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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Come With Love

I was sitting in the pew at church that morning with chills running down my arms and tears streaming down my face as I listened to our friends, Dan and Christina, sing one of the most beautiful songs I had ever heard. It was a Sunday in October 2006. I was growing weary of the single-parenting gig and tired of going to church alone, of being alone. Troy had been deployed for almost 2 months. It seemed like a lifetime. Now that seems absurd. The lifetime apart hadn’t even begun. I missed him especially that morning however. Dan had been Troy’s good friend for quite some time and we didn’t even know he could sing. The song was titled “Come With Love” by Travis Cottrell from the Christmas soundtrack, King of Glory King of Love. It touched me so. The words were tender, as if spoken by the Lord..”With love you call me in the beauty of your holiness, With love you call me to Your side, You draw my heart and You shower me with tenderness, Your loving arms are open wide … “ Mmm. The words were full of peace spoken to my soul.

It only seemed fitting that since Troy never heard it in this life, he should have the chance to hear it in the next. So, after Troy passed away, I asked Dan and Christina and the entire church worship team sang it at his memorial service. The rest of the lyrics suddenly spoke a different kind of peace to my soul. “When the night is falling and the day is done I can hear You calling, come. When the night surrounds me and my dreams come undone. When the night would hide my way, I will listen until I hear You say, How I love you, child, how I love you. When this life is over and the race is run I will hear you calling, come. I will come while You sing over me”

There is speculation about what happens when we die and go be with the Lord, or as my friend Sherry put it “our homegoing” (I like that). I know it happens in the blink of an eye. (Scripture) I do picture Jesus singing over Troy in those last seconds before he crashed or in Andrea’s last few breaths. Rejoicing as He brings us into His presence forever. Knowing our pain, struggles and strife are over must make the divine sounds just that much sweeter.

I pulled out the book, “90 Minutes in Heaven”. I found the first 3 chapters intriguing and comforting to hear how much love and peace the pastor felt as he entered Heaven. All the gorgeous sounds he heard, the singing of the saints, beautiful musical instruments, the whoosh of angels’ wings. There is nothing that makes me doubt any of that is untrue. If I can be so moved sitting in that pew here in this desperately ugly place we call our temporary home then I simply cannot fathom the majesty of what we will hear when we “settle down for good” in our eternal Home.

This song also tugs at my heart when I question God’s love for me. Even when He allows the bulldozer to roll into our lives and crush our carefully constructed plans, He does not do it without love or without a purpose. This is a concept I continually work to understand. Because it seems so contradictory to what our feeble attempts at common sense can conjure up. The eternal question, “If He truly loves us, how can He let the unthinkable happen?” Don’t look to me for the answer. Look to the Scripture and what it says about the character of God. (Scripture) Christ loved us enough to trade His life for ours.

Christmas reminds of us of that. He left the peace, purity and perfect splendor of Heaven to enter our mucky world. Did God not love His own Son, when He asked Him to do so? I know He loves His Son.

John 3:16

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Did God not love Jesus when He let Him suffer and die on the Cross?

1Job 4:9

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

His heart broke but He had a plan and that plan was for us. To come with love, to die with love, to invite us to fellowship with Him in love and finally to call us Home with love. He never said there would not be pain in all of those things. Praise God the pain ends there though. For those without Him, the pain is eternal.

Friday, Nov. 27th, marked Troy’s 3rd anniversary living with the Lord. We continued our tradition of writing him notes, attaching them to balloons and letting them go. Oh and we eat Troy’s favorite thing in the world, brownies. I didn’t read the boys’ notes as I wanted them to feel like it was a private conversation they were having with their dad. But I knew Bella wouldn’t mind if I read hers. I am glad I did. It gave me a little window into her world. She is just learning how to write sentences and her unique way of sounding words out l is still so funny. But it was precious. She said something like this, “Hi Daddy. I am 6. We live in Florida. We are sending you notes today. Please tell God I am so happy. I miss you. I love you. (lots of hearts). But we are coming there soon!”

I worry about Bella. She is strong and tough yet delicate and fragile. It is a difficult combination to know how to parent a child with so much going on inside of her. I often wonder what Troy, with his gently firm hand and loving wisdom, would have me do with her sometimes. But that is where I must trust that God has equipped me and Jim or will equip us with the right tools needed to do the job well.

