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Friday, March 13, 2009

The Dirt

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name.

Thy Kingdom come,

thy will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.

I am ashamed. I had to look up the exact wording of The Lord's Prayer. I haven't been in a church recently that has had us say it as a congregation and for some unknown reason I messed up a few words and couldn't remember the exact order of others. But it was all I could think of as I laid my face on a part of Troy's flying gear taken from his crash site. My tears mixing with the dirt still embedded in the fibers. The dirt is on my fingertips as I type this. The dirt from a farmer's field in a land faraway. The dirt that clings to pieces of Troy's crumpled and burned helmet visor cover, the empty face of his watch, his Leatherman, his kneeboard, his flying notes and his barely recognizable camera. None of it would ever come completely clean. Nor would I ever want it to. That dirt. That filthy dirt in that filthy country where hate grows from the ground more abundantly than crops. That dirt is part of the last things that he touched which were a part of the last day he lived. I can wish it away. I can wish it all away. But in reality, that soil will always be a part of our lives.

Jim so beautifully wrote in his post about my visit from our friends who recently delivered these precious things to me the box sits in front of me now. I hate these things because they truly mark the last second he was alive on this earth. I love these things because they mark the first second he was made whole and joyfully met his Savior.

I began this post a couple of weeks ago only to abandon it because of the difficult emotions that surrounded writing it and minimal time to devote to it due to preparations for the boys and my trip to France. Now I sit on the plane, returning from our special week in Paris contemplating how God would have me finish it. Or the life lesson I can take from the depths of feelings that overcame me from my weekend with the Chief and Baba (General Rand). The first thing that comes back to mind is thankfulness for the gift of their efforts in hand-carrying Troy’s final belongings to me. From their example, I hope I will choose to go the extra mile to do something for someone who needs that mile more than I selfishly need my own. I do not know what I will do with those dirt-covered things found at the crash site. I know his parents would like his camera back. I know I will hold especially dear to my heart the hand-written note from the pilot that searched for hours and found it all in the field next day. I will leave his name out and hope he doesn’t mind me sharing what he wrote to me. I hope to meet this man someday but his tenderness and kind words ministered to my aching heart. A stranger was there in that distant place lovingly and carefully taking care of the things for me, the one who loved Troy the most, when I was unable to.

Dear Ginger,
I was blessed to have known Troy and share his company at Balad before he was lost to us forever. I will always selfishly cherish the time I had with him. I was on the scene very early the morning after (the crash) spending several hours on site. My team and I found the special articles in this box and I will tell you finding each item was like discovering a treasure connecting us to Troy. Hundreds of soldiers and then Marines had spent the previous night searching for Troy and securing the location… The morning was bright and sunny and the gentle breeze floating across the quiet fields belied the true nature of the location. On that peaceful 28 November morning in 2006 I came across the exact spot where Troy died. I knelt and praved for him and for you and your beautiful children. I asked God to watch over Troy, to give you strength to deal with your enormous loss and to be able to endure the difficult days, months and years ahead. I think of Troy often and I periodically visit Section 60 (in Arlington National Cemetery) and have a word with Troy. I tell him that I hope he is well and how much we appreciate the sacrifice he made for us so we may live happy and free. Thank you for sharing him with us

I am not certain how or when to show our children what those sweet men brought us all the way from across the world. The kids only knew Dad’s friends from the war came for a visit. See, I have chosen to protect our children from much of what happened that fatal day their Daddy went home to be with Jesus. I believe, in time, they will ask more questions and I will give them more answers whenever it’s appropriate. I am not sure there is an appropriate time to explain to them that hateful men would appear at the crash site and remove their Daddy from his seat and carry him away before our troops could reach him. And that a small wooden box holds all that was found. I can hear the disbelief in my own voice as I again repeat the facts of that fateful day. Only my Father in heaven knows what happened right after Troy’s plane went down and his body taken probably rolled up in a carpet. The assumption is that he was buried within the first twenty-four hours, under Islam law, somewhere in a field. That stupid dirt, again, just as I said the other night when I held the things from inside the box. The enemy reached him first. No, they did not, I remind myself. God reached him first and took him home. Troy’s soul and spirit, what made him who he was, immediately left behind his shell. That shell was only his temporary home. I loved that home. I nestled in the arms of that home each night. Troy was handsome. Dashingly handsome. But what I loved most was what he was inside and the hate-mongers never laid hands on that part of him. And when I tell the children, one by one, when the time is right for very wrong news, that is what I will remind them of.

