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Remembering the Fallen Heroes and Their Families

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly
The Truth Network Radio
May 29, 2023 6:10 am

Remembering the Fallen Heroes and Their Families

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly

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Hi, Jim Daly here. Today's culture deeply needs help, but in times like these, the light of Christ can shine even brighter.

So be encouraged to share his light in this broken world. Listen to the Refocus with Jim Daly Podcast. Without time limitations, I'll have deep, heartfelt discussions with fascinating guests who will encourage you to share God's grace, truth, and love. Check out the podcast at or wherever you get your podcasts. That's Heather Gray Blalock, and you'll hear more from her today on this special Memorial Day edition of Focus on the Family.

Your host is Focus President and author, Jim Daly, and I'm John Fuller. John, today we want to pause and truly reflect with gratitude on all the brave men and women who have died so that you and I can experience freedom. I mean, that's what Memorial Day is all about is to reflect what has happened.

Freedom always comes at a cost. On Memorial Day, we honor those who have fallen, and we want to say thank you to all of those families who have lost a husband or wife, mom or dad, son or daughter, maybe even a friend. Thank you for your loved one's sacrifice. And our guest today is one of the many families who has sacrificed. Her husband, David, gave his life in Afghanistan in 2012, and we're going to hear her story today. Heather Gray Blalock is a key spouse mentor for military families and has written a devotional book, Faith, Hope, Love and Deployment, 40 Devotions for Military Couples. You'll hear more about that later, but you can order a copy right now at slash broadcast. Heather, we are honored to have you here at Focus on the Family. Thank you. I'm already in tears, man.

I have my tissues ready too. Right there on your lapel is a pin. It's the gold star pin, I believe. It is. Identifying you as a spouse of someone who's been fallen. Man, what does that feel like to give so much at such a young age? Well, you know, it's it is an occupational hazard that sits in the back of your mind when when you have a spouse that's in the military, but no one can really ever fully prepare for that type of thing. And it's something that we are, you know, I wish I didn't have to wear this. I wish I could.

I wish it was a club I had never been inducted into. You had an experience, you and your husband, where he was training, just to give you a glimpse of what might come. But he was in a training exercise.

You got the call that there was a problem. I think this was about seven years before he was deployed to Afghanistan. But what happened in that training mission? And what was that foreshadowing of emotionally for you?

Well, so my daughter was a year old, it was in 2005. And he was doing some some training for a different special operations career. So he it involved, like what they call a water confidence portion, they have to do a lot of strange things that most of us wouldn't do in a swimming pool. And so he was just with one buddy.

And then they also have a drown proofing portion. And so he actually did not re oxygenate properly. So his buddy thought he was drown proofing, which is where they kind of do the dead man float. And so he was without oxygen for six minutes. And when the lifeguard pulled him out, he was completely lifeless. And so I got the phone call, you need to go to the hospital, they're they're life flighting him over to San Antonio, we were living in Del Rio, Texas at the time. And he was in a coma, and he was had no brain function, and all of his organs had shut down.

I mean, they were sustaining his life for him. And I remember a friend pulled me aside. And and she said, you need to go boldly before the Lord and just ask him to spare your husband. I had been praying all day long, you know, whatever is your will God just helped me to accept it helped me to be okay. And when I was on the life flight helicopter, I had nothing but what I had in the car. I mean, I didn't have time to go home.

I didn't have you know, they let me go because they didn't expect him to survive the flight. And so I had David's Bible because he'd had Bible study the night before it was still in the car, I had David's Bible, I had my purse, that was all I had. And so as I was sitting there, on the life flight, reading his Bible, it fell open to the back where he had written Philippians verse in Philippians, be anxious for nothing. And then the before that is rejoicing the Lord always, again, I say rejoice, let your gentleness be known to all for the Lord is near. And I remember sitting on that life flight, looking at David's lifeless body, and just like kind of almost chuckling at God and going, really, you want me to rejoice? Like, what is there to rejoice about? There's nothing left to rejoice, I'm going to lose my husband. And I kind of made a promise to the Lord, I was like, okay, if you will just be near, just let me feel your presence.