We are headed home from Thanksgiving in Texas with my family. I am thankful for the many loving emails and texts and calls I received from good friends on Friday. But one extra special thing that happened was a student of Troy’s from the B course at Luke mailed me a gift. That gift was a guest book signed by some of the folks that have been through Troy’s Place at Balad Air Base in Iraq. While Brandon was deployed there last year he left it out for others to write down what their time at Troy’s Place meant to them. There were a couple of guys that wrote messages whose names I recognized. But most were strangers to me. Many referred to it as a refuge to them in the desert. I can see it is a place where the airmen can go to have coffee, read Christian books, have a snack or light meal, listen to Christian music and just take a break from the war for a bit. But it was heartwarming to hear that it provided comfort and a home away from home for some of them. I was taken aback when many of them thanked me for my involvement in it. I wanted to write my own note back to them saying I had nothing to do with it. The idea of Troy’s Place was born out of the hearts and minds of good people there in Balad who wanted to honor Troy’s memory and his own spirit of volunteerism there at the hospital. I am humbled and thankful to all those who have collaborated and volunteered to make it that refuge. I am thankful I was married to a man whose sweet spirit is still reverberating in the hallways of buildings halfway across the world. There was something extra special to be thankful for this year.

I began the second half of this blog a couple of weeks ago in the car. We were headed to Disney. I wasn’t sure whether to separate it from this one I am now writing. I decided not to because I think the message is the same though the subjects are different. Life is hard. Parenting well is difficult. The future is uncertain. The road ahead is unclear. The past is unexplainable. But the Lord comes to our aid with love. He comes to help us, parent with us, rescue us, walk with us along the dark paths and answer our prayers. So in the spirit of backtracking I will close with the blog I wrote weeks ago:

I seem to only find time to write blogs while we are on roadtrips. We are headed to Disney World. The kids and I have never been. I believe Jim has been once or twice. He has an unusual aversion to all things Disney. He doesn’t like the monopoly of tourism or commercialism or something. He refers to it as the “mouse trap” and jokingly told the kids he is just going to hand the mouse his wallet when we get there. I am not sure where his opinions have come from but I intend to ask his aunt and cousin tonight as we are going to have dinner with them. PS they LIVE in Orlando so maybe they don’t mind Disney. We’ll see.

I hurt my ankle about two months ago and was put in a walking boot this week. So walking the 45 acres of the Disney Empire should be interesting. I will have to post a pic of me in the motorized wheelchair on the last day. Ha. The kids are looking forward to going and the excitement of the family adventure. Vacation fun and food are to be had. We have been eating Long John Silver’s fried fish and Little Debbie’s chocolate cakes along the way. We are going to have lunch with the princesses and ride rollercoasters ‘til our heads spin. The happiest place on earth, supposedly. I guess that depends on who you ask. 

As I woke up this morning I gave thanks to the Lord for all He has done over the last three years to bring us to this place: our first real family vacation. Normalcy. Boston was smiling and laughing as he opened his birthday presents this morning at the breakfast table before we left. He turns 12 years old tomorrow. Bella now the age Greyson was when Troy died. She’s reading chapter books. Greyson now is the age Boston was when Troy died. He is artsy and intelligent and wanted to talk about the ingredients I was putting in the lemon blueberry muffins this morning. The twins got themselves dressed. They were a little younger than Troy’s sister’s twins are now.

Rhonda, Troy’s sister, brought her boys, Colten Lee and Landon Troy (7 months old) to our house for a visit the week before last. They are precious. Rhonda has that familiar look of exhaustion I remember all too well. But she is a loving mother and so thankful for them after so many years of infertility. As I helped her with them I found myself feeling sad. I couldn’t put my finger on why. I just adore them. I am so happy for her and her husband. Then one night as I was rocking Colten to sleep in the dimly lit room with soft classical music softly playing in the background I began to cry. With tears streaming down my face I figured out what was wrong. I never really had many of those moments with my twins. Those moments of sheer bliss. Of the tenderness, peacefulness and loveliness that is the essence of holding your own little baby. That slipped out of my hands with Aspen and Annalise. Some of it was due to the fact that they were the last of five kids, not the only ones I had. Some of it was that Troy and I were so busy and exhausted with kids, life and his pending deployment that we were just trying to keep everyone clean and fed. Some of it was the fact that once he was in Iraq I just had to get by the best I could until he returned home. But most of it was when they were just tiny babies I became a casualty from the avalanche of grief. Buried alive. There was no rocking a sweet baby to the symphony sounds. The sound of my own heart breaking pretty much drowned everything else out for quite some time.

