FamilyLife Today® Podcast

For Better or For Worse

with John and Donna Bishop | December 22, 2011
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John Bishop's memory loss couldn't change the way he and his wife, Donna, love.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • John Bishop's memory loss couldn't change the way he and his wife, Donna, love.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

John Bishop’s memory loss couldn’t change the way he and his wife, Donna, love.

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For Better or For Worse

With John and Donna Bishop
December 22, 2011
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Bob:  Almost two decades ago, John Bishop was experiencing headaches that took him to the hospital.  He was diagnosed with meningitis.  Then, a month later, unexpectedly, his memory was gone.  What happens to a person, to a marriage, to a family, when everything about the past has been erased? 

John Bishop says you have to start back at the beginning—learning to walk, learning to talk, learning to love.


John:  When she began to teach me, she said, "You're John; I, Donna.  We're married."  I said, "Married?  Married?"  She said, "Oh, okay, you forgot that.  That means you belong to me, and I belong you."  I look at her; I say, "You my Donna?"  She said, "Yes."  That what I call her ever since—my Donna.  It was so easy love her.  She love me so good.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, December 22nd.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  What would happen to your marriage if, all of a sudden, you were starting from scratch?

John:  I tell people she taught me everything I know.  Every woman dream come true—her husband forget it all, and she get teach him.  (Laughter)

Bob:  And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us.  In our years of interviewing folks, we've met a number of couples and heard some remarkable love stories; but the story our listeners are hearing this week is an all-time classic; isn't it?

Dennis:  It may be the best.  I mean, we've heard some great ones here; but we wanted to bring this story to you, as a listener.  John and Donna were married in 1974.  They had three sons.  He was an evangelist for a number of years, pastored a church, had a ranch for young people that he helped staff and give leadership to.

Bob:  It was back in 1995, though, that he was diagnosed with aseptic meningitis and had to be hospitalized.  Normally, you recover from aseptic meningitis and life goes on.

Dennis:  But what happened was—it was like someone erased the chalkboard.  All the memory, all of his understanding of all the basics of life were gone because of this disease.

Bob:  This is a month after he's had his meningitis that he loses his complete memory.  He doesn't know that he's married, he doesn't know what marriage is, he doesn't know how to talk, and he doesn't know how to eat.

Dennis:  He doesn't know who God is.

Bob:  It's like starting from scratch and, obviously, that leads to an incredible stress on a marriage, on a family.  I mean, what do you do from there; right?

Dennis:  It's one thing, Bob, to have a life-threatening illness and live through that valley; but the story you're going to hear is all about how they picked up and began to live life on a daily basis.

Bob:  [recorded message]  Donna, it's almost like, when you brought John home from the hospital, you were bringing home a newborn baby who had some adult-level functionality but some very baby-like qualities.  Was he ever like a bad boy?  When he was home from the hospital, were there ever times when you thought, "I'm going to have to—“  (Laughter)

Dennis:  Let's put it the way it is, Bob—did he ever pitch a fit?

Bob:  Or throw a tantrum?

John:  I can answer that—yes!

Bob:  Did he go through the terrible twos with you?  (Laughter)

Donna:  Yes, he would—especially, when it came to eating.  He wanted to eat his dessert first.  You know, he was always asking questions—why he has to do this and do that. 

It was funny—one time, I came home; and he was trying to help me.  He was washing the dishes.  When he washed the dishes, he broke a plate, or a glass, or something.  He hid it in the trash—buried it in the bottom of the trash so I wouldn't know that he broke a plate.  You know, he was hiding things from me and sneaking around behind me when he was doing things he thought I didn't want him to do.

Bob:  Now, here's your husband.

John:  (Laughter) Yes—

Bob:  —acting this way.  You feel like you have to paddle him, spank him, for how he's behaving?  How do you handle that, as a wife, when—

Donna:  I'd be glad to spank him a few times.  (Laughter)

John:  She never spanked me, but she had to get after me; but, oh, she has been so patient.

Bob:  When did you—when did it dawn on you that you had a sin nature?—that deep inside of you is this rebellion—that you want to be selfish and you want things the way you want them.  When did that register for you?

