FamilyLife Today®

A Relationship that Lasts: Our Story: Bryan & Stephanie Carter

with Bryan and Stephanie Carter | September 11, 2023
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Long-lasting relationships don't happen by accident. Bryan Carter, author of Made to Last, is joined by his wife Stephanie as they share their own story—and how it's helped them build a stronger forever.

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Bryan Carter, author of Made to Last, is joined by his wife Stephanie as they share their own story—and how it’s built a stronger forever.

A Relationship that Lasts: Our Story: Bryan & Stephanie Carter

With Bryan and Stephanie Carter
September 11, 2023
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Dave: You’ve got 30 seconds. I didn't prep you for this. You have no idea what I'm going to ask you, but a single girl comes up to you, says “I'm getting married. I want to have the best marriage ever. Tell me what I need to do in 30 seconds.” Go.

Ann: I’d just say one thing; you need to make—

Dave: You can't say what—

Ann: No, no.

Dave: No, you’re not allowed to say Jesus.

Ann: No, I'm going to say that you have to base it on the rock of Jesus or it's going to be really hard, and even with Jesus it can still be hard.

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at or on the FamilyLife® app.

Dave: This is FamilyLife Today.

We've got Bryan Carter and his wife Stephanie in the studio today. Is this your first time ever on FamilyLife Today?

Bryan: Maybe ten, fifteen years ago.

Dave: Welcome back to FamilyLife Today.

Bryan: Thank you so much.

Dave: Which means the last time you were on was Little Rock.

Bryan: It was, yes.

Dave: Way back and you know you had Dennis and Bob who don't look anything as good as Ann. [Laughter] But what a lot of people may not know is you are on the FamilyLife board. How many years?

Bryan: Five years now.

Dave: Five years.

Bryan: Yes; man, it's been an honor to serve. But I've been connected to FamilyLife for probably 20 years.

Dave: Really, how did you get connected?

Bryan: I met Dennis [Rainey] in 2002 at a mentoring conference. And what happened out of the conference was every person there got a mentor. I was fortunate enough to get Dennis as my mentor for two years, and so it was Bryan Loritts, myself, and a couple other guys. Every month we talked on the phone, and it was a mentoring call. And then once a year, we had a gathering together.

Ann: Had you and Stephanie been married yet?

Bryan: We were—

Stephanie: 2002, so we had just had our first baby.

Bryan: Yes, yes; it was about three or four years.

Ann: Oh, so it's perfect timing for Dennis Rainey to come into the picture.

Bryan: Yes, new in ministry, new in marriage and family, so we've been talking on the phone for once a month for almost 20 years.

Dave: You're still talking?

Bryan: We're still talking; 22 years we've talked. We have a call scheduled for tomorrow.

Dave: You've been married 25 years, Pastor of Concord Church in Dallas. How long?

Bryan: Twenty years in the fall.

Dave: Three kids; is it chaos at home?

Stephanie: It is chaos right now. Our oldest daughter is 20. Our middle daughter is 18. She just graduated from high school. And then we have a 15-year-old, the boy. We call him our sweet surprise. He's product of a marriage retreat. [Laughter]

Dave: Really.

Stephanie: Everybody got pregnant that marriage retreat.

Dave: Everybody?

Bryan: The retreat was in February; he showed up in November. We tracked it back to that conference.

Ann: There it is.

Bryan: That was a great conference. [Laughter] That's the best conference you can go to.

Ann: Stephanie, and you head up the women's ministry at the church?

Stephanie: I do. I do.

Ann: How long have you done that?

Stephanie: Maybe, what, ten years?

Bryan: Maybe ten years.

Stephanie: Yes, maybe ten years.

Ann: Okay.

Dave: Did you guys meet in high school? You told us earlier that Bryan was this amazing high school athlete. [Laughter] Were you just following him around the court or what?

