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)
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.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Well, that’s our guest today on Focus on the Family, author and speaker Kimberly Wagner. We’re gonna hear from her and her husband, LeRoy, as they share their compelling story of a marriage transformed and restored. This is, as I said, Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, we love hearing stories like Kim and LeRoy’s about the Lord’s redemptive power and how Christ can work in your marriage to bring about something beautiful - something better than you thought you could ever have. And you know, marriage is so important in this culture right now. I can’t say that enough. We need to be talking about it often. But our witness in our marriages will either do harm or do tremendous good in the culture for the Lord right now. We need to do all we can to protect it, strengthen it, and help it to thrive.
John: And Focus has a lot of great resources, including caring, Christian counselors who can really help you with insight and perspective on your own personal circumstances.
Jim: That’s right, John. And you know, I think the biggest factor is just hesitating or feeling like, “Well, my problem isn’t severe enough.”
John: That nobody’s heard this before...
John: ...they don’t know what to do.
Jim: And we want to implore you, if you’re on that road that has a lot of uh, potholes on it, in terms of your marriage, call us. Let us begin that process to fill in those potholes, to smooth out that road for you. We offer our Hope Restored marriage intensives for couples who are in trouble. Maybe you’ve reached what you think is the end and you’re considering divorce. This is for you. Our research shows 4 out of 5 couples who go through Hope Restored are still married two years later and have a much higher level of satisfaction in their marriage. If you or someone you know is in that spot, call us for that information.
John: And our number is 800-A-FAMILY - 800-232-6459. Of course, details at the website, focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
And again, we have a great story today of redemption. Kimberly Wagner is the author of. And she and her husband, LeRoy, have two adult children - Rachel and Caleb - and a “growing tribe” - they call it - of grandchildren. And they’ve been married over thirty years.
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: 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: How did - what happened?
Kimberly: Ah, well, I didn’t realize it, but he was in my Greek class. I was in a...
Jim: Your Greek class?
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?”
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.
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. 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, “This young lady probably has a great interest in God’s Word,” 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? You didn’t think - 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.
Jim: Oh, this gets better.
Kimberly: ‘Cause I was not - well, I wasn’t planning on being a 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.” And...
Kimberly: And so, that started an interesting relationship.
LeRoy: That even interested me more.
Jim: So she was doin’ all the right things?
Jim: Now think of, 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. 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, what?
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, Jim, great way to put it.
Jim: Surrounded. Now Kim, I’ve gotta ask you. What family orientation did you have that every argument was one to win? Why would you want to lose an argument?
Kimberly: Right, well because if you have an opinion, you would only adopt that opinion if it’s the right opinion to have. So of course, you need to persuade others to have your opinion, right?
Jim: Right. I think the answer’s right.
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 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.”
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. 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. “I don’t want to go there.” Or, “I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to eat fish.” I mean, whatever it might be.
Jim: I mean, the signs now are, “Uh-oh, what have I done?” 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 we’ve been talking about our honeymoon while we’ve been out here in Colorado. That’s where we started in - 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.
Jim: The third day.
Kimberly: Well, 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 love-making 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 were 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.
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?
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...
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...
Jim: ...sin in human beings...
Jim: ...is rooted right here in these relationships in marriage.
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 calledand 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 just - 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 I was a - 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 I would basically just - 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 withdrawal 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...
Jim: ...something good going on here...
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...
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. 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. It was such...
Jim: So you had 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: You check out. A lot of men, if we’re honest, a lot of men are livin’ in that place.
Jim: There’s no 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, “I think your marriage is over. Leave.”
Jim: That’s not the way for us as Christians.
Jim: It’s how to make it healthy. How to make it better. Having trouble in your marriage is not unique. People that say they don’t have difficulty, at some point in their marriage, I just don’t believe them. They’re not living. They’re plastic. And so to fully live is okay to experience some difficulty. The question is, and I think what the Lord is asking, “What are you gonna do with it?”
Jim: “When I find you in the valley, how are you gonna follow Me to the mountaintop? And are you willing...”
