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Tonight we put up our Christmas tree, the first Ravella/Gilbert tree. Actually we have two trees. One is artificial. It is perfect. It has p...

Monday, February 1, 2010

By the Grace of God, We Will Carry On

As we sang this lyric in worship last week at church, I never thought one week later I would be sitting on an airplane to go help a friend in need. But life is like that. Truly from one week to the next, or as I know well, one moment to the next, our lives can take an unexpected turn. Sometimes, it’s for the better. Like the moment I met Jim. Sometimes, it’s for the worst, like the moment I got that knock at my door. Often it comes in the form of a phone call from a friend. Jim and I received two such phone calls in one week. The second one is the reason I am on this plane. All I can say for now is I have some friends in marital crisis. I am no marital counselor but I can stand witness to them that God is BIG enough even when our faith isn’t and He can overcome the worst of situations for His glory and for our good.

The first phone call was to tell us that a good friend of Jim and Andrea’s was killed while jogging one Saturday morning. Her name was Terri. I met her only once yet she held a special place in my heart. Three years ago, almost to the exact day she died, she forwarded Jim and Andrea’s ICU email update to my friend, Jennifer, and Jennifer forwarded it to me. That email where Jim talked about God being God. And that no matter if our circumstances changed He remained the same. The day I first heard of the amazing, brave couple named Jim and Andrea Ravella. My fingers still easily type their names together as I remember emailing them that year. They are still written in my address book under “R” as Jim and Andrea Ravella. Troy’s address in Balad is still written in there as well. I can’t seem to make myself mark either of them out. Like doing so would be disrespectful or something. Strange, I guess. The other day I signed my name Ginger Gilbert. It’s habit from years of writing it. Occasionally Jim will call me Andrea or I call him Troy. We smile and correct ourselves. It’s all part of the new normal.

Terri left behind her husband, Dave and their three children ages 7, 4 and 3 years old. The youngest is a precious little girl with Down’s Syndrome. Terri was yet another amazingly strong Christian who left behind a legacy of faithfulness and devotion to the Lord. Troy, Andrea, Sara and now Terri. I didn’t know her hardly at all but I wept for Dave and their children. I wondered if Andrea would greet her friend at Heaven’s door or wait until after Terri spent her time with Jesus?

Now I sit on a plane wondering what on earth I will tell my friend to encourage her in her faith and in her situation? I put my trust in Jesus when I was 9 years old. And I am not stopping now. He, alone, can make all things new. He, alone, has enough mercy, power, strength, love and grace to help us carry on.

Is it just me or maybe I am just more aware of it now….? This world is painful! Praise God it’s only a temporary address. Maybe it has to do with age. (40 is knocking loudly on my door!) Maybe the longer I live I have now begun to accumulate stories of suffering. I am not sure of the reason but I see so much sadness all around me. However, I am confident, the One holding the hand of those in the midst of that pain is the Hand of the only One that can heal it.

Psalm 108:6

"Save us and help us with Your right hand, that those You love may be delivered."

Psalm 138:7-8

"Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; You stretch Your hand against the anger of my foes, with Your right hand You save me.  The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me..."

I remember reading this scripture and literally holding out my hand as I cried out to the Lord to grasp it. I remember wondering which hand do I hold out so that it will be His right hand that would grasp it. This thought proved to be challenging to me considering I was distraught, grief-stricken and tired that I couldn’t tell my right from my left. I was working at taking the Scriptures very literally so I certainly didn’t want to mess anything up on my end. I so wanted to feel His tender touch. The strength of His grip. My bony frail shaking hand enveloped in his mighty yet gentle reassuring touch. Did I ever feel Him stretching down from Heavenly places to do that? No. Well, yes. He did through other people, through the promises of His Word, through unexplainable circumstances of mercy or genorisity or compassion that would “touch” me or the kids in our weakest moments. Those things that get you through to the next moment where you can breathe a little easier.

Carrying on as it were. Don’t misunderstand. I did always want to carry on. When life punches us in the stomach and knocks the wind out of us, our first instinct is always “I can’t possibly carry on”. I can’t speak for anyone other than myself or Jim. But I can promise you, there wasn’t always the spring in our step we have today. I remember digging my heals in so deep I must have left marks in the carpet. I shouted to God. I DO NOT WANT TO CARRY ON! But, deep in my heart, I knew I had no choice but to carry on. My choice came later. HOW I carried on was up to me.

