John Fuller: Today on Focus on the Family, a powerful story of a failing marriage redeemed by God. Kim and LeRoy Wagner offer hope and encouragement to couples who may be struggling, but first, we have an important update, by phone, with Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, I’m on the road right now but I wanted to provide an update to the folks about an important U.S. Supreme Court case that we’ve mentioned before. We’re connecting, by phone, with Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop right here in Colorado. He’s currently in Washington, D. C. The oral arguments of his free speech, religious liberty case were heard just yesterday by the Supreme Court. In question is Jack’s constitutional right as a business owner to express himself artistically, and respectfully decline making a cake for, in this case, a same sex couple, but I wanted to get Jack’s perspective. Jack, welcome back to Focus on the Family.
Jack Phillips: Well, thank you. Thanks for having me.
Jim: Jack, you sat through that. That can be a grueling experience. I’ve sat in on a couple of Supreme Court oral arguments. First of all, just how do you feel and what are you sensing the Lord is doing after sitting through that experience yesterday.
Jack: You know, I feel pretty good. Um, hoping the, uh,Justices will look at this case and decide that creative professionals should be free to create art according to their conscience. And.then nobody else will have to live through what my family and I have lived through for the last five years.
Jim: Jack, describe that, ‘cause a lot of people aren’t watching the news all the time. What have you endured to stand up for your faith? What are some of the implications of what has happened?
Jack: We’ve endured harassing phone calls, death threats, one call that uh, um, a guy called and said that he was going to come and shoot me. And at that time my daughter was in the shop with her four-year old daughter and the call was legitimate enough. The man knew my daughter’s name, knew that she was there. And so I had to tell her to go hide in the back of the shop while I called the police. And, it was uh pretty, harrowing experience to have that kind of thing happen.
Jim: Well that’s so unfortunate and that’s one way that we can pray for you is your safety for you and your family as you have to sit now for several months before the Supreme Court announces their decision. Let me ask you this tough question—have you prayed for those who have brought this lawsuit against you?
Jack: Oh, absolutely. Um, quite often, in fact.
Jim: Well, Jack, that’s a great spirit, it really is. And you know, we need to be praying for you again and praying for your family and we are grateful that in that moment, when you stepped forward to that counter to ask them how you could help them, that you chose your convictions because it’s important for us to have role models. And I know you don’t feel like being that role model, but you’re there. For such a time as this, you’ve been chosen. And I know that comes with a big burden, so we’re grateful for you. Thank you for your attitude of grace and for your desire to serve the Lord as you serve other people as well. Thank you so much, Jack. We will pray for you. I’m gonna make it up to your shop—
Jim: -- ‘Cause I do want to taste those wonderful treats that you make and I hope people will stop in there and uh—Masterpiece Cakeshop—But our prayers are with you, and for all of us, we need to be praying for those Justices. That wisdom would prevail and the right thing will be done. So we thank you, and thank you for your great work.
Jack: Thank you, Jim. Appreciate it.
LeRoy Wagner: What I thought was gonna be the death of me- our miserable marriage- was the death of me, but it was the proper death, the biblical death, that we need to die in Christ in order that He might resurrect us and bring us the life that He desires for us to have, not what we think we can work out on our own.
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John: LeRoy Wagner on today’s Best of 2017 Focus on the Family and he and his wife Kimberly are with us. You’ll hear more from them today. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly and thanks for joining us. I’m John Fuller.
Jim: Boy,LeRoy and Kim’s heart for marriage is so evident, and that’s why this program received such a strong response from all of you.They walked through such desolation, but God restored their relationship to one that is full of beauty and intimacy. And that’s what marriage should be. That’s one reason we here at Focus on the Family believe so strongly in honoring marriage and why we want to help you make your marriage strong and thriving. When two unique personalities come together—especially when one is strong, and the other maybe a bit timid—things can get off track. Relationships can become strained, and marriages can wither into desperate misery. But there is always hope in Christ. And today, LeRoy and Kim’s story is gonna encourage you.
