Addiction Recovery: Our Story: Ron and Nan Deal
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Nan DealNan Deal is the co-founder of Connor's Song, a non-profit organization that she and her husband founded in honor of their son Connor Lee Deal who died at the age of 12 in 2009. In cooperation with the Touch A Life Foundation, Connor's Song run Connor Creative Art Center in Ghana, West Africa, a facility that provides hope and healing through art therapy for almost 100 trafficked children rescued from the fishing industry in Ghana. Nan, a school teacher, and her husband, Ron, live in Little Rock,...more
Ron DealRon L. Deal is one of the most widely read and viewed experts on blended families in the country. He is Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®, founder of Smart Stepfamilies™, and the author and Consulting Editor of the Smart Stepfamily Series
On FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson host Ron & Nan Deal, who continue their marriage’s raw story through addiction recovery and its pain and anger. The good news? Hope gets the last word.
Addiction Recovery: Our Story: Ron and Nan Deal
Shelby: Hey, I’m Shelby Abbott! Real quick, before we get to today’s show, we wanted to share how God is transforming lives through FamilyLife Today. People like one mom wrote in and said, “This ministry helped save my marriage. There is no judgment on this show, just amazing grace. I recommend it to everyone.” That is so encouraging.
It's incredible how Jesus transforms lives, and He’s choosing to do it over and over again through FamilyLife Today. Would you consider partnering with us to take the life-transforming power of the gospel to more marriages and families? You can partner with us, right now, by giving to FamilyLife; and when you do, your gift will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to $2 million. You can give today at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright, onto the show.
Ron: There was a little window of time, where we were struggling and working on some things; and she started making some changes. I came to her one day, and said, “Yes, I just want to let you know I’ve noticed you doing this and this; and I just want to thank you for that.” Then, she said, “Yes, I knew you’d applaud that just as soon as you figured it out.” And I realized, she was faking; she was just putting on airs. Right then, I made a decision: “I’m not really trusting her.”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: We’ve been on quite a journey the last couple of days with Ron and Nan Deal.
Ann: We love them so much, and they’ve been sharing their story. It’s been raw and intimate.
Dave: It’s beautiful, and it’s unknown. I mean, Ron is the director of our FamilyLife Blended® ministry; he’s a hero! And you would never know, behind the scenes, there was this journey that they were on in their marriage.
Yesterday, Nan, at the end of our program, was just at this crucial moment, where she’s broken; and God meets her in this moment. What He does is a miracle, and we get to hear that part of the story today; so here’s Nan.
Nan: Ron comes home from that trip, and the look he gave me was—
Ron: —"I don’t know who you are.”
Nan: [Emotion in voice] And I thought it was over.
That next morning, I mean, as school teachers, we don’t know what we’re supposed to do; we don’t know how to Zoom yet. They were just like: “Stay at home.” I don’t have a job; I don’t have anything.
Ron gets up and says, “Hey, I’ve got to figure out work, online; I’ve got to figure this out with my team.” I’m left, sitting there; and I am just like, “I don’t know what to do here. I know I don’t have him; I know I don’t have my sons.” I’ve apologized to both of them; and they both say, “There’s nothing that you can do to make us not love you”; because I’m like [emotion in voice]: “I’m so sorry! Please forgive me.”
But then, that day, I’m like, “I’ve got to do something!” So I’m like, “Oh, I’ll go in my room and do some yoga. That will help; that will make me feel better.” [Laughter] And I go into our guest bedroom. I lay on my yoga mat, and I get on my back. I couldn’t get up! I was like [through tears]: “I can’t do this anymore! I can’t be angry anymore. I can’t hurt anymore. I can’t live like this anymore. I need your help, God; I need You! And if You’ll have me, I want to do it Your way.” I cried for two hours. [Emotion in voice] I said, “I know I haven’t gotten this right! I never felt like I knew enough about You or trusted You with anything in my life. I always look to other things or myself! But if You’d have me...”
I got up that [next] day, but I just felt so different—really, literally, that night, I didn’t have anything to drink; I didn’t take any of those pills—and I had not one withdrawal. I knew that that was God’s grace and mercy on my life, and I started thanking Him. I went to bed going, “I’m done”; and He just said, “Okay.” And it was really, literally, as if He picked me up off that mat, and He just took His hand—and He just wiped all of that black/all of that everything—and He just wiped it all off; and He said, “Okay, let’s go.”