I will try to stay gentle in every in every opportunity, I will try not to freak out, you know, I'll just stay calm and trust you. And so that night, I had gone all throughout the day. And I didn't share that with anybody. But that night, we had a prayer vigil. And David's squadron commander pulled me aside, who's also a believer.

And he said, Heather, I've been walking you through this all day long. And there is this verse that just keeps coming to mind, and I have to share it with you. And he quoted back to me that verse in Philippians, rejoice in the Lord always again, I say rejoice. And I just, I just had this complete peace that no matter what happened, the Lord was near.

That was a bold thing for him to say, because that in a moment of trauma, that can be a very negative thing to say, how could you be saying that? But it's like the Lord prepared both of your hearts. Well, you know, and I think that's the thing is that we just have to be sensitive to what the Holy Spirit is leading. And I was able to then go boldly before the throne, like my friend had said, and just say, Lord, I know you're near, I know you are near. You also prayed for something very specific during that day about David. What was that specific prayer?

You mean besides him waking up? Yeah, I mean, one more day. I did. I did. I prayed because I, you know, I didn't want to be presumptuous because sometimes the Lord's answer is just no, you know, sometimes it's I'm ready for this person to come home. We do not like that.

No, and we don't at all. And so I never want to be presumptuous. But I do feel like we have, we have the privilege of speaking candidly to the Lord. And so I said, can I just have one more day, you know, because it was so sudden, I felt like it wasn't a deployment, you know, prior to the deployment, we had prepared we had had these conversations we but he was just going to the pool for training. It wasn't right, you know, anything for dinner.

Right. And so, you know, I, I remember saying, just just one more day just to talk to him, let him wake up for like one minute or something just so you can have that closure, we can have that closure. And so not only did I get one day, but I got seven years, and I got two more children. Yeah, now you with David, you've had three children. And moving forward now you've, as you said, you get seven years more with your husband, David. But still, and in some ways that may have prepped you somehow I'm not sure I want to hear your heart on that. But seven years later, what happens? Well, you know, I had to think, when I got the notification, my mind did immediately go back to wait, I've already been here, you know, because I thought for all intents and purposes that David was going to die back in 2005.

Right. And I knew that his life, the extension of his life was a gift from the Lord, and was an answer to that prayer. And that, you know, I don't know God's, he exists outside of time. So, you know, maybe that was one day for him, you know, maybe the seven years that I got was one day and he granted that request, you know, but, but it was a preparation because I had a peace then that I knew that one that God was near because he had proven himself to me before. And so I could look back on that time when the Lord had walked me through and had been faithful. And I knew that even though this time looked entirely different and David wasn't going to be given another day, that I had been given a gift. And so I just had a sense of gratitude that, that he had not, I had not had to go down that road seven years prior.

Right. And he deploys, you have the same conversations about the what ifs, I'm sure, seven years later, like you always would, I'm sure you prayed together, you talked about it. I'm sure though you have a sense that God will return him safely. How do you manage that idea that God wants to return him safely to me? Because that would be the best thing for us in this idea that a car shows up in front of your house.

Sorry, I'm going to lose it. And these officers get out and come to your door. They tell you he's gone. What is that moment like for those of us who never experienced it?

I'll tell you the truth, I really did not fully connect what they were doing. So I was a key spouse, the Air Force has a program where there is a commander appointed spouse within the unit that is the liaison between the command and the spouses. And so when we deployed, I was really looking after all of these spouses whose husbands were also deployed. And because my husband was the commander of the flight, we never expect and he's an Air Force officer.

