I'm really studying the language just because I want to grow. I want to be able to study the Word myself and grow."

Jim: Wow.

Kimberly: And so, that started an interesting relationship.

LeRoy: That even interested me more.

Jim: (Laughing) So she was doin' all the right things.

LeRoy: Absolutely.

Jim: Now think of Fierce Woman, what are you drivin' at when you talk about or describe a fierce woman?

Kimberly: You know, I think, Jim, within all women there is this element of fierceness that is meant to be a good thing.

Jim: How do you define "fierce?"

Kimberly: You know, in the book I give a contrasting descriptive of that with several characteristics for being a beautiful fierce woman or a destructive fierce woman. But if I were to boil that down, just simply I would say, a fierce woman that is beautiful is under the Spirit's control. A destructive fierce woman is self-focused and self-centered and living for her own glory, rather than God's glory.

Jim: Okay, now let's unpack this then, because this played out in your marriage. And this is really the core of the whole message I think. LeRoy, early in your marriage you probably, both of you had expectations of what it would be like. I mean, for goodness sakes, you're both studying Greek. It's gonna be wonderful. You can even speak Greek to each other. (Laughter) But it wasn't comin' together that way, was it?

LeRoy: Well, we both had a desire to serve the Lord. We both had a desire for ministry, to honor the Lord with our lives in that way. But Jim, very early on in our marriage, in fact, in our engagement period, I realized I was way over my head. She was so strong in her opinions. I was attracted to that, her strengths. Her family was so much different than my family.

Jim: Describe some of that though.

LeRoy: Well, every decision was a discussion. And she overwhelmed me in her ability to discuss, far better than I was in being able to articulate any type of a position. And so, when her strength just kept coming out of whatever we might be discussing, I knew that I was probably gonna have my hands full, because that just wasn't my personality, my disposition.

Jim: So, you're feelin' outgunned.

LeRoy: Outgunned, that's a great way to put it (Laughter), Jim, great way to put it.

Jim: You know, that's really interesting though, because this is the crux of the matter. In the culture today that really doesn't perhaps recognize a biblical role for the genders--it's eroding in the culture--yet God says there is a role. Husbands do this; wives do this. And when you're together, honor each other this way. The culture for the most part, is jettising [sic] that tradition. And women are coming into that void saying, okay, I gotta be strong. I've gotta step up, especially in some cases where husbands aren't stepping up. Just describe that for all of us to better understand what you were feeling and was it just coming naturally? Or were you trying to win something from LeRoy?

Kimberly: I was trying to win something in a sense. I was trying to win his love and affection and I wasn't recognizing love and affection for what it was. And I was trying to win at times, him over to my opinion, my thought process. And then when I didn't see that coming to fruition, I would in some way punish him or demean him, emasculate him, which I think is very common today.

Or at times--now I wouldn't have said this--I had a friend say to me once that, you know, her theme song for her marriage was "Anything you can do, I can do better."

Jim: Hm.

Kimberly: That wasn't really my mind-set, but there were times when because we are different and men and women are very different and that's actually a good thing let me say, but because we are different, his weaknesses, whether it was personality differences, I would see them as weaknesses.

And that would tend to cause me to have a superior attitude toward him. And I really, Jim, I really think the heart of the matter here is, the need for humility, the need for Christ-like humility in marriage. [I] think one of the greatest foundational building blocks for marriage is speaking to one another in honesty with humility.

Jim: Why is that so difficult for us? Why is marriage unique that, that seems to be a difficult environment, where we would do that as Christians particularly? We'll do that with our friends, you know. We'll be deferential and you know, do you want to go out Saturday? Sure. Do you want to play golf? Okay. I mean, there's not as much competition with your friends it seems, like there is in your marriage where you're close and God's telling you, "Love each other." And yet, there's this tension because I don't want to do that, that way.

Kimberly: I think when you're young when you go into marriage and you're young and immature, that you go into marriage with an ideal already set in your mind. This is what I want my husband to be like. Or maybe he's saying, this is what I expect my wife to be like.

And you can begin trying to change them right away, trying to remake them into your own idea. And that's very destructive. You don't go into it with that humility of acceptance, accepting one another and encouraging one another to godliness, like Hebrews 10 talks about.

