Hope in My Nightmares: Rachel Faulkner-Brown
With two husbands in heaven and one here, Rachel Faulkner-Brown has walked dark roads. But she knows hope, and healing from profound grief, are possible.
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With two husbands in heaven and one here, Rachel Faulkner-Brown has walked dark roads. But she knows hope, & healing from profound grief, are possible
Hope in My Nightmares: Rachel Faulkner-Brown
Rachel: I will tell you, you lose a husband or bury a husband, you immediately become like an old lady.
Ann: Yes, I would bet.
Rachel: I mean, you know, like in my mind, I was fifty! I mean because I had done things that people don’t do until they’re seventy.
Rachel: So, when you go to the funeral home, and you pick out a casket, you just age.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: So, probably one of the darkest moments in a person’s life, obviously, is when they lose a child or a spouse.
Dave: I’ve been in many hospital rooms as a pastor in that moment.
Dave: You know, one of my good friends, Steve Roaner—we coached our boys in basketball—had this massive heart attack, and I literally had my hand on his chest as he breathed his last; then, walking with Karen through that was just—
Ann: And her two kids; one of her sons is best friends with our son.
Dave: Still, to this day.
Dave: Which is a beautiful thing. So, anyway, with that as an intro, we’ve got Rachel Faulkner-Brown in the studio, and we’re going to talk about some heavy stuff.
Ann: So, welcome to FamilyLife Today. We’re happy to have you!
Rachel: Such an honor to be here!
Ann: Rachel, you’ve had quite an experience.
Ann: And your book is called His Name: Our Hope in Grief.
Ann: So, share with our listeners your story, because it hasn’t been an easy one at all.
Rachel: No, it has not. Yes, I married my college sweetheart. We were married for almost four years. He went to play a game of pick-up basketball and had a massive aneurysm on the basketball court right in front of all of his friends. Actually, we were both pharmaceutical reps, [and it happened] in front of one of our doctors, which was so amazing. He immediately was able to start CPR.
Ann: How old was he?
Rachel: He was 27, and I was 23. But in that fall from the aneurysm, it severed his spinal cord, which we did not know, which stopped his heart. So, there was no chance. He died doing what he loved, which is crazy! We had just started talking about having kids that Sunday, actually. He died five days after September 11, 2001. So, our world was kind of upside down, and then my world got completely turned upside down.
Ann: Well, take me back!
Ann: Did you go to the hospital?
Rachel: We did. Yes, absolutely. I went to the hospital. You know, ER had just kind of finished at that point. And it was just like you see in the movies. They came out, and they said, “Mrs. Fouse, we did everything we could.” I remember just thinking, “Why are you calling Mrs. Fouse? What?” You know, because I was so young! The fact that this healthy person that I saw not even two hours ago was gone!
Rachel: Honestly, I walked back there. I laid myself over his body. “How is this even--!?” You know, I was in shock, like every widow is when this call happens. My friend (he was playing at her house) thought that he had broken his leg. So, on my drive over, I thought I was just coming for a broken leg.
Ann: Oh, they told you he was hurt on the basketball court?
Rachel: She said, “I think he broke his leg.” So, on my drive over, I was not thinking, “This is the end.” But honestly, I will tell y’all—and I don’t tell the story that often, but—three hours after Todd died, one of my friends in college saw Todd’s sport coat on our barstool on our house—everybody came back to our house after they realized Todd has passed away; she saw that coat on the barstool, and she was like, “I’ve walked away from church. I’ve walked away from community.”
She was walking away from religion, ultimately, because she didn’t have a relationship with Jesus. I had done Evangelism Explosion. I mean, I had done all the gospel-sharing tools that my church had offered. I was there! We were knocking on doors every Wednesday night.
Dave: I mean, think about this! Evangelism Explosion—the big question is—you’re living it: “If you died today, where would you go? Would you go to heaven?”
Rachel: Yes, oh, totally! And she did not know. She had no assurance. She was just flooded with, “What would happen to me?” And she had no community. “Who would be here for me?” All I heard was, “She doesn’t know me, Rachel.” We went to my bedroom and prayed with her to receive the fullness of who God wanted to be to her.
Dave: On the day of your husband’s death.
