It was last December 13, a Sunday afternoon, when I heard my text notification buzz. Reaching for my phone, I saw that the message was from our friend Dona in Texas. My first thought was that maybe she and her husband Steve were coming up our way and wanted to stop in for a visit. But I gasped when I read her text. Then I read it again to be sure that I had understood it correctly while hurrying downstairs to tell Gary the news.
“Please pray,” Dona texted. “Steve has had a major stroke and is being airlifted to a hospital in Dallas.”
How could this possibly be happening? Steve is our age, healthy and very active. He had recently completed his Master’s; taught in the aviation department at LeTourneau University; and was a Colonel in the Texas Civil Air Patrol.
All that day, Gary and I prayed as we waited for more news. And my mind went back over the years of our friendship. Dona and I went to college together at Piedmont Bible College, where Gary later joined our ranks as a student and Steve came as an aviation instructor at the Missionary Aviation Institute there. Steve and Dona fell in love at the same time that Gary and I were doing the same. And on May 26, 1979, Gary and I were married……and so were Steve and Dona. We even married at exactly the same time in the evening, though in different towns.
Our friendship grew during the time that Gary completed college, Steve continued to instruct missionary pilots, and Dona and I worked. Life was simple and sweet. One day Steve told Gary that he wanted to teach missionary pilots how to fly helicopters, but one thing needed to happen first……..Steve needed to learn how to fly them. Steve decided to try to join the army, learn to fly the choppers, and then go back to training missionary pilots when his time was up. Gary had been in the army during Vietnam, so Steve asked Gary to go with him to the recruiter’s office in order to keep an ear out for anything that wasn’t quite kosher.
Gary and Steve went to several appointments together. Some people would say as luck would have it, but the four of us knew that it was as the Lord would have it that Steve did not go into the military, but Gary did. Steve and Dona ended up living in Tennessee, where Steve was an air traffic controller. Gary and I lived in six different places during his time as a military pilot.
Steve and Dona remained dear friends over those years. We visited each other when we could, with Steve and Dona coming to see us at several places where we lived, including here in Wichita. They moved to Texas several years ago, and Steve remained active in aviation both as an ATC instructor at LeTourneau University, and as a commander and pilot in the Civil Air Patrol.
Then came December 13. It was a cold, rainy Sunday in Texas. Dona had stayed home from church with a cold. And Steve was found after church, lying beside his vehicle in the rain, mostly unresponsive. A major stroke. Airlifted to Dallas, where he spent weeks in the hospital and in a rehab hospital. Home now, facing continued extensive rehab. God has been so gracious to Steve. Much of his function has returned, though he is still profoundly affected by the stroke.
His life has dramatically changed, as has Dona’s, in ways that most of us never consider until we are faced with the reality of something like this……something completely life changing. Dona writes about their life and about their Lord, and sends it out as emails. She’s written these devotional and inspirational pieces for years. What a treasure they are! And especially now, as she has allowed us to walk with her as she walks with Steve on this path full of twists and turns. She and Steve have always been examples to us of steadfast faith, but never more so than now, when their faith has been tested as never before.
In November of last year, Steve and Dona sent Aaron a birthday card. There at the bottom was their signature. Steve signed his name. Dona signed her name. That’s how they always did it.
Then in April another card came from Steve and Dona. My dear friend, Atha, had died and I was still reeling from her unexpected death. Dona knew how my heart was hurting, so she pushed aside her own pain and she sat down to write some very encouraging words to me and Gary. And then as she ended her note, there it was. The signatures. Steve…..and Dona. But look at Steve’s, written with his left hand when he is right handed……and written after having to learn how to write again.
I burst into tears when I saw it. Dona’s words were uplifting and so sweet, but Steve’s signature is what really got me, because it showed volumes to me of where Steve was now. What a difference from November to April! What life changes he is having to adjust to!
And so is Dona, who is with him every step of the way. How her life has changed! Steve walked out the door that Sunday morning, and their world as they knew it collapsed. But I know they don’t really think of it that way. They see God’s hand in it all……they trust Him completely……and they are putting into practice the rock solid faith that they have cultivated in our loving God all these years. But it’s still hard. It’s not without frustrations and fears and tears.
Back on May 26, 1979, Steve and Dona promised to be faithful to each other, too….for better or worse, richer or poorer, and in sickness or health. So did Gary and I. Steve and Dona’s promise has been put to the test, and they are passing…..with God’s grace…..with flying colors.
Gary and I are very, very thankful that we have another year to celebrate our joint wedding anniversaries. We are very, very thankful for the enduring friendship that we have shared with these dear friends. We are very, very thankful for their example to us of steadfast love in the life changing hard times.
And I’m very, very thankful for Steve’s signature that is so telling on many levels. It tells of sadness, of strength, of progress, and of grace.
Which means that Steve and Dona’s life really has God’s signature all over it.
Happy Number 37, Steve and Dona! Here’s to many more!