On January 18, 1989, my husband died. In a matter of seconds, I went from living in the light to walking in the dark.
And I’ve always been afraid of the dark.
I can give no compelling reason for my fear, but it’s there. As a child, I went to sleep with a night-light. At night I still keep the bathroom light on and leave the door slightly open. When I enter our home, I hit the light switches; the more the better. No one will ever find me walking through a pitch-black field or along an unlit beach.
It’s not just the physical darkness. I also strongly dislike being “kept in the dark.” I’m one of those people who reads the first chapter of a book to get the plot and then immediately skips over to the final chapter. Something in me has to know how everything turns out. Only then can I enjoy the middle of the book.
On that day in 1989, I began a walk having no idea how or where it would end, or how long it would take. I couldn’t have prepared for the darkness that began on that chilly, damp January afternoon.
Looking back, I sometimes wonder why I had no hint that anything terrible would happen. Even now, I’ll convince myself that I’ve fully embraced the light; and, without warning, I’m stumbling in the darkness again.
That Wednesday, January 18, started like any other normal day for me. I was teaching first grade at Stevenson Primary School in Alvin, Texas. Less than two years earlier, we had moved from Bossier City, Louisiana, to Alvin after Don, my husband, accepted the position of youth minister at South Park Baptist Church.
Monday morning, Don left to make the hour-and-a-half drive in his Ford Escort to Trinity Pines, a Baptist retreat center north of Houston. The center was presenting a three-day conference focusing on church planting (how to start new churches). Don’s big dream was to start his own congregation. He had been enthusiastic about the opportunity to learn more about how to get a church started.
Don had mentioned the conference to me several weeks earlier. I had sensed his excitement about the event and encouraged him to attend. “They invited spouses to come along,” Don had told me. “Do you want to go with me?”
I’ve tried to support Don throughout his ministry and felt that going with him would help me understand some of the issues he would face in establishing a new church. I decided to take three personal days and accompany him.
I didn’t get to attend many events with Don, so I eagerly looked forward to spending time with him, as well as learning more about evangelistic outreach in communities. Selfishly, I was looking forward to having some “away time” with my husband.
I had gotten the time off, we’d made arrangements for our children, and everything was set for us to leave Monday morning for Trinity Pines. We’d stay for lunch before starting back. That would give us a relaxing drive home to Alvin, with plenty of time to arrive for Wednesday night services.
But as it turned out, I didn’t go.
Less than a week before the conference, a number of new students entered the school. Several of them ended up in my first-grade class. After trying to figure out how to get the new children assimilated into the class and into the school system and still go with Don, I realized I couldn’t get everything done before we left. It wouldn’t have been fair to my substitute to deal with the new children along with the other issues a substitute encounters.
“I don’t know their reading level,” I told Don. “I can’t leave them until I’ve tested them and know how they fit into class. I can’t go with you.” I was disappointed that I had to drop out. It would have been an excellent conference for both of us.
Don was also disappointed, but he understood.
Monday at school was normal for me—or as normal as a classroom can be with six new students, all first-graders, who transferred into the school in the middle of the year. It took a little more time and effort to get the six children tested, but by the end of the school day on Monday, I had accomplished that.
Tuesday went well. Wednesday morning was uneventful; so were lunch and recess. On Wednesday evenings, all five of our family members usually met at the church for the regular midweek evening events. We ate dinner at the church and then attended our individual activities.
Nicole was involved with Acteens, a mission organization for teenage girls. The boys were members of Royal Ambassadors (RAs), a mission group for boys in grades one through six. I was a choir member, and we practiced on Wednesday evenings. Don had planned to teach at what we called our midweek prayer service. So all five of us were involved. I expected Don to meet us at the church, and we planned to drive home in two cars.
Nothing unusual. Just our regular Wednesday arrangement. But that night we didn’t meet at the church. In fact, it would be many Wednesdays before the five of us were together again at church.
I walked into the office, and as soon as the assistant principal, Mary Nell Douglas, saw me, she got up from her desk, rushed over, wrapped her arms around me, and gave me a hug. A tall woman, who exemplified a professional manner in character and dress, Mary Nell was her typical warm, caring, and friendly self.
Even though it was my first year at Stevenson, Mary Nell had made me feel welcome and a part of the family. I especially appreciated that she offered advice in a positive manner. She was popular with the staff because we felt she had our best interests at heart.
Just one thing was off: an embrace wasn’t her usual method of greeting me. Before I could speak, she said, “We’ve gotten a call from your church.”
“Don’s been in a wreck. We’re trying to find out what happened.”
I stared at her, taking in what she had said.
In that moment, God spoke to me. I didn’t hear an audible voice, yet the message was so clear I couldn’t doubt the reality. This will be difficult, but it’s going to be okay. Don has two broken legs and a broken arm.
To some, that probably sounds strange, especially because it was so specific. God had spoken, and there were no doubts. I believe God whispered to me to give me the perfect peace of which the Bible speaks and to prepare me for what was ahead.
“It was a car accident,” Mary Nell added. “I don’t know where.”
I didn’t know where Don was, what had happened, or how seriously he was hurt, but a deep, inner calm came over me.
As I stared at her, I could see she was troubled, and I could sense her concern for me. “It’s all right,” I said. “It’s going to be all right.”
I took a deep breath to steady my voice and to keep from crying. At heart I’m an emotional person, easily brought to tears; however, I’ve discovered that I can sometimes control those tears. It’s a trick I learned back in high school when I started wearing contacts. Crying made my mascara run, getting into my eyes and wreaking havoc with my contacts. Over the years I’d become an expert at controlling my tears in public, but this time, even after God’s assuring words, drops of salty liquid slipped down my face while I tried to wipe them away.
“Who called?” I asked. “What do you know? Where is he?”
“I don’t know anything more. Not yet.”
I sat down in the big leather chair in front of Mary Nell’s desk and put my head in my hands.
Watch the Video to hear more of Eva Piper’s story
Excerpted with permission from A Walk Through the Dark by Eva Piper, copyright Thomas Nelson, 2013.
* * *
Have you been through a serious crisis? Maybe a health crisis? An accident? Financial collapse, the death of a child, a teenage unplanned pregnancy, the loss of a home? This will be difficult, but it’s going to be okay. That’s what Eva heard the Lord say to her. Do you hear Him saying it to you? Come join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you!