FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Missing Something? Karen McAdams and Rachel Faulkner Brown

with Karen McAdams, Rachel Faulkner-Brown | June 12, 2023
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Throughout her broken childhood, podcaster Karen McAdams sensed she was missing something. But even after coming to know God, her sprint from shame kept her away from the heart of God. Along with her co-host Rachel Faulkner-Brown, Karen shares part of her own story that fueled the duo's new study, Father's House: The Path that Leads Home.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • 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.

A sprint from shame kept podcaster Karen McAdams from the heart of God. Along with her co-host Rachel Faulkner-Brown, Karen shares her story.

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Missing Something? Karen McAdams and Rachel Faulkner Brown

With Karen McAdams, Rachel Faulkn...more
June 12, 2023
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Karen: Jesus, to me, was the kind One of the Trinity. The problem is that women, men alike don’t understand that Jesus and the Father are just alike.


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

Dave: This is FamilyLife,

Ann: Today!


Ann: I recently picked up Bible study workbook. It said, “Do you long to experience God? Not just learn more about Him, but that He’s the Living God that wants to encounter you in your life.” Then it said, “Do you want more freedom, love, identity, intimacy, purpose, revelation.” I went, “Yes! This is exactly what I want!” So, I’m pretty excited…. [Laughter]

Dave: By the way, she usually reads these kinds of things out loud.

Ann: I do!

Dave: Anytime I’m reading something, she’s, “Read it out loud to me!” [Laughter] I’m like, “Why?” I just want to have this moment.

Ann: You said it the other day. You’re reading your Bible, and like, “Read it out loud to me.”

Rachel: That’s so cute.

Ann: And you’re so bugged by that. As I was reading this, I thought, “I want all of those things.”

Dave: Who doesn’t? Of course, we do!

Ann: You do, too. Right?

Dave: Oh, yes. It’s not a woman thing, even though I’m the only guy in the studio today [Laughter] I feel a little like….

It never stops.

Dave: It never stops.

It’s like I get to be with my sisters today. We have Karen McAdams and Rachel Faulkner-Brown with us today in the studio. I’m so excited! Welcome to FamilyLife Today!

Rachel: We love you all already!


Dave: I’m excited, too. I just spoke at a men’s breakfast. There’s something that happens when men are alone; but when women get together and talk about what we’re going to talk about today—I think it’s going to be dynamic.

Ann: What I was reading and referring to at the beginning of the program was their video-based, eight-session study, which is called Father’s House: The Path That Leads Home. You two wrote this together?

Rachel and Karen: Yes.

Rachel: It’s so fun. I was thinking about how women are multipliers. You give us a house, and we make a home. We birth children; we just multiply things! We have help, obviously. But it is neat to do this with another woman because it is rare in ministry to have a relationship like we have. We’re better together. Honestly, I never want to go anywhere without Karen. I wouldn’t call it co-dependent, but maybe a little. [Laughter]

Karen: We’ve been to counseling over it. No, I’m teasing.

Dave: How’d you two meet? How did this start?

Rachel: All your listeners have heard a little bit of my story. Widowed twice; remarried Rod; moved to Atlanta.

Dave: Wait, wait, wait. Widowed twice, like it’s no big deal.

Karen: She likes to go right past that. [Laughter]

Rachel: They’ve already heard it if they listen.

Ann: If you haven’t, go back and listen to this.

Dave: Yes. You did walk through the trauma of losing your first husband, then your second.

Rachel: When I was dating Rod, a friend had a little shower for us. Karen and her husband were there.

Dave: You didn’t know her before?

Rachel: No! I had never met her. But Rod had traveled with her 25 years ago on a ski trip at First Baptist Atlanta. They’d had this great time. Now, here’s Karen back, and now Rod has a wife, so we can all get together as couples. I go to this dinner party….

Dave: Hey, wait. It sounded sort of funny. He traveled with Karen….

Rachel: It was like a singles trip, like a singles ski trip, back in the day. [Laughter] Of course, Karen and Ken were married, and they came and had a blast.

