Who am I again? Benjamin & Kirsten Watson
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Kirsten Watson and NFL Super Bowl champ Benjamin Watson know well the scrabble for identity apart from connections, accomplishments, and best-laid plans.
Who am I again? Benjamin & Kirsten Watson
Dave: Before we get started today, I have a question for you: “The best thing about the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® getaway?”
Ann: I think the best thing is we seldom take time to evaluate our marriages, or even to think, “God, what do You have to say about our marriage?” It’s hard to pull away; and in a culture that we’re so busy and bombarded, even with our devices in our hands, it’s a time just to kind of analyze: “How are we doing?”
Dave: Yes; and all the things we’ve put energy into—you think about it: we say our marriage is, if not the most important thing, it is definitely top three—Jesus, hopefully, is number one. But it’s one of the most important things we’ll ever do in our life.
Ann: And it’s hard.
Dave: And so few of us ever put energy into it. It’s like: “Yes, my body matters: I’m never going to work out, and I’m not going to eat right.” Of course, you’re going to eat right and work out. And the same thing is true about our marriage. When are we going to put time in, to say, “We have to really work on this relationship”?
All that to say: you can, right now, get a half-off registration to go to the Weekend to Remember. You can go to any one you want—in your own city, in another city, a destination, whatever you want—go online, right now, to FamilyLifeToday.com; sign up; maybe, even surprise your spouse if you want.
Ann: Ooh, that’s a good idea.
Dave: But I would just say: “Man, sign up. I can make you a promise—and you know what I’m going to say—'This will transform your marriage. It will be better as a result of getting there and letting God do His work in your marriage at the Weekend to Remember.’ So do it now; sign up.”
Benjamin: There was one guy—a guy named David Patton—he was in the locker next to me in New England. He was a veteran player, so I looked up to him. His family wasn’t with him in New England; they were in South Carolina. But he would always talk about his wife, talk about his kids. I get engaged my rookie year. I remember God placed me next to D.P. so that I would have a veteran player, who was actually speaking positivity into the decision that I was making, that I was very scared to make.
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: Okay, do you remember the first time we met Ben and Kirsten Watson at PAO, at the NFL Christian Conference? Do you remember?
Kirsten: We remember the first time we met you guys!
Benjamin: I don’t know why; I just remember this lady up on a stage, chopping leaves off a plant. [Laughter] I was like, “Is this staged? Did she really just go to Home Depot® and get this plant and get these shears?” What a great illustration—but this is really—and I’ll always remember it. I think that was probably the first time—Dave, you were important, too—but I really just remember that poor plant.
Dave: We all know that Ann is the superstar; I just follow her around. Do you know what I do, Benjamin? I go buy the plants at Home Depot; that’s what I do! [Laughter]
Ann: You did!
Kirsten: Everyone is important.
Ann: You know what I remember is: I knew you guys, and I kind of had you on this pedestal. I was super excited to get to meet you, because some people said that you were there. And then, when I was going to do that plant illustration—I don’t know if you remember this, Benjamin—but I used your name in it, as a comparison, like, “Everybody wishes their husband was like Benjamin Watson.”
Benjamin: I do remember; I do remember that. [Laughter]
Kirsten: That was not the first time, but—
Benjamin: That wasn’t the first/that wasn’t the first time we met you.
Benjamin: That wasn’t the first time that we met y’all or we saw you guys on stage. But I do specifically remember you using my name in one of the illustrations.
Kirsten: Oh, man.
Benjamin: And I’m not going to lie—the pride in me was like—“Man, my name got mentioned on stage!”—
Kirsten: And I was like, “Are you kidding me right now? Seriously?!” [Laughter]
Benjamin: —like: “This is awesome!”
Kirsten: That’s crazy, because the first time we saw that—and you [chopping off leaves]—I think that posed a huge turn in our marriage. For me, Ann, I always tell you this story: the first time that we saw you do that—and I was like: “I am a boo-er, and I am chopping off leaves,”—I remember thinking, “I don’t want to do that anymore.”
So every single time you do it, it brings me back to that was just such a great visualization. For someone, who learns that way, it was just awesome; because I was like, “I have to find a different way to boo.” [Laughter]
Dave: No, you’re not supposed to boo!