I drew inspiration from many others who walked my journey before me.  People like Pastor Steve, Marlo and others.  Characters in the Bible like David, Paul, Abraham and Job.

Job 6:10-11

“At least I can take comfort in this; Despite the pain, I have not denied the words of the Holy One. But I do not have the strength to endure. I do not have a goal that encourages me to carry on.”

I love Job. He just says it like it is. No dancing around the issue at hand or trying to fake it. Real honesty. But obviously as we read on, Job later chooses that he must carry on… Not that he doesn’t grapple with God’s ways or struggle with God’s decisions. He does.

Job 6:10-11
“At least I can take comfort in this; Despite the pain, I have not denied the words of the Holy One. But I do not have the strength to endure. I do not have a goal that encourages me to carry on.”

Job 30:15-16

“ I live in terror now. They hold me in contempt, and my prosperity has vanished as a cloud before a strong wind. And now my heart is broken. Depression haunts my days.”

Job 29:18

"I thought, `Surely I will die surrounded by my family after a long, good life.”

Job 16:2-5

"I have heard all this before. What miserable comforters you are! Won't you ever stop your flow of foolish words? What have I said that makes you speak so endlessly? I could say the same things if you were in my place. I could spout off my criticisms against you and shake my head at you. But that's not what I would do. I would speak in a way that helps you. I would try to take away your grief.

He listens to his so-called friends do their best to beat him down even further. He talks and talks and talks.

And when he is finished. God spoke.

Job 38:4

“Where were you, Job, when I laid the foundations of the earth?”

Job 38:24
“Where is the path to the origin of light? Where is the home of the east wind?"

God basically tells Job “I am God and you are not. So, in that, you must trust Me, no matter what. I have the answers and you don’t, Job. Now go pray for your miserable excuse for friends and hang on, because I am going to bless your socks off!” (This was my paraphrase of course)

Job 42:17

" Then he (Job) died, an old man who had lived a long, good life. "

I always remembered that Job questioned God but Job never denounced God. He never turned his back on God even when he felt God had turned His back on him. For that reason alone, Job gets an A+ in my book. I don’t think most people truly get Job until they feel like Job.

This Christmas, for the first time, I allowed the children to watch the video Troy had made of himself in Iraq. I have held onto it for three years waiting for the right time. The time when I thought the kids had healed enough but yet soon enough that they would never feel like I put their perfectly wonderful daddy on a shelf somewhere. Actually, when we had all healed enough to sit down together and soak it in.

As I have mentioned before, Troy made a video of himself to give to the kids for Christmas while he was deployed to Iraq. He mailed it the week prior to his crash. It was and will continue to be the last we moments we ever “heard or saw” of him in this life. He read books to the children that he had checked out from the Balad AFB library. He sat on the roof of a building with his mandatory machine gun strapped to his back, pulled up a metal folding chair and began reading “ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus”. It was a sweet sight. He continued on from his bedroom/trailer and finished reading books to the kids and then the Christmas story from the Bible, which was our tradition. I remember the first time I watched it, I cried so hard that when I finally stopped and listened to the soothing sound of his voice it made me sort of calm and sleepy

Jim had a fabulous idea that we should hunt down each of the books’ titles on Amazon and pass them out to the kids before showing them the video. That way they could follow along as their dad read them stories for the last time. It was special to say the least. The kids and I laid on the bed and Jim sat beside us in the wing chair and we all shared a most unique experience of tangibly connecting our past and present in a very real way for the kids. Carrying on. By the grace of God.

I am returning home tonight. A long day. Visiting with my friend. Holding her. Crying with her. Listening to her. Praying with her. The on-your-knees-kind. She and her husband are like family to me. They were always there for me. Now it’s my turn. Though I have not been in either of their shoes, I know what walking around with your heart hanging out can do to a person. It’s exhausting. Though, I know God is able to carry us as we carry on. I reminded her God is still in the business of turning beauty from ashes.

Isaiah 61:3

“…and provide for those who grieve in Zion-- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.”


  1. As always, I appreciate your deep thoughts expressed to the glory of the Father. Your journey must be weaving an intricately beautiful tapestry, Ginger and Jim! Your "carrying on" is a gift to many. Thank you.

  2. Heartbreaking yet inspiring to read your words, Ginger. I know that your love and dedication to our friend was felt. Thank you for your selflessness. Love you!