I wanted to love them wholly but my heart wasn’t whole without Troy. Everytime I looked at them I saw constant reminders of his absence and a mountain too steep to climb. As any mom of multiples can tell you, the physical demands of caring for two babies is not twice as much as caring for one, but often feels like ten times as much. You get one settled, fed, bathed, changed,etc.. and then suddenly there you find yourself doing it all over again! With caring for three other small children the twins were already stretching us. But, at least there was an us. Now there was a me. Not just me, of course. Because God always always provided help. But now there was just me to watch them grow and change and become little people just like our other three had.

I watched Rhonda and Shane sweetly savor every slightly new development. I have even enjoyed watching their boys’ development. The tears streamed down my face. As I gently rocked Colten in the darkness I tried to pretend he was Aspen or Annalise. What did they feel like, smell like, etc? It was all such a blur. I was planning funerals, crying myself to unsleep, making arrangements for our future and our finances. How could I mother them like I had their big brothers and sister? I couldn’t. I didn’t have the time, energy or motivation. And that brings me to talking about something in this blog that few people know. I have thought about this a lot because I know many people will not understand what I am about to write. I know many people will judge me for my thoughts penned in ink. I know our blog reaches around the world and back. And that point is exactly why I am going to speak of it now. I know the Lord called Jim and I to ministry because of our grief, not in spite of it. In our loss, amid our pain, in our tragedies and through our struggles I know He has asked us to be transparent, open and honest. I know that with confidence. As the Lord instructs us, we should obey:

II Chronicles 1:3-4:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

With what I am about to confess, I hope to help someone who is wrestling today with the task God has put before them. I hope to encourage someone who is questioning how the impossible can be done or why the impossible has even happened. I hope to come alongside someone who is afraid to voice their deepest darkest thoughts for the fear of what people might think. What God might think. I can tell you it was easy for me to be more honest with God when it occurred to me, once again, He knows every thought that flies through my head.

A few months after Troy died, when the darkness of depression began to enfold me, I thought, “Lord, could it be that Aspen and Annalise’s best chance at a wonderful life could possibly be without me in it?” That might sound like crazy talk. Before Troy died and I was forever changed, I can promise you I would have been aghast if I would have heard that statement come out one of my super-mommy -friend’s mouths. Possibly only the sane know how crazy they really are. And I felt crazy at that time. I knew how high my standards always had been. I knew how to be a great mother. I had learned how to meticulously love and care for a little one. But I didn’t know how to do it without Troy. Sometimes I speculated that I was only a good mom because he was such a great dad. When he was no longer there rubbing off on me what would I be like? I knew I wanted the best for them. And frankly the best didn’t look like me. As I have mentioned before I never slept or ate. I looked and felt like a deflated balloon. At my weakest moments an idea would drift into my sleepless dreams: Would letting someone else adopt the twins be the best option? Maybe that was the most selfish thought in the world. But maybe, just possibly, it was the most unselfish. I was always an all or nothing kind of girl. If I couldn’t do something really well then I just wasn’t sure it was something I should be doing. And though I knew I could do this mothering thing well… Well, that was before. Before Troy died. Before terrorists took my lifelong love. Before I was a single mother. Before I was being sent books about daughters without dads. Before I questioned who God was. Before.

The thoughts came and went. I prayed fervently God would give me the strength to do what seemed implausible and insurmountable in my mind: raise three little kids and two babies with only half of me left. I didn’t want to give them up or split up our family. But I wanted them to have all that we had given the other three. And without Troy I just didn’t see how the math would add up. Me minus Troy had to put us in the negative. Yet, Scripture says that me plus God equals more than I could imagine. Each and every day I would read the inscription on my favorite bracelet:

Philippians 4:13

“I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength.”

And I held tightly to this onto this one:

Mark 10:26

“Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Though I felt like a failure for even having these thoughts, I knew the Lord was for me. I knew that if He and I could do this thing; raise these babies without Troy then He and I could do anything.

My heart ached that they never said the words “Daddy”. Was I going to show them pictures of him and teach them how to say Daddy that way? That seemed ridiculous. That’s how they were learning to say puppy, kitty and banana. They should be saying Daddy to someone. Because they could touch and feel him in real life and not in the pages of a book. That just seemed wrong to me.

