When Missionaries Experience Personal Loss with Dirk Smith (Encore Episode)

May 23, 2024

 

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In this encore episode, Dirk Smith, vice president of Eastern European Mission, shares his very personal story of losing his wife to ALS last year. Dirk’s story is honest and it is also filled with hope.

Dirk shares real and helpful ways missionaries—and anyone—can navigate loss well and trust that it is not the end of our story, but is the beginning of something new.

 

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Ways to Connect With Dirk Smith

 

Last Week’s Episode

Serving as a Single Missionary with Sarita Hartz

Transcript From the Episode

Welcome to Modern Day Missionaries, a podcast by Modern Day. Missions created for missionaries by missionaries. I’m your host, Stephanie Gutierrez.

Today we take a deep look at personal loss and how we can walk through it with grace, strength, and compassion. Dirk Smith, Vice President of Eastern European Mission, shares his very personal story of losing his wife to ALS this year. Dirk’s story is honest, and it’s also filled with hope. He shares real and helpful ways missionaries and anyone can navigate loss well and trust that this is not the end of our stories, but is the beginning of something new.

Welcome to this episode of the Modern Day Missionaries podcast we are so glad to have with us Dirk Smith. is the Vice President of Eastern European Mission, and at EEM, Dirk oversees fundraising and marketing efforts, as well as assists with US operations, and he loves sharing the stories of what God is doing through the ministry of EEM.

[00:00:58] Stephanie: I’ve gotten to hear a few of those stories and really have enjoyed it. It’s fascinating. All the amazing work that you guys are able to do over there, Dirk.

[00:01:05] Dirk: Thanks, Stephanie. It’s good to be with you. Thanks for, thanks for having me.

[00:01:09] Stephanie: So good to have you. A little bit more about Dirk. He has an M B A with a focus on organizational development and ethics and has worked in the business world for a number of years as well. And Dirk was married to his beautiful wife, Wendy, for 34 years, and she went home to be with the Lord this past January. And he’s also the dad to three adult children. And so in today’s episode, we’re gonna be getting very personal and talk about walking through loss while serving in ministry. And

Dirk, I just

you for being willing to talk about something so personal and vulnerable with us today.

[00:01:43] Dirk: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s to me, Stephanie, it’s just life and you know, as Jesus tells us in this life, you’re going to have struggles. There’s gonna be struggles. So, but the great news is he doesn’t stop there and he says, Hey, I’ve overcome the world, so take courage. So it’s,

[00:02:03] Stephanie: that’s what I really loved as you and I spoke on this, is you have an approach that’s, that is very vulnerable, that is very honest, but that’s always hope filled whenever you’ve talked about this as well. And I feel like it’s gonna be an encouragement to people who have walked through or who are walking through really difficult things. And before we get there, I’d love to hear a little bit, Dirk, about how you got involved with missions, where your missions journey started.

[00:02:28] Dirk: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. Yeah. So as you mentioned my background is not, I don’t have a theology degree. Never thought I’d be even in non-profit work I’ve got an MBA and so I worked for about 11 years in healthcare consulting and then management consulting back up in the, I’m from the northeast part of the U.S.

I was born in Philadelphia, grew up in South Jersey, so kinda went back up there and was working in and outta New York and Philadelphia with a management consulting firm when my alma mater, which is a faith-based university called and said, Hey, we need help raising money. And I thought, you know, I think I’d rather run razorblades up my fingernails, who in their right mind wants to do that?

And my wife and I at the time, and I was, I was struggling at the time, just really praying and talking to her and saying, I, you know, I don’t know what I want to do, but I just don’t know if when I’m 85 or whenever God chooses to call me home. I wanna look back at my life and say, I made a lot of people a lot of money because that’s what I was doing.

I mean, I was making millionaires, and so I’ll never forget, she said, as I was dealing with this epiphany happening in my life, she said, you don’t wanna preach, do you? I said no. And she said, well that’s good because I was gonna tell you I would miss you. And I said, no, I don’t wanna preach. So anyway, we prayed about it a bunch and I finally did, I went back to my alma mater and as a major gifts officer.

So that was my entry, kind of in to non-profit. I call it my seven years in the desert because they didn’t really wanna do anything right in the way of fundraising. But. It really opened my eyes to non-profit. And then EEM, you know, about the time I just, I was realizing I gotta go, I gotta do something else.

EEM came along and I, I was really wavering, I was deciding I had a great offer from a for-profit equity position with a for-profit company, which if I , I jokingly say if I had taken that, I would be EEM’s largest donor today. It was really my daughter who is now 31, she came down and I was really struggling with those two decisions. And she said, Hey, Mom says you, you’re trying to decide between two opportunities. Do you mind if I know what they are? I said, sure. So I told her about EEM providing Bibles of people who’ve never had one in their language, you know in, you know, 30 plus countries, 20 plus languages all free, or this lots of money, lots and lots of money to be made.

And she looked at me, she said, I don’t get it. I thought, okay, you’re 19 years old. I think you’re pretty smart. So I kind of did the cliff notes again. She said, no, no, no, no. She stopped me. She said, no, I understand. She said, Dad, I just don’t understand why this is a decision. My entire life, you get up in the morning and you’ve been up reading your Bible. I see it next to your chair, and you’ve always told us you can read other books. That’s great. You need to read. But if you’re not reading the Bible, don’t read the other books because everything must go through that filter. She said, and now you’ve hammered that into us and now you have the opportunity to provide Bibles to people in their language who have never had one before.And they’re asking for them.

