FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Turning a New Leaf

with Dottie McDowell | July 11, 2013
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Sometimes your love for Christ will demand that you make a choice. And for Dottie, that meant breaking up with her boyfriend of three and a half years due to his ambivalence toward the things of God. She remembers the night she wrote her love a “Dear John” letter and walked it to the mailbox. What would her life be like now, without him? Dottie McDowell talks about her growing faith in Christ as a student at the University of Texas, and the dynamic speaker, Josh McDowell, who would later become a very important part of her life.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Sometimes your love for Christ will demand that you make a choice. And for Dottie, that meant breaking up with her boyfriend of three and a half years due to his ambivalence toward the things of God. She remembers the night she wrote her love a “Dear John” letter and walked it to the mailbox. What would her life be like now, without him? Dottie McDowell talks about her growing faith in Christ as a student at the University of Texas, and the dynamic speaker, Josh McDowell, who would later become a very important part of her life.

  • 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.

Dottie McDowell talks about her growing faith in Christ as a student at the University of Texas.

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Turning a New Leaf

With Dottie McDowell
July 11, 2013
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Bob:  Dottie Youd was a young single woman in her 20’s who knew what she wanted in a man.

Dottie:  I like energetic people that are enthusiastic, can talk on any level, exuberant. I even threw in the fact that somehow it ended up that I often dated men who were left-handed. Well, the amazing thing was the gal that was sitting directly across the table from me said, “Hey, you know who we ought to get her together with?” And I said, “Who?” And she said, “Josh McDowell.” And I said, “Who’s he?”

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, July 11th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Today, we’re going to find out how Dottie Youd went from “Who’s he?” to becoming Mrs. Josh McDowell. Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. Dennis, this week we’ve had a chance to hear from Josh McDowell about the early years of his life. You know how sometimes when you’re meeting a couple—and you know the man—he may say, “I want you to meet my better half”? Well, we decided to banish Josh from the studio for the rest of this week and to spend some time bringing his better half into the studio.               

Dennis:  Maybe a better three-quarters because I know both of them. [Laughter]

Bob:  You know the half—other half—

Dennis:  I do. And you know, just to build a little drama, here with our listeners, in six years [As per original airing] we’ve had a lot of guests here in the studio. Barbara has certainly wanted to be here on numerous occasions; but on this occasion, she dropped what she was going—which I just was told, by her, there were numerous things.

Bob:  Yes, numerous things? I was told it was laundry, and she didn’t mind dropping it at all. [Laughter]

Dennis:  No, no; it wasn’t. It was mother-stuff, Bob. Eevidently, there’s several panic buttons being hit at home right now; [Laughter] but she’s joining us, here in the studio, because we have such a special friend who joins us on the broadcast—Dottie McDowell. Dottie, welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Dottie:  Thanks, Dennis.

Dennis:  Dottie’s last name, of course, will be recognized by many of our listeners as that of the wife of Josh McDowell—

Bob:  Yes.

Dennis:  —and that’s the one-fourth I was talking about a little earlier. She’s the proud mom of four children. In fact, we have some wonderful stories that go all the way back— don’t they, Sweetheart?—to Cambridge Campus House Apartments—

Barbara:  Yes.

Dennis: —in Fort Collins, Colorado, where Dottie and Josh and their family kind of started—and ours did, too. It was kind of a Christian ghetto of sorts—these little bitty bedroom apartments. We all lived together there in different apartments and shared toys, and big wheels, and volleyball games, and swimming in the pool. Our families kind of grew up with each other and are similar ages—their four children. It’s really fun to have you on the broadcast. You’ve contributed an essay to a book called “Secrets of a Fulfilled Woman”.

Dottie:  Yes.

Dennis:  And today on the broadcast, I want to share, with our listeners, a love story—a true love story. And the essay that you wrote for this book, Dottie, you begin with a Dear John letter.

Dottie:  Yes.

Dennis:  Why don’t you share that story with our listeners?

Dottie:  Well, basically, what happened was—my senior year of college, I became a Christian through Campus Crusade for Christ®. In the process of that, I met with different staff members. They shared with me new—all new things. One of the things that they shared was that when I got married, I needed to be sure that I was not unequally yoked, and I was in a relationship that I had been in for quite some time.

Bob:  Yes.

Dottie:  As I began to grow, spiritually, I began to realize that there was great truth in the Scriptures.

Dennis:  Yes.

