About Us

This blog began as as an account of Andrea's and my journey though breast cancer and her eventual death. My intention was to chronicle our experiences from sickness to physical healing but God revealed His plan was beyond the mere physical. I have continued to experience healing in my life and now God has opened a door to a new chapter in my life. This journey has not ended but has transformed into a new normal and the hope of a new beginning

My monthly updates, which grew into this blog, reached an Air Force pilot's wife in Jan 2007 who had lost her husband two months prior. Her name is Ginger and her husband's name was Troy. Through this tragic bond developed a friendship. And now, through marriage, God has merged all of our journies to healing. This blog is a compilation of these four lives; two sadly taken and two left behind. In this common grief God has given Ginger and I a desire to journal our experiences as therapy for our pain and a source of encouragement to others who face life's most enormous challenges

Andrea was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in Aug 2003 while we were stationed in Anchorage Alaska. After 6 months of chemo and radiation we moved to Washington DC. In June 2005 we moved again to Seymour Johnson AFB in NC. Two weeks later Andrea was told the pain in her hip was breast cancer that had spread to her bones. Two weeks later we were told the cancer was also in her liver and lungs. July 5th 2005 Andrea began chemo treatment. On Dec 17th 2007 Andrea lost her fight with cancer but won her place in eternity.

Troy was a loving father of 5 children, and like Andrea was a
faithful servant of Christ. Troy was an F-16 pilot who volunteered to serve in Iraq. He deployed in Sept 2006. One day during his tour there he was tasked to provide close air support to a special operations unit who had come under overwhelming enemy fire. In an attempt to limit civilian causalities Troy made two low level passes employing the gun from his F-16. After a successful first pass Troy attempted a second pass to ensure the safety of the American soldiers. It was during this pass that Troy's F-16 impacted the ground. On Nov 27th 2006, Troy lost the fight in Iraq and that day won his place in eternity.

This blog is about our experiences, what God has taught us and most importantly about God's faithfulness. It is about dealing with life with cancer and life after cancer. It is about dealing with the sudden tragic loss of a spouse. It is about death and life and the deep grieving and growing process we are going through. It is about our victories and our struggles. But always it is about God's unfailing love for us.

We write this blog to tell you what the Lord has placed on our hearts or simply our feelings at the moment in hopes that this helps you understand what we are going through as well as give you encouragement as you face trials in your own life.

Some writings will be from Jim, some will be from Ginger, some from both of us. Some are writings that express Andrea and Troy's faith and impact during their short lives on this earth.

With thankfulness to Christ,
Jim and Ginger

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Being a Dad

I'm on a flight back to San Antonio.  What was supposed to be a quick flight home has turned into a 8 hour ordeal due to weather.  The pain of flying to work is one I choose to bear so I accept the long days and hectic schedules. What I miss most is time away for the kids.  Having raised two older boys I know how quick time goes by before they are leaving for college.  The days when they would want to sit in your lap while you read them a story, or you would play silly games on the floor are gone way to fast. I remember when Nic was young he Andrea and I would go to the front yard and play a game Nic made up.  We would each take turns pretending to be an animal and the others would try to guess what you were.  If I close my eyes I can still see Andrea on all fours arching her back, and Nic and I could not figure our what she was...a cat of course.  We would laugh and think our neighbors must think we are the "crazy Ravellas." I know as kids grow there are great memories at every age but I miss those young and innocent days.  

When I met Ginger Nic was 22 and Anthony was 15.  Andrea and I were close to being empty nesters and thinking about where we would live when we retired.  Ginger gave me a do over, a chance to be a dad to five more wonderful kids.  I quickly learned that being a dad to girls was much different then parenting boys. A son gives you pride to raise a young man.  You automatically like the same things, sports, cars, planes etc.  But I found myself in uncharted waters with the girls.  It hit me right away when I was introduced to the basket of naked Barbie’s.  I have yet to understand why they all end up naked but they do and they buy more and they all end up looking the same, naked in the basket.  Andrea kept a box of her Barbies from when she was little and about a year ago I got it out to show the girls, of course when I opened it up they were all naked:) One of the funniest memories was when the girls showed me their naked Jesus doll.  I guess there is no discrimination amongst the dolls, naked you came and naked you shall be...in the basket.  

I was baptized by fire when the day after we got married Ginger, her mom, Isabella, Aspen, Annalise and I hitched the Haul to the Suburban and headed to San Antonio.  5 girls and me.  I loved every minute. well right up to the point the twins got explosive diaherria at Coppers BBQ in Junction Texas.  We still laugh about that day.  I dropped off the girls and pulled into the gas station next to Coopers.  There was no hint of trouble; everyone was smiling as they headed to get a snack.  A mere 10 minutes later I pulled up and was greeted by the sight of Ginger on the outside playground holding one twin, totally naked and hollering "Bring clothes and diapers!"  My military training kicked in as I went to the U-Haul and start digging for clothes amongst the boxes of keep sakes all the while trying to figure out what happened.  I look up to see the other twin also naked and Ginger's mom shuttling cups of water fro the bathroom to Ginger.  It was go time.

There have been many great memories with the kids, each of them have enriched my life just as Nic and Anthony did.  But last week is a day I will never forget.  Ginger and I took the girls to see Cinderella and I was sitting between the twins.  As Cinderella was transformed into her beautiful blue dress the twins were literarily sitting on the edge of there seats, mouth open in awe as Cinderella twirled in her dress and her prince danced with her at the ball.  In that moment I saw how different girls are from boys.  In their minds they were dreaming of being Cinderella, the center of attention at the ball, swept away by their prince.  It's true whiles little boys are dreaming of driving a race car a little girl is planning and imagining her wedding day.  The second memory I had this past month was with Boston.  After years of dedication to soccer, countless hours of practice Boston was requited and verbally committed to play soccer at SMU.  We had visited three schools and that was exciting but to hear Boston tell the SMU coach he wanted to commit to SMU was a day we all dreamed of.   But truthfully none of us dreamt this big.  But God does exceed our hopes and dreams.  

