Veterans Day 2017

Months ago, I was asked to represent the non-profit I work for a Veterans’ Day event in Dallas.  Though I have spoken for Folds of Honor, a 501c3 committed to educating the legacy of our nation’s fallen and wounded military families, www.foldsofhonor.org hundreds of times before and have represented the military at events more times than I count, I knew this one was going to be special.  I had no idea just how special though.  American Airlines and Airpower Foundation put on Sky Ball every year. I’d heard it was a pretty remarkable evening highlighting our nation’s veterans. That was an understatement. The venue was an enormous hanger at DFW Airport.  The guests included war heroes, celebrities, locals, veterans - no less than 3000 people in their finest ball gowns, tuxedos, military uniforms.  Seventeen Medal of Honor winners were present.  Each table was exploding with red, white and blue. The newest American Airliner, a 737 Max, was available to tour at one end of the colossal room.                       

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The video screen behind the massive stage was no less than 250 feet by 30 feet.  I have spoken so many times that I really don’t get nervous anymore.  But I have to say this was the mother of all events I had ever been a part of!

We sat with one of those Medal of Honor winners, SSgt Leroy Petry https://www.army.mil/medalofhonor/petry/                                               

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and one of my personal friends and heroes, Gary Sinise.  www.garysinisefoundation.org

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What an honor to also sit with our dear friends, Courtney and Ron DeFeo and Rachel and Rod Brown because who doesn’t want their girlfriends there for moral support?!

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I said a quick silent prayer once in the bathroom and once right before I stepped onto the grand stage.  Behind the podium was little ole me, with some mega bright white lights shining in my eyes and the massive screen behind me.

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Photos of my family flashed as I read the speech I had worked so hard on.  My time limit was only a handful of minutes so I knew each word had to count.  The Lord gave me the words and gave me the platform.  All He asked me to do was show up.  That’s really all he asks of any of us, isn’t it?  Show up and let Him shine through us.

I wanted to represent my late husband and father of my children, Major Troy “Trojan” Gilbert, and do it well.  I wanted to represent so many families like mine in a way that would shine light not on me, but on them.  I wanted to represent the faith in God that literally pulled me through the blackest of nights.  I hope I did all that.  What I do know, now that it’s over, is that I was indeed the one that was blessed by simply being invited.  As I watched the videos of stories of past conflicts, of WWII veterans spending time with local Dallas high schoolers, of a severely wounded wheel-chair-bound soldier try to sing “God Bless America” the best he could, I just couldn’t help but lean over to my friend, Courtney, and say “Every single child in America should witness this.” 

The only way our country will find hope and a future is to honor God and not forget the past.  

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Jer 29:11

I thought those of you that weren’t there might appreciate being able to hear my speech. It was surreal to pour a little piece of my heart out right there in front of 3000 strangers.  But what an honor to be able to share how much I love Troy Gilbert, our country, my husband now, Jim Ravella, our family, our nation, it’s military, Folds of Honor and the work that we get to do helping others.

I consider it one of my life’s greatest blessings and privileges to have married two men who wore the uniform. Serving alongside them has changed me for the better.

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At the end of this post there is a link to the actual video if you’d like to watch instead it.  Or see below for a copy of my speech if you’re in Starbucks right now and forgot your headphones.  Either way, thanks to everyone who remembered to thank a veteran last week!  And as we approach the holidays, please continue to think of them.  Many are deployed in harms’ way and will be missing Thanksgiving and Christmas with those they love.  Many, like us, will have an empty chair at the table and a longing that never goes away. 

 

If you’d like to know more about our story - Jim and I would love to encourage anyone on the path from pain to healing. Our story is definitely one of hope. Hope Found.

 

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        Sky Ball Speech – Ginger Gilbert Ravella 

Good evening.  My name is Ginger Gilbert Ravella. For the very brief time I have before you tonight, I would like to be a small window into the living room of a fallen military family.My college sweetheart, Troy Gilbert, became my husband, father of our five children, a US Air Force F-16 pilot and ultimately, a war hero.

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On the morning of November 27, 2006 Troy had been deployed for 3.5 months to support Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was back home in AZ with our kids ages 9, 6, 3 and 9 month-old twins. There was a knock at the front door and I remember it as the moment before our lives changed forever. 

Troy and his F-16 had gone down in one of the most heroic and historic missions of OIF.  He saved over 60 soldiers and special operators. They all went home to their wives and children because Troy made the selfless choice.  The 15 Iraqi insurgents, early ISIS members, that Troy killed just seconds before he crashed, wouldn’t be so lucky.

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I received a letter from the one of the special operators stating that though he would never know my husband, he sensed his strength of character, putting his life on the line in their defense.  Then he wrote something I would never forget.  He said “Major Gilbert did not loiter at high altitudes but came in guns engaged, full force, ready to help those of us who so desperately needed him.” Those words would come to mean more to me as the years went on.  Overnight, at the age of 36, I became a war widow and my children fatherless.  But the nightmare would not end there.  I would learn later that day that Troy’s lifeless body was taken by enemy insurgents.  My college sweetheart would become their wartime trophy.  A small amount of DNA found at the crash site confirmed he had been killed upon impact.  I knew then, that as a faithful follower of Christ, he was Home with the Lord.  There would be peace in that.  Yet, in sorrow, I was left to raise the kids and go on without him and our private pain became front-page CNN news.