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: Well and - I began to experience more and more understandably the feeling and it gave an opportunity for the enemy, who is an accuser, to continue to in - accuse me. And of course, that just brought me even to a lower state, because there was a lot of truth in his accusations. “You are being hypocritical. This is not happening in your life. You’re preaching the truth, but the truth is not being fleshed out in your life.” And I would say, “Yeah, that’s right, but what can I do about it?” You know and - and so, I think there’s a lot of Christian men that know the truth. They believe the truth. They’re firmly established on the truth, but there is a great gulf between where their lives and where their marriages are and the truth that they know and believe with all their heart. And that creates a great stress in their inner life. And that’s what was happening with me and 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. That was - 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 from the pastorate at that point.
Jim: Can I ask - can I ask you this question? Um, another problem we as men have is that we tend to not talk to people, particularly a man in your position as a pastor. Who did you turn to? Who did you say, “I’m struggling?” Who was that first person, outside of Kim, that you actually talked with at a deep level?
LeRoy: Of course, if you’re a pastor, unless there is a mechanism in place in the church, in the leadership where you have the accountability or you have that kind of intimacy within leadership where you can do that. That was not in place in the particular church that we were part of at that time. But there was a friend that uh, 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.
Jim: But the one good thing is he was there to listen.
LeRoy: Absolutely, and that was so important, so helpful.
Jim: That’s the first step.
LeRoy: Absolutely, Jim.
Jim: Um, you know, I’m thinking, Leroy and Kim, of pastors and their wives and the pressure that they’re under. And I’ve gotta tell you, if you’re feeling that, if you’re hearing this program and you’re going, “That is where I’m livin’ today,” please call us. Please let us be that first point where we can help you think through what’s happening, how the enemy, like you said, Leroy, John 10:10, how the enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy us. And he particularly wants to do that in our relationships and in our marriages.
Um, let’s come back next time, because we have to turn the corner and talk about your realization that God has a better way. Now can we find the path that looks pretty overgrown with jungle weeds, but where is that path to greater joy in our relationship before the Lord? Can you stick with us, come back next time?
LeRoy: Absolutely, Jim.
Kimberly: Sure, be glad to.
Jim: Let’s do it.
John: I know you won’t want to miss the rest of the Wagner’s compelling story of their marriage that seemed to be at its end, but they shared so wonderfully how God transformed and redeemed it into a thriving relationship. You can hear the strength even as they speak.
Let me again, mention the book,, by our guest, Kimberly Wagner. Uh, she has masterfully woven their marriage journey along with some great wisdom and practical tools for you to apply in your own marriage. And wives are gonna be encouraged in the strength God has given you. And you’re gonna learn how to use that to lift up your husband. Husbands are gonna gain better understandings about their wives and learn how to appreciate how God designed her.
And today, when you make a monthly donation of any amount to the ministry of Focus on the Family, we’ll send a complimentary copy ofas our thank you gift to you for joining the support team. We know that you might not be in a spot to afford that monthly commitment. If you can, please make a one-time gift, and we’ll send that book to you as well.
Donate and find other resources at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And while you’re there, be sure to check out an additional interview we had with Kimberly and LeRoy - it’s on our YouTube channel. And uh, you can also call us, of course. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening today to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back for the second part of our conversation with Kim and LeRoy as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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The Focus on the Family Marriage Assessment is designed to evaluate the strength of 12 essential traits of your marriage. Do you know your marriage's strengths and weaknesses?Read more
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Using the word 'emasculation' as an acronym, Kimberly Wagner outlines behaviors that can tear down a husband.Read More
Visit Focus on the Family's YouTube channel to watch another interview with LeRoy and Kimberly Wagner called "Loving and Leading Your Strong Woman."Read more
LeRoy and Kimberly WagnerView Bio
LeRoy and Kimberly Wagner are committed to helping Christians connect Scripture to their daily lives. LeRoy has served as a pastor and speaker for more than 30 years. Kim is the author of Fierce Women: The Power of a Soft Warrior. The Wagners co-authored the companion volume for husbands, Men Who Love Fierce Women. Kim loves connecting with women through her blog, kimberlywagner.org, and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kimberlywagner7.