MY TRAUMA AND TRIUMPH IN THE HOME-GOING OF DOROTHEA
In the home-going of my sweetheart of 58 years on October 29th, 2010, I experienced both the greatest TRAUMA and also the most glorious TRIUMPH of my entire life. I wish to describe my experience to glorify Christ, to express my inordinate gratefulness, and to encourage those who may read my story. My over all experience did not equal that of Job’s but there is some parallel between the two, so I organized my story around Job’s testimony in Job 1:21, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, Blessed be the Name of the Lord.” Please observe with me three amazing truths in these words:
- The GIFT of Dorothea. I do not exaggerate when I say that Dorothea was by far the greatest gift God ever gave me, the gift of Jesus being the only exception. In fact her name was “Doris,” meaning gift from the Greek word Doron, and I added the Greek word for God “Theos,” making her name Dorothea – the gift of God. I am well within the bounds of truth when I say “God gave Doris to me as certain as He gave Eve to Adam (Gen. 2:22). Permit me to explain how we came to meet each other. I was a student in Duke University feverishly working toward my Ph.D, and she was Minister of Education at the large Grace Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina. In November and four months before we ever met my classmate and I were ordained into the ministry and our pictures appeared in the Durham Sun. Seeing my picture Doris cut it out. She vowed she had no romantic inclinations in so doing, and I believed her. However, I said to her, “I would have thought you would have clipped the picture of my friend, George Shore, who was much more handsome than I, and I was not kidding, for my awkward social graces at that time could not have appealed to a lady brought up in affluence and possessing great charm. To continue my story: The following February after Doris cut out my picture, she needed a speaker for a “Sweetheart Banquet,” she asked her pastor for a nomination, and he suggested she call “one of the young fellows we just ordained from Duke,” and she called me. Being frightened in speaking in such a large church, I asked her to let me pray over the invitation and I would get back with her. Reluctantly I did call back and promised to come. However, on the night of the banquet, it was snowing, I had no car, and wanting an excuse to cancel my obligation, I called Miss Palmer and said, “I am sorry, but I can’t come tonight because of the snow and I have no car.” As I spoke these words over the phone, I was in the home of a dear brother, Shelton Barber, he overheard me and said, “Pastor, the snow is light, it is only one mile to Grace church, and you can drive my car.” Well he had me cornered and I had no choice but to show up which I did and spoke on “Devoted Hearts”. Doris later told me she thought I was “stuck up,” not realizing that I was half scared to death. I departed that night with no thought of any further contact with her – just glad to be out of my element I thought. She vowed she felt the same way.
However, two months later, she and I found ourselves attending an Associational Meeting where we sat side by side. And at the conclusion of the meeting I asked her if she would like to visit the Sarah Duke Gardens at the University, and she gladly accepted my invitation.. At the Garden we sat down to chat a little and she gave me testimony of her salvation at 14 years of age, her great love for Jesus and His Word, and of her call into the ministry. It was then for the first time that I began to think that she may be the one and only to marry. To conclude a long story we began to date and came to realize that the Lord had brought us together and we should marry, which we did 18 months later. Our marriage was wonderful for the most part, except the first two years were a little “rocky” at times primarily because of my selfishness. But there was never a time when we did not pray about all matters and kept communication open between us. Some have asked, “Bill, did you and Doris ever fuss at each other,” and I would always reply, “No, I would not say we fussed, but we did have some intense moments of fellowship at times.” We did learn the old adage is true which says “The difference between love and marriage is that love intoxicates you and marriage sobers you up.”
Doris was not perfect, but she was the most “perfect” woman I had ever seen. In fact she was the “perfect” one for me then and always. Our relationship grew sweeter and sweeter as anniversaries rolled along. On our 50th Anniversary I asked Doris if she would love me when I was old and ugly, and she replied, “Yes, Bill, I do.” On our 58th and last Anniversary, July 19, 2010, which we celebrated for one month, I said to her, “Honey, I love you so much that I am thinking about re-marrying you,” to which she replied, “Bill, I want to think and pray about it before I agree.” The greatest privilege of my life occurred during the last five years of our marriage. She lost almost all of her vision and became almost totally helpless, requiring constant attention, which I gave with great joy. She would often say, “Bill, I regret to be so much trouble to you,” and to which I always replied, “Honey, you followed me for 58 years to the ends of the earth, and it is my privilege to stand at our side now.” She did stand at my side in churches of 85 members, 1000 members, 2500, 3000, 8000 (almost 20 years) and followed me to 6 continents where we lived and shared the good news.