Kirsten: Yes—no, I’m kidding—I mean, I’m not supposed to boo. [Laughter]
Dave: I know.
Benjamin: You’ve let my branches grow—
Kirsten: Aww. Look at that!
Benjamin: —since we met y’all.
Ann: I guess we should even explain what we’re talking about.
Dave: Well, I would just say this: if you’re a listener, and you don’t’ know what they’re talking about, we’ll post it in the show notes. You can go click on that link and watch Ann do her visual of how often she was chopping my flaws—seeing weaknesses and cutting them out—and how that sort of destroys a guy. Anyway, there’s no one that can do it like Ann Wilson, and it’s awesome. Everywhere we go around the country, we have to bring plants on stage and do that. But now, we just show the video; so you can watch that video and know what they’re talking about.
But let me introduce: we have Benjamin and Kirsten Watson, a 16-year NFL player veteran couple, with 7—did I say 7?—
Ann: You did.
Dave: —“7 children.”
Kirsten: You said, “7.”
Dave: Kirsten has just released a book, which is awesome. I love your title: Sis, Take a Breath: Encouragement for the Woman Who’s Trying to Live and Love Well (but Secretly Just Wants to Take a Nap). What a perfect title.
Ann: You guys, welcome to FamilyLife Today. We haven’t had you on before, and it’s great to have you with us.
Kirsten: Thanks for having us.
Kirsten: We’re excited. Like I said, we see you once a year, so this feels really natural.
Ann: It feels good.
Dave: Let’s jump into your story. I think our listeners would love to hear: “How’d you guys meet? How’d you fall in love?” Give us a little background.
Benjamin: I’ll start off and give my version first, because my version is usually correct. [Laughter]
Kirsten: Or we say it’s correct; go ahead.
Benjamin: We actually met at University of Georgia; we both went to school there. I transferred over after my freshman season at Duke University. We actually met for the first time in FCA, Fellowship of Christian Athletes; but I saw Kirsten for the first time at the beginning of the school year.
Benjamin: Why are you laughing?
Kirsten: Because I love when you tell this story.
Benjamin: At the beginning of the school year, there was kind of a block party; everybody gets to know everybody—you know, kind of jump off the school year—make you excited about going to school, that sort of thing, and see all the new people.
I saw her at the Student Center. It was almost like—have you ever seen—do you remember the movie E.T.?
Dave: Oh, yes.
Ann: Yes. [Laughter]
Benjamin: And like the light shines down on E.T.? [Laughter]
Benjamin: I felt like there was a light shining on Kirsten, amongst all these other people. She had on these red pants,—
Benjamin: —white crisp shirt; she looked like this perfect combination of sexy and classy. I was like, “Alright, Lord. Maybe this is why You brought me to the University of Georgia.”
Ann: Come on!
Benjamin: Didn’t talk to her.
Dave: You didn’t talk to her?!
Benjamin: No!—none of that stuff.
Benjamin: I’m still trying to reconcile exactly why I didn’t know what happened there, but I ended up meeting her later on in FCA.
Kirsten: —in FCA, yes. You have to say why I was wearing—Georgia is black and red, so I was in school colors. You don’t just pop out in red pants; that sounds super—I don’t know.
Benjamin: Sounds super what? What’s wrong with wearing red?
Kirsten: —un-Christian; I don’t know! [Laughter]
Benjamin: Don’t be discriminating against the color red.
Kirsten: You wear red pants because you go to Georgia. That’s why I was white—
Benjamin: Jesus’ blood was red, and that’s a good thing.
Kirsten: Okay; that’s good. [Laughter]
We met at FCA, so that’s good. He got up—we were talking about having a dating relationship that was godly—and Benjamin stood up. He said, “Well, my dad said, ‘In order for you to have a good relationship, you have to be on one side; the girl’s on the other side; and God’s in the middle. And you’re going up the triangle sides—and the closer you get to God—the closer you will get to the person that you’re dating or married.’”
I remember thinking, leaning over to my friend, Michelle Tyrie; I said, “What is his name again?” [Laughter] That was my first time recognizing Benjamin.
Benjamin: She recognized me for some spiritual thing. [Laughter] I recognized her because she looked good. [Laughter]
Kirsten: Yes, right.
Ann: But you both came from a Christian background and homes that were following Jesus?