John:  Once I began listening to the Bible on tape.  For instance, Bob, I can remember first lie I told—and at least after the illness.  In the hospital, the nurses had asked me if I had taken something.  It was something I didn't like, and so I had thrown it away.  I told her I had taken it.  Now, I didn't know what a lie was; but I felt guilty.  Later on, I learned what lying was.

Dennis:  So here is God convicting you of your need for forgiveness, your need for a Savior.  Yet, you've already made that commitment as a young lad growing up.  You don't happen to have that sheet of paper do you?

Bob:  The page in your Bible that shares your testimony?

John:  No, I didn't bring it.  I sorry; I didn't bring it with me.

Dennis:  Basically, what does that sheet of paper say?

John:  Well, it tells about that Saturday night in September.  I was brought up in Bristol, Tennessee, over in east Tennessee.  There was a citywide crusade, and the preacher was C.E. Autry.  He’s with the Lord now.  A matter of fact, I've got a book.  I have his name down.  I can even tell you the song they sang that night.  On my testimony CD, I have some people sing it –It Is No Secret What God Can Do.

[Music:  It Is No Secret What God Can Do]

Evidently, that song meant a lot to me; and so I even put that down.  They sang that song that night.  I was a 15-year-old teenage boy and lost home.  Mama was telling me that none of the family was saved at this point. 

I even wrote that I brought a Gospel tract home from the stadium, the Tennessee High football stadium.  It's still there, and with John 3:16 on it.  I can tell you it was a Saturday night that September. I got on my knees, and I put my name where "whosoever was"—“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him"—and I put my name— "whosoever" there—“should not perish but have everlasting life."  I know all those details, but can't remember a bit of it; but I wrote it there, and I'm just so glad that I received the Lord as a teenager.

Then Mama said I surrendered to the call to preach and preached my first sermon a month after my salvation, and I've been preaching ever since.  The Lord has just helped me and—matter of fact, she said able to be interim pastor of a little country church when a senior in high school.  This is true now—it's Goose Pimple Junction, Virginia.  That's where it was—population 29, and so—

Dennis:  Hold it; hold it.  Goose Pimple

John:  Yes.

Bob:  —Junction.

Dennis:  Junction.

John:  Virginia; and it is there.  You've been there; hadn't you, Donna?

Donna:  Been there; yes, sir.  (Laughter)

Bob:  Donna, did you ever have anyone come alongside you after the illness, while you were trying to care for—raising your boys and care for John and say, "You know, there's a place he could stay where they'd take care of him,” and, “You just shouldn't have to bear this burden"?  Did you have folks suggest that to you?

Donna:  Yes, sir, I had somebody suggest that I could do that, you know, if I got tired and so forth.  I would get tired of taking care of him, but I thought about it.  I thought, “You know, I could,” but just go on.  I just was never tempted to do anything like that.

Dennis:  Now, what our listeners don't know is the length of time this story took.  I mean, we're not talking about 30 days in rehab—back to John getting to normal.  John, give our listeners an idea here of the timeline we're talking about here.

John: Well, for several weeks, Dennis, she had to do everything for me.  You know what I mean, I say everything.  I was like a baby.  This went on for weeks and weeks.  Like I say, it took me near two years to where I could walk; and I had to work at it, work at it, and so forth.  It was just incredible how good she was to me.

I remember one day, she finishing cleaning me up again.  I look at her, I say, "Donna, why so good to me?"  She said, "Well, two reasons."  I said, "What that?"  "Well," she said, "one, I promised I would."  I said, "Promise?  I don't remember promise."  She went and got our marriage vows.  She brought them; and she said, "John, we got married.  I said, ‘In sickness and health, better or worse.’”  I remember I said, "Donna, I am so sorry it this worse; but thank you keeping promise.  Thank you."   Then she said, "But second reason is"—and she gave me a big hug and says, "I love you." 

I got an award back a couple of years ago.  A college had asked me to come, and they surprise me.  They ask me give testimony, and they were giving me an award.  I was so scared I was going to have to say something; and right at last minute, and I thought, "What I going to say?" 

Here is what I said—I got up—I said, "I'm going to take this award home to my Donna and will get on my knees, put in her lap.  I'm going to say, 'Donna, if it wasn't for God and you, I wouldn't even be alive, much less getting this."  So I said, "This yours." 

