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Baptist New Mexican editor took his wife ‘in sickness and in health’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (BP)–This summer, thousands of couples will exchange wedding vows. Brides will say “I do,” smiling lovingly at grooms, who will promise to cherish them through richer and poorer and in sickness and in health. But how many of those couples would make that commitment if they could glimpse into the future and see a terrible tragedy shattering the picture of marital bliss?
John Loudat says he’d do it all over again. And those aren’t the words of some starry-eyed romantic; they’re from the heart of a man who has faced pain and loss and come through with a stronger faith and a deeper understanding of love and commitment. Loudat was a minister in Artesia, N.M., happily married to his wife, Kathy, and raising two daughters, Joni, 9, and Mary, 11, when, on April 21, 1991, an accident forever changed their lives.
Loudat remembers the day as vividly as if it were yesterday.
“It was one of those busy weekends,” Loudat, now editor of the Baptist New Mexican state paper, recalls of the activities at their church. “I was praying that God would do something incredible among the people. I wasn’t presuming to tell him what to do. I just said, ‘Lord, somehow get all the people on their knees.’
“I remember Kathy telling me she had to run out to the store to pick up a few things and she’d be right back. I don’t remember her leaving.”
Loudat got a call from his former secretary, who said she’d seen an accident; and Kathy was involved. At first, the words didn’t register with him. Then reality began settling in.
“I went to the scene, and Kathy was there,” he says. “They’d gotten her out, and she was lying beside the car. Every bone in her face was shattered just like glass.”
One of the most difficult things Loudat had to do was to tell his daughters what had happened.
“I told them their mother had been in an accident, and we didn’t know what was going to happen. Mary shed a few tears, and I’m not sure Joni knew what to think.”
In the midst of the shock and pain, Loudat was comforted by the members of his congregation. “It was incredible how the word got out in just a matter of minutes. Shortly after I got to the hospital, the hallway was full of people from my church and other local congregations. I didn’t know at the time that one of the ladies had gotten on the phone and organized a prayer vigil to take place at our chapel. That afternoon our prayer chapel was full of people praying for Kathy.
“I’d prayed that God would do something to bring our people to their knees, and that night the people were on their knees. Every church in town was united in a common concern. God had done more than anything I’d anticipated.”
As a pastor, Loudat had spent countless hours praying for and consoling families going through tragic circumstances. Now he found himself on the other side of that equation. “We were hurting, and there were a lot of tears shed, but there were a lot of people there to minister to us. I remember a friend just wrapping his arms around me, and that was something I needed. I wasn’t going to get angry at God. He was the only one who could get us through this.”
Eventually the initial shock and pain of Kathy’s accident gave way to a long struggle for the Loudat family, as it became apparent Kathy would never be the same person she was before that quick trip to the store.
“Kathy was in intensive care for more than six weeks,” Loudat recalls. “She was hooked up to a respirator because of the swelling, which closed all her air passages. They did several surgeries. She was fed through a tube in her stomach that she still has (to take medications). She had a collapsed lung and a broken wrist. And she had brain surgery. They put a shunt in, which she still has, to drain fluid. She was blinded because of the brain injury and totally paralyzed on her left side.”
When Kathy awoke after several days in a coma, it was obvious she wasn’t the same wife and mother Loudat and his daughters had depended on.
“Basically, we’d ask her to move her foot, and she’d move her foot,” he recalls. It was 14 months before she became more responsive. After noticing what looked like swallowing action, Kathy was tested and was able to begin taking pureed food by mouth and to begin drinking through a straw.
Loudat was thankful for every improvement in Kathy’s condition but was especially grateful when, one month after she regained the ability to swallow, she finally spoke again. He’d been bringing her home in her wheelchair for visits, and one day while he was feeding her, she started making sounds.
“I said, ‘Kathy, if you can do that, you can talk to us,'” he says. “I said, ‘Kathy, say, Mary, and she said, Mary. It shocked us! I said, ‘Say, Joni,’ and she did. I said, ‘Do you want more food?’ And she said ‘Yes.’ We called some friends. We called her dad. She talked to her dad on the phone. We took her to church where she said thank you to the congregation. We were so thankful to see God work that miracle.”
Just when things were beginning to look up for the Loudat family, they were hit with another blow in 1995. Kathy was diagnosed with cancer and had a breast removed.
“The word we got was that within three to five years (she may die). She’s not able to take any treatment. It would kill her. We’re down to one to two years now. We want her to live life to the fullest. We’re just living from check-up to check-up now.”
Through all the emotional pain that followed Kathy’s accident and during her current illness, Loudat’s devotion to his wife and his commitment to their marriage vows has been unwavering.
“Paul said in 2 Corinthians of the hardships he’d suffered: ‘We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.’ But he also said, ‘This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God’ (2 Cor. 1:8-9).
“I think it’s the same way in my experience. I’m convinced God is bringing us through this. This is something so big that there’s no way I can handle it, Kathy can handle it or the girls can handle it. It’s bigger than us.
“As a result, I’ve trusted in the Lord like I’ve never trusted in him before, and he has done things in my life, and in our lives as a family, unlike anything he has ever done for us before because we’ve trusted him. Of course, we need to trust him for the ordinary things, too. I believe the reason he allowed this in our lives like he did in the Apostle Paul’s life is so we’d trust in him.”
Loudat’s experiences have also provided him with a strong platform from which he can reach out to others. “Paul talked about God’s purpose of bringing us through hardship and providing for us so that we can minister to people who go through the same kind of hardships. This way, they, too, can experience the same kind of comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-7). To me, that answers the question of ‘Why?’ And nobody says, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about,’ because they know I do know what I’m talking about.”
In addition to his editorial responsibilities, Loudat still preaches most weekends all over the state. His daughter Joni, now 16, still lives at home; but last fall Mary, now 18, went away to college.
Because Kathy remains totally disabled — except for the ability to take food and drink by mouth and to occasionally speak — she resides in a nursing home, where she receives round-the-clock care. Loudat spends a lot of time at the nursing home caring for her. Her speech comes and goes now. Sometimes she’ll go for weeks without saying a word, which makes the times she does speak even more precious.
Life isn’t easy, but Loudat knows God is good.
“Victory in Jesus isn’t just God picking you up and making everything incredibly easy,” he says. “I want to share with people that just because it’s hard and just because you struggle, doesn’t mean you’re not experiencing victory in Jesus. I’m convinced that the greatest blessings in life come from the greatest trials. I wouldn’t have experienced God’s amazing provision had I not had such a great need.”
Because Kathy is so often unresponsive, Loudat readily admits to being lonely and to having times of extreme depression; but he says even knowing what he does now, he still would’ve married Kathy. And he’ll remain married to her. “It’s just not an option,” he says of divorce, “because I stood at that marriage altar, and I remember what I said: ‘For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.'”

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  • Deborah Evans Price