I’ve wanted this for so long. And finally . . . it happened.
I stood on the banks of the bay in St. Petersburg on Wednesday. And I looked out into the waters that sucked you and twenty-two of your crew members to your deaths. The waters where angels — Heaven’s ambassadors — met you and escorted you Home. The waters that forever changed the paths of the twenty-five men who resurfaced in the oily water * that night and did their best to pick up the pieces of their lives and move forward.
It was all so hard. You wouldn’t be very proud of the way I handled things for those first couple of years. I was so lost in my pain — dominated by anger and fear. I missed you.
I hated God. He could’ve saved you. He didn’t. Maybe He wasn’t really so powerful after all. Or so loving as I’d always been taught. Maybe He didn’t even really exist. Maybe life was just one big crap shoot, and we all just took our chances every day.
It didn’t matter to me anymore, because I was done with Him after that. I didn’t care If He was really there or not.
But, deep in my heart, I did care. I didn’t know that — not then. He did. And He never left me.
He sent people to help me along the way. The most important of these was your friend, Scott, who has loved me; carried me; cried with me; walked this path by my side all through the years since you left.
Gradually . . . quietly . . . there came a day when I was able to recognize God’s whispers of love over my aching heart; feel Him breathe strength into my feeble attempts to respond to that love.
Eventually, I learned to trust Him again. More accurately, I eventually began learning to trust Him again. It’s a life-long lesson — this back-and-forth dance called Living a Life of Faith.
I watched Him work so much good through the loss of you.
And I want you to know!
Because you died, Scott and I were changed. We became different people, and the path we were on was altered. That path has led to a most incredible adventure.
You have twenty-one nieces and nephews.
Two of these are sons who remind us of you in so many ways. One looks so much like you. You would be proud of the men they are, even though they don’t have it all figured out yet.
Two are daughters — one very broken, according to the world’s standards for measuring such things, but she’s leaving her own beautiful mark in the world.
And the other is filled with so many of your positive personality traits, zest for life, and outgoing social skills. What lively conversations you two would have!
Seventeen others certainly would not be here if you were.
Because you died, they have been given new life. They are growing up hearing about their Uncle Gary; being told stories of his eccentric personality, his humor, his bold testimony of God’s work in his life, his respect and deep love for God and mankind.
They are told how much he would love them if he were here — how awesome he would think it is that they are home.
Most importantly, they are being taught about a loving, all-powerful sovereign God who used a tragedy — there must be a better word to capture the depth of all that happened that cold, sad, darkest of nights — to bring about His plans for their lives. How He brought to fruition plans that He laid before the beginning of time.
Three of them — our youngest — attended the memorial service with us yesterday at the site of the monument where your name is listed among the other twenty-two: QM2 Gary W. Crumly. A service is still held here every year in memory of you and the others.
They chatted and giggled with your captain’s wife (can you imagine that!?) while we visited with survivors and others who lost loved ones.
They sat in their wheelchairs beside me, looking out over that water where a ship not so very unlike yours floated in the bay.
They are too young to understand my tears, or your role in their being here. They only know that they are safe and happy and loved. But they will know. We will tell them.
You have eight great-nieces and -nephews. They are amazing, and three of those are precious little Down syndrome babies who were also rescued from lives of hopelessness and brought home to their family — your niece and her husband . . . because you died.
But there’s even more.
Because you died, hundreds of other children are also living new lives. Children who would otherwise now be dead — or worse, living in hellish mental institutions or prostituting themselves on the streets to survive — are now sons and daughters; brothers and sisters. They have been rescued! They are free to pursue their dreams and serve the God that many of them have come to know and love.
And . . . some of your shipmates tell me that, because you died, they are now walking with the God you told them about during your time here.
I want you to know!
I still miss you. I miss you every single day. Constantly, I think of things I want to tell you — share with you. I ache for you to know our children who were saved because of your death. I long for them to know you.
For years I dreamed over and over again that God allowed you to come back occasionally for visits. Not foggy, unreal dreams. These were dreams of great clarity that left me feeling like I had actually spent time with you. We would talk about the kids and my life. There were rules concerning what questions I was allowed to ask you about where you are now, and, in the dreams, I was always careful to follow those rules lest I lose the privilege of having these times with you. They were comforting dreams in spite of the fact that they drew fresh blood from my broken heart. But they were only dreams.
Someday, though . . . oh . . . I can’t wait! You and Scott and I — along with all those who love you — will walk and talk to our hearts’ content. Someday . . .
For now, though, you are never forgotten. You are remembered and loved by so many.
Your impact lives on. You would be shocked to see the legacy you have left behind.
You didn’t become famous. You created nothing spectacular. You never became rich. You never even owned a house or had a son or a daughter to carry on your name. Yet, the imprint you left behind is still growing, spreading — like ripples, it stretches on and on, touching lives, changing the world even now, thirty-five years after you left it.
If everyone could leave behind such a mark . . . what a world this would be!
Someone mentioned to me that coming to this service — seeing the place where you died — would bring closure for me. I hadn’t realized that there was still any need for closure, but in some way that I can’t quite explain or figure out, it does feel like that has happened.
I have been able, for a long time now, to be thankful for all that God has done through your death. But now . . . that joy somehow runs even deeper than it ever has before.
Seeing the place where it happened, and meeting, for the first time, people outside of our family who fully understand and share our pain, somehow freed me even more to celebrate all that God has done through taking you home. Tears flowed as I looked out over the bay, keenly aware of your absence and the absence of so many beautiful memories I once thought we would all make together.
Yet, amazingly, even in the midst of the desperate sadness in my heart, I stroked my babies’ heads and was certain that it would make you happy to know that they were home because you died. And I felt contentment; peace.
God’s plans, while not always appearing to be beautiful, are always good and right and perfect.
He truly does make beautiful things from ashes.
“You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos, life is being found in You”
(“Beautiful Things” by Gungor)
I miss you. I will miss you until the day we are together again. But I see God’s fingerprints all over this story.
You made the world a better place while you lived. And God continues making the world a better place through you in your death. Lives have been saved; souls have been redeemed.
And I know that there will be more.
I want you to know.
(*The article at this link, while a good picture of what the survivors experienced, does contain inaccuracies and misleading information about the findings in the investigation and the fault of the Blackthorn’s captain, according to our understanding of the actual events that night.)