Today on the broadcast, Vonette Bright, widow of Campus Crusade for Christ founder, Dr. Bill Bright, talks honestly with Dennis Rainey about her life now since Bill's death from a pulmonary disease in 2003.
Today on the broadcast, Vonette Bright, widow of Campus Crusade for Christ founder, Dr. Bill Bright, talks honestly with Dennis Rainey about her life now since Bill's death from a pulmonary disease in 2003.
Vonette: I asked God to give me a passage of Scripture that would hold me; something that I could answer people with confidence that God was in control, and the verse He gave me was John 14, verse 28. Jesus is telling His disciples, "If you really love me, you will be joyful for me that I am going to my Father who is greater than I am."
I took that as God's Word to me that I was to rejoice that Bill was going to be with Jesus sooner than we had anticipated.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday July 2nd. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Today Mrs. Vonette Bright remembers the events that led up to her husband's death four years ago this month. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. You know, we were having a meal before we came into the studio, and our friend, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, was joining us for that meal, and she made the comment during our meal, she said, "When I grow older, I want to grow older the way our guest today on FamilyLife Today is growing older." And I thought, "That's pretty nice."
Dennis: I think that's quite a compliment is what I think that is, and our guest today – I'm just going to let our listeners know right off the bat who it is so they're not left wondering who Nancy wants to be like.
Our guest is Vonette Bright. Vonette, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Vonette: It's been so wonderful to see your headquarters and see God's blessing upon your ministry. It's fabulous.
Dennis: Well, it's a treat to have you here. Of course, FamilyLife Today owes its inception to your faith and your faithfulness and, really, both you and Bill wanting to see something done on behalf of families. And what we want to talk with you about today is, really, Bill's passing. It's now been almost four years since Bill got his graduation papers to move on to "celestial air," as he called it. Do you recall when he received his diagnosis that was grim, and the doctor warned you that this was terminal? Do you remember that?
Vonette: Yes, very well, I surely do – that Bill had – he had a cough that we had not been able to be diagnosed as to why, and so on. Anyway, there was some mention in the year 2000, actually, in '99, we went to Mayo's for a checkup, and nothing was said in the diagnosis about pulmonary fibrosis, and the reports went back to our doctor, and so I'm sure he would have made more of an issue of it if there had been – so there was nothing definitive, I would assume, from that.
So we – another year went by, and it was time for his heart checkup, and we went to see the heart doctor, and so he said, "Bill, how are you doing?" And Bill was explaining to him that he had been given some medication that made him feel bad. And so he wasn't taking it, and the doctor knew that – his cardiologist had told him that – he said, "This man is not doing what I'm telling him to do."
And he said, "Listen, Bill Bright, you have a terminal disease, and you are going to die, and your dying is not pleasant, and if you don't take these medications to help you maybe to prevent it and maybe be able to heal it, that you are going to die."
And Bill, as calmly as my sitting here with you today said, "Well, I'll just see Jesus a little faster or a little sooner than I thought I would."
Well, I was trying to – I agreed with the doctor. In fact, he sent Bill out of the room for some kind of an x-ray, and he said, "How do you take this?" And I said, "He does not want to feel bad, and this medication makes him feel not up to par. He doesn't have time to feel like that."
Dennis: He's on a mission.
Vonette: He's on a mission. So I don't think it was not taking the medication. I don't think there was anything that really could have been done.
Bob: But when you sat in that room, and a doctor says, "Listen, this may kill you if you don't do something about it." There has to be just a little flash of fear in the heart of a wife.
Vonette: Well, there is and, of course, Bill had kept saying "God's going to keep me alive until He's finished with me, and when He's finished with me, I'm ready to go." And so he was never upset about it. He had such a positive – he was too busy to think about being ill, and he had projects that he wanted to do – now, I don't mean that he was so blasé that he didn't listen, and he was taking a number of different kinds of medications.
Bob: But as his breathing began to get worse, the cough began to get worse. You had to think, "This may, in fact, be where this" …
Vonette: Yes, we became very, very concerned and, actually, we went to Mayo's – we had an appointment and then Bill changed it because we had gone to Amsterdam. It was the last, actually, ministry that we did together. It was for the Amsterdam 2000 conference that Billy Graham had there, and he wanted us to come to be an example of the way in which husbands and wives worked together as a team.
