Denise Jackson had what seemed like a fairy-tale existence with her husband, country-music star Alan Jackson.
But when her marriage — and her life — began to unravel, she found that life isn’t about money and big houses; it’s about surrendering to God’s love.
“Life is not a fairy tale, and even the most perfect spouse can not be your all-in-all,” she told TODAY’s Ann Curry. “We all have our faults, and every adult alive has regrets.”
In her new book, “It’s All About Him: Finding the Love of My Life,” Denise Jackson writes about what she went through and what she’s learned. The “Him” of the title isn’t her husband; it’s God.
Ten years ago, regrets were all Denise Jackson had. The man she had married at 19 and lived with for 18 years while he became a superstar had told her he was moving out of the 19,000-square-foot dream house they had just built for themselves and their three young daughters in Tennessee.
Her husband had been unfaithful and, according to media reports, had told her she was too controlling.
They were separated for more than three months, which she said she spent “trying to manipulate and control and get Alan back, and I was so exhausted.”
One day, as she was driving her daughters home from dance practice, she simply broke down at the wheel and surrendered to God.
“I just remember driving home and just crying out to Him, and saying I can’t take this anymore,” she told Curry. “‘I can’t believe You want my family to be apart. But if You do, I just give it all to You. I know You’ll take care of me.’ It wasn’t that things changed immediately. But I had just this sense of peace.”
She said she realized how controlling she had become and why she had come to that pass.
“Alan has such a strong personality, and the more his career grew, the more insecure I felt, and the more I absorbed myself into his world,” she said. “My dreams became his dreams, and it was all about him and his goals, and I kind of lost myself.”
Denise Jackson said that it stopped being about getting her husband back any way she could. “I’m not saying every marriage should be saved,” she said.
“If you give it to Him — He’s not through writing your story,” she said. “Even if your husband doesn’t come back, if you seek Him first, He has blessings in store for you beyond your wildest dreams.”
The first step, she said, was forgiveness.
“What I found in the long run is that forgiveness was the real key to freedom in my life. It wasn’t the natural response,” she said. “I can really take no credit for it. I am not really any stronger than any other woman who has gone through that. But I just drew my strength from God. I called out to Him and said, ‘Please, help me to be the forgiving wife that I need to be. Help me to be that.’”
The Jacksons grew up in the small down of Newnan, Ga., and started dating in high school when she was 16 and he was 18. She was a cheerleader, tennis player and a top student, but she married Alan in 1979 right out of high school, when she was just 19 years old.
She continued her education, getting a college degree and working during the early years of their marriage as a teacher and then as a flight attendant.
In 1985, they packed up their belongings and moved to Nashville, where he worked days in a mail room and nights in clubs and anywhere he could play his music.
Given a break by Glen Campbell, who helped him record his first album, “Here in the Real World,” he was on his way to stardom within five years. Finally feeling secure, they started a family, and their first daughter, Mattie, was born in 1990. Alexandra (Ali) followed in 1993 and Dani in 1997.
That’s when they built their dream house and saw their dreams crumble almost at the same time.
Getting back together didn’t happen overnight. Denise’s time by herself helped her to learn to make decisions and become more independent. They started out by dating again and going to counseling together.
Since they’ve reunited, Alan’s career has continued to soar. His tribute to those who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” crossed all musical boundaries, making him a mainstream star and winning best-record awards from both the Country Music Association and the Grammys.
He wrote the forward to his wife’s book, which was co-written with Ellen Vaughn. “It’s a lot of private information,” he told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer before singing “It’s All About Him,” the song he wrote for his wife and her book. “But I think her goal was to show people how you can survive a lot of things.”