Stephanie: No, we did not meet in high school. I went to University of Oklahoma. He went to Oklahoma State. We met through some mutual friends. They kept telling me about Bryan and I really was like, “Yeah, I don't want to meet anybody. I just want to focus on my studies.” [Laughter] We met at a Big Eight Conference on Student Leadership. They introduced us there and he seemed like really not into me, so I kind of felt like, “Wait, I thought you were trying to meet me and”—

Dave: Bryan, what, what was that?

Bryan: Well, I was just trying to make sure; they told me she was interested. I was just trying to make sure. I didn't want to seem too overly aggressive, right? I just wanted to let it, let things play itself out. I asked for her number, like a week or two later. I say, “Can I talk to you?”

Ann: A week or two later.

Bryan: Well, I didn't want to press, no pressure. But the first time we talked, we talked for like two hours, two or three. It was spring break and we talked forever. We just kind of connected. It was like a natural connection. And then I guess sometime, maybe a month later or a few weeks later, we date. We went on our first date together to—where do we go?—played putt putt—was that the first date?

Stephanie: Okay, so I have to give this to Bryan. He had great conversation and then he planned this great date. OU is in Norman, Oklahoma, so everything pretty much is a typical college town. When he said, “We're going to the Olive Garden,” I was like, “Okay, I know where that is in Norman.” And so when we drove past the Olive Garden, I was like, “I thought we were going to the Olive Garden.” He was like, “Yeah, we're going to the Olive Garden in Oklahoma City. I thought we could just talk more if we”—

Dave: How far is that?

Bryan: Thirty minutes.

Dave: Wow, that’s impressive.

Stephanie: We go to dinner and the waitress in middle of dinner comes out with yellow roses to give to me.

Ann: Wait, wait a minute.

Dave: Wait, are you serious?

Bryan: I had dropped by the restaurant before.

Ann: They’re fist bumping right now. [Laughter]

Stephanie: Yes, so he had the yellow roses, which is really sweet. And so then, he said, “I remember that you said you love to ice skate, or we can go putt putting. What would you like to do?” And I was like “We have something else to do,” in my head I was saying this. I was like “Sure, we could go miniature golfing. That sounds great.”

Ann: And did you think “I'm going to beat you because I’m such a good athlete”? [Laughter]

Stephanie: And I did.

Ann: You beat him!

Stephanie: I did beat him. He had a plan.

Bryan: I had a plan. Whoever lost, right, had to pay for the next date. [Laughter] So I set myself up to lose. I took the fall. I took the dive so that I could get another date.

Dave: Stephanie’s not buying that. She beat you fair and square. [Laughter]

Stephanie: I beat him fair and square.

Dave: I have a feeling you still are.

Stephanie: Yes; dating him was really—he just was super, super sweet; just had never seen anything like that; just super romantic, great conversation.

Now, I will be honest. When I asked my friends about him like before, I gave them my number, so he called me. I said, “Okay, so tell me something about him.” And they were like, “Well, he goes to Oklahoma State.” I was like, “Okay,” and they're like, “Oh, he's in a fraternity.” “Okay.” And then they're like, “He's the president of the Black Student Association at Oklahoma State.” I was like, “Okay.” “And yes, he's a minister.” I was like, “Absolutely not. Absolutely not.” [Laughter]

Ann: Why?

Dave: Why are you asking why? You were the same way. [Laughter] You said, “I will never”—

Ann: That is true. I said I would never be a pastor's wife, ever.

Stephanie: Exactly. I kept feeling like, “No.”

Ann: Did you grow up in a Christian home?

Stephanie: I did. I grew up in a Christian home.

Ann: So you're a believer?

Stephanie: I'm a believer. The military—just my mom had us so engaged in church just because we moved every two to four years and so that was our way to get connected to the community and get connected to meet other kids. So, youth ministry, all that. I did it, but I kept feeling like, “No,” I guess because I would just see that pastor's wife and she just looked like, “God help me.” [Laughter]
Ann: Me too. Bryan, what was your family like? It sounds like you've come from a really good family.