John: Yeah, as you heard, they really were, withering, to use that word you used. The Wagners have been married over thirty five years and have two adult children—Rachel and Caleb—and, as they put it, a growing tribe of grandchildren. They’ve written the bookMen Who Love Fierce Women: The Power of Servant Leadership in Your Marriage. Here now is that conversation with LeRoy and Kim Wagner on today’s Best of 2017 Focus on the Family.
Jim: Well, this is a new work, thisMen Who Love Fierce Womenand it was kinda born out of the last program or at least, you guys may have been thinkin’ about it and that puts some heat under the kettle to get cookin’.
Kimberly Wagner: Yeah.
Jim: Um … talk about that motivation,Men Who Love Fierce Women. What was goin’ on in your marriage that now has created this work?
LeRoy: Well, uh … our marriage was in a complete state of miserable dysfunction for a long period in our marriage, even though we were both committed to Christ, committed to serving the Lord. But uh … we had some difficulty in relating to one another that kept reoccurring. And we didn’t really understand. We couldn’t get a handle on what was going on, why we could not have the harmony and the peace in our relationship.
And it was about 15 years of marital misery that we just thought there’s no way that we can work this out on our own. And we were just consigned to living in misery, which is not what God intended, because we didn’t believe in divorce. And uh … I think there are probably a lot of couples out there that are Christian couples, but are not experiencing what God desires for them to experience.
Jim: Well, and I think it’s a lot more prevalent than what we display.
Jim: And I think that’s why I’m so excited to have you guys back, because you spoke so vulnerably about what was happening in your marriage and it helped literally thousands of people reconsider God’s way for marriage. Let me ask you that right there. Let’s start with that question of why is marriage important to God who created us?
Kimberly: Well, marriage does parallel the gospel and the work of God.
Jim: In what way?
Kimberly: And Ephesians 5 describes it, but just to put it in layman’s terms, it is the picture of Jesus Christ, laying down His life, pursuing a bride—the church, His people, people He calls to Himself—laying down His life at the cross to purchase or redeem or love this bride well.
And in Ephesians 5, it gives the man the mandate; you’re to love your wife as Christ loved the church, which is pretty impossible to do. It’s impossible on your own and then the wife is to be responsive to that love, the chur … as the church responds to Christ.
So, we as a couple, when we claim to know Christ, we claim that the power of God has taken over our lives and yet, we can’t even get along?
Jim: Let’s get back into your story, ‘cause that’s where we’re gonna learn so much, this idea of a fierce woman and a fearful man cycle. We talked about that a couple of years ago in that program, but refresh our memory about the fierce woman and the fearful man, which is where you were in your marriage.
Kimberly: And we found that so many couples are there.
Jim: Describe it though. I know. There’s elements that you, the listener, are gonna say—
Jim: --this is me as the wife—
Jim: --and yep, that’s me as a husband. Describe what it looks like.
Kimberly: Okay, a fierce woman does not necessarily have to be an obnoxious, loud, rude woman. That may be what you think of when you first hear the word “fierce.” But she’s strong and she has maybe strong opinions.
Now some fierce women are quiet and they go about it in a different way of expressing their fierceness. But it’s usually a woman who um … like all women, we desire to be loved by our husbands. We desire to have our husbands lead us spiritually and yet, we have certain ideas about how things should be done and we want to get that across. And so …
Jim: I’ve never noticed that in Jean. (Laughter) Have you noticed that in Dena?
John: That does not describe (Laughter) Dena in the least. (Laughter)
Kimberly: And so, we may push our husbands without even realizing we’re doing it. We put pressure on them. Now some women, they don’t even have to utter a word to exert their fierceness. They may just raise an eyebrow or it may be the tone of voice. But a fierce woman can be one of two things. She can be beautiful and encouraging and inspiring to a man to be all that he can be, all that God created Him to be or she can be destructive. She can emasculate him. And that’s what I was doing to LeRoy for so many years and I didn’t even realize it.