Jim: Hebrews does talk about that. Let's explore that a minute, because I would think most … especially again, most young Christian couples, they come into marriage wanting to put their best foot forward, wanting to be filled with the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, goodness. And yet, that lack of humility seems to sprout up so quickly, maybe even on the honeymoon. Where can a younger couple begin to arrest that? And talk about again, those destructive attributes of the fierce woman. Let's linger in there a little bit. Be open and honest. What were you facing?

Kimberly: You know, it's funny you would say the honeymoon, because (Laughter) we've been talking about our honeymoon while we've been out here in Colorado. That' s where we started, with our honeymoon. And on the third night of our honeymoon I was in tears. It was a meltdown.

LeRoy: Our marriage hit the skids at that point. (Laughter)

Jim: The third day. (Laughter)

Kimberly: And it was selfishness. It was so selfishness and preconceived ideas. Here I thought that every night of a marriage would be filled with passionate lovemaking every night. You know, that was just in my naïve mind. And by the third night, he had driven hundreds of miles while I napped and he fell asleep on me while we're praying. And I'm like, oh! That so hurt my feelings. Now that is so immature, you know and you asked me to be honest.

Jim: Yeah.

Kimberly: That is honest. I was so immature and woke him up crying. And when he asked what was wrong and I told him, he just rolled right back over and went right back to sleep. So, that didn't set the tone well for our honeymoon. And I think early on couples can develop these patterns of, the wife is hurt, so she exerts destructive fierceness whether through demeaning him, emasculating him, in some way trying to pull out love or attention or affection from him.

I talk about in the book in chapter two, I believe, I bring out, there's four destructive components I think at work within the heart of the fierce woman who is destructive—pride, ingratitude, fear and especially the desire to control.

Jim: Now a lot of husbands and wives right now are going, oh, yeah. That's self-evident. Why is it that way? Is Eve and the daughters of Eve created in such a way to want to control? I mean, I know we talk about gender differences. We know that women's brains are wired much more thoroughly than a man's brain. I mean, that's just science, MRI science.

Kimberly: I do think spiritually that as women, we are wired in a way to desire to control. Genesis 3, when after the fall, after Eve takes the lead, you know, and she disobeys God, part of the curse was that she would desire her husband. And that word is only used one other place in Scripture and it's really that the idea of it is the desire to dominate—

Jim: Hm.

Kimberly: --the desire to rule. But there in Genesis 3, it says, "But your husband shall be over you." He shall be the leader over you.

Jim: So, in essence, what you're saying is the fall, the original—

Kimberly: Yes.

Jim: --sin in human beings—

Kimberly: Yes.

Jim: --is rooted right here in these relationships in marriage.

Kimberly: Absolutely.

Jim: The woman wants to dominate, the man maybe takes a pass or steps back. LeRoy, talk about a man that has that fierce, destructive fierce woman as a spouse. What do the men do? How do they react to that? How did you react to that?

LeRoy: I think with both the men and the women, Jim, basically it is a desire to protect self, but it demonstrates itself in two different ways. For the man that reacts like I did, he might withdraw into a … he retreats into a cave. He might become depressed. He might become more reluctant to lead, because it'll only result in more conflict and an opportunity for his wife to dominate or to exert her opinion, her strength over him.

For me, I entered into marriage thinking I'm a good guy. I've been saved for a long time. I love the Lord. I'm a preacher. You know, marriage is gonna be great. You know, what woman wouldn't be a, you know, just thrilled to have me? And so, it was kind of that passive, not taking a strong stance from the very beginning that really, I'm responsible for that. And even though I thought, well, I'm not fighting against her, I'm not, you know, rising up and being mad and angry at her, it was just as sinful for me to retreat into that passivity that you see tracing all the way back to Adam, that created even a greater rift between my wife and I as our marriage continued.

Jim: You're listening to "Focus on the Family." I'm Jim Daly and my guests today are Kimberly Wagner, along with her husband, LeRoy Wagner. Kim has written a book called Fierce Women and we are just getting into it now. LeRoy, let me ask you this. So many of us as Christian men, we grew up reading the Beatitudes and reading what it means to be filled with the Spirit of God. It tends to lean into very tender descriptions and adjectives of kindness and joy and love.

But I think women, they get there easier than men do and I think for us, as we're trying to live as Christian men, we're trying to embrace those attributes. And some women, strong women see that as too passive. How do we juggle that as men? How do we be strong men of faith, yet tenderhearted. It seems almost opposite.