Bryan: My dad was a pastor. I watched just kind of his transformation. I watched him kind of going to church off and on, becoming really committed to ultimately saying “I want to be a minister. I want to be a paster. I want to start a church.” He started a church when I was like ten, but he's also a mechanic and kind of a Craftsman. He takes these old buildings, and he remodels them, and he turns them into the churches. My middle school years were spent after school going to help him as he remodels this church into a facility. It was, that was part of what we did. Very involved in church; very engaged in church. As a young man, I just felt a calling on my life to do ministry.

Ann: At that age, like super young.

Bryan: I just felt like—at that age, like 15, 16, 17, I knew I wanted to be a pastor. Now mind you, I expected every pastor to be bivocational, so my plan was to teach school, be a principal and be a pastor and just kind of pull. I felt like that connected me to the community. I could do all of it together. It just felt like a natural fit. So even when I went off to college, I was a science and education major because I felt like this would be the pathway where I can serve people, connect with people, help people.

And so, watching my dad and my mom together, learning how to treat a woman, so all of those things, kind of collided when I met her, was that I always knew I wanted to get married. We were dating sophomore year in college. I knew I needed a wife because I knew what I wanted. I wanted somebody to love the Lord, somebody that had goals and ambitions, somebody that was cute. All those things were part of what I was looking for when I found her. I just said, “Man, God, this is really answering my prayers. This is what I've been looking for.”

Ann: Wait a minute. I need to get over the hump of, like, what are you doing with like, he wants to go into ministry and be a pastor. How'd you get over that?

Stephanie: I think Bryan's heart is what won me over. And I could look past the ministry part because I was an education major. I was an elementary education major. He was middle school, so we had these desires just to teach. And like he said, we had never seen a full service staffed pastor. It was “This is what I do. I teach,” and we had aspirations to be a principal. He was going to be a Superintendent and that was going to be our life and that was going to be our role. I really wasn't thinking pastor's wife. I think it was the only time I would get really nervous about it is when his dad would talk about it.

Ann: Oh.

Stephanie: Yes, so that would take me down. Because I remember, like his mom, his mom was very traditional, very traditional house. Mine was the complete opposite.

Bryan: My home church is a very small church, small family church, and that's the church that we're—that I grew up and that's where we met. That's where we were dating. So part of the transition is she's thinking this is where—like I thought I was going to succeed my dad. You know about 20 to 30 people, a small Oklahoma city—

Stephanie: That’s on a good day.

Bryan: You know pastors they count by three. [Laughter]

Stephanie: It’s a small group. It’s a small group.

Dave: A car drove by; there’s three more people.

Stephanie: Yes.

Bryan: It’s a small, intimate, family church, but he has a lot of outreach. But that's—in those kinds of settings, right, it would have been hard for her to kind of fit into this space.

Stephanie: I didn’t fit.

Bryan: It didn't fit, and it was going to be a struggle; it really would have been.

Stephanie: It already was a struggle.

Bryan: [Laughter] It already was a struggle.

Ann: Because you’re strong. Is that what you mean?

Stephanie: I was strong, and his dad would say things like “So would you be up to taking piano lessons?” “No.”

Bryan: I don’t remember that now. [Laughter]

Stephanie: Bryan, don't do this. [Laughter] Then y'all, my friends, my friends. I love my friends. I would plead with them. They could like, go out and kick it all night long and then they’d get up and go to whatever the hot church was in Oklahoma City. I'd be like, “Hey, you guys want to go to church with me?” They're like, “No.” [Laughter] I was like, “Please go to church with me,” so they're like, “Okay, okay, okay, we'll go to church with you.” So they go and they, one of my friends was like, “If anybody ever says that you don't love Bryan, I'm going to be like, ‘She loves him a lot. She loves him a lot.’”

