Twenty-five Years

My heart is overflowing with praise of my Lord, my soul is full of joy in God my Saviour. For he has deigned to notice me, his humble servant.
Luke 1:46b-48a (Phillips)

April 19, 2022 – 25 years since my beloved husband left for work one beautiful spring Saturday, had a fatal heart attack at age 39, and never returned home.

Some of you know me personally, others only from reading my blog. Either way, I’m sure you’ve noticed my intentionality in looking back when special days roll around. Months ago, even before I started penciling things in on my 2022 calendar, I began pondering how I would observe this momentous anniversary.

But, as is often the case, the Lord was far ahead of me, with a plan so astonishing that I couldn’t have imagined it, much less asked for it (Ephesians 3:20).

An Intriguing Email

Last October, I was scrolling through my inbox when this subject line grabbed my attention: “Video Request – Focus on the Family.” Intrigued, I opened the email and began to read.

The writer introduced himself as a video producer and described the project he was working on, a series of brief videos to be released this year. Each would feature a family who’d been impacted by the Focus on the Family ministry.

I kept reading, barely able to grasp the words. I love telling others about God’s goodness and faithfulness – that’s why I started this blog – but who was I to be in a video for a major ministry? Not that I questioned the email’s authenticity, but I couldn’t fathom receiving such an opportunity, and the thought humbled me.

The embedded quote from a letter I’d written to Focus several years ago dispelled any lingering doubts about mistaken identity. In it, I recounted a phone call I made soon after Ray died and the kind, affirming remark by the Focus counselor who took my call. In describing my loss, I told her I felt like a part of me was missing. Her reply still resonates with me 25 years later: “During the years you and your husband were married, you became one. Part of you is missing.”

I forwarded the email to my daughters with the message, “This goes into the category, ‘you never know what to expect on any given day!’”

A Change of Plans

Despite my initial disbelief, I responded the next day, thanking Tim, the producer, for considering my story and requesting additional information regarding timing and logistics. Several emails and a phone call or two later, we agreed Tim would come to Georgia to film on November 19th and 20th.

But life intervened. My dad’s stroke in late October and additional commitments for Tim led us to agree to postpone filming until after the holidays.

God’s timing is perfect – always. Even though I can find something beautiful in my garden any time of the year, late November would have found it in decline, going to sleep for the winter. Springtime, however, is the time of rebirth and new life, when the exuberance of Creation shouts praises to the Creator. It’s a season of personal loss, yet one that pours hope into my heart.

Images to Treasure

I’ve written before about my figurative chest of drawers where I tenderly tuck memories to savor again in the future.[1] This experience gave me a whole drawer full to cherish, some bittersweet, but each one a treasure:

  • The women in my Bible study gathering around me to pray several days before the taping.
  • Gathering mementos from Ray’s life – family photos, his wedding ring, neatly-folded Home Depot shirts – to be used in the video.
  • Working with Tim, a young man who would fit right in with my kids[2], with the mutual goal of producing a God-honoring video to bless others.
  • The joy of including my grandchildren, Joshua, Lyla, and Emma. Though Ray hasn’t met them yet, they’re as much a part of his legacy as my daughters and the beautiful garden he left for me to tend.

Over and Above

For the first few days after taping, I kept replaying the events in my mind, scarcely able to find words to describe what they meant to me.

Though the experience was a gift in itself, God was far from finished. When we agreed to film in November, I hoped Focus would release the video in April to coincide with the anniversary of Ray’s passing. I set that hope aside when we delayed to the end of March, recognizing that editing and production usually take 3-4 months. Three weeks seemed impossible.

Several days after Tim returned to Colorado, I received a text from him asking which day Ray passed, followed by another in response to mine saying he would try to get the video ready by April 19. Then, a mere six days after we finished shooting, Tim texted, “I have the first version of the video done! Do you want to see it? I’m shocked at how fast it came together. Felt like the Lord carrying it.”

Tim’s text confirmed what I already sensed. Nothing is impossible for God, and my loving Heavenly Father was orchestrating a most remarkable gift for me. I could finally articulate why the experience had left me speechless. I was overwhelmed by the reality that God never lost sight of me. He’d remembered the date, kept track of my tears (Psalm 56:8), and counted the years right along with me. Knowing how important it is for me to recall His favor and tell others of His steadfast love, He set up an unforgettable memorial stone to commemorate this 25th anniversary, one that will stand for future generations of my family (Joshua 4:1-7).

Unimaginable

Hours after Ray died, I penned the following in my journal, “This is the worst day of my life up to this point. Ray, my dear, dear husband and friend, died tonight. Even as I write it, I don’t believe it. It will probably take time for the numbness to wear off, but when it does, Lord, please enfold Mary, Jessie, and me in your love. I don’t understand this and I can’t even begin to imagine what my life will be like without him.”

I knew the joy of eternity awaited me, but as ensuing days found one, two, or all three of us in tears at bedtime, I wondered if I’d ever find joy again in this life. Later journal entries documented my concerns about being alone after Mary and Jessie grew up and went on with their adult lives.

But just as I couldn’t imagine life without Ray, I couldn’t imagine the abundant blessings God had in store for me. Good gifts of His presence, provision, and protection, of family, friends, and flowers.

Beauty From Ashes

I’m an equal-opportunity crier. I cry as easily over happy events as sad ones. Thus, I asked several friends to pray that I wouldn’t sniffle my way through the video interview. With a couple of minor exceptions, I managed to hold it together.

Nonetheless, when I finished watching the video for the first time, I wept. Tim captured the sorrow of what I lost, but my tears flowed because he also portrayed the beauty the Lord has exchanged for my ashes. My fears of being alone were unfounded. Not only has the Lord kept His promise never to leave or forsake me, but He’s also filled my life with people to love and be loved by and given me a foretaste of heaven in my garden.

I don’t deserve any of His good gifts, yet He pours them out on me, as He does all His children. He lavishes His love on us, leaving no doubt He sees us individually and intimately. Having already given us the greatest gift in Jesus, we have no reason to think He’ll withhold any lesser benevolence (Romans 8:32).

Though losing Ray remains the single most significant loss in my life, there have been other hardships and sorrows over the past 25 years, and I know there will most likely be more before the Lord calls me Home. But I’ve learned to trust Him in ways I never would have if I hadn’t experienced those difficulties. The Lord has repeatedly done far more than I could ask or imagine, including the opportunity to share my testimony of His goodness to a much broader audience than I ever expected. I pray this video will bring much glory to Him and point others to the life and hope found in Jesus.  

You may watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqpDpuwCGUE


[1] Please see “In Remembrance,” Archives, April 25, 2015.

[2] Daughters Mary and Jessie, and son-in-law, Justin.

8 thoughts on “Twenty-five Years

  1. I remember so long ago even before you met Ray during a Bible Study, you commented on how many times God brought to your attention the words “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Oh to see you using those words that He promised you in your blogs makes my heart happy. He IS faithful.

    What an awesome video.

    • Thank you for sharing that memory with me, Mary Hope! I’m so glad we reconnected several years ago. God is faithful in so many ways, including providing friendships that will last into eternity.

  2. Brought tears to my eyes, As sorrowful as the story is, what glory and beauty too. Your retelling of this loss connects us all in the everlasting hope. We have all experienced some loss and grief, it is a reminder that in God, our hearts will be healed and we have hope of reconnecting with those we lost. Thank you for sharing this story.

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