Of course I and his parents still ask for reaffirmation that the search for Troy continues. And each time we ask, the answer is the same. Always. Every lead is followed. No stone left unturned. No man left behind is their motto. I have had to surrender this to our military’s hands. I can’t physically go to Iraq and hunt for my husband’s body the rest of my life. But I can daily lay my requests to the Lord who knows right where it lays. Those are the loving Hands I actually surrender my desires to. Yes, my heart breaks over this. I never imagined having to sit my 5 children down and tell them their Daddy wasn’t returning from war. But, by God’s strength, I did. Therefore, I know that by that same strength, someday I will explain to them what DNA is and how, for now, that is all we have. I either trust God with everything or trust Him with nothing. I pray I will see a flag-draped coffin with Troy inside being escorted from across the world by another brother-in-arms , just like General Rand or Chief did with his belongings. I, like others from wars past, pray he will be returned home to this country’s soil. I can’t understand why God allowed this to ever happen. But I know He has a plan, even in this specific corner of my sorrow.

We all have corners of sorrows. Quadrants of unanswered questions. Sections of unexplained suffering. Maybe we get answers. Maybe we get healing. Maybe we get reconciliation. Maybe we get our loved ones home. But maybe we don’t. Then what will we do? Will the injustice of it eat away at our bones and darken our hearts? Will others see the peace of Christ in us or only the hollowed-out shadows of those without hope?

Will we only view death as "A moment of terror...then an instant later the eternal dark?" This is how Joan Didion describes it in her book The Year of Magical Thinking. It is her memoirs written the year after her husband suddenly died while her only daughter was deathly ill in the ICU. This book had been mentioned to me through different friends. I just finished reading it. It was an odd journey. At times, I could so relate to Joan's thoughts and feelings, it was as if we had the same blood coursing through our veins. Her opening lines are "Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends." She notes how most of when describing the events just precluding "the moment" are usually described as ordinary and unremarkable. So true. One minute I am standing outside with my friend, Christy, drinking Starbucks coffee and watching our children jump on the trampoline and the next I am sitting in my daughter's pink bedroom hearing the unthinkable from strangers in blue uniforms. Joan was cooking dinner and chatting with her husband, only to have him not answer a question and find him slumped over the dinner table. One's mind cannot catch up that fast. It takes months for that to happen. She and I agree on that fact.

At other times, we parted ways as I felt I walked on through the grief and darkness with similiar despair but with echoes of light. The light of Christ's hope. God's promises etched on my the palms of my hands and enscribed on the tablet of my heart. Joan Didion and my stories were similiar; the sudden loss of a husband, the shocking disbelief, the desire to reverse the hands of time and go on as if one's new reality did not involve the death of your soulmate... etc.. She speaks of the leaden feeling one wakes with during those first few days. In that moment of foggy conciousness before you remember what really happened and you only have a sense of something not being right. How you lose all concentration and cognitive abilities to think clearly. How the waves of grief hit you and you forget to breathe. How you want to scream and how you just want them to come back. How life changes fast and in an ordinary instant. How grief makes you have temporary insanity. She states, "How grief passes but mourning, the act of dealing with the grief, recquires attention".

After Troy died, I remember feeling as if each day I must get up and go to my new job. That job involved not only the practical details of "taking care of things" but of studying, reading, weeping, working out my new reality and what truth meant now. Joan says she began to notice the common traits of those of us bereaved; fragile, unstable and raw. The struggle of self-pity and feeling sorry for oneself. And how to reconcile that with the desire of others to have you not dwell on it or the need to go on. Or in mine and Jim's case the delicate balance and anguishing confusion of not going forward quickly enough or going forward too soon, depending on who you were talking to. Joan describes how she didn't want to change her husband's voice on the answering machine because she would do so with a sense of betrayal. Joan eloquently describes how we not only mourn the one we lost but we mourn ourselves, who we were. How you wander through streets, your own home, your own life avoiding the painful reminders of walking those familiar paths alone. In the last chapter, she writes, "How there comes a point at which we must reliquinsh the dead, let them go, keep them dead. Let them become the photograph on the table." I felt the same things she so beautifully wrote about. The depths, the blackness, the swallowing up in the pain... all of it I could relate to all of it.