Kirsten: I was raised Catholic, in the Catholic church; and went to a Christian school, so I was saved in seventh grade. I was trying to reconcile that, growing up, like the differences and what that meant. But the understanding of the gospel, and who Jesus was, was always something that was definitely taught and talked about throughout my upbringing.
Benjamin: Yes, and my parents both were believers, way before I was born; so I was definitely raised in a home that taught us right from wrong. We were in church multiple times a week. My father was an assistant pastor; he’s actually a full-time pastor now. We were both raised in church; we definitely had that background.
Dave: Did you guys start dating right away? Benjamin, did you go, “Hey, I have to ask that red-pants girl out?” What happened? [Laughter]
Benjamin: Well, I would have; but she was dating some clown.
Kirsten: Oh, stop! [Laughter] And he was dating someone else, too! We were both dating people.
Benjamin: Yes, we were both dating people; we were. My situation was long distance, and my parents didn’t really feel that great about the situation; I guess I’ll just leave it there. [Laughter]
But Kirsten, however, was actually dating somebody on campus—that I would see, and just shake my head, and be like,—
Kirsten: Oh, stop it.
Benjamin: —“What are you doing?” [Laughter]
We didn’t date immediately; but then, through a series of events, we ended up breaking up. I did take her on a date, though, Dave.
Dave: —while she was still with the other guy?
Kirsten: No! No, no, no, no, no, no.
Benjamin: No; although I would have—and I could have—because I wasn’t scared of this chump.
Kirsten: Oh, listen! [Laughter]
Benjamin: We actually, officially, started dating, probably our junior year.
Kirsten: —our junior year.
We were spending a lot of time together, but we weren’t really officially dating. I think we got—going into the second semester of our junior year—we were like, “Wait; what are we doing? Are we going to just still be friends? Are we going to make this official and date?”
I think that was what was crazy—because I remember the conversation—I remember where we were; I remember us deciding that we were going to officially date.
Dave: Now, was Christ—was He the center?— was it a different type of dating relationship?—or did that come later?
Kirsten: I would say it was that from the beginning—because even before we were dating; and then, definitely as we were dating—we were doing a lot of community service at this one particular church, where we would take the boys and the girls, once a week, and just talk to them about life; talk to them about abstinence; talk to them about dating; talk to them about—have fun with them—answer their questions.
So from the very beginning, we were trying to live a life that would be acceptable in God’s eyes. I think that made all the difference because a lot of younger people, without, were looking up to our dating relationship. We’re also the oldest in our families, so he had five other brothers and sisters that were looking up to him. I have a brother, who is younger; so we always felt that. We were going to church together; we were doing a lot of things.
For us, it was just really important that what we were doing on the outside was actually what was happening on the inside. So yes, a lot of that was just according to how God would have it; and there was a lot of people around us who were helping to make sure we stayed in check, if that makes sense.
Ann: And were you guys talking about the future, and the possibility of getting married, and the NFL? What did that look like?
Benjamin: I really think, at one point, very early on, I would say I felt like Kirsten was going to be my wife. Now, that was a scary thing to think; and I think I actually uttered those words, maybe once; she probably looked at me like I was crazy. [Laughter] But I did have this feeling—I think, partially—because when you’re in your early 20s, you start thinking about the possibility of marriage. Many people advise you, “Okay, if you’re going to do this thing, and think about marriage, how about just make a checklist about the things that you want and don’t want? Where is God leading you?—so that way you don’t get distracted by the nonsense.”
I felt like Kirsten lined up, literally, with everything that I had been thinking about; so when I met her, and we started getting to know each other, I really felt like that was going to be it. Now, we didn’t really talk about that that often. I think that, for both of us, we had aspirations. Kirsten ended up—we ended up graduating in 2003—sat beside each other in graduation. Kirsten ended up going to work in corporate America for a year. She had her goals of getting the corner office, and being very business-oriented/business-minded; that’s what she always wanted to do.
I ended up getting drafted and going to New England, so we were separate for a year-plus. But I think our conversations were kind of like she said—at some point, it was/after we graduated—it became: “Okay, are we going to take the next step and get married; or are we just going to break up because this long-distance thing doesn’t make any sense?”
