Tuesday, December 27, 2016
9 years ago on quite possibility the most nontraditional Christmas Day ever I met a man named Jim. I only knew of him and his wife through a handful of emails but I knew his heart and that made everything ok. I never dreamt that 5 months after that Christmas dinner with a table full of his family, all strangers to me, I would be walking down the aisle to join him in penning the second volume of our lives. I have been sifting through all the photos taken last week and came across this one. Mark from TIME magazine snapped this with his cell phone. It took my breath away. While I was focused on the flag-draped casket, thinking a million thoughts about the moments that led the kids and I to that hauntingly beautiful place called Arlington National Cemetery, I didn't notice Jim standing in the distance saluting the father of his children. There are a million unspoken words in this picture. It's who Jim is. He stands on the sidelines, never demanding the attention, always thoughtful, ever serving... the ultimate wingman Troy needed for the mission his family would carry on without him. Andrea's last words to her beloved husband, Jim, as she entered the hospital doors for the last time were that she needed him to be strong now. She knew more than possibly any of us on that November 26, 2007 day. Oblivious to the Ravella family's struggles I was living 1000 miles away preparing for my one-year anniversary of Troy's death. Jim was preparing to do what he did best - to sit with and to take care of his sick wife so he could get her discharged and they could go back home and keep on living life together, in sickness and in health - but Andrea - she was preparing him for life after she was gone. Out of the rubble of two families has risen a pillar of a man - Jim. We all love you @jjravella and cannot imagine what this Christmas today would be like without that Christmas Day in '07 when we first met. You have proven your devotion to us time and time again since that crazy Christmas. But in no moment has your quiet strength and selfless love been so evident as it was this past week. I do believe Troy saluted you first. We all just couldn't see it. Merry Christmas to Jim, my favorite gift.
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
We are humbled to share with you that when God placed on our hearts the vision of turning our story into a book, we had no idea where the road was going to take us. After many sleepless nights, thousands of edits, some tears and some trepidation – we are sending our book to the publisher this weekend.
HOPE FOUND will be available in April 2017. Updates will be posted here on our blog. Please pray with us that God will use it to help others find healing and hope in their situations.
With much love and gratitude,
Jim & Ginger
Friday, December 2, 2016
It has been a crazy week, even by our standards. As hard as it is to believe it was the 10th anniversary of Troy's passing on Nov 27th and I started my annual reading of the blog posts I wrote during Andrea's stay in the ICU and her last 21 days on earth.
On top of that, Time magazine's article came out about the return of Troy's remains as well as an article in Texas Tech Today. So our past has been at the forefront of our lives even more than usual and that always makes for harder days. But it also highlights the blessings we have been given.
This is a link to the Time Magazine Article:
An American Hero Comes Home, at Last
A decade-long quest ends with pilot's third burial at Arlington
Link to the Texas R|Tech Article:
Here are my and Ginger's Facebook posts form this morning.
I feel I am going to need to post some jokes or something really light-hearted soon. I promise those days are just around the corner. But tonight, well, this ain't it. 😉 Maybe it's after watching the father/son push-up scene just now at the end of last night's episode of "This is Us". Maybe it's because the last week has been a lot to wrap my brain around. Maybe it's because I recorded a pod cast with Jamie Ivey and I tremendously respect being a tiny part of her amazing ministry. Maybe it's because tomorrow I will go to HEB and pick up a copy of TIME magazine and see our family's story (a VERY well-done article I might add) and know the writer, Mark Thompson, put his heart into telling it to the world. Maybe it's because Jim and I sent our 76,840-word baby to the publisher last night after 5 years of pouring ourselves into its' pages. Maybe it's because my cell phone rings and it could be my kids' school needing me to bring a forgotten lunchbox or it could be Gary Sinise telling me he's coming to Arlington to pay his respects to Troy, the first soldier he ever met who was killed. Maybe it's because it's 1:00 am and I'm not asleep and I am thinking of my Mom who will be having neck surgery in 7 hours. Whatever it is that brings me to this point - this place where I want to say something that's been on the fringes of my heart, not enough so that I could feel it or recognize it daily. But it's there, tugging, begging to be remembered - the hurt. By the end of the push up scene I felt the sting of hot tears run down my cheeks. Jim looked at me and asked why I was crying, though I know he knew. I cried because nothing we ever finish, whether it be the biggest interview, the best manuscript, the last funeral... nothing will ever change the fact that there is this deep profound sadness that my kids lost their father. It's always there. It's always there for the families like ours. The ones where our kids' holidays might look like their friends' holidays, but really, they aren't. They are all missing a parent. Nic and Anthony, their mother. Boston, Greyson, Bella, Aspen and Annalise, their father. Nothing - not a nice house, or fancy car, or private education, or cool job, or swanky parties, or celebrity friends, or notarioty WILL EVER BE ENOUGH to change the fact that kids aren't supposed to sit at the kitchen barstool and read a TIME magazine account of their fathers' death while their Mom makes spaghetti - and that be normal. Sigh. While every word we write, we speak and we profess about having true hope is EVERY bit true. I also want to say, it all really sucks sometimes. I miss Troy. Jim misses Andrea. Seven kids are growing into people their mother or father didn't fully know when they left this earth. They would be so proud of them if they were here now. I know that I know that I know - The Lord's mercies are great. They are new every morning. There is enough love in the walls of this home that it is palpable even when I cry so much I feel like an elephant is sitting on my chest and I still can't believe I can even go on at all with this huge gaping hole in my heart. Even when there's a day like that. Hebrews 6:19 is not tattooed on my ankle because I necessarily think it looks all that cool. It's there to remind me that this Hope (Christ) we (all of us) have as an anchor for our souls is steadfast, firm and secure. It's the promise that got me through that first year after Troy left. It's still the promise I cling to when I, too, can imagine it's MY kids on the back of their own beloved father doing push ups so he can prove his love for them. I struggle with will my kids ever truly know just how incredibly much their Daddy loved them? But we serve an infinitely powerful, compassionate God who I believe has imparted that to my children even without them having all those first-hand experiences that most kids get. Also, they have now held onto the strong back of Jim for 8 years now. His dedication to proving his love for them is DAILY. That is all God, all the time. I love that man. Ultimately when I start feeling those moments of despair, are when I catch my breath and I remember - We are God's children. We are on His back. And His love is even stronger than any earthly father's.
