If anyone started with a firm foundation for a godly marriage, it was Dave and Ann Wilson.
A friendship that started with two young people helping each other pursue a deeper relationship with Christ quickly developed into a growing love for one another. Nine months later, they were married.
But the following nine months were starkly different from those before the “I dos.” They found themselves in constant conflict—both still desiring to become more like Jesus, but growing to dislike each other.
How bad was it? After another night of fighting, Dave retreated to his office and turned to the wisdom of Scripture to make sense of the chaos. He remembers reading the passage from Philippians 1 where the Apostle Paul declares that everything in life is insignificant compared to knowing Christ. “To me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
When Ann came downstairs, she was pleasantly surprised to see him reading God’s Word—until Dave told his new bride what he had just prayed: “I told God that I’d rather die than be married to you.”
It doesn’t get much worse than that.
Fast forward to 2019. Not only are Dave and Ann still married, but as the new hosts of FamilyLife Today, they are encouraging millions of couples to see how Christ redeems marriages. And their story shows how God clearly had been preparing them for this role from the day their relationship first began.
Much better beginnings
Dave Wilson and Ann Baron both grew up in Findlay, Ohio. Although they had known each other for several years, both ran in different circles. When they became Christians, however, interest sprouted along with admiration at the changes Christ was making to the other’s life.
For Dave, who was a quarterback at Ball State at the time, an injury and a breakup with a girlfriend had led him to re-evaluate everything in his life. One afternoon, in a moment of crisis, he locked himself in his room and fell to his knees in desperation.
“The truth is that I was sort of playing both games: I was dipping my toe into what it means to be a Christian, but still holding onto my old life. I prayed, ‘God, you’re in control. I’m done. You can take football. You can take my love life. I’m all yours.’
“And it was the strangest thing. As I’m getting ready to get off my knees, the last thing I pray is ‘Lord, bump me into Ann Baron,’ because I knew she could help me grow.”
Dave had no way of knowing that just the day before, Ann had reached a similar crisis of faith.
“And I had been kind of like Dave: playing around, not really all in,” she says. “And I told Jesus, ‘I’m tired of doing this. I’ll do anything you want. I’ll go wherever. I’m in. I don’t want to play the game anymore.’
“At the end of my prayer—I’m not kidding!—I said, ‘God, if you would bump me into Dave Wilson, he could really help me to go after You.’”
A mutual love affair
The very next day, Ann and Dave began spending time together … not in a romantic relationship, but as two people who were in love with their Savior, Jesus Christ.
“My motives really were pure,” Dave insists. “It was always about Him and what He was doing in our lives. We weren’t even trying to date. But as we continued spending time together, we realized that we were falling in love with each other.”
As their relationship grew, so did their awareness of a mission God was unveiling before their eyes. Ann recalls, “We began to think, ‘Could God use us together to impact the world for Him? What would it look like for us both to go after Him together, to do something for God?’”
Diving into marriage … and ministry
Two weeks before their wedding in 1980, they attended a marriage conference in Chicago. As they sat through the sessions of what is now known as the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, Ann remembers that they were impressed by what they were hearing, but really more for others than for them.
“We thought, ‘This is good, but we don’t need this information. We love Jesus, we love each other. How hard can marriage be?’
“We were clueless. We had no idea that every couple carries baggage into a marriage.”
Still, the conference’s emphasis on putting Christ at the center of marriage took root in the rich soil that God had been tilling in their hearts. Dave recalls, “On our wedding night, before we crawled into our wedding bed, we got on our knees. I can tell you exactly what I prayed: ‘God, we’re not asking you for a good marriage … we’re asking you for a great marriage that will one day impact the world for Your kingdom.’
“So it was a vision from the beginning. We knew we were together for something bigger than loving each other. We knew that God wanted to do something with us together as a married couple. Never knowing what the future held, never imagining we’d be sitting where we are right now.”
Ministering to marriages by trial and error
As newlyweds, Dave and Ann worked with Athletes in Action, a ministry of Cru, at the University of Nebraska. A vast part of their ministry was spent counseling relationships.
Two years later they moved north for Dave’s new job as chaplain for the NFL’s Detroit Lions—a position he would hold for 33 years. While there, they also started a couple’s ministry in a small church. And the teaching material they used was that from their own Weekend to Remember marriage conference prior to getting married.
“We haven’t gone anywhere that we haven’t taught the FamilyLife material,” says Dave.
But all the time they were teaching others how to have godly marriages, Dave and Ann were struggling in their own. For one thing, they didn’t know how to resolve conflict. “I didn’t want to be anywhere near it, because I saw it end in divorce growing up,” Dave says. “And Ann always wanted to resolve it right away … I’m walking out of the room and she’s chasing me, saying ‘We’ve got to talk about this.’”
Around that time, life got even busier. They had their first son, then a couple of years later, a second. They were realizing their dream of starting a new church, and Dave was dividing his time between pastoring and being the Lion’s chaplain. Meanwhile, Ann was raising the boys and feeling alone.
He thought he was doing well as a father and husband. In fact, he would have rated their marriage a 9 or 10 and was sure Ann would do the same. What he didn’t realize was that she would have rated it a 1 at best, and the fact that he was so clueless disturbed her even more.
