FamilyLife Today®

A Survivor’s Love Story

with Rick and Kay Warren | July 22, 2013
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"For better or for worse..." Dennis Rainey talks with author and pastor Rick Warren and his wife, Kay. Rick and Kay reminisce about their quick engagement and early years of marriage, which offered its share of challenges. Hear how they clung to each other and to God as Kay battled with breast cancer.

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  • About the Guest

  • "For better or for worse..." Dennis Rainey talks with author and pastor Rick Warren and his wife, Kay. Rick and Kay reminisce about their quick engagement and early years of marriage, which offered its share of challenges. Hear how they clung to each other and to God as Kay battled with breast cancer.

Pastor Rick Warren and his wife, Kay, talk about their quick engagement and early years of marriage.

A Survivor’s Love Story

With Rick and Kay Warren
July 22, 2013
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Bob:  If you have a heart to help couples, who are struggling in their marriage, Pastor Rick Warren has some counsel for you—be authentic—be transparent.

Rick: If you're going to teach on marriage, you need to use your own marriage as an example; and the examples are the examples of imperfection, not perfection. You don't help people with your strengths. When people hear your strengths, they go, "Well, good for you." On the other hand, when I get up and say: "You know what? There are times Kay and I have wanted to kill each other, but we're still here together. The fact is, for us, divorce is not an option.”

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, July 22nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Rick and Kay Warren are going to talk about the early years of their marriage today, and they are authentic and transparent—no sugar-coating here. Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. You know, I remember hearing a prominent Christian leader speaking about his marriage. He was talking about the fact that he and his wife needed some help in the early years of their marriage. I remember, at first, kind of being taken aback that they were being that candid—that honest—about what was going on in their marriage.

And then, I thought, “You know, that’s really good because that’s going to give a lot of people courage and freedom to say, ‘Maybe it is okay to admit that we’ve got issues and we’ve got needs in our marriage.’” You know what I’m talking about.


Dennis: I do. In fact, you're not talking about me?

Bob: No.

Dennis: Because I have mentioned that—

Bob: You have mentioned that on FamilyLife Today.

Dennis: —on FamilyLife Today before. Barbara and I have been through situations where we've needed to get the help of a third party to bring some perspectives to issues that we've been facing.

Bob: Yes; but this guy not only needed marriage counseling, he violated Crown Financial Ministries principles to get his marriage counseling. He put it on his credit card.

Dennis: So, you put it on your credit card? [Laughter]

Bob: That's right. Isn't that true?

Rick: MasterCard® saved my marriage. [Laughter] I'm going to do a commercial.

Kay: Bob, I had no idea you were such a rabble-rouser! [Laughter]

Dennis: Well, that's the voice of Rick and Kay Warren. They join us on FamilyLife Today. Kay, Rick, welcome to our broadcast.

Rick: Thank you, we're glad to be back with you guys.

Kay: Thank you.

Dennis: You're courageous to come back after some of the tough questions Bob asked you on a previous broadcast.

Bob: I'm a pussycat. [Laughter]

Dennis: No doubt about it. Well, you're a pastor, obviously, of a very large church. In fact, at a HIV-AIDS summit that you had at Saddleback, I turned around and kind of jousted with you a little bit about your church. I said, "You have a pretty good-sized church. What size is it?" And Rick said, "Very big." [Laughter]

I was trying to get him to set a goal about the number of orphans that his church would be adopting; and he was saying, "I don't know if I want to go there or not!” [Laughter]

Rick: “I'm not going to give you a number!"

Dennis: Well, I want to talk some about your marriage—

Rick: Sure.

Dennis: —because—certainly, being a high-profile author, leader, and as a couple, giving leadership to issues—Kay, championing the cause of HIV-AIDS around the world—we know that ministry takes a toll on a marriage.

Rick: None of what has happened at Saddleback would have happened if we hadn't worked on our marriage first. There is too much stress in ministry to have stress in your marriage at the same time. So you better get that one solidified and know where you're going on that. Fortunately, in the early years, we got some help. We did get counseling in the first two years.

Bob: I was going to say that stress happened early for you, back in Texas; right?

Rick: Oh, it started on the honeymoon. Do you want to talk about it, Honey? [Laughter]

Kay: Oh, where to begin? We had a very strange courtship. I don't recommend our courtship for anyone.

