twelve stones: stone #2

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         Meet my friend Josie.  A few years ago, I was blessed to be introduced to this sweet woman by this amazing story of God's grace.  I am so very thankful for Josie and the support and encouragement she's given me as I walk a similar road to hers.  Today Josie shares her stone as part of this Twelve Stones series.  Please take the time to read this miraculous story...

          In the middle of the night on June 23rd the doorbell rang.  I climbed out of bed in confusion at who could possibly be at my door at this hour.  Did my husband’s garage door opener malfunction? Was it a prank perpetrated by one of the neighborhood children?

            I scanned the peephole and saw a group of dark shadows standing outside. I opened the door to a group of friends from the 421st fighter squadron. Devastation marked all of their faces.  At that second, I understood why all of these people were standing at my door at this time of night. They were there to tell me that my husband, Capt. George-Bryan Houghton, left this world to be with the Lord in Heaven. George, an F-16 pilot for the 421st squadron at Hill AFB in Utah, was scheduled to fly in a night training mission to prepare for an upcoming deployment. It was his final flight in the F-16. His plane crashed in the Utah Test and Training Range.

            The next few days and weeks were a blur in my memory. I remember emotional pain so intense that it literally would take my breath away. This pain alternated with periods of numbness when I felt nothing. I was an empty shell most days. During this time I was inundated with the “business” of death. I helped the squadron with pictures and music for the memorial service, signed official military documents, met with the casualty officer, and many other tasks.

            People from the squadron started bringing me George’s belongings. First, I was given the contents of his locker. I rifled through his belongings searching for only one thing; George’s wedding ring. No luck. Later they drove his car home. No ring. A few days later, I was given the contents of his locker. No ring. The last of the items was brought to me by Maj. Bob Ungerman, the liaison from the 421st assigned to me to help me through this process. He gave me an envelope with objects found on George at the crash site:  patches from his uniform, his driver’s license, a few damaged dollar bills. I sorted through these objects and felt grateful to have these last precious tokens of him. However, I noticed there was still that one thing missing that my heart yearned to have.

            I asked Bob if he had any idea where the ring might be. He looked at me with a broken heart and told me that it had most likely been in his flight suit pocket. If it was not in the envelope in front of me, then it was probably somewhere on the ground at the crash site.  I felt a wave of disappointment at the thought of never seeing the ring again. I do not know what the compulsion was to have it in my possession. I just knew I had a deep desire in my heart to see it again.

            I must have had quite a pitiful look on my face when Bob told me the ring was still missing because he started on a serious mission to recover it for me.  This incredibly thoughtful, compassionate man organized a search of the debris at the Utah Test and Training Range.  The search party consisted of airmen and civilians from Hill AFB as well as an adventurous group of individuals from the Trails West Artifact Society who used metal detectors to hunt for treasures as a hobby. They jumped at the chance to hunt for this precious treasure for the sake of a hurting widow.

            On October 17th, a good four months after the accident, these amazing volunteers searched the crash site. Considering that the area was roughly the size of eight football fields, I can imagine how intimidated they must have been. They soon discovered that they were searching for a needle in a haystack. The metal detectors were not much assistance because of all the shrapnel. It was a hunt to find metal on metal. Switching tactics, the team started a visual scan of the area. The day passed with no sign of the ring. Just after 4:00 pm the crew was going to pack up and head back to civilization. It was decided to do one last visual search. Shortly after this decision, Lt. Col. Sean Keene spotted a small round metal object in the dirt. At first he thought he was seeing a mirage because he and the rest of the volunteers wanted to find the ring so badly.  He picked it up and sure enough there was the ring. It was unscathed, the inscription still as legible as the day I put it on his finger.

“I found it!” he said.

            Some volunteers did not believe him at first, thinking he was joking. When the ring was spotted in his hand, people began to gather around him to witness this amazing miracle. God was truly with these people from the beginning to the end. Now there was only one thing left to do; give the ring to me.

            I flew into Utah for the squadron Halloween party later that month. Bob and Karen Ungerman had invited me to stay with them and I joyfully accepted. They fetched me from the airport and took me to their house to drop off my luggage. I took my bags to the guest room. On the bed was a jewelry box and note. The note, written by Bob and Karen, said how happy they were that I was in Utah and that I had been missed. Then it stated in the black jewelry box was a chain and there was something to put on the chain under the pillow.

            I started shaking as I saw a ring box under the pillow. I slowly opened the box and there was the object for which my heart had been longing. In my hand was George’s ring, in excellent condition, just like the last time I had seen it on his finger. I burst into tears and sat down on the floor. I felt overwhelmed with happiness and gratitude. Having that ring symbolized the wholeness of our marriage. It filled the gaping hole in my heart and gave me a sense of peace and closure.

            I realize later that my longing to have the ring did not come from me; it was God given. I had felt abandoned by the Lord and deeply upset that He would allow me to go through such intense agony. It would take a miracle to restore the trust I once had in Him, and a miracle is what He provided. He put a burning desire in me to have the ring and provided the most benevolent group of people I have ever known to find it. The circumstances were impossible, but God works best in the realm of the impossible. He guided a team of people to find a tiny metal ring four months after the crash in an enormous field of metal debris. And, to really show off, He preserved the ring in a perfect state while all the other metal found around it was tarnished, rusted, and malformed. If that was not a miracle, I don’t know what is. From this miraculous act of love, God expressed to me that when I was hurting, He was hurting. When I wept, He wept with me. And, when I was at my weakest, He was the one giving me strength and comfort to get through the day. I pray that the blessing of this miracle does not stop with me and that it continues to impact those who hear about it to the glory of our Precious God!