Riding to Remember

When the Children of Israel crossed the Jordan River, they were instructed to take twelve stones from their new land (Joshua 4:9) and place them in the middle of the river. The stones were to be placed where the feet of the priests stood as they held the Ark of the Covenant while the Tribes crossed over to the Promised Land.

They were also instructed (Joshua 4:1-8) to bring twelve stones out of the Jordan and place them in the new land – at Gilgal – as an altar. This was so they would not forget where they had come from and all they had experienced as they entered the Promised Land.

This ceremony was God’s way of helping them remember; thus it became a memorial. God told them that the stones would make their children ask their fathers in time to come, “What do these stones mean?” They would be able to answer them and tell them how God took them through the Red Sea at the beginning of their journey and through the Jordan River at the end – on dry ground. The stones were to be their memorial.

Scripture says those stones placed in the Jordan River are still there to this day. Sometimes I wonder just where in that river those stones were placed because I’d love to see that pile of stones after all these years!

During their forty years’ journey through the wilderness, the Children of Israel faced many trials and tests. They experienced God’s might and His miracles. They buried loved ones in the wilderness and in the desert. Marriages were performed, and babies were born. And they lived with a pillar of fire during the night and a cloud by day to lead the way.

They left many things behind as they crossed over Jordan; they also had many new experiences to encounter. So placing twelve stones (one for each tribe) on the other side of the Jordan was a way to remember all of that.


I think it’s a good idea to have memorials so that we don’t forget our past. It’s a good thing to have memorials so we can look back and realize how far we’ve come (or how much farther we have to go). We did that on Saturday, June 14, 2014 and do it every year on the Saturday of Father’s Day weekend.

For the third year, siblings, sons, nieces and nephews, cousins, and friends have revved their bikes, put on their helmets, and headed north to visit the places where angels met our loved ones. A memorial helps people reminisce and remember. And that we did. The grief is not as rampant as it once was, but visiting those places brings back memories – and tears. It also brings healing.

at the site where Jerrel's Jetta went over a bank
at the site where Jerrel’s Jetta went over a bank

In OctBIKE RIDE Paul's tombstoneober 1998 Paul Slabach left the office of the church he was pastoring in Lyndhurst, Virginia and headed home to his pregnant wife and three children. He never made it.

A fire truck heading up the mountain with one last load of water for a forest fire lost control around a curve and hit Paul head-on. Before he could be airlifted to UVA, he was gone.

Three months after Paul’s death, his widow Regina birthed their child by emergency C-section and a few weeks later was airlifted to UVA because of post-eclamptic seizures.

In the ensuing sixteen years, Regina married Myron Brubaker, and she and Myron are raising her (and his adopted) children. Myron and Regina and their children are all a part of the Slabach family – and always will be.

Their children are growing up and getting ready to move out on their own. Their oldest son has graduated from college, the second son will finish in a year, a daughter begins college this fall, and the unborn son at Paul’s death will be a high school sophomore this fall.

Paul was thirty-eight when he was called Home. We have not forgotten him. We miss him still. And we will always wonder what life would be like had he not died when he did.

In December of 2011 Jerrel Good, his wife Joyce, and their youngest of seven children were traveling the back roads on their way to a meeting in Stuarts Draft, Virginia. Coming around a curve on Rt.151, they were hit head-on by a young man on his way home from work. The man, a diabetic, either fell asleep or had low blood sugar; he does not remember what happened. He suffered a crushed heel and other injuries.

Jerrel’s Jetta was pushed off the road and came to rest at the edge of an embankment. In the darkness, Joyce came to after a few moments of unconsciousness. Jerrel was unresponsive, so she picked up her phone, which just happened to be within reach, and called her oldest son, a nurse.

“We’ve been in an accident,” she told him. “Your father is not responding. It’s bad.”

She was right. Yet in those moments, Joyce saw