Yet, as a Believer, those of us knowing God's Word stands as the ultimate truth and victory over death, my path and Joan's parted ways. She wonders if when her husband died he experienced "a moment of terror...then an instant later the eternal dark." She says she never believed the words she learned at church that the body would be resurrected. She views death as the end, bleak and void of meaning. She says "No eye was on the sparrow. No one was watching over me." That's not what Christ said.

Luke 12:6-7
"Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed the very hairs on your head are numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."

I Thessalonians 4:13-18:

"And now, brothers and sisters, I want you to know what will happen to the Christians who have died so you will not be full of sorrow like people who have no hope.For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus comes, God will bring back with Jesus all the Christians who have died.I can tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not rise to meet him ahead of those who are in their graves. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the call of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, all the Christians who have died will rise from their graves.Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever.
So comfort and encourage each other with these words."

The world tells us it is never easier to forgive. It is easier to hate. But I disagree. There is a freedom in letting go and giving it back to to our God. When I said the Lord’s prayer and asked that He forgive my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me, I instantly think of those men that took Troy's body, filmed it and aired it on their Arab terrorist websites - their utterly heinous and despicable acts. Yet, I must remember, I too, have many sinful acts of my own which I do not deserve forgiveness for.

Matthew 6:14-15
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

My fingertips have long been washed of the dirt that was on them as I began typing this blog weeks ago. Yet, I can feel it still. Probably always will. Now that I have all of the material things recovered but still not his body, what do I do? As I have said before, what does not make us bitter will make us better. I want to be better. I need to be better. There is no bitterness in Troy today. I can choose to hate and think mankind to be more evil than good. Or I could open my eyes to see the goodness around me. It’s really up to me.
Matthew 7:16
You can detect them by the way they act, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit. You don't pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles. A healthy tree produces good fruit, and an unhealthy tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can't produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can't produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, the way to identify a tree or a person is by the kind of fruit that is produced. "Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as `Lord,' but they still won't enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven."

There are three black small children on this flight from Africa. I watched as three middle-aged white American women, perhaps nurses or social workers, cared for them. Everyone at the airport couldn’t help but notice these odd-looking travel companions. One little girl is obviously crippled with spina-bifida. One tiny baby with a cleft palate and severe mouth deformity. One small boy needing heart surgery and just crying. I spoke with a woman just now on the plane who explained these children are being transported, via volunteers called Airline Ambassadors, from Africa to America to receive surgery and health care and then returned back to their families. Doctors in America donate their medical care, hospital and surgical facilities. Host families house the children until they are well enough to return. France must have been only a stopping point on these travelers long journey. The small boy, maybe only 20 months old or so, will undergo heart surgery and will recooperate and rehabilitate for 6 months in America before returning to his home. I imagined his mother handing him over to strangers. Knowing she must trust her beloved in the hands of strangers. Knowing she won’t be able to touch him, hold him, help him in those moments he needs her. As a mother, she must be willing to do whatever it takes to help her precious son. Love tears your heart to pieces.

I have watched people on the airplane offer to help these women. The crying one must be constantly walked. Right now, an older gentleman is holding this little African baby and walking him up and down the aisle to calm him. He drops his pacifier and the young Indian woman in front of me picks it up and hands it back to him. There is mercy left in the world. There is unselfish beauty. I just can’t have my eyes so tightly closed with despair and anger that I miss these moments. He finally got him to sleep gently patting him on the back while lovingly looking at him. I see one of the social workers come by and thank him for giving them a much-needed break. Now the tiny boy is awake and I watch him smiling and touching the man’s face and the man kissing his little neck. Only hours ago this gentleman and this tiny African boy were strangers. There is still hope in this dark world.

Troy and Andrea are singing and dancing and rejoicing in their new-found wholeness. No sickness, sadness, sorrow or incompleteness where they are. Just perfectly joyful eternal life. Life abundantly. I can’t wait to join them! However, when Jesus came to earth and died He was temporarily separated from God for the first time in eternity and then took our black sin upon His pure as snow shoulders, I believe He did it so we could have a taste of that life here on earth, as well.

John 10:10:

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have {it} abundantly."

Hebrews 10:12-14
"But our High Priest (Jesus) offered himself to God as one sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down at the place of highest honor at God's right hand.
There he waits until his enemies are humbled as a footstool under his feet.
For by that one offering he perfected forever all those whom he is making holy."
Hebrews 10:19
"And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven's Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus."