LeRoy: I think you hit the nail on the head in that the term that you used, "strong in the faith," I think that is the key component. And I think a lot of times as Christian men and even a pastor, you think, well, your commitment to the Lord, serving the Lord, that will suffice in your spiritual leadership responsibilities. It does not.

You need to be a strong spiritual leader at home. That doesn't mean that you necessarily have a strong personality or you are dominant as far as your opinions. But you need to lead out spiritually. You need to lead your wife as a shepherd. And you can lead as our Lord led. You can lead tenderly. You can lead with mercy and humility and compassion, but you have as a man, and I failed in that responsibility, to lead spiritually.

And therefore, I became weaker and weaker and Kim wanted to draw more strength out of me in her fierceness. And so, we were going in opposite directions—her trying harder and harder and me retreating farther and farther.

Jim: What did that look like for you in a day-to-day basis? When you got home at night and Kim was comin' at you, wanted the debate, wanted to fight, whatever she wanted, what did you do emotionally?

LeRoy: My personality, Jim, we didn't have conflict in my home that I grew up in. I mean, what dad said, there was no discussion. So, I didn't know how to discuss or debate or how to deal with conflict. And the more she would come at me with her opinions or what she was wanting to get across to me, I would shut down

And even though I'm an outgoing person on the outside in public, I'm more introverted. And so I would retreat further and further into a shell, which eventually, I battled with depression, because I didn't feel there was a way out of this.

Jim: In that moment, did you feel the withdraw[al] that you were going through and the retreat you were going through was appropriate? I mean, again, you recognize now years later that was unhealthy, but in that moment, did you see it as unhealthy? Or was it just a coping mechanism?

LeRoy: I think it was a coping mechanism. I think I felt it was all I could do. I didn't feel as we went deeper into the darkness of our marriage, I didn't feel there was any way I could biblically do this. We knew that divorce was not an option. But it so estranged our hearts from one another as this continued and I didn't feel that there was any way out. I felt completely trapped. It began to effect of course, when you're a pastor and this is going on in your marriage, it creates a great personal conflict and personal struggle.

Jim: And I want to get to that in just a second and how that impacted you vocationally as a pastor. But Kim, I want to come to you for a moment and ask you, as you saw LeRoy withering as your husband, what was going through your mind? I mean, do you feel like you were conquering, like there's—

Kimberly: No.

Jim: --something good going on here—

Kimberly: No.

Jim: --because I'm winning?

Kimberly: No, no.

Jim: Or were you going, what's wrong with him?

Kimberly:I was. It was breaking my heart. And even as we're going back there right now and describing it (Emotional)—

Jim: That's all right. It's painful.

Kimberly: --it is very hard to remember him in that broken place, because he had been this strong outgoing man of faith. [Weeping] We were committed to living our lives out in ministry. We even, before we married, we determined we would not marry unless we could bring God greater glory together than in our singleness. And that was not happening.

Jim: So, you have that as a foundation. At least you'd made that commitment--

Kimberly: And that is what we kept returning to. That was our foundation that we clung to. We knew God had brought us together.

Jim: --even in that dark place.

Kimberly: Yes and that's what we couldn't understand, because I was crying out. I didn't realize he was until years later. But I was crying out, "God, what is the answer? What is the answer? You have to have an answer to this."

Jim: Here's the delicate nature of this and God has brought you through and we're gonna talk about that. But so many couples are living where you were. There's so much loneliness. I think men particularly, they suffer in silence. I mean, we retreat. I don't think you need to be an introvert to do that. You just get tired. And you get home and you don't want the fight and you just watch the news and you watch sports and you medicate by being distant emotionally.

Kimberly: You check out.

Jim: So you check out. A lot of men, if we're honest, a lot of men are livin' in that place.

Kimberly: Yeah.

Jim: There's not vibrancy in that relationship. And women of course, are struggling so mightily. They feel lonely. They're turning to girlfriends. They're saying, what should I do? Some girlfriends will give bad advice and, "I think your marriage is over and leave."

Kimberly: Right.

Jim: That's not the way for us as Christians.

Kimberly: Right.

Jim: It's how to make it healthy. How to make it better. Having trouble in your marriage is not unique. The question is and I think what the Lord is asking, what are you gonna do with it?

