Pre-Game Warm Up:


Every football game starts with the entire team lining up for stretching exercises. We will begin this book in a similar way. The following chapters contain numerous Nebraska football stories, interspersed with family tales that took place during our 28 years of marriage. To put these anecdotes in context, you need a proper warm up. To do that, I’ll share my account of God’s redemption for me and our family. It is the foundation for our entire existence.
I met Carol Lynn Wilson in the summer of 1984. I believe that was divine intervention. There is no other way to explain it.
I had just finished my sophomore year at the University of Nebraska (UNL). Carol had recently transferred to UNL from Nebraska Wesleyan. As she prepared for this change, Carol specifically prayed that she would not be distracted by anything, especially a man, during this season of her life.
I on the other hand, had resurrected my career on the football team. After struggling for three years, I had earned a scholarship and was contending for the starting quarterback position. I had recommitted my life to Jesus for the umpteenth time, and I was trying to live according to the Gospel. The area of my life that was still very undisciplined was my moral convictions. I had lost my virginity in high school. Girls were a real problem for me. I was a womanizer. I knew this had to change.
Unlike me, Carol had rarely dated. She had protected herself from men like me. She was not interested in building a new relationship, especially with someone like me.
In July that summer, I attended a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) gathering at Johnson Lake in central Nebraska. I participated because of what I thought to be The Lord’s direction. I had no idea who was going to attend. At The Lord’s prompting, I was continually being encouraged to go, so much so that He even “told” me who to call for a ride. I could not shake off these promptings so I reluctantly gave teammate Brad Johnson a call to see if he could take me.
While in name I called myself a Christian, at that time I felt I still didn’t fit in with the other Christians at the camp. I was trying to live for Christ, but I had not made any Christian friends. I barely knew Brad, so it was an awkward trip as we drove to the lake. I was an outsider to this group. I didn’t even know who to talk to. While I was there, I felt like everyone was trying to change me and turn me into a Christian.
As we arrived, it was dinner time. A beautiful blonde young lady invited me inside the dining hall to eat. That was the first time I saw Carol.
She radiated a warmth, a kindness and a compassion that I couldn’t resist. I was smitten. Ok, I was obsessed. I didn’t let her out of my sight the entire weekend.
In a flash, the weekend was over. As a way of continuing my pursuit of Carol, I talked her into letting me ride with her and her friend to Western Nebraska. Her friends tried to warn her about me. They didn’t appreciate the attention I was giving her. They called me “Travis the Tiger” or “Trav the Mav.”
When we finally returned to Lincoln, she tried to give me the brush off. I wasn’t having it. I kept asking her out, and she would reluctantly agree. She wanted us to: “just be friends.” Of course, that was never my intention.
As time passed, Carol decided to try to blow my mind by inviting me to her home church. It was an Assemblies of God congregation. She thought the loud music, raising hands, and praying aloud would get rid of me. She didn’t realize that in the past, I had attended a Pentecostal church with my brother and I loved it. In a final effort to elude me, she invited me to dinner with her pastor and his wife. She suspected they would tell her I was “bad news.” She didn’t expect them to really like me. Surprisingly, Dave Argue, the pastor accepted me. He offered to become my first mentor. We met weekly for study, prayer and counsel.
That October, I bought an engagement ring. I planned to ask her to marry me after the football season. I was now the starting quarterback, and as a result, I was able to share my Christian testimony every chance I could. I was an instant celebrity and I took advantage of every opportunity I was given. She traveled with me to churches, banquets and events all over the state.
The night I had planned to propose, I ended up in the hospital with staph infection. I told her about my plan, and she said “not now.” This did not faze me. Undaunted, in the next two months, I asked her two more times, but with same result.
Our relationship stayed somewhat the same until that following January when I went to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. She attended a missions conference in Urbana, Il during that time and when we both returned to Lincoln, she finally gave in to my persistence and accepted the ring.
Not long after, we went through the typical pre-marital counseling. It was a six-week commitment with different elders and pastors of our church. In one meeting, we took the Taylor-Johnson temperament evaluation. Pastor Dave laughed when he read us the results. We were off-the-page opposites. He told us, “There will never be a dull moment with you two.” Boy was he prophetic.
During our engagement, my struggles with sexual desire continued to haunt me. I wanted to be involved with Carol sexually as a part of our relationship. I pushed her until she finally gave in.