Rachel: Three hours after he died. I get chills thinking about it. Her family ended up getting baptized. They’re super-involved in ministry, even today. Their kids—they’ve got three kids now. They didn’t have any children. Todd’s death changed the trajectory of Melanie’s entire family.
Rachel: So, I look at that, and I just think, “Yes, there is an empty seat at the table. Todd will never sit beside us at holidays ever again; but we’ll never know this side of heaven what God did.”
Ann: So, you’re all by yourself.
Rachel: Yes, with my dog.
Ann: With your dog. [Laughter]
Rachel: Oh, yes. I had a little tiny dog.
Ann: I can’t even imagine the loneliness and the shock you were in.
Rachel: Oh, I was so shocked! It was ten days before my 24th birthday, and we were—you know, we’d been together almost eight years. We dated all through college. His family was my family! It was—
Ann: Did you pray that night?
Rachel: Yes, oh, yes!
Ann: What did that sound like?
Rachel: Well, I prayed all the way to the hospital. It was like, “God, I don’t know what you’re doing.” I remember literally saying, “God, I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know what You’re doing, but just save my husband.” You know, I was just—once I realized that he was probably, like something bad was going to happen—I knew this wasn’t going to turn out. You don’t walk up on CPR and it turns out really well, typically. But I will tell y’all, I learned to worship in those days after.
I’ll never—Anne Graham Lott had written the book, Give Me Jesus.
Rachel: Y’all remember. It had a CD in the back. This is back in CD days when I had my Jambox on the floor. [Laughter] And in the back of the book, there was Fernando Ortega’s song, Give Me Jesus, and Anne did this thing in the middle of it, where she would say, “He is the Alpha and the Omega, He is the Beginning and the End.” She did the spoken word before that was even a thing!
Rachel: Nobody even knew what a “spoken word” was, but Anne was doing it back then in 2001. I would play that CD every night, and I would sing, Give Me Jesus. “When I am alone, give me Jesus; when I come to die, give me Jesus.”
Rachel: [Crying] And I learned to worship, you know? I mean, I will say—and I still teach the widows today, “When you don’t know what to do, you just worship.” That is it. Worship is God’s greatest gift to our hearts and our bodies. I just saw a study that when a song creates an emotional response, dopamine is released in the body, more so than even what a real anti-depressant—you know, like a drug can do.
Rachel: And I just thought, “That is our Creator!” Our Creator knew! I think about David when he was playing the harp. How many people used worship to come above their circumstances?
Rachel: And I learned that the hard way, unfortunately.
Ann: It’s so interesting, because when my best friend, (who was my sister, passed away when I was 39—
Ann: But I remember going to church, and I couldn’t sing.
Rachel: Yes, it’s a big deal.
Ann: When the music would come on, I couldn’t sing.
Dave: She would just cry.
Ann: Like, there was something about the worship music, the Scripture that just flooded over me, that was also so healing.
Rachel: Oh, yes.
Ann: Even though I couldn’t even get the words out because I would be a mess on the floor.
Rachel: Yes; oh, yes.
Ann: That’s so interesting.
Rachel: But it was healing your body—
Ann: Yes, yes.
Rachel: —whether you knew it or not. Even on our retreats—our widows’ retreats—most of them have not sung since their husband died.
Rachel: So, it is such a big deal, which is why we have worship for every session, because we want to retrain their hearts to override their souls. I mean, that’s what this is about. Life is about overriding the soul and letting the Spirit of God sing through you.
Dave: What do you mean “overriding the soul?”
Dave: That could be a book title.
Rachel: Yes, I know.
Dave: It’s like, “That’s a great phrase.”
Rachel: That’s my life! That should have been my life song. [Laughter] “Override Your Soul.” David commanded his soul to do things.
Rachel: We’re three-part beings. You have a spirit, you have a soul, and you have a body. Most people live out of their soul their whole life, which is where the wounds happen; the traumas; all the things!
Ann: All of the emotions.
Rachel: But our spirit is alive to Jesus. Jesus, He’s like, you know, “You have the mind of Christ.” Well, that’s because you have the Spirit of Christ in you. So, when you say “yes” to Jesus, and you become a new creation, your spirit comes alive! I mean, every day, what I think about every morning when I wake up is, “Spirit, lead.” I mean, think about that song Oceans.
