No one was tougher than my husband, Rickey. For years he had been a construction crew leader for the Virginia Department of Transportation. The work was hard and dirty, but tired or not, Rickey was ready and willing to do whatever needed to be done around our home or to give one of our neighbors a hand. That's just the way Rickey had always been, tons of energy and more than willing to help.
Three years ago, Rickey's energy flagged. He could barely get out of bed. Equally frightening symptoms emerged until finally doctors diagnosed my husband with ALS-Lou Gehrig's disease. We were devastated.
Rickey grew weaker as his ability to command his muscles wasted away. He lost his voice. He became confined to a wheelchair. The sicker he got, the more helpless I felt. It had been so long since I'd done anything without Rickey's help. As Rickey's strength left him, mine seemed to drain as well. The future seemed terrifying. How would I be able to manage?
I found out one April about a year ago. Our 11-year-old daughter, Tiffany, was at school. After lunch, Rickey dozed off in his wheelchair. Our dog, Gizmo, played along beside me as I trudged up our gravel drive on Pump Hollow Road to check the mailbox. I reached in and pulled out a handful of bills. At the same moment, I heard the wail of a police siren.
Wonder what's going on? I started going back toward the house when a car came screeching around the bend. It sped down Pump Hollow Road, turned into our driveway and skidded to a stop. Through the cloud of dust I saw a couple jump out and run toward me. The man had long, messy hair, and wore faded jeans and a ripped T-shirt. The woman was a few years younger, maybe 20, with a pretty face and curly brown hair.
The next thing that I noticed made me freeze in my tracks and drop all the mail. Both the man and the woman running at me were carrying pistols.
The man pointed his gun at me. "Get in the house!" he yelled. A police cruiser tore down our road, siren blaring. The man forced me into the house as the police roared into our driveway.
He slammed the door shut behind us and ran around the kitchen and into the living room pulling down the shades. The girl nervously trained her gun on me. "Don't try anything," she warned. Startled by all the commotion, Rickey woke and quickly focused on them.
The man stared at Rickey sitting there in his wheelchair. "What's the matter with him?" he asked.
"He's got Lou Gehrig's disease. He can't move anything except his fingers and his head a little."
"Dennis," the girl shouted from the front, "come quick!" She was peering out the window. So that was his name--Dennis. He looked over his shoulder and cursed at what he saw.
"There's cops everywhere!" he said. I looked too. More squad cars had pulled up and police swarmed into our yard.
"What are we gonna do Dennis?" the girl asked. Her voice was shaking, and so were my hands. Gizmo raced around barking frantically.
"Shut that dog up, lady!" Dennis yelled. "He's getting on my nerves."
I scooped up Gizmo and held him close. The two fugitives proceeded to cover the windows and pushed furniture in front of the doors. I glanced at Rickey. He must be terrified.
But as our eyes met, Rickey smiled. He looked at me calmly and steadily, and then up at the picture of Jesus we keep on the wall. Okay, I got the message. I took a deep breath. Lord, I prayed silently, help us stay calm. Get us through this. Give us your strength.
"You got any drugs in this house?" Dennis demanded, waving his gun.
"Rickey has some medicine in the bathroom. It's in the top of the cabinet."
"Get it." When I came back with a bottle of Rickey's muscle relaxants, Dennis snatched it from me and popped a few pills in his mouth, then tossed the bottle to the girl who did the same. The phone rang and Dennis grabbed it.
"Angel and I have guns," he shouted into the phone. "Don't try coming in here. We have two hostages."
Angel, I thought, what a beautiful name for such a troubled person. At the same time I was swept by a fearful wave of recognition. This was the pair that I had seen on the news last night. They'd assaulted two police in Tennessee and stolen their guns. Along the way they kidnapped a woman and her baby whom they later let go. The police were hunting for them in two states. They'd been described as extremely dangerous. And now Rickey and I were at the mercy of these two desperados.
