FamilyLife Today® Podcast

I Am Who I Am by God’s Grace

with Josh McDowell | July 8, 2013
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God works everything for good, and so it seems when life is easy. But it’s much harder to swallow when life couldn’t get worse. Josh McDowell reminisces about growing up with an abusive, alcoholic father, and talks about the sexual abuse he endured for eight years at the hands of a man hired to help with his parents’ farm. Reflecting on his past, McDowell explains why he’s thankful for his childhood, despite the difficulties.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • God works everything for good, and so it seems when life is easy. But it’s much harder to swallow when life couldn’t get worse. Josh McDowell reminisces about growing up with an abusive, alcoholic father, and talks about the sexual abuse he endured for eight years at the hands of a man hired to help with his parents’ farm. Reflecting on his past, McDowell explains why he’s thankful for his childhood, despite the difficulties.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Reflecting on his past, McDowell explains why he’s thankful for his childhood, despite the difficulties.

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I Am Who I Am by God’s Grace

With Josh McDowell
July 08, 2013
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Bob:  Growing up on a farm in Michigan, Josh McDowell was sexually abused for years by a hired hand who was often his babysitter. He finally decided he had to tell his mom.

Josh: At nine years old, I got up the courage—and it took a lot—to go to my mother and tell her. She wouldn’t believe me. She made me go out in back. We had this huge willow tree, and I had to break off a twig. I went in the house. She made me take off my shirt, and she whipped me. Boy, can I still feel it! She whipped me until I said I was sorry for lying. Dennis, that was probably the loneliest, most fearful, scary day of my life.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, July 8th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll hear today the shocking background in the life of a man whom God has used over the years to speak to millions of people about Jesus. Josh McDowell joins us. Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I know you’ve told our listeners this before, but how old were you—were you 20?

Dennis: Twenty.

Bob: Twenty years old the first time you heard Josh McDowell speak?

Dennis: The first time I was out in the audience. He was speaking about Evidence That Demands a Verdict. He hit me squarely between the eyes.

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: I mean, I needed the message that Josh was giving on college campuses. Do you have any idea, Josh, how many college campuses you’ve spoken at over the years?

Josh: Yes, it’s a little over 1,200. [Laughter] That’s a lot of campuses.

Dennis: That is a lot of campuses! Well, I was at one, back in 1968 or ‘69 —I’m not sure what year it was. I’m sure you know exactly when it was, Josh, if you’ve only done 1,200 of them.

Josh: I have a photographic mind, but no film. [Laughter]

Dennis: I understand that. But, truthfully, Bob, he hit me where I needed to be hit. I was struggling about the questions in the Bible that I couldn’t answer. I needed to know that my faith rested on solid truth that was defendable. Josh defended it and did a great job talking about the evidence for the resurrection.

Bob: Yes, this was at the time that the book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, had pretty much just come out. You wrote that book in ‘67—‘68?

Josh: I think it came out in ‘68.

Bob: Yes—so, it was right at the time when that book had just come out. Of course, that became a classic. For years, that was the go-to book for all of us.

Dennis: Josh has only written, now, more than 140 books. Is that right?

Josh: One hundred forty-eight, I think.

Dennis: One hundred forty-eight. He has spoken to more than 25,000,000 people, in live audiences, in 26,000 presentations, in 125 countries. He and his wife Dottie have four children, ten grandchildren—and he’s a good friend.

Bob: Twenty-six thousand presentations!? If that’s 1,000 per year, that’s 26 years!

Dennis: Well, he’s been at it a bit longer than that.

Josh: This is my 52nd year.

Bob: Well, I know! But let’s divide it up. Okay, so you’.re only doing like one or two per day for your whole life?

Josh: Well, three years ago, I averaged 85 talks every 14 days—for a whole year. [Laughter]

Dennis: And it helps if you’ve got a photographic memory! Josh, you have written a book called Undaunted. I know because I saw the movie that you created by the same title. This is kind of a startling revelation. You start the book by talking about how every boy’s childhood ought to be this beautiful season in life. It wasn’t so for you.