Dottie:  I took that verse very seriously. I began to share with my boyfriend, who was overseas, that I had come into a new relationship—a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Dennis:  How long had you dated this young man?

Dottie:  We had actually gone together, on and off, for about three-and-a-half years.

Bob:  Oh, really, so this was a—

Dottie: Since my senior year of high school.

Bob:  Pretty serious relationship.

Dottie:  A pretty serious relationship. It wasn’t always on. It was many times off, but it was heading toward probably marriage. With my newfound faith in Christ, I was so excited that I wanted to share what I had found. So, I started writing numerous letters, from every angle that I could write them.

Dennis:  Were you evangelizing him, at this point?

Dottie:  I was evangelizing him, definitely. No question about it because I wanted to share with him what was so important and what was consuming me.

Bob:  Right.

Dottie:  And I finally got a letter back from him that made the picture clear to me. He said, in the written word, “I think that this God-stuff is okay, but I also think you’ve gone overboard.” When I read those words, I realized that our relationship had to be over with.

Bob:  Yes.

Dottie:  And so it was a very difficult decision, but I began to see that I could take God at His Word. Little by little, as I began to trust Him more, I knew that I had to break this off because his heart didn’t have a passion for Jesus Christ. That is what I began to see—that that’s what I definitely wanted in my future husband.

Dennis:  That decision really—really changed the course of your life; didn’t it, Dottie?

Dottie:  Absolutely. Absolutely changed the course of my life. I knew that I had to do what God was telling me to do. So, it was against my circumstances. In a sense, it was definitely against my emotions because, in my emotions, I cared deeply for this young man. I kept wondering, “Am I ever going to find somebody that I care about—as much about—as I did this young man?” but yet, in my heart, I knew I had to be faithful to the Scriptures.

I couldn’t call him, I couldn’t fax him, I couldn’t email him—this was back in the 60s. He was overseas, and I had to write him a letter. It was the only way I could contact him.

Bob:  Do you remember the night you sat down with the pen and the piece of paper? 

Dottie:  I remember it well. Even more than remembering that, I remember taking the letter, in hand, on my way to a class and walking to the mailbox, which stood right in the middle of campus. I had this letter in my hand, and I walked around that box—

Dennis:  Did you?

Dottie:  —probably an hour—

Dennis:  Really?

Dottie:  —because I knew, as soon as I put it in the mailbox, it would be over. It was done.

Barbara:  It was done.

Dottie:  You’re right.

Dennis:  That, for you, was really a huge step.

Dottie:  It was a step of faith.

Dennis:  Of faith.


Bob:  Did you go home and cry the rest of the afternoon?

Dottie:  No, I really didn’t because I felt like—

Dennis:  She’d already cried as she walked around the mailbox. [Laughter] Anybody that walks around the mailbox for an hour had to have some emotions going on, at that point.

Dottie:  Actually, I knew, in my head, that I had made the right choice. No question about it. It was transferring it to my heart because there were times that kept coming up: “Did I just blow something? Did I just lose the one person in my life that I really loved? Will I ever find anybody that is more perfectly matched for me?”

Bob:  Yes.

Dottie:  But yet, when I would go back to my commitment to Jesus Christ and what He said in the Scriptures, “Do not be unequally yoked,” I knew, in my heart, I had—and in my head—that I had made the right choice. Sometimes, emotionally, there was a tug-of-war going on; but yet, I would come back to the Scriptures, and I knew I had done the right thing.

Bob:  Okay; I was on the other end of a letter like this. I got a Dear Bob letter sent to me. I know what I did. I mean, I called—I said, “We’ve got to get together.” I fought to try to keep that relationship together. Is that what happened?

Dottie:  No. And I knew it wouldn’t because I knew him. I knew, once I mailed the letter, I wouldn’t hear from him again. And I didn’t for a long time. Then, later, I did; but by then, I had—I was more solid in my faith.

Bob:  Wow.

Dennis:  One of the things that Barbara and I have quoted to our older children, as they become single adults, is a statement by Martin Lloyd Jones. Some of our listeners have heard me make this statement. It’s very simple, but it communicates a truckload of truth. It is a good summary of what you just did. The statement that he made was, “Faith is the refusal to panic.”

What you didn’t do—at that point, as a single woman, getting ready to graduate from college—and there’s that feeling of panic of, “There may not be any more fish in the pond out there.” You know, “Where are we going to find somebody for me to hook up with here?”—because you’re leaving college—where there’s so many single people. But there was a call of God upon your life to do the right thing.