She said, I don’t get it. She turned around, she walked upstairs and I can remember sitting there in my, in my office and looking up to God and saying, okay, I hear you. So I called. So I called EEM and took the position 12 years ago. And and it’s been great. You know, for the first time I don’t have a “job.” And you know, we are a wholesaler for all the retailers. So anybody that’s doing evangelistic work, we are the provider Bibles, Bible-based materials. I mean, really majority Bibles, 90, 96% of our funds go towards Bibles. Last year we distributed right at 2 million books and 35 different countries, 26 different languages.

So, that’s kind of, I kind of got into it kicking and screaming, but God, but it’s, it honestly, you can, you know, and Stephanie, you’re, you’re this way. We all are. If, if we’re introspective, we look back on our lives and we can see a how God has always been with us. Never let us down, but also how he’s prepared us.

So now today, I mean the operations thing I had down, I had done business consulting for all these years, but he needed me to get into fundraising to understand that aspect. So he gives me that time and he gave me the best mentor anybody could ever have, which was another part of the God story. I had this mentor, Dr. Bob Walker, who was senior Vice President of development at Texas A&M, led A&M through their first billion dollar campaign. Served as my mentor for 18 years and until he passed away just last year. And just a godly man. Just a great man. But I got that piece. And then you put the operations together, which is what I do today.

And I get to do both. And it’s a lot of fun. It’s, it’s just it, it’s, it’s, as I tell people this is, this is God’s mission and ministry that we call EEM. ’cause it’s not about us. It really is not about us.

[00:07:50] Stephanie: Mm. And you get to work hand in hand with missionaries. So that was another fun thing when we were talking. I know speaking to this crowd is a joy because this is your day in and out. And I, I don’t wanna forget too, you had mentioned to me that you, you as an organization get Bibles in the hands of missionaries so that they don’t have to bring them over. Can you speak on that real quickly? Because this applies to any missionary listening, I mean, we’ll, we’re gonna talk about grief and loss and all that as well, but can get Bibles through EEM. How would they go about doing that?

[00:08:23] Dirk: Yeah, so there’s only certain countries that we work in, but I mean last year, 30, 35 countries. We started in the former Communist Block Nation, so Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Croatia, Serbia, et cetera, et cetera. But we do, we do Bibles in Farsi, in Arabic working some in Turkey now.

So yeah, if they’re, if they’re a missionary, our only requirement it’s not sold. You don’t sell the Bible, it’s free. We’re giving it to you free. So you give it away free. Two, it doesn’t go in a drawer. Or on a shelf, it’s going to somebody. It’s, it’s being used for evangelistic purposes. But yeah, if they’re interested, they can go to our, our European website, eemeurope.org. Again, provided they’re over there. We don’t produce any books in the U.S. so if your listeners are in the U.S. I can’t get you any.

Any of those languages here in the U.S. because we’d have to ship ’em over. And honestly, it’d be cheaper to just go on Amazon and buy one.

But for us, we can produce them. And we believe in creating economy. So like when we’re distributing in Ukraine, we’re printing in Ukraine, we’re putting their people to work.

We do the same thing. Serbia all, all around. And again, that’s, I mean, all in for us, we, if somebody gives me $5, that’s a Bible out the door. In, in somebody’s hands. So but yeah, if, if your listeners, the missionaries that are out there, if they need Bibles and they’re in any of those countries that we work in, yeah, just go to eemeurope.org and reach out.

Ask, ask them. I mean, there’s a order they can order right? Online, just it works like Amazon. And if it’s a bulk order, you know, it just depends on, you know, the one-offs we do, we’ll do the one or twos. But you know, if we’re gonna go into a print project, it’s gotta be 10,000 plus, you know, for us to really go into a big print project.

[00:10:04] Stephanie: I’m glad we didn’t forget to mention that. ’cause that’s, that’s a really big deal for all of our missionaries who are serving in those countries

[00:10:12] Dirk: Yeah. And they’re not, and we’ve got Bibles, we’ve got children’s Bibles, we’ve got teen Bibles. So it covers the gamut. They can go and see all the inventory and see see the products that we offer.

[00:10:21] Stephanie: Yeah.

[00:10:21] Dirk: So, yeah.

[00:10:23] Stephanie: Oh, thank you for mentioning that. and then to transition, I don’t know how to do a smooth transition from this, but I would love to just jump over. Let’s just say then into some of your journey. I know we all deal with grief and loss in life, but the, the loss that you dealt with is one of the biggest ones that you can deal with in life, and you did it while serving in ministry.

And so your, your wife, Wendy, her. Her passing wasn’t sudden. You had mentioned to me it went on for a while. When did her battle begin and her battle, and we could say your battle as well.

[00:10:54] Dirk: Yeah. So for those that are listening, my wife passed away. She, she battled ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease as it’s commonly known, the scientific amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. So it’s interesting, ALS is one of those diseases, Stephanie, that you have to rule everything else out before you can diagnose.

So symptoms happen for a long time. Until you finally get a diagnosis. And so we, we live here in the Nashville area. So , we had actually moved here in October of 18. And when we moved here, she was having symptoms. She, she was having symptoms in her, in her left leg. We didn’t know what was going on.