She was a virgin and I did not respect her desire to wait until after our wedding ceremony. My indiscretion in not honoring her wishes cost us a great deal of insecurity, pain and distrust. It would take ten years of marriage to resolve it completely. My greatest regret of our engagement, and perhaps my life, was not protecting Carol from ME, sexually.
A short time before Carol and I were to be married, I was asked by one of my teammates, “Why do you want to get married?” Without thinking, I quickly responded, “It’s better to marry, than to burn with lust.” (I was quoting 1 Corinthians 7:9.) What I didn’t realize was that my spontaneous response revealed my true inner motivation.
This hidden agenda would become evident early in our relationship. It would prove to be a major obstacle for us to overcome. Because of my faulty thinking and my questionable morals, I believed that marriage would solve my lust problem. Unfortunately, to my dismay, not only did marriage not relieve my morals problem, it revealed it.
We were a classic blend of lifestyle clashes. I was unprepared for that. For example, she was a carpenter’s daughter. Her father built their home with his bare hands. More than that, her mother died when Carol was 16. The grief of the loss of her mother would, in many ways define her. It turned out that Carol had to care for a father that didn’t have time or patience for her. Tragically, her older brother abused her at a young age.
In order to make a life for herself, she rode her bike everywhere instead of relying upon others for transportation. She worked hard to earn every penny that she had. Likewise, she worked hard to get good grades and to earn an academic scholarship. While she attended college, Carol worked three jobs just to make ends meet.
On the other hand, I was the youngest of five kids. So, as you might imagine, I was spoiled to the core. My father was a car dealer and through the course of my early driving years, I wrecked a lot of them. Because of the family’s prosperity, we had motorcycles and boats along with the things that money could afford. We even lived on ‘snob hill’.
During my youth, my mom took me on shopping sprees. If I broke something, I just bought a new one. Because of this treatment and my pursuit of high school sports, I turned into an entitled athlete who expected others to cater to me.
As our marriage began to take shape, our differences continued to grow. I loved attention and she hated it. I was spontaneous, she was calculated. I spent money, she saved it. I like Macy’s, she prefers Savers. I enjoy behaving in a fast and furious way, she thrives on calm and peace. We are total opposites, so you might think it would make for a perfect fit. Just the opposite was true. I didn’t realize how much work it would take for us to ‘fit’ together as one.
Our wedding day was August 3, 1985. Hundreds of friends and family attended our blessed event. We released red balloons when we left the sanctuary (just like a Husker game after the first score). I had no idea what had just happened. I was just hoping to have sex every day. I figured everything else would take care of itself. What a rude awakening was in store for me.
The honeymoon was painful for Carol. I had sustained some injuries that were taking their toll on my body. I was recovering from knee surgery and I had a herniated disc in my back. As a result, we were both disappointed and frustrated by the time we got home. Remember, we were still in college when we started this new life together!
Fall practice started as soon as we got back. Our opening game was against Florida State on national television. Our new life was already rocky, and things were just getting started.
Almost every day when I arrived home, she was in tears. I didn’t know what was going on. I had no capacity to care for her. I was in my own world of hurt, so I had nothing left for her.
We started living in private pain, a place that no one else could see. To make matters worse, we were now a ‘poster couple’ for Christianity in Nebraska. Because we were prominent in the world of Nebraska Football, we were getting more speaking engagements than ever. Despite our secret pain, we slapped on a smile and we shared our faith, all the while, our lives were unraveling. Her tears continued.
After a traumatic senior season in just about every way, we were rewarded with a trip to Phoenix, Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl. I had a total knee reconstruction after the final regular season game, so I was on crutches when we went to Arizona. While we were there, I spoke at a local church and at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Fiesta Bowl breakfast. All the while, we kept up our ‘happy couple’ front.
During that trip, we met several people involved in ministry that would eventually change our life. One evening, we had dinner with Omaha sports anchor John Knicely and his wife Sue. As we were traveling in the car following that dinner, Carol became sick from the left-over food we had in the car with us. Sue said to her, “I think you are pregnant.” Sue was absolutely right!
A test the next day confirmed that our first child was on the way. Wouldn’t you know it? More tears from Carol.
We decided to finish school and I stayed with the Husker Football program as a graduate assistant coach. The next spring I was invited back to Phoenix for a conference with professional and college athletes. A year later, that organization invited us to move to Phoenix.
