I met Ricky, at the ripe age of 18, I was fresh off the mission field. I had traveled the world for a year with an organization called Youth With A Mission. I knew who I wanted to be, I wasn’t going to be average. I most definitely was meant to live a life outside of the boring, midwest Ohio vibes I saw around me.
He was an all-star football player who made fun of muck-boot wearing homeschoolers. I was a homeschool graduate. He was from what I kindly referred to as the armpit of Ohio. He stood a foot taller than me and double in size. He liked loud rap music with a speaker the size of a trunk in his backseat, I appreciated small and anything the 80’s had to offer me. (“Oh I, I just died in your arms tonight, it must’ve been some kind of kiss, I should have walked awayyy, should have walked away.”) You get the picture. I was serious, he was not. Ying and yang.
We had one thing in common though, we both loved Jesus. We put him first and, while very different we made each other laugh. Our friendship slowly morphed into best friends and then, a romantic relationship. I remember looking at him months into our dating and deciding there’s nobody else I’d rather be with for the rest of my life. He had the ability to light a room and make me laugh at just about anything. I never told him I wanted to be proposed to in the rain, but he proposed down on one knee in the middle of a monsoon. It was fate. He was the cheese to my macaroni, the apple to my peanut butter, the water to my ocean.
We married and settled into a boring midwest life, and I loved it. I loved him, and he treated me like his queen. We had 2 biological children and adopted our third son within the first 5 years of our marriage. Life was chaotic and lovely, dreamy but never easy, we had each other and lived well. When our boys were 3, 4, and 5, Ricky was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease. I remember thinking, thank God this isn’t life threatening. If it was I couldn’t go on, I couldn’t care for our adopted son on my own, he required a lot of extra attention I didn’t think I had the strength for.
Ricky was able to treat the disease through medicine but he went through quite a few health concerns. He was a fighter and when I would vocalize concern for long-term health he would roll his eyes and loudly proclaim he wasn’t going anywhere. Life felt good, 5 years later we had another baby, a girl who I affectionately call our oops baby. She is a light and a little piece of unexpected magic straight from Jesus.
Shortly after she was born Ricky’s health took a turn for the worse, his lungs couldn’t keep up, doctors began talking about the need for a lung transplant. Those words were scary, but even in the middle of them Ricky would calmly reassure me he was determined to get well. On April 6th 2016 my world changed forever. I received a call in the early morning hours. “Please come quick, he’s having trouble breathing”. He’d been in the hospital, with another set back of the flu. I had gone home to rest, the nurses had assured me he was alright. As I rushed to the hospital my thoughts raced, he’s going to be ok, I’m going to get there and he will be laughing, saying I gotcha’ good, didn’t I? As I ran through the familiar hospital hallways I could hear a frantic commotion, I saw bright lights, a doctor yelling orders. All of it coming from my husband’s room. My heart sank, for what felt like hours I watched in horror as they worked to save his life. But he was gone. The nurse held my hands, sobbing she said, “His heart was beating honey, and then it just stopped.” I laid my head on his chest, the one my head had laid most nights for the last 11 years and pleaded with God, I thought you were going to heal him. Can’t you bring him back? I can’t go on without him. Where are you?
Word spread quickly, some family members, and pastors joined me at the hospital. We cried together I said good-bye to the man of my dreams. I left the hospital with his belongings, his wedding ring, his wallet, and the clothes he had taken to the hospital. It felt surreal. I was a widow at the age of 32.
I thought we would forever be team Ricky and Liz. Words cannot describe the agony and emptiness I felt. My favorite person was gone. The man who had spoken to me 6 hours previously, was with Jesus. I remembered a dream he’d had right after being diagnosed with the auto-immune disease. We had been house hunting, he dreamed of a perfect house, it had all of his favorite things. The house had plenty of rooms for entertaining (something we loved to do) he said each room was crafted with the most intricate crown molding, complete with the highest quality ceiling speakers. There was a high-tech kitchen with a massive grill and a five car garage, it was decked out with every tool he needed to fix friend’s cars. But more than all the material things, there was the greatest sense of peace. A knowing and being known, this was the greatest thing about the whole dream. When he had told me about this amazing house I laughingly said well, good luck finding a house like that in our price range. He slowly said, “Liz I really think that’s what my house is going to be like in heaven.”