So we spoke on prayer and, by the way, in our rehearsal, it was terrible. We just – Bill said, "This is not going to work, doing this together," and God gave me wisdom just to say, "Honey, the Holy Spirit is not required to be working with us when we are rehearsing, but tomorrow He will put it together."
Dennis: He'll be here, He'll show up.
Vonette: We both knew what we wanted to say, we knew the message that we wanted to communicate, and so, sure enough, it came across beautifully, it was special.
Dennis: I was at Amsterdam 2000 as well, and spoke there and brought you a bucket of flowers that we'd purchased in Harlem just to say we loved you, and I just shared with you recently that I only paid $5 for that. It was, like, a $300 or $400 looking – it was magnificent.
Vonette: It was a tub of gorgeous flowers.
Dennis: But I'm just thinking of you and Bill and your lives and how you did demonstrate how a husband and wife share lives together but also share a mission together. I'm wondering, how did you go about the process of facing death together?
Vonette: Well, I'd have to tell you that we were depending upon God for healing, but we didn't really know at that point exactly – it hadn't been confirmed definitely because we hadn't been anyplace to confirm, that he had pulmonary fibrosis.
But when we got to Mayo's, there they did say that he definitely had the terminal disease, and it was diagnosed as pulmonary fibrosis, and they suggested that he needed to have a biopsy taken. And, from there, we went to the Jewish Institute that was supposed to be, at that time, the most outstanding place that you could possibly go.
Dennis: In Denver, Colorado.
Vonette: And so we went there at 5,000 feet high, for a pulmonary institute, and so Bill began to have, immediately, trouble in breathing. But they took a three-quarter inch specimen from his lungs to prove what kind of fibrosis he had so we would know how to treat it. Well, it turned out to be idiopathic, which means they can't tell, they don't know.
So we were sent home at that point, but there was nothing that they could do. There was lots of experimentation that's going on the area, and I felt, actually, we went back to our room, so we said, "Let's pray," and so – how we should handle this, and so as we prayed, it was that, "Lord, we take this as an adventure."
Dennis: And so you really faced death the way you faced life – with heaven in mind?
Vonette: Well, I'd have to tell you, before we went to Amsterdam, I know people were going to be asking about Bill, what was the prognosis, how long did they think – you know, what was happening and so on – and I asked God to give me a passage of Scripture that would hold me; something that I could answer people with confidence that God was in control.
And the verse He gave me, the passage, really, was John 14, and that's one of our favorite chapters of the Bible, and as I was reading it, I came across verse 28, and in that passage, Jesus is telling His disciples that He is going to go away, and that He is going to His Father, He was leaving them, and He was going to go to be with His Father who was greater than He was. And He said, "If you really love me, you will be joyful" – in the King James Version it says, "that I am going to my Father who is greater than I am."
And I took that – I'd never heard a sermon on it, I'd never heard anybody interpret it that way, but I took that as God's Word to me that I was to rejoice that Bill was going to be with Jesus sooner than we had anticipated.
And Bill was joyful about it. He wasn't fearful. He was radiant and said, "Well, I'm just going a little earlier than I had anticipated going." And I have to say I don't remember his ever shedding a tear other than when we talked about leaving each other. And he was so positive all the way along.
But when I shared that at Amsterdam, I thought, with these theologians that were there and a lot of people had heard this verse, and it was new. I only saw one person that said, "Oh, yes, that's true." But I was afraid maybe I was out in left field, maybe I had interpreted it wrong or something, but I still had never heard a sermon on this. I think it's the greatest verse of Scripture in terms of how to face death and that Jesus wants us to rejoice that we're going to be with Him.
I don't believe, and I've been saying this for many years, I don't believe that God takes us from this world until he is finished with us, and as long as he has something for us to do, as long as we are profitable for what He has given us to do, He knows the length of our lives, then He is going to keep us alive and serving Him as long as it's His will to do that. And when He is finished with us, I believe it's that He is going to be honored more in our death than in our life.
