In this story from October 1994, music legend Glen Campbell and his wife discuss how faith and prayer saved their marriage—and his life.
- Posted on Oct 15, 2014
Glen: In 1981 I met Kimberly Woollen in New York City while I was there performing in concert. She was beautiful and I was smitten instantly. I didn’t know it then, but in little more than a year I would marry Kim.
Kim: I guess they’re right when they say love is blind. I was 22 when I met Glen, and naive. I had been living in New York for two years, working as a dancer at Radio City Music Hall.
I was proud of my career yet rarely a moment went by when I wasn’t terribly homesick for my family back in North Carolina. “Lord,” I prayed, “please send me a nice southern gentleman to take me away from it all!” Then I met Glen.
In 2001, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I wasn’t a good candidate for chemo. I took tamoxifen instead and gave my trouble to God—just as Dr. Peale suggested in his book, "Thought Conditioners". Since then I’ve remained cancer free. -Guideposts Magazine reader
I knew after our first date that Glen drank. And I found out later that he sometimes used cocaine. This bothered me, but Glen promised he would quit.
As I said, I was in love, and I thought I could change him. Plus, Glen told me he was a Christian, and I’d seen him pray. I believed that settling down into a marriage would make his problems go away.
Glen: It was during the 1970s that I had begun using cocaine, and I became addicted almost immediately. This may sound strange, but the worse my drinking and drugging became, the more I prayed and studied the Bible.
Some would say I was a hypocrite, and I guess I couldn’t blame them. But I felt like a drowning man grasping for a life preserver. Somehow I knew there was only one way out of the mess I had made of my life. I was searching for that truth to save me.
I grew up in a Christian home back in Delight, Ark. Even though Daddy and Mama got us to church regularly, I had never been baptized. So in December of 1981, about a year before Kim and I were married, we flew to Arkansas, where I asked my brother Lindell, a Church of Christ preacher, to baptize us.
It was freezing cold, four days before Christmas, but I wanted to be baptized like the Christians of old—fully immersed. I stripped down to my blue jeans and waded into Saline Creek, my childhood swimming hole.
Once, when I was two, I fell into a slough and nearly drowned. It was Lindell who resuscitated me on the muddy red bank.
When the baptism was over, Kim and I sat in Lindell’s truck, shivering under a mound of blankets as I sang “Oh Happy Day.” I couldn’t help thinking back to when Lindell had saved my life as a little boy. Now, so many years later, I was hoping to be saved again.
Kim: God had indeed sent me a southern gentleman. I never knew a kinder man or better father than Glen—when he was sober. When he drank there was no telling what kind of mood he might be in.
I did all the things a spouse in my situation usually does. I tried to keep liquor out of the house. I stopped drinking, though I had never had a problem with it.
I made Glen promise to stop. He would too, for periods of time, just to prove he could do it. Then it would start again with a glass of wine at dinner or a beer on the golf course.
I was angry and frustrated. Why wasn’t God answering my prayers? Glen and I had joined the North Phoenix Baptist Church when we got married, and I learned to lean on my church family for support. I asked for prayers whenever Glen was drinking, though he didn’t know that.
He would have been embarrassed because he has a great deal of pride. Old friends of Glen’s used to say, “You’ll never get him to quit drinking, Kim.” But I had come a long way since I had first met Glen, and now I understood that I could never change him.
I was as powerless over my husband’s drinking as he was. Only God had the power to change my husband.
Glen: I had promised Kim that cocaine would not be part of our marriage. I tried and prayed, but I didn’t keep that promise. One night shortly after our first child, Cal, was born, some musician friends were in town, and I stayed up till dawn doing cocaine with them.
When I got home Kim was heartbroken and furious, and I was afraid she was going to take Cal and leave. I can’t say I would have blamed her but I think it would have torn my heart out.
As I had done so many times before, I begged the Lord to deliver me. I don’t understand why, but that day it was as if Jesus reached down and pulled my hand back from the cocaine. I never touched the drug again.
Kim: When Glen stopped using cocaine it showed me what God could do. Okay, Lord. We’ll take this one step at a time. Glen’s drinking continued, and got worse in fact. I kept praying, especially for my faith to remain strong and to trust in God’s timetable.
I’m not saying I didn’t get angry when Glen drank. Once, he stayed late at the country club, playing cards after a round of golf. I couldn’t get through to him on the phone, and dinner was burned.
Outraged, I scooped up our daughter Ashley Noel, who was still in diapers, got in the car and headed for the club. I stormed into the Men’s Grill, where women were not allowed, and there was Glen with a drink in his hand.
I couldn’t believe that this was the same man who stood beside me in church on Sunday and sang praise so beautifully! I went up to him and thrust Ashley into his arms. While everyone was laughing and cooing over Ashley, I burst into sobs and locked myself in the rest room. Glen came home pronto.
Sometimes Glen mixed sleeping pills with liquor. I stayed awake all night listening to his breathing to make sure it didn’t stop. Those were long terrifying nights when I asked the Lord to sit up with me.
Sometimes Glen didn’t even make it to bed; I would find him passed out in the bathtub. People kept telling me he was never going to change, but to say that is to deny Jesus’ power to transform lives.
I was stubborn. Glen was too good a man to give up on. He read his Bible nearly every day. I knew there was spiritual warfare going on inside my husband.
Glen: I used to argue with my pastor about how much wine they drank in the Bible. “Jesus turned water into wine,” I’d remind him.
He’d look at me, shake his head and say, “Glen, when you can change water into wine, then maybe you can drink it.”
One day Kim handed me a cassette tape and left me alone to listen to it. She had recorded me while I was drunk, so drunk I didn’t remember her doing it. Lord, is that what I sound like? I told Kim never to record me like that again. Even so, she did—twice.
I was more embarrassed than angry. Every time she saw me pick up a drink she burst into tears. My guilt was eating me alive.
In August of 1986 I was in Hawaii for concerts with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. After one of the shows I went out for drinks with friends. I don’t know that I had any more to drink than usual, but the next morning I awoke with just about the worst hangover of my life.
The sun was streaming through the curtains, and it was all I could do to roll out of bed and get on my knees. “Lord,” I prayed, “get me off this stuff. Help me find a way.”
This time I wanted to surrender everything to Christ—my pain, my drinking, my whole life. Again, I don’t understand the mystery of why he chose that moment to save me—but he reached into my life and took up the burden.
Kim: Glen is flesh-and-blood proof that God can change a life. Throughout those troubled years, my faith grew by leaps and bounds; for the first time in my life I got my relationship with God right. When that happened, everything else fell into place.
Glen: When God lifted my obsession for alcohol it was as if he raised the curtain on a whole new life. He changed me in ways I never could have changed myself, and that is the key. Kim and I have a real marriage now, an honest marriage.
Today I truly have a peace “which passeth all understanding.” I really don’t understand it. But I thank the Lord all the time. I am a man richly blessed, despite myself. For all that God has given me, there is nothing for which I am more thankful than Kim.
I recently recorded a song called “The Boy in Me.” The chorus starts, “Oh, Jesus, bring back the boy in me.” The song reminds me of sweet times back in Arkansas, when life was hard but simple.
I was never happier than when I was with my daddy. Daddy’s been dead a while now, but I feel as if I’ve found a Father again. He is in heaven and I am his boy.
Did you enjoy this story? Subscribe to Guideposts magazine.