When their tenth anniversary rolled around in 1990, Dave pulled out all the stops. He organized a night out at a fancy restaurant, where he had the waiter bring a dozen roses to the table—one by one. With each rose, he declared his love for Ann and reviewed how God had blessed them as a couple.
On the drive home, Dave pulled up to a parcel of land that would be the location of their new church building. There, he wanted to remember all God had done and to celebrate their relationship. He leaned over to kiss Ann, and she pulled away. When he asked if something was wrong, Dave got the shock of his life.
“Dave, I really have lost my feelings for you,” Ann said. “I feel like you’re never home. I feel like you’re not engaged with me or with the boys.”
He wanted desperately to react, to prove to her that he was doing well as a husband and father. But at that moment, he sensed God’s Spirit telling him “to just shut up and listen.”
A turning point
Ann unloaded on Dave. She told him how her hurt from his absence had turned to anger, then to bitterness, and finally … to resentment. After a while, she admitted, she stopped even caring that he was gone.
Dave remembers the Spirit compelling him to repent of his careless callousness and arrogance. If he was going to get the relationship with his wife right, it had to start in his relationship with God.
Right there in the car, he began to confess to God out loud his busyness and how lukewarm he was becoming in his relationship with Him and with his family. He asked God to give him the power to become the man, the husband, and the father that God had called him to be—the man he was preaching but not living.
When Ann saw and heard this, it broke her heart. Not just about Dave, but about herself. She admitted to herself that she had been seeking her happiness and fulfillment in her husband and not in Christ. It was a moment of repentance for her as well. She began praying aloud, asking God’s forgiveness for getting things in her own life out of order.
“That night became a moment of spiritual awakening for both of us. It was a night of rededicating our hearts to Jesus and rededicating our marriage to Him. We asked Him to heal us and give us wisdom to know how to go on from here and to change our hearts. And He did that.”
New voices on FamilyLife Today
As the years went by, Dave and Ann continued helping other couples trust God in their marriages. FamilyLife cofounder Dennis Rainey challenged them to join the Weekend to Remember speaker team, where they have spoken at hundreds of marriage getaways over the past three decades. They also were radio guests several times on FamilyLife Today, and recently released their first book, Vertical Marriage.
A few months ago, the Wilsons received a life-changing phone call. It was an offer from the current FamilyLife president, David Robbins, and radio cohost Bob Lepine: Dennis Rainey was stepping down after 26 years as host of the daily radio program, FamilyLife Today, and FamilyLife needed a new voice to continue the ministry. It would be a chance to reach millions of couples and parents who tune in daily for biblical and practical guidance for everyday life. Would Dave and Ann be interested?
Lepine explains why Dave and Ann Wilson, together, are the couple they believe are best to fill the seats behind the microphones on FamilyLife Today: “One of the things I love about Dave and Ann is their passion to see men and women find hope and help and real life in a relationship with Jesus. They understand that the only way our marriages or family relationships will ever be healthy and strong is for our lives to be anchored in Jesus and the gospel.
“And part of what makes this transition exciting for me is that I’ll be continuing to work together regularly with two people I count as great friends. I think listeners will pick up on that right away.”
Authentic voices to a new generation
One reason FamilyLife challenged the Wilsons to take on this new role is their vulnerability. The Wilsons are not afraid to talk about their struggles.
“I think Dave and I are super authentic and real. I don’t know if that’s always good, but it’s just who we are,” Ann says. “We will be very honest about our relationship and our thoughts and how hard things are. And I think this generation is needing that. People want to hear the real story, and we will definitely give them the real story.”
As a pastor, Dave echoes Ann’s assessment.
“One of our goals on radio, in a sermon, in a marriage conference is that they will see our brokenness at the same time they see the victory of Christ. They will experience both.
“We want that to happen in every radio show, every sermon, every conference—that people will see, ‘Wow, they’re just like me. They struggle, but they’ve got something that I don’t have.’”
Another reason the Wilsons stand out is a unique, almost conversational communication style that features both of them. For the last quarter century, FamilyLife Today has spoken to men and women to help them understand their God-given design and roles in the family and the world. Mostly that has come from the mouths of Dennis and Bob—two men. With Ann’s daily presence and contribution, the broadcast will feature a strong woman’s voice.
“Seventy percent of our listeners are women,” Ann asserts. “I think there’s something powerful about a woman speaking to a woman … about giving her hope, giving her direction.”
Ann says she wants to speak directly to wives and moms, “Let me give you some hope. Let me give you some direction. Let me point you to Jesus, who is the Author of hope.”
While they’re excited to be the new collective voice of FamilyLife Today, both Dave and Ann are quick to point out that they can never replace Dennis Rainey and his wife, Barbara. “We have loved Dennis and Barbara,” Ann says. “They are our heroes and mentors. And Bob … there’s nobody quite like him; he’s so gifted and talented. To be with them was just so fun as we were doing broadcast. … They’re just magic together. Those are big shoes to fill.”
Dave is equally humbled at their new role.
“There are so many phenomenal people who could have been chosen. Why us? We honestly believe from the bottom of our heart that it was a God choice. It’s not because we’re anything special, it’s just that God, for whatever reason, has blessed us with another opportunity.
“We walk in to the FamilyLife Today studio like we’re on holy ground. We want to honor this position well.”
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