Below is Ginger's response.
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
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
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.
“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.