Rick: It was strange and beautiful. She was beautiful and I was strange.

Kay: And nothing has changed. [Laughter] We were college students in Riverside.

Rick: And both pastors' kids.

Kay: Yes. I was dating his best friend and was madly in love with his best friend—sure that he was “Mr. Wonderful / Mr. Right” for me. That man didn't share that same opinion [Laughter] and broke up with me; but before that happened, Rick came to my dad's church during the summer, in between our college years. I was playing the piano and—

Rick: Yes, let me tell that part. I was actually preaching at her father's church. I was doing evangelism—revivals, and crusades. I looked over at her right, before I got up to speak. God said, just as clearly as I'm talking to you, "You're going to marry that girl." Now, I immediately doubted it for two or three reasons. First, number one, I didn't love her. Second, God had never before, or ever since, talked to me that clearly in my life—ever. And, number three, she was madly in love with my best friend.

Kay: Some significant reasons to doubt that message. [Laughter] I didn't know anything about this—

Rick: And I didn't tell her.

Kay: —We came back to school, at the end of that summer; and this young man broke up with me. I was heartbroken—crushed—sure I'd never love again. And, all of a sudden, this Rick Warren guy started coming around and sitting down next to me in the cafeteria. Well, this freaked me out because I had asked this other young man, when I had been dating him, why Rick never dated. Rick never dated. He was just always busy—out doing revivals—youth revivals and things. This guy said, "Well, Rick just figures why waste the money on a girl you're not going to marry. When the right one comes along,—”

Rick: That's a Crown principle, I'm sure.

Bob: I think it is!

Kay: "—God will show him who that is; and that will be that."

So, when he started coming around and sitting down next to me in the cafeteria, I was scared to death. It was like, “What does he know that I don't know?” because I remember what this guy had said to me.

Bob: Yes.

Kay: And he did, indeed, ask me out. We went out to church—I was playing piano at a revival. Eight days later, we went out again; and he asked me to marry him.

Bob: Eight days later.

Kay: Eight days later, he asked me to marry him.

Rick: This is a story we do not pass on to our children.

Bob: Yes!

Kay: Yes, and I remember—again, if Rick had his moment of clarity from God before we started dating, I had my moment of clarity in that moment when he asked me to marry him because I instantly said to God: "Okay, God, I don't love him. I'm in love with his best friend. What in the world do I say to this guy who has asked me to marry him?"  God clearly said to me, "Say yes, and I'll bring the feelings." So I said, “Yes.”

Rick: It was an act of obedience.

Kay: So began the saga of Rick and Kay Warren.

Rick: And right after we got engaged, we were both very involved in ministry. Kay moved to Birmingham, Alabama, to work in an inner-city African-American church; and I moved to Nagasaki, Japan, to work in a Japanese church, teaching English. Our entire engagement, we were apart from each other.

Bob: You barely knew each other!

Kay: We didn't know each other. No, you talk about violating principle—if somebody were to do a premarital counseling with us—and all the things they would check off and say: "This is bad. This is bad. This is bad. You haven't done this. You haven't talked about…."—we had done none of it.

Rick: So, we're not good examples for that. In fact, looking back now, though, we see the hand of God in that Kay and I are so exactly opposite in every DNA cell of our bodies: I say, “High,” she says, “Low.” I say, “White,”—…“Black.” …“Obla di,” …“Obla dah.” You know, it's just—

Kay: “Tomayto,”—“Tomahto.”

Rick: It's not yin and yang. It's as far apart as you could possibly get.

Dennis: Okay, who is the fast-processor and who is the slower-processor?

Rick: Oh, I'm the fast-processor.

Kay: He is the fast-processor, yes; and I'm the slow- processor.

Rick: And in every single example—but God wanted us together. We believe that marriage is not to make you happy, but to make you holy—

Kay: I wish I'd had Gary’s talk—Gary Thomas's book.

Bob: That’s a great book.

Rick: —as Gary Thomas's book talked about. The truth is—marriage is all about learning to be unselfish. There wasn't any major problem that we couldn't have overcome if we were just more mature; but when we got married, we were both quite immature.

Bob: And you said the honeymoon was where things first—

Rick: Oh!

