About the Guest
It's never easy losing a spouse, but with God's grace and help, you can walk through the grief. Those are the sentiments of Vonette Bright, widow of Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, our guest today on the broadcast. Vonette talks frankly about her life without Bill--the challenges, the loneliness, and the unexpected grace God provides.
It’s never easy losing a spouse, but with God’s grace and help, you can walk through the grief.
Vonette: It was just a great family spirit, and we were singing the song, "Our God Reigns" when we brought the children into the room and, of course, there were tears, but Keller crawled up and hugged his grandfather, and he says, "Oh, Grandfather, I pray that you'll have fun in heaven."
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today. I'm Bob Lepine along with the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey. Today we'll hear from Mrs. Vonette Bright about what life has been like for her since her husband's home-going back in 2003. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. We've had a treat this week. We've been spending some time with Vonette Bright. She is the widow of Dr. Bill Bright, who was founder and president of Campus Crusade for Christ, and we really look forward, Mrs. Bright, to the opportunity to have you here with us and to spend some time not only reflecting, as we already have, on Dr. Bright's death four years ago but also to spend some time talking about what God has been doing in your life over the last four years, and I just want to say welcome to FamilyLife Today. It's a treat to have you here on our program.
Vonette: It's been wonderful to visit and see what I've seen today, and I am so proud of what you are doing, of course.
Dennis: It's now been almost four years since Bill got his graduation papers to move on to "celestial air," as he called it, and you've talk to a few widows since Bill's passing. What would you say to the woman who is just said, I mean, is just grieving and is just having a difficult time dealing with the emotions, the loneliness. I mean, you have to have experienced that. You had a life partner for 54 years. I mean, he took care of you as few men have ever taken care of a woman.
Vonette: Sunday is the loneliest day. One day I came in from church, the house was empty, and I was feeling so lonely, and I walked into my bedroom, and I thought, "Being a widow is for the pits," and I thought, "I'm going to tell God that," and I went to my living room, and I stood in the middle of the floor, and I shouted out, "Being a widow is for the pits."
And I looked out the window at one side, and here was this beautiful view of the lake on which we live, and it was a sunshiney day, gorgeous day, and I looked in the other direction to the other end of my condominium and here were lovely trees blowing in the breeze, and, actually it was toward sunset, as I remember. The sky was absolutely gorgeous, as if the Lord said to me in an audible voice, "Yes, and I'm taking very good care of you."
Dennis: In the pits.
Vonette: In the pits. So I laughed, and shortly after I went to see a couple of my friends who have lost their husbands – they were together – I guess we were going to have a snack or something together. Anyway, I went in and said, "Well, I just said to the Lord that being a widow is for the pits," and they both said, "I agree with you," in unison. So we had a little pity party for about five minutes and laughed at ourselves because we were so well cared for.
Dennis: You know, you just demonstrated something, though, in terms of, I think, something that is very important for a person, and I'm not using the word "widow," which you don't like – for the person who has lost their spouse, and they're in heaven, but you're surrounding yourself with kindred spirit women, with others who have suffered the same loss and are living in similar circumstances, and there's a camaraderie, there's a kindred spirit fellowship, there's identification with grief, and the instant bonding of a group of people because of their loss, wouldn't you say?
Vonette: It's true, and there's a wonderful ministry – mine doesn't happen to be in that regard, though. I think God has given me a new ministry being able to use an influence and being able to help people. I receive calls and immediately when I hear of someone who has lost her husband, if it's someone I know, I get on the phone as quickly as I can to call her, to tell her what God has done for me.
Bob: You know, I have heard of people who, after the loss of a spouse, it's kind of, like, you see them and their life, too. It's almost like they shut down.
Vonette: That's true, that's true.
Bob: Isn't there part of you that would like to just shut down and go home and be with him?
Vonette: Yes, yes, it's getting better – more attractive all the time.
Bob: So what keeps you going?
Vonette: Because I know He has something for me to do, and as long as I'm alive, I want to be on the cutting edge. I want to be doing things that maybe nobody else can do or they couldn't do as well or that God would give me an opportunity to make an impact. I just trust that if I can share what I've learned with younger people to open doors for them, if I can – I'm very eager to finish everything that Bill had finished and is not in print. I'm very eager to get that in print.