I said, "One day I get to heaven; and I'm going to say, 'God, why You been so good to me?' and I think God going to give me two reasons.  He going to say, "One, I promise I would;" and He might remind me Roman 8:28, "All things work together good—them love the Lord."  And maybe say, "John, I told you, ‘You love Me, everything all right.’" 

Then, I believe God going to give me a hug, and I believe God a good hugger.  He going to say, "But, John—main reason—I love you."  I sure hope I have something put at His feet and say, "Thank you, God."  I can't describe how good she's been to me, and God, and everybody been so good to me.

Dennis:  How does that make you feel, Donna?  I mean, I'm over here crying.

Donna:  I'm thankful that the Lord gave me the strength and that I was taught those valuable lessons that my family taught me, and my church taught me, when I was young—that it is worth it.  “It's worth it in the end.”  Don't ever bail.  Just stay with it; God will bless you.

Dennis:  For two years—it took you to learn how to walk?

Donna:  To walk good, you know, without stumbling and up steps.  He has a real hard time with steps.

Dennis:  But even beyond that, John, you've suffered incredible headaches.

John:  Yes.

Dennis:  And that's continued on for how long?

John:  All 12 years.  Immediately, because of the brain damage, I began having seizures.  I still have those; but I gladly not quite as bad.  And then, cluster migraine headaches is what I have.  That's what actually caused my blindness.  They change nature.  They're sort of what they call "ocular" cluster migraine.  But those have been big struggles for me. 

I got very depressed, very discouraged.  I wish I tell you I got sick and just said, "Oh, everything be fine," and went on.  I didn't, Dennis.  I got very depressed and went through some very dark times.  I even prayed, "Lord, please take me home, please,” because I hurt and I felt burden for my Donna.  She never tell me, “I burden;” but I felt that way—and depressed people do.

I got so depressed; I begged the Lord, "Please take me home, please."  I tell people when I talk audience—I said, "You never life seen person want to die and pray harder than man looking at."  Then I say, "But now you never in your life want to see–ever seen anybody want to live more than man you're looking at."  God turned that around and helped me through those dark times—that was mainly because of the pain issues and the seizures.

I call them issues instead of problems.  They just become problem if I let them; but I've had a lot of issues, you know, to go through; but the Lord's given me grace every time.

Bob:  You know, the name of your ministry—

John:  Yes?

Bob:  "God Is So Good" Ministries©?

John: Yes.

Bob:  John, some of our listeners are going to hear this and say, “How can you, with all you've been through, testify to the goodness of God?  If God was good, why would He allow all of this to happen to you?”

John:  Yes, and, you know, Bob, that was the struggle I was going through.  Those questions were going through my mind, and I needed to get hold of something.  The truth I got hold of—I was listening to Bible on tape—but I really loved the Book of Psalms because David been through some trials, too.  So I listened to it over, over, over.  Matter of fact, I wore that tape out and had to get another one.  He kept saying, though, "The Lord is good."  He kept saying it, one psalm after other, other—“God is good." 

I'm not saying, “That all that God is.”  He is also holy, and He's just, and He's righteous; but the two things that stand out to me is, “He is good and He is right, no matter what happens.  He's always good, and He's always right.”  Our God put Himself through pain.  I am able to read now, Dennis.  I'm not smart enough to be able to know a lot of general information; so I focus my reading on people who are hurting because that's my whole life now—is helping hurting people.

The one thing I can tell people is, “Nobody’s hurt more than God.”  They say one of the greatest pains a person can go through is the death of a child; but yet, He let Him go through greatest pain anybody ever through because something better.  Now, I don't have to know what all the better is, but I know I can trust this God because He let Himself hurt. 

Jesus suffered more than any of us will ever know; and if God love His Son and let Him go through that because He knew something better for everybody, I'm going to trust Him that He got something better for me and everybody, too.  You can trust a God like that.  He's not like many other religions have gods that are above pain and above suffering.  Oh, God put Himself right in middle of it; and I can't always tell people I know how something feel unless I'd been through it.  I can tell them the Lord does because His Son went through the most incredible pain ever been and the reason we're here today is because He did.

So I know good going to come from it because He's a good God.

Bob:  [studio]  Well, we've been listening today to Part Two of a conversation with John and Donna Bishop.  Dennis, as I was listening to John talk about responding to his own trials, his own pain, I thought of 2 Corinthians, Chapter 1, where Paul says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves have been comforted by God." 