We were sitting at this dinner, and it was like there was no one else there. Karen and I somehow get on the topic of grace. We’d had this powerful encounter with the gospel of grace; she in a different way. We didn’t even know how similar our stories were at that point. I’m kind of the brother in the field in the prodigal story. Karen is a little bit of the prodigal.

Ann: She was the prodigal.

Karen: I was the prodigal.

Rachel: Yes, she was.

Karen: I was so not willing to admit that for years and years and years. To say that is the admission of all admissions, right? When I would read that story, I thought it was a story about a good son and a bad son. I had no idea that there was a problem with the good son, that he wasn’t able to receive on the basis of the father’s goodness rather than his own goodness.

Ann: Does that mean that you always saw yourself as the bad one?

Karen: Oh, yes. And wanting to be the good Christian girl. For me, like I grew up in a home—my family, they weren’t believers. Rachel comes from a steeped, born into the church pew. Whereas, for me, I wasn’t. A pivotal moment, when I was in third grade, we had just moved to Atlanta. That was church land, back in the day. Everybody went to church, pretty much all Baptist churches. That was where you went.

I saw those people, those girls, that lived in those families. I thought they had ideal families; they had ideal lives. They knew how to quote Scripture; they went to Bible camp. They did VBS. I didn’t even know what those things meant.

I wanted what I saw in this one particular family. It was actually my best friend’s mom, led my mom to the Lord, but not before I had grown up in brokenness. My mom was an alcoholic; there was just a lot of dysfunction in our family, coupled with at a very early age I was sexually abused at the church we did attend for a short time.

Ann: By someone in the church?

Karen: By someone in the church, yes. It robbed my identity. For all of us, I really believe, we can look back at a point in our life, and we can say, “That’s where the enemy came and hijacked my identity.”

Ann: And was it a secret?

Karen: Oh, huge secret.

Ann: No one knew.

Karen: No one knew for years, for many, many years. I think you and I have pretty similar paths—what happens when you’re identity’s hijacked and when you’re living in shame—you develop a false identity because you’re terrified—“If anybody finds out who I really am,” or what you believe you really are, the lies the enemy has told you, you won’t be liked. You can’t be loved; you’re not worthy of love.

Ann: You cover it all up.

Karen: Yes! You do anything and everything to protect this identity. For me that meant becoming a performer and achiever—very similar to you!

Ann: Yes.

Karen: And that works for awhile. At least we think it’s working. It’s getting us a little bit of recognition and that attempt to try and get love. Of course, you don’t know when you’re that little; you don’t know, “What I’m doing is I’m trying to get love. I’m trying to get an identity; I’m trying to become somebody. It put me on this hamster wheel, and I didn’t know Jesus.

Finally, when I was 17 years old, I was at a church rally that I had been invited to at that big, white church down the street. Remembering these moments, they’re so good for you. I remember the offer of Jesus, but I didn’t get it. I was so desperate to know that I won’t go to Hell for what I’ve done. So, I walked the aisle, and I prayed the prayer and thought, “Ok. I’ll get to Heaven one day. They say you can have a relationship with Jesus, but He doesn’t speak, so how do you have a relationship with this non-speaking Person.” Right? Truly. We call it a relationship, and yet we have no idea. Nobody teachers you how to hear from God.

For me, I was great at performing for people, so I thought that’s what you do. You perform for God. And if people had high standards, then God’s standard was unreachable. So, I tried to live up to that for a while. But what happens when you can’t meet a standard? For me, I just gave up. I didn’t try meeting it anymore.

When you’re not living that way, you’re living in the world, and you’re living for the darkness. For me, my life was very much defined by trying to achieve in the world through success. I became a CPA, but all the while, this shame-based identity was turning to men to try to get my needs met. And all that’s doing is what? Heaping more shame on me.

Ann: More guilt.

Karen: More self-hatred, really. I turned to alcohol for my anxiety and my insecurities; ended up having two really tough relationships; got engaged twice and got as far as ten days away from the wedding aisle. One of them went to prison. I spent three years going to prison and visiting this fiancé in prison. And I was a Christian!

