HOUSTON — It has been the most horrific year of their lives, and yet, they say they have not grieved as ones who have no hope. Theirs has been a public grief following the tragedy that took the lives of their husbands on Feb. 1, 2003, and left a mark on millions of people around the world.
The loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia – just 16 minutes from touchdown in Florida after a 16-day mission in space – gave Evelyn Husband and Sandy Anderson a global platform for spreading the Gospel.
It is not a platform they stepped upon voluntarily. But they are determined to honor the memories of their husbands and set an example for their children by proclaiming the faith in Jesus Christ their husbands shared.
During a tribute Jan. 25 to the lives and testimonies of Columbia Shuttle Commander Rick Husband and Payload Commander Mike Anderson, the wives of the two astronauts testified of God's provision during the past year. Grace Community Church, where the Husband and Anderson families attend, hosted the memorial concert featuring Steve Green and the church choir. Green had become friends with the Husband family years earlier, making his tribute more than a professional overture.
Steve Riggle, pastor of Grace Community Church, introduced Evelyn Husband and Sandy Anderson during the concert as the audience gave the women a standing ovation.
"It has been such a blessing to celebrate Mike's and Rick's lives," Husband told the crowd. "We have grieved so horribly, but not without hope."
"It's [God's] strength that gives us the power to stand," Anderson added. "He gives us a future and a hope."
Anderson said she was so proud that both men knew the Lord, that they had answered life's deepest question of who Jesus is. Noting the uncertainty of life and its end, she said, "It doesn't matter how many days we have. It's the content of our days."
The days of Mike Anderson and Rick Husband were filled with their faith in Christ. And it is that faith that sustains the families left behind and steels their determination to make something good of something gone terribly wrong.
During a news conference prior to the concert, Anderson and Husband fielded questions from the Houston media. The women injected their faith into almost every answer. When asked how they have dealt with their losses, Husband said, "It's been the most difficult year I've ever been through, ... [but] in the midst of absolute anguish you can have joy" because of faith in Jesus.
What has been painful, Husband said, is thinking of "all of the lasts" – the last prayers with Rick or the last time he came through the door of their home.
Anderson said time has helped in the healing process, but ultimately, "What helps the most is my relationship with my Lord Jesus Christ." Anderson added she was so appreciative of the support and prayers from the community.
Husband laughed and said she believes the children are dealing with the situation better than the two mothers. Laura, 13, and Matthew, 8, are the children of the Husbands. The Anderson girls are Kaycee, 10, and Sydney, 12.
"My kids are doing much better," Anderson said. God, she added, has made so many provisions for them.
Both Mike and Rick were tremendous fathers, Husband said. They had their priorities straight – God, family, career. The influence of the men on the lives of their children – even in such a relatively short time – is evident in how the children are dealing, in faith, with the loss of their dads. There is no bitterness, no anger, she said.
When asked if they saw their husbands as "larger than life" as the world does with its heroes, Anderson laughed and said, "He was just a real person. ... He was a very kind man. He was a good dad, a good husband. I miss talking to him." She said she misses all the things about him as a husband.
It was Anderson's husband, Mike, who, less than two weeks before the launch, had a specific prayer request for his church family. Husband recorded the statement in her book, "High Calling," released Jan. 13.
"Rick and I have prayed for a successful mission," Mike said, "but also that somehow God would allow everyone to see our faith in Him. We'd like to ask for your prayers as we get ready to go on this sixteen-day mission. And not only prayers for a safe flight but also that in some small way we can use this platform to really let people know what we believe and let God's message get out there."
Rick Husband was equally prophetic on the night before the launch. In the book, Evelyn recalled Rick saying, "I still have such a sense that God is up to something special with this mission."
It has been in no small way that God has used the tragedy of Columbia. Evelyn Husband said Rick and Mike had such a beautiful way of sharing their faith. Rick requested that his funeral services tell of the reality of Jesus Christ. Rick, Evelyn said, wanted it clear that Jesus was a very real part of his life.
"I do believe," she said, "that God has had His hand in this. God did not have an off day" on Feb. 1, 2003. Husband said she could talk for six hours and still not tell of all the ways God has worked in the lives of people since the Columbia disaster. Whenever she feels the urge for a pity party, Husband said, "I'm encouraged by a life that has been touched."
And lives continued to be touched during the Sunday evening memorial concert. One of the most poignant moments of the evening occurred when a video was shown of Rick Husband singing during an Easter production at the church. The live choir on stage joined their voices with their former choir member as he sang, "Were It Not for Grace."
Tears flowed freely more than once during the course of the evening. One such moment was when Green sang "Evelyn's Song," a song he wrote for Husband, never intending to release it or sing it in public. But, with her permission, he shared his personal tribute with the audience.
At the end of the concert, Husband and Anderson thanked Green for his friendship and dedication. The women presented the singer with a photo montage of the Columbia crew and flight. Some of the photos were from a roll of film recovered from the shuttle debris. Both women signed the gift, which, Husband joked, significantly increased its value.
But the gift that drew an emotionally visible response from Green was a gift from Husband. She said Rick had listened to Green's music during workouts on the Columbia mission. Among the few personal effects of Rick's found and returned to his wife was Green's CD. "All the other CDs were fragments," she told Green. "Yours wasn't." She presented the CD to Green, who was obviously moved by the story and the significance of the gift.
Husband and Anderson said they know there is more emotional turmoil ahead in their lives, especially as they commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Columbia tragedy, including the dedication of a Columbia monument in Washington. But Husband said she has learned to deal, in part, with her grief simply by worshiping God.
"[When I] get into the intimacy of worship, the grieving goes away. I don't know how, but He does," she said.
Husband and Anderson were featured speakers at their church Feb. 1.
© 2004 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.