Kay: Oh, yes. [Laughter]

Rick: Hell on earth.

Bob: Really?

Kay: Well, honestly—here's what's so sad, as I look back. It seems almost like those were—“Who were those two poor young 21-year-olds?”

Rick: We feel sorry for those people.

Kay: We feel sorry for those—who were us. But on our wedding day, I remember standing in the back of the church, by myself, waiting to walk down the aisle, going, "Okay, God, those feelings that You said You'd bring? It would sure be nice if You'd bring those feelings sometime soon."

Bob: Oh, and you're about to go on your honeymoon with this guy.

Kay: I am about to go on my honeymoon, and he's so sweet. He was so loving and so tender. I loved him, but I wasn't in love with him. I was scared to death. And one thing that he didn't mention—that really was a major problem—we just didn't realize it yet—was that I had been molested, as a child.

Dennis: It actually happened at church.

Kay: It happened at church—in my dad's church. The son of our church janitor molested me at church. I had kept that hidden and secret. When I told Rick about it, right before we got married, I was completely unemotional about it—feeling like it didn't have anything—it was not that big a deal. So, he didn't realize it was that big a deal.

Really, our poor honeymoon was so bad and so terrible. We got back from it; and people would say, as they normally do, "So, did you guys have fun?!" We were like, [Uncertainty in voice] "Sure, great;" but inside, we were dying. We were just dying.

Rick: Within just a couple of months after we got married, I ended up in the hospital. I was so sick from the stress. I was angry. It was: “Wait a minute! I saved myself for this?!” I was just flat-out angry at God and felt cheated. Kay thought she was going crazy. That's where we had to say, "Okay, we're going to get help."

Bob: But there's a stigma—for a guy who is a—

Kay: Well, he was on staff. He was a youth pastor at a church. We didn't—at that point in time—to talk. We just felt like there was nowhere to go—nowhere to turn.

Rick: And even 30 years ago—there was much more of a stigma even than there is now. I was making $800 a month, working at a Christian college. I was actually going to college and teaching college at the same time. Our counseling bill cost—it was $100 a week. So, half of our income was going to counseling; and we racked up a $1,500 counseling bill. That's the best $1,500 I ever spent!

People say, "Well, I can't afford counseling." I say, "You can't afford not to get it!" My wife is my best friend today. There would be no Saddleback Church, no AIDS ministry, no peace plan, no tens of thousands of churches going through our seminars without that. I'd pay $1 million for that counseling today—really—if it took me the rest of my life.

Kay: You know—it didn't solve everything. I mean, I don't want to make it sound like, “If you go to counseling, man, everything is going to work great.” It just opened the door for us to begin to talk. We didn't even know how to talk to each other about all the places that you have conflict—sex, money, marriage, in-laws, communication. We had conflict in every one of those.

Rick: Five for five.

Kay: Yes, we were five for five; but it, at least, began to teach us how to start talking to each other and sharing our hearts.

Dennis: You know—a lot of people look at marriage conferences the same way as they do a marriage counselor: “To go to a marriage conference means we're admitting we've got problems.” Well, hey, just hold your hand up because all of us have problems.

Kay: Exactly! Hands and feet; yes.

Rick: There are two kinds of people who are married. There are those who admit they have problems in their marriage and those who are liars. [Laughter] So which camp do you want to be in?

Bob: I want to know about being in the hospital, early on, in your marriage. Did you think, “I’ve got to find a way out of this”?

Rick: Well, I was pretty desperate. There are two kinds of people—as they always say, “There are skunks and turtles.” When you get angry, skunks stink up the place—they spray all over—and turtles pull up into a shell. Honestly, I didn’t know how to express frustration. I pulled it all in. If you don’t know how to talk it out, you’re going to take it out on your body.

This, by the way, is one of the things that pastors need to do. If there are pastors listening—if you're going to teach on marriage, you need to use your own marriage as an example—

Dennis: Yes.

Rick: —and the examples are the examples of imperfection—not perfection. You don't help people with your strengths. When people hear your strengths, they go, "Well, good for you." On the other hand, when I get up and say: "You know what? There are times Kay and I have wanted to kill each other, but we're still here together. The fact is, we’re together because—one, we made a commitment, “…’til death do us part”—for us, divorce is not an option.