In both cases I felt the joy and pride of being a dad. But as I often find myself doing I thought of Troy.  These were to be his days, his moments to see, and share with his kids.  It's a strange thing to raise another man's kids.  And I know this happens all the time in our society.  But Troy did not leave and Ginger did not split from Troy, unfulfilled and looking for someone better.  Troy was loved but taken.  When someone dies they leave a void that at times no one wants to fill, so it makes it a little different to step in a be a dad.  I know Boston wanted Troy to be there when he committed to SMU.  It does not mean he did not want me there, just that he missed Troy. There is always a void in the kids hearts, all seven, as they go through life and wish Andre or Troy could be there. 

I have never wanted the kids or Ginger to feel Troy had to be removed from their life to allow me to come in.  And Ginger never wanted that for me and my boys.  We celebrate Troy and Andrea on a near daily basis in our home.  We say they made us who we are and neither of them chose to leave us.  But for me it was different because Troy's kids were so young, 9 years to 2 years when we met.  Ginger and Troy were not about to be empty nesters, that was the furthest thing in their mind.  They were still into bottles and diapers.  So for me I was going to play a very active role in raising the kids and in doing so I was going to experience the raising of the kids.  This meant I would be there for most of life accomplishments.   In those moments I remember that I am standing in for Troy.  

I look forward to meeting Troy and the thought of that day drives me everyday.  It bears a weight of responsibility that I feel on my shoulders.  These are his kids, his creation, his most prized possession that he dreamt of watching go on a first date, cheer them on in their first game, the thrill of their first time to drive, but mostly the love and adoration they give.  To hear the girls say "I love you Daddy" or watching the boys play together on the High School soccer team, these are the moments I cherish. Moments like watching the girls dream of their Price Charming, knowing out there is a boy who will become there all in all.  I pray he is being raised to love the Lord and treat a women with respect.  I pray he loves them more then I do, he would love them as I loved Andre and Ginger.  

I never think I replaced Troy because that is impossible. You can't replace someone as if they never existed.  But you can fill in for them.  Like a pinch runner in baseball, the batter still got the hit and made it to first, then the pinch runner comes in to run the bases. Although the pinch runner scores the run he knows he would have never had the chance had the batter not first hit the ball.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


I few weeks ago I found some emails exchanged between Andrea and I and Ginger.  This one was a response to an email Ginger about her pain and struggle with God after losing Troy.  After reading Ginger's Facebook post about depression it reminded me of the emails she wrote Andrea and I.  Truthfully, those emails were hard to read and we were at a loss at what to say.  

If you are in a dark place today, I pray God will use these words to remind of the depth of His love God for you.  

----- Original Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, March 14, 2007 7:30 AM
Subject: Why?