Jim: Can you help us better understand that? There is the humorous side of it and you guys have gone through this now. Um … describe that early part of your marriage. You touched on it, LeRoy, but give us more context. How did that work out kind of on a day-to-day basis? In fact, you have a story about trying to teach your good wife here how to shoot a firearm. (Laughter) And uh … that didn’t go so well. I wouldn’t pick that environment (Laughter) to uh … have a little contest.
John: If marriage trouble is existing, don’t use firearms. (Laughter)
LeRoy: Do not try this at home.
Jim: But let’s go for it and describe that story for us.
LeRoy: Well, I … I knew that I’d married way over my head, as most men probably, you know, at some point feel like they have, because Kim was just so brilliant and so driven and had such an intensity for life, had such a passion and I was drawn to that.
But consequently, how it worked out in our daily life is, I mean, she just excelled in everything and it seemed like almost a competition that I could never measure up.And even in, you know, I thought, well, there’s one area, you know. I was raised in the country, so she was never raised around firearms, so I’ll show her how to …
Jim: This is your environment now.
LeRoy: Yeah, this is my … this is my, you know, my wheelhouse. I can handle this.
LeRoy: So, I can … I can show her that I’m a man and uh … she’s not better than me at something. And so, uh … we were at our home there in Northwest Arkansas, rural Arkansas. And so, I showed her all of the details uh … of how to operate a firearm and I’d put a little uh … evaporated milk can, just a small can—
Jim: Extra small target, right? (Laughter)
LeRoy: --an extra-small target. (Laughter)
Jim: Just to prove your point.
LeRoy: Yeah, pride (Laughter), yeah.
Jim: I know where this is goin’.
LeRoy: I couldn’t have hit it and (Laughter) I knew she couldn’t hit it with this small pistol and it was about 25 feet away at the base of the tree. And she pulled the gun up and uh … she squeezed off a round and I looked and the dirt flew and I thought, well, she came pretty close.
And so, uh … I made sure the firearm was secured and I said, “I’m gonna go look at it.” And I went over to the can, picked it up and Elsie, the cow had a hole right through her nose.
Jim: I mean, it’s like a dead-eye shot.
LeRoy: I was … I mean, it was unbelievable and I said, “Okay.” She said, “Did I hit it?” I said, “Yeah, you hit it.” I said, “That’s it. We’re through for the day.” (Laughter) I … I give up.
Jim: So, how did that make you feel--
LeRoy: Well, I mean—
Jim: --Mr. Man?
LeRoy: --I … I was … I was always feeling like that uh … that I … I just couldn’t measure up. I couldn’t measure up to her expectations. I couldn’t measure up to what she wanted me to be and in every area. She was more spiritual than I was. She was smarter than I was. She knew better where to park than I did. If we would pull into place and I would park, she’d say, “Now how come you didn’t park over there?” (Laughter) And so …
Jim: I think that’s a … that’s like a DNA thing for women.
Kimberly: Yeah. (Laughter)
LeRoy: It’s … it’s a spiritual DNA that really I believe, Jim, goes back to the Fall—
LeRoy: --where the woman has that desire because of our rebellion and our diving into sin headlong against our gracious Creator that, that is one of the spiritual DNA strands that a woman has that desire to rule over her husband, but God says no. The rub is gonna be that my will, how it’s supposed to work is, he is supposed to give you guidance and direction.
Kimberly: But Jim, I will—
Kimberly: --say that I did not realize I was doing that and I think a lot of women, fierce women, have good intentions. They think they’re just helping their husbands. That’s really what they think they’re doing.
Jim: Help them in what way? Help them to be better? Help them to—
Kimberly: To improve.
Jim: --be stronger?
Kimberly: Yeah, to improve, to do things better and of course, our way is the best way or we wouldn’t do it that way, right?
