by Tony & Lauren Dungy
People often ask us how we’ve stayed married for more than three decades—an uncommon feat in this day and age. We are the first to say we don’t have it all figured out! We don’t feel like experts, and the examples and principles we’ve tried to follow haven’t resulted in a neat, tidy formula.
Relationships are challenging, especially because the miracle of two becoming one is such a mystery given each spouse’s different personalities, desires, and passions. Some days, it seems like marriage is as much about hanging on for dear life, or just trying not to make things worse.
So often in life and in marriage, we’ve discovered, there isn’t a clear path. After all, as the apostle James wrote, “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow?” (James 4:14). Instead, we walk forward, hand-in-hand, and make a path. In 2003, life’s path took some turns we were not expecting.
October 6, 2003, was special for two reasons: not only was I with my family for my forty-eighth birthday, but the Indianapolis Colts were playing the defending Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, on Monday Night Football—in Tampa! My current team facing off against my former team in my former hometown. No one could have written a script like that.
It was my first trip back to Raymond James Stadium since I had been head coach of the Bucs, and the night was much more emotional than I’d expected. My mind flooded with memories as I walked around the field during pregame warm-ups, shaking hands, exchanging greetings, and chatting with former players and assistants. I wasn’t sure what to expect when my name was announced during team introductions—the opposing coach is usually either booed or ignored—so the crowd’s welcoming ovation meant a great deal to me.
Well after midnight, we kicked a field goal to win, 38–35. Afterward, Lauren rolled out a huge sheet cake decorated in the Colts’ colors of royal blue and white. It was a night to remember! I’ve always known Lauren was my biggest fan, and she shows it over and over, in ways both big and small.
We finished that regular season with a 12–4 record and we made the playoffs for the second year in a row. We advanced to the AFC Championship game before losing to the New England Patriots. It was a bittersweet ending to a strong year. The team was getting more involved in the community, and we were making strides on the field. Best of all for me personally, the family moved up to Indy after the school year ended and Tiara had graduated from high school. After commuting for a year and a half, it was wonderful to all be together again.
Yet in the midst of these good times, God also gave us a couple of reminders of how fragile and precious life is and how quickly things can change. Just after the draft that spring, I’d been startled by a phone call from my dad telling me that during a routine physical, his doctor had been alerted to an abnormality in his blood tests. After further testing, he was diagnosed with leukemia.
My sister, Lauren, recommended a fantastic cancer hospital in Indianapolis, and my dad was admitted immediately. Over the next two months, I was able to visit him almost every day. Sometimes we talked about life and the kids; at other times, we just reminisced. It was a special time. My dad responded well to treatment, and the cancer went into remission. Unfortunately, just before he was due to go home, he developed an infection. Because of all the treatments he’d had, his body wasn’t able to fight off the infection, which spread very quickly. In less than forty-eight hours, we went from anticipating his release from the hospital to watching him pass away.
It was quite a shock and certainly something I hadn’t expected. My dad had been doing so well, and we had been praying so much. But it was the Lord’s time to take him. He’d lived a long, full life, and I’d enjoyed many fun times with him. He had given me a lot of great advice over the years, and it was hard knowing that I wouldn’t be able to talk things over with him any longer.
The second incident happened as Labor Day was approaching. One evening while Tony and I were taking our evening walk, I suddenly started to have difficulty breathing. We had been strolling casually—not even power walking—but I couldn’t get enough air. I felt like I was going to suffocate. Even Tony, who is usually so calm, became alarmed and contacted the team doctor. X-rays revealed that I had a collapsed lung and needed surgery the next day. The doctor said that collapsed lungs tend to hit two groups of women: those who smoke and those who are athletic. It never crossed my mind that my workout routine of running and swimming could put my health at risk. It was startling to go from the picture of health one day to flat on my back the next.
The two operations required to repair the collapsed lung were successful, but I needed extended physical therapy afterward. It took a while, but as the fall progressed, I began to feel better and gradually got back to my normal routine.
We all tend to take our health for granted, but this was a timely reminder that good health is a blessing from the Lord and we need to be thankful for it!
Because of the death of Tony’s dad and my sudden illness, Tony and I became even more committed to talking to our children about the importance of family relationships and the need to cherish every moment with one another. We knew the Bible says that tomorrow is not promised us, and these crises caused that truth to hit home for all of us.
When you’re in professional sports, people tend to see only your on-field life. They think you are immune to the normal trials that everyone goes through, but that is far from the truth. Our entire family had to cope with losing my dad and dealing with Lauren’s major health scare. But those trials pulled us closer together and gave us a chance to talk to our children about God and His sovereignty. After all, we had prayed for Grandad and he did not get better, but we also prayed for Mom and God did heal her. We emphasized that even when we can’t explain why God answers our prayers the way He does, we can’t lose faith in Him. He does hear us, even when our requests aren’t answered the way we would like.
Looking back, we can see where we’ve come from and the ways in which the Lord has been present, even in those moments when we didn’t know just where we were headed ourselves.
Even after thirty-plus years, we’re still learning, still growing, and still adjusting. But we have survived so many stressful events that people say can derail a marriage— firings, moves, losing parents, losing a child, unexpected career changes, and major disappointments. Through it all we’ve tried to build an uncommon marriage by following two basic principles: staying focused on each other and letting God lead our marriage.