Ann: Dave and I made this pack when we got married. I was only 19; Dave was 22. But we came on staff with Athletes in Action, with Cru®. And then a couple years later, we're like, “Let's go to seminary. We're going to do this the rest of our lives.” And so, I made a pact with him like, “Alright, we're going to go to seminary, but you are not going to become a pastor, right? Like this is our deal. This is our deal because if we're if you're going for that like I don't think I'm into that.”

Dave: She literally said “I'm not doing that. I'll do ministry but not that kind of ministry.”

Ann: Because I had expectations. I had a vision of what I thought a pastor’s wife was.

Dave: Sort of what you saw.

Stephanie: Yes.

Ann: And I wasn't that. I'm like “They are going to hate me, so I can't do that.” You get that.

Bryan: That’s right. [Laughter]

Stephanie: I so get it. So what—look, Bryan is so playing right now because do you remember that time? Like Bryan had to preach.

Bryan: I had to preach. And you know—

Dave: In your dad's church?

Bryan: No, at another church. In African American context, sometimes the pastor’s wife will sing before the preacher gets up to preach.

Ann: And it's the pastors wife.

Bryan: Yes.

Ann: Or playing the piano.

Bryan: Right, right, right. Or sometimes both, right. And so they call her up to sing—

Stephanie: —out of nowhere.

Bryan: —out of nowhere. She tried though. She tried. But we made it. Needless to say, we made it through some seasons of testing trying to find our roles.

Stephanie: Oh my goodness.

Bryan: I was trying to find myself. She was trying to find hers and the box really didn't fit. So ultimately what happens is we relocate to Texas. We move to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It would have been hard trying to navigate through all the dynamics—family, ministry, family church. It would have been challenging, not to say that I didn't—I think in my mind I wanted to, but I think we went through a few challenges there. It felt like this is not going to work.

We had a church meeting one Sunday. It went really sour between me and my dad and it really was a moment where I said. This is not going to work, and I really wanted it to. I had a vision of what could happen. I saw some things. But thought that conflict that we had, I don't think I would have made it in ministry. I think it would’ve been hard in ministry. I think it would’ve been hard on our marriage.

Ann: Yes.

Bryan: Those tensions ultimately led to us relocating. We graduated together in May, and we moved to Texas the next month.

Stephanie: I learned a valuable lesson during that season. My mom, she taught me how to pray. I'll never forget the year before we got married. It was a true testing season; just things were getting thrown at us left and right. And I'll never forget my mom was like, “Do you pray for Bryan?” I was like, “I do.” And she was like “How do you pray for him?” I was like “Help him to realize that he…” [Laughter] She was like “Stephanie, that is not how you pray for him.” She's like, “You need to pray for the future husband he's going to be, the future father, the future leader he's going to be.”

Ann: What did that sound like?

Stephanie: It definitely didn't sound like what I was doing before. [Laughter] I would be like, “God, just whatever the plans you have for Bryan, I pray that you will just surround him with people that can pour into him. I pray for the future husband he's going to be, how he will lead our family and so on. And I pray for the father he will be.” And just doing that prayer and then my mom was like “Have you told Bryan?” Because our biggest issue was, we did not want to live—

Bryan: Where are we going to live?

Stephanie: Where were we going to live.

Bryan: Were we going to stay in Oklahoma City or we're going to move, right.

Ann: Yes, yes.

Bryan: And so that was—

Stephanie: That was huge.

Bryan: —huge.

Stephanie: That was our biggest thing, so my mom was like, “Does he know that you don't want to live here?” And I said “Yes.” And so she's like, “Have you prayed to God and asked Him about where He would have you to be?” And I said “No.” And she was like, “Stephanie, I don't want you to tell Bryan anymore about what you don't want to do or this, that, this, that. I need you to take that to God and I need you to have faith in what God will have, the plan that He has for y'all.”