Many trips to Vanderbilt, they couldn’t diagnose. So finally, so I mean, symptoms started in 2018. I. Finally, June the fifth of 2020, after a week long trip up to Mayo in Rochester. And them even not being able to diagnose right away and coming back and them thinking it might’ve been a, a rare blood disorder, and she had to go through and have bone marrow biopsy.

I mean, there was a point in time I, I’d say to people, man, if you’re about to have a test run of any kind and you want to know what it’s like, just ask Wendy. ’cause she’s been through it. She had, I mean, bless her heart, she went through a lot. But finally on January or on June the fifth of 2020, they diagnosed ALS.

And so, but by the time they diagnosed it, I mean, she was, I mean, she couldn’t walk on her own. She couldn’t, I mean, there was just a lot of her left hand wasn’t working. Well, she couldn’t write, you know, she couldn’t really do anything with her left hand. She couldn’t operate a fork or, you know, she couldn’t cut her own meat, you know, just so she was well into it.

So they told us she would have, on the short end, five years on the long end, 25 years kinda after we’d, after we’d hugged and cried. And you know, you go through all the process of, of that and ’cause we knew, we had heard ALS we’d heard ALS so this was just a definitive of it. We, we had already been praying about it for about a year and a half to two years.

You know, I looked at her and I jokingly said, well, when I sure hope you don’t live 25 years ’cause I’m not planning to be here that long . So I think it would be important for me to be around while you’re here. And she kinda laughed. She goes, yeah, I’m hoping not that long either. And she went home very peacefully on January the ninth of of this year of 23.

[00:13:30] Dirk: But it was a long battle in some respects, but a, a quick battle, you know, by others, I mean, it was, it’s very debilitating. For those that don’t know, you basically become a prisoner in your own body. Her mind stayed sharp. She knew exactly what was going on. So those were some of the challenges for her is, She did the worst thing possible for anybody to do when she was diagnosed, or even beforehand, before officially diagnosed. But thinking it was ALS she got out there and Googled, how do people die with ALS? And I was like, ah, do that. Don’t do that. ’cause you get the 0.00001. And I told her, I said, no, I, I made a number of promises to her. When she was diagnosed and I said, number one, I held up my ring finger. I said, you’re stuck with me.

I’m not going anywhere. Number two, you’re not gonna suffer. Not on my watch. I mean, I’ll figure it out and we, we will figure out how to do this, but you will not suffer. And, and then number three, I just, I, I told her that oh, she had a real, she had a real fear bedsores. It’s kinda interesting. And again, I told her, I said, no, I’ll figure that out. I mean, if nurses know how to do that, I can, I can learn. So, and I kept all three of those promises.

[00:14:53] Stephanie: Mm.

[00:14:54] Dirk: She, you know, she, she struggled at the end, but never, never suffered. Hospice is wonderful, man. I’m a huge advocate of hospice. Hospice came in and and really helped out. And of course an ALS patient can get hospice really from day one, but we waited for a while. I mean, they weren’t much hair help with caregiving, so the caregiving all fell on me.

It was, and it’s 24/7. You know, she, you have to lift her and carry her, put her in bed, take her to the bathroom. You know, I mean, ’cause she’s just, she’s dead weight. I mean, she can’t do anything. But for the last five months she couldn’t, she didn’t eat, she couldn’t swallow anything. She didn’t really talk.

[00:15:40] Dirk: I mean, like talk, converse. She could, she could get out a few words. Probably in, maybe in January, before she died in January, but really for about the last five, six months, she couldn’t talk at all. So it, you know, it’s I have a friend of mine who is a grief counselor in Nashville, and I’ve told this story.

So in February after she after she passed, I get this text message from him. He says, Hey, buddy, hadn’t seen you in a while. Let’s, let’s get together for lunch. And I went mm-hmm. . Yeah, I know what you want. That’s, but that’s okay. So I, we go to lunch and we get to lunch and I said, Hey, listen, first right off the bat, I’m buying lunch because lunch is gonna be cheaper than your rate for this session.

He goes, no, no, no, no. I’m, I said, no, I, I appreciate it. I love you and I appreciate you checking up on me. He said, well, I just wanna see what you’re doing. I said, no, it’s good. So when we go through the lunch, and sure enough, it’s a session and he gets to the end and he says dude, you’re doing good.

And I said, okay, well thank you. What does that mean? He said, no, I mean, you’re, you’re presenting like a guy whose wife died two years ago and I said, how much do you know about ALS? And he said, not much. So I took him through the journey. At the end, he looked at me, he said, you are a guy whose wife died two years ago.

Wow. I had no idea. And I said, so you’ve never counts on anybody whose spouse died of ALS. He said, no. And so it is, it’s, it’s just a very, very different . journey. I mean, you say goodbye a long time. I mean, when she passed, when she took her last breath on the 9th of January, I did not shed a tear. I mean, I just thanked God.

I was like, ah, thank you. But she knew where she was going and so she journeyed it with great peace as well. Now, she didn’t want to leave this earth. I mean, there were things that, I mean, she always dreamed of being a grandmother and she never got to do that. She wanted to be around for our three kids and see them get married, which she didn’t get to see any of that.

If they ever get married, I don’t know if they’re listening. Hurry up, get married. I need some grandkids. But but she knew where she was going, so she handled it with such grace and peace and and really, Stephanie with a contentment to let go. You know, I think if Covid taught us anything…well, I don’t know if it taught us it exposed something.

