Not sure if this is what she meant by “share” but here it is!
Every year sad things happen on Christmas. This year, my cousin, Erin’s husband was killed in a car accident on Christmas morning. I felt like a horrible cousin because I haven’t seen her in over a decade, and never even met her husband. We weren’t even Facebook friends! To make me feel even worse, 2 separate people who I AM fb friends with told me what a great guy Jody was. Random people. Not family, not family friends, just people I know here in the DFW area that happen to know a man in Amarillo and know how good of a man he is.
I am now back in touch with my cousin, and I hope to make it up to Amarillo sometime and see my Aunt and Uncle and all 3 of my cousins and meet their children. Heck, maybe it’ll even be around Christmas time and I can be Santa for them!
This past weekend I got an e-mail from Erin and a message from her on Facebook letting me know I can share her story. You guys know that I am a Christian and that I sometimes struggle with not preaching to you on here but I can tell you that Erin has a testimony that needs to be heard. It is kind of long, but make sure you have a tissue handy because you WILL be touched by it! So without further ado here is, my cousin, Erin’s testimony.
For those of you that don’t know, I lost my husband Jody, on Christmas morning. I still remember that morning like it was yesterday. We had already done our Christmas as a family as well as Christmas with my family and his family. So we decided, since he had to be at work at 8:00, that we would get up early with the kids and open stockings. I didn’t want the kids to feel sad that they didn’t have anything to open. It had started spitting snow a little on the ground and Jody was worried that we wouldn’t be able to come out to his work that day and have Christmas lunch with him. This was an event that they had been planning for a couple of months. If you didn’t know Jody, he was very protective of me and the kids and always worried that something was going to happen to us. So, of course, he did not want me driving that morning if the roads were even a little bad. He always made me call him on a snowy or icy day when I got to where I was going. He always needed that peace of mind that we were ok. The kids and I had plans that Christmas morning to see Jody off to work and go eat with my parents for breakfast at IHOP. We got in the car to leave because Jody was still waiting on his partner, Chris, to pick him up. They car pulled together. I remember kissing him goodbye and telling him I loved him not knowing that would be the last time I would do those things. We got in the car and drove to the restaurant, and I can remember thinking that the snow was just like powder on the ground. I thought to myself, “We have nothing to worry about.” “The roads are not bad at all.” I was relieved because Lauren was upset at the possibility of not seeing her daddy for lunch that day. We met my parents at IHOP and had a seemingly normal breakfast. We talked at the table about how Jody was worried about us driving if the roads were bad and how sad we were that we might not get to eat lunch with him. We finished breakfast and walked out into the parking lot to get into the car. I didn’t notice it at the time. But later my mom told me that she had seen an ambulance driving pretty fast down I-40. Thinking back on it now, I know that was Jody’s brother, Justin, on his way to the call that would change my life forever. We got home after breakfast and had just enough time to put some toys away when the door bell rang. I walked up to the door and opened it. I saw Jody’s mom, dad and brother at the door. I thought to myself, “This is a nice Christmas surprise.” Jeremy, Jody’s brother, walked up to me and put his hands on my shoulders with a solemn stare. I will never forget the words he said to me. I hear them every night when I close my eyes. I hear them during the day when I’m just doing laundry or playing with the kids. He said, “Jody’s been in a wreck.” My heart sank and for a second or two I thought to myself, “Lord let him be ok.” He then followed that statement with, “He’s dead.” I just cried and cried in Jeremy’s arms thinking, “This is not real. It doesn’t feel real. It feels like a dream.” As much as I was crying, though, I could not produce a single tear. I couldn’t understand how I had just lost my husband and deep inside feeling like my world had been completely turned upside down, but could not cry one single tear. The next hour or two is pretty vague. I remember thinking that I had to be in shock because I could not do anything but just sit or lay lifeless with little to no emotion. I remember holding Hunter after Jody’s mom had told him just feeling like I was not in my body. It literally felt like an outer body experience. Everyone began calling people and somehow word had spread pretty quickly because it wasn’t an hour after it had happened that I had countless people at the door ready to be by my side and do whatever I needed to be done. Reality had still not hit me yet. I asked, “Please can I just go see him, I just need to see him.” They wouldn’t let me go, probably for my own protection. That was not the last image I needed to see of my husband lying on the road. At that point I didn’t even know any of the details of the wreck, nor did I want to know. People came and went and the day just seemed to drag on forever and ever, even though it had only been a couple of hours. Reality had begun to hit a little when Jeremy, his youngest brother, asked to speak to me privately. He didn’t say anything, but just handed me Jody’s wedding ring. It hit me like a ton of bricks holding that ring in my hand. Later, Jody’s dad had brought some of the things from the scene that Jody had on his self. I looked inside at his sunglasses and wallet, and all I could see was mud and grass. Reality was