God is Good (Part 1) - John & Donna Bishop
John Bishop lost his memory completely as a result of meningitis. A marriage and family are challenged.
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Forgetting What Lies Behind
Guest: John and Donna Bishop
From the series: God is So Good
Bob: There are moments that come along unexpectedly – moments where the foundation of our life or our marriage is rattled. John and Donna Bishop experienced one of those moments 15 years ago.
Donna: Everything was just great, we were just having a great time serving the Lord. Our boys and our families and then, all of a sudden, that night he got sick, and the pain in the back of his head just got severe, and he said, "You're going to have to take me to the hospital," and so I took him to the hospital and …
John: When I woke up from meningitis, I did not know her. I really didn't know anything. I had a very unusual case of amnesia that I didn't just forget names and people, I forgot everything.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, August 4th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What happens to a marriage when, all of a sudden, all the memories, all of the past, is gone. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. This is going to be a powerful week for our listeners.
Dennis: It is. In fact, Bob, you and I both talked about this interview that our listeners are about to hear. It's a top five broadcast – you and I have been doing interviews for – well, coming up on 16 years – that's a few people. I'm kind of looking across at you, and I'm kind of going, "That's a long time."
Bob: You're an old-looking guy.
Dennis: We're kind of getting to be codgers in here. But, I'm going to tell you, pull up a chair, get you a cup of coffee or a Coke or a glass of water. This week you are going to hear an incredible compelling story of the goodness of God and the love of God. This is another one of those love stories, Bob, that Hollywood just knows very little about. This is a love story right from the pages of Scripture.
Bob: Yes, you're going to meet John and Donna Bishop today. They were married back in 1974. John is a pastor and an evangelist. They live in Rosebud, Arkansas, which is in north central Arkansas.
Dennis: It's just near Hopewell, which is a suburb of Heber Springs.
Bob: Oh, now folks have got it perfectly in mind. They know exactly where that …
Dennis: They know exactly where that is.
Bob: John and Donna have three sons, and, as you are about to find out, their story is a remarkable one.
John: All I remember is from 1995 to this day. I remember nothing before that, so everything about my life that happened beforehand is what I've been told. And my wife, her name, Donna, but I called her "my Donna." When I woke up from meningitis, I did not know her. I didn't know me, my name, I didn't know – I really didn't know anything. I had a very unusual case of amnesia that I didn't just forget names and people, I forgot everything. I didn't know how to eat, I'd forgotten how to chew food, and I had to eat baby food, and I don't blame babies being grouchy, if you had to eat that long.
Dennis: So, okay, I'm going to stop you right there.
Dennis: Since Donna does know what was taking place in your life up to 1995, I'm going to turn to her. Describe your lives in the 1990s, Donna. What was John doing and what were you up to?
Donna: Okay. We were pastoring a church there in Heber Springs, and we had a good church. We enjoyed everything was going great. We had three sons, and they were growing up. We also worked on our youth camp there, lived on the campgrounds and started the youth camp, and were just – I would say it was a perfect life. You know, everything was just great, we were just having a great time serving the Lord, our boys, and our families, and then, all of a sudden that night he got sick, and the pain in the back of his head just got severe, and he said, "You're going to have to take me to the hospital." So I took him to the hospital and …
Bob: So it came on in an instant like that. One night?
Donna: No, he had been a little sick, just having headaches and so forth, and then it just started getting severe that night, and we just took him to the hospital.
Bob: Were you scared?
Donna: In a way, you know, because the pain just kept getting worse, you know, so – but, you know, you always think, "Oh, we can take him to the hospital and they'll be fine," you know, "be home tomorrow."
Donna: But he was there about five days, six days, and he got to feeling better and, of course, once men start feeling better, they want to get out of that hospital, and so he got out of the hospital and came home, and it was almost one month to the day, he got out of the hospital is really when I believe the damage was done, or that's when something happened that he was sitting in his rocking chair, had his devotions over in a rocking chair, and he just kept sitting there and sitting there, and I thought, "Okay," you know, "let's get on with things," and he just kept sitting there. And so I went over and shook him, and he couldn't wake up, he couldn't – he was just kind of staring off.
And I said, "John, what's the matter John?" And I was talking to him, and he just couldn't answer me, and then, of course, we took him back to the doctor, and it was just from there on it's been slow go.
