In a discussion based on their book The 4 Habits of Joy-Filled Marriages, Dr. Marcus Warner and Pastor Chris Coursey offer practical guidance for how a husband and wife can work together to experience greater joy in their relationship.
Mrs. Ann White: And I just remember breaking down completely and just begging God and just saying, “Lord, I have no clue what to do. I don’t know where to go, where to turn, what to do.” And I said, “You got to help me.”
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John Fuller: Their marriage was in shambles. In fact, it was one of the worst scenarios that her counselor had ever seen. And yet, God helped Ann White and her husband to work through their brokenness and to find healing together. And you’ll hear about that on today’s “Focus on the Family.” I’m John Fuller, and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, Ann White is a speaker, a teacher, an author, who helps others out of her own painful experiences in marriage. I think that’s one of the best teachers, someone who’s gone through the valley and has found the mountaintop through God’s strength and can share that experience with others. She’s written a new book called, Courage for Life, which offers steps to finding courage to face our fears and be vulnerable and real with others. Who doesn’t need that? I think we all need that. Ann struggled with being open with others for decades, hiding emotionally. And, now she shares hope and strength in Christ. And it is wonderful to have Ann with us. Ann, welcome to “Focus.”
Ann: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Jim: Your husband Mike is out in the gallery.
Ann: He is.
Jim: Your – you have two adult sons, as well, huh?
Ann: We do.
Jim: How old are your boys?
Ann: Our boys are 28 and 30.
Jim: Oh, man, they’re – I’m a few steps behind you with 17 and 15-year-old boys. So…
Ann: (Laughter) Yah. Well, we met in high school. So, we – we got started early.
Ann: We married, you know, just shortly out of high school, and then started a family almost right away.
Jim: Well, that’s both a blessing and part of the issue, isn’t it? (Laughter)
Ann: It is. Well, yeah, I think it is, actually. (Laughter)
Jim: Yeah. I mean, in fact, you met when you were 14 and 17, as you said. This is really hard to do. I mean, you do it with such grace. But to talk about the most painful areas of who you are, and your relationship with your husband, with the Lord. It’s got to be very difficult. Have you found that to be helpful to others? Is that why you do it?
Ann: That’s absolutely why I do it, is because it is helpful for others. Because I think many of us walk through life veiled to the possibilities because we’re hiding what’s really holding us back. Fear comes into play and just keeps us tripped up all the time. And I know, for myself, for 40 years, I just kept it under the radar and pretended that everything was OK. So, if there was a difficulty in my marriage, I hid it. And I think everybody tends to do that…
Jim: Yeah, I was going to say…
Ann: …They’re afraid of what people would think.
Jim: To some extent, I think everyone does it, if we’re honest. I mean, because there are things that you don’t lay out there, you know. And it’s not – there’s probably negative things that you shouldn’t hide, obviously – poor behavior, sinful behavior, those kinds of things. But there’s also courtesies that you would hide. You know, when you feel irritated, the right thing to do is to kind of bury that, I would think. There is a healthy burying, is there not?
Ann: There absolutely is. And I was going to say that. Because, you know, I think we need to be transparent with our spouses, our family members, loved ones, friends. We need to come out and speak truth and love. But we don’t have to tell everything, you know. So that goes for, like, what you said, you know, if we’re agitated, and we just need a moment to calm down and, you know, gather ourselves back together. Or if we’re talking to a close friend or – or someone who’s come up to us and said, “you know, tell me what you’ve been through in your life and, you know, how that might help me get through what I’m going through,” you don’t have to tell all the details.
You know, the important thing is that people understand we’re fellow strugglers. We’re the body of Christ, and we’re in this together. We don’t have to be alone. We don’t have to walk these difficult journeys by ourselves.
Jim: When I heard John talking about, in the open there, your marriage and what the counselor had said – it was one of the worst marriages he’d ever seen – I mean, that – that’s kind of jaw-dropping.
Jim: So, what was going wrong that a counselor would say that? Paint the picture of your early marriage. What was happening?