Josh: I believe every child should have a marvelous childhood because it actually lays the groundwork for your entire life. My childhood wasn’t that marvelous, overall; but you know what? I now wouldn’t trade it for anything because He says He will cause all things to work together for the good. I really believe God took some of these things that happened in my life—they weren’t good!—but He’s worked them out for the good. Now, I’m able to help so many other people that I never could have reached before.

Dennis: As I was reflecting on your story again today, Josh, I thought again of First Corinthians 15, verse 10. I thought, “This is a great description of your life.” Paul says: “But by the grace of God, I am what I am. His grace toward me was not in vain.” Your life is a story of God’s grace, helping you get beyond some—well, a tragic season in your life. Take us back to when you were a boy. One by one, introduce us to your mom, your dad, and your brother and sister.

Josh: I was born into a family where my parents had not gone beyond the second grade. They came out of Idaho. I loved my mother very much, but she wasn’t big—she was huge. She would literally walk through any door and would hit each side of the door.

Dennis: She had a thyroid problem.

Josh: That’s right. Because of that—today, they have a pill you take; and that will solve it. It didn’t matter if she starved herself—she gained weight. Now, I didn’t know all of that back then. You know one of the things that affected me as a child? I loved my mother, but I was embarrassed to be seen with my mother.

Dennis: Yes.

Josh: We would go to Battle Creek, Michigan, for shopping for clothes for school in August. I remember walking through, always thinking: “Are any of my friends here? Are any of my friends here?” I mean, it was hard.

My mother came to every one of my football games and never saw me play. She was so big she couldn’t sit in the bleachers or anything, and people lined the field. She would come to every game and sit in the car. I remember, at halftime, often I would run over to the car and everything; and she would be crying. That just left me very sad, as a child—but that conflict between loving my mother and not wanting to be seen with her affected me.

My father was a small man. He must have been pretty sharp because he became the manager of a huge A&P store. Everything was going well.

Dennis: You described him, in the book, as a pioneer.

Josh: Yes, a pioneer, I mean—but alcohol got to him. He lost the store and everything. We ended up on a farm that a very wealthy aunt—we called her aunt, but I don’t think she was a family member—gave it to my dad—the whole farm and everything. My dad was creative—you could tell. One day, he pulled me out of school for one week in May. We cut all the hay, and baled it, and said, “Why are we doing that?” He said, “Because it’s going to rain all summer.”

No sooner did we cut all of the hay, it rained for weeks. Everybody lost their crops except for us. I always looked up to my dad for that, but he was always drunk. The problem with my dad was—when he was sober, or when he was drunk—he was okay. It was that in-between that he was mean. It was that in-between—that I would go out to the barn, at age eight or nine years old, and see my mother lying in the manure, in a gutter, behind the cows. My father, where he was half-drunk, would yank the air holes off the milk pipes and beat my mother to a bloody pulp—

Dennis: Oh.

Josh: —until she was so weak and bloody she couldn’t stand up. At eight, nine, or ten years old, I remember running in, and pushing him, and kicking him. Anyone listening, right now, who has an alcoholic parent, knows what I’m talking about here. If you don’t, you don’t. A child of an alcoholic, every day, carries shame with them. You just carry that shame—embarrassment. But you have that ability, usually, to hide it within yourself, where it eats away from within; but outside, everybody thinks you’re great.

I would have friends come over to the house. Families would come over and dad would be either half-drunk or passed out in the barn. I would go out, and I’d grab him either around the neck or pick up his feet. I would pull him into the barn. I would pull him into this one pen—and drop him on the straw. I was a little guy, but he was a little man. I would get him up against the boards. I would put his arms through the boards, behind him, and then bring them around the front. Then, I’d take a rope—and tie from one wrist to the other wrist. Then, I would put the other end around his feet.