I saw that report about the propaganda and Andrea and I were praying that you would not hear about it.  Of course we are lifting your name before our Father and Creator. I'm at work and decided to write you what has been on my heart this past week.
I'm not sure how to respond.  First, I don't know if you are swamped with e-mails when your time is so precious.  Second, I don't want to assume or come across as telling you what to do in a time and situation that very few have had to deal with.  Third, I worry that my written words will come across without the feeling and prayerful spirit in which I write them. Sometimes it is hard to have a conversation via e-mail because you loose the expression and feeling.
My understanding of what you are struggling with is the "why".  Why did all this happen, why are you having to deal with losing your husband, why are you alone, and why are your children without their father.  In that I can relate a little although not to your degree. Please know my comments are from my heart and what I felt the Lord put on my heart last night.  As Andrea and I did a bible study I just thought of you and your situation as we read and it related to what I had sent you about faith previously.  I know you asked me to send that again and I will find that e-mail and resend it to you.  First let me explain how I feel, not to compare but to share how I felt the Lord helps me everyday. 
I too ask "why".  I wish Andrea and I did not have to go through this trial.  Our struggle is different in that it is slow and drawn out, there is no suddenness to cancer; it is a slow killer that you battle everyday.  I think of it has a relentless pursuer who hounds us everyday, always there, some days in the background of you mind some days consuming your every thought all over you. As much as I wish I can’t go back to Aug 2003, to the day before we heard the news, to just have my life back.  There are days I long to have a day were we do not think about cancer.  I see friends who help us so much yet at the end of the day their worries are just life's normal worries.  And there are days I wish I had just those worries.
But at the end of the day it is Andrea and I and we have to live with cancer.  To get through days of pain and extreme fatigue, to see Andrea without hair is a constant reminder she is a cancer patient.  At times it is hard for me to believe she has cancer.   It just seems crazy. Andrea is the last person who should have cancer, no family history, always in good health, ate well, a strong believer who served the Lord.  How can this happen to her, how can this happen to us?  But life's trials are not reserved for the unbeliever; strength of faith does not determine life's difficulty or ease. And truthfully that can be hard at times.
Why us God?  As if we are above such difficulty.  But God has helped us everyday, even the days were we prayed and prayed for healing, even days when we just prayed for relief from constant vomiting only to hear silence. I remember praying for Andrea to have relief from vomiting, I was holding her hand believing with all my faith knowing God could stop this only to have Andrea vomit while I was praying.  I have spent countless nights praying for the day she is healed; only to see another CT scan showing the cancer remains. I can relate to wondering why.
Ginger, I had to first sit down and think about the God I believed in, was he all he said he was?  Was he my creator?  Was he my savior?  Did he love me?  Did Christ die for me?  If He loved me enough to die for me as a sinner He loved me now.  His love did not wane and I had to know that was the truth, despite what I was seeing or hearing.  God was God and He was in control. Somehow this all made sense and I had to believe even if I never understood how.  For me the attack was on our faith.  Satan was not after Andrea's life but our faith, our witness, our effectiveness as believers.  I think Satan will do all he can to keep us from coming to salvation in Christ, but if he can't then he will do all he can to stop us from being effective witnesses to a lost world so others will not believe.  So we are never immune from his attacks nor are we ever immune from the effects of living in a falling world.  
But we are also never separated from our Father, who sealed us the day we believed and wrote our names on the palm of his hand.  This was the truth I keep coming back to when I don't understand life, or wonder why?
I have had to just feed on the bible and God's word and truth.  So that what I know about God is the reality I live by.   Not by what I see but by my faith.  Trust me this is not a one-time decision and I got it.  It is an ongoing battle where at times I feel I'm walking on a beam just a fraction away from falling into despair.  And there are days I have given into the despair and confusion of what is happening to us.  It is very easy for me to fall into despair and self pity, it as if that takes no effort at all, but to believe and have faith requires effort, effort to read and study His word.  On those days I find the friends around us and the prayers of others lift me up and let me know we do serve a risen God and He is everything He says He is.  He is so great that I can never comprehend Him and His love.  So when I don't understand I have to just trust and fall back on what I know of my God and his character, and know He loves me more then I know and in fact He loves Andrea more then I do.
The study Andrea and I were doing was Beth Moore's "Believing God". Yesterday's lesson was about how we react in life to what we remember, and how we need to remember the God we serve. Here is part of the lesson:
"Anytime we agree to see God accurately in any portrait, all else dwarfs-bow down in His presence.  The difficulty soon becomes little more then a short measuring stick by which we estimate the size of a huge God."
This is not to belittle your trial, which is far beyond what I have had to deal with, but it is nor bigger then the God you serve.  And praise God Troy was a believer who now is with the Father we serve by faith.
Ginger, this pain will not go away in an instant and the daily routine of life goes on seemingly without feeling so we pray for your faith, and your witness to a lost world.  Neither of us would have asked for the events in our lives but they are ours, and ours to use for God's glory. Maybe one day we will see how God used our lives to help others maybe we will not see until we stand before Him, but He will use all things for His good and His glory.  You do not struggle alone, the Body of Christ, all your friends and believers are with you and your Father is beside you, even in the silence and darkness of the toughest days.  He cannot be otherwise.  
There were days when all I can do is hang on by my fingernails, to the simplest truth that God loves me just to make it through the night or the next hour.  To help Andrea and I have made note cards of scriptures that remind us of the God we serve and His love for us and when it is hard we flip through them and remind ourselves of the God we serve.
I'm sorry for the long email.  I know your time is precious and I thank you for allowing me to share this journey with you.  You are in our prayers.  That seems too simple of a statement, and does not capture the bond we have as believers.  Please know that Andrea and I are with you in spirit and we are praying for your strength. I tell Andrea sometimes I just need strength to make it to the next minute knowing the minutes will turn into hours and the hours into days and the days into weeks and the weeks into months and the months into years. That is my prayer for you in these difficult days, little by little you will feel the presence the love and the strength of your Creator who will sustain you. And he will because He says He will, and that is the truth and reality of this life despite what we see.  Look for Him in the smallest of victories you have and the blessing you receive.  It maybe a thought or just a feeling.  Write them down in a book to read and remind yourself of God faithfulness, you might be surprised how often He is there.  You have the faith Ginger, and you serve a mighty God!

In Christ, Jim

Below is Ginger's response. 
Jim (Andrea too),

I am touched by the time you always take to help me, a total stranger in this painful journey.  I am hanging on by my fingernails.  What an accurate description.  I have asked the basic questions again, as if I am 9 years old again and just trying to establish my faith.  I feel shaken, rattled to the core.  My faith has taken a mighty beating.  I love the Lord but am constantly angry with Him.  That is exhausting in itself.   I have increasing difficulty at church for several reasons; we were right in the middle of serving the Lord in our growing church, busy, involved, not ever contemplating sitting on the sidelines.  I am on the sidelines.  I watch the worship, the couples that are our friends sitting side by side reading the Word together from a shared Bible, I see others joy.  I covet what I lost.
I long to have their daily struggles which they think are so big just like I used to but now know are vapors of whining from spoiled Believers.  I don't want to have false worship.  How can I sing praise songs to Him when I am so baffled at how He led me to the place I now dwell?.  A very dark, lonely and confused place.  I don't know if I am so physically exhausted with raising 5 small children (still with help-I cannot fathom without) that I am not thinking clearly.  How can He expect me to raise them like He wants, like Troy and I wanted with just me?  The math does not add up.  Troy worked a lot but when he was home he helped so much.  I had someone to hand them off to.
Troy and I fell into bed totally exhausted every night.  But we knew it was for a season.  They would grow and we would look back on all of it and laugh. But we were doing it together. We were a family.  We never intended on having five children.  We certainly never intended on ME having five children alone.  I put them to bed and then I cry and ache and grieve and feel more lost and lonely than you can imagine. This was our time to unwind, talk about the day, talk about our future.
Is this darkness from Satan or just the darkness that accompanies earth-shattering loss?  I have written down hundreds of scriptures and put them in flip cards too. They help a little.  I see the promises but those promises might not be for me.  Just like I never thought being a widow at 36 with five children was not for me.  He might just choose not to fulfill this one or that one in my life.  I have hope in my eternity.  I have failing hope in my life on earth.  I can't see the sunshine. I try to sleep but am still unable without taking medication.  Just one nap on my own without help.  I am not asking much now, am I? The electrician today noticed Troy's "hero" shadow box on the wall. He asked if that was my husband. Then a light came on and he said he now recognized me from television.  How did I become a celebrity of a tragedy? I have emails from around the world.  My loss is so great that it stretches around the world and back to me again. I hear familiarity in your view of minutes to hours, hours to days, days to months, months to years...It envelops me in its enormity.  I try to pray for and focus on the next half of the day I live in.  But that is virtually impossible to do too. I hear the echo of my former life in my house, my head, and my heart.  It is so loud.  It drowns out much else.
I wonder all the time what Troy would tell me right now.  What would he be doing if it were him sitting at the computer right now crying and typing and searching for hope.  I cannot bare the thought of it. I believe in the basics of my faith in the Lord. Those areas are black and white.  I know He loves me, whether I feel it or not.  I know He is able to do anything.  But He was able to do anything that day and did not save Troy.
So He is able but what is He willing to do?  Do you feel that He having our days numbered meant He would have taken Troy to be with Him on that day no matter what, no war, no Iraq, no flying...anywhere in the world Troy would have been, would he have taken Him that day?  We prayed for wisdom in Troy going over there.  Did we mishear? I know we are in different places, Jim.  You in the long suffering and me in the sudden shock... But God is God in either situation.  Thank you for listening to my ravings and my ranting’s and my sufferings.  I do not forget you two are suffering too.  Please know I will pray for Andrea and for you as I close my eyes tonight.