So for better or for worse, we press on, side by side, committed to each other. And we hold on to the belief that if we continue to trust in God, He will lead us through whatever life sends our way.
I have learned over the course of our marriage that, when Lauren gets a vision, she can be very persuasive. And when she really wants to do something, she will figure out how to get over the rough spots and make it work for us. When we married, I knew how much Lauren loved kids. I also knew that her mom and dad were still adopting children in their late sixties, so even after we’d adopted our son Jordan, I fully expected to have another adoption discussion in the near future.
In any event, about a year after Jordan’s birth, the agency called Lauren and told her about a mother who was going to deliver a baby in the next couple of weeks. Since they didn’t have anyone in place to adopt this baby, they thought of us. Of course, Lauren wanted to pursue this unexpected opportunity. From there, things moved very quickly because we had already had a home study and background check done for Jordan’s adoption. Unlike Jordan’s, however, this one happened during football season. While I had my concerns and would have preferred to adopt during the off-season, Lauren was very convincing. Before we knew it, we were preparing for number five. Once again, the process went very smoothly; in fact, it actually seemed easier. Maybe I was learning.
So in September 2001, we welcomed our second daughter, whom we named Jade.
Watching Lauren interact with our two youngest was so much fun for me. Because she was a twin herself, Lauren had always wanted to have twins. Jordan and Jade almost became her set. She bought a double stroller and dressed them alike.
People often told us how blessed these children were to be in our family, but we didn’t look at it that way. We felt we were the fortunate ones. God was allowing us to use our gifts and resources in a way that glorified Him. Lauren said it was as if God was allowing us to be a part of His Kingdom building.
One thing was certain: we were on our way to having a kingdom right in our own home! There were definitely days when I longed for some peace and quiet in the house. Or when I wanted just the two of us to be able to go do something. But then I would stop and realize how selfish that was.
Adopting Jordan first helped put everything in perspective. As an infant, he had been diagnosed with a congenital insensitivity to pain. We were reassured when we read Psalm 139: “You watched me . . . as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book” (verses 15-16). We knew that God had created Jordan and Jade. He knew before they were born that they would be our children. Like Lauren, I believe God put them with us because He knew we would be able to take care of them. It was the perfect place for them to be, all part of His perfect plan.
Having two more children helped me in another way. It allowed me to work on my patience. When people watched me coach out on the field, they thought I was always calm and under control, but that wasn’t true.
I used to let my temper get the best of me a lot more often. In fact, I was ejected from some of my high school games, but with the Lord’s help and my dad’s correction, I learned to control my anger publicly. But that person with biting words . . . I sometimes find him lurking too close to the surface.
I fight that tendency to allow my tongue to have its way, and I have to constantly pray about that. It’s something I need to keep a check on. It’s easy to say, “Oh, you’re crazy. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” Hurtful words can be painful, no matter who they come from. But when they come from your spouse, the person you love so much, they hurt even more. I’ve had to learn to fight the impulse to respond that way. Sometimes, I’m sorry to say, harsh words do come out. And when they do, I have to go to Lauren or the kids and say, “I shouldn’t have said that. I was wrong. And I’m sorry.” It’s a battle, and it’s one I don’t always win.
Yet what I say is so important because once words come out, I can’t take them back. Lauren may know I said something harsh in the heat of the moment or that I was sharing an honest opinion, but if something wasn’t said in the right way or at the right time, it is hurtful. Really hurtful. So I’ve worked hard to get better with that over the past thirty years.
Lauren and I try to be conscious of what we say, not only out of love for each other, but also out of love for our children. They’re learning how to relate to other people by watching us and seeing how we settle disagreements. They’re also picking up on what appropriate language sounds like. If Mom and Dad say something or use a certain tone of voice, then it must be okay. We want to set the right example for our children.
Tony Dungy Bio
Tony Dungy is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Quiet Strength and Uncommon. He led the Indianapolis Colts to Super Bowl victory on February 4, 2007, the first such win for an African American coach. Dungy established another NFL first by leading his teams to the playoffs for ten consecutive years.
Dungy joined the Colts in 2002 after serving as the most successful head coach in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history. He has also held assistant coaching positions with the Univ. of Minnesota, Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, and Minnesota Vikings. Before becoming a coach, Dungy played three seasons in the NFL. He retired from coaching in 2008 and now serves as an analyst for NBC’s Football Night in America.
Dungy has been involved in a wide variety of charitable organizations, including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Mentors for Life, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Prison Crusade Ministry, and All Pro Dad.
He and Lauren have been married for 31 years and have seven children.
Lauren Dungy Bio
Lauren Dungy is an early childhood educational specialist, best-selling author, and frequently sought-after speaker. A graduate of Duquesne University, she taught school in her hometown of Sewickley, PA, and volunteers as a reading specialist in the Title I schools in Tampa. The vice president of the Dungy Family Foundation, which is committed to strengthening families and helping individuals acquire the life skills needed for success, Lauren has a great passion and love for children. She works closely with several adoption agencies and women’s shelters in the Tampa area. She is heavily involved in her church.