It exposed the fact that everyone in this country, I won’t speak for other countries, but everyone in this country is scared to death of death, including those of us who call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ.

[00:18:19] Stephanie: Hmm.

[00:18:19] Dirk: I mean, terrified. I was just amazed at the fear and I’m thinking, what are you afraid of? I mean, we all have an end date.

That is one thing that is gonna happen to all of us. And if we believe that we are in eternity, how many of us remember our birth? Well, that was a fairly tramatic experience. I mean, if you’ve ever, you know, women go through it, it’s painful. Kids coming out, he’s screaming, she’s screaming, you know, but none of us remember that.

Well, that’s one seam in this journey of eternity. Well, why am I afraid of this one? I. It’s just a seam and I’m headed to absolute ecstasy. I mean, Wendy right now is at peace. I had somebody come up afterwards, after, you know, ’cause she journeyed this for a while, and people would come up and see me, Hey, how’s Wendy doing?

Haven’t seen you. And so after she passed, a guy I hadn’t seen in a while came up and he said, oh man, Dirk, it’s good to see you. How’s Wendy doing? And I wasn’t thinking, Stephanie, I just went, oh, she’s great. He said, really? I said, oh, better than you or I best she’s ever been. And he went, what? And I said, oh dude, she died. She passed January the ninth. And he went, oh, I didn’t know, but I mean, but I was being truthful. She’s great. She’s fantastic. And if we know where we’re going and we, we got work to do so do it.

[00:19:58] Stephanie: Dirk, I appreciate what you’re saying too because you’re not being This isn’t a false positivity. I know. ’cause we’ve had this conversation now. This is the second time we’ve really gotten to talk about this and I don’t ever sense a false positivity from you. I sense of sincerity. You had that chance to do that long goodbye, which I think that you worked through grief for sure.

But then it’s that perspective, like you said, of knowing that this isn’t the end. And as you pointed out, I think for people in the North American space or an American sense, there is that fear of death, but I, I think for a lot of us who have signed up to become missionaries, that is something we’ve looked in the face.

It doesn’t mean that we are braver or better, or we don’t ever get afraid of things. But I think for most people who sign up to do missions work, it’s kind of like somebody who signs up, I think, to join, the armed services. There are certain occupations. A nurse in Covid or a doctor in Covid, you look and you stare at in the face and you say, hey, there is number one. This is worth it. And as a Christian, there is a life beyond this and it gives you, a hope and it gives you Courage that you could not have otherwise, I don’t think. And so I really appreciate your perspective with that.

Now, Dirk, this is where you’re at now and, and you shared that you got to that point by the end of the journey. What was that like for you though earlier on in Wendy’s journey? What were some of the ways that you most struggled then maybe in your faith or in your family, or how that impacted your ministry work?

[00:21:28] Dirk: Oh yeah, you know. I think the one thing I learned through this, and, and I’ve had trials in my life, we all, we all do. If we live this life, we’re gonna have trials. I mean, like I said at the beginning, that’s why Jesus said, Hey, in this life, you’re gonna have struggles. But he didn’t stop there. He reminds us, Hey, I’ve overcome the world, so just trust me.

But I’ve always had a very active prayer life. And when I say that, I mean I have, I would describe my prayer life and I tell people, it’s kinda like the prayer life from fiddle on the roof. I just walk around talking to him. People think I’m talking to myself and I mean, I’ve had people say, you talking to somebody?

No, I’m having a private conversation. You’re intruding. Can you back up please? But I mean, we just talk and, and I’m, I’m very honest with God because he knows anyway. And so trust me, when the diagnosis happened God and I had some words. I mean, we had some serious conversations walking my a hundred pound German Shepherd for three miles or out in the, out in my backyard looking up and just, you know, screaming at him.

And, you know, because there were a lot, you have lots of questions, you know, and of course the number one question people want to ask. Which I never really did. I guess because I’d processed it, I, I buried my mom at 66. She had ovarian cancer and I was her caregiver through, through her end. I mean, I’ve had, I’ve had a lot of op, my, my dad, you know, passed at 81.

I was kind of there with him. So, I mean, I’ve buried a lot of people in my life. But I know that was just the earthly bodies that were buried. I escorted them on. To the next part of eternity. And so I know that God can handle it. And so I’m, I, the one question I never asked was why, you know, people would come up and they would, they would talk about Wendy and they’d say, oh, Wendy was such an upbeat person.

She was so positive. You know, why? Why would God, why, why, God, why? Wrong question. Why not? Why not Wendy? I mean, Why, why should we be exempt? But, but the opportunity, and Wendy knew this, she and I both knew it. So when she was diagnosed, we looked at each other and we knew, okay, this is a death sentence with ALS.

It’s not like there’s a cure. It’s not like cancer to where there’s a treatment coming up and, you know, there’s hope on, from this earthly perspective, there’s no hope of her living here on earth. So we looked at each other and said, okay, we got one shot at this. And either we believe what we say we believe or we don’t.

And so was a daily struggle. I will tell you, it was a daily struggle to wake up and, and I would, I would wake up every morning and just say, okay, God, you and me, I can’t do this by myself. There is no way I can do this. Because I’m, I don’t require a lot of sleep, but I mean, it was, I mean, I was up all night long.