Jim: Yeah and I (Laughter) want to cut you some slack, because I think a lot of this sounds like expectations, as well—
Jim: --and that’s wrapped up in it.
Jim: And I think, Kimberly, I want to give you that chance to describe that time in your marriage where it was tough and you were tryin’ to get LeRoy up to spec.
Jim: You know—
Jim: --you were trying to gethis game up, but there’s ways to do that, that are more edifying—
Jim: --rather than destructive.
Jim: So, what were you learning in that process as a woman, as a very efficient, effective woman, all the things that LeRoy just said—smart and you could do everything so well. You can even shoot a gun the first time through a target he couldn’t hit, which I don’t know if that’s true, but um … the point of it is, a lot of women are in that spot right now. Even hearing uh … we’re here as men to help guide you, “rustles” the feathers of many women and even some men are going, “Nah, that can’t be my role, leading and all of that.” Describe for us where you were at and what you were trying to achieve and how God was teaching you, okay, this isn’t the way to go?
Kimberly: Well, and it took a long time for me to learn.
Jim: How many years?
Kimberly: I wasn’t learning well. We were miserable for at least 15 years before God started breaking me first and really doing a humbling work in my life that was very needed. But in those years leading up to that, I would struggle because I had in mymind, this invented picture of what I thought LeRoy should be and then daily life was much different than that.
And part of that, Jim, is we as young women, we bring into our lives the men we’ve known before that we … have been our heroes in our lives, whether it was a dad or whether it was an older brother, whatever. And we measure that husband against that. Maybe it’s just an imaginary man and we measure that husband against that. And these young guys, they aren’t yet experienced with life. They don’t have that same maturity level. Um …
LeRoy: And men … and then if I could interject, then you add into that so many women have suffered at the hands—
LeRoy: --of an authority male figure.
LeRoy: And so, they’re gonna raise up defenses and they’re gonna say, “I’m gonna be the one that is gonna make sure that uh …--
Kimberly: I’m not harmed.
LeRoy: --I … I’m gonna take care of myself—
LeRoy: --and I’m not gonna let any man harm me in any way.”
LeRoy: And so, that factors in often, too.
Kimberly: And what I didn’t realize was, every time that I would say something like, you know, “Why did you do it that way?” whereas I wasn’t meaning that as a put-down or to question him in a way that would be destructive, but for him, it translated into, “Oh, I didn’t do it right again. I can never do anything right. I can never measure up to your expectations.” And so, what he began to do was to go further and further into a cave to just shut down.
Kimberly: Withdraw and become passive and just say, “You don’t like the way I’m doing it, you take care of everything. You lead. You take over.”
LeRoy: And I thought that was noble, because I’m a Christian, so I’m not gonna fight. I’m not gonna escalate a … a situation. I’m not gonna attack her. I’m not gonna try to bring her down. So,there was a certain kind of a victim uh … mentality that had an attachment of nobility to it.
LeRoy: And I think a lot of Christian men do that same thing as far as retreating into a cave and withdrawing from leadership that God would have them to understand and to live out and they think they’re doing the right thing.
Kimberly: And while he’s in his cave, I’m over here dying, because I want a man that will communicate with me, that will … that will step up to be the leader, that will be involved in my life and listen to me. Yet, he has just shut down and the further I would pull, the more pressure I would give, the worse it would become.
Jim: Well, and that’s the irony of ironies. The thing you were desiring the most—
Jim: --you were actually creating an environment that was the opposite of what you wanted.
Jim: And that’s in part, that cycle that you’ve talked about in your book,Men Who Love Fierce Women, how to break that cycle and uh … I think that’s why this is such a vital conversation. Let me push into this a little bit, because I think in the Christian marriage, there’s confusion about passivity and grace.Speak to that distinction where a man is being passive and it actually is destroying the relationship rather than helping it.