Ann: Correct. He did say that. And what – but what he actually said was, “I’ve not seen a marriage in as much difficulty as what you guys – or mess, as big a mess, as what you guys are in that’s ever made it.” So, he’d seen many difficult marriages, but the majority of them had broken apart and split.
Jim: Well, that right there is the confidence people should have and what you’re about to share with us.
Ann: Amen. Yes.
Jim: So, let’s get into it. Where were each of you in your walk with Christ, when you got married and in your early years of marriage? Where – where was God in your foundation?
Ann: So, we both grew up going to church, occasionally. My husband grew up Church of God. I grew up in the Methodist Church. But, we would go occasionally. My parents were Christians. I believed I was a Christian. But I might be in church once a month and didn’t have a clue what God’s Word said, didn’t know other than to take my Bible to church with me on Sunday and listen to what the pastor had to say, and then bring it back home and set it back on a shelf. That’s basically all I knew about God and His Word. I believed in Christ. I believed He was real. But that was the extent of it. So, I – I think it’s a dangerous place to be, but that’s where I was.
And so, there was no life change in my life, because as a kid, I simply believed I was a Christian. I believed that I have my ticket into Heaven, and that’s all I needed, and yet go ahead and just live life as it comes at you. My husband was going to church as well, um, thought he was a Christian. And, you know, his mom would take him occasionally. But we both – at 14 and 17 when we met, we were both very broken. We came from very broken homes, with very broken relationships within our homes. So that obviously impeded our ability to have a healthy relationship, even in high school.
Jim: What would people on the outside looking at your marriage – how would they have described that marriage that you’re living in?
Ann: Um, from the outside looking in, we hid it very well. And that was part of our problem.
Jim: Use some of the words that people you think – and don’t be shy – I mean, what would people have said about Ann and Mike’s marriage?
Ann: They thought we had the perfect marriage, the perfect family.
Jim: Had it all together.
Ann: Had it all together. My husband started a business at 19 years old, knocking on doors selling insurance, became very successful. And so, we’d had the two children. Uh, everyone was healthy, had a nice home. Everything looked great on the outside. And we got really good at hiding it. But it – that’s what we grew up learning, that you’re not to show your weaknesses. You’re not to show that you’re struggling.
Jim: Well, take us back to that, your family of origin. You know, the Scripture talks about how the sins of the father are visited upon for generations. And when you think about that, it sounds almost not understandable. But a practical application of that is, the things we learn as children, through our parents and grandparents, we take them forward. Describe how you took the sins of your fathers and mothers before you into your marriage. What were – was your childhood like?
Ann: Well, when I was born, I was the baby. I was – my parents had both had prior families before they divorced their spouses and married and then had me. So, I was the, you know, product of the typical, at that time, modern family, the his, hers and theirs. And…
Jim: Huh. His, hers and theirs.
Ann: Yeah. So, started out that my father accepted my two brothers, my mom’s two boys. And the first few years, I remember Mom telling me that things were really good. But by the time I came along, my dad didn’t accept my brothers. And so, there was a lot of verbal abuse, a lot of emotional abuse, of just making them sit at the other table, not being able to have dinner with us.
Ann: You know, my – my dad had lost a son. There’s – there’s a lot that goes behind this in my dad’s brokenness. So, my dad grew up the baby of nine in inner-city Charlotte, with an alcoholic father that beat him. Things that I learned much later on in life. As a matter of fact, didn’t really learn until it I started writing this book and doing more research, really, on my family.
Jim: And that’s usually what you find. There is a history that’s going to, you know, propel somebody in those bad directions.
Ann: Right. And so, he became successful, just simply out of a drive that he was going to make it, regardless. And so, he was a fighter, strong personality, dealt with a lot of insecurities and a lot of anger. And so, his first wife that he married, he lost their first son at two years old. And so, there was – that compounded this hurt on top of there. So, when he and Mother married, he took in her two sons as his own, initially. But I don’t know if it was out of guilt, or what the issue became – he decided that he couldn’t raise another man’s child. And so, that attitude kind of carried itself throughout my brothers’ lives.