Dennis: And it's interesting, in John 14 he says that, to say "Let not your heart" …
Vonette: … be troubled."
Dennis: …"be troubled neither let it be afraid," and yet it's fascinating that a follower of Jesus Christ can fight dying and can go against the grain in terms of death.
I want to take you to that conversation you had where Bill shed his tears about leaving you. Where did that take place?
Vonette: Well, we were at home, and we were talking about it, and he said, "Honey, my only regret is that I'm leaving you behind." But he was so great at giving me instruction, and one of the last conversations I had with him was, "Honey, I don't want you to be weeping for me, and I don't want you to be defeated over the fact that I'm gone. I don't want you to grieve to the place where you can't function."
And I'd heard this from him from time to time, and finally I had to say, I said to him, "Honey, don't put me on a guilt trip. I don't know how I'm going to react, but I know I will respond to what – how God gives me the strength to react and the way in which He directs, and I have every confidence that I will do what He directs me to do. But if you tell me that I can't weep or I can't do this or that or the other thing, then I feel guilty if I did it wrong. And so just trust that God is going to guide me, and I'm going to follow Him."
Dennis: That's a good word.
Vonette: So that he wasn't worried about me, and I was able to tell him at a point where I really felt that it was okay. I wanted him to know that if God was taking him, that He had given me every assurance – and He had – and I couldn't have said it before that time– but He'd given me every assurance that He was guiding my life, and that He was going to take care of me.
There were just so many things that were in place and the fact that I had my own personal ministry, and he had finished 89 projects that he wanted to finish in those three years because he knew he had a terminal illness, and his bed was just filled with different projects, and they were in different stacks that were over on my bed, that I had to take off and put on.
Dennis: I watched him. He tried to give me some work to do as he was on his bed there. That conversation you had where he wept, though. Where did that take place, and how did that occur?
Vonette: Well, I think it was in our bedroom, and I think he had begun to see that it was going to be – it was pretty sure that he was going to go, and I did say to him at one time that I was praying even until the last 10 days before he left, I was telling him that I was still praying that, "Honey, that God can still raise you up, that you can still be healed," and I felt so certain that God was going to heal him because so many millions of people all around the world were praying for him, and I felt we needed him around here longer.
And he said, "Don't pray that way." He wasn't impatient with me, but he was very specific with me when he said, "Don't pray that way. I don't want to die twice." And that was just typically Bill Bright, and he knew he was dying, and I think he was making the most of the process.
Dennis: Right, and on that evening did he stop you of what you were doing and take you by the hand? What happened that evening?
Vonette: Oh, yes, well, we had lots of close love times. It was very, very good. Many times, I spent hours on his bed. You know, he would be under his covers, and at night many times I would put him to sleep, where we'd just both go to sleep, and then I'd scoot over on my bed later or maybe I'd spend the night there all night to be next to him.
But he was a great lover. I assure you, he was very tender, very affectionate, and we had a good time. It was a special time, and he was so considerate in every way and constantly told me – he just used so many adjectives of how precious I was, he thanked me so many times for being his wife, and how much he loved me and he really adored me.
Dennis: On that night, though, when he wept, and he got tears in his eyes about leaving you – what did he say? Do you remember?
Vonette: I don't remember – I think we both wept at that point. You know, there was a time when we were both weeping and loving each other and making the most of the time that we had. We wanted to make the most of the moments that we had together, not to concentrate on our being apart.
Bob: We were actually aware of the fact that Bill was probably resigned to the possibility of his death before you were resigned to it because, Dennis, you remember this – you arranged for a phone call with Dr. Bright and the leadership team here at FamilyLife. This was just weeks before he went home, right?
Dennis: Right. I'd say about three months.
Bob: And in that phone conversation, I don't know that you remember this, but you were on the phone with us, and I remember our leadership team kind of looking at one another – well, listen to the exchange that we had with you in this phone conversation, and then we can talk about it.
Dennis: And as you listen to this conversation, you're going to hear Dr. Bright laboring to breathe as he expressed his words.