Kay: Because we descended into marital hell so quickly and felt there was no way out—nowhere to go, no place to get help, I couldn't see any future, I didn't have any hope for us—yet, I was determined that divorce was not an option.

Rick: We had locked the escape hatch and thrown away the key.

Kay: That was a commitment that I had made. I wasn't going to go back on the commitment, but I just saw no hope. What I saw was—I had just consigned myself to a lifetime of misery, and so I wished that divorce was an option. I knew it wasn't for me, but I wished it was because I was so miserable.

Rick: We had made this commitment, "We're going to make this thing work, if it kills us;" and it nearly did, in the early years. The first verse Kay and I memorized—we, actually memorized it on our honeymoon—Proverbs 13:10, "Only by pride cometh contention,"—which means anytime you've got a conflict, there's ego involved. Every time there's a conflict, ego is involved. That was the first verse we ever memorized together because, when I get mad at her—when my ego / my pride bucks up against her pride—I want what I want; she wants what she wants—there's going to be sparks.

Dennis: I want to fast-forward in your marriage, Kay, to when you were diagnosed with cancer.

Kay: Cancer is a hard diagnosis in a relationship. It creates—it would bring to the surface anything else that was maybe lying underneath it because of the stress of treatment, and the possibility of death, and the fact that you have to be unselfish to care for someone who is sick. Rick had done—we had done a lot of hard work, and it wasn't even just in those first two years. It's an ongoing process. We are so different, and we are both very strong-willed—intense people.

Dennis: Still?

Kay: Still; but Rick demonstrated such incredible love to me. I have said this many times—that, “If I didn't love him before,” which I did, “I would have loved him forever because of the way that he took care of me when I was sick.”

Dennis: How did he do that?

Kay: Well, I got very sick with my chemo treatments. Most people don't. They have great drugs that keep nausea at bay, but I was one of those one-percenters who got very sick. I was hospitalized with each chemo, and Rick rarely left my side. He was in that hospital room—we were just getting ready to launch the peace plan. We preached that message together, and I started chemo the next day. So, we had this whole big plan going. He pulled out of that—

Rick: Canceled the six-week series.

Kay: —canceled the series. He did not speak at Christmas Eve services, which, for him, is an enormous deal! As an evangelist, he lives for Christmas Eve and Easter because so many lost people come. I started chemo in November. So, instead of doing those 14 Christmas Eve services, that he would normally be doing, he was with me.

So, for those three months that I was going through chemo, he was with me almost entirely. He put his whole life on hold for me. It makes me cry because it was very sacrificial. As I said, if I hadn't loved him before, I'll always, always love you and be grateful for the way that you took care of me.

Rick: Can we take a break right now and let me go get a room? [Laughter]

Kay: At least give me a kiss. [Laughter and sound of a kiss]

Dennis: You know, Kay, watching you cry—reliving that—I was just thinking and contrasting that with the only man I have ever gotten down on my knees and begged not to get a divorce. He was 50 years old. His wife had had cancer five years before, and he was divorcing her. I contrast Rick's love for you with that man's abandonment of his wife, at 50 years of age.

You know, a woman was designed, by God, to be loved by her husband sacrificially. It had to cost you, Rick, to not go to work. I mean, you're leading a huge church.

Rick: You know, I really don't think it was a sacrifice! Kay talks about it as sacrifice. There was nothing I would rather do because, when you love somebody, it doesn't seem like a sacrifice. I don't really think I'm that big a hero on this. I just—why would I not want to be with my wife?

Bob: Well, you were having opportunities, right and left. Purpose-Driven Life was taking off, and—

Rick: You know what? That year taught me a great lesson. It was the greatest year of my life and the worst year of my life in the same year. I used to believe that life was hills and valleys—that you have big mountaintops and then you have valleys—you have big mountaintops, and you have valleys. I don't believe that anymore.

I think life is more like a railroad track with two rails, and you have them both at the same time. There is always something good in your life. Then, there are bad things in your life; and you can have both at the same time. The goal is not to focus on the good or the bad—the cheers or the jeers—keep your eye on the goal—and the goal is Jesus. The goal is finishing the race. If you look over at the stands—at the crowd—some of them are cheering and some are jeering—you're going to stumble. So, really, part of life is just realizing life is a combination of everything.