In summary I would have to describe her character and lifestyle under the 5 “S’s.”
(1) Her Life Scripture – “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21 – no one rivaled Jesus in the life of Doris, not even myself.
(2) Her favorite Song – “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” She lived this to a “T” every day of her life.
(3) Her perpetual Smile– Her smile was her way of saying, “I love you and want to help you any way I can.
(4) Her Servant heart. She always assured me that she would never call me home unless she faced an emergency she could not handle alone. Ruth Graham never freed Billy to his ministry any more, if as much, as Doris did for mine. Examples: I was under virtual house arrest in India when 100 Muslims assaulted our pastors, injuring 42 and sending 7 to the hospital, at which time I called her to explain my predicament, and she replied, “I am not worried a minute; Jesus sent you to India and He will bring you back.” And praise the Lord He did unscathed, though the local pastor thought the Hindus might trouble me, but they never showed up. The last day she lived before going to the hospital to die she said to me, “Bill, I want you to go to India this year,” to which I replied, “No, honey, I want to stay here with you this year and perhaps I can go next year.” She answered, “Bill, lost souls in India are much more important than my comfort.”
(5) Her Sacrifice – She sacrificed her time, money, education, influence, prayers and encouragement that the gospel might go out to the whole world. She was so devoted to Alpha Int’l Ministries of India (to the persecuted church) that AIM is now constructing a Sanctuary seating 1000 persons in her honor where pastors may be trained to share the good news to a billion people. And all I can say about her has already been said, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord that they may rest from their labors and their works do follow them.” (Rev. 14:13). Let us now move on to:
- The Grief of Her Home-Going. I cannot describe the trauma I experienced as I saw her die physically. I suffered in my body more than she did when she had cancer, but knowing she would live. But this final suffering I witnessed brought much greater agony, knowing that she would soon cease to breathe and I would be alone. How foolish I was. My agony was made worse because I had two sons in wheel chairs, and I wondered if they would not collapse to see their mother pass away. But not – our youngest son, David, was holding her hand as she died, and he said “Praise the Lord,” mother has gone to heaven,” and he has shown no special grief thereafter. Phil, our second son, was not able to visit her, since he lived in Arkansas, but when I assured him that his mother was now healthy and happy in the presence of Jesus, he seemed to be pleased and has expressed no continuing grief.
The funeral had a to be a real celebration, and it was. My pastor, Phil Ortego spoke briefly, I assured the audience that I had not lost Doris, for I knew where she was and would join her one day. My dear friend and fantastic singer, Nathan Sanders sang, “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” and the service began and concluded with the whole congregation singing, “I’ll Fly Away.”
- The Glory which followed Doris Home-Going. In a word, God has never been so real in all my life. On the first night after the funeral, I entered my bedroom and for a moment I felt alone when suddenly the Holy Spirit said to my “You are not alone – I am here.” I went to bed and began to pray and the room strangely lightened up, and since then I have missed Doris sorely, but I do not feel alone, knowing He is ever present as promised (Heb. 13:5; Joshua 1:5; Isaiah 41:10, 13; John 14:16. Moreover, the Holy Spirit reminded me of some words Doris spoke to me before she died and when she said, “Bill, it is time for me to go home, I have finished my race, and am ready to do,” but “Bill, it is not time for you to go.” When I inquired why, she replied, “Because God has given you such good health and the greatest ministry you ever had, and you need to finish it.” Then I saw that I had a mandate from Doris and also form God to finish my work of mentoring men, and this I am doing with all my redeemed power, and as I do I feel Doris is looking down from heaven, saying “Bill, stay in the race. Go to the finish line, and then you can join me.”
And, of course, the greatest glory of all is in knowing that I have not lost Doris, for I know where she is, and when you know where one is, you have not lost them, and that I will join her one day.
One Final Word: Two years before she died, Doris requested that she and I compose an epitaph which would glorify Jesus Christ. So we did and these words appear on her grave stone:
- At Top of Stone – Our Names and Dates
- Just below her favorite verse: “To live is Christ, to die is gain.”
- Further below – “Having lived on he earth for Jesus, they now live with Him in heaven, Together forever, Awaiting a Glorious Resurrection.”
- On Right Feet Piece: A spiritual biography of Doris
- On Left Feet Piece: A spiritual biography of BB
And above all – Deo Soli Gloria!