Thank you my brother in Christ,

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


I am pretty sure I never actually finished a blog in the year 2013.  I started this one last week with the hopes of at least getting one in before the New Year was upon us.  But like most things in life, good intentions must count for something.  So I guess instead of being the only blog of 2013, it is the first blog of 2014!  Happy New Year!  Jim and I have been working pretty hard on our book instead of the blog lately.  Writing blogs are fairly easy and cathartic.  However, writing an entire book is a serious labor of love. Blogs do seem to morph into chapters so maybe this one will make the cut.  Regardless I did not want to neglect jotting down some signigicant moments the Lord has been merciful enough to let me witness over the last month of 2013.  Like the wise men, I have been given three gifts during the season of our Lord’s birth.

As you know from reading past blogs, we have prayed continually for the 7 years since Troy was killed and taken by Iraqi insurgents that his body would one day be recovered.  For the first couple of months, I felt that any moment I might get another knock at my front door with news of his recovery.  As the months turned into years, I never gave up hope.  When the war in Iraq ended and our troops were all sent home, the hopeful light grew dim as I weighed the odds and knew without American military access the search woud be far more difficult.  Then in the early winter of 2012 we learned the Air Force might not ever resume recovery missions because in the “accounting” system of the Department of Missing Persons, Troy was considered body accounted for (due to the small of amount of his undeniable fatal DNA found at the crash site).  So his family and I would enter another battle, one to give him the status of continued recovery efforts.  The battle was swift but victorious.  We won.  But I knew it was ultimately the Lord that bestowed us the favor, because He knew how much it mattered to us.  For the almost two years since that action was overturned, I have remained hopeful but realistically always knew that finding Troy’s remains was akin to finding a needle in a haystack.  A grain of sand at the beach. 

But our God specializes in the minutest of details, the one in a billion, the David in a room full of Goliaths.  By the outpouring of His mercy, on the morning of November 22,, 2013, just one month ago and almost 7 years to the day of his November 27th crash, we received notification that a small portion of Troy’s remains had been found in Iraq and turned into the U.S. embassy via the country of Jordan.  As I sat and listened to what was being told to me, I felt myself struggling to listen because I could scarcely take it all in.  Even if it was only some small foot bones, it was nothing short of a miracle to have them returned to us.  The Lord held out His mighty hand to me, opened His palm and there I saw that glistening grain of sand.  My first gift.

Because of classified details I was not told the journey those tiny bones made to get from where they were to the U.S.  But I have no doubt there were a million miracles along the way - God working IN and THROUGH people to achieve majestic moments.  As I wept, all I could feel was thankfulness.  I knew in my heart God always heard my prayers for Troy to be found but what a gift to see it in the physical world, too.
There is so much that could be said about the inner workings of the Holy Spirit in mine and the kids lives that has happened over the last 7 years.  Our book will hopefully tell a more complete story of all God has done.

My focus has always been that because I know Biblical truths about death and eternity I must remember that Troy, all of who he was – his very soul- went to be with Jesus the moment his plane hit the ground and he instantly died.  I have always explained it to the kids that what makes up who we are is on the inside, the heart and soul.  Which as a Christian, belongs to and is the indwelling of Christ.  Therefore, what is left is just what we see on the outside, the shell, the covering, what makes up the body.  And bodies weren’t made to last or withstand death but souls live forever.  And souls that belong to Jesus live forever in heaven.  Maybe that is oversimplifying but I don’t think so.

So, as I have striven to avoid the snares of tortured entanglement which can so easily come if my focus shifts to the fact that Troy’s casket has lied virtually empty, because his body was taken by insurgents and only a small amount of DNA was found in his jet.  Seven years ago, we buried less than 1% of him.  It can drive me crazy and make me angry and want to throw things when I think of the injustices that happened to him after he died.  But, if I go down that road then Satan wins.  And by the grace of God, I WiLL NOT let Satan win.  I have always said I will fight for him to be found.  I will never stop praying for it.  Hoping for it.  Longing for it.  But that I still must trust the Lord and accept whatever His will was, regardless if that meant we got him back or not.