He is a living application of that verse.  Rather than being consumed by his own pain and suffering and saying, "Why me?" he is comforting others in their affliction.

Dennis:  He is.  You know, as we've talked here today, it just occurred to me there are two groups of people that are listening to this broadcast.  One group, who is in the midst of suffering—they're going through the valley right now.  They know exactly what John is talking about; and they have been comforted, as you've talked about. 

But I want to remind that group of people where John's comfort came from.  To do that, I want to quote Dr. A.W. Tozer.  He said, "The most important thing you think is what you think about God."  The key to John's faith was he had the right thoughts about who God was.  He got them from the Scripture—that God is a good God.  No matter what happens to us, He is still good.  No matter what befalls those we love, God hasn't changed.  "The most important thing you think is what you think about God."

There's a second group, though; and it's a far larger number, I think, Bob.  Even though we have a ton of listeners who are hurting—who listen to this broadcast—it's the larger number who need to be reminded of what they promised.  They promised, “’Til death do us part;" and they needed to hear this love story.  I needed to hear it.  Who doesn't need to hear of a compelling promise that two people have made to each other to go through such an incredible ordeal as what Donna and John Bishop went through?

Maybe you just need to take your spouse's hand before the day is over and you just say two things, "I promised," and, "I love you.”  That's a great place to begin to build a family.

Bob:  You know, I think about many of our listeners who, over the next couple of days or next week, will be traveling—going somewhere over New Year’s or afterwards.  A lot of families, before school is back in session, will take a little family outing somewhere.  This would be a great CD—our conversation with John and Donna—to listen to with your family as you travel.  It’s a powerful love story—the kind of love story that our kids ought to hear if they’re in junior high, or high school, or even younger than that.  It’s a compelling story and one that teaches all of us what real love in marriage ought to look like—how you walk through tough times together as a couple.

We have copies of this CD in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.  If you’d like to get a copy—either one for yourself or multiple copies to share with others—go to  All the information you need about how to obtain copies of the CD is available there.

Again, our website is  You can also call us toll-free at 1- 800-FL-TODAY; that’s 1-800-358-6329.  So, again, online at or call us at 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”.  Ask about the CD of our conversation with John and Donna Bishop, and we’ll get it sent out to you.

If you’d like to download the audio files, they’re available online for free audio download.  Again, go to for more information.  The CD does include portions of our conversation with John and Donna that had to be edited for time purposes for the broadcast.  You’ll actually hear the expanded version of the interview when you order the CD.

Now, I don’t know if you have checked everything off your Christmas “to do” list yet, and gotten settled in for the holidays, or if you still have a few errands you need to run (like I do); but we are hoping that maybe one of the things that might still be on your year-end “to do” list would be to contact us here at FamilyLife to make a year-end contribution to our ministry.  We are listener-supported.  Those donations are what keep us on the air in this city and in other cities all across the country.  It keeps us online on and really keeps this ministry going.

We have had some friends this year who have stepped forward and said, “We want to encourage FamilyLife Today listeners to make a year-end contribution.”  As some of you know, we started off with a matching gift of $2.5 million, and that matching gift has now grown to a total of $3.5 million; and it’s continuing to grow.  While we are very grateful for our friends’ generosity, in order for us to take full advantage of that and to collect on all 3.5 million of those dollars, we need to hear from you. 

We’re asking you to make a donation, either online or by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY.  When you do, whatever that donation is, it’s going to be matched dollar for dollar.  So, if you make a $100 donation, we’ll get $100 from the matching fund, up to a total of what is now $3 million.  Can I encourage you to go to today and make an online donation, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make a donation over the phone?

We appreciate your support and your generosity.  We’re grateful for those of you who are able to help with a donation and who are willing to do that.  We just want to say, “Thanks,” in advance for whatever you’re able to do.  We’ll keep you updated as we approach the end of the year; and after the first of the year, we’ll let you know how we do in terms of reaching that matching-gift goal.  We’ll have a thermometer on our website at if you want to track our progress.

So, again, if you can make a donation, do it online at, or call us at 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”.

And I want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow when we’re going to talk more with John and Donna Bishop and hear the rest of their story.  I hope you can be here for that.

I want to thank our engineer today—again, his name is Keith Lynch—also, our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  Hope to see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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