Kimberly: Right.

Jim: When I find you in the valley, how are you gonna follow Me to the mountaintop? And are you willing—

Kimberly: Right.

Jim: --to follow me to that mountaintop? So, in that context, I mean, what began to change? What happened to you in the pulpit as you're preaching and you're sitting there telling people how to live a more full life in Christ and at home, you're dying?

LeRoy: I gradually got to the point where I said, I can't do this any longer. I can't stand before the people. I can no longer be a pastor, although that was my calling. I was committed to doing that. To be honest and to be a man of integrity, I can no longer do this, so I stepped aside.

But there was a pastor friend that we respected that we did go and we first confided that we're struggling. We're having some problems. And he was very helpful, but we still were not able to fit the pieces together. And he did a great job, but he could not give us the help that we needed at that particular time.


John: Well, you're hear the rest of the Wagner's compelling story about their marriage that seemed to be at an end, but God wasn't done yet and He transformed and then redeemed that relationship to be a thriving witness and we'll be continuing this conversation tomorrow.

Jim: I am so grateful, I think is the right word and thankful for the Wagners' transparency. These are your typical marriage struggles. Each of these things play out in unique ways in our relationships, but these are the kinds of things that destroy us and destroy our witness. In fact, one of the responses we received when we aired this last time came from a woman named April.

She was on a road trip to get away from her husband for a few days and actually heard this program with the Wagners. And she said she admits being that fierce woman Kimberly described and that she was driving home to see her marriage with new eyes, a fresh perspective. And I'll tell you, that's the first step. This Christmas, you can share a gift with immediate and eternal impact and we're calling it "the gift of family" and it's simple. Your support of Focus on the Family helps save and strengthen marriages like April's and many more. It equips parents to raise godly children and you know, the list just goes on and on, John.

I'm so grateful for how much work Focus is accomplishing for the kingdom and your gift today will allow us to step in that gap for that hurting family and provide biblically based teaching through Focus on the Family's daily broadcast and all the other resources and tools that we can help provide a hurting family.

And now through a special matching challenge, your support will go twice as far and I love this. I know most of the people who have made this contribution of the matching gift and I've talked to them on the phone and they get very excited about putting this challenge forward to you. And they want to double the investment, so when you give $20, it becomes 40. And it is with a good heart that these friends have put forward this matching challenge. So, take 'em up on the offer. Let's get to the goal as quickly as we can and let me say thank you for helping.

John: Give the gift of family today when you contact us here and our number is 800- A -FAMILY or donate at .

As we mentioned in the program, Kimberly Wagner's book is titled Fierce Women and Kim has masterfully woven her marriage journey, along with wisdom and some really practical tools that you can apply to your own marriage. We'll encourage you to get that book and our Best of 2015 program collection, which includes this broadcast and programs featuring Greg and Erin Smalley and Arlene Pellicane, as well. Check out the Best of 2015 CD set or the audio download and that book by Kimberly Wagner at . And today, for your donation of any amount to the ongoing ministry of Focus on the Family, we'll send a copy of Fierce Women to you as our way of saying thank you for joining our partnership team. Your support is crucial. Again, the number to call for a donation or to ask questions about what you've heard today or any way we can help, 800-232-6459.

Our program today was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow, as we hear more from LeRoy and Kimberly about how God intervened in their marriage.


Kimberly: We were committed (Weeping) to living our lives out in ministry. We even before we married, we determined we would not marry unless we could bring God greater glory together than in our singleness and that was not happening.

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John: That's next time, as we once again, help your family thrive.

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Kimberly Wagner

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Kimberly Wagner is the author of the book Fierce Women: The Power of a Soft Warrior. She has also produced several devotionals and resource materials for women, and regularly contributes to the True Woman blog. Kimberly is a frequent guest on the Revive Our Hearts radio program. She and her husband, LeRoy, have two grown children and several grandchildren.


LeRoy Wagner

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LeRoy Wagner is the senior pastor of Dayspring Southern Baptist Church in Hot Springs, AR. He received his BA in Biblical studies from OBU with additional theological training from Criswell College in Dallas, TX. LeRoy has served as a pastor and speaker for more than 30 years. His wife, Kimberly, is the author of the book Fierce Women: The Power of a Soft Warrior. The couple has two grown children and several grandchildren.