Because of all this attention, it became clear to me that I was a first round draft pick for God! It was clear to me that I wanted to do a work for God and now I could do it.
It wasn’t long before our daughter was born. Now, instead of just Carol crying, I had two criers and still no answers! Tragically, I still couldn’t help them.
There was a lot I needed to learn when we moved to Arizona. We arrived there on July 10, 1987 and the temperature was 110 degrees! We weren’t ready for the heat. Something else I didn’t know was that motorcycle riders needed eye protection when riding a bike. It didn’t take long for me to get pulled over for that as well. As that was taking place, I thought to myself, “This is your ‘welcome to the big city’ moment!”
So, there we were. In full-time ministry at a mega church in Arizona. Still, the girls kept crying. Yes, and still, I had no remedy.
We started attending a weekly marriage accountability group. This only heated things up. The group focused on my family leadership and my willingness to be like Christ. I was in ministry! Wasn’t that being Christ-like enough?
Every week they confronted me with my failure. It was painful. I was doing everything I knew to do. I even changed diapers. Carol and the baby kept crying.
I would travel for speaking events where I sat on stage at church and prayed for people. I was a rock star in ministry! Everyone loved me. I read my bible daily. I prayed aloud! I even attended three church services every week. I was trying to save the world. What more could I do? Just the same, Carol and the baby kept crying.
Now, I was starting to get sick of the crying. I was frustrated, angry and resentful. Nothing I was doing helped.
In our marriage group, we studied the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control. I was thinking “I can do that!” I focused on doing it. The harder I tried, the angrier I got.
What I wanted was for her to quit crying and give me more sex! It wasn’t working. Oh, by the way she became pregnant again with our second child. More tears!
Two years after being “God’s first round draft pick,” and after moving to “paradise” with a mission from the Most High, Carol left me. I was out of control. My resentment owned me. I was so angry I couldn’t see straight.
I was broken. My whole life was defined by my own effort. Now those efforts had led to failure. I could not fix this with my own energy, with my own good intensions or with my own power. Ultimately, I realized that this is what the Spirit of God needed so that He could finally work with me.
I learned I had no solutions for our relationship problems because I was trying to find answers for the wrong questions. I wanted her to change, and to give me what I wanted. I wanted her to stop being so emotional.
What I didn’t recognize was that this was not the problem. I was. I needed to find out why I was so angry. I needed to discover the depth of my immoral perspectives. I needed to rediscover Jesus.
Carol returned home on the condition that I would leave instead. I obliged and I spent a couple of weeks in a friend’s bedroom to give her the needed space. During that time, I left the church and the ministry that brought us to Phoenix. I realized it was time to start over.
I stayed committed to our marriage group. I focused on my attitudes and I began repenting. I began to realize that I had created so much damage that I wasn’t sure that I could overcome it. It was painful to go back and learn from all my mistakes. I grew weary and it taught me to lean on Christ for my strength. I had always wanted to do a work FOR God, and He just wanted to do a work IN me. I had to totally reevaluate, my Christianity. How could I be ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ and act like such a jerk to my wife?
With a new kind of thinking, I started to view Carol as an ally instead of an adversary. I began to read the bible with urgency and reverence. I focused on resolving my resentments and bitterness. I discovered a loving God that would answer my frustration with straightforward kindness. I began to realize how The Lord would speak to me if I gave him time and attention.
He didn’t require me to be perfect. He just wanted me to be teachable. He didn’t want me to be a rock star. He wanted me to be a rock. He wanted to fill me with His grace, His mercy and His kindness. He didn’t want me to save the world, He wanted me to love my family.
Over the next three years, we focused on resolving our conflicts and building harmony. Our marriage group was a source of stability and accountability. Every week we grew in patience and grace with one another. We discovered a depth of love for each other that we didn’t even know existed.
Eventually, we were asked to share our testimony at seminars around the country. We discovered a passion for helping hurting couples. We found that our struggle was very common in the Christian community. We could see that thousands of marriages are suffering from the same disconnection that we had.
Since then, for the past 20 years, Carol and I have been sharing the glorious redemption that we experienced. It has been our privilege to help countless others find this precious gift. The redemption that we experienced is available to anyone. It is our joy to share this story and we pray that God will use it to encourage and strengthen all who hear it.

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