It's very rare, you know, I mean, it does happen. But normally, you expect it from the soldiers and the Marines and that, you know, so an Air Force officer, particularly the commander, it was not expected. And so when they showed up at my door, my first words were, oh, no, who was it? I thought they were coming to get me to go to another spouse. And it threw off the officer that was notifying me because I didn't quite fully understand. And he's like, no, Heather, it was David. And I just, like, it took a while for it to set in. And I just, I was like, no, it can't be David, because I just talked to him, like, right before I went to bed last night, you know, and, and he was just headed out to a meeting with the commander. You know, he, he very rarely even went outside the wire, you know, and, and so it took a while. And you kind of feel like there's this vortex that just sort of all things just sort of ceased to exist at that moment. And, and I remember the thing that was at the forefront of my mind was my children.

So they were so used to seeing military people everywhere that it didn't dawn on them. And they were really young at the time, you know, my youngest had just turned four, and Garrett was about to be six and Ava or Nia was eight. How many, how many days between the notification that you received and you and when you were able to tell your children? So I was notified on the eighth.

Oh my goodness. I received his body on the 10th and flew back on the 11th. And I told the kids that day.

So it was from the eighth to the 11th. Man, I hope people are feeling this. I'm feeling it. The Memorial day, if you want to know what Memorial day is about, this is it. It's that sacrifice that families make and you guys made the ultimate one. Heather, you've written a great book here, faith, hope, love, and deployment, 40 devotions for military couples.

I want to get right back to the story though. Coming home on the 11th, describe that for us, the heart-wrenching nature of telling your kids. Yeah, that was not a fun thing. I remember being on the airplane on the way back and just spending the whole time in prayer and just begging God to somehow take that away from me.

But knowing at the same time that I could be the only one to do it and I wouldn't let anybody else do it. The Lord is so good and gracious and anything he asks you to go through, he's going to equip you to do. And so one of the ways that he paved the way for me was that when David deployed, each kid gave him a little toy of theirs to hold onto. And it's kind of funny, it was in one of the little toilet wipes boxes, you know, the hard, hard boxes. And so every time he would FaceTime with the kids, he would pull this box out and like show the little pig and show the little smurf and, you know, and kind of interact with the kids. And the idea was that he, sorry, this one gets to me a little bit, that he would take care of those things and then bring them back to them. When his escort brought his body to Dover, he handed me that blue box. How that man knew that that would be something he needed to give me, I have no idea, it was only the Lord. He said, I don't know why, I just felt like I needed to give this to you. And so that box really did all the talking for me because when the kids saw it, they knew. And they immediately like looked around like, oh, is daddy here, which was heartbreaking because for a moment they had, maybe he's home.

But then when they realized that he wasn't, but the Lord took that away a little bit for me. You know, he made it a little easier because the hardest part was I didn't know how to start the conversation. You gave him a step in that direction.

I did. And so I was able to say to them, look, daddy took care of it. You know, he died and he's not going to bring it back to you. But he took care of it. He kept its promise.

Sorry. So God is very gracious. And that just showed me that anything he asks you to go through, he's in the details, he's in the little things. And the conversation was really hard. But at the same time, it drew my kids and I closer together. And, you know, we would adamantly avoid the hard things that God asked us to go through if we knew they were coming. No kidding. I think that's why he doesn't tell us ahead of time what he's going to do, because we would run the other direction.

That's so true. Heather, you mentioned that process for you being just mom and taking care of the kids and getting through that. I don't know when that point arrives. I'm sure you're still getting through it to some degree.

When did you start taking care of your own emotional needs in that way? What was that process like to get close to God and say, OK, Lord, what do we do now? Yeah, I wish that I had a perfect, flawless answer for that.

Imperfect seems to work here. So I think the important thing is that you first admit that you need to get to that point of dealing with things. Sometimes it's really easy, especially in a Christian community.

We want to champion God and that we are resilient and that God can heal all things and He absolutely can. But sometimes things are just messy and we have ugly things that we have to deal with. And unfortunately, I didn't immediately turn that way. I made some bad choices and I went down some wrong roads because we live in a fallen world. And everything is competing for your self-medication and you're doing things to just make it better, just make it better. And sometimes we can't just make it better. Sometimes we need to just sit and let the Lord love on us and surrender things to Him. But I have to say, as time goes by, the intensity changes a little bit, but you will always carry that grief with you. You just learn to integrate it into who you are and into your daily life.