I can’t even begin to explain what washed over me as the Mortuary Affairs officer proceeded to describe to me what was recently found.  Not just foot bones but toe bones.  And not just toe bones but the bones underneath the toenails.  Seven years prior the only bone fragments found were of Troy’s skull.  Now, let me stop to say I am not morbidly giving details to keep you intrigued and certainly would never share anything private that would distract from God’s message.  I am giving you details because the Lord’s ways are magnificient and so extremely personal that I want you to be encouraged in your own journey.  We serve a God who knows the numbers of hair of your head, keeps your tears in a bottle and has your name written on the palm of His hand.  But back to our story, upon close examination, those skull fragments that were left behind back in 2006 were from the very top of his skull.  Just over a month ago, we were informed more were found.  Foot bones, specifically toenail bones.  I saw clearly what the Lord had given us with this tiny percentage of bones; the top of Troy’s head and the tip of his foot.  I began to quietly cry over the phone as the Mortuary Affairs officer soaked in what he had just told me.  I then gathered myself and told him thank you and that the Lord had just given me such a gift.  The spiritual significance of what was left behind.  That God always had Troy, from the top of his head to the tip of his toes.  He had never forsaken him.  He had never forsaken me.  He reminded me not to worry that He is leaving something unattended, that He loves me and He is indeed the blessed Controller.  My second gift.

Jim and I met for the first time on Christmas Day 2007.  As I have mentioned before, we didn’t intend to meet ON Christmas Day, it just happened that way.  But it makes us smile deep down because without even realizing it, we were given the most incredible gift that year; a chance at a new life.  Through the years, Jim and I have taken turns being one another’s rock to stand on, a place to land in times of deep sorrowful grief.  There have miraculously been only a couple handfuls of times that we were both hurting so much that we couldn’t be there for one another.  But even in those times, the Lord sustained us. 

Jim, being a compassionate man and fighter pilot himself, has always grieved with us over Troy’s crash, the circumstances around it and the hole that was left behind in our lives.  He understood what Troy was doing on his mission that day, why he was doing it and suddenly found himself taking care of Troy’s wife and children.  When Jim first mentioned marriage to me, I told him, “Don’t marry me because you feel sorry for me.  Marry me because you love me.”  He said he was marrying me not only because he loved me but because that is what God called him to do.  Sometimes I joked that that made me feel like I was a third-world mission calling and that didn’t sound very romantic.  But, actually, it was the ultimate romance.  God loving all of us enough to send His only Son into this harsh and desperate world.  Jesus loving all of us enough to die a merciless and tortured death to save us from ourselves.  Me loving Jesus enough to trust that that same love for me on the Cross hadn’t stopped the day my earthly world did.  Jim loving the Lord enough to trust Him even though Andrea’s life ended far too soon.  Jim trusting the Lord to equip him to father not only his two boys but five new children he had never met and love another man’s wife til death do us both part.  And, then me, rejoicing that God would send us another man to step in and “take the stick” over from Troy and continue to keep us on course as a family.  I have a wall plaque that reads “Every Love Story is Beautiful, Ours is My Favorite”.  True words.

Over the years I have watched Jim honor Troy many many times over.  Whether it be in how much he continues to seek ways to fill our home and the kids hearts with the knowledge of who their Dad in heaven was.  To how he has supported the many tributes across this nation to Troy.  To supporting me as I travel and speak for the Folds of Honor Foundation so our family can help other fallen families, etc.  Jim often says he knows Troy so well without ever having met him.  I feel the same way about Andrea.  And I think in part it is because we have both come from such similar places; loving and losing someone til it hurts.  The same void, though one where the manner of death was different but the loss was equal.  And also, I think it is because we both strive to know really who each others’ spouses were.  By knowing Troy better, Jim understands me more.  And vice versa.

Since I met Jim, every time he hears the National Anthem played he has prayed for Troy’s remains to be found and brought back to us.  When he was active duty, that happened everyday at 5:00 pm on loudspeakers broadcast all of the bases where he was stationed.  So, as you can imagine, as I was told the news of Troy’s partial recovery, his heart was overwhelmed as well.  As soon as the tears stopped flowing and we walked out of the general’s office, Jim began helping me make plans for Troy’s service.  He diligently and swiftly helped me put together the Arlington service in three weeks.  So many other people helped me 7 years ago with Troy’s services and I was in such a fog anyway that I had no idea what all was involved in planning a funeral.  I had an even deeper appreciation for all of my friends who stepped in and took care of things to honor Troy on those memorial and funeral days. 

But, this time, it was up to me and Jim and the kids, much older now and able to be involved, to decide how could we celebrate this miraculous recovery and the man Troy was.  Jim made lots of phone calls, logistically planned our trip, meticulously made professional-grade programs, offered loving insight and wisdom and finacially spent whatever it took to make his service and reception a solemn yet joyful occasion.  He understood that the service was a chance for the children to fully comprehend what their Daddy being buried in Arlington National Cemetery means.  Only Boston remembered the first service.  Greyson was just 6 years old and his memories were primarily of the large memorial service in Phoenix.  Bella attended but was only 3 years old and the twins, being 9 months didn’t go to Arlington at all.  So, in a way, this was the first time they buried their father.  And on such a significant day, too, December 11th, 2013, exactly 7 years after buryng his first remains.  God’s hand was evident in using His favorite Biblical reference to the number 7; the number of completion.  God moved the wintry East Coast storm to allow all of us to be there.  The crisp December air was marked by sunshine , melting snow, red and white roses, bagpipes and testimonies from the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Troy’s mentor and former commander General Rand and the chaplain in Iraq who loved Troy’s legacy of service… It was all such a touching day but the most poignant was the kids being able to mark another milestone on their individual journeys to healing - That was sacred to me and to Jim. 

The children all decided they wanted to say something at Troy’s service this time.  So to help them decide what specific thing they wanted to talk about, on small pieces of paper I wrote down many of Troy’s characteristics.  Not things he liked to do but ways he was.  Things like: strong leader, determined, cared about others, funny, loving, etc… and I laid them out on the coffee table and they selected which ones they thought they were like.  Their stories began from there.  They were all beautiful.  And so accurately described the similarities and connection they will have always have with their father.  Jim said he would like to introduce the kids at the service and wondered if it would be appropriate for him to say something in honor of Troy.  I told him of course it would be, if he felt that is what the Lord wanted him to do.  Until Jim got up at the service I didn’t really know exactly what he was going to say beyond leading the children to the front of the crowd at the gravesite.  But now I will never forget it.

