Warm greetings from Family Talk. May I take the liberty of sharing something very personal with you? It concerns four significant anniversaries that Shirley and I are celebrating in the month of August. Forgive me for writing such a self-serving letter, but I think you will see why I have done so in a moment.
The first event that we are remembering this month is the 20th anniversary of my heart attack, which occurred on August 15th, 1990. I had been playing basketball at 7:00 that morning when I drove in for a layup. I shot the ball completely over the basket and knew something had to be very wrong. I often missed my shots, but not that badly. Then I was seized by chest pains and I told my basketball buddies that I was going home. One of them followed me outside and asked if I was okay. I said, “I think so.” I can be a proud man at times and didn’t want to admit that my chest was hurting. Real men don’t get sick.
By the way, I had been playing that day on a court about 20 feet from where NBA superstar Pete Maravich died in my arms a year earlier. Talk about hallowed ground!
I drove to a stop sign where I had to make a decision about which way to go. To the left was St. Luke Hospital. To the right was my home. I decided that if I was having a heart attack, I probably should be in the parking lot even if I didn’t intend to go in. I know. It was stupid of me, but that was what I was thinking. I drove myself to the hospital and sat in the car for a few minutes. It was raining and the last thing I wanted to do was go into the emergency unit and announce that I was having chest pains. I had been a professor at a medical school and knew very well what such news would mean. Then I asked the Lord what I should do, and immediately experienced a chill. I assumed that this was His answer. I walked in and told a nurse what was going on.
I still didn’t believe anything was wrong with me. That afternoon, I asked the orderly to tape five or six artistic designs on the wall near my bed so that I could choose a cover for a book I had just written with Gary Bauer. Titled Children at Risk, it turned out to be the most prophetic book I have co-authored. What we predicted would happen to children in the near future has come to pass and explains the toxic world in which kids are being raised today. It’s all in the book, although it is out of print now. I wish more parents had taken our warnings seriously.
I lay there through the afternoon with my chest still throbbing. About 12 o’clock that night, a nurse came rushing in and said an enzyme report had just been received which confirmed that I had experienced a heart attack. She put a blood pressure cuff on my arm that pumped every five minutes for the rest of the night. Attendants came from all over and hung bags of fluid near my bed, and they told me to try not to move. Tubes were inserted everywhere. That was the beginning of ten days in CCU, during which I lay there contemplating my mortality and what the future held.
Toward the end of that week, I was taken in for a treadmill test, which I promptly failed. The attendant rolled me back to my room, where for the first time I believed the worst. I badly needed encouragement, but I couldn’t reach Shirley or my doctor. A foreign intern who spoke little English then came in and read my chart. Her bedside manner had not yet been cultivated, because I heard her mutter, “Oh, dat not goood.”
The last thing anyone wants to hear after flunking a treadmill test is, “Oh, dat not good.” She might well have said, “Oh, dis means you’re gonna die.”
I asked the Lord to send someone to me, because I was very lonely that afternoon. A few minutes later, Jack Hayford, senior pastor of The Church on the Way, walked in unexpectedly. He prayed for me and we talked together for an hour. Then I asked him why he had driven miles across Los Angeles to see me. Pastor Jack said, “Because the Lord told me you were lonely.” Don’t tell me that the Great Physician hadn’t heard my plea, or that he didn’t send His servant, to visit with me.
Well, that was 20 years ago this month, and I am apparently hale and hearty. In fact, as I was about to meet with the Board of Focus on the Family last fall to decide how long they wanted me to stay, my cell phone rang. It was my cardiologist who told me he had received the latest evaluation of my heart and said it was “phenomenal.” The pump had largely “healed itself,” and was functioning like that of a younger man who had never suffered an attack. Oh, dat was very good.
So life went on. In the past 20 years, I have been a very busy man. I wrote When God Doesn’t Make Sense, Life on the Edge, The New Dare to Discipline, The New Hide or Seek, The New Strong-Willed Child, Night Light for Couples, Night Light for Parents, Marriage Under Fire, Bringing Up Boys, and most recently, Bringing Up Girls. I have also broadcast 5,000 radio programs and have written and recorded 500 ninety-second commentaries. And now, I have launched a brand new radio program, called Family Talk, heard on nearly 900 stations, translators and airings. I’ve also lived long enough to welcome my first grandchild into the world, who is a little treasure. What a ride it has been.