And that's one of the beautiful things about having remarried and having a spouse who also lost a spouse to death. I want to catch the listener up because that went by quickly. Explain that a little bit. No, but that's fine.

I mean, explain that more. How many years passed before you met your husband, also in the Air Force? He is also in the Air Force. So Jack's wife, Anna, was in a Bible study with me in 2009 and we were stationed in Germany. But she was diagnosed with cancer the same month that David died. And so when she died, Jack put out on Facebook that anybody that wanted to still keep – they have three boys together.

And so he just put out there, anybody who would like to keep up with the boys that were friends with Anna and were following, feel free to send me a friend request. And he shared with me one of the journals that she kept. And she talked about being in her cancer treatments at the same time as me burying David in Arlington. And just saying, I'm suffering so much, but yet all I can think about is Heather and her kids and what they're going through.

And so she wrote all this in her journal. There's a bond already between the families. That we didn't even know. Well, God hooked us up, but my son helped out in that he wrote a letter to Jack and Anna's boys and said, I know what it's like. I've been there.

If you just want to talk or if you just want to whatever, we'll FaceTime or whatever. And so they would build Legos together and FaceTime with one another and they're Legos. And Jack and I just sort of let the process happen. And then, you know, the Lord just orchestrated, worked out all the details. It's so true.

Let me end here. It's appropriate on Memorial Day. A component of the devotional book that you wrote is letter writing with your deployed spouse.

Brilliant idea. So intimate. When you were working on part of the book, David did one of the exercises in the book and wrote you about why he was willing to lay down his life for his country, for our country. What did he share in that letter to you?

Well, I have to give you the context to what he was answering in his letter. So I had written a devotional on patriotism and the way that it worked when we were writing the book together is that I would write it. And then I'd send it to him while he was deployed. And he would say, yeah, good job. And so he I had sent him the story on patriotism.

And it really is one of my my favorite stories. It was before David died. We were stationed in Germany and we were riding back. One of the privileges you have as a as a spouse when you're stationed overseas is that you can do what's called Space A on military flights. And so he was on a long TDY. And so I decided to just pack up the kids and we were going to go back to the states. And so one of the things about the I always called it like riding in the belly of the big metal whale because that's the C-17 is just this big open, you know.

Right. And you just you have cargo net seats and you just I mean, and you're in there with the cargo. And so my kids slept for the first couple of hours and then they just wanted to get up and roam around, which they let you do.

That's one of the great things about these long overseas flights is that they can just run around on this big plane. And they went around some big crates and I followed them. And right as they were around the other side of the crates, I noticed there was a flag draped coffin and they were just about to climb onto it.

I mean, they were itty bitty babies, you know, like toddlers at the time. And I was like, no, no, no, don't do that. And I felt this person touch my arm. And I looked and there was a soldier there.

He was in battle worn soldier. And he said, leave them be, ma'am. That kid died.

So your kids would have the privilege to play. He'd be honored to serve them. And I had no idea that we were on a flight that was taking I knew we were going to Dover. Now, you got to remember this was years before David died. But it was my first experience with with the escort. He was that that young man's escort. That's a program that we have that I just absolutely love that he was going to see that fallen soldier all the way home. And it was so profound to me that I wrote it into the book because to me, that's what patriotism is. It's that escort who's willing to take that young man all the way home to his final resting place.

It's that young man who's willing to lay his life down so that my kids can play. So one of the guided letter writing exercises that I had put in the book was write a letter to your spouse explaining why you're willing to lay your life on the line for your country. And so I carry the letter in my Bible. But the great thing about this letter is, you know, God's timing. Again, God is nothing is accidental.

God is in the details. And so somebody walked upstairs and just put the mail on on my bed. And it was a letter from David. And I got it opened it that day. And it was dated the twenty ninth of July. But it took a while to get there.

But it arrived on the day of his funeral. And he said, I have just read your devotional on patriotism. What a great piece of work to answer the question of why I'm willing to lay my life on the line in defense of my country. Initially, it was because of a sense of duty to serve. Then it grew into a sense of giving back to the community that has given me so much. Now it has grown into a sense of obligation to my country, to you, to the kids, but mostly to God. Here I am, Lord.