I mean, I’m having to get up and work, and I’m having to run this ministry at the same time, and I’m gonna keep everything going. helped us out because Covid lockdowns happened, which required me to stay home. I couldn’t go out. So that was kind of an answer to prayer and where people I needed to go see face-to-face, they weren’t gonna see face-to-face.

And I could Zoom or I could FaceTime with ’em, you know, and they, they accepted that they, they wouldn’t want anything else. So it gave me the opportunity and the availability to be home with her and care for her because it was a 24 hour job to take care of her. I. Special foods and when she would eat, you know, having to grind it up and, you know, so she wouldn’t choke.

And so areas that I struggled like anybody would, I mean, I’m human and I got angry. You know, there was the, there was the disbelief, like, is this really happening? You know, what in the heck? You know but I never, ever felt the woe is me. ’cause I, I’m talking to an audience right now that guaranteed there are people who’s, who have buried kids, who have buried spouses, who have buried parents, who have, you know, dealt with all kinds of things.

So we all go through it. It’s not the, if it happens, it’s the win. And that’s the challenge is if I believe what I say I believe, Then my foundation is very different, and it doesn’t mean that I like it. And I go, Ooh, that was fun. Let’s do that again. But it does mean that I handle this in a different way and that I say, okay, this is life.

This is not home, but I have an opportunity to glorify God. And the way I’m gonna glorify God is I’m gonna take care of that woman right there, and I’m gonna make sure that she’s provided for, and she makes this transition with . What help I can provide as peacefully and easily as she can, and with as much grace and as much dignity and all of those things that, that go into that which we would want.

I mean, it’s the ultimate of love your neighbor as you would love yourself. You know, what would I want for me? So I’m gonna do that for her. But yeah, the struggles were time. I mean, God bless me. I’m, I’m one of those weird people that. . Well, and I, I say that I can’t say this anymore ’cause it’s changing Stephanie.

I used to be one of these people that only required about four or five hours of sleep. It’s kinda bizarre. After her passing, I’m now sleeping at least six, sometimes seven. First night I slept seven hours. I thought, what in the world am I sick? You know, something’s going on here. But you know, it’s And people that have gone through it, they know you go through all those stages of grief and you’re gonna go in and out of ’em, you know, multiple times.

But it’s as you process it. And I think what helps is recognizing that God’s got you. He’s carrying you through this. And I would encourage people not to have the woe is me. Why me? I mean, that’s just it. You know, to me we have to heal. I can help people through my scars. Okay? We hear that and we say that.

Okay, well, and I think that’s right, but think about what that means. That means the scar is healed up. It still shows that there’s a scar there, but it’s healed up. And I’ve used this analogy, you know, guys will be guys, you know, it’d be like, be like a bunch of guys being in the locker room and you know, they’re changing.

The guy sees a scar on a guy’s leg and. And everybody goes, Ooh, dude, where’d you get that? And he tells the story, you know, I got this, you know, such and such. Everybody’s like, oh, well then it starts to one-upmanship, you know, oh, well you gotta see this one, you know, and got, you know, he tells the story well as everybody goes through.

And then there’s a guy that in there that pulls his pant leg up and he’s got this oozing gangrenous nasty. Open sore and everybody’s like, oh my gosh, dude, what the heck? What, what happened? Well, and he tells a story. How long ago did that happen? About 15 years ago. I just keep picking at it to make sure, you know, I keep remembering it.

We would immediately rush him to the hospital and which we wouldn’t have to. ’cause he would’ve gone septic, you know, before then. And I mean, he’d have all kinds, but how many of us emotionally do that? I stay wounded. I stay wounded. I’m identified by my wound. One term I hate is widower. I, somebody goes, oh, you’re a widower.

No, I’m not. I’m a believer in Jesus. My wife has passed, but I’m not a widower. I’m not gonna be, I don’t wanna label on me that says, oh, you need to behave in a certain way. That culture says you need to behave. I’m gonna behave in the way that Jesus tells me to behave, and that is, I’m gonna worship him.

[00:29:14] Stephanie: Hmm.

[00:29:14] Dirk: Regardless of my earthly circumstances, I mean, that’s his will for my life. His will for my life is that I glorify him regardless of my earthly circumstances. And that’s what I’m gonna prayerfully strive to do. Now. Am I gonna do it perfectly? Oh, heck no. Am I gonna fail? Yep, I will. Am I gonna let him down?

Yep. But I’m gonna, I’m going to, Put my full weight down on him and keep going. But I think too often people like to be wounded and they love the attention that comes from that. And I get it. We all have wounds. I mean, we all have scars, but the only way we help each other is when that is healed up. Then I can say, yeah, me too.

been there. Let me tell, but let me tell you how to get out of that. Let me, let me tell you how to get from point A to point B and then from point B to point C. ’cause we all have to keep moving, but so many of us are still back at point A and we’re trying to tell somebody how to get to point C when we’re not there.

Like, well, how are you gonna tell somebody to get where you’re not? I mean, that doesn’t make any sense.

[00:30:15] Stephanie: We all wanna get to the point where we’re able to share our story so that they help somebody else. We want our pain to produce something. And I love that you mentioned earlier, Dirk, the way that you fought your battle the way that you walked through it.