Thank you Ginger for walking this crazy life with me. Our days can be hard but I'm thankful that we allow each other to grieve. It's hard to grasp, but time does not heal all wounds. It may not be as gut wrenching but the pain is always with us. Andrea and Troy were loved that much. As I held you last night shedding my own tears about Andrea I hated that I was there holding you, and so thankful I had you to hold. It's strange for sure but I'm thankful we both feel comfortable crying about our past. I could not imagine having to bury Andrea's memory with her physical body.
It is hard but as I held Ginger, both of us crying, I had to laugh at the hot mess we were in that moment. How did we get to this point? Who ever thought this would be our life?
I was stuck by the fact in the Time Magazine that Troy is the only person that has been buried three times at Arlington Cemetery. Really? That was our life I was reading? It seemed crazy that I was part of this story. What manual do you follow to parent kids though this? I think last night's episode of "This is Us" was about the choices we make as parents. They are never simple nor black and white. You just do your best, let love be your guide and Christ be your center. In the end no matter how mad the kids may be for the choices you make your hope is they will see you did it out of love. I know my kids did not understand some of the decisions Andrea and I made when she was sick. Nor did they understand me marrying Ginger so soon. Which I totally understood. Because it was crazy and I'm not sure I would advise someone to follow my path. It was a total leap of faith, but one I knew was right. Only time would show that. Just as it did with my marriage to Andrea that was viewed equally as crazy by my family and friends. I told my boys I knew it was crazy but I also knew it was right. It was not the easy answer to take on 5 kids, 2 in diapers and blending two families while we were still processing Andrea's death. But I asked them to remember who I was and that I had not changed.
Just recently Amanda from the Texas Tech University interviewed us for her article. (Which is along with the Time article is the best summary of our life). After talking to Ginger for over an hour Ginger said Amanda wanted to ask me a few questions. Suddenly I was pouring out my memories of Andrea and crying my eyes out to this total stranger on the phone.
It is a price we willingly pay because we know there are families today that will get a knock on their door or be in a doctors office being told there is nothing else that can be done. We know the absolute gut wrenching pain of that moment and I'm sorry anyone has to go though that. This is a club I wish no one else would have to join, but that is not reality. We owe it to Andrea and Troy to do all we can to help those families cope with their lives. We owe it to all those who are struggling to reconcile their faith with their reality. And if our openness means it can help someone who is suffering, then it is all worth it.
So yes It has been a hard season for our family because of all Ginger said and the fact that our jobs involve keeping this loss at the forefront of our marriage and life. Sometimes I think people see our life and think it's all happiness, that the price we have paid is somehow forgotten or the blessings we have somehow erase the pain that brought us here. We have learned to live with sadness and happiness. Yes we have met some pretty amazing people. People we would have never met. Yes we have done some amazing things. Things we would have never gotten to do. But I promise as much as I love Ginger and the kids we would give all of that up to have Andrea and Troy back.
One day when Andrea was terminal I asked her if she ever asked God "Why" she said to me "Why not me? What have I done that God owed me a pain free life?" She said "Jim I am will willing to die if it leads one person to Christ."
How can I sit it self pity and ask "Why me? As Ginger wept in my arms last night all I could say is that somehow this is all okay. God who loves us never forsakes us. That is the hope we found in the midst of utter despair. And that is the message of our lives and the message in our book.
I found that same statement in Andrea's journals. "Lord I will gladly lay down my life if one person comes to Christ because of this." That is the faith I saw in her eyes when I first met her. That is the faith I was blessed to love and live with everyday for almost 28 years. And that is why I miss her when times are hard because she had such wisdom and discernment. Those that were blessed to know Andrea understand that statement. Her faith was rare in this life and it was a huge loss.
But it was also the gift she left me for this very moment. I believe it's what she was telling me when she spoke her last words to me as I begged her to not go into the ICU the last time. She was in a wheelchair outside of the ER and I asked her if I could just take her back home. Foolishly and selflessly I told her she would be okay. I just wanted to go home and hold her and close my eyes and somehow wake up from the nightmare we were living. I told her "If I take you in I'm afraid you will not come home again." She said, "Jim you have to be strong now." She knew what had to be done and as usual she had the faith to face what I was afraid of.
Do I wish Andrea was here? With all my heart. Do I wish Troy was here? More than words could express. I love our kids so much my wish is they did not know me because I understand the pain they faced for me to be here. Do I wish our kids never had to deal with loss so young? Absolutely. Do I wish Ginger did not have to tell her story every day? Yes. Am I grateful God gave me a wife who understands these feelings? Wholeheartedly yes.
When I came home last week and Ginger asked where I had been I said I went to Ft Sam National Cemetery and fell asleep lying on Andrea's grave. I did not have to explain why, or think Ginger felt threatened by that. We just understand and allow each other the freedom to grieve while we love each other.
As I watched Andrea live her final years in pain and sickness it was as if God was asking Andrea how much did she love Him. And Andrea's answer was,
"This much" and stretched out her arms and died.
How can I do anything less?