hitting even harder now. It wasn’t until probably an hour or two after everything had happened that I would find out that his brother, Justin, was the medic who ran the call. I remember thinking, Why God? Why would you subject Justin to that kind of pain and suffering? I knew Justin would be struggling for the rest of his life having seen Jody in that state. I had a lot of questions at that point, and no answers. I thought, “Why would God take Jody away from me only six years into our marriage?” “Why would God take him away from his two precious children?” “Why would God allow for Justin to see his brother that way?” And, “What would have happened if Jody was driving his self that morning?” I had a whole lot of questions that I thought would never be answered. No one could comfort me or ease my pain. But I do remember thinking that afternoon, “I just wish Jesus were here to comfort me and give me a big hug.” I told my family that and they acted astonished that, in the midst of all my grieving, I just wanted Jesus to hold me. A day or two had passed and we had to take care of “business” things like picking out the casket and figuring out the details of the funeral. At that point I was just going through the motions trying not to think about the fact that it was all for my husband. That still to me just seemed so surreal. Somewhere in all the details of preparing for the funeral, my sister had asked me to think about a song I might want to play at the service. Without even hesitating or thinking I just said, “Praise you in this Storm by Casting Crowns.” I knew it would be a fitting song but never really thought about the words to the song until the funeral. As it played during the service, it was like God was speaking those words directly to me. I’ll praise you in this storm and I will lift my hands. You are who you are. No matter where I am. And, every tear I cry that you hold in your hand. You never left my side. And though my heart is torn, I will praise you in this storm. Those words burst through me like God was telling exactly what I needed to be doing. In this time of grief for my husband and father of my kids, I should be praising God. I had already known that growing up. Yes, God says to praise him in every circumstance. But I never thought I could actually live it when the time came. The day of the funeral, we pulled into the parking lot and saw numerous amounts of fire trucks and ambulances. I had told the guys he worked with that I wanted him to get firefighters’ honors at the service but I never thought it would be as grand as it was. When it finally came time for family to walk into the church, I remember looking around and seeing absolutely no empty seats anywhere. They told me that the church was going to be big enough to hold everyone but people were standing up around the walls and back of the church. There were still tons of people waiting outside to come in too. We sat down, and that’s when they brought all of the medics, firefighters, etc. into the church to stand on the sides and watch. They just poured in and kept pouring in. The line was never ending. By the time they finally kept pouring in, there was no room for anyone to move an inch. I just thought, “Wow, what an impact Jody had on so many people.” People from all over the panhandle and state of Texas came out to support Jody. I even saw some people on the sign in sheet from Oklahoma. It wasn’t until later that day at lunch that I was told that there were probably 200 more people in the fellowship hall watching the service on a big screen. Wow! That was impressive to know that so many people cared about my husband. The service was perfect, better than I could have ever imagined. The funeral procession afterwards to the cemetery seemed endless. I remember looking in the back window and there just being countless fire trucks and ambulances. So many people got to witness this beautiful service and tribute to Jody’s life. Those first 4 days after his death went by like a blur with visitations and the funeral and people coming over. I never really got an opportunity to just sit down and grieve for Jody or even process what had happened. It wasn’t until after all the commotion settled down that I really started to grieve for the loss of my husband and the father of my children. But as I grieved, I could feel God’s arms wrapped tight around me the entire time. It literally felt like a giant hug, a hug that never went away. I thought to myself, “Hey this is pretty cool.” I began praying to God asking questions that I had earlier like why he took Jody and why Justin had to be the one to run the call. None of which were answered immediately. I did, however, begin to open myself up to listening to what the Holy Spirit had to say to me. I was ready to listen and basically face the truth that I didn’t want to hear. I remember one night sitting on the couch praying, “God what am I going to do without a husband.” He spoke so plainly that day like I have never heard in my life. He said, “I am your husband.” I thought, Wow God, amazing! It was after that moment that I began searching God for answers and praying continuously. I could feel God’s presence with me at every moment so it wasn’t hard to talk to him. I decided that I would keep things going on as normally as I could for both me and the kids. So that next Sunday I decided to take the kids to church like we did every Sunday. That’s where I met Lorna. Lorna had opened herself up to me because she had lost her husband to cancer 18 months earlier. She gave me her number and told me she would be in touch. A few days later, Lorna came by my house and brought me a journal. She told me to write down my thoughts whenever I was ready and to keep it close by. We had conversations of losing our husbands and I confided in her that I just wished God would answer my question as to why he took Jody. That question seemed like