And I think each one of us is called to walk through our battles and our struggles in a different way, in a unique way. So some of what you’re saying is gonna resonate with people who are listening, then there might be other people who they would resonate. With pieces of another person’s story, because for some of us, it’s a longer grieving process. For some of us, it’s more wrestling with God. We have a lot of our listeners who really press into faith and healing and miracles, and so they might feel led to press really strong into that as well. as in your story, way that you are led is to love and not to accept in an unhealthy way, but to accept that this was the journey that was leading you through. Not that He sent it, but he was giving you the grace through and he was giving you the grace to walk it out in a beautiful way so you could love Wendy through those last few years of her life, and I think it’s so important when we listen to each other’s stories too, to not judge each person’s journey and go, well, I think

[00:31:30] Dirk: Oh, absolutely.

[00:31:31] Stephanie: I think you’ve done it this way. Now each one of us have a responsibility to press into God and say, how are you leading me to walk through this?

Well, and there are things that we all can do well, as you mentioned, praying and pressing in and wrestling with God. And then there are different ways are unique that he asks us to walk through, and we have to figure that out. What that is for ourselves.

[00:31:53] Dirk: Absolutely. And everybody’s grief is different. Stephanie, I mean, you know, my wife had a four or five year journey. I got to say goodbye, man. I. Somebody talks to me about their, you know, they said he, they said goodbye to their wife in the morning and then she died.

[00:32:09] Stephanie: Yeah.

[00:32:09] Dirk: totally different.

[00:32:11] Stephanie: It is.

[00:32:11] Dirk: I, I don’t know that journey. I, I haven’t, I haven’t done that one. Bearing a child, I pray to God. I mean, I haven’t done that. I don’t, that’s a different journey, you know? So grief comes in lots of different shapes and sizes, and so therefore our journeys are gonna be different. But I think in all of it, we have to hang on to God and no question, and just, and humble ourselves and recognize I can’t do this on my own.

I can’t do this, ’cause if it’s up to me, I’m gonna fail. So, God, I’m giving this over to you. I am gonna look for your power in this and that will happen. I, I stopped people when people would come up to me and say, And Dirk I just wish there was more than I could do than just pray for you and Wendy and I go, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.

Stop right there. Strike that from your vocabulary. Don’t say, just pray, because I will tell you Stephanie, very mystically. We felt, I felt the power of those prayers and felt that power sustaining us. I mean, it, it carried us through. If I look back and people say, man, how did you do that? My answer is, I didn’t do it because I have no idea.

I mean, God did it. God carried me through. You know, I, Wendy said right off the bat when she was diagnosed, she said, okay, you know, and I know. Who’s won this war? The war’s won. So we cannot allow Satan to win this battle.

[00:33:49] Stephanie: Hmm.

[00:33:50] Dirk: I said, yep, I agree. She said, so your work with EEM cannot take a dip. It can’t change.

You have to keep on going. Well, I mean, I’m traveling like crazy at the time, and I said, when I can’t do that, I said, I’m gonna have to stay here and take care of you. There’s gonna come a time when, I mean you’re gonna need 24 . 24 hour care seven days a week. I said, I, I can’t do that. Well, I’d been in the business world and consulting.

I mean, I had a short list of people. I thought, all right, I’m gonna just call people and I’ll leave EEM and I’ll go back in business and I’ll consult from home and, and I’ll be able to care for her. And, and COVID hit and shut everything down and allowed me to stay home with her and do. Continue with EEM.

So again, yes, everybody’s journey is different and you know, we don’t judge, we should help. I mean,

if we do anything, those of us who have been through it need to reach out to people and say, first off, how you doing? How are you doing? Don’t forget to ask that. And then listen, just listen. Listen to their journey and help them move from A to B to C so that they don’t.

Stay in that wounded. I’m just, you know, ’cause when you stay there too long, I mean that doesn’t mean you’re not gonna come back and forth. There are gonna be weird things. And this way grief does, you can’t, there are weird things that happen to you. You see something that they wrote, you see their handwriting.

If it’s identifiable, you hear a song that you know meant something, you’re gonna get whisked back into grief. And the best thing I can tell people is sit in it. That’s what I told my kids. Just sit in it, don’t push it off. Don’t ignore it. It’s grief. Sit in it. Just just sit in it and let it en envelop you and then move through it.

But acknowledge it and talk to each other. I mean, we did that. I mean, it’s, it’s gotta be a open conversation. You gotta say, man, I had a rough day today. You know, such and such happened. And man, it just really was, was tough. And that’s been interesting. My rough days were during it. It was weird when she passed, it was like breath of fresh air.

I mean, I told people right away, oh, I’m way better now than I was when she was going through it. ’cause I, I’m helpless trying to help somebody that I can’t do anything now for my kids. It’s been different for them, you know? And again, so even though we all three, to your point, we all three went through the same sickness.

My journey and their journey is very different.––different, because she wasn’t my mom, she was my wife. She was their mom. It’s the only mom they’re ever gonna have. You’re not gonna have another mom. You know, that’s, that’s the mom that, you know, when you’ve had her for, you know, my daughter’s 31, my boys are 28.

You know, when you’ve had her that long. And, and she was a big personality too. So so their journey is different, but all I can do is love them and. Talk to ’em and help ’em. But yeah, they, they can’t judge my journey. I can’t judge their journey.

[00:36:55] Stephanie: You brought up this beautiful question earlier that I think is a question that we can all ask ourselves and how can I glorify God through this? And we all can glorify God in some common ways, and he’s calling us all to glorify him in some unique ways too. So how can I do the best with my life this situation to glorify God?