I am convinced that one of the reasons I have been granted more time is because of the prayers of God’s people. I have also had some marvelous medical care. It has been 12 years since I had a stroke, caused by a damaged area of my heart, but its devastating effects lasted less than 24 hours. I’m told people were praying for me all over the world. That’s what we are celebrating this month, but it is only one of the things for which we are grateful.
The second event whose anniversary we are celebrating occurred on August 31st, 1970. On that day, a baby boy named James Ryan was adopted and taken into our hearts. That was 40 years ago, and he now serves in the studio with LuAnne Crane and me every day as co-hosts of Family Talk. Ryan and his sister, Danae, are deeply committed to the Lord and are serving Him day by day. That is the greatest blessing Shirley and I have received.
Would you believe, something else happened exactly 40 years ago? On the same day, August 31st, 1970, the first copies of my book, Dare to Discipline, arrived in boxes. What a head rush that was for Shirley and me! In fact, both the arrival of Ryan and the simultaneous receipt of my first book turned my world upside down. It is still topsy-turvy.
I immediately began autographing 250 books for promotional distribution. Then we put them in padded envelopes, stamped each, and addressed them all. We wrote, “Special Fourth Class Mail,” on each envelope. Finally, the packages were set to go. They were piled up in our family room. Shirley and I got down on the floor and put our hands on them. We then prayed and dedicated the books to the Lord, and asked Him to bless them as they went out. The rest, as they say, is history. The revision of Dare to Discipline is still in the bookstores today, having sold more than three million copies. That was the third anniversary we are celebrating this month.
The fourth is even more significant. On the 27th of August, 2010, Shirley and I will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. Honestly, after my brush with death in 1990, we never thought we would see this day. My cardiologist didn’t believe it either. Yet here we are, as much in love now as ever and still cherishing every single day. Shirley is a joy to live with and I am so thankful that the Lord gave her to me. I walked off with the Queen Bee in college, and never looked back. Shirley is such a godly woman who prays for me and for our family every day. She has served as chairman of The National Day of Prayer Task Force for the past 19 years. It has been so exciting to watch her grow spiritually through the decades, and to enjoy this journey together.
If you heard my interview with Joni Eareckson Tada a few weeks ago, you know that Shirley has been having some severe back problems. One night in July, I was awakened to hear her praying and crying in her sleep. She was saying, “Lord, my back hurts so much. I really need you to touch me and give me relief from this pain.” I realized that she was not awake, and I lay there listening to this conversation with the Lord. My heart broke for her, and I reached over and stroked her forehead, her face and eyes. She became quiet and began breathing deeply again. She never awoke. It took me a little while to get back to sleep, and I uttered a prayer for the woman I have loved for more than 50 years. By the way, she is feeling much better.
We’re looking forward to celebrating our anniversary with Danae, Ryan, Laura and a small group of friends. Many of them graduated from college in our class, and will also be marking their own golden anniversaries this summer. I wish you all could join us, but it is just not possible. I have enclosed a card that announces our anniversary. I don’t know why, but perhaps you will enjoy seeing a copy of it.
Thanks to so many of you who have prayed for us through the years. You have also stood by our ministries financially, often at a personal sacrifice. We appreciate that support and care more than you know. And … the end is not yet.
Family Talk is gaining momentum month by month and a wonderful staff has come alongside to live out this dream with us. We continue to be concerned about the disintegration of so many families and the vicious assault on their children. The decline of Western Civilization also weighs heavily on our hearts, and we want to help stem the tide to the degree possible. Finally, our ultimate purpose is to win as many people to Jesus Christ as we can, and to help bring about a spiritual renewal in the days ahead. I hope you will continue to pray with us during this challenging time. The cadre of friends and supporters that keep Family Talk afloat is small, but committed. If you haven’t joined them to this point, I hope you will. We are gaining ground financially, but still need your help. Together, with God’s blessings, we can make a difference in a chaotic world.
Thank you for your friendship. Let us hear from you when time permits. That is always encouraging to us. Congratulations to all of you who are celebrating wedding anniversaries this month. For those whose marriages have not survived, and for the widows and single individuals who may have struggled in the past, just know that the Lord is very near to you too. If we can be of assistance, please do let us know.
God’s blessings to you all.
James C. Dobson, Ph.D.