And it was like God took a firehose of His grace and mercy—it was like Bible 101—and I couldn’t get enough of what He was trying to teach me; what He was trying to tell me. I’m not kidding—every single podcast, sermon, everything—was like: “I’m going to teach you about this clean heart. I’m going to teach you about My grace, and My mercy, and My love.”
Then, it was about two months in, He said, “It’s time for you to tell Ron; you need to start confessing.” And I told you everything. I had also, during that time, researched what alcohol and certain drugs did to each other and together. I figured out why I’d had some memory lapses. And there were some things that were so hard for Ron; I mean, some things, where I’d get up and scream at him in the night, and get so angry; and I didn’t even know I’d done some of those things, which is not an excuse. God was just leading me by the hand into redemption.
Ann: Ron, so you probably see Nan having this turn.
Ann: Tell us: “What’s going on in your mind?”
Ron: Well, I did see it. I think I did the same thing she did 14 years earlier, when I was convicted, and when I came to the end of myself. I liked what I saw, and I didn’t trust it; there were just so many triggers in my heart.
We were talking about this this morning: a few years before Nan’s—we call it “The Miracle on the Yoga Mat”—before that moment happened, there was a little window of time, where we were struggling and working on some things; and she started making some changes. I came to her one day, and said, “Yes, I just want to let you know I’ve noticed you doing this and this; and I just want to thank you for that.” Then, she said, “Yes, I knew you’d applaud that just as soon as you figured it out.” And I realized, she was faking; she was just putting on airs. Right then, I made a decision: “I’m not really trusting her.”
So fast forward now—The Miracle on the Yoga Mat happens—and I’m going, “Yes, right.” I was trying to be as godly as I could be, but I would not trust her.
Nan: And God kept saying to me: “Stay with Me; stay in this lane with Me.”
Ron: And that’s what she did; she just kept walking that road of confession.
Nan: “It doesn’t matter what he thinks;—
Dave: —just you and God.
Nan: —“you and Me.”
I got a book by Linda Dillow about prayer, and I started praying those prayers and learning how to pray to God. I started memorizing Scripture and letting the light back in.
That year, Mother’s Day, we go out to visit my mom.
Ron: Whew! She says some things to her mother; and I was like, “Wow!”
Nan: Yes, I said some things to my mom. I said, “Mom, I just want to thank you for being my mom. Thank you for taking me to the library,”—my love of books/my love of teaching—my mom was a teacher.
Ron looked at me, and he goes, “Now I know something’s changed in you.” [Laughter]
Dave: And that was real! That was from the heart.
Nan: That was Holy Spirit, right there.
Nan: Then, on our way home, we stopped at the cemetery. And you know, it had been 12 Mother’s Days; I remember going to Conner’s grave, and I said [through tears], “Son, it’s not good that you’re not here for me to hug on Mother’s Day, but God is good. God is good all the time.”
Ron: [Emotion in voice] You know, since Conner’s death, I hadn’t heard her say anything like, “God, I can trust You.” And I was like, “Okay, God’s done something here; and I’ve just got to figure out what it is, and I’ve just got to try to join in the process.”
You know, we tell people: “COVID was really good for us to help us lean into Him in ways that we just couldn’t quite do together; and then, lean into one another in new and radical ways.”
Nan: One thing I learned in my recovery is that I’m not the defender of my heart. I’ve been trying to do that for so long! I learned that God is the Defender of my heart. There’s a song called Defender—and I love this line; this is the line that just floored me in the song—it says [through tears]: “When I thought I’d lost me, You knew where I’d left me. You reintroduced me to Your love. You picked up all my pieces and put them back together. You are the Defender of my heart.”
I can just see the Lord, with that shield and that sword, going, “Fears,” “Shame,”—anything!—He’s defending that now, and I can rest in that. I can go to Him with my losses. I mean, Ron could overwork; he can!—all of that stuff could happen again—I could lose another child! But I know that God has never left me or forsaken me, and that He never will.
Ron: And even more, He’s been chasing you down—
Ron: —and chasing me down.
Nan: He’s been pursuing us. If He could take a wretch like me—and I have so much more work to have to do—
Ann: We all do.
Nan: —[through tears] but I cannot thank Him enough for His grace, and His mercy, and His love.
Ron: It’s so sweet!
Nan: Ephesians 2:1-10:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of the world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience, among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind; but God—
Ron: “…but God…”
—being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus; so that, in the coming ages, He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace and kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing. It is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
“I was knit together in my mother’s womb. I am fearfully and wonderfully made
Ann: You are.
Dave: Where’s your marriage now?
Nan: It’s so good.