I kept going like “No, but see, God doesn't.” She’s like “God knows everything, and God is going to hear your problem.” “But He doesn't know his parents”— She's like “God knows, and I need you to leave it there with Him.” And I said “Alright.”

This is probably like in August. The church meeting that he talked about earlier, that happens in January. So y'all, I haven't said anything. I haven't said anything else about it.

Ann: Look at you.

Stephanie: I took it to God. I left it there. When the church meeting happens, I'm kind of like, in my head the sassiness in me wanted to be like, “No, this is what you want. This is why you want to stay here.”

Bryan: I was ready. Because I was so accustomed to some of the dynamics at work, you know you can manage them, right. Oftentimes, when you bring in someone that's outside, it's all like, “Wait a minute,” right. “How do we,” What's this?” and so we were trying to, but it just the conflict and the differences and a lot of it was just differences. You have one generation colliding with another generation. It's just a total opposite way of view. And then I'm young and I'm probably a little bit arrogant, and so I'm thinking my way, my way, my way. I'm trying to change things at the church [Laughter] probably a bit too fast, or a bit too quickly which is meeting with resistance. It just was a recipe for disaster.

Ann: And probably creating tension between the relationship you had with your parents.

Bryan: My parents, my relationship with my wife so it's one of those things where most young couples—we're not even married yet, but managing through your parents, your spouse, your fiancé, trying to navigate; that can be hard sometimes, right?

Dave: Oh, yes.

Ann: Yes.

Bryan: I feel like I'm caught in the middle trying to make everybody happy and so it was a bit rocky.

Dave: Now as you look back, I mean here you are 25 years later, and you know we haven't even mentioned your book Made to Last. [Laughter]

Bryan: Right, right, right, right.

Ann: We’ll get to that. We'll get to that tomorrow.

Dave: It's all about long lasting relationships.

Bryan: It is.

Dave: Do you think that start prayer? I'm hearing leaving and cleaving. How important would you say, now 25 years in, that is, to building a relationship that's made to last?

Stephanie: Oh, I would say it's crucial. It's essential. I learned a valuable lesson. There was an issue where his dad did the sermon and he talked about women and what they're supposed to, like, wear. And at that time, as a college student, you had your stuff on a rotation. And so, he had an issue with pants. Never knew the issue with pants. I had my little pants suit on that he had bought me. And the day is like—

Dave: Wait, his son had bought you the pantsuit and his dad's talking about it.

Bryan: Nobody knew the rules. [Laughter]

Stephanie: His dad does a sermon about pants and I'm like, again, the church is small. On this day, there may have been eight people. I'm the only one with pants. And I just kept feeling like, “Yeah, no, this is not going to work.” So make a long story short; I leave the church. And that basically, we almost end our engagement because I just saw my life and I kept feeling like “I cannot do this.”

To have a marriage to make Made to Last, our relationship with Made to Last, you also have to compromise, but then you also have to, you have to let go of yourself. I was a very—my parents had raised me to be very strong and very independent. I remember crying, calling my parents to tell them about what happened, and my dad was like, he's like “Stephanie, you're going to take that?” And then my mom was like, “Stephanie, this is something you have to pray about. This is y'all's first sign.” Because we have not had any major things in our relationship while we were dating, in our engagement so this was the first true test. I'll never forget.

So I go to another church, y’all. I'm in the church that everybody goes to in Oklahoma City, and I'm sitting there and there's an older woman sitting next to me. She sees my engagement ring and she goes, “Oh, where's your husband?” And I was like, “Oh, I'm not married.” She's like, “Oh, where's your fiancé?” And I was like, “Oh, he goes to another church.” And she was like, “Well, baby, if you wear his ring, you need to be by his side.” And I was like, “Well, see, you don't understand.” “I don't care. If you wear his ring, you need to be by his side.” And that was so convicting to me, and I remember going back to the church. And going back—

Dave: —with a dress on.

Stephanie: Yes.