it was going to haunt me for the rest of my life. As the days went on, people all around me were telling me that they were so moved by Jody’s funeral and that they had become closer and closer to God because of this. People that I had never dreamed of had such a close relationship to God were opening up to me saying that God was working in their hearts too. It was then that God revealed to me the reason he took Jody. With all these people at the service, and all the people that were impacted by the death of Jody, God was using this to bring unbelievers to him and believers even closer to him. He was using Jody’s death as way to gather as many people as he could closer to him. He then revealed to me that he wanted me to continue bringing as many people as I could to him here on Earth. I remember feeling so honored that God chose my husband to bring dozens, maybe even hundreds of people, to him and that he chose me to do his work on Earth. What an honor for God to choose me directly! It was in those days following the week after Jody’s death that God began revealing his perfect plan to me and to everyone that knew Jody and me. God had been preparing this moment for quite some time. Back in the summer, Jody began preparing an honor guard for Pantex. They did not have one at the time, and he deemed it appropriate to get one started. He got the uniforms ordered and got all the people lined out for it. He practiced a few times with the guys on walking and standing and whatever else they do. He had his chance to practice in front of a real audience for a 911 tribute at my school one day for the students. I remember him being so nervous that he would mess up or drop the ax or say the wrong thing. But, his performance was flawless and he was never happier. Jody was preparing an honor guard, all the while not knowing that it would be needed at his funeral. I’m going to read an email that Jody sent to the guys at Pantex regarding the honor guard. This is dated December 20th. (5 days before his death)
Just wanted to let everyone know what all is going on as far as the honor guard. Of course everyone knows with the budget being what it is at this time, there is no way we are going to be able to order more uniforms. We currently have enough equipment to outfit seven people in uniform with two flags, four axes, and two pike poles. This will allow us to perform both casket guard ceremonies, and flag ceremonies if the need should arise. Hopefully in the future we will be able to get more uniforms however this is going to take time so please everyone be patient. Just because you do not currently have a uniform does not mean you are not a part of the group. Along with the ceremonial end of our duties, we need to remember that as an honor guard, our job is to show “honor and respect to all the firefighters in our community.” One thing we have asked of our chief is to add us to the list of people to be contacted in the event that one of our brother or sister firefighters is sick or injured and requires hospitalization. We would also like to make sure that someone can at least go to the hospital, make contact with their family, and the member to ensure they know we are thinking of them, how they can contact us and that we will be there for them. This will also give us the ability to make sure they know we will do whatever we can to assist them. I hope everyone on the honor guard will be involved with this. I understand people are busy and sometimes someone may not be able to get free but this is something every one of us can help with.
What a powerful email to know that Jody wrote that 5 days before he died giving the guys instructions, basically for his death. This is a perfect example of God’s hand playing a part in his perfect plan. I began thinking about other events that had played out in this whole thing. It was during this time as well that God had revealed to me why Justin was the one that ran the call. If Justin had not run that call, he would have spent his entire life wondering why he couldn’t have run the call. He would’ve also wondered if there was anything that could’ve been done that wasn’t done. Justin had tried for several years to get on the fire department at Pantex but was unsuccessful. Just think about how God had a hand in this as well. If Justin had gotten a job at Pantex, then he wouldn’t have been able to run that call that morning. God had placed Justin there for a reason, not only to ease his mind about not being there but also so that he could hold his brother’s hand one last time. Jody became a medic first among the three boys and had taken Justin on his very first call. I later learned that Justin resigned as a medic for AMS. How cool is that for Justin to run his very first and last call with his big brother. God had a plan!
If you didn’t get a chance to be in Jody’s service, then you don’t know what Jody bought me for Christmas. The day before he died, we exchanged gifts. We decided to do our Christmas a day early since he had to work Christmas day. I opened the stocking and it was the book, “Heaven is for Real”. Wow, God knew I would need that book to get a better understanding of where Jody was and so that I could give Hunter and Lauren some concrete facts about where there daddy was. I read the book in a matter of two hours. I was highly engrossed in it and could not put it down. I was fascinated by the fact that the little boy in the story that went to heaven had met his unborn sister, a girl that his mother had miscarried. She met him in heaven and knew him immediately. She wrapped her arms around him and wouldn’t let go. I also felt at ease that I had a visual of where Jody had gone. I had a picture in my mind of what Heaven was like but to know that Jody had wings and that Jesus was the first one he saw. I had already known those things, but it was almost like God reassuring me that yes, Heaven is for real.