Kay: Well, and for us—just back to that idea of sacrificial—you know, Rick is an influencer—he's influenced a lot of people in enormous ways, but I think one of the greatest legacies of his life—besides building Saddleback Church, besides building a network of churches, and all of those things that people will hold up as Rick Warren's accomplishments—[Emotion in voice] one of his greatest legacies will be a legacy of love.

He modeled for other men—whether he is aware of it or knows much—he modeled for other men. They have told me. They have talked to me, and they have said—some of them, with their own wives, when they're diagnosed—they'll say, "I remember what Rick did, and how he took care of you, and it showed me how I needed to love my wife." So, there will be a lot of great accomplishments listed next to his name; but probably the greatest one will be the way that he loved me.

Dennis: Isn't that what First Corinthians 13 says? "Now abide faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love." And, you know, every woman, listening to our broadcast right now, is asking that question, Kay—"If I got cancer, would my husband do what Rick Warren did for you?" You don't have to be a Rick Warren to do it because the same Spirit of God that raised Christ from the dead lives in you, if you're a believer in Christ. He can give you the ability to make that statement of love.

Rick and Kay, I want to thank you for sharing your love story. You know, it's a real love story. It's not some kind of plastic-veneer love story. I appreciate your friendship and appreciate you guys being on FamilyLife Today.

Kay: Thank you so much. You are a great guy—Bob, the jury's still out on you; [Laughter] but thanks for inviting us. [Laughter]

Rick: Well, I will leave this thought with the listeners: “The greatest use of life is love. The greatest expression of love is time; and the greatest time to love is now because you may not have that opportunity tomorrow.”

Bob: Yes, that’s one of the reasons why we routinely encourage husbands and wives to take time together—to get away together—and spend time focusing on their marriage relationship—whether it’s coming to one of our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways—and we’ve got four dozen of those happening, this fall, that couples can attend—or getting together with other couples and going through The Art of Marriage® video material. Whatever it is—just the time you take to get away and spend that time together is an investment that will pay dividends.

I would just encourage our listeners to go to to find out more about the resources we have available to help strengthen your marriage. Find out how you can attend a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway this fall or how you can host an Art of Marriage event for you and your friends—at your church, in a private retreat setting—it’s just a great concentrated way for a group of you to get away and go through this material, and talk about your marriage and how you want to do life together, as couples.

Go to for more information—not only about those resources—but about a book that Dennis and Barbara Rainey wrote called Starting Your Marriage Right. We have that book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order a copy when you go online. Our website, again, is; and our phone number is 1-800-358-6329, which is also 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.

You know, we had the opportunity, not long ago, to sit down with Kim and Krickitt Carpenter, whose story was told in the Hollywood movie called The Vow. They shared, with us, the real-life story that was turned into a Hollywood movie. As it turns out, the real-life story is a better story than the one Hollywood came up with. They were both in a car wreck, early in their marriage. They both survived, but Krickitt lost her memory. When she came to, from a traumatic brain injury, she could not remember her husband. She didn’t know him. Her personality had shifted, and they had to figure out what they were going to do about their marriage relationship.

I mention that story because hearing Rick and Kay’s story today is just a great reminder that God takes couples through some hard seasons but brings redemption, and brings hope, and brings healing in those situations. We’d like to make available to you, this week, a copy of our conversation with Kim and Krickitt Carpenter. It’s our way of saying, “Thank you,” when you help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.

We are here to effectively develop godly families—families who change the world, one home at a time. Our goal is to see every home become a godly home. When you make a contribution, online, or when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY, you become a part of the team that is working hard to strengthen marriages and families, not only in this country, but all around the world.

We want to make sure that your giving is, first and foremost, to your local church; but beyond that, we are grateful for whatever you’re able to do to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. So, make an online donation at Click the button that says, “I CARE”; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make your donation over the phone. Ask for the CD with Kim and Krickitt Carpenter—or the CD of The Vow—and we’re happy to send it to you. We appreciate your partnership with us in this ministry.

We hope you can join us back again tomorrow. In a culture that has gone crazy around the issue of sexuality, we’re going to talk about how we can cultivate sexual sanity in our relationships and in our marriages. I hope you can join us as we talk to David White tomorrow.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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