All I ever wanted was for him to stop hurting my mother, whom I loved so much. Bob, maybe this makes sense to you—I know it does to Dennis. I grew up with guilt that it was my fault. My father was able to hurt my mother because I couldn’t stop him. I couldn’t stop him. I remember that first time I could stop him—I felt so good. I felt like I was relieved from all of the guilt—that, “Now, I could do it!”

Bob: There was a sense of needing to protect your mom—that was bone-deep inside of you. As a little guy, when you couldn’t do that—

Josh: Oh, and my sisters and all—I felt a need that if I didn’t protect them, I wasn’t a loving brother—I wasn’t a loving person.

Bob: Were you the youngest in the family?

Josh: Yes, I was the baby. There were five of us. I was, by far, the baby. Three of my two sisters and brother were old enough to be my mother or father.

Bob: Where were they in the midst of all of this?

Josh: They had all pretty much left home because they were so much older than I was.

Bob: Right.

Josh: My one sister was in the military. My other sister was off to college and married and all.

Bob: But they had to know what was going on, back at the farm, with little Josh?

Josh: I’m sure they did—with the alcohol. They had to know it because my sister married a man just like my father, who was drunk all the time—she would always bring up about dad.

But probably equal to the alcohol and the violence in the family—whew! [Emotion in voice] Between six and thirteen years of age—for seven years—every week, I was abused, in my own home, by a man by the name of Wayne Bailey. He had been hired to be a cook and a housekeeper on the farm because my mom was so big her body could not carry her weight. She was in bed all of the time. The doctors would come out to put her hips back in place.

So, they hired Wayne to be a cook and a housekeeper. From that moment—when I was six years old—my mom would go downtown shopping, my parents would go away, whatever—my mother would always grab my shirt, make me stand in front of Wayne Bailey, and she would say: “Now, Josh. You obey Wayne. You do everything he tells you to do. If you’re disobedient, you’re going to get a thrashing when I get home.” And you did not want a thrashing from my mother!

So what do you do at six years old?—whew! [Emotion in voice] You do what Wayne Bailey tells you. At nine years old, I got up the courage—and it took a lot—to go to my mother and tell her. She wouldn’t believe me. She made me go out in back. We had this huge willow tree, and I had to break off a twig. I went in the house. She made me take off my shirt, and she whipped me. Boy, can I still feel it! She whipped me until I said I was sorry for lying. Dennis, that was probably the loneliest, most fearful, scary day of my life because, at nine years old, I knew that what was being done to me was evil. I couldn’t do anything about it. My parents wouldn’t do anything about it. I remember being so scared and fearful.

It even affects me today—if I’m in a room alone—like if I was in here, in this studio alone, focused on something like writing, and either one of you—or any man—walked into this room—and this happens about three or four times a week—an instant fear grips me—only for several seconds. I can’t explain it—it just grips me! If a woman, it doesn’t do it. So, I still have implications today.

Finally, at 13 years old, my mom had gone downtown with my dad. Wayne Bailey came up and put his hand on my shoulder. I spun around, and cupped my hand around his throat, and pushed him against the wall. I said, “If you ever touch me again, I will kill you.” He never touched me again, but I’m so thankful I came to know Jesus because between my dad, and Wayne Bailey, and the violence in my family, I would have destroyed my marriage; I would have destroyed my family; I would have destroyed my life; and I never would have followed Jesus.

Bob: You know, hearing you describe what you’ve just described for us, and reflecting back on how you started this whole story, I am grateful for the home I grew up in. Evil was done, but God has redeemed it and used it for good. It’s hard to even think that there could be any gratitude—that you wouldn’t just wall off that part of your life and say, “I wish it had never happened.” Of course, you wish it had never happened! I know what you’re saying, but you understand the contradiction that you feel and hear in that.