Kimberly: Yeah, LeRoy did not-- I don’t think he consciously thought that’s what he was doing. He was being noble he thought in not arguing with me. But what couples need and if you’re listening right now and you’re a man and you’re thinking, “My wife, she’s that fierce woman,” I just want to say, talk to her. Approach her. Approach her in humility, but that’s what has got to happen to break down the walls of resistance between the two of you, is honest conversations in humility.
Let her know how you’re struggling, how you feel, that you would like to care for her. You would like to be there for her. You don’t want to retreat. But you don’t feel you’ve really got a safe place to stand. And let’s work together on how to find that, how to work that out.
Jim: LeRoy, hit that head on, for us men that retreat and guys … putting a disguise on it calling it “spiritual,” when it’s really passivity and I don’t really want to argue anymore. It’s just easier if she just makes the decision. I’m done with it.
John: I don’t care what you do.
Jim: And I’ll even smile to make it look really Christian, ‘cause I’m really kinda nice, but underneath, you’re boiling and you’re just seething and you’re … but you’re not willing to fight anymore. You’re done, so you just get quiet. How do you distinguish where you’re at in that continuum?
LeRoy: Well, it’s … I think that’s a great point, Jim and not only you’re boiling because of … of the condition that your marriage is in, but I think there’s this tension, especially within Christian men, that you know intuitively. You may not have a good theological grasp on it, but you know as a Christian man what God has called you to and you are failing at that most important calling. And you feel like that you’re in quicksand and you cannot … the more that you fight or the more you try or sometimes even with me, the more I prayed, it seemed like the farther that we were sinking.
And when I tried to talk with Kim, it would become emotional or she was so intense and I was not good at … at dealing with conflict, direct debate. I just never … you know, conflict avoidance was a major part of my life and my—
Jim: --and you probably learned that she was … she’ll get the better of you.
LeRoy: Absolutely, so once you have wrestled with a bobcat a time or two, you don’t approach ‘em anymore. I mean … and so, that’s really kind of the way it was with me. I was no match for her intensity. I could not deal with her emotion that she brought. And she was emotional, because it was breaking her heart. It was ruining our marriage and I did not have a handle on it and I knew that.
Jim: Huh … Kim, what was it you were looking for from LeRoy that later would make the difference? What was it you were demanding of him that he didn’t know you were demanding of him?
Kimberly: I wanted attention, security. I wanted, you know, we talk about the love languages. Well, quality time and physical touch, those things were important to me. They weren’t so much important to LeRoy. And so, when I’m crying out for what will meet my needs or what I think will meet my needs and he’s not there. He’s off in his own realm, you know. And yet, he doesn’t … like he said, he wouldn’t want to hug a porcupine.
John: So was that it, LeRoy? Was it that you had learned that you can’t give her what she’sreallylooking for, so you’re not even gonna try?
LeRoy: And what happens … and that’s right, John and what happened to me and I think it happens to so many, because I think it’s just a part of the … the nature of sin, any sin, it uh … it convinces us that this is the right way to go, while it drags us further in to misery and further away from God and from His grace.
And so, I began to develop a bitterness...bitterness toward her. It’s hard to love someone that you’re bitter against and … and hard to be thankful for the treasure that God has given you when you are … she’s ruining your life.
Jim: LeRoy, let me … let me interject here, because some people might be saying, “Wow, what a horrible marriage you must have had.” But the way that you could describe it is, if you say to your … to your spouse, “We’re like roommates,” that would be experiencing this distance, right? So, if you’re married and you have expressed that to your spouse, you know, we feel more like we’re roommates than intimate partners, lovers uh … one flesh according to the Scripture, that’s probably an indication that you have a problem, right?
LeRoy: Absolutely. I think a lot of marriages, a lot of couples have called a truce. They’re still at war.
Jim: They’re functionally married.
LeRoy: But they’re not displaying the glory of God by enjoying God’s blessings that it talks about in Peter, the blessing of life, seeing good days, loving life, inheriting the grace of life. We didn’t have any idea that that was possible.