If only Rickey were healthy again, I thought, looking over at him, he'd handle this. He'd know what to do. He began drawing on his pant leg with his index finger. After he lost his voice, we developed our own personal system for communicating. Rickey would draw a letter, spelling out whatever he wanted, and it turned into a kind of shorthand that I was able to interpret. We had learned to have whole conversations in that way. Now Rickey wrote out this message: Get them power bands.
I stared at him. He spelled out the message again. Power bands are Rickey's favorite gifts for his visitors, little leather bracelets knotted with colored beads, each one symbolic- a green bead for spiritual growth, a yellow for heavenly glory, white for trust and forgiveness and so on. For years before he got sick he had made them by hand to give out. Now his brother-in-law made them for him. Since Rickey lost his voice, he's given out more than 1,000 of these bracelets. They helped to tell folks about his faith.
What were we doing? These people are dangerous and anything could set them off. Yet Rickey was insistent. I put down Gizmo and slipped two bands out of the bag where Rickey keeps them on his wheelchair. Dennis had lit up a cigarette, and when I held out the bracelet, he looked startled. "What's this?" he snapped. I turned to Angel and gave her one, too. She put her gun down and fingered the beads. "What do the colors mean?" she asked. I explained.
"Nobody ever gave me nothin' before," Dennis said. His face, which had been so angry, now seemed just tired. I couldn't believe it, but his eyes were filled with tears. He turned to Rickey. "Thanks," he said. He waved the gun again but now he seemed less worked up. "Just do what you were doing," he said. "We ain't goin' nowhere."
Slowly the shadows lengthened in the yard. Angel clicked on the TV. Sure enough, we were on the news. Broadcasters announced that our house was surrounded by police officers and FBI agents. I made some Spam sandwiches while Dennis paced the front room and smoked and occasionally spoke with hostage negotiators on the telephone. These exchanges always ended with Dennis slamming the phone down. He and Angel took some more of Rickey's pills.
By now it was past time for Tiffany to come home from school. I asked if I could call next door to my sister-in-law's to make sure my daughter was okay. It turned out she was. "How old is she?" Angel asked after I hung up.
"Eleven," I answered.
When Angel spoke again it was in a whisper. "Would you do me a favor, ma'am?" she asked after a moment. "My mama used to read me the Lord's Prayer before I went to sleep at night. If you have a Bible, I sure would appreciate it."
Rickey nodded. I took our Bible from the shelf. Even though I knew the words full well, it comforted me to actually read them, and to feel the weight of the book in my hands. "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done." As I read Angel shut her eyes, and after I'd finished she was silent for so long I wondered if she had actually fallen asleep.
"This is probably the end of the road for us, " Dennis said, his voice slurring. "But we're not getting out of here alive. We'll kill ourselves before we before we give up." It was obvious that exhaustion and the pills were taking their toll.
Immediately Rickey spelled out a message on his lap, and I read it to Angel and Dennis: "Please don't hurt yourselves. God loves you. God will get you through this. Trust him."
Nine hours had passed since Gizmo and I went out to get the mail. Angel slumped at the kitchen table. Dennis' head dropped on his chest and he passed out. I leaned over and took Rickey's hand. He pressed mine firmly. That's when Angel got up wearily, went to the phone and called the police. "We're ready to give up," she said. She helped me ease Rickey's wheelchair down the back stairs. In seconds we were surrounded by police officers. They handcuffed Angel, raced into our home and brought out Dennis.
I shielded Rickey's eyes from the TV crews' lights and heard Angel call over to us. "I don't know how to explain it," she said, "but I know God had us stop at this house. Otherwise someone might have gotten killed. Thank you."
Nobody could believe the siege ended without a shot being fired. The police and reporters who talked to us were amazed. "Those two could have exploded at any moment," they all said. "How did you keep them calm?"
"It was Rickey. He was the one who calmed them down and saved us."
Dennis and Angel are now in prison, and we pray every day that God will turn their lives around. As for myself, my husband has shown me without a doubt where true strength lies. It's not just in physical power, but strength of something much deeper, a power that is always there for us when we are in need of it. And it is what will get me through as Rickey and I face the future together, stronger than ever.