Bob: Now, the diagnosis was aseptic meningitis?
Donna: Yes, sir.
Bob: And this response, a month after the initial diagnosis, this is not what usually happens to people who have meningitis, is it?
Donna: No, sir. You know, I don't know, I'm not a doctor, but I don't know if we didn't give him the medicine long enough or exactly what it is, but I know the Lord has a reason for it, and so – because that was when everything started going down hill, you might say, to us, you know, because he couldn't walk, and we had to help him around, and his eyes were distorted, so he couldn't drive, and he couldn't – well, he didn't know how to read, he forgot how to read.
Dennis: And, ultimately, he lost all of his memory prior to 1995?
Donna: Yes, sir. And I kept thinking, "Okay, now, he'll get it back," so he didn't remember marriage or wedding, and so I get our photo album out, and I said, "Don't you remember" you know, and I'd try to trick him to say, "Okay, now, I know he can remember something," and I just kept trying to go back and – but he just doesn't have anything.
Dennis: In 1995, you'd been married how long?
Donna: Twenty-four years.
Dennis: Twenty-four years, had three children, you were pastoring a church, and you'd started a ranch?
Donna: Yes, sir. It's a youth camp, a church youth camp for boys and girls that come there.
Dennis: All right, John, back to you. How do you develop a relationship with a wife that you don't remember marrying?
Bob: Well, you didn't even know what marriage was, did you?
John: No, I didn't. When she began to teach me, she said, "You're John, I, Donna, we're married." And the way I learned to talk, Bob, in those early days, I'd watch people's lips move. I wasn't blind then. I've only been blind about eight months, but I would watch people's lips move and put the sound with it. I said, "Marry? Marry?" and she said, "Oh, okay, you forgot that. That means you belong to me, and I belong to you." I looked at her, I'd say, "You my Donna?" She said, "Yes." That's what I call her ever since – "My Donna."
It was so easy to love her. She loved me so good. I'd tell people she taught me everything I know – every woman dream come true. Her husband forget it all and she get to teach him.
Everything I know is what my wife taught me. But I tell everybody she taught me reading, writing, and kissing, and my favorite subject kissing, that's my favorite one.
Dennis: So that didn't change?
John: No, that didn't. I didn't – I had a hard time finding her lips, but I kissed until I find them, that's what I do.
Dennis: Donna, what kind of student was he?
Donna: He worked hard, he really did. He's a pretty good student. Sometimes when he's done, he's done, you know? Sometimes he'd tell me, he said, "Remember, I'm the husband."
Dennis: Oh, so he did find out what that meant?
Donna: Oh, yes, it didn't take him long to have that man thing, I guess.
Bob: It's one thing to take your husband to the hospital and maybe he comes home with a physical disability, and now life is going to have to change because he has to use a walker, or he's got to be in a wheelchair, or he's got something physically that's an issue, but to have a husband come home – I had a friend describe your husband's condition by saying, "It's like a computer that had the hard disk completely erased. There is no data left there." To have that be the situation and to be a wife and go, "This is the man I went to Bible school with and raised my kids, and he can't remember any of it. Our shared history is gone."
That had to be – I can't even imagine the discouragement that you must have felt.
Donna: It was very discouraging, and that's why I kept trying to do those tricks, trying to think, "Okay, he's got to remember something," you know? It was hard. It was almost like I had four boys instead of three.
Dennis: Was there anything to prepare you for the kind of commitment this was going to take? I mean, marriage is a covenant, but your commitment was challenged to the core, wasn't it?
Donna: Yes, sir, it sure was. I thank the Lord. I think the main reason was because I had a good home church when I grew up, and I went to church faithfully, my parents loved each other, and I was always taught that when you're married, you're married for life. And when you say "For better for worse, in sickness and health," you're in for the long haul, you know? And so I never even thought about divorce – that never even crossed my mind. In a way, I guess I just busied myself into fixing the problem, you know? Okay, we've got a problem here. We need to start working on it, and, Lord, you've just got to help give me wisdom to know – because, also, all the decisions that he made as the husband now were put on me as far as my children and how many doctors to go to and who to go to and who not to go to, and I always tell ladies now, I say, "Listen, you need to thank the Lord for your husband's leadership."