Last week, Jim and I telephoned Brad, our friend who just became a single daddy himself to his baby daughter, Chloe. We wanted to check on him. See how he was doing now that it has been almost 2 months since Sara passed away. He continues to trust the Lord though he has no more answers of why she was taken and why he was left alone to raise his sweet baby girl. But he told us of his realization that his baby’s mommy is not there to share this new journey with. We talked about his friend, another pilot, who just lost his wife and is now left alone with his two boys, a 2 year old and a newborn. There seems to be so much tragedy that has happened in just our F-16 community alone.

They must now learn how to be both a mommy and a daddy. I guess thinking of them is what prompted me to share these thoughts. I don’t know the extent of their pain or the nature of their fears. But the longer Jim and I walk this road and talk to other people we find that though circumstances vary, there are many similar struggles we all have. The biggest one is how do I do this thing, this most impossible task, God has asked me to all alone? The beautiful thing we have found is He doesn’t ask you to ever do anything without Him.

I Titus 5:5

“The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help.”

Hebrews 4:16

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. “

And sometimes He comes in the form of friends, family, even strangers. I can give you many examples of people who stepped up and were used by God to bring me to this place I am at. This comfy passenger seat on a normal family roadtrip to Disney. An outsider could be looking in our car right now and never know the pain and suffering yet the growth and healing that has brought us to this bittersweet place. But we know. I know that I know that I know. That our God is bigger than the mountain. I heard the story of many who stood at the opening of a long path and were asked to carry a heavy wooden cross for many miles. All carried it but one. He refused saying there was no way. It was impossible to carry something that heavy for that long. The others stumbled and struggled but they bore the weight of the log and carried it. The one man who refused to carry it walked easily. Then suddenly the path ended and there in front of them was a canyon. They stood there discouraged and afraid until the first one walked up to the steep edge and laid his log across it. He had a bridge to the other side. They all followed and did the same, laying their log across the open divide. Except the one man. He was unwilling to carry his cross. It seemed too difficult in the beginning. But now it would have helped him get to the other side.

Behind me are two sleeping three and a half year old little girls dreaming of Disney World tomorrow. They colored some pictures on the way and are giving them to Jim’s cousin tonight at dinner.

Taking care of their needs when my own were so numerous often felt a lot like that heavy cross. I did not want to carry the load I had not signed up for. It seemed way too heavy. Yet each and everyday since Troy died the Lord has either provided help or given me the abilities I needed. And then the Lord answered my specific request for my children to have another amazing father. I remember praying those exact words. And then there was Jim…. He loves all the kids so much. And he and Andrea had always wanted to have a daughter. Now God gave him three! God always does more than we can imagine. What we see as void, He must see as opportunity.

As I rocked one of my twin nephews and the tears streamed down my face, I grieved for the time with Aspen and Annalise that I lost for that year and that Troy lost forever. But suddenly I realized that I wouldn’t be grieving over it now if I didn’t love those girls totally. I heard that grief is the cost of loving someone. There are no truer words than those.


  1. Ginger...you continually amaze me. Your words are truly inspirational and comorting. Kurt was in Iraq with Troy and spoke of Troy all the time. Most of my friends from Osan knew the Sullivans so I felt like I knew Sara. We are in the Spikes and also suffered the loss of a student pilot almost 2 years ago. And Sadly, Katie was one of my best friends. The F16 world has been rocked recently...but I am amazed by the strength of the people inside this little community. You and Jim should be so proud of yourselves. Sharing your honest feelings has changed the lives of so many people and has been such an amazing source of faith and hope for so many. THANK YOU!!! You are always in our thoughts and prayers

  2. Hi, I've been following the blog for a few months...can't even remember how I found it! But I just wanted to give you a link that you may find interesting & comforting...Steve Saint talking about when his father and 4 others were killed, and what the ones who killed them saw & heard. God is faithful. http://www.itecusa.org/document_angels.html
    Thank you for your openness & courage. I was praying for you on the 27th.

  3. Ginger- Thank you for sharing your amazing thoughts. They are such an encouragement to me, even though I have never gone through what you are going through. Your and Jim's faith is truly a blessing. I love that you are so open and willing to share it with so many people. So thankful that He has brought your families together and now you are enjoying "normal" life.

  4. So touching, thanks for being so honest.