[taped phone call]
Dennis: Vonette, how are you doing?
Vonette: Well, our hearts are soaring, and we are trusting – Bill's a little bit surprising to us in that he's decided that maybe it's not going to be very long, but I'm eager to get the doctor here tonight and let him talk with him. I think he might be more encouraged by the end of the day.
Bill: When you come to the place where you can't breathe, and I've tried every option, doctors who come to me from all over, I finally have the message, I believe, from the Lord that He wants to bring me home, so there's no need for me to resist. After all, heaven is infinitely more beautiful than the most scenic view we've ever seen in any place in the world.
You can imagine the God who created 100 billion or more galaxies, going to concentrate on a place called heaven, that it will be indescribably beautiful. So since I have difficulty breathing why be deprived of heaven when I'm so close?
Vonette: He's got too many jobs to do. If he did everything that he's go on the side of his bed to accomplish, he'll be here for several months. Don't expect him to check out soon.
Bill: My bed is my office, and I'm working on all these manuscripts and various projects. It's pretty exciting.
Dennis: You know, Vonette, you and Bill have both set a high bar for all of us. You are now doing it in the way that you move toward the finish line. I have to tell you, all of us are sitting around here amazed at just the model of how to stay stretched out to the finish line.
Vonette: Well, God is in control, and I know that His timing is so perfect, and He's going to let him do everything He wants him to do before he leaves here, and how we praise God for all that we've enjoyed, you know? We can't complain. We've had 54 wonderful, wonderful years. I hoped we were going to have the completion of the 55th, and to celebrate his 82nd birthday and live through staff training this summer. So we'll just see what God does.
The thrilling part is that this man is ready.
Bob: And the reason he was is because he knew where he was going, and he knew who he was going to see. He had settled many years ago who his Lord and his Master was, and he knew that this world was not his home, and he was ready because eternity was ahead of him.
You know, I think, Dennis, of the folks who may be listening to our program today who aren't ready, like Dr. Bright was. We don't know how many years God will give us. We don't know that we'll have the rest of today or this week or this month. And when it does come, we want to be ready. We want to be living our lives with an eternal focus – not just a temporal focus. We want to see this life for what it is. It's been called the "dress rehearsal" for the next life, for the real thing.
If we're going to be ready, we have to know the One who created us, the One who gives us life, and the One who will be our judge when we face eternity; the One who will either say "Welcome home," or who will say, "Depart from me, because I never knew you."
There may be some of our listeners who need to settle that issue. They need to recognize and to acknowledge that God is a loving God, that's true, but He is also a righteous judge and that we cannot live a life in rebellion against Him and then expect Him to welcome us home in eternity.
But we need to humble ourselves before God, we need to acknowledge our sin, the reality of our rebellion that we've been living life the way we want to live it, and turn from that and turn to Him and say, "I want You to be in charge of my life, I want You to be my King, my Master, my Lord. I want to submit my life to You and do what You want me to do."
If you're ready to make that step, you can do that simply by crying out to God and saying, "I want to make sure that I’m ready when the time comes to go home" and to be welcomed home like Dr. Bright was.
There's a booklet we'd be happy to send you that is called "Pursuing God." It's a book that helps answer questions that a lot of people have about what it means to have a right relationship with God. You can request a copy of this booklet by calling us at 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY. Someone on our team would be happy to get your name and address, and we'll send a copy of this out to you at no cost with the prayer that this book will help you settle, once and for all, who ought to be in charge of your life. Not you but the One who made you, the Lord Jesus, and that's what does get you ready to face eternity.
Again, call us 1-800-FLTODAY and ask for a copy of the free book, "Pursuing God." We're happy to send it out to you so that you can resolve this issue of what life really is all about, and that is living to honor and to serve the One who made us, our Lord Jesus Christ. 1-800-FLTODAY is the number to call, ask for a copy of the book, "Pursuing God," and we trust God will use that book in your life.
With that, we've got to wrap things up for today. Tomorrow we want to find out what life has been like since Dr. Bright went home to be with the Lord; what life has been like for his widow, Vonette Bright. She joins us again tomorrow. I hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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