Ann: Good for you.

Stephanie: —with a dress on. But it was very—

Dave: So you went back.

Stephanie: I went back, and it was very humbling because I'm very competitive. I've always played competitive sports and so I felt like I was losing and that his dad had won.

Ann: It was a battle.

Stephanie: It was a battle.

Bryan: I think when you talk about Made to Last couples and relationships, one of—the last chapter in the book talks about resilience.

Dave: Yes, suffering and trials.

Bryan: The suffering and the trial. And I think her commitment to me, her commitment to our relationship and willing to face those challenges, and obstacles and us willing to face those challenges and obstacles together, I think are essential in a relationship. I think when things get hard, if relations, if people quit, if someone says, “You know I don't want to dive in” or “I'm not going to deal with that,” I think that's when we lose the strength of our relationships. It's the challenges and the obstacles that we go through together, that we face side by side, that we fight back-to-back together with those instead of fighting each other, that then allows us to build something that's healthy, that's strong, that's reliable.

I mean, now looking back 25 years later, those moments and challenges and tensions and conflicts that could have really driven us apart, they both were painful. They were hard. I hate some of the things she had to go through. As a man, I had to figure out how to love her, protect her, support her and I probably didn't always do the best job. Well, I didn't do the best job early on in marriage, but I had to learn through those lessons. She had to coach me, and I had to manage through them. But it's that resilience, right? It's that perseverance. It’s that relying on our faith, watching God work on our hearts and our soul, watching God mature us. Because sometimes in our own immaturity we become selfish and self-centered, and we don't think about others. But now, looking back, I just can see God faithfully working through those moments, faithfully working through those challenges, growing her, growing me, and really giving us a peace about some of those things. Sometimes you can't change other people, right?

Ann: Most of the time.

Bryan: Most of the time you can’t. But you learn to have a peace and you learn how to navigate through some things in a way that honors God but also protects your relationship.

Shelby: As I've been listening to this conversation, I thought to myself, learning through failure is always something that hurts as we travel through it. But that hurt is what's necessary in order to develop maturity in us and cultivate wisdom. The times I've grown the most is when I've hurt the most, specifically through my chronic back pain. That's in the times when it's hurt the most, but it's also when God has used the most to shake me into who He wants me to be. It's been hard. Yes, it's been hard, but it's been wonderful at the same time. Those difficult moments and those glorious moments are one in the same at times in our lives. What a mystery it is to be a Christian. You know, sometimes it's just crazy.

I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Bryan and Stephanie Carter on FamilyLife Today. Bryan has written a book called Made to Last: Eight Principles to Build Long Lasting Relationships. Bryan gives us clear insights in that book, ways to tap into the love and power of God, and practical, effective steps to improve our most important relationships. You can head over to to pick up a copy. Or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329. That’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

Obviously you hear us talk often about marriages and how that foundation can affect really everything else in our lives. Well, one thing we think we all would agree on is that great marriages don't just happen. They're built with intentionality, and whether we see it or not, we're either drifting in marriage or intentionally moving together toward each other and toward God.

Here's the great news for your relationship. FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway has events all over the country this coming fall. And even better, right now through Monday, September 18th, all registrations are 50 percent off so you can jump on this chance to intentionally pull closer to each other and to God and get two registrations for the price of one. Again, now through September 18th. To find out more, you can head over to

Now coming up tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are joined again by Bryan and Stephanie Carter. Bryan's going to talk about his realization of feeling empty and finding something missing despite his success as a pastor and his involvement in a big building project. That whole story and much more is coming up tomorrow. We hope you'll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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Episodes in this Series

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with Bryan and Stephanie Carter September 13, 2023
Want quality, long-lasting relationships with your kids? Bryan Carter, author of Made to Last, and his wife Stephanie share doable ideas for feeding spiritual growth and unshakable family ties.
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with Bryan and Stephanie Carter September 12, 2023
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