Jim: In fact, LeRoy, you described in your book that you came to a crisis of faith and uh … you resigned or contemplated resigning from being a pastor.
LeRoy: I did resign.
Jim: You contemplated suicide.
Jim: I mean, there’s a--
LeRoy: I’m ashamed of that, Jim.
Jim: --dark place.
Jim: But … but it’s real and I so appreciate the fact that you’re willing to pop that part of your heart open, so that the Lord could use it for others right now who may be right in that spot. They’re so desperate, they don’t even know if they want to live. Describe that moment and how dark that must have felt for you.
LeRoy: Well, I don’t know that I can describe it adequately. The darkness was so dark and the pain was so deep and I think when anybody comes and there’s probably some listening today, sadly, that when you lose hope and especially as a believer, when hope is what our walk with God, our faith in Christ is all about, when you lose that hope because of a crisis of faith, because of something that is happening in your life like a marriage situation that you can’t get a handle on and you don’t see any hope for every getting out of it, then I began to have a doubt of God caring for me and loving me.
And so, theologically I was saying, like, “what’s the use of going on?” I mean, if this is what life is all about, if this is what it’s come to and God has brought us to this place; He’s brought us together, I wasn’t blaming God. In a sense I was and that’s where that bitterness came from.
But I began to abandon a confidence in God and that is the real issue. Is there anything too hard for the Lord? And I would say to that person that thinks that this is never gonna get any better; it’s just gonna get worse and I might as well check out; I might as well leave or you might be contemplating suicide, really what you’re doing is, you’re expressing an utter lack of confidence in God. And that’s what I was doing and I didn’t realize it.
John: And that’ll bring us to the close of today’s Best of 2017 Focus on the Family presentation. We hope that as Kim and LeRoy Wagner have been sharing that that’s really spoken to your heart.
Jim: Kim and LeRoy are so good at expressing the pain they went through and offering hope to couples in similar situations. That’s one reason this program resonated with so many of you, I’m confident of that. And it made it one of our top broadcasts of 2017.
One woman posted this to ourFacebookpage, she said, “This was so good! I don’t consider myself fierce but the things Kim was doing and the way God worked in her to reach her husband is so parallel to how He worked in my own marriage and it has been such a blessing. Praise God for showing me how to really love my husband!”
John: That’s a great bit of feedback!
Jim: It is! And, you know, many couples-- and you may be one of them-- are trying to do your very best when it comes to your marriage. But sometimes you need a little help and that’s okay. That is exactly why Focus on the Family is here. In just the past 12 months, 810,000 couples have built stronger marriages with the help of Focus on the Family Resources. I’m really proud ofthat. And for those of you that support the ministry, you should be proud of that too! We’re doing that together. And for those couples that are thinking of ending it, we have been able to save 170,000 marriages this past year. That too is a wonderful statistic. If you do the math, that’s about 465 marriages a day!
John: That is unbelievable!
Jim: (chuckle) It is!
John: How wonderful!
Jim: Well, and there are many more out that that need our help together. Your help, too! We couldn’t do this kind of ministry without you. When you give the gift of family, your year-end gift will share a little bit of Christmas joy with couples in crisis, allowing us to offer broadcasts like this one or other resources and tools to help these marriages; maybe even help a couple get to our Hope Restored Marriage Intensives. In fact, when you donate today a gift of any amount, your dollars will be doubled through a special matching challenge offered by some great friends of the Focus ministry. We’ll also send you a copy of Kim and LeRoy’s book,Men Who Love Fierce Women,as our way of saying thank you for supporting the ministry of Focus on the Family and helping to save marriages. Give today and help a couple in need.
John: You can donate and get your copy ofMen Who Love Fierce Womenand our Best of 2017 CD-set or audio download at focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
And on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back next time as we once again have LeRoy and Kim Wagner and help you and your family thrive in Christ.