As I look out the window of this airplane and see us soaring high above the clouds I wonder if we are any nearer to Troy or Andrea than we are on the ground? Wouldn’t it be amazing if the closer we got to heaven we began to hear the faint echoes of angels singing? This past Sunday, we went to the American Church in Paris with our friends. The architecture of the old cathedral was breathtaking. The ornate stone carvings and the towering arch windows of brilliant stained glass were magnificent. The high flying buttresses towered above our smallness. The massive polished organ pipes housed within masterfully-carved dark wooden framework evoked immediate images of fairytales and castles. As we entered, all of my visual senses were overwhelmed . But then I stopped looking around and started listening to probably the most beautiful singing I have ever heard. An American woman with just a hint of Irish-folksiness in the way she lead worship wearing a flowing lavender dress stood in front of this magnificent church and sang praise songs like Jesus was the only one in the audience. Her melodic soliloquies and trills ministered to my heart. She sang Grace Like Rain by Todd Agnew. It’s basically Amazing Grace with some awesome contemporary twists and turns. I joined her in singing and for a moment thought I sounded like her J. If all wishes are granted in heaven then I wish for that angelic voice to sing praises to my King! Tears spilled from my eyes as we sang….

When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing Your praise, than when we first begun.”

I fully expect the moment I meet my Savior and see Troy again, timelessness will begin. Troy will have been singing for years and I will join him as if no time has past since that fatally sad day separated us in the fields of Iraq. The old dirt of this life will be long forgotten.

Psalm 30:11

“You turned my wailing into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to You and not be silent. Oh Lord, my God, my heart will give you thanks forever.”

The older gentleman cradled and walk the small boy the entire flight across the Atlantic. I told his wife that she had a special husband to do that. And how I knew the baby’s mother would be so thankful if she knew what strong arms had taken care of her son on this part of the journey. I know this with all my heart. Because a stranger walked through a field in the middle of a war to care find Troy’s things for me. My precious cargo, as well. Love may tear your heart to pieces. But love also puts the pieces back together again.


  1. Thank you, Ginger, for taking the time to allow your thoughts to take form in words that we can share. My son, Daniel (Nic's friend from Laughlin AFB days) is serving with the army in Iraq now. Reading the circumstances surrounding Troy's death overwhelm me momentarily, but I am always swept back into the arms of the Lord with trust knowing that whatever the outcome, He is Lord! He is Lord, Indeed!

  2. Ginger thanks again. I went to high school with Troy in Angelo. We were on the swim team together. Recently through FB I have reconnected with so many old dear friends. I find myself wanting to do the same with some that I can't. I get such a great feeling catching up with everyone and finding out where life has taken them. Thank you for posting as you do so that I can see where Troy's destiny has led him and the legacy he leaves behind, as well. You are such an inspiration to me....

  3. Ginger, I love, love, love reading your blog. Not just because you and Jim and amazing writers (you are) but because of the hope and wisdom you reveal in each of your posts. I hate the pain you have both had to experience to witness in the way you do, but your words are so inspiring to me. I am constantly reminded of something you said in our bible study class one day....we were discussing ordinary daily things that cause stress in a marriage, and you talked about how in the grand scheme of things, they don't matter. How you would go back and see those dirty socks on the floor and rejoice that your husband was alive to wear them. Your testimony reminds me to focus on the bigger picture, in my marriage and in my walk in God.....You are an amazing testament to how our Lord operates in the lives of the faithful...God bless you and your precious family!!
    p.s. I am so sad I will miss MOPS on Thursday! I so wanted to hear you speak!

  4. Ginger - I feel so blessed to have heard you speak at MOPS today. Thankyou for your honesty and for your willingness to dig up the pain and share your AMAZING story. God always sends me 'perspective' people to help me to focus back on what is really important in my life...and there is NO DOUBT that you were one of those people today. I have spent several months spinning my wheels on things that really don't matter in God's 'grand scheme.' I needed to be reminded that the little things my spouse does that REALLY annoy me (ha!) are really just 'little' things. (And of course...I was challenged on this TONIGHT...God likes to see if I learn His lessons quickly...I did 'o.k.'...I've got a ways to go) :)

    Again - thank you for your testimony! I will NEVER forget it! And I now look forward to following the rest of your journey through your blog! God Bless!

  5. Ginger - You don't know me. I came across your blog through a friend. I just wanted to tell you that you and your family are very inspirational. I am terribly sorry for your loss. Your unwavering strength is uplifting. I will continue to read your blog. It gives me strength. God bless you and your family.

  6. I am overwhelmed at the pain and the preciousness, the anger and the forgiveness. You bring praise to God telling what He has done for you.