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‘God is faithful’ while life has been ‘forever changed&#8

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–A year ago, the front page of The Alabama Baptist (July 23, 1998) carried the story of the death of my wife, Eleanor. The 12 months since have been the longest time span imaginable. Many nights knew no end. Days dragged by. Hour upon hour was spent staring at the same page of books not realizing I had read them over and over again and still could not understand what they said. Frequently I hid behind closed doors of the office so no one would know how many tears I shed or how often they came.
At the same time, the 12 months have gone by so fast. It seems unreal that it has been a full year since I regained consciousness on the side of a street in Durban, South Africa; since Eleanor and I held hands as we lay on gurneys in the emergency room of St. Augustine Hospital; since the doctor came with the terrible news that Eleanor had lost consciousness.
To help me get through this season of remembrance, I am keeping a journal. The first entry each day is what I recall of that day one year ago. Every word brings memories as fresh and vivid as if it were yesterday. A year ago? It cannot be, I want to say, but the calendar does not lie.
Life is forever changed. Life is still changing.
A new friend shared a biblical analogy that aptly describes part of what happened to me during the past 12 months. She said those who deeply grieve are like the invalid in Luke 5 who could not get to Jesus. Friends had to carry him into the presence of the Lord. During these 12 months, I have been carried.
I have been carried by family, by co-workers, by directors, by fellow church members and by friends. The list goes on and on. I have been amazed by the number of individuals I did not know who indicated they have prayed for me. At the recent Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta, people stopped me on the street and spoke to me in lunch lines to assure me of their prayers. I continue to need them.
To all those who carried me, I am indebted. To each one, I am grateful. Your prayers, your encouragement, your help, your strength and your love helped me through this first year. Thank you. Through you, God provided the care I needed to face the issues caused by Eleanor’s untimely death. I am among the fortunate. People have allowed me to grieve. I have not been told to “get over it” or “it has been long enough.” I am told a year anniversary makes a difference in grieving. For me, however, I faced the same problems on day 366 that existed on day 365.
People still ask, “How are you doing?” and I still do not know how to respond. I could answer them by reflecting on the past 12 months. I could tell them the things I did right and the things I did wrong. I could answer the question by recounting my physical progress — seven surgeries completed, one to go. If all goes well, the doctors’ duties will be complete in December. I am jogging again, up to at least three miles three or four times a week.
I could answer the “How are you doing?” question by reporting present activities. I am working full time trying to carry on the responsibilities of the editor of the state Baptist paper. I’ve resumed preaching after a layoff of several months. Six of the last seven weeks I have been privileged to preach in Alabama Baptist churches. Grief group, now meeting once every two weeks, is still an important time for me.
I could answer the question by looking to the future, referencing attempts to pick up an old hobby and learn a new skill. I could talk about wanting to meet new people. I could even answer the question from a theological perspective and talk about the spiritual lessons I am learning on this walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
The problem with any answer is I still do not know the path through this experience. That means I still do not know if I am doing things right or wrong. I only know my experience — and I know that in retrospect. I do not know if I am making good decisions for today or making foolish decisions about tomorrow. I really do not know how I am doing. That is why I usually say, “I’m still here.” It is not intended as a funny answer. It acknowledges an accomplishment.
One thing of which I am sure is the faithfulness of God. Even though my prayers were not answered as I was confident they would be, God has been “a very present help in time of trouble.” Through his Spirit, through his Word and through his people, God worked. He provided strength when I had none. He accepted and understood when all I could do was scream in confusion and anger. He guided, sometimes corrected, the steps I took. God forgave my mistakes. He loved me, even when I was too numb to feel his presence.
Today I do not cling to life as firmly as I did a year ago. Nor do I abhor death as much. The loss of Eleanor has changed my understanding of both life and death. But because of the experiences of the past year, I do hold to God more firmly than ever. I know God loves me and cares for me and will never forsake me. I know God is faithful.

    About the Author

  • Bob Terry