Rachel: “Spirit, lead.” That is your own spirit that is alive to Christ. So, to me, overriding the soul is choosing to let the Spirit lead.
Dave: So, as you walk out of that, tell us the next step in the journey.
Rachel: Yes; well, you know, there’s a one-year rule for all widows: “You can’t date for one year.” It’s so dumb. Clearly, I busted that rule so hard-core! [Laughter] I was like, “Let me just date like nine months in. Am I going to fall off—you know, fall off the face of the earth—by going on a date at nine months?” But there is a good rule; whatever. You know, God was bringing people and you know, kind of moving things into place.
My in-laws are best friends with the Faulkners, who had a son who was a fighter pilot in the Air Force and had a very cool job. He loved Jesus and needed a wife. I was like, “I should be her!” [Laughter] You know? “I love Jesus. You’re single. You’re ten years older. You’re very mature.”
And I will tell you, you lose a husband or bury a husband, you immediately become like an old lady.
Ann: Yes, I would bet.
Rachel: I mean, you know, like in my mind, I was fifty! I mean because I had done things that people don’t do until they’re 70.
Rachel: So, when you go to the funeral home, and you pick out a casket, you just age, you know? Hopefully, in my face, it didn’t show it! [Laughter]
But Blair was living his best life. I was like, “Wow! I should go out with him.” So, we had our first date.
Ann: This is like Maverick.
Rachel: Yes, he was. He really, really was! He flew the A10. He dropped bombs every day. I mean, he was my—it was so funny! He would bring back rugs from Afghanistan, when he would go on tours of duty, for our whole family! Like Judy had rugs and Glenda, my mother-in-law, had rugs. [Laughter] Blair was our rug dealer, which was hilarious!
So, anyway, it was just this perfect setup. He was home, and we went out the day before Christmas Eve, and I knew. Two weeks later I told him I loved him. We got engaged. Rod is like, “That’s not shocking.” [Laughter]
I tell people, I could fall in love with a wall. I just love big! And of course, I had been married. I knew what I was looking for, you know? Blair was just hilarious! So accomplished, but yet he was praying for his fellow fighter pilots to meet Jesus, every day! I mean, we had a list of fighter pilots who didn’t know the Lord that we prayed for every day.
t's so interesting because Rod and Blair both love their friends so much! That was the thing. When we would go on road trips, Blair would call all of his friends. The whole trip, just one after another after another, keeping up with them. You know, “How are you?” I just thought, “That is so unusual!” And then I married another man who does the same thing, which is just so precious! We moved to New Orleans. We got married, you know, super-fast.
Dave: Not like two weeks later?
Rachel: Yes, kind of. I mean, you know?
Rachel: No! No, we got engaged in April, and we married in July of 2003.
Rachel: You know, life was great! We were dual income, no kids, living in New Orleans, just living our best life!
Ann: And did you think, at this point, “Okay, that season that happened; that’s long ago. Now, God has this great plan for my future.”
Rachel: Oh, yes. Oh, 100%!
Blair and Todd grew up together. They camped together as children. I have pictures of both my husbands burying each other in the sand at Jekyll Island! I mean, it was like, “God, you see me! You created this amazing family. I get to keep my in-laws. I have really amazing relationships with both sets of in-laws.” I was like, “I just get to add people on into the family, and we can all do Christmas together!”
It was really healing, you know? It was really neat. I felt like it was healing for Ed and Glenda, Todd’s parents, to just watch me come alive again - yet still know that they were going to be part of it if we had kids. And we did! We had two kids. We moved from New Orleans to Columbus, Mississippi, where he became an instructor in the T38. In 2008, I had a five-month-old little girl, Campbell, and Davis was two years old, and Blair went to fly on this gorgeous—what we would call—VFR, a visual flight reference day, where it’s like clear for 100 miles.
Ann: How old were you at this time?
Rachel: I was 31.
Rachel: Yes, 31. And he went out with his student pilot, who was 22. His wife was seven months pregnant. And it was so funny; on the taxi out, I had just been making bread at this point. I was making Amish Friendship bread. Y’all remember that stuff?
Rachel: And Blair loved Amish Friendship bread, so he was telling Matthew all about this Amish Friendship bread. “You’ve got to get a starter! You’ve got to get your wife a starter so you can have Amish Friendship bread!” [Laughter] He was naming their son Laban, and Blair was like, “I mean, don’t you know Laban like really wasn’t a good guy in the Bible? Why do you want to name him that?” Listening back to the tape, it’s hilarious. I’m like, “Why did you say that?”