Josh: A number of years ago, Joe Musser did a biography of me—not an autobiography—a biography. He gave me a list of questions. I went to the hotel—there in Julian, California—where I lived—and got a room. One question was all about my mom and my dad. I was writing it out, and I broke out crying. It was about two o’clock in the morning. I remember I walked over—there was an old double bed there. I got down on my knees, and I started to pray.

It was probably the first time I confronted myself with a lot of these issues in my life. Dennis, I don’t know if this makes sense to you or not—but my reasoning went: “I like myself. I’m not what I ought to be, but I’m not what I used to be. By God’s grace, I’m not what I’m going to be; but oh, enjoying the process, even though it’s hard.” I said, “I like who I am,” and I said: “God, You’ve made me who I am, in spite of my past, but who did you use most in my life?” You know what I concluded? It was my mom and dad—an overweight mother, who permitted me to be abused—and an alcoholic father, who abused the family. I’ll never forget when I said: “God, thank You for my mom and dad. I don’t want to be a parent like them, but thank You!”

I remember that I begged—I didn’t pray; I begged God—to use it, in my life, for the good. Bob, I was set free. I think, then, I was released from my past and could start dealing with it. If Joe Musser had never done that biography, I’m not sure I would ever even be sitting at this table today.

Dennis: You also fulfilled the Fifth Commandment, Josh, in a sense of giving thanks for your imperfect parents. You honored them before God—not the evil, certainly, that they did—but in giving them honor—the promise of that passage is, “Honor your father and your mother, that you may live long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” That’s what you experienced. You experienced freedom from all of those haunting images and damage that was done. God has given you a long life to proclaim Him to a lot of people.

Josh: I’m grateful for that; but, you know, what I did—I grew up—and I think many people do this—I was always envying other people’s parents: “Why couldn’t I have a dad like that?” “Why couldn’t I have a mother like that?” “Why…..” I found out later, I wasn’t much better in my own home life; but, “Why couldn’t I have a home like that?”

But when I kind of gave my parents over—the history of it, the hurt, everything—to God, it was freedom! It really was. It led me to finally contacting Henry Cloud. I said: “Henry, I’ve got a problem. I need a coach.” For one year, he met with me. That’s when I learned how the Word of God can transform your life.

But you know, what really took a hold was, after I became a Christian—I trusted Jesus at the university. Most people think I had an intellectual problem with Christianity. Well, I did because of all the books I’ve written on it, but my greatest problem was not intellectual.

Dennis: Yes.

Josh: People would say to me, “You have a Heavenly Father who loves you.” That didn’t bring joy into my life—that brought pain because I was not able—and it’s still hard for me today—to discern the difference between a Heavenly Father and an earthly father. I grew up believing fathers hurt. I looked at God: “I’m not going to look up to God. He’ll hurt me if He is my Heavenly Father.” That was one of the greatest barriers I had to overcome. But after I trusted Jesus, I had to tell someone. It was just a burning fire in my chest that I had to tell somebody!

Dennis, I don’t think I was looking for answers. I don’t think I was looking for counseling or anything. I really believe I just wanted someone to believe me. I just wanted someone to believe me. So, I went to the man who led me to Christ—a pastor of a little, tiny church—a very wise man. I called him up and asked, “Can I come over and talk?” I went over, and I sat there for 45 minutes, and I couldn’t say it.

Finally, I just blurted it out; and he believed me! Oh guys, it was like being born again, again. He believed me. For six months, he mentored me out of the Scriptures. People say to me, “Why do you have such deep convictions that the Bible is true?” I say, “Well, for one, intellectually, I know it is true; but emotionally, it has changed my life.”

Dennis: Yes.

Josh: He took the Word of God and all of my fears, the guilt, the anger; and he applied Scripture, through the Holy Spirit, to my life. At the end of those six months, I knew he was going to say it—and I didn’t want to hear it, but I knew he was going to say it—he said, “Josh, you need to forgive him.”

Dennis: You’re talking about the guy who abused you?