I think we both knew the importance of marriage; we both understood the power of a relationship. We understood—we understand it in a much better way now—but even at that point, I think we understood how God had created marriage, and its purpose, and how there is so much kingdom advancement and kingdom power that comes from a couple that is aligned for His purposes.
I think we also understood that there is going to be so many attacks that come against a marriage. There are going to be so many excuses: “I’m not ready,” “She’s not ready,” “I want to go do this,” “I want to do that,” “Is there somebody else that’s better?” There are always going to be these things that Satan would throw at us, and I think that we both realized that. We realized that we had something that could be very, very special; but it was going to take us surrendering to what God had for us to do. And so it was following through with what I felt from the very beginning,—
Benjamin: —and that’s scary.
Dave: Were you married before your rookie year?
Benjamin: After. Kirsten was actually living in L.A. at the time. I flew out to L.A.; we got engaged. We were engaged my entire rookie year; then, we got married after my rookie year in July of that year.
Dave: You know, I’ve always wanted to ask somebody—because being with the Detroit Lions for 33 seasons, we never got to a Super Bowl—I mean, your rookie year, you go to the Super Bowl and win it! Tell me: “Was it everything you thought it would be?”
Benjamin: No, it wasn’t [Laughter]—a couple of things—while I did think that was just the norm. I thought that you just go to the NFL, and you’re supposed to go to the Super Bowl every single year. [Laughter] I soon found out that that wasn’t the case, especially later in my career. But that was a difficult year, because I tore my ACL early in my rookie season. I missed most of that year; I was rehabbing. There were 84 inches of snow in Boston; I’d never seen more than maybe 8 centimeters of snow. It’s a difficult place to play, and to be, especially for a rookie.
Kirsten was on the other side of the country. We get to the Super Bowl, and it’s really great that we go to the Super Bowl; but I couldn’t play, and I had a horrible attitude. I was a jerk to everybody, who was there to support me—even though she came/my family came—so it was a very tough time for me, even though it was great to be a part of a Super Bowl team.
Ann: I think, too, Kirsten—here you are: you’re in L.A., living the dream life that you thought that you would pursue your whole life—and then, you leave all of that to follow Ben to a whole different lifestyle; and now, you’re known as So-and-so’s wife. I worked with the Lions’ wives for 35 years—they are some of the most gifted, talented, incredible women, who have dreams, and educations, and training—often, they leave all of that to follow their men. What was that like for you?
Kirsten: It was really tough. I didn’t realize how prideful I was, and how my identity had been tied up, for so long, in what I had accomplished or thought I would accomplish in the future. So it was like that—my first job out of college—I just felt successful; and then, to have to leave that. There was a little seed of bitterness that tried to be nestled into what was going to be fertile ground for our marriage; because we were moving away from our family, to a place that we had never been, either one of us even visited.
So then, it was just really challenging—and I think, like you said, I think a lot of women go through that—when they feel as though they’re going to go a particular way; and the Lord says, “Eh, eh,”/like, “No, you’re going to follow him.” You kind of alluded to it—it’s like everyone around you is like—“Must be so awesome to be married to Benjamin.” I’m like, “Really? It’s the same as married to your husband. Does he do…” [Laughter] “Let me tell you how awesome it is.”
Benjamin: “His body is better though—
Kirsten: Stop it!
Benjamin: —"because he works out.” [Laughter]
Ann: So he works out. [Laughter]
So just the life that everybody assumes how awesome it is, and it was just really tough to be away from everything you knew. I knew no one. Benjamin had been there a year, so he had friends and people that he knew; and then, I just come; and now, I know no one. So having to start over, and then not working, it’s like: “You’ve taken everything that was my identity away. Now, my new ‘identity’”—which I know it’s not now; but then—“My new identity is Mrs. Watson,”—not even that—it was: “Ben’s wife.” It didn’t even have the “Mrs.” I was like, “Good Lord, you have just stripped everything into that?”
It was a process of learning my true identity, and that took a while. It’s just amazing how, when you do surrender, finally—and that was not overnight by any means—but just learning that it can’t be in Benjamin; my identity can’t be in my work—it has to be in something that is true; that is steadfast; that is a firm foundation; and that does not mean anything that I can see, touch, feel, hear on this earth. That started the process of being stripped away, and having to be rebuilt—all 24 years of what I had thought was important—and realizing that it really wasn’t as important as I thought it was.