Jim briefly talked about his unique role in standing in the gap for Troy but never trying to replace Troy as the children’s father.  And that he had recently found an old email Troy had sent me from his deployment in Iraq.  It was written just weeks before he died.  Then Jim said he knew Troy’s words were what he was meant to read on this very momentous day; what we all needed to be reminded of most. 

Here is an excerpt from the email dated October 5, 2006 sent to me from Troy.  He was referring to the personnel he was deployed with and the time he spent volunteering at the Balad AFB hospital:

“… They have this strong sense of pride just to be able to serve our great nation.  It especially hits home when you visit the hospital and realized the real sacrifices made by our soldiers… I tell you not one person who walks through the hospital takes anything for granted anymore.  Whenever I go there I have to continually say a prayer to remind myself that I serve a sovereign God who is in control of Everything (sidenote:  I find it interesting that this is the ONLY word Troy capitalized in this sentence) and is ever faithful.  He is in control and is impacting/touching so many lives for His cause, even in the face of such tragedy/sorrow.  That reassurance comes from the good news stories that are generated each and every day at that facility by the men and women who serve outstandingly there.  That reassurance does not come from the Blessed (my sidenote: again another interesting choice of capitalization) life He has given me, because I truly understand that can all end in an instant.  I’ve truly realized that His sovereignty and power, rather my true belief in it, should have nothing to do with, and doesn’t have anything to do with the Blessed life he has given me.  It comes from His word, His Promise, His Son’s Blood – Faith, my dear.  Faith, regardless of what happens to me, to you, to our children.  Faith in the face of tragedy.  I am so thankful I, we as a family, have Him to lean on.  Many here do not.  For many, the hospital is a place that shakes their Faith (my sidenote: hmmm – capital letter again)… hard to understand at first, til you see it first hand.  I am comforted to know that regardless of the outcome, God IS (my sidenote: all caps!) in control.”  I believe Troy capitalized the things the Lord told him to emphasize to me for the tragedy that was about to befall us; That God is in control of Everything, that I am not Blessed because of what or who I have but because I have Jesus, that Faith is all that matters and that God IS in control no matter what happens.  For all the times, I have wanted to and will wish I could just talk things over with Troy, this is what he would tell me.  No matter the circumstance or situation.  What a treasure.

After Jim finished reading Troy’s words, he turned and proudly saluted Troy’s small casket of remains.  There wasn’t a dry eye.  It was a stunningly beautiful moment of God’s provision and the grace He has bestowed upon Jim to fill some pretty big shoes.  And do it so well, I might add.  Troy’s powerful legacy does not cast a shadow on Jim’s.  Their shadows equally stand tall, merging into one great covering for our household. 

Along with 125 dear people, one of my mother’s friends attended Troy’s burial on this December 11th.  Actually she may have been at his first burial, too, come to think of it.  Anyway, last week, after the service and just a few days before Christmas, she sent my mom an email.  In it, she said she had just come from their church service where the pastor emphasized the story of Joseph and his unique calling to become Mary’s husband and Christ’s earthly father.  She said she was struck with the thought that my Jim was a modern-day Joseph.  As I read the short note, tears welled up in my eyes.  Why hadn’t I ever thought of that?  Joseph loved Mary and committed to her his heart and his devotion even though his family was looking very different than what he himself had already planned.  So much alike, Mary’s Joseph and my Jim… And yes, Jim’s full name is James Joseph Ravella.  Wow.  In every way, a true Biblical servant’s name.
 My third gift. 

Psalms 8:3-5:

“When I consider Your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which You have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?”

I have lost so much but how could I not be thankful.  Lord, let me remember in 2014 that You are ever mindful of me.  And that is the greatest gift of all.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

ID Please

Piggybacking on Jim’s wonderfully written blog “God, do you validate?”  I wanted to share my similar yet different validation journey.   The news reporter from USA Today, Dennis, also asked me the same question, “What was the moral?  What did you learn?”  I found it hard to answer that with one simple statement.  Jim will attest that I find most things hard to answer with one statement.  I believe men invented the term TMI (too much information) to categorize how we girls like to go “on and on” and give all the details to what they have no need for.  Jim taught me what a BLUF was (Bottom Line Up Front).  I had never heard that before.  He explained that sometimes he just needs to hear the point up front and then he can ask details after.  I enjoy taking the meandering route and word walking all the way to the take-the-yellow-brick-road- see–the-wizard-of–Oz-path-approach to story telling.  I have tried it Jim’s way but probably still don’t adhere to it as a general practice.  Ha.  Thus why I am still lingering on this subject in the first place.  Ah, the beauty in the differences of men vs. women….

My journey with Jesus through the death of Troy has been anything but simple.  So there isn’t exactly a simple way to answer the before-mentioned question of what did I learn?  But in honor of Jim I will begin with a BLUF:  I learned that without Christ being my own personal Savior and without believing the Bible as the absolute authority on who my God actually is, I never would have come out of the darkness alive.  Literally?  Well, I doubt that.  I have told others the honest truth ; for quite some time after Troy died, I HAD NO DESIRE TO LIVE ANYMORE.  I know some of my family and friends were aghast a bit by that statement but truly there is a difference between wanting the earth to swallow you up whole and wanting to take your own life.  I NEVER would have killed myself.  I knew that would not please the Lord and the last thing in the world my kids needed was to lose their only remaining parent.  But I hope by me being honest enough to make that statement that I can help others be real with themselves and with God (He knows it all anyway remember?) to seek spiritual and often medical help.  And honestly, to remind those that might see my life, our lives now, and think “Oh, that Ginger (and Jim), they couldn’t possibly know what I am going through.  Look at how happy she is, how happy they are” that, trust me, I carved my initials on the bottom of the bottomless pit.  I figured at 36 years old I probably had 40-50 more years to live and the thought of feeling like I felt for 40 more years was enough to make me crater when I was alone with my thoughts.