They took off, and the cable in the wing, the aileron had a fisher and they took off with a full tank of gas and immediately crashed.
Rachel: So, I mean, honestly, you know, I came back to my house, and the chaplain was looking for me. I came into my neighbor’s house, where the wing commander was waiting for me, and they said, “Mrs. Faulkner, you know, we’re sorry to tell you, but at 12:30 today, on the runway, Blair and his student pilot were killed. The U.S. Air Force is going to take care of you and your little children.” And all I heard—I didn’t know that Scripture, but I knew the story of Joseph, but all I heard—was Genesis 50:20: “What you intended for harm, enemy, to take out my entire family, God intended for good and for the saving of many lives.” And then, it goes on to say, “Fear not, I will take care of you and your little children.”
Ann: You heard that go through your mind?
Rachel: I mean, yes. I just—it was like I knew God was just doing something so much bigger than me. I had this massive awareness that my life—which I’m sure Elisabeth Elliot felt the same; my life—wasn’t my own, and I’d had this encounter with Jesus in November 2007; this was April 2008. I’d had this encounter where I just felt like the Lord was inviting me into this deeper level of intimacy and kind of like a marriage. You know, [it was] my Song of Solomon moment. But I did not have a frame for it! I’d never had anybody in my life have an encounter with God that I knew of, that they talked about.
It was just like I didn’t have a place for that to land. It was just this isolated event where I was being invited into something special. And then, he dies in April, and I’m like, “I knew God was doing something.” And of course, I knew—I was just like—
Rachel: “People are going to meet Jesus!” I mean, Blair’s death—I’d seen just a tiny taste of that with Todd, and so I had a history that God was showing me: “Look what I’m going to do! I’m going—” Romans 8:28; it is going to work out for good! You know, I was still serving the Lord. I wasn’t receiving from the Lord, because I didn’t know how to do that, but I was serving, you know? And I was seeing somewhat of the tapestry coming, and then he passes away. But this time, I have kids. It is like a totally different story!
Ann: I can’t even imagine!
Rachel: Yes, I know.
Ann: I think my mind would be so blown, and there’s a part of me, too—how sweet of God to give you this encounter with Him.
Ann: Because a lot of people would be thinking, “Really? Really, God!?”
Rachel: Oh, yes; yes.
Ann: “I’m barely out of my twenties, and I’ve lost two husbands!”
Ann: Like, “What kind of god--?” You know those questions that are hard.
Rachel: Oh, yes; oh, yes.
Dave: Did you wrestle with any of those?
Rachel: Yes, you know, in that season of marriage, it was very hard, because I had a secret. I had been abused when I was ten years old, and I was constantly trying to push this secret down, and it’s going to come out. I mean, obviously, it comes out in every marriage. So, I was like pointing the finger at Blair and his career, like, “You’re ruining my life. You’re not here enough. You’re not doing enough. You haven’t changed enough diapers.” So, I was—this anger and this shame, which I didn’t know—
Ann: You didn’t know it was shame at the time.
Rachel: I didn’t know what I didn’t know! I mean, y’all! It’s like, I had never been to a counselor! I’d lost a husband, but depression wasn’t my story. I woke up every day like, “What are we doing today, God!?” So, it was—all of my training wheels were falling off my beautiful life that I’d created, and then, you know, I have this encounter. Blair had gotten a mentor right before he died, and that mentor—I love sharing this, because it did change the trajectory of my life, because of Blair’s surrender.
So, the mentor met with Blair four times before he died. The first time was just, “Hey, how are you? This is what we want to do.” The second time was, “I want you to read Hebrews Hall of Faith. If you’re not willing to surrender your career, including being a fighter pilot, to the cause of Christ, then I can’t meet with you.” Blair was like, “Whoa, Dude! I mean, I’m just kind of wanting to walk through some of Romans!” You know? [Laughter]
Ann: The Roman Road!
Rachel: Yes, and he was like way serious! Blair came home, and he was like, “Listen to what this guy said! He is like in it to win it, and he’s very serious, like, ‘If you’re not willing to leave this job. . .’” A pilot would say, “Being a pilot flows in my veins,” you know?