Jim: So, they felt rejected.
Ann: Absolutely rejected. Now, they had their biological father, who loved them dearly. And they would go and see him. But they were growing up in a home, with a man who rejected them.
Jim: Yeah. That’s really tough. How did that impact you? Uh, you talk about the anger. Did you bring anger into your marriage? Was that part of it?
Ann: Absolutely I did. I did…
Jim: Well, how did that manifest itself?
Ann: Well, it manifested itself, because I grew up feeling isolated from my brothers. And I grew up watching my brothers be disrespected, rejected and mistreated, and I became very angry with my father. And yet, I carried that anger into my relationship, but I learned to stuff that anger. That’s what I saw my mom do.
Jim: What does that look like? I tend to be kind of just out there, as John can attest to.
John: Yeah, you…
Jim: So, when you – you talk about stuffing anger, I – I think I understand that. But, describe it for me more deeply. What – what does that look like?
Ann: You know, for me, it was an internal processing. So, if I was ever hurt, disappointed, angry, whatever, I simply would just deal with it internally, and allow it to continue to build up. And I would think to myself, um… you know, you can do this.” And it got to a place in my life at one point, where I might even deny that things happened. So, if Mike and I had a terrible fight, or we had difficulty in our marriage, or we ran into a situation where we had hurt one another in some, you know, way, I might even say, “you know what? I can’t deal with that pain, so I’m just going to deny that it happened.” Because, if I want my marriage to continue, if I want my family to stay together, I need to just pretend that everything’s OK and just go on, just put it behind me and just pretend it never happened, and go on. And I became really good at that. But what happens is, that just continues to build up.
Jim: It doesn’t go anywhere. It just sits inside you.
Ann: It doesn’t go anywhere. You know, inside, you feel like you’re building this big wall of protection, and you’re putting those bricks up to where no hurt, no pain, nothing can penetrate you. And you just move forward and go forward and say, “you know, I can handle anything.”
Jim: How many years of wall-building did you go through, before God started to tear your wall down?
Jim: So, 25 years of marriage. And then, what was the precipice? What did the Lord use between you and Mike to – to get a hold of you, to say, “this is unhealthy, you’ve got to change?” And did it happen to both of you at the same time, or was it you first, or Mike first, or what happened?
Ann: Happened to me in 2012. It’s kind of when the dam broke. And it was about eight years prior to that – and God had been working on me since about 1999. And, I talk about that in – in the book, Courage for Life. I kind of go back and tell that journey of where that part began, and God began to woo me in, as He does. And, as we go through difficult times and we stuff those hurts, and we have no one else to turn to, or we feel that we have no one else to turn to, we obviously turn to God. But what that did for me, which is a good thing, is it drew me closer into Him. It drew me closer into a personal relationship with Him. And so, about eight years prior to the dam breaking, to that crisis moment, where everything kind of fell apart, God drew me to his Word. I remember in 2004, we had just moved to a new town that was about an hour and a half away from our church, and I had been really involved at our church, there in Woodstock, Georgia, and had been really receiving a lot of benefits from being involved at church. I was…
Jim: Describe that. Help us – what does that mean?
Ann: You know, being in choir…
Ann: You know, being in choir – no, I think it was just, it would make me feel good. So, the more I would be at church, the better I felt…
Jim: No kidding.
Ann: The more whole I felt…
Ann: … the closer to God I felt. And so, when we moved about two hours, or about an hour and a half to two hours away from our home church, I really questioned God. And I said, “Lord, why did you take me here? Why did you move us here? I was drawing closer to you. I was getting fed. And I remember the Lord saying to me specifically, “I don’t want you to be fed at church. I want to feed you, personally.” And I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know what it looked like. But shortly after that – it was within a month or two – we were living in Rome, Georgia, and we were just maybe 45 minutes from Chattanooga. And I had someone tell me about Precept Ministries. And I went to a women’s conference there and learned that Kay, who was, at the time, still writing her books and her studies…
John: This is Kay Arthur.