You know, I’ve got to turn to that single listener right now and say, “You need to take to heart what Dottie McDowell has shared with you, as a single adult, whether you’re a single woman / a single man. Maybe, you’re looking at a remarried situation, where you’re about to make a mistake for a second time—I don’t know. The point is—are you willing to take God, at His Word, and to do the right thing?”

Well, this love story continues because you went on Campus Crusade for Christ staff and then you met a young man. Tell us about that story of how you first met this young man.

Dottie:  Well, actually, Dennis, before I even met him, I need to tell you about the first time that I heard his name. My first year on Crusade staff, I lived with three other women. There were four of us in an apartment. We lived together, and we made a commitment to each other; and that is, that we would have dinner together every night. I was the youngest staff member—I was the newest Christian. I was less than a year old, and I didn’t know anything. I was green, but I wanted to learn everything. So, I was eager for these evenings to come, where we could have dinner together. One evening, while we were having dinner, toward the very beginning of my time on Crusade, at the University of Texas in Austin, we got on the discussion of men and dating—which was, I suppose, the beginning of a very normal dinner conversation. [Laughter]

That night, we decided to share the type of men that we were interested in and the type of men that we liked to date. I proceeded, when it came to my turn, to talk about the fact that I like energetic people that are enthusiastic, can talk on any level, are very interested in politics, exuberant, et cetera, et cetera. I went down and listed the fact that I was attracted to men that had dark hair and blue eyes, and I even threw in the fact that somehow it ended up that I often dated men who were left-handed. I don’t know why, but I did throw that in. [Laughter]

Bob:  Pretty particular list you had.

Dennis:  Really, I mean—

Dottie:  Very particular list.

Dennis:  I’m not saying God’s in a box, at this point; but this is pretty specific here.

Dottie:  Well, the amazing thing was the gal that was sitting directly across the table from me said, “Hey, you know who we ought to get her together with?” And I said, “Who?” And she said, “Josh McDowell.” And I said, “Who’s he?” I had never heard his name. At this time, he had just finished traveling in Latin America—and his ministry was in Latin America—and he was just coming back to the States. I’d never heard his name; but when I described my ideal man—into her head popped Josh.

Well, I had never seen him, but he was coming to our campus a few months later. I was interested to see who this person Josh was. [Laughter] The first time I saw him speak, he was speaking on the free speech platform, at the University of Texas, to a large crowd. He was sharing his testimony. It was hot, as it is in Texas, because it was early September—

Bob:  Yes.

Dottie:  —and I stood there, and was in awe of what he said. By the time he was done speaking, I was so exhausted because I listened so hard. I remember having to go across the street and get a Coke® to sit down and relax. I just was so amazed with what he said. I was so gripped with his passion for Jesus Christ.

Dennis:  You know, Barbara said the same thing after she met me for the first time. [Laughter]

Bob:  Yes.

Dennis:  Isn’t that right, Sweetheart?

Barbara:  [Not sounding convinced] Yes, that’s right.

Dennis:  Well, go on. Tell us what happened.

Dottie:  Well, the fun thing is that I was very intrigued, and very interested in him, and watched him closely. We were able to meet, actually, several different times. The problem is—he never remembered who I was. [Laughter] It was really very humbling. The first time I met him, I was with our staff team. Our director said, “Okay, staff, we’re all going to have dinner with Josh;” and right away, my heart started beating.

He told us where we would meet, and told us what table to be at, and that Josh would meet us after our staff meeting. I went in a little early and found out where Josh was going to be sitting and got in the seat directly across from him [Exclamation from the others] so that I could be there.

Dennis:  You didn’t do that.

Dottie:  I did it! But you know what? He remembers that staff meeting. He remembers being with those people. He has no memory of who sat across the table. [Laughter]

Barbara:  Amazing.

Dottie:  Then, another time, I met him in Florida. He was speaking, and someone became very ill during the meeting. He handled it with incredible finesse. I just was so amazed at how he handled the crowd and what happened. I thought: “This is kind of an opportunity to go up and talk to him. Maybe he’ll notice me this time.” Afterwards, I walked up to him. I complimented him on how well he handled that opportunity. He thanked me. We had a warm conversation, and he still had absolutely no recollection of who I was. [Laughter]

Dennis:  This is a man who has a photographic memory, Bob.

Bob:  But he’s a pretty focused individual; right?

Dottie:  He is focused, yes.