There are numerous patriarchs of the Bible, David and Job just to name a few, who felt exactly the same way I did and God still considers them heroes of faith in Hebrews 11.  So even when I wondered if I was losing my mind, I remembered God still did a major work in their hearts and they went on to be true examples of saints.

So, I found my struggle was to not not live but to not live as the walking dead.  Not live empty, purpose-less, or bitter.  I didn’t want to even want to settle for being apathetic or eternally grumpy.  I didn’t want to be separated from God but I couldn’t help feeling like He simply did not hold up His end of the deal.  By no means had Troy and I “arrived” spiritually or any other way.  But we were faithful to each other, serving God, giving 110% to raising our children in a loving Christ-centered home where the Truth was lived and taught.  We had led a life group.  I was helping with women’s Bible Studies and women’s ministry at church.  Troy was single-handedly developing a new Welcome Ministry at church.  Not to mention he was a stand-up, strong Christian fighter pilot refusing to submit to some of that world’s worldliness.  We were doing ALL that and all we were asking from the Lord was a little safety for Troy in Iraq and strength for me to hold the Phoenix fort down for 4 months.  We even met together with a group of Christian friends right before he deployed and together as a church congregation and laid hands on Troy begging God for His protection.  My point:  “We did our part, God, so You go ahead and do Yours.”

All this to give you the background of me feeling God had just let Satan pull the rug out from under our lives on the fateful November day.  Sooooo, I rode the rollercoaster of my emotions that maybe God wasn’t such a loving Father after all mixed with the Truth of Scriptures which all told me otherwise.  Each day that I walked through grief, anger and suffering of monumental proportions, I couldn’t help but see that EVEN STILL in the darkness I had to trust Him.  His Hope was my only way out of the long dark tunnel.  I saw Him everywhere as He provided for us.  And literally I can honestly say once I truly “felt” the Lord so close behind me that His breath was on my neck.  It may sound crazy and I don’t think I even journaled about it at the time but I can picture it right now vividly.  I was in my bedroom, maybe a few months after Troy died, lying on the floor crying my eyes out.  That from your gut crying that makes the world stand still and leaves you breathless with despair.  I remember the feel of the carpet on my face and between my fingers.  I remember wanting to dig my fingernails deeper into the carpet, below the level of the floor because I wanted to physically be in the depths of the emotional pit I was in.  And then in this wave of well, the Presence of Jesus, I felt Him on my back weeping just as hard as I was.  To this day, I still get teary-eyed and a knot in my throat as I remember thinking, “He has compassion.  He does care about me, the kids, all this scrambled mess, this Grand Canyon-sized hole in my heart.  This is actually hurting Him too.”  Don’t get me wrong, I grew up in the church and had been a Christian since I was 9 years old and I knew Christ was the compassionate type but never until that day did I feel His tender loving care for me so tangibly I could feel it all the way through my broken soul.

Nehemiah 9:28  “…and when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time.”

Nehemiah 9:17  “…But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.  Therefore you did not desert them…”

James 5:11  “…the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”

My first description of those many many months of agony after our loss would be to say God and I did this dance of “trust Him, fear Him, follow Him, yell at Him, fall into Him….” But in hind sight, really He was just standing still rock solid, listening to my cries of grief, collecting my tears of loneliness and holding me up so I could have the strength to do the hard work of grieving with the goal of healing and still be a mom to all my little ones.  At times I honestly thought I danced alone.  But He was endlessly pointing me in the right direction like a good dance partner always does.  Nope, Ginger, don’t lean to far that way you will get hurt or hurt someone else.  Nope, Ginger, don’t get ahead of Me, let Me lead you so you don’t make a monumental mistake that you will always regret.  Nope, Ginger, this or that is going to spin you around but I will not let you or your children go. 

Psalm 73:21 -24  “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.  Yet I am always with you; You hold me by my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel and afterward You will take me into glory.”

May sound crazy to you but there were days I just lifted my right hand in the air to reach for His and held on to that promise that He was unseen but holding mine too.  I knew Christ had been to that same point I was at in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before He was crucified.

Matthew 26:37-38  “He (Jesus) took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee (James and John) along with Him, and He began to be sorrowful and troubled.  The He said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” 

The Greek term that was used in the ancient writings was “perilypos” meaning “grieved all around, intensely sad; a sorrow so deep it almost kills.”  Well, there in the Word, Jesus knew about what I was going through.  He dreaded what He was about to face but in His trust of God He said:

Matthew 26:39  “Going a little farther, He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, ‘ My Father, if it possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as You will.” 

So, back to me feeling like God broke our little “contract”.  Well, I didn’t feel like the kids and I got what we deserved to say the least.  So, I buried my head in the Bible to study more so I could know Him better so I could get to the bottom of why none of this added up.  Equation:  Godly Christian Husband and Father obeying and serving God+ Godly Christian Wife and Mother obeying and serving God + Precious Growing Family full of Innocent Children who Love Jesus already and not to 
mention who ALL have a long life ahead of them minus the worst nightmare imaginable = God loves us as Himself and works all things together for good?  I thought, well God’s definition of “good” must be way different than every other person in the world.  Indeed, it is.

My prayerful studies, everyone I knew praying for us and all the wise friends, family and followers of Christ that sacrificed to pour into all kept leading me back to this same conclusion:  God is good.  God loves us.  God is to be trusted.  God’s plans are not always ours but He is sovereign.  God is merciful to save us.  God does heal. God is listening.  God is real.  And finally, that even though God was the one I wanted to blame and wanted to push away in my anger, He was the very One I couldn’t go through the fiery furnace without.