I began thinking about what Jody was doing when the truck began sliding across the ice. I wondered if he was scared or if he was screaming at all. I worried that he felt the impact of his head hit and that he suffered for a moment. But as I began to get details of the accident from Jeremy, God had put my mind at ease again. Chris, the driver, had explained Jody’s reaction as very solemn and peaceful. Jody did not move or speak. He just looked straight ahead as the truck slid across the ice. I know that is not a normal reaction of a person when faced with a scary situation as sliding on a sheet of ice. I knew in that instance that either God had given him peace in that instance or God had taken Jody before the crash even happened. And, if God had intervened at that very moment, Jody did not feel one ounce of pain. That, for certain, had been revealed to me by God.
People had begun to come to me day after day and confess to me that, without me saying a word, that they felt like God had a perfect plan and that God took Jody to bring people to him. I would say probably 4-5 people had told me this exact same thing. I thought how cool it is for God to be talking to me as much as he is, but also to all of these people. How could one deny that God did have a perfect plan? And, how could one deny the reason for him taking Jody? I began thinking about God’s mission for me. He wanted me to continue bringing as many people as I could to him. So I began telling everyone I came in contact with. I couldn’t contain myself. I felt like a kid waiting to tell their friends what they got for Christmas. Everyone was just amazed at how I could see all of this just two weeks after my husband’s death and how well I had handled everything. But, I take no recognition for anything. I give God all of the credit. All I did was choose to listen to him. And if I was going to listen to him, I had to tell as many people as I could about Christ. The only way to tell as many people as I could, I thought, was to write a book. I began thinking about that journal that Lorna brought me. I could just journal all of my thoughts and later put it into a book. I thought about what I wanted to write in my book. I wanted a section for God’s revealing his perfect plan, a section for things God had spoken to me and a section just for things I wanted to mention in the book. I hadn’t opened the journal at this point. But as I went to write down my thoughts, I opened it up and the journal was divided into three sections. God had even hand-picked the journal that Lorna had brought me. I just began thanking God and praising him. Every moment I had I would praise him and thank him. I would recite the words to the song I chose for Jody, Praise you in this storm. I would begin speaking with God just throughout the day as a thought would occur or as God would reveal something to me. I began seeing prayer in a different light. I saw it as an opportunity to just speak with him throughout the day like I would speak to my own father on Earth. How else would a child speak to their father? That is what God had begun to tell me. He wanted people to come to him like children came to their fathers on earth, so innocently and informally. He would then start speaking to me about giving the first 10% of what I was given back to him. I thought about what it meant to be the first 10%, and he meant before I paid any bills or obligations that first 10% belonged to him. I made a list in my head that 2nd Sunday back to church of all the gifts God had given me. I wrote a check that instance for 10% of what God had given me since Jody’s death. Later that afternoon, a guy from Pantex brought me a check worth more than what I had given that morning. God spoke to me very clear that if I would give to him first, he would provide. And I saw that very evidently that day. I had worried about how I was going to pay for a part of the funeral expenses. I called my sister asking if she could somehow ask around to get me some help to pay for it. She called me back later and basically told me the news I did not want to hear at the time. There was no money. So I sulked for a couple of seconds and got back to life. And, later that afternoon received a phone call from the chief at Pantex telling me that even though I had already received Jody’s final check, the board had agreed to pay Jody for Christmas Day. He brought the check by later that afternoon. The check was just a few dollars more than the cost of the funeral expense I needed to pay. God had intervened again and had provided. In a time when I should’ve felt so alone and stressed about paperwork and finances, I somehow felt like my heart was full and that God had given me a peace that no one on Earth could give me. I have read about God’s peace but have never really experienced until now.
I would begin praising God for all the things he had done to prepare us for this event. I thanked him for putting Jody at Pantex, so that we would be financially taken care of. I thanked him for putting Jeremy at Pantex, so that he could help me with filing paperwork and dealing with the insurance out there. I thanked him that Hunter and Lauren were as young as they were and would probably recover from this a lot easier than if they were older. I thanked God that we got to take our trip to Disney World this summer that we almost didn’t take. I thanked God for taking Jody on Christmas Day. As strange as it sounds, I saw it as an honor that God chose Jody on his son’s birthday. I thanked God that Justin was the one that ran the call. I thanked God for putting so many people around me that could comfort and support me. I thanked God for keeping his promises of taking care of us. And most of all, I thanked God that he was using me to glorify him!
Erin I’m proud of you!