When newlyweds take their vows promising to stay together "for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part," it's really all idealism and theory. Few brides and grooms come to the altar with an idea of the difficulties that face them in the years to come. And it's not going too far to say that currently in our culture, as many marriages break up over "worse", "poorer", and "sickness" than do from "death"
That's what's makes the story of John and Donna Bishop stand out even more. Thirteen years ago, John was stricken by a form of meningitis that took nearly everything from him but his life. He didn't remember anything—not his name, not his 24 years of marriage to Donna, not his years as a pastor. He couldn't read or write or speak or walk or even eat.
And for Donna, it's the story of a wife who basically lost her first husband, and had to decide what to do with this grown man who, at first, had to be cared for and taught as though he were an infant.
She kept thinking John's memory would return, but it never did. She had to teach him how to eat again, starting with baby food. It took two years for him to walk well. He learned to speak by reading lips and matching the words he heard with the way a person's mouth moved. (In fact, even after 13 years, John is still learning to improve his grammar and syntax as he speaks.)
"It was almost like I had four boys instead of three," Donna says. She had to assume all responsibilities for the family. Yet she never wavered in her commitment to John. "My parents had a good marriage, and I was always taught that when you're married, you're married for life. When you say for better or for worse, in sickness and health, you're in for the long haul. I never even thought about divorce."
But how do you explain the concept of marriage to a man who doesn't remember you and doesn't even know what marriage is?
At one point, when she felt John had progressed enough to understand, Donna told him, "You’re John, I'm Donna, and we're married. That means you belong to me, and I belong to you."
"You're my Donna?" he asked.
He got it. And ever since then he has called her "My Donna."
To hear the whole incredible story of the Bishops and their counter-cultural example of a marriage relationship, listen to the FamilyLife Today online broadcasts for August 4, 5, and 6.