Ann: Kay Arthur, sorry – I learned that Kay Arthur was still doing pilot studies during the week on Tuesdays, and that you could go and – and she’d give you the workbooks to work through a particular book of the Bible. So, in 2005, I started going on Tuesdays. And I could not get enough. I took study after study. And I began studying God’s Word, book by book, verse by verse, word by word. And I learned to study inductively. And it changed my life. And so, I learned I could do that. And that’s what led me to the point in 2012, where I think God got me to that point where He said, “You can no longer live like this. You can no longer hide your pain, your sin, your brokenness. All of the difficulties, all of the – all the stuff, all the hurt from childhood, you can’t go any further with that. It’s time for you to come out and be open and get this dealt with.”
John: Ann White is our guest on “Focus on the Family.” And, uh, your host is Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller. You can find more about Ann’s story and, uh, some great encouragement in her book, Courage for Life. Uh, the subtitle is, “Discover A Life Full of Confidence, Hope and Opportunity.” And, we’ve got the book, a CD and a download of our conversation today at focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Ann, when you look back on that – it’s not that long ago, actually – you know, that surrender to God, what you were going through, um – and I think there are many churches that are great churches, that are – people are going to be fed in those churches…
Jim: …Like you were fed through, uh, Precepts. So, the church plays a critical function, as well.
Jim: But, I want to concentrate more with you and Mike and where you were at. Was he – what was his attitude, seeing you move more closely into God’s orbit, reading the Word – reading the prophets? Were you having discussions about it? Was Mike intrigued, or was he like, “what has happened to my wife?”
Ann: (Laughter) You know, I think, Mike has always loved the Lord. You know, we both have loved the Lord. We just didn’t know kind of where we were. And I can’t speak for him, certainly. But what I can say, what I observed, was, he was busy growing a business, a very successful business.
Jim: So, he had those pressures.
Ann: He had a lot of those pressures. And so, while he loved the Lord, and he would go to church with me on Sunday mornings, I was growing deeper and closer to the Lord. And I think it probably put a little pressure on him, probably made him feel a little, – I know the right word…
Ann: Maybe so. Yeah, probably so. Yeah.
Jim: Just a little outside your relationship with the Lord?
Jim: I could understand that. In fact, you went to Israel. I think that was the trip that that surrender actually occurred. Set that up for us. And – and speak to the environment, what you and Mike were dealing with, the phone calls you were having, and how God used that separation time, you being in Israel – I think with your son, right?
Ann: With our – with our oldest son…
Jim: Yeah. What – what happened?
Ann: …who was 24 at the time. So, that’s actually how the book, Courage for Life, starts out. I start out with that crisis in Israel, because I had gotten there – I think right before we left, the night before I left for Israel with this trip – it was a church trip, and there were about 40 other church members. We headed to Israel. The night before, Mike and I were in our typical argument, because our – our relationship – not simply because of him, not simply because of me, but simply because of our brokenness and what we were doing to each other – it was a duel. You know, we were both responsible for allowing our marriage to deteriorate. And we were arguing. And we both knew that our marriage was on life support, and we both knew that divorce was in our future.
Ann: So, as I left for Israel with my oldest son – who knew very little about what was going on in our life, because we’d hidden it from our kids, as much as we’d hidden it from everyone else – left with a pastor and his wife, my son and 40 other church members. We get to Israel. And after our first day, we come back that evening. And as I talk about in the book, I came back. Blake was on the phone with Mike. And, Blake, as he intuitively would have done and did, said, “Hey, Dad, do you want to talk to Mom?” And of course, that puts Mike and I both on the spot. You know, we had been arguing and probably needed that break from one another. But I got on the phone with Mike. Blake went back to his room to take a shower. And, we proceeded to continue to disagree and talk about what we were going to do about the mess of our relationship and, really, how we were going to amicably divorce.