Bob: I can imagine that in the first few weeks, maybe the first few months after Bill had gone home, that was so fresh that it was – you were kind of always aware of that reality. But I have to think that there came a period of time where the phone would ring, and you'd think, "I wonder if that's Bill," and then you'd go, "Oh, no, he's gone."
Or you'd come home and wonder if he was there and have to remind yourself he is gone. Did you have that experience?
Vonette: Not so much. I don't remember – of course, the vacancy of coming home, and there's nobody there, that's tough. It could be tough.
Bob: Is it still tough?
Vonette: I do not – yes, I don't like to come home to an empty house, but, at the same time, I don't dwell on that. There is too much that is – the happy memories that I have – we lived a great adventure, and I once heard Dr. Bob Smith from Bethel College speaking, and he said, of someone who had come to him and lost her son in the Korean War, and she just was mad at God because He'd taken her son.
And Dr. Smith said, "My dear, let me help you think through on this. How many women have never known the joy of a husband, and God led you to a wonderful man who became your husband. But how many couples are there that have never had children, and they don't know what it is to hold their own child in their arms? God gave you a husband, and He gave you a son, and how many are there who have never had the privilege of raising a normal child or have seen their child come to adulthood, and God gave you a normal child that you know the joy of bringing that child to adulthood and even to allowing him to be able to serve his country. And, you know, why don't you think of what you had not what you've lost, that you have been so privileged."
And, you know, I think in every kind of an experience it may have turned out not like what you expected, but you certainly don't resent what He has given you.
Dennis: If you could just keep one memory of you and Bill, one snapshot of one particular time, of one event or set of circumstances that surrounded your life, 54 years, Vonette, and I know I'm asking you a very difficult question, because you guys did live the great adventure. I mean, you walked with God, and you saw Him use you in who knows how many people's lives around the world? If you could just keep one picture of one event, what would it be?
Vonette: Oh, my goodness. We had so many precious moments. I think of when the Lord gave him the vision for Campus Crusade, and he was walking the floor, pacing the floor, "I now know what God wants me to do. Oh, Vonette, we're going to work with students," and he just – he could not stand still. He was just walking back and forth and what God had given him in this vision.
And he was crying, and he was talking, he was praising God, it was just an ecstatic moment that I did not fully know how to understand. I had lots of questions at the time, you know, could we stay in business? And he was still dabbling with the oil business a little bit at that point, but, anyway …
Dennis: Vonette, Bob knows I usually don't let the guests do this, but if anybody is going to cheat, we're going to let you cheat.
Bob: He asked this unfair question, if you had to pick one photo in your photo album and throw the rest of them out, which would it be? No one's going to do that.
Vonette: Yeah, honestly, yeah. Oh, dear. Well, I don't know which one would you keep? You've got a few over here that are pretty [inaudible].
Bob: We've got to be careful because some of our listeners might think, "Well, it sounds like they just had the perfect marriage, and there was never any conflict, and" …
Vonette: Oh, come on.
Bob: … so they haven't heard about …
Dennis: Speaking of sparks.
Bob: There was a moment, in fact, you shared this …
Dennis: Back in 1993, we interviewed them here on FamilyLife Today, and we've gone back into the archives …
Vonette: Oh, you all have set me up for this. This is really something.
Bob: Well, we want to make sure our listeners understand that there have been some tense moments that you've been open, you've shared with others about these tense moments.
Dennis: Let's just listen to the conversation here of how …
Vonette: Well, I think I should tell you either now or later how this came about, and it's the darkest moment of my life.
Dennis: Well, we have been talking about partners for life, how to be committed for the long haul as a couple, and we have led up to this story about a challenge to your commitment that occurred not long after you bought Arrowhead Springs, which is the corporate headquarters, or used to be the corporate headquarters for Campus Crusade for Christ. And you got angry, and something occurred. Would you take us back to that year and tell us what happened?
Vonette: I think, Dennis, this is what you call "airing your dirty laundry." That is not exactly easy to think about doing, and actually we have written it in a book, so I guess it's for public knowledge, but, actually when we moved to Arrowhead Springs, we were very short of money, and so it fell my lot to really help in managing the kitchen.
Of course, the whole area was the purchase of food, planning of the meals, and we had a storage area where there were very large cooking utensils, extra silver, table arrangements, linens, and all kinds of things in a very large storage room that you would expect a hotel to have.