Bob:  He just wasn’t focused on you at the time. [Laughter]

Dottie:  That’s right! Exactly. [Laughter]

Dennis:  He hadn’t picked her up on the radar screen yet. [Laughter]

Dottie:  That’s right! That’s right! Another time, we were in Texas at a retreat where he spoke. Of course, I was in awe. I sat in the front row. I listened to everything he was—

Dennis:  You were still in awe, even though he couldn’t remember your name; huh?

Dottie:  I was still in awe—I didn’t care. I just thought—you know, it was just so amazing. We had a campfire, at the end of this time. We stood around the campfire in a circle. It just so happened that he stood right beside me, and we all had our arms locked. Again, my heart was pattering. I remember that campfire. He remembers the campfire, but he has no clue who was standing beside him.

Bob:  I’ve got to ask you. This was over a period of months that all of this took place; right?

Dottie:  This was over a period, yes, of a few months.

Bob:  In that time, were you beginning to think: “He is the one. I’ve got to make him my husband,” or were you dating other guys and he was kind of like a teen idol? How did you view him?

Dottie:  Well, I guess the best way to explain that is to tell you a little thing that happened when I was at Arrowhead Springs—

Dennis:  That’s the Campus Crusade for Christ headquarters, for a number of years, at least.

Dottie:  Exactly, yes.

Bob:  Okay.

Dottie:  —in southern California. He was speaking to a group of high school students, and I was asked to help staff that that week. It was his evening to speak on love, sex, dating, marriage, et cetera. I’d never heard him speak on this subject—so, I went; and I was in awe of what he shared. Again, I was really a relatively new Christian.

Bob:  Yes.

Dottie:  And I sat there—

Bob:  But he’s pretty fair speaker, too.

Dottie:  That’s right. [Laughter] No question about that.

Bob:  Let’s not downplay that angle.

Dennis:  That’s right.

Bob:  He’s a pretty decent speaker.

Dottie:  And I went and listened to what he said. Again, I was in such awe—that at the end of that time, when it was over, I sat there. I remember closing my eyes, and bowing my head, and saying a prayer. My prayer was, “Lord, these principles that he has shared make so much sense. I pray that you’ll give me a husband that believes these exact same things.” I wasn’t saying, “…give me the speaker.” I was saying, “…give me a husband that believes—“

Dennis:  Oh, now, come on.

Dottie:  No, I promise!

Dennis:  This is coming from the woman who sat across—

Dottie:  Well, alright. [Laughter] Maybe, there was a little—

Dennis:  Okay.

Dottie:  —but again, I was very intrigued. He came back to the University of Texas, where I was on staff, to head up some meetings. This was called Operation Alternative. That was in the fall of 1970. The radicals at the University of Texas had threatened to cause a lot of trouble on that campus.

Bob:  Yes.

Dottie:  As believers, we decided that we did not want to sit and watch this happen—and have them come in and, maybe, burn down some buildings or cause a lot of trouble. So, we got our staff together and decided to put on a program called Operation Alternative. We invited students, and Campus Crusade staff, and anybody that wanted to—any Christians to come in, from all over. There were people from Alabama, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas—from all over the South Central area.

Dennis:  You know, this is going to be interesting because what year did that happen?

Dottie:  This was in the fall of 1970.

Dennis:  And that fall, the woman that you’re seated next to, Barbara—who was, then, Barbara Peterson—and Dennis Rainey, and another guy produced an underground Christian newspaper—that we distributed at the University of Arkansas—that the Christians at the University of Texas copied, and reprinted, and passed out at your meeting.

Dottie:  For heaven’s sakes. Isn’t that something?

Barbara:  That’s right. I’d forgotten about that.

Dennis:  That’s exactly right. That meeting—I remember there were Christians from campuses all over the Southwest that converged at the University of Texas around that event.

Dottie: Yes.

Dennis:  It was really a happening because Christians were standing—

Dottie:  Exactly.

Dennis:  —up in the face of the radical extreme left, who were burning campuses down, at that point—Kent State—

Dottie:  That’s right.

Dennis:  —and the like. We’ve got to get back to this love story, though.

Dottie:  Well, that’s right. It was a very exciting time because we decided to take the issue of Jesus Christ and make that known on that campus and not stand back and watch the radicals come in and destroy things. So, we contacted these staff and students from all over—and 500 staff, and students, and other people—came in from all over the area to demonstrate, really, for Jesus Christ.

Dennis:  Right.

