It’s hard to believe it has been eight years: November 24, 2001. Sometimes it seems as though it was only yesterday that you left us, Ashley. Then there are moments when it seems that a lifetime has passed since that awful day.
I still miss you like crazy. We’re doing OK, though. You taught us to cherish every day. Most days we remember to do that. You taught us to live life to the fullest, to squeeze every drop of adventure out of every day that God gives us. You showed us that the real beauty of life is living with a complete trust in God. It’s funny how I’ve been a minister most of my adult life, but you figured that out so much better and lived it so much more completely than I ever have.
I’ll never forget the words you told the TV reporters at the Olympic Torch Relay Press Conference in Dallas. It was the same thing you told Kidd Kraddick when he called you really early that morning right before the Children’s Cancer Fund Luncheon to interview you on KISS-FM. It was the same thing you told everyone just by the way you lived your life every single day. “Trust in God, and never give up.” I’ve never seen that demonstrated so beautifully as I saw it in your life. Thank you for showing me what it’s like to really, really trust in God, no matter what … and to never give up. I want to be like you, Ashley.
You would be so proud of Bubba. He is doing so well in college. He’s studying to be an Ag Teacher. You’re the one who started that, you know. When you first started raising pigs for 4H, he couldn’t wait until he was old enough to raise pigs, too. And once he was old enough, you and he raised pigs together every year. Ag became such an important part of his life, in both 4H and FFA, that he decided he wants to be an Ag Teacher so he can help other kids experience all the same wonderful things that you and he experienced. And, do you know what I think? I think it’s also one way that he stays connected to you. That’s just my secret theory, but I think there’s something to it.
Bubba still misses you, Sweetie Pie. You probably saw him carry your picture around on the front of his school binder, even in high school. You probably saw him and heard him those times that he went out to your grave to “see you” during his Senior year. You probably know about the poems and stories he wrote about you after you died. You are part of his soul, Ashley, and you always will be. He has grown into a fine, strong, godly young man. I am so very blessed and so very proud to be his Daddy, just like I am so very blessed and so very proud that I got to be your Daddy.
And so, today, eight years since the last day I kissed your beautiful little bald head, we remember. We remember all the joy that you brought into our lives. We remember all the wonderful times we spent together. We are reminded how empty our lives are because you are not here, and yet how blessed our lives are because you are so very much still here. And our hearts ache, and our hearts laugh; and our eyes smile, and our eyes cry. And we remember.
Thank you, Ashley. Thank you for letting God touch the world through your beautiful smile, and through your beautiful soul. Thank you for loving me and making it such a joy to be your Daddy. Thank you for all the things you taught us about life, about courage, and about God. We will never forget.
And some day … some day … we will be together again. And I will hug you and never let go. And life will be perfect, forever.