Dave: How did you guys discover your identity, because I’m sure it’s the same thing for you, Benjamin—both husband and wife have their identify often in what we’re doing and success in that area—so it wasn’t just Kirsten. It was both of you have to find: “Is Christ really my foundation/my identity?”
Ann: —especially when football is over.
Dave: Yes; you’re living that now. Whether you’re winning in New England or losing in Cleveland, it’s like: “Is that my identity?” So how did you two find that, and how did that impact your marriage?
Benjamin: I think that—kind of going back to that whole marriage conversation we had about the fears of getting married—when we got married—a side note: there was one guy—a guy named David Patton—you probably know him.
Benjamin: He was a wide receiver; he passed away a couple years ago. He was in the locker next to me in New England. I didn’t know him personally; he was a veteran player, much older than me, so I looked up to him. His family wasn’t with him in New England; they were in South Carolina, but he would always talk about his wife/he would talk about his wife, talk about his kids.
His wife would send him flowers; he would send his wife flowers. They had, at least outwardly, they had this positive relationship when it came to marriage. I get engaged my rookie year; and literally, to a man, everybody was like: “What are you doing? [Laughter] You just got to the NFL. Are you serious? You can’t marry her.”
“Oh, really?—why?—what?” I remember God placed me next to D.P.—“Chief” what they called him—so that I would have a veteran player, who was actually speaking positivity into the decision that I was making—that I was very scared to make.
So then, fast forward, a few years later, you talk about identity. I believe it’s Gary Thomas, who writes the book, Sacred Marriage—
Benjamin: —talking about marriage is made, not necessarily to make you happy, but to make you holy. I think that I would not have realized my identity in what I professed it to be, which is in Christ, if it had not been for my wife. So if it had not been for Kirsten:
realizing the perfectionism that was within me, and how I struggled tremendously with the successes and failures of daily practice, as well as weekly games—how I was kind of on a roller coaster—how I would act differently if things were going poorly.
She was the one, who actually said, “You need to go get some help.” I had to go get some clinical help for the perfectionism and the borderline depression that I was dealing with. It’s amazing how God uses a spouse, and that’s why God created marriage, as a helpmeet, so that together we can become this reflection of Him. Those things wouldn’t have happened if I wouldn’t have committed to following His plan and engaging in marriage, specifically with Kirsten.
So that was part of my realizing my identity, to answer your question, was going through a process of releasing some of that performance-related value system that I had. Even though I was a believer, even though I talked about God’s grace, I still struggled with that; and I still struggle with that to this day. But I can identify it, and I think that/I know that the reason why was because of her pushing me, and also having someone who sees my value, and speaks life into my value, outside of my performance.
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Kirsten and Benjamin Watson on FamilyLife Today. Ann’s going to share what it is they love about the Watsons in just a minute; but first, Kirsten has written a book called Sis, Take a Breath: Encouragement for the Woman Who’s Trying to Live and Love Well (but Secretly Just Wants to Take a Nap). You can get a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
I don’t know about you; but after the holidays, I’m tired—tired of all the commotion, tired of hosting, and really just tired of using my emotional energy on pretty much anything—which often leads me to not being the very best for my wife. So what if this year, instead of allowing January to be a post-burnout from the holidays, it could be a time to focus on refreshing your marriage?
Well, you’ve probably heard of FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember®marriage getaways. We can genuinely say: “There is nothing more important you can do for your marriage than taking time away with your spouse to reset and refresh your relationship.” And here’s the great news: right now, all the getaways are half off—that’s now through Monday, January 23—you can head over to FamilyLifeToday.com; click on the Weekend to Remember link; and register today for half off.
Okay, here’s Ann with what the Wilsons love the most about the Watsons.
Ann: This just confirms why we have always loved you guys—I’m not kidding—you are always pointing back to Jesus/always pointing back to what makes the difference in our marriage, in our career, in our lives. It is Jesus and what He’s done—just your surrender—you’re both incredibly surrendered, and I know that’s a daily kind of thing you have to do. But that’s inspiring, of just your picture of marriage, and even your need for one another.
Shelby: Tomorrow, on FamilyLife Today,Dave and Ann are joined, again, with Kirsten and Benjamin Watson, where the story continues with a major plot twist, having [twins]; wow!
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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