I mean, I was always thankful for my husband to make the decisions and so forth, but when I had to take that role, it was just something that made me appreciate the position that God has given me to be under my husband so that he could make those decisions for me. And so I'm just very thankful that I was taught those things, and God's just really helped me through these things.
Dennis: How old were those children at the time?
Donna: My youngest was 10, the next one was, like, 17, and my other one was, like, 22, I think.
Dennis: Wow, there was a lot going on in your life just raising them.
Donna: Yes, sir.
Dennis: Now, John, I want you to know we haven't forgotten you.
Dennis: We know you're here, but we have to get a little bit of the drama that's taking place.
Dennis: You came out of the hospital and arrived back home, and you were in a state of – was it almost like paralysis? Or were you just – you couldn't walk, you couldn't talk. You could see – you had eyesight, right?
John: Yes, uh-huh.
Dennis: You could hear.
Dennis: But you didn't know how to eat?
John: No, and I didn't know what words were. That's why I couldn't read or write, and my Donna taught me phonics, finally, and my 10-year-old son would come home from school, sit on the couch and help Daddy learn to read. And my oldest son was in college, the other just finishing high school, been going college, but my family just so good to me, people were just so good. My church was so – I remember, even, when she brought me home from hospital that one time, and they opened the door of car, my dog, golden retriever, came over put head in lap, and I said, "Even my dog loved me."
It wasn't really a bad world to wake up to, because everybody in it loved me. And, you know, my first memories of anything about life was my Donna rubbing my hand, telling me, "I love you, it will be all right, everything will be all right," and …
Dennis: You knew what those words meant?
John: In some way I did. She would have to been sort of point out to me what, like, words "good" and "bad" meant and it's hard to really explain. It was just a blank, and so she would begin to do – teach me these different things, and then as I began to pick up concepts is what it was, and the way I picked up on reading, I couldn't figure out what letters on books – how are they reading. Until one day she got me dressed for church and set me in the living room and on the coffee table was a kindergarten book she going to teach that morning Sunday school and big pictures, Bible story, and what I did, Dennis, I would listen to the Bible every day on tape, because I couldn't read, and I would listen to two tapes a day, three hours, and I remember when she told me what the Bible was – see, I didn't know what I was, either? I said, "What am I?" She said, "You a preacher." I said, "What a preacher is?" And she said, "Well, that's somebody tell others what God what them know." I said, "Wow, I couldn't be thing better that. You reckon Lord let me keep doing it?" And I began to learn concepts, and when I saw those pictures and the big words underneath it, "Moses" and "Red Sea," then I knew that was what I'd been listening to in Bible, and I hollered, "Donna, I can read, I can read." Then I knew what words were, and so that's how I began learning.
Dennis: Yeah, how did you know who God was?
John: You know, I knew I knew God but I didn't know how I knew God and, matter of fact, in the hospital, one of my doctors said this – I would mumble things, because I knew I supposed to say things, but I didn't know how to. So my doctor said the only word we could make out was the word "God," and it was, like, Dennis, I forgot everybody and everything but God.
But I didn't know how I knew Him until through the Bible listening. Of course, my family telling me, "You're a Christian," but I didn't know what that was, and, you know, my church told me, and they loved me, and so forth, but it was a process of me learning and listening to the Bible and what gave me the great assurance was Romans, chapter 8, where he says, "His spirit bear witness with our spirit that we're children of God." And I'd gotten a little worried. You know, it was – when I'd listen to the Bible, Judas Iscariot scared me, because I thought, "Here a preacher that didn't really know or love the Lord." So I thought "Just because I preacher doesn't mean I really know the Lord and just because people tell me," but when I listened to that verse, it was like God said, "John, it my job tell you you're my child. That's my spirit witnessing and after that I never had doubt after that I had that assurance in my heart from this word. That's how I know you, God, but I can't remember praying a prayer.
I wrote it in my Bible as a teenage boy, and I've still got that, and some people, Dennis, just put a date. I wrote a whole page, and I treasure that. God knew I'd lose it all one day, and I had a whole page. I was brought up in a lost home. My dad and stepdad had died before my illness, so I don't have any memory of them, but my mother was still alive. She with the Lord now, and Mama told me that I from an alcoholic home. She said, "John, I'm glad you forgot your childhood, it was real rough," but she said I led my dad to the Lord before he had died, my stepdad, and I led her to the Lord.