Jim: Yeah. Ann, what stopped that from happening? I mean, when a couple’s at that point – in fact, you know, one of the things, John, that we have is Hope Restored, which is an intensive marriage counseling experience for people with an 81 percent post-two-year success rate. And this is one of those things, that many of the people that go have actually signed the divorce papers. And this is a critical point, because some listening right now might be there, Ann, that they’ve just had that conversation. They may not be in Israel. They may be at work and one at home. And they’re at this point where they’re saying, “OK, how are we going to amicably end this thing, as believers?” And that’s not the will of God.
Ann: I know.
Jim: Uh, that’s not His heart for their relationship. How does a person pull back? What happened in your life, as an example, and as a – a witness to the others listening who might be at that same point?
Ann: Well, um, you know, Jim, I think we often try to control our situations. And I know I did. I know Mike, um, is a very strong personality and a – a very successful man. He, you know, is in control of all of his life.
Jim: Hard charger, I’m sure.
Ann: Yeah. We – we had no problem controlling many situations in our lives. So, we tried to control our marriage. But we knew at that point – I knew at that point I could no longer control the situation. I had no control. I couldn’t save it. I couldn’t do anything in my power to save it, or to allow it to dissolve amicably. I had no clue what to do.
Jim: Let me ask you this. Was that, in hindsight, when – in that moment, could you see that was a good thing, or did you feel it was a bad thing, that you couldn’t control your marriage anymore?
Ann: Of course, at the moment, I thought it was a bad thing. You know, I thought that I could control anything.
Jim: And it was a God thing.
Ann: But it was a God thing. God allowed me to get to the end of my self, to where I couldn’t control anything anymore. So, Mike and I actually ended up hanging up. I don’t know who hung up first, but…
Jim: But it wasn’t friendly.
Ann: It wasn’t a friendly end to that phone call, when I was in Israel. And I remember just sitting there on the edge of my bed. Blake had an adjoining room, so he was over in his other room. And I just remember breaking down completely and just begging God. I remember being face-down on the floor and just saying, “Lord, I have no clue what to do. I don’t know where to go, where to turn, what to do.” And I said, “you got to help me.” And I think that’s the sad thing. Sometimes we wait till it’s so bad, before we turn to the Lord and say, “God, tell me what to do.”
Jim: Yeah. Well, that’s so true. And – and for those that are experiencing desperation – that’s really what you’re describing – the Lord is there. I mean, that’s the…
Ann: He is.
Jim: …That’s the truth of everything. And, uh, it’s a matter of recognizing it and turning toward Him. You wrote a note, though. Uh, I would say, reading the book, your first step was the vulnerability step, to share with somebody. Who was that somebody? And was it during the Israel trip?
Ann: It absolutely was. So, at that very moment, when my face was on the floor and I was asking God what to do, He immediately gave me the answer. He immediately – I knew immediately what I was supposed to do. I felt the Lord speak to my spirit and tell me to write down the reality of our situation on a piece of hotel letterhead and take it to my pastor and his wife.
Jim: And they’re – they would have seen you as a together couple, back to our description, before.
Ann: For 15 years, we were great – we – we’re still great friends with them, obviously. But for 15 years prior to that moment, we’d been great friends, traveled internationally with them, had traveled many times, spent vacations with them. They had no clue.
Jim: Yeah. Wow. You were good managers of the pain.
Ann: We were.
Jim: I mean, really. So, you…
Ann: Unfortunately. (Laughter)
Jim: …You slipped the note. How did you get the note to the pastor and his wife? And what – what did you do that took that kind of courage? In fact, your book, Courage for Life…
Ann: It’s exactly…
Jim: …This is the beginning.
Ann: …It’s exactly the beginning (laughter) of where it all started.
Jim: Yeah. So, describe that for us.