We prayed for safety.  Jim and his family prayed for healing.  Our prayers were heard but not answered in the way we wanted.  Can we change God’s mind if we pray hard enough or believe more?  Well, I have read a lot about that topic and know we all have a slightly different take on that.  But I think my spiritual hero, Beth Moore, put it best when she said “God does indeed hear our prayers and reserves the right to relent if the change does not compromise an eternal necessity.”

Though I still do not understand it, I believe that Troy and Andrea dying so young and in the way that they did was of “eternal necessity”.  Even in understanding that, I still felt a little like God had targeted my sweet little family with a giant bulls-eye for His purposes and glory which made me feel “good” but still like “Lord, couldn’t you have chosen someone else?”

Over the years there have been so many ways the Lord has proven Himself faithful to us that I couldn’t begin to recount them all here and now.  Tiny miracles.  Gigantic miracles.  Clear protection and direction when I needed it most.  He didn’t need to prove Himself trustworthy to me, He is the God of the Universe after all.  But, still He did….

Fast forward some years to last fall.  I took Beth Moore’s study “David, Seeking a Heart Like His”.   I felt I already had a personal relationship with David just through reading the Psalms he wrote.  I remember sitting next to the boys by their bed, just days after Troy died, and asking them “What do you think David and Daddy are talking about right now in Heaven?”  Those two heroes I knew had some stories to swap.  I can’t say I related to the hero stories of David in the Bible but I can certainly say I related to the desperate stories David of the Bible.  I learned so much more about him through studying with Beth (I like to call her Beth like we are fast friends because she did personally pray for me, write to me and sent me a book after Troy died.  Long story how that happened but ever since I have just feel a connection to her, much like thousands of women all of this country I am sure do. She has an amazing way of being all of our best friend!) 

I couldn’t possibly go over all of what I learned.  But again, so many things about God and the ways He validates Himself to us were the same ways He validated Himself to David (mind you before Jesus walked the earth and the Holy Spirit came to indwell in us – which made things a whole lot more complicated for David than us).

David had highs and lows.  Actually David had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.  He was a passionate man who loved the Lord with his whole heart but struggled with pride and selfishness.  Much like I always have… hmmm.

The fallen world and man’s sins are often what let us down the most.  Not God.  Man can leave you (by choice, by betrayal, by death) which leaves a void that truly that “man” was never intended to fill.  We are created with a God-sized hole in hearts that we fill with both good things (loving godly husbands, happy healthy kids, security) or bad things but either way only God can truly fill it. 

David was promised he would be king but found himself living off scraps and hiding in caves from his enemies who persecuted and pursued him relentlessly.  Until it was just he and God alone against the world.  (Been there!)  It’s a painful place to get to but it’s a beautiful place to stay as Beth put it.   I lost all my identity in this world – as an Air Force pilot’s wife, as half of the term “parents”, as Troy’s love.  But Troy couldn’t be my god.  He was a great guy but he simply couldn’t be my god.  Wasn’t supposed to be.  I never really thought of him that way until he was gone and then it struck me that I was only who I was because I was his other half.  All I wanted to do was run away from the fact that I was no longer Mrs. Troy GiIbert, wife and I was Mrs. Troy Gilbert, widow.  I jotted in my notes during this recent Bible study on David that Beth said, “We can’t run from life and find refuge in God instantly.  TRUSTING God is what you do on the pavement – it’s the path – to get you to that refuge.”  Like my good friend Marlo told me, (Marlo was a widow too at one point) she said you can’t wait till you feel better before you get up and start walking, you just start walking and the feeling that you want to live will come later.  Beth says, “We can’t just trust our feelings.  We must entrust our feelings to God!”  I learned time and again over the course of these last five years, that I cannot always trust my feelings because they can come and go with the wind.

Beth said the goal of crying out to God is to come to a place of rest and trust (in Him) not just crying for the sake of crying.  He won’t fill our hearts if our hearts are already full of bitterness, turmoil and rage… And the clever observation that right in the middle of WRESTLE is the word REST.  Wow that hit home!

That was a determination I had to pray about daily.  I wanted to keep my heart open and empty so God could fill up with the righteous things, with wholeness and healing and the ability to forgive and to love again.  Believe me there were days I could almost see Satan trying to fill it with the poison of doubt, anger and bitterness.  He kicks us when we’re down.  That’s pretty much his MO.

Like Jim said and like I am still learning, this life is not about getting what we want but getting what we need, which is ultimately doing a work in us to make us more Christ-like until we see Him face-to-face.  That goes totally against what we call the “prosperity gospel” that God will just give us everything we want if we believe enough or pray enough or are good enough Christians.  Sometimes He simply says “no, my child.”  And what we do with that pretty much holds the key to what the rest of our days on this earth are like.  Believe I have not gotten to the place where I am excited about pain but I am a believer that through it (just like childbirth) He can give you a treasure to hold close to your heart afterwards.  I am thankful that I got all the earthly treasures I did (security, friends and most of all Jim) but I also received the confidence to know that God had validated His love for me on the Cross by sacrificing His precious and only Son.  He had already given me what He loved most to prove that He loved me too.  To quote Beth, “We’re going to win, but victory is going to take blood, sweat and tears – His blood, our sweat and tears from both of us.”

I am still trying to come to the place where I can shift my thinking from wanting what I want to wanting what God wants, when what God wants from me might hurt.  That is where the crisis of faith comes.  The rubber meets the road.  I owe the Lord way more than He ever owes me.  That was a process that took me a lot longer than I think it ever took Jim or Andrea.  I guess that’s why they intrigued, inspired and encouraged me so much.

All this comes down to, after all the suffering and the pain, I can tell you I still believe God is good and as the Natalie Grant song says : “I know what it is to be held.”  God’s showed me His ID through His Word and He validated it as “authentic” when He proved Himself faithful and held me through it all.  He was my anchor.  He didn’t give me what I sought but He let me see Him in a way I never could have imagined.