Tears slid down my cheeks as I sat imagining him, now in his heaven house. Heaven came alive in my mind the day he died.
Jesus surrounded us with some amazing people in the days that followed. When I sat down to tell my 4 children that daddy wasn’t coming home, it was my own father who helped me. He lost his dad at the age of 6. He was a great comfort to my now-fatherless children. My people sat with me, cried with me, one of them reminded me that Ricky was healed now. We had prayed for healing, it came differently than I expected. The church surrounded my incredibly sad, and broken family, they brought us gifts, food, support, a shoulder to cry on and sweet memories of the man we lost. I cannot convey how much it meant for me to have my brothers and sisters sit with me in my pain. They met practical needs. In the months that followed Ricky’s abrupt end of life, God’s people showed up, ready to do house projects and fix my vehicle. They were the hands and feet of Jesus. It was a gift I don’t take lightly.
I noticed when I mourned the loss of what once was, I would often think about what I didn’t have anymore. It was unbearable. When I mourned the loss of what once was in light of eternity, the pain lessened. Ricky’s life didn’t end here on earth, it was just the beginning, his eternal life was so much better. Somewhere in the sadness I found hope. When I was feeling low I opened up the Psalms, sometimes multiple times a day, trying to find relief. Verses seemed to jump out the Bible at me. Verses like “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in Spirit” (34:18) and “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered…you guide me with your counsel and afterword you will take me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (73:23-26) David understood. Jesus understood what it felt like to be completely abandoned. I read he promised to never leave or forsake me.
When I invited Jesus into the rawest, most vulnerable place I’d ever been He held me with a rich closeness. When I sat in worship services he would bring a picture to mind, I was curled up in a ball with no strength at all, but I was in the palm of his hand, he was gently holding me. I was in a safe place. You guys, words cannot describe the depth of love he lavished.
He strengthened me and guided me to make wise choices for my family. I often say prayer makes all the difference in the world. It is the reason I’m still standing with hope. I had people who didn’t simply say a pity prayer for my family, they prayed through this life crisis. They interceded for us, I count it a gift to be able to give this to others now.
Each one of us will face pain and hardship in our lives. But we do not despair, I love these verses, “Therefore we do not loose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”. (2 Cor. 4:16-18) Today is a light and momentary trouble. When I shift my view from here and now it may not change my circumstances but it changes me. Even when pain is overwhelming I know his truth can bring everlasting comfort. He will meet me right smack dab in the middle. Life isn’t easy, in the last 2 years our family has faced more loss and trauma. I’m an only-parent, I’m teaching boys how to be men without their dad. It leaves me begging for strength, for patience, for grace to model Jesus to my kids. But in those dry and weary places, Jesus continues to show up. I am eternally grateful for each day I get to live, knowing the weight of eternity lies in the balance. My hope is that you would read this and find peace in your storm. If you are in the middle of smooth sailing, look around you for friends going through some rough water. They need you. Would you be Jesus’ hands and feet to them? Please know that nothing is impossible with God, truly nothing. He really is a good, good Father, my kids and I have come to depend on him. Invite him into the places of fear that reside in your own lives. Welcome him into places of uncertainty, he is a healer of broken hearts.
You go before I know
That You’ve even gone to win my war
You come back with the head of my enemy
You come back and You call it my victory
You go before I know
That You’ve even gone to win my war
Your love becomes my greatest defense
It leads me from the dry wilderness
And all I did was praise
All I did was worship
All I did was bow down
All I did was stay still
Hallelujah, You have saved me
So much better Your way
Hallelujah, Great Defender
So much better this way
You know before I do
Where my heart can seek to find Your truth
Your mercy is the shade I’m living in
You restore my faith and hope again
And When I thought I lost me
You knew where I left me
You reintroduced me to Your love
You picked up all my pieces
Put me back together
You are the defender of my heart
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