I mean, the journey that we’ve walked through for the past 21 years is having a child with special needs. That same thing you never expect that’s gonna happen. there have been so many interesting ways. I walked out in different, the journey in different ways, in different seasons of life, you know, pressed into certain ways and tried this and tried that.

And finally just settled in as I got older and said, Lord, How can I glorify you to your point? What is, what is the best way I can love her? Well, can live well. I can love you

[00:37:49] Dirk: Yes, yes

[00:37:51] Stephanie: That is a very personal journey of, of course, always in line with scripture, always in communication with God. But it does, it, it can even shift and change the journey can even look different with the same person.

[00:38:04] Dirk: Well, ’cause they change in your, in your situation. I mean, her needs are gonna change and her situation’s gonna change. So you’ve gotta adjust. You know, but I think that’s, but that’s it. How do I glorify God? How do I, how do I look different than the world? And, well, and you’re the first question, how do I love her?

How do I love her the way you would love her? God, I don’t, I don’t know how, I don’t, I don’t know how to do this. You gotta help me do this. And then, yeah. How do I glorify, how do I, how do I make people look and say, man, I want what she’s got. I mean, how are they doing this journey? Like that?

[00:38:43] Stephanie: And we’re looking to walk through it vulnerably and not pretend everything’s okay all the time. On the same token, not as a victim. I love what you said earlier, because it’s the same question I have said so many times and it’s that of why not? I say that same thing. I think sometimes those of us listening who who are Americans, we can get the sense of entitlement. When I was I remember when I was younger, I felt like my good behavior entitled me to just experience every good thing in life and no difficulties.

Even though scripture obvious about like, stuff’s happening.

[00:39:14] Dirk: That’s right.

[00:39:15] Stephanie: I mean, James makes it very clear. There is this sense of entitlement I think we can have within an American culture that other cultures do not have. And so I started to ask myself that many times, you know, why not I, all these things are happening left and right, and they have not happened to me.

And so I live from a place of gratefulness. Doesn’t mean it’s never hard, it doesn’t mean there difficult days. I’m thankful for all the things. I haven’t had to walk through and that I think some can sometimes take away some of the sting of really hard things that we do have to walk through in life.

And Dirk, what would you say…I know you’ve said a lot of things I know so far in this conversation, but what would be a few closing words that you would leave with missionaries who are dealing with some deep loss or grief right now?

[00:40:03] Dirk: Yeah. I would say lean into God. Acknowledge it. Don’t, don’t shove it away. Okay. I think that’s so many of us, we think, okay, if I’m, if I’m a believer, I have to act like everything’s wonderful and I gotta be joyful. I can be happy. And so when people say, you know, how you doing? You go, I’m great. They’re like, that’s weird.

How are you? Great. When people know what you’re going through, acknowledge it. I’m struggling. I’m struggling. Today’s a, a tough day, but I’m, but God’s sustaining me. So first thing is be honest. I mean, we have to be honest and real and, and humble ourselves. I think that, that maybe that comes the other way around.

I humble myself. Then I can be honest and real. I. And really talk to God. And like you said, ask him those questions. Ask him, how do I do this? God, I can’t do this on my own. How do I glorify you in this? He will answer those prayers. He will, when it’s about glorifying him and not glorifying me. Just sit back, he’s gonna answer those prayers and then look for those.

Believe. Believe that he will so look expectantly for those answers, whether it’s in people, whether it’s in resources, whether it’s in whatever may come, that will sustain you. But I mean, every day, and it’s, and this is just for all of us. I don’t care if you’re going through stuff. And I do this every, the first thing I do, I open my eyes in the morning.

I go, okay, God, you woke me up. I can’t do this on my own. Where are we going? Let’s do this together. So those would be my piece of, and stay in God’s word. Stay in his word. I mean, yes, in the darkest times of Psalms were fantastic. I mean, I read, I read through Psalms, I don’t know how many times, but just that

Sense of comfort and reminding and, and then it causes me to look back and see where God has sustained me in other things. So why is he gonna not do it now? Why is he gonna, he’s not gonna stop now. Now, does that mean this is fun and I enjoy this and it’s not painful? No. Again, I’m real, I’m gonna be real about this.

It’s not what I wanted. It’s not the journey that I ever saw happening. But you know what? I can look back. God is good. Oh man, is he good? The gifts and the blessings that came through that. And again, my story is different than anybody else’s story ’cause it’s my story.

It’s, it’s gonna be different.

So I can’t you know, I can’t speak into somebody else’s journey specifically, but that would be the overarching, you know, underlying, just the generic that, that we all have to do in our lives.

[00:42:43] Stephanie: Absolutely. And I would just add to that from missionaries to reach out for help. And I know for a lot of missionaries they don’t Realize that that help exists. You know, my, during my 10 years living overseas, I did not know that there are counselors who work specifically with missionaries. There are retreat places where you can go to for several weeks if you’re working through trauma.

[00:43:04] Dirk: yes.

[00:43:05] Stephanie: There are Christian, coaches who work with missionaries. There are so many organizations out there. their heart and their desire is to help missionaries be healthy and stay on the field. So for anybody listening, if you are walking through something like that and you need a resource, I would encourage you send us an email at care at Modern Day dot org. And we’re also always posting about resources. We have a weekly newsletter that goes out where we post resources to things like this as well. we want missionaries to be able to stay healthy and do what they do well. And sometimes, like with you and your conversation with Wendy, sometimes God gives you the grace to keep going. mIssionary needs to tap out for a little bit, take a break and invest into themselves when there’s a life shift.