I was utterly devastated, yet had no choice but to carry on.  A year and half later I would meet and marry another widower – surprisingly another AF fighter pilot, Colonel Jim Ravella.  I attribute this to watching too much Top Gun in the 8th grade.  Jim lost his wife to breast cancer and was left to raise their two boys alone.  We became quite the modern-day Brady Bunch.  Folds of Honor also came into my life about that time and began assisting my children with their education. Those five little kids of mine are now growing up.  My oldest son is a sophomore here at SMU, playing on their men’s soccer team.  My other four, now ages 17-11, are in a small Christian college prep school in San Antonio. Troy’s legacy of selfless service lives on in them. Kids like mine are our nation’s brightest future, alongside 1 million other children from those killed or disabled in Iraq and Afghanistan.  They are all overcomers.

Last fall, after almost 10 years since Troy was killed, I got the news I prayed for Troy’s body was recovered in a dangerously covert special ops mission, where others would risk their lives for him.  In fact, it would be the same unit that Troy saved that would eventually find him.

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That is the type of men and women who serve this nation - the 1% who are willing to sacrifice life and limb for the other 99% percent of us. What I want you to leave here with tonight is: you do not have to wear the uniform to serve your nation. 

You can serve your nation by serving those who defend and protect you. That red stripe on the American flag symbolizes the blood that was shed for freedom.  It’s that flag that would cover Troy all the way home.  It’s the flag we should all stand up for, no matter our beliefs or differences.

The actual weight of the folded flag is only 2.3 pounds but I believe I can speak for all of us who have carried one home, it’s beyond heavy – it’s crushing

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Thank you to American Airlines and Airpower Foundation for your considerable donation to helping make that load a little lighter by supporting the Folds of Honor.  God bless you and God bless America.

LINK to watch the speech.

Why Hope Found

Hope Found was written to give Hope to anyone suffering a loss. The loss doesn't have to be from death. It could be the loss of a job, a marriage or a dream you have.

When we suffer a loss we are immediately faced with the reality of what was lost. It's the pain we expect and most commanly associate with loss. But as the loss sinks in we face loss in different ways. We learn we also face the loss our identity. Our dreams are suddenly erased and the future has no purpose. What was so certain and assured is suddenly taken, and life itself seems useless. 

In 1927 the US submarine USS-104 was accidentally rammed by a Coast Guard destroyer. The submarine sank with all crew members on board. When the rescue divers reached the sub there were only 6 suviorors who were trapped in the forward hatch. They tapped a morse code message to the rescue drivers. Their only question..."Is there any hope?" 

Maybe that's where you find yourself today. As the reality of your situation settles in you may be wondering if there is any hope for you. I know the feeling of desperation when you lose all hope. 

Hope Found was not written to celebrate a happy ending as if to say "we made it." It was written for those darkest days, when you are at the end of the rope and your only question is..."Is there any hope?" Hope like the air we breath is essential to life. 

Romans 12:12
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, 
be constant in prayer.

This book was written because when we asked that question, we found a faithful God reminding us our hope is found in Christ. 

I remember feeling so lost I my only thought was how to make it through the next mininute, hour or day. There was no thought of next month or next year and survival was a daily struggle. Hope Found was written with those days in mind. No matter how big the mountain you are facing. No matter how inadequate you feel, our prayer is you will know in Christ there is always hope. 

Hope Found is a story of loss but its message is hope. I pray you find a faithful God in the pages of our book ready to meet you where you are reminding you of the depth of His love for you. 

Psalm 71:5
For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust,
O Lord, from my youth.

Father's Day Reflections

Father's Day looks different to different people. I used to naively think most of us have great dads who love and care for their families. There's no shortage of Hallmark cards for those people. Dads who come home from work. Dads who teach you right from wrong. Dads who mow the lawn. Dads you get to make memories with. I had one of those dads. A good-hearted man who was solid and caring and hardworking. And to him I wish a Happy Father's Day. Love you Dad.


Then the man I fell in love with and married became a dad himself. As I mention in our book, Troy was as much born to be a father as he was to be a fighter pilot. He loved his kids unequivocally. Wholly engulfed, smitten crazy about each of them. His absence left a devastating crater in what we called home and family. It was then that my eyes were opened that there are all different kinds of fatherless kids. All kinds of broken families. People who are fatherless for a bunch of different reasons. People who have fathers but aren't being fathered by them at all. People who have fathers that hurt them, leave them... And then ones like us who had the best there was to offer and then woke up one sunny morning and discovered they were gone forever. Troy left behind many things - a great foundation, superior role modeling, loving memories, a heritage of faith, lots of things we can't touch but are very much real. Thankfully he also left behind things we can hold. Things like this note to his then 8 year-old son which would be full of prophetic truths.