Ron: Oh, man! We are enjoying each other; we like each other.
Dave: Does it feel like a different marriage, or a new marriage, or a real marriage?
Nan: Yes, it does.
Nan: It does.
Ron: We sort of laugh that we have the passion, and the energy, and the drive that we had when we first fell in love; but now, we actually have some maturity to go with it. We’re so grateful; it’s gratitude!
Nan: It’s gratitude.
Ron: Like we wake up, grateful every day for that mercy. We remember who we were, and we know what we can become. You know, part of what we’re teaching, out of this these days, is like:
- “What I know about me is I can be prideful, and I’ve got to manage that and: ‘Lord, help me, because when I do these things, this is who I become; and this is what it does to our marriage.’”
- And Nan knows: “This is what I know about me: I can feel abandoned, and I can run to something that’s going to numb me. Instead, I’ve got to stay in the game, and I can’t do that.”
All of these hard, hard lessons are teaching us how to somewhat reflect the image of Christ—I hesitate to even say that—it feels so far away; but at least, I feel like we’re closer/we’re much, much closer.
Dave: What do you say to the couple, who have secrets that you had? And it could be totally different secrets—but they’ve got pain—they’ve got darkness; nobody knows.
Dave: We didn’t know about yours.
Dave: But they are/I mean, they’re listening right now; and they’re like, “I am scared to death to say, out loud, to my spouse, or to anybody, what I’m struggling with.”
Ron: Well, I would say a couple things: finding a safe person to tell—
Ron: —is a good first start. And honestly, it might not be your spouse.
Dave: —and it may not be a counselor.
Dave: It could be, but it could be a friend.
Ron: —somebody, who is a safe person.
And here’s the thing—I can totally relate to what I’m about to say—"There are moments, where you just feel so overwhelmed you cannot see the path out of this mess. Take the next right step; whatever that next thing is you feel called to do: ‘How do I put on kindness in this moment?’ That feels so small compared, sometimes, to the size of the mountain you have to climb. You just think, ‘What’s the point!? It’s not even worth it’; but that is the next right thing to do.”
Ann: I’ve been crying the whole time. I feel like the studio has become this holy/just this holy sanctuary—because of your story/because of your honesty—but mainly, because the hero of this story is not Ron Deal.
Ron: That’s right; that’s right.
Ann: This Hero is Jesus!
Dave: He’s the only hero.
Ann: He died for us, and He has redeemed us. It’s a miracle.
As I listen, I’m like, “Man! We all need a miracle on the mat!”
Ann: Our God is pursuing us and wooing us every second of the day.
Ann: And He’s longing for us to call upon His name. That’s all you did, Nan!
Ann: You just called, like, “I can’t do it!” And He’s like, “I’m right here.”
Ron: We know this journey’s not over.
Ron: Please don’t hear me say: “Hey, isn’t this a great little—tie a bow around it—and it’s done.”
Dave: What year are you in [of marriage]?
Dave: See, that’s helpful! Because so many couples, at 20/30, they’re just stale—they’re going through the motions—and they think: “The best is behind us; we had some great years.”
Ron: Oh, my goodness.
Dave: “But we’ll just ride to the end.” And you’re saying—
Dave: “No! The best could be…”
Dave: But it requires total surrender.
Nan: I will say this, too: “Bring it into the light, because Satan wants no more than to keep you isolated and to keep it in the darkness. In Psalm 139, if you read further down: “The darkness is as light to Him.” When I started confessing that; and then letting a mentor speak into me, letting the light in—and not hiding in the closet anymore—I, literally, was in my closet at night.
I have a cool story: Ron would fall asleep. I would get mad, because he had given to every—we know the story—he had given to everybody and not to me; fallen asleep. I’d do my thing, and I’d be in the closet. I used to hide stuff in there, because I didn’t want anyone to know. I’d hide bottles—I’d hide this; I’d hide that—but in my recovery, and in this redemption, I started going into my closet to pray and get on my knees.
Dave: —a prayer closet.
Ron: Redeem it!
Nan: And I got on my knees one day, and I got on my face before God, because I needed Him to restore my marriage. I knew how broken that bridge of trust was out, and I’m on my face before God. I’ve got my hands up, and I’m just praying to Him. Out of the clothes comes an empty bottle in front of my face—tink!—that I had no idea was still in there. And He said, “Yes! You know what? We’re doing this in here now, not that. [Laughter] I am God! You think I can’t restore your marriage? I can!”