Ann: Yes! And you walked down the aisle to give your life to Jesus.

Karen: Yes.

Ann: I can so relate to that.

Karen: Thank you!

Ann: And I was so sincere when I gave my life to Jesus. I was like, “I want you to have everything.” But I couldn’t get out of that shame part, of that hidden “I’m so unworthy. I’m more unworthy than anyone in the room.” But I will strive to be the best.

Dave: Some of that—I’m just a guy making an observation. I’m that guy. [Laughter] All three of you have abuse in your background. [Murmurs of assent] That was part of her identity, she thought. I can’t imagine going back to the same church.

Ann: Recently, you just did.

Karen: Yes, just a few months ago to confront my past, to give the little girl inside of me a voice that never had that voice; to stand up for myself and to say, “What happened here wasn’t right.” And just to reclaim that territory that was stolen, of my innocence.

I think the thing that’s so sad, that’s why we’re so passionate about Father’s House and about this journey to the Father’s Heart is because Jesus, to me, was the kind One of the Trinity. He’s the approachable One. He’s the One who died for my sins. The problem is—and we fun into this all the time—is that women, men alike don’t understand that Jesus and the Father are just alike. Father is not angry; He is not disappointed. He’s not disgusted in you because “oh, by the way, you’re the prodigal.”

I remember reading that story through the lens of the father’s love—the prodigal son’s story—and realizing for the first time that he wasn’t waiting to give him a lecture. He didn’t even let the son get the apology out before he has just torn away all of those filthy rags. “Bring the robe! Bring the shoes! Bring the …”

Ann: “…the ring!”

Karen: “Bring the ring!” Bring it all! The son can’t even get the apology out. It never dawned on me—He wasn’t waiting for my professional apology before He would love me—that He loved me while I was away from Him. He loved me while I was playing in the pig pen!

Ann: He was with you!

Dave: Where did you discover that? One of your chapters is “Lavishly Loved.” You’re talking about that right now. How did you two discover that? Because a lot of people who are listening have never—I know I hadn’t for years after being a follower.

Ann: For a listener, I would ask you this question. If you had to write down just a few words that describe God, what would you write? I remember doing this with a friend? She said, “Describe God to me.” I said, “I see Spirit.” I can imagine all these words in that Spirit, words like “just, holy, righteous.” As I’m picturing, I’m like, “Hmm. I’m not saying loving or grace.”

Rachel: Maybe “angry” is in there?

Ann: Exactly! I said, “Oh!” It made me realize. I said, “This is interesting. I would put those words with Jesus, but I wouldn’t put them with God. As a listener, ask yourself that. Or maybe even ask your kids, “How do you view God?”

Karen: Yes. Here is a really good litmus test: how do you see what happened in the Garden? When they’ve sinned, and the Father comes into the Garden after them….

Dave: Adam and Eve.

Karen: Yes. Do you hear pounding footsteps? Do you hear, “Where are you? What have you done?”

Dave: Like a pointed finger.

Karen: And that’s how I used to see that story until the day He changed that story. Suddenly I realized that He came in with a broken heart, saying, “Where are you? What is it you have done? Where are you?” That brokenness—“Why have you withdrawn from Me?” And even the fact that He put them outside of the Garden to protect them.

Ann: I never knew that for years.

Karen: I thought He kicked them out, the belt’s pulled out. [Laughter]

Ann: The belt!

Karen: I’m serious! It’s the same story, just read through a different lens. The words are all still the same, but we bring a lens to Scripture. The question is, what is the lens you bring? For me, I didn’t know how much that lens was affecting me, until the moment when I was in a ministry called Cloudwalk []. My husband and I were in a small group, and the gentleman there, his name was Larry Green—incredible! He asked the question, “How do you experience the Father’s love?”

It was the words “Father’s love,” not Jesus’s love. I said to him, “I experience Jesus’s love.” I thought that was enough!

Ann: That’s a good answer!