You know, I told my family, "Don't tell me everything, just what I need to know," because you don't really want to know everything sometime," so when I went to Mama's funeral, my aunt came up and said, "John, you used to send your mom a rose every year for she was sober after she got saved." And I said, "Stella, what would this be?" She said, "It would be 12." And so I bought 12 roses and put there, and my aunt and I knew what it was.
And so the Lord has been good to help me, and I so glad Mama got to – she'd one day telling me about childhood. I said, "Boy, Mama, I didn't know I was such a good boy." She said, "Remember, I just tell the half of it."
Bob: Well, we've been listening today to part 1 of an incredible story as we have talked to John and Donna Bishop about what the Lord took them through. This is more than a decade ago, now, Dennis, and, you know, all of us, as we shared our vows with one another getting married, we pledged for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, and we may have stopped to think, "Well, how bad can it be?" or "How sick can somebody get?" Who could imagine a scenario like this, like what Donna faced? It's remarkable.
Dennis: It really is, Bob, and I just want to let our listeners in on a little secret – don't miss the rest of the story – just the love story that we've heard of Donna Bishop hanging in there with her husband. I know we're talking to some spouses right now who are hanging in there with the person they pledged through sickness and in health, for better, for worse, and right now it's sickness, and it's worse.
You needed to hear the story to give you courage, and I just want to read you Paul's great writings about what love is, because the world cheapens what love is, and the Bible speaks so clearly. I'm not going to read all of it, but 1 Corinthians 13, verse 4, "Love is patient, love is kind. It's not jealous, does not brag, and is not arrogant." Verse 7 – "It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things" – now, listen to these last three words – "endures all things."
The only way you get that kind of love is by knowing the God – the God who redeemed John and Donna Bishop and who put that kind of love in their hearts for one another.
Bob: And that's the – as they used to say, "That's the genuine article." Dennis, right after we had finished talking with the Bishops, I asked if I could get a couple of copies of the CD of the interview, because I meet with a group of guys on Wednesday night, and I wanted them to hear the conversation, and those guys came back the following Wednesday, and they said, "Can we get more copies of that CD? We've got friends we want to send it to. There are people who need to hear this powerful story."
And we do have CDs of our conversation with John and Donna available in our FamilyLife Resource Center. If you are interested in getting a copy or multiple copies to share with friends, go to our website, FamilyLife.com. You can click on where it says, "Today's Broadcast," on the right side of the home page, and that will take you to a part of the site where there is more information about how to order the CD of this conversation and how you can get multiple copies, if you'd like.
Again, the website if FamilyLife.com, and you click on the right side of the home page where you see "Today's Broadcast," or just call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, and someone on our team will let you know how you can get a copy of the CD sent to you.
You know, when you pull back a story like this, and you hear from a couple like John and Donna, you know that the storm that they faced, they endured, and they stayed strong, because they had spent years building a foundation in their relationship that kept them pressed close to God and close to one another.
Dennis: That's right.
Bob: I know when you and Barbara sat down and began working on the devotional book for couples, "Moments With You," your hope was that couples all across the country would establish a regular discipline of building their relationship with God and with one another by spending time together looking at His Word, considering the dynamics of a marriage relationship and then praying together each day for their marriage and for their family.
And there have been thousands of folks who have contacted us and asked for a copy of this devotional book, "Moments With You." This week we're making it available to our listeners who contact us to make a donation of any amount for the ministry of FamilyLife Today. If you go online at FamilyLife.com, or if you call 1-800-FLTODAY, and you make a donation of any amount, we want you to feel free to request a copy of the hardback book, the 365-day devotional for couples called "Moments With You."
Now, if you're making your donation online, when you come to the keycode box on the donation form, just type the word "You" – y-o-u. And we'll know to send a copy of the book your way. Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-358-6329, make a donation of any amount over the phone and just request a copy of the devotional guide for couples, "Moments With You." We're happy to send it to you. We trust that you can use it to begin a regular habit in your marriage of coming together each day, taking a few minutes to read the Scriptures and to pray together, and we trust that God will use this tool in your life.
And we appreciate your financial support for the ministry of FamilyLife Today as well. Thanks for partnering with us.
Now, we want to invite you back tomorrow. We're going to begin to look carefully at what it took for John and Donna Bishop to rebuild their life and their marriage together after John's memory had been completely erased. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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