Tell Him first, and start confessing. Find a friend; find a community. The enemy would want no more than for you to be trapped in that for the rest of your life—he wanted to seek, and kill, and destroy me—and God has come to give life.
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Ron and Nan Deal on FamilyLife Today. Dave and Ann have some takeaways from this week’s powerful conversation with Ron and Nan; but before we get to that, Dave and Ann want to share something very important with you.
Ann: I have a feeling that today’s conversation with Ron and Nan has probably triggered just this gamut of emotions for many listening today; don’t you think?
Dave: Oh, yes; for sure.
Ann: And that’s what happens when we stick our finger into those tender places in our heart—that first feeling that comes along of just sadness—and we say, “Oh! That hurt so bad,” because we’ve identified some problems; and we’ve remembered a few of our own painful mistakes. But the next feeling that comes along is far better, and that’s hope! And we have hope, because we’ve learned some things that will carry us to this higher place.
Just for a moment, we want to speak directly to those in our listening family—you carry that burden for today’s families with us—your heart is so soft toward all the things of God and His ability to bring relationships back together.
Dave: And really, for more than 30 years, God has used FamilyLife Today—it’s pretty amazing—to restore homes, to heal marriages, to help families thrive.
I’ll tell you what—you may not know this—but that doesn’t just happen on our own. We partner together with you, our listeners, who pray for us/pray with us. And many of you give, financially, to make this ministry possible. I want to invite some of you, who have never done that—and maybe you can’t, and we understand that—but if you can, man, we’re asking you to jump in with us as we approach yearend; this is a critical time for our ministry. Help us help other marriages—bring help and hope to their homes—just like we have to your home.
Here's some really good news: if you give a yearend donation, your gift will be doubled. We have generous donors, who’ve said they’re going to match what you give—so boy; oh, boy—join in with us.
Ann: And Dave, I think a lot of our listeners might be our age—where we have kids who are gone, and we’re empty nesters—you guys, there are a lot of young families, who are in a place that they can’t do it themselves. They can’t give the money, maybe, that we can give now; but they need understanding folks, just like you, who can do some of that heavy lifting. I just hope and pray that you’ll take this opportunity to leverage your gift right now—whatever that amount that you can give—it’s doubled!
Shelby: That’s right, Ann. And thanks to some generous ministry partners, your gift will be matched, dollar for dollar, until we hit $2 million. You can give today at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Okay, now here are Dave and Ann with some reflections on this week’s powerful conversation with Ron and Nan Deal.
Dave: So that was a powerful three days.
Ann: Oh, it was so emotional.
Dave: I mean, you said, “The studio feels holy”; and it really does.
Dave: What do you feel? What do you think?
Ann: I think the thing that really struck me was the importance, in our marriage, to have, first, the intimacy with Jesus/the honesty with Jesus; and then,the intimacy and honesty with one another. They were inspiring! It makes me want to have a better marriage with you; doesn’t it?
Dave: Yes, I felt the same thing. I think we live in such a culture that we think intimacy is physical. I think we heard real intimacy.
Ann: Me too.
Dave: Intimacy is trust! I mean, when Ron talked about trusting Nan again, that, for me, was a powerful moment; because I think we can see our spouse making strides and not trust it, and he didn’t! But then, he did.
Ann: We are a ministry about marriage and family; and yet, I hope our listeners never forget that our ministry is, first, about Jesus and what He can do in our lives. That’s what I’m struck with: if I want a better marriage, I need to fall on my face before God, because I need Him every day. My happiness doesn’t come from you [Dave]. It comes from our Savior; He gives me life.
And you give me good life too. [Chuckles]
Dave: But nothing like—
Ann: —yes, nothing like our Savior.
Dave: And here’s one other thought that hit me: Nan was so honest about feeling like God would not take her back, and He did.
Ann: He always does.
Dave: And I think we all feel that at times.
Ann: —our shame.
Dave: —unworthy—we have blown it worse than anybody else; we’re not worthy of grace. It was just such a good reminder: “No matter how dark it is/no matter how deep we’ve gone into the darkness, when we turn to Jesus, He is already running to us with His arms open, to say, ‘Come home.’”
Shelby: Now, you can dive in deeper on this topic with Ron and Nan by joining them on Valentine’s week for FamilyLife’s Empowered to Love beach resort getaway in Sandestin, Florida. That’s happening February 13-17 next year in 2023. Head over to FamilyLifeToday.com for more details.
What separates a boy from a man? Well, stay tuned; because next week on FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson talk with Brant Hansen to explain God’s purpose for men.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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