Karen: Yes! “I experience Jesus’s love!” He said, “I want you to close your eyes and ask the Father, how do you experience His love.” I had this vivid image, vivid, vivid scene unfold in my mind, and it’s a bizarre scene. I see myself walking out into an ocean, only the ocean water never goes above my knees. All of a sudden, it was like Spirit was downloaded in me. “If Father’s love is as deep as the ocean, then you’re wading in it.” I knew exactly what He meant.

He looks at me and says, “Karen, have you ever experienced the Father’s blessing?” Again, I’m like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” [Laughter]

Ann: What does that even mean?

Rachel: We don’t know what we don’t know.

Karen: I remember saying to him, “I have a nice father!’ [Laughter] I felt stupid. I didn’t even really know what he meant. He said, “What we’re going to do is we’re going to ask the Father how He wants to bless you.” It was this man Larry, it was my husband, one other man. No other women were there that day. They just started speaking blessings over me.

In the middle of this moment, I’m now seeing myself back at the church where I was sexually abused. I’m in my first communion gown, and I see the Father come and kneel down in front of me on one knee. I’m thinking, “Why in the world am I seeing this? This is so bizarre.”

I’m trying to listen to the blessing, but it’s kind of like it’s not going in. It’s like, “I want to receive this, but I don’t know why I’m seeing this.” I can see His beard—not His face—but just knew it was the Father kneeling in front of me. My husband says, “I have a picture, Karen. It looks like you’re about eight years old. You’re in a short, white dress, and I see the Father kneeling down in front of you on one knee. And He says, ‘You are so beautiful.’” He touched my eyes and said, “I’m giving you new eyes to see yourself the way I see you.”

In that moment, how I identified the Father, how I saw Him completely changed. He came to me at my ugliest, most shameful—you know!

Ann: Yes.

Karen: Most debilitating moment of my life.

Ann: And He gave you a different image, instead of the old image of abuse in your church, now you have this whole new image of the Father.

Dave: Did it stick?

Karen: Oh, yes.

Dave: I know there’s guys like me going, “Oh, that’s awesome. That’s beautiful. Does it stay?”

Karen: You have no idea how much it’s done. Now there was a lot of unlearning and healing to be done. There was kind of a heart shift, “You are not Who I thought you were.” This is the kind of Father I would climb up in His lap. This is the kind of Father that holds me when I fail, not pushes me away until I’ve repented enough and stood on my head enough times to get Him to turn the chair back around.

I didn’t have the theology; I didn’t have the understanding of just how messed up my theology was. He began to heal that by bringing the truth. I know a lot of people—God can heal you through simply the truth. I needed that encounter to get to my heart. I think a lot of us live on the left side of the brain. That’s why churches are filled with people that are still broken and hurting and not transformed because they haven’t had an encounter. That’s why the study is very “encounter” driven. It provides opportunities to see God with the eyes of your divine imagination.

Dave: I really love how you had the Papa’s letter, from the Papa.

Ann: And all the Scripture. That was beautiful.


Rachel: Yes, yes. I think when it comes to love—we watched a TED Talk, and it was about a reptilian brain. It was basically—a human has to answer three questions before they can move into higher levels of knowledge. The first one is, “Am I safe?” Karen and I knew—and we all stopped there. The second question is, “Am I loved?” The third question is, “How can I learn from this?”

It's very difficult to move past, if you don’t feel safe to get to the place of, “Am I loved?” So we want women to experience an encounter with Papa and with Father God where they’re, “I know that I know that I know that I am safe,” and now that, “I know that I know that I know that I am loved.” Then, when things do happen, “How can I learn from this, and how can I bring others into this with me?” Which is what Jesus and Father God have healed for us.

Karen: I think the problem is in so much of the way I was raised and what we were exposed to, is the question most people ask is, “What can I do for you, God?” They’re looking for what they can do before they ever find out who they are, whose they are, and how loved they are.

Yes, so “God so loved the world.” We can quote John 3:16, but we haven’t experienced His love. It’s literally a daily need.

Ann: Yes. I remember that I gave a talk because this is transformative for me, in terms I was giving a talk, and I had the game Kerplunk. Do you remember that game?

Rachel: Yes!

