Sgt. Gibbs left behind a young wife who gave birth to their first child three months after his death. My husband did not know Sgt. Gibbs but was deeply struck by this tragedy and always wanted to do something to help children like Sgt. Gibbs' daughter.
In 2000, David came up with the idea of Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation (fallenpatriots.org). Our mission is to ensure a college education and educational counseling for military children who lose a parent in the line of duty. I have the honor of serving as the Programs Director of Fallen Patriots, and David and I continue to serve on a volunteer basis. Neither of us has ever taken a salary from the foundation.
Initially, my passion for Fallen Patriots was driven mainly by my desire to support my husband. My parents were small-business owners. My father was a dental technician (trained in the U.S. Navy) and my mother supported him in the startup and sustainment of their dental laboratory in Norfolk, Va. Through her sacrifice and dedication, my mother instilled the value of supporting one’s husband in me. She showed me how important it was for my husband to have someone on his team he knew he could trust.....who better than his wife!
Even though I knew I should support my husband, initially I was a bit resentful. When David made the decision to start Fallen Patriots, I had just given birth to our second son, and our older son was only two. Finances were tight. We had to use our personal funds to start the foundation and David took a lot of time away from our family in order to get the foundation started. I thought his idea was crazy and that the dream of Fallen Patriots would eventually fade away. Despite this I supported my husband by caring for our babies around the clock so when he came home from work he could spend time focusing on creating his dream. I'm so glad I did.
About a year into the start-up, my passion for Fallen Patriots was ignited. I was on the phone with my best friend when she learned that her brother-in-law, Technical Sgt. Dean Shelby was killed in a Virginia Air National Guard plane crash. Dean and his wife had just celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary and their two children would be ready for college in a few years. All 21 men on board the plane were killed. Their unit the 203rd Red Horse, was from my home town. I was instantly struck and knew that God was also calling me to care for military children who lost a parent in the line of duty. I suddenly understood my husband's drive and passion. I had never had an experience like that in my life and the memory impacts me to this day.
Many of the men killed in the crash had children in college at the time and we began helping them immediately. One of the children who lost her dad on this flight, Sarah Cramer, now works for Fallen Patriots as a Programs Analyst. Sarah graduated with a degree in Worship and Music Studies from Liberty University. She was able to attend this private Christian University because of the assistance of Fallen Patriots. It's an honor to have Sarah on our team.
I believe God has special plans for all of us. HE wants each of us to help HIM restore our broken world. In order to make us effective God uses the experiences in our lives that deeply move our hearts. I know HE is using me and my husband to bless and care for military children, widows, & widowers who have lost so much (I cannot imagine their pain) so that HE may fill the great void in their lives with HIS love. Some of the family members have told me they felt as if they were speaking to their lost loved one when talking with me....and I have often felt a powerful connection when speaking with the families. Some of the families I call greet me as if they already knew me. Wow! I am so humbled by this work. I have learned it's not about what I am doing but who I am while I am doing what I do. When I am walking out my calling, then Jesus is flowing out of me for others to see and feel. I delight in connecting to my true identity and participating in what God is doing in the lives of those I minister to.
When I've taken time to reflect on who I am, what my story is, I realized God is uniquely weaving together all of my experiences, interests, relationships, even my failures and disappointments to develop an amazing story. HE is the master weaver. There's nothing HE can't use. God molded every bit of my life. His fingerprints are all over me and my past. And it's a blessing that my regrets and brokenness can be used for good....our pain can have a purpose!
God has been able to draw from the many mistakes and failures I made when I was a college student. I wasn't focused in college. I bounced around to several different schools and I switched majors several times. I took for granted that I was blessed to be able to attend college. As a result, it took me almost six years to graduate! I'm not embarrassed to share that anymore because God uses my embarrassment as motivation to help the Fallen Patriots students who lose their focus like I did. I certainly can't judge them. For some of them their distraction is caused by their grief. Many of these kids just need someone to love them and believe in them, to understand their frustration, and then push them back on track and motivate them to graduate! I love talking to these kids. Some of them tell me, I am the only one who understands them. Their opening up to me makes my soul sing. I love it most when they get themselves back on track and later tell me that part of their motivation was they wanted to make everyone at Fallen Patriots proud!
My work with the Fallen Patriots families has greatly impacted my family. I am reminded every day that life is precious and family is a gift. I am reminded not to take my family for granted and I am convicted when I don't treat them with love and respect. Through my work at the foundation I am reminded to let my family know how much they mean to me. If God were to bring any of us home to be with him today, my family would know I love them. It's important....otherwise, the guilt and regret can torture you...but that's ok....because God can use that to get us back on track. HE has a way of bringing us peace and HE can use all things for good if we trust HIM. It's been an honor to serve military families and a blessing to build a wonderful legacy with my husband. God is so good to me! HE has given me a task greater than I and I look forward to all that HE has planned for me in the future.