Ann: So, in that moment, I wrote on the front and back of this letterhead and just – really just told them kind of where we were. Our marriage was on life support. And I knew if I didn’t deliver that letter, if I waited until in the morning, when we’d be getting back together as a group, I wouldn’t give it to them. I knew I would chicken out. So, I called their hotel room. And Janet, my pastor’s wife, answered the phone, dear friend of mine. And I said, “Are you in your room?” And she said, “yeah.” And I said, “I need to bring you something. I’ll be right there.” So, I walked out of that room and with a note in my hand, scared – scared to death. And I – I say scared to death. I mean, at 46 years old, you know, 47, 48 years old, I was scared to death, I was trembling, to tell someone the reality of my brokenness and my situation.
Jim: Well, for the first time, it sounds like you were doing something against your nature, the nature that you had learned as a little girl, what you had learned as a young wife, that burying and hiding. And, the Lord’s pulling you out of the weeds…
Jim: …saying, “OK, take this step.” It’s marvelous to hear how God wooed you into that, in a loving way.
Ann: He did. He gave me the courage to be able to get that note into their hands. And, as I talk about in the book, I talk about that moment as I handed that note to her. And the elevator door opens up, like, 20 feet away. And I hear the bell, and then out of the elevator comes my pastor and his two grandkids that they’d brought on the trip with them. And they’re holding ice cream and saying, “hey, come on in, let’s” – and I’m like, “no. I just need to give y’all this note. And, I just want to ask you to pray for Mike and I. Um, love you, guys. I’ll see y’all tomorrow.” And boom, I was out of there. (Laughter)
Jim: Yeah. But still, an amazing step of courage that the Lord used, obviously. It cracked your heart open, didn’t it?
Jim: I mean, that’s the key thing. And, you know, again, for people listening, hopefully we all go through that experience where we have to do something that takes us out of our comfort zone. And what I mean by the comfort zone is the cover-up zone. You know, it might be that vulnerability in your marriage, where you’ve done something you need to share with your spouse. And what is amazing with that, hopefully, and it doesn’t always work out that way – but that vulnerability ends up developing even greater trust and a platform for that relationship to be stronger than it’s ever been.
Ann: It is. And – and it has been, and it is. And I was very fortunate. You know, I could have been the only person to take that step of courage in my marriage. We knew we couldn’t go any further. It was – it was literally going to be over if we didn’t do something. But I remember coming back to the room and, in a short time after that, letting Mike know that I just uncovered our brokenness to two of our very best friends.
Jim: And Ann, we are out of time.
Jim: This is a horrible place to end. I – I need to quickly hear, though, Mike’s response. In three words, what would it be?
Ann: In three words – at first he was not happy, but God worked on his heart. And he, as a man of courage, came forward and said, “let’s get help together.”
Jim: Let’s get help. Three words. Ann, you have a wonderful story, a powerful story. We’re in the middle of it. Let’s continue the discussion next time. And I want to talk about the steps that you offer to others that can begin their healing journey in your wonderful book, Courage for Life. And we’ll do that. If you’re in that spot, if you can make a monthly pledge to Focus of any amount, we’ll send you Ann’s book as our way of saying thank you. If you can’t afford it, we’re – we want your marriage to thrive. So, get a hold of us. We’ll get it into your hands. Others, I’m sure, will cover the expense of doing that. Uh, the bottom line is we’re in this together on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ to help marriages thrive. And, Ann, I so appreciate you and Mike’s story and how it’s unfolding. Let’s come back again and uh, continue the story. Can we do that?
Ann: We absolutely can. Thank you for having me.
John: So, get a hold of us and, uh, let us know you’d like a copy of Courage for Life, by Ann White. And if you can, please make a regular monthly donation to the ministry today, so that we can continue our efforts through these broadcasts, resources and, Hope Restored, that marriage intensive Jim mentioned a few minutes ago. Uh, that is an incredible opportunity for so many couples to see God work and rebuild what was, uh, destroyed through years and years of, uh, neglect or anger, or whatever the issues were. And, uh, we need your partnership to continue Hope Restored and other outreaches, so please donate at focusonthefamily.com/radio, or call 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
John: On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to “Focus on the Family.” I’m John Fuller, and we hope you will be here next time, as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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