Ann: You put all the marbles at the top.

Dave: You’d better explain it; there’s young listeners who have no idea. [Laughter]

Ann: Yes, I am. It’s still out; you can still go buy it. All the marbles at the top. Then you have these like toothpick. What are they called?

Karen: Long pick-up sticks.

Ann: Yes. Like pick-up sticks, going back and forth so the marbles can’t get to the bottom. I remember saying, “I can’t get to God’s love. It’s up here in my brain. It’s up here. We went to seminary because I’m like, “I need to understand God’s love.”

Rachel: Oh, totally.

Ann: Intellectually, analytically, I could understand God’s love. I could never feel it! I couldn’t get the marbles down into my heart to experience and feel God’s love, not knowing that the pain of my past was destroying my image of God, of who that He says that I am.

Dave: I think we also hear wrong teaching about God’s love.

Karen: It’s conditional even though we call it unconditional.

Dave: Just a few weeks ago, my youngest son was preaching a sermon. Isn’t it interesting how God can speak to you through your kids? He’s up there teaching a passage, the one you just mentioned, Luke 15 prodigal son story. I bet in 30 years of preaching, I’ve preached it at least ten times. [Laughter]

Ann: Oh, more!

Dave: Every 18 months, you’ve got to bring your congregations back to this story. Cody makes this comment that I’ve never thought of, and I’ve studied it in the Greek. Trust me. I should’ve seen this! It was a simple comment; I don’t know if he came up with it or he read it somewhere. He said, “What if the son was coming home; instead of the father coming to meet him, the older brother met him?” He made this comment; he goes, “His view of the father’s love would be so distorted.” The older brother would’ve said, “Dude. You can’t be walking back here.”

Ann: You don’t deserve to come back here.

Rachel: Oh, absolutely.

Dave: There’s no way you’re back here unless you do this or this or this.

Rachel: You’ve got to take a shower first.

Dave: I thought, “That is how most of us view the Father’s love. It’s not a father waiting at the mailbox longing to love us.”

Ann: Running to us.

Dave: It’s that. It’s works. It’s religion.

Karen: It’s the way we categorize the story. We call it The Prodigal Son story, whereas in Eastern cultures, they characterize it as The Story of the Running Father.

Rachel: The whole story is oriented to, “Look what the father has done.”

Dave: Which would never happen in that culture.

Rachel: Yes. In our culture, we highlight it as though the son—

Ann: —is bad.

Karen: Honestly, the reality is the only one that’s enjoying themself that day is the one who was willing to receive. The good son, it turns out—I hate to call him the bad son—he doesn’t get grace. And that is grace. I always say to Rachel, “What would we have done if that story was not in the Word?”


Shelby: Wow. What a great question to sit and think through. What would we do, or where would we be if that story wasn’t in the Word of God? The Lord has graciously included this parable and two others like it from Luke 15 to help us understand the very heart of God.

I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Rachel Faulkner-Brown and Karen McAdams on FamilyLife Today. Rachel and Karen have written a book called Father’s House: The Path That Leads Us Home. This is a book both of them have written to take us on a journey to encounter the heart of God.

You can pick up a copy of it by going online to While you’re at, I want you to keep in mind that coming up at the end of this week is Father’s Day. Maybe you didn’t know. It’s Monday right now, and you’re thinking, “I need to do something!” You’ve got a little bit of time; don’t worry.

Later on this week, as we’re talking about fathers, Jerrad Lopes. He’s written a book called The Dad Tired Q and A Mix Tape: Jesus-Centered Answers to Questions about
Faith and Family. That book will be our gift to you when you partner with us financially at FamilyLife. You can go online at, or give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, the number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY”.

Feel free to drop us something in the mail. Our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Dr., Orlando, FL, 32832.

Coming up tomorrow, Rachel and Karen will be back in the studio with Dave and Ann Wilson to answer the question, “Do you really need to experience God’s love?” a lot of men in general say they don’t need feelings. Well, what’s behind that question? Do women just need it? Or, do men need it, too? We’ll talk about that tomorrow, and so much more. 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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