Josh: Wayne Bailey, yes. My problem was—it was a nice problem—I knew the Bible was true. I knew God commanded it; but emotionally, I didn’t want to forgive that man. I wanted him to burn in hell. But I did it—I did it out of faith. When the Bible says, “Without faith, you cannot please God,” I believe that God commanded me to forgive, even though I didn’t want to, emotionally. I needed to be obedient to that.

So, I prayed about it and everything. I drove 45 miles up to where he lived, at that time.

I knocked on the door. When he answered the door, I said, “Wayne, what you did to me was evil—very evil—but I’ve come to know Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord, and I’ve come here to tell you….” And, guys, what I told him—I didn’t want to be true. I knew it was true; but I did—emotionally, I did not want it to be true. I said: “Wayne, I’ve come here to tell you that Jesus died as much for you as He died for me. I forgive you.”  Whew!! You talk about a load being lifted off my shoulders. That started me on a path of healing—through the whole process—but I’m still working through it.

Dennis: Well, I just want to go back and quote First Corinthians 15:10, “I am who I am by the grace of God.” Josh, I’m just reflecting back on the many contributions you’ve made to evangelical Christianity and to the church—not only in America—but around the world. Your books have been translated into dozens of languages and impacting tens of millions. Those who have been victimized don’t have to become a victim. Those who have been abused can become vessels of grace.

You’ve just—by virtue of your story—you have—what you have done is allow us to peer into a little boy’s life, who grew up to become a man God used greatly because you allowed God to break through some areas in your heart that needed to be let go. You needed to forgive. I’m glad you did; and because you have, you’re still making a great contribution to a lot of folks.

Bob: Well, I think the fact that you’ve been so disclosing, both in the book you’ve written, which is called Undaunted, and in the movie that tells the story of your life, by the same name—I think that is going to give a lot of people hope. I think your transparency will help people recognize you can acknowledge your past—even acknowledge parts of your past that were shameful—without being bound up by it. There’s liberation when this comes to light. When darkness is replaced with light, there is a healing impact that takes place.

I would just encourage our listeners—we have both the book and the DVD of Josh’s story, Undaunted, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go, online, at to request either the book or the DVD as something you may want to watch together, as a family. This would be suitable for parents of children who are maybe 12 years old or older. You can watch this together, as a family, and have some conversation about real life and real family issues. Go to for more information about the book, Undaunted, and the DVD that tells the story of the life of Josh McDowell, as a boy. Again, our website is; and our toll-free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY. We hope to hear from you. Hope you enjoy this book; and I hope you enjoy the DVD, as well.

You know, listening to Josh’s story, I’m reminded of some of the challenges we’ve heard couples talk about, here on FamilyLife Today,related to marriage and family. Over and over again, we have heard people talk about God’s grace and God’s power in the midst of difficult family situations. Not long ago, we had Kim and Krickitt Carpenter join us on FamilyLife Today. They shared their story, which was later made into a movie called The Vow. If you didn’t hear the interview, Kim and Krickitt were both in a car accident. Krickitt had a traumatic brain injury. She could not remember her husband. She couldn’t remember being married. They had to start from scratch at rebuilding their marriage.

It’s a compelling story. This week, we’re making the interview of our conversation with Kim and Krickitt Carpenter available to those of you who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation. We want to say, “Thanks for your partnership with us, here, in this ministry;” and we’re happy to make the CD available to you when you go online to make a donation at All you have to do is click the button that says, “I CARE”. Make an online donation, and we’ll send the CD to you. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make your donation over the phone. Ask for the CD of the interview with Kim and Krickitt Carpenter. Again, we’re happy to send it to you; and we are grateful for your support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.

We hope you can join us back again tomorrow when we’re going to hear more from Josh McDowell about his life, growing up in Michigan, and about some of the challenges he faced, as a young boy. I hope you can tune in for that.

Bob:  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

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