So one Sunday morning my husband said to me that we have decided to take the storage room from the kitchen to make it the print shop, and I said, "Oh, we have?"
Dennis: Unilaterally, without asking?
Vonette: Without saying one word, no alert whatsoever.
Bill: Can you believe that I would do such a terrible thing.
Dennis: I was just going to ask – Bill Bright did that?
Bill: In that carnal –
Vonette: [laughing] Every man is listening saying, "Yay, you're [inaudible]."
Dennis: Well, that's not where the story ended. Take us on further.
Bill: I'd rather forget it, at this point.
Vonette: As we talked just very briefly, I said, "We have?" You know, I questioned Bill, and he said, "Now, listen, this decision has been made, and you are to say nothing about this. You are to accept it. There is just no recourse, it's been decided, and it's going to happen."
Bill: I don't think I was quite that harsh.
Vonette: Well, that was what I heard, exactly in that manner. And it was a very definite, "This is it," sort of a thing. And so I said, "Well, okay, I guess I'm not needed around here anymore, and if you do not care about my opinions, you don't need me around, and so I'll just leave." And Bill's reply to my absolute horror and shock was, "Well, why don't you?"
Bill: Of course, I didn't mean that, but you have to call a bluff.
Vonette: [laughing] – The first time he had ever called my hand, I guess. We can laugh now, but let me tell you, it was tragic at the moment.
Dennis: There was a lot of anger in the air, then, wasn't there?
Vonette: Yes, it was very, very thick, and Bill proceeded to get into the shower, and I thought, "Okay," so I grabbed a few things of the children's real quickly, and I put the boys in the car, and I had enough to last each one of us for overnight, and so when I got to the car I thought, "If I leave, I will never come back."
And Zack said, as a nine-year-old, "Mother, this shows me just what kind of a woman you are." And wooo, I sat there thinking, what am I doing here, trying to evaluate this thing, and about that time, Bill came bounding out of the house, barefooted, and I started to move the car when he came, and he ran in front of the car to stop the car, and I would have had to run over him had I gone on, and, of course, I wasn't about to do that.
But he said, "Oh, Vonette, don't go, I was wrong, I was wrong." And, all of a sudden, as he was standing, pleading with me, I felt so ashamed of myself realizing here was a man that I loved tremendously, and I had reduced to a begging man and really had weakened him to a point that I never had expected to see him to be, and I felt so, so ashamed.
But Bill did come to the car. I rolled the window down to talk with him, and he said, "Let's come in and talk about this. We can solve this."
Bob: Now, I have a pretty good idea of what you were thinking, Dr. Bright, when you said, "Go ahead, take off. But I want to know what you were thinking after that, between that time and the time you came out to the car and said …
Bill: Well, I thought she was just joshing. You know, I knew she was angry, and yet I didn't think she was serious.
Vonette: He didn't think I was that independent to go, I think.
Bill: After all, we'd had a wonderful relationship for 15 years. It was a Mickey Mouse kind of a problem.
Vonette: To you it was.
Bill: Because, you know, ultimately we ended up putting the print shop there because that was the only place to do it. My problem was that I hadn't brought her into the decision-making process, and that was wrong and, of course, I apologized and told her I was sorry and asked her forgiveness.
But I didn't take her seriously until she was in the car and they were about to drive away, and I figured I better do something.
[end of tape]
Dennis: Vonette, listening to that story now, some 39 years after that incident occurred. What's it like? There was a lot on the line at that moment.
Vonette: Well, it's helped me a lot in counseling with other people and to see, really, how fragile a marriage can be. And, you know, the devil walks around like a roaring lion, and he would love to divide homes, he would love to – particularly with Christian couples, and, you know, when a husband and wife are believers, particularly those in Christian work, and they divide, you know, it's the whole body of Christ suffers, and, you know, I've thought back – in fact, I was thinking even at the moment that I was debating, I thought, "What happens to Campus Crusade if I do this? And what kind of a witness is this to the world?"
Bob: It was interesting to me, as I listened to that tape, and I listened to you and Bill laughing as you shared that story, and then I watched you listening to it, and I watched you grimace, and I watched you – you weren't laughing as you listened back. Sure, there were some moments, some light moments, but I could see the reality of the pain of all of that.
