Airing out the Promise Keepers hotel

Lyndi McCartney knows that legions of feminists rank her husband as public enemy No. 1, while scores of Christian conservatives consider the Promise Keepers leader a prophet.

But after 35 years of marriage, she thinks of Bill McCartney as a big hotel - with lots of rooms that needed to be unlocked and aired out.

"Bill has had to let God into those rooms one at a time," she said. "Just my luck, but my room was at the end of a long hall. Eventually Bill did let God into the room of our marriage. ... God still has some work to do, but it's been a blessing to get that door open."

The hotel had a room for his alcoholism and another for his coach's temper. There was one for his hot-and-cold approach to parenting their four children and another for his take-no-prisoners religious life, first as a hard-driving Catholic and later as an evangelical activist. One huge room was lined with trophy cases full of football obsessions, from his youth as an over-achieving linebacker to his workaholic life atop the college-football polls.

In the early 1990s, the hotel gained an impressive chapel. But the biggest irony in the story of Mr. and Mrs. Promise Keepers is that it was adding this last room that almost doomed their marriage. Lyndi McCartney realized that her husband was just as hooked on ministry as he was on coaching.

"As PK grew, every ounce of Bill's time was spent on this additional love in his life," she said, in one of her commentaries in "Sold Out," a spiritual autobiography by Bill McCartney and journalist David Halbrook. "Instead of his time being consumed during football season, it was consumed all year long - in the name of an organization that promotes being a godly husband and father. ... I grew to resent PK as just another thief that stole my husband away from me."

She hid in the empty nest of their home outside Boulder, Colo., fighting depression and bulimia with the aid of stacks of self-help books. She saw her only daughter deliver a second child out of wedlock -- both fathered by football players. Lyndi McCartney lost 80 pounds and thought about suicide. About this time the coach confessed that, shortly before his 1974 "born again" conversion, he had committed adultery.

Bill McCartney's wife hit bottom and he finally heard the crash.

In the new book, he notes that he had once vowed to "forsake all others" and honor his wife. But, "the truth is, until the day I resigned as head football coach at the University of Colorado in November 1994, I usually forsook Lyndi in favor of all others. I can tell you their names: success, competition, career, FOOTBALL." This was insane, and sinful, idolatry.

Today, Lyndi McCartney is quietly riding the roller coaster of her husband's work as leader of a controversial social movement, while urging him to walk his talk. She said she enjoys taking him to beaches and watching him attempt to unwind. She often times dinner conversations and they recently set a record -- three hours. She also is sharing what she has learned.

"Back when I was just the coach's wife -- quote, unquote -- I thought that I had a unique perspective," she said. "I thought that the way coaching dominates a man's life was totally unique. ...But I have met so many women whose experiences are like mine." This is especially true of the wives of workaholic ministers. In recent years, she said, she has learned about "this added little guilt thing" that unites them. It's hard to complain about your husband's boss when the boss is supposed to be God. It can be just as hard, or harder, for ministers to repent and keep their promises to their wives and children.

"You wouldn't believe what these guys say," she said, describing a meeting with one prominent pastor. "He came right out and said it: 'I have to do God's work. My family will just have to wait and try to understand.' ... That's just the same sinful human stuff, isn't it?"