For a full year after her husband committed suicide, Lori Apon didn't answer the phone. "I could not physically handle telling people over and over again," recalls Apon, who lives in Atlanta with her eight children. As if the sheer weight of the family's grief was not enough, there was an added burden -- her husband, Bobby Apon, was a founding member of contemporary Christian music group NewSong, and people were curious about the tragedy. Apon, BS '82, knew she needed to find some way to tell their story and put an end to rumors and speculation.
"I knew the truth had to come from me," she says. Within two months of her husband's death in May 1999, Apon began sending e-mails to friends and family -- sharing how she and the children, who at the time were between the ages of 1 and 11, were surviving.
"It was very therapeutic to me. I was almost driven to write the story," says Apon, who often stayed up late at night to journal her feelings, the family's highs and lows, as well as how God was providing for them. Soon, people were seeking her permission to forward her e-mails to others who were hurting. At one point, more than 300 people were receiving her letters; now, four years later, she still is e-mailing to more than 100 of them. "They want to know how I did it," she says. "How did I walk, day by day?" Although she'd always considered herself a private person, Apon knew she needed to be honest about her husband's struggles with pornography, a contributing factor in his suicide, so that her story could help other families. With such a large family of her own, however, she says her first ministry is to her children, although she wants to encourage women who are suffering through similar losses. "I know that I'm not the only one walking down this road. Bobby wasn't the only one who struggled," she says. "I know there are so many women out there hurting."
For now, she takes joy in raising her children -- Abigail, 15; Kayla, 13; Brandon, 12; Christie, 10; Isaac, 9; Evan, 8; Amy, 6; and Micah, 5. "I take my job as a mother very seriously," she says. "But, then again, it's all I've ever wanted to do." With her husband gone, she has learned to direct the children to a heavenly father rather than an earthly one. "It is amazing to see how God fathers the fatherless," she says.
In addition, she's assembled a group of adults who can serve as mentors to her children and act as a sounding board for her when she needs advice. "Being a widow, you don't realize how much you'll bounce ideas off your husband, just in passing," Apon says. "That's been a real adjustment for me."
One person she turns to is Dr. Kim Scott, Baylor director of campus recreation, a friend she made while they were both undergraduates at the University. "We can float though life, and most of us don't depend on God," Dr. Scott says. "That's the difference in Lori, because she depends on God, and it's a daily dependence."
Dr. Scott says Apon puts an incredible amount of effort into raising her children. "She takes time to invest in the relationships," she says. "I've watched her older kids grow in maturity, but she has taken great pains to make sure they're not skipping their childhood."
Granted, managing a household of eight children as a single parent is no easy task, but Apon says they work at being organized. Even before her husband died, she was homeschooling the children, which she continues to do. She makes sure the family has three home-cooked meals together every day, which the older children now help prepare. And all the children have chores, which range from setting the table to mowing the grass. "We have to be a team. That's the only way it works," she says.
They take outings in their 15-passenger van, an anonymous gift -- one of many miracles, she says -- they received when the family's old van broke down after Bobby's death. During baseball season, everyone piles into the van to watch Brandon, the oldest boy, play in a church league. So far, it's the only extracurricular activity they have time for, Apon says.
She has learned to make time for herself -- in the morning and at night. "I had to realize my limitations," she says. "You've got to have a piece of time in the day that you can call your own."
Apon says she's often asked how she can have such peace about the path her life has taken. "People will tend to put us on a pedestal," she says. "We're just walking and doing what God tells us to do next, and we want him to be the one who's glorified."
This desire to seek God, Dr. Scott says, is a passion Apon had even in college. "For her, every single thing revolves around who Jesus Christ is and making him known. That part hasn't changed at all. It's just developed in maturity through hardship and suffering," she says. "And I don't even think she'd admit that she's suffered. This is just what she's been called to do." Apon says she's had her numerous e-mails printed and bound for possible future publication and also is considering writing other books about her experience. One she is working on shares stories of people who are fatherless -- due to death, divorce or separation -- and how they experience God's presence and support. Her oldest daughters, Abigail and Kayla, are following in their mother's footsteps by writing books and songs for children who have lost their fathers.
"My heart is to help people redirect their focus away from the natural and on to the supernatural," Apon says. "You really do have a choice. You can stay focused on what you don't have and what you'll never have again or surrender to the fact that God is determined to set the stage for the impossible to be done -- for your good and his glory.
"There are so many days I'll just say, 'I'm holding on, God. I'm trusting you. But this still doesn't make sense to me,'" she says. "And I hear him whisper back, 'Just watch. It's going to be so much brighter than the darkness.'"