Vonette: It was a dark moment, and I think of what could have happened, but we had never told that story, and we were writing our book together that Dennis had encouraged us to write, and that was called "Managing Stress in Marriage." It didn't go well because nobody wanted to admit that they had stress in their marriage, but we were told in the book that – with the editors – that we didn't have any conflict. They said, "This book has no conflict in it. Isn't there something somewhere? Have you never had a serious argument?"
And so Bill and I looked at each other, and we had covenant together that we would never, ever, ever tell this story. And so I said, "Well, what do you think we should do?" And Bill said, "What do you think we should do?" So it was out. We told the story and, of course, the world now knows.
Dennis: Well, I want you to know I certainly am glad you made the right choice there.
Vonette: Oh, it would have been tragic.
Dennis: Now more than almost 44 years ago, and this ministry, humanly speaking, would never have occurred. FamilyLife is a reflection of you and Bill and your commitment to one another to minister together as partners for life, and your mutual admiration society that you enjoyed for 54 years gave birth not only to Crusade but also to FamilyLife and this broadcast, FamilyLife Today.
I want to thank you for being on the broadcast, thanks for joining us and sharing your story.
Vonette: Well, thank you. It's wonderful to be with you, and I’m so proud of what you're doing and so grateful that God led you to begin your ministry with Campus Crusade, and we feel like we've had a real investment in what you're doing, of course, as they're all a part of a big family and all part of helping to reach the world.
And based on God's Word, His textbook to mankind, and as we follow it, we've got the answers right here. We'll just really apply it.
Dennis: No doubt about it.
Bob: You know, Dennis, I've heard you talk many times about how in the last several months of Dr. Bright's life, he was involved in a lot of writing projects and in assigning other people writing projects. You were one of those that he had an assignment for you even as he was in his hospital bed and, Mrs. Bright, I know one of the books that he wrote near the end of his life was a book called, "The Joy of Trusting God," where he reflected on God's attributes. That was a message that was always on his heart – the attributes of God.
It's a book that we have in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and I know families have used this as a book for family devotions. There is a CD in the back of the book where John Tesh actually reads portions of the book so you can use it as an audio book as well.
Again, that's a book we have in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and I'm sure there are those of our listeners who maybe never had the opportunity to hear Dr. Bright speak, and I'm sure there are also listeners who were influenced by the ministry of Campus Crusade as they were going through college or beyond. They would enjoy reading through this book, "The Joy of Trusting God."
You can find a copy by going to our website, FamilyLife.com, click the red button that says "Go" that you see in the middle of the screen, and that will take you to an area of the site where there is more information about this book by Dr. Bright, other resources designed to help you grow spiritually.
Again, the website if FamilyLife.com, click the red button that says "Go," and you'll be right at the area of the site where you can get more information about these resources, or you can order online, if you'd like.
You can also call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team can let you know how you can get a copy of this book by Dr. Bright.
Let me say a special word of thanks, too, if I can, to those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today financially. We depend on listeners like you who listener regularly and who benefit from this program to, from time to time, help with a donation to help keep us on the air in this city and in other cities all across the country. We are listener-supported, and so those donations not only enable us to continue the ministry but also to expand with new outreaches and new opportunities to serve listeners and other constituents.
We appreciate those of you who, in the past, have made a donation, and if you are able to make a donation to FamilyLife Today, right now, we have a thank you gift we'd like to send you. It's a new book by Dennis Rainey called, "Interviewing Your Daughter's Date," a practical guidebook for those of us who are fathers of daughters so that we can know how to protect our daughters and be involved as they go through the teen years, also know how to engage a young man who expresses some interest in spending time with one of our daughters.
You can request a copy of this book when you make a donation of any amount for the ministry of FamilyLife Today, and you can make that donation online at FamilyLife.com. If you do, as you fill out the donation form, there is a keycode box. Just type the word "date" in there, or call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone and just mention you'd like a copy of Dennis's book, "Interviewing Your Daughter's Date." We're happy to send it out to you as our way of saying thanks for your financial support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
Well, tomorrow we are going to have a former Green Beret joining us on our program. Stu Weber is a pastor and author who lives in the Pacific Northwest, and we're going to hear Part 1 of a message from Stu about what makes a man a real man. That's coming up tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
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 back 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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