Dottie:  We had our arm bands, and our posters, and we made Christ an issue on that campus. Going into that weekend—this is an aside—but I was looking forward to the staff coming in because I had a close friend that was on staff in Oklahoma. When we got there, I saw her. We had 15 minutes before the meetings were going to start. So, we ran off to catch up a little bit. We sat, and visited, and had coffee.

She said to me, “Guess who my roommate is dating.” And I said, “Who?” And she said, “Josh McDowell.” And I said, “Oh, really?” My heart kind of sank because I really did sort of have my eye on him. I said, “Well, do you think it’s serious?” And she said, “Oh, I think it is. I mean, he’s called her three times in the past few weeks.” I thought, “Hmmm, well, it’s too bad about that,” because I knew who this roommate was; and she was adorable. It was a little bit threatening; but I thought, “Oh well, that’s the way life goes.”

We went over to the meetings where I knew Josh would be. This was a huge room. Actually, it was in a large church in Austin. It was flooded with all these students and staff members from everywhere. I could see Josh, on one side of this huge room; and then, I could see my friend’s roommate—who he was supposedly dating or, at least, calling—

Dennis:  Yes.

Dottie:  —walk in a side door. It is like a drama unfolded before my very eyes because I saw them approach each other. It was kind of like watching a soap opera—I saw them approach each other. When they got together, they shook hands. I thought, “This is very excellent!” [Laughter]

Bob:  It’s a handshake instead of a kiss!

Dottie:  I was very encouraged by that because I was kind of, you know, intrigued and thought, “If it were really serious, he wouldn’t have just shaken her hand.”

Bob:  And, you know, I bet our listeners, Dennis, want to know how did Dottie get from that moment, in that auditorium, to finally—

Dennis:   Becoming his wife.

Bob:  —capturing that man!

Dennis:  Right.

Bob:  But we’re not going to tell them today.

Dennis:  No, [Laughter] you’ve got to tune in tomorrow to get the rest of the story.

Bob:  That’s right.

Dennis:  But one thing that Dottie does do here—that I so appreciate her—and, Dottie, I just want to thank you for being the model of faith and not panicking. You know, a lot of single people, Bob, they just panic.

Bob:  Yes.

Dennis: They look at the circumstances—and they start trying to flirt, or manipulate, or—

Bob:  “Got to do something quick;” right?

Dennis:  —connive, and create circumstances—and her hope was in God. I just appreciate the spiritual dimension and the model she is to so many today. Another thing I appreciate about you and Josh is that we’re telling this story today, some 30 years [As per original airing] later—

Bob:  Yes.

Dennis:  —and you all have remained faithful to your marriage covenant and to our Savior. I just appreciate that about you all, and I’m so grateful that God has given you the platform He continues to give you and Josh to tell your story.

Bob:  And I don’t know how many of our listeners had a chance to hear Josh, this week, share the background to this love story. If you missed that, you really should either go online and listen to our conversation with Josh, from earlier this week, or you should get Josh’s book.

It’s called Undaunted. It tells the story of his family—growing up in a home with an alcoholic father, and a mother who was obese, and experiencing sexual abuse as a child. It’s really a riveting story of the challenges that Josh faced, as a young man, and the redemptive work that God has done in his life. It’s not just in book form. There has been a movie made of Josh’s story, as well. We have both the book and the DVD, with the movie, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go to for more information on how to get a copy of Josh’s book, Undaunted,or the DVD, Undaunted. Again, the website is Or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY for more information: 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.

You know, as we hear a great story like the one we’re hearing today, with Dottie McDowell, I’m reminded of some of the really spectacular love stories we have heard over the years on FamilyLife Today. Recently, we had a chance to talk to Kim and Krickitt Carpenter, whose real life love story was made into a Hollywood movie. It’s a compelling story of staying together, as a couple, in the midst of dramatic adversity. Honestly, the real story puts the Hollywood story to shame.

This week, we are sharing Kim and Krickitt Carpenter’s story with those of you who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation. We are listener-supported. Your contributions to this ministry cover the cost of producing and syndicating this daily radio program. We appreciate your financial support so much.

All you have to do to make a donation is go to Click the button that says, “I CARE”. Make an online donation, and request the CD with Kim and Krickitt Carpenter. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can make your donation by phone, and simply ask for the CD with the Carpenters. Again, we’ll get that to you. We just want you to know how much we appreciate you standing with us, here at FamilyLife Today. It means a lot to us, and we’re grateful

And we hope you can be back here tomorrow when we will hear the conclusion of the love story between Josh and Dottie McDowell. That comes up tomorrow. Hope you can be here.


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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