Send me. Isaiah six, eight. Thank you, Lord, for giving my love a gift. The gift of discernment and for writing.

I love you. So when I read that, particularly the Isaiah six, eight part, I knew that the Lord had sent him, that he knew his purpose and that the Lord was with him and that the Lord had guided every step that he had done. And it just ministered to my heart. And I was able to get up and I was able to go to the funeral and I spoke at his funeral. And when we went to church the following week, David had a, they assign a family liaison officer. This man was an atheist and he was assigned to me. And so he was at church for the first time in his life, I think. And in the middle of the service, he handed me a card.

I carry this one with me, too. And he said, I just want you to have this. And it has Isaiah six, eight on it.

He knew nothing of this letter. And so if you go to Arlington and you look at David's headstone, it has Isaiah six, eight on it because that was his life first and it has become just the prayer of my heart. You know, we are all along for the ride, but I think all that the Lord asks of us is just to say, here I am, Lord. Send me wherever you want me to go. I'm going to go. Heather, I am, I can't hold my tears back.

There's tissue. Yeah, I need some of your tissue, but what a beautiful expression on Memorial Day about what it is all about. And thank you for everything, for who you are, the resilience that you have. You are a strong woman.

No, the Lord is strong. Just a surrendered woman. But still, I mean, if David were here, I'd say thank you for being that servant of God, David, for being that husband and a father and a soldier helping to protect those freedoms that we enjoy. I hope people catch what Memorial Day is about through this program. And to Jack, I would say, well done, sir.

Picking up the pieces, both of you making a life out of, you know, messes that you were given. But Heather, thank you so much for your wonderful book, Faith, Hope, Love and Deployment. I'm going to get some just to carry in the car. So when I'm at a coffee place, I can even hand one to a soldier I might buy coffee for. Well, thank you for that. I really pray that it ministers to the hearts of not just the military, but even for those who maybe aren't in the military, I really had hoped that it would give them an insight into what our military families endure. And even if they don't pay the ultimate sacrifices, it said, you know, they are sacrificing their lives daily, you know, in the everyday thing.

The mom that has the kids and is a single mom, even when her husband's alive. You know, I mean, that really is so important that if you can get that mindset of honoring and serving them and coming alongside them. And, you know, I hope that people will see that. And that's my heart in this is that we can encourage them and just love them and love them with the love that the Lord loves. And rightly to honor David, he received posthumously the Purple Heart along with the Bronze Star.

He did. And you need to be proud of that. I am.

I'm very proud. And of all of all of those guys and, you know, we would rather we would trade in those awards and accolades, obviously, at any point to have their lives back. But like I said before, the Lord never wastes suffering.

And so I know he's got a plan for everything that he allows to happen. Heather, thank you so much for being with us. And I hope this has stamped a new understanding of what Memorial Day is all about. Thank you. Thank you for honoring those who sacrifice. I appreciate that. Well, what an inspirational conversation we've had with Heather Gray Blalock.

And we're so glad you could share in it. And let me just piggyback on something Jim said about getting a copy of Heather's devotional book, Faith, Hope, Love and Deployment, 40 Devotions for Military Couples. It is a terrific resource. And you can probably think of at least one or two military families who would benefit from this, make that a gift item for them. And in fact, make a generous donation of any amount to the work of Focus on the Family as we stand in the gap and support families. And we'll say thank you by sending a complimentary copy for you. You can donate and get Heather's devotional book when you call 800, the letter A in the word family, or at slash broadcast.

On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to this Memorial Day edition of Focus on the Family. I'm John Fuller inviting you back tomorrow as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ. Our biblically based counseling will help you find the root of your problems and face them together. Call us at 1-866-875-2915. We'll talk with you, pray with you and help you find out which program will work best. That's 1-866-875-2915.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-29 08:54:49 / 2023-05-29 09:06:24 / 12

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