Rick Ross took a job in May 2005 as preaching minister for the Decatur Church of Christ. He and Beverly, his wife, moved here in November of that year, and Beverly, a licensed professional counselor, opened Wise County Christian Counseling the following June. They loved the church, loved the community and happily settled in to make Decatur their home.
But in February 2010, they began a journey.
The Rosses’ three children, daughter Jenny and sons Josh and Jonathan, were grown, out of college and married by the time they moved here. But the family remained close and children and grandchildren spent many holidays here. They grew to know and be known in the church their folks were part of.
Then on Feb. 4, 2010, Jenny, who lived in the Keller area with her husband David and 9-year-old daughter Malaya, went to the hospital.
She had been diagnosed as having the swine flu on Feb. 1 and was sent home with a prescription. But her fever continued.
“Her fever peaked and then broke, and we thought that was a good thing,” Rick said. “We learned later that meant she had gone into septic shock.”
By the next morning, their 31-year-old daughter was in the ICU at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Grapevine. A doctor told her family she was “the sickest person in any ICU in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.”
What followed was an 18-day ordeal that engulfed a family, a church and a community – a community that spread beyond hometowns to friends and fellow believers around the world.
As her body fought to save vital organs, Jenny lost circulation in her extremities. On Feb. 17 the agonizing decision was made to amputate both of her legs in a desperate effort to save her life. But the infection continued to spread, causing seizures and finally, on Feb. 22, claiming her life.
“They told us it was 500,000-to-one odds that the sepsis would break the brain barrier,” Rick said. “The odds were astronomical, and yet it happened.”
The family’s lives centered around their faith. Not only is Rick a minister and Beverly a counselor – Jenny worked in a children’s ministry, Jonathan was a worship leader and Josh was also a minister.
But they’re human, and their faith was challenged as never before. An army of prayer warriors more than 10,000 strong saw their pleadings go unanswered.
The response was not to turn away from God, but toward Him. This journey of grief had a profound impact on Rick’s preaching and Beverly’s counseling – and it touched their boys as well.
This month, Josh’s book “Scarred Faith” was published in paperback by Simon & Schuster. It’s the story of his journey – a brother dealing with the loss of a beloved sister – but it encompasses more than just Jenny’s story. Beverly put it this way.
“Josh’s grief led him to choose to be with God in the suffering of the world.”
A BROTHER’S RESPONSE
Jenny’s story is a theme that runs through Josh’s book, but the young minister and his family were already on a journey of their own when Jenny’s illness struck.
Like his dad, Josh had earned a Master of Divinity degree from Abilene Christian University, filling a pulpit role at a church in Ballinger while completing his studies.
When he graduated, he had several offers to go to growing churches in prosperous areas – but the family moved instead to “the projects” in Houston where Josh accepted a job at an inner-city church.
After a couple of years, he was approached to go to Memphis, a rough city with a high crime rate, and they moved again. In early 2010, they had made the decision to sell their home in a suburb that had excellent schools, and move into the Binghampton area – infamous as the third-poorest ZIP code in the United States.
They wanted to be “intentional neighbors” – to live in direct contact with people who desperately needed the gospel Josh was preaching. They wanted ministry to be not just a job, but a way of life for their whole family.
“All these decisions were coming down while Jenny was in the hospital,” Rick said. “They wanted to be a part of God’s kingdom breaking into the pain and suffering of the world.”
Then suddenly, their own family was engulfed in suffering.
Beverly was already holding classes on dealing with grief, and Rick had preached countless funerals, comforting families, visiting hospitals and sitting beside deathbeds. But the experience of losing their daughter had a profound effect on both their ministries.
“It has impacted my preaching,” Rick says. “It’s turned my theology upside down, for the most part in positive ways.”
Beverly said she no longer has to wonder what it feels like to need the grief counseling she offers. And she has learned that even wise words have limits.
“I’ve given up trying to rescue people and learned the power of just sitting with them,” she said. “There are some questions we have no answers to, and I’ve given up trying to answer them. As long as we walk on dirt we’ll have questions there are no answers to.”
Turns out, there’s a lot of literature out there about grief, Beverly said, but there’s not much out there about sibling loss.
That’s the back-story of “Scarred Faith” – the fact that all of us live out our faith with the scars we’ve experienced.
“The scars can enable us to live out Christ’s life, our resurrection, or they can embitter us,” Rick said. “Faith is not about knowing the answers as much as it is about asking the right questions.”
A FAMILY’S COMMITMENT
Around Jenny’s hospital bed, as the family prepared to turn off life support, they made a commitment to each other.
“We have to fight for our faith,” Beverly said. “We are not going down. We are going to support each other in faith. Our family and friends made that commitment to each other.”
After David clipped off a piece of Jenny’s hair, Beverly told the group assembled around her bed, “I want everyone here to know that we will not serve another.” She quoted Daniel 3, the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as the king of Babylon prepared to throw them in the fiery furnace.
“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18, NIV)
“Beverly made us all pledge that we would not walk away from our faith,” Rick said. “We will not serve another.”
Then, as they were leaving Jenny’s room, Beverly stopped her husband in the hallway and said, “Remind me of what we believe.”
“All I could say was, ‘The tomb is empty’,” he said. “At that point that was all that mattered – and three-and-a-half years later I’m not sure that’s still not all that matters. A whole lot of stuff that used to be important to me, isn’t.”
Josh and Kayci and their two boys Truitt, 6, and Noah, 3, still live in Memphis. Jonathan and his wife Jennifer have just built a home in Decatur, where they live with their two children, Jed, 6, and Jocelyn, 4. Jonathan works as a firefighter at DFW Airport and leads worship whenever he can.
Malaya, now 13, and her dad David still live in the Keller area. The Ross family has an Easter service at Jenny’s grave every year, usually drawing 30 or 40 people to Decatur’s Oaklawn Cemetery.
They remember her life, her voice, her touch and remind each other and themselves of the faith – scarred faith – that they will see her again.
Josh has dedicated half of the proceeds of his book to two ministries close to his heart, Agape, and Touch a Life.
The book came out May 7, and Beverly has copies at her office, which just moved across the road to 2200 S Farm Road 51, Suite 500.
The non-profit, 501-C3 agency is having an open house and fund-raising event on Wednesday, May 29 from 4 to 7 p.m. and Josh’s books will be on sale there for $14.99. The public is invited.
You may also contact WiseCCC at 940-627-1618 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.