It’s different for each person. Getting help, I think is a key piece as well. And figuring out again, what is the way that is God is calling you to glorify him and that might be taking care of yourself for a season or getting help for your kids or whatever that might be, look, look like. And then Dirk, I don’t, you said I could say this so I’m gonna bring it up. There is a a little hopeful, fun part of your story I think people might enjoy hearing. When I was asking you, what’s one thing the Lord is speaking to you right now, you said, well actually. There’s something fun, so I just wanna invite you to share a piece of that if you’d like to.

[00:44:27] Dirk: Yeah, you were funny. There’s a lot of people. They saw my Instagram as you did and you said, yeah. So tell me about this person on Instagram. Yeah, it’s, God is funny. He’s a funny guy. I had said, you know, this was one of the things that was interesting. Wendy had said to me about a year into her journey, Hey, listen, you need to promise me that you’re gonna get remarried.

And I said, no. I can’t make that promise. I’m not gonna make, I’m not gonna make that promise. And so that conversation went on for a while until finally I just told her, I said, listen, the reason I can’t is because that’s moving God out of the way. That’s me putting myself in God’s place. I’m gonna do this.

I’m gonna keep journeying with God every day. And if God provides a bright light on the road to Damascus experience for me and says, Hey, this person and her journey and story, and you and your journey and story are they can glorify me better together, then separately, then maybe I’ll listen. And that seemed to pacify her well.

So I did. I prayed and I prayed, but I had said, no, I’m not. I’m not gonna get in another relationship. And and I’ll tell you, no dating apps, nothing like that. And God did. It was a bright light on the road to Damascus experience. And I reconnected with a beautiful, beautiful woman inside and out.

She is just deeply, deeply spiritual and fun. I mean, just loves life. She’s had challenges in her life too and has been open and honest about that. Not pushing it back, but she’s got a smile on her face and is a half full glass of water because she knows the Lord that she serves. And so yeah. So we don’t know where things are going, but we are enjoying where we are.

And we did, you saw pictures. I was in Europe for work and then tacked on, which is not characteristic of me, but tacked on some vacation time. And she joined me and we spent six days or so in the Cotswolds and then three days in London. And, and it is I tell people she is the most incredible, beautiful, unexpected gift from God that I never saw coming and Anne would’ve said no to. And the interesting thing is she said the same thing. In fact, and I shared this with you, the funny thing that I tell people is when I first asked her, we were texting and I just hate texting and got tired of it. And I just said to her, I said, I want to call you, let me call you.

And I got one text back. Nope, because she said, because she, she said, we’re not doing that. We’re not, we’re just friends. We’re just friends. I said, well, friends talk on the phone. But we both laugh about that now. So we don’t know where we’re, we’re praying about it. And she’s she’s a beautiful lady and, and just a, an absolute, she, she makes me better.

Which and, and I tell people the most important thing, we just really, really like each other. I mean, we are really good friends. She’s brilliant, and and she does, she, she makes me better. So yeah, I’m, I’m, prayerful.

[00:47:32] Stephanie:  That’s beautiful. I think when you’re in the midst of those really difficult seasons, it can be hard to even imagine a bright light on the other side or hope, and yet we serve this unexpected, surprising God. I think sometimes the battles and journeys we go through can be way longer than we ever could have imagined. But then God’s surprises can also be just as unexpected and wonderful as well.

[00:47:55] Dirk: Yeah,

[00:47:55] Stephanie: so it’s been, it’s been fun seeing how God is doing a new thing in your life as well. So I love ending with that note of hope. And again, everybody’s hope and surprise looks a little different and how

[00:48:06] Dirk: that’s right. That’s right.

[00:48:08] Stephanie: But yeah, just so happy for you in your life right now.

[00:48:13] Dirk: Sometimes how you don’t expect it, you know, and maybe the very way you think it’s not gonna be this.

[00:48:18] Stephanie: How many times do we say to God, okay, anything but this! I’m not doing this. And he’s like,

[00:48:22] Dirk: yeah, that’s exactly right. He is like, really? You think? And then this amazing person comes along to where you’re like, and I’ve said this. I’m at the point now where, I mean, not that it’s, not that it’s a challenge ’cause I just, I want to be with her, but it almost feels like if I weren’t, I’d be disobedient.

With how obvious this is. God, you know, if your listeners say, I mean, I, if I had the time to share the whole story, it’s it’s, it’s fun, but yeah.

[00:48:47] Stephanie: Well, and I got to hear it beforehand and it is a really fun story. I mean, God made it about as clear as he possibly could the two of you. So I, love that. Dirk, thanks so much for coming on today and just sharing a bit of your story. I really feel that this will encourage people who have Who have walked through or who are walking through some difficult things today, give ’em some hope, give them some tools, some things that they can put into practice in their life.

And then just more than anything, inspire them that remind ’em that we serve a good God who’s looking out for us

[00:49:16] Dirk: yes we do.

[00:49:17] Stephanie: who never leaves us or forsakes us. So, thanks,

[00:49:19] Dirk: Amen. Amen. Thank you, Stephanie. Thanks for the time.

[00:49:23] Stephanie: And, and for everybody else, we just look forward to seeing you on our next episode.