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Reading it all these years later... Does it comfort? Of course. Does it hurt? Absolutely. It seemed like life was just beginning for him as a father and then it was over. It seemed he started something in the lives of five young children that he should have at least gotten a shot at finishing. Sometimes Father's Day makes me mad. Or sad. It's a mixed bag of pain and joy and reminds me of the Greatest Father. The One that sends father-figures, uncles, friends, pastors, even strangers to help us all remember we are loved and wanted and that we belong. We are fathered by many, not just by one. It's those men I thank today. Too many to name here. The ones who stood in the gap for Troy and still do.  Aspen didn't feel good this afternoon. She also didn't hesitate to fall into Jim's safe arms.

Jim Ravella, father of seven, knows what it means to be held because he learned it from his Father. Those long days and nights sitting in a hospital by Andrea's side. Jim's earthly father died before Andrea was even diagnosed with cancer. Jim had to count on God to guide him. I had to count on God to hold me. I had to trust God to be what He promised - a Father to the fatherless. Sometimes Father's Days come when you need them the most and not on a day on the calendar. Because sometimes those days on the calendar are just sitting there waiting to be crossed off because they hold hurt. But there are also days when our Heavenly Father reminds you He hasn't forgotten you. Today was that day for me. The Lord didn't leave any of us where we were 10 years ago on that sad sad Father's Day of 2007. And much like what the sweet testimony from a foster dad at church this weekend recounted - sometimes you are called to love someone with your whole heart no matter whether you birthed them or get to stay with them forever or not. You love them recklessly for the season you are given. That is truly what will make all the difference. Thank you to both Troy and Jim for letting me watch you grow into amazing dads to my children. But most of all, thank you Lord God for being that reckless-love-kind-of Abba Father to all of us.

- Ginger

"Hope Found" is Now Available

I am abundantly beyond excited to announce that HOPE FOUND is now available for purchase! As Ginger’s best friend, I have had the honor of watching as she and Jim poured their hearts into this project for the last 5 years.  It was not an easy task for them to find the time in their full, crazy, wonderful life to write this for us, but they were obedient to what they felt God was asking them to do and He was faithful to help them finish what He started.  This has truly been a labor of love, but as Ginger and I have said many times – this book took A LOT longer than actual labor :)  I want to introduce the book to those of you who don’t know the authors well  and share a little about them from my perspective – things they are too humble to share themselves.  HOPE FOUND is about the lives and amazing faith of four incredible people.  

Major Troy Gilbert, my friend and a true hero in so many ways.  He gave his life in service for the country he loved to protect the people he loved.  And he lived out his faith boldly until his final day on earth.  The stories of how he shared his faith and lived it out in a difficult environment will inspire you . When you read the stories of how his faith is still bringing people to know Christ many years after he went to be with the Lord – you will be encouraged to LIVE out your life in a way that brings glory and honor to Christ. 

Andrea Ravella, a woman I never had the privilege to know, but whose life and faith have impacted me in ways that very few ever will.  Andrea’s grace, courage and faith in her battle with cancer will give you hope and peace as you face whatever battle you may be facing or will face in the future.  When you read the story of Andrea raising her hands in praise to her Savior while she is in the bathroom extremely ill from the chemo – you will be touched and encouraged in ways that you can’t imagine. 

Colonel Jim Ravella (ret.), my friend and a man whose integrity make him a leader among men,  whose life of selfless love and sacrifice will challenge you to new levels of faith and service to others.   As Jim shares his wisdom and you read about Jim’s love for his God, for Andrea,  for Ginger and all their children, you will find yourself falling more in love with the God who loves us so faithfully and you will be inspired to persevere as you serve those around you with an extra dose of love and compassion. 

Ginger Gilbert Ravella, my best friend and the one who always points me to Jesus, whose incredible faith, grit and southern charm will draw you in to a relationship with the One who saw her through her darkest days. Her raw faith and determination to find beauty from ashes will change you. Like Andrea, Ginger was able to raise her hands in praise to the Lord  just a few weeks after she lost her beloved Troy. I was blessed to witness this first hand and it caused me to ask the question – HOW?  How can I have that kind of faith? The faith that Ginger shares with Troy, Andrea and Jim.

The answer is in this book.  Some of you may think I am a little biased since the authors are my closest friends and you would be right J But when I read the book, I knew that it was going to minister to people in ways we could only begin to imagine.  What Jim and Ginger are gifted at is being real and authentic. This book was not written just as the story of  four people who have suffered and lost, but as a book that provides real examples of how to find hope and joy when life isn’t all you hoped it would be.  It helps us understand what it means in Philippians 2:12 “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” Jim and Ginger provide us with scripture and lessons so that when it is our time to wrestle with God and work out our faith, we can be ready. At times this book might make you cry, it might make you laugh, it might challenge you to a deeper faith, but most of all our prayer is that it brings you HOPE!

- Amy H.