Rachel: I mean, it’s not like a career; it’s like, “This is who I am.” It was an identity, 100% an identity! And he said, “We’re going to pray about it.” And of course, I was like, “Oh, no, no, no. I’m a stay-at-home mother! This is our insurance. This is how we roll. You make a great life. We live in a tiny town and have everything we need.” I’m like, “No! I mean, come on! He can’t be that serious.”
And y’all, we’re like in church! We’re like leading the studies and doing the things. I’m in MOPS. You know? I’m like living the Jesus life! [Laughter] But yet, that was like stepping on my toes. I was kind of like, “I mean, I might want to be a missionary, but really not,” you know?
Ann: Yes. “Would I give up everything?”
Rachel: Right! Would I give up everything? And Blair, the next day, was like, “I’m going to meet with him.” I was like, “Oh, here we go! What is this going to mean?” Of course, you know, I’m still meeting with a mentor at this point. I had had this encounter. And Blair died two weeks after.
Rachel: Yes. His funeral was a different funeral because of that surrender. Because Hugh stood up at his funeral. I mean, we had six men share, and Hugh stood up at his funeral and told all those men what he’d agreed to.
Rachel: And I look back on that day, and hundreds of people—you know, they were probably; they would have said, “I go to church.” But they would not have called themselves Jesus-followers. So, you know, even at his funeral, it was just like I could just see the hand of God on my family. I knew He was going to take care of us. I had an encounter—another encounter—seven days after Blair died, where I just had this total peace wash over me. It was like I knew; it was like the Tent of Meeting, and the Spirit of the Lord was so thick in my room that I was terrified, but I wasn’t afraid. It wasn’t like I was going to see God or anything, but I knew He was there.
I was alone for the first time. I did sleep—my two best friends slept with me for seven—in my bed, in our king-sized bed; I slept in the middle of them for seven days as we planned the five funerals that we had. They left, and I had this encounter. And I think it was just to remove fear from my life, because I could have—y’all, I could have locked my kids in a closet and never let them out.
Ann: Oh, yes!
Rachel: And I could have never driven again, and I could have never gotten on an airplane the rest of my life, because somebody might die. I mean, I could have been gripped; and the Lord was just like, “That is not my plan for you, so I’m going to give you this, and you’re not going to have a frame of reference for that either, because you don’t know what you don’t know.” Anyway, I mean—I’m sorry. That’s a lot! [Laughter]
Ann: It’s amazing. What a story!
Shelby: Hi, I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Rachel Faulkner-Brown on FamilyLife Today. You know, when something bad happens in our lives, we have a tendency to be terrified about what could happen to either us or our spouse or our kids or whatever. That fear can become a prison of sorts.
I remember that this happened to me. I was sexually abused when I was five. When my kids turned the age that I was abused, I was terrified to let them out of my sight; even letting them go for kids’ ministry at church. I was scared to do that, and I realized very quickly that I was forming a prison around myself about what could happen. I was not trusting the Lord in those moments. The reminder that Rachel has given us today has been super helpful for me.
Rachel has written a book called His Name: Our Hope in Grief. Many of us have been through a lot of grief, and Rachel herself has been through a ton of grief, as you have heard today. We want to give you a copy of Rachel’s book as our “thank you” when you become a partner with us at FamilyLife. This continued dedication that many of our partners have with us is one of those things that really encourages me. FamilyLife Today is a donor-supported ministry, and it wouldn’t exist without people who give to the ministry. We whole-heartedly appreciate you if you are a partner with us.
If you have yet to join us, we would love it if you would consider partnering with us today. You can go online to FamiyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call with your donation at 1-800-358-6329. Now, that can be a one-time gift or a recurring monthly gift if you want to. Again, the number is 1-800-F as in “family,” L as in “life,” and then the word, “TODAY.” And if you wanted to drop us a note by snail mail, our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, FL 32832.
Now, tomorrow, Rachel Faulkner-Brown is going to be with Dave and Ann again here in the studio to continue to talk about her story, about what happened when her third husband Rod was diagnosed with anxiety and depression that ended up becoming a paralyzing thing for him for almost two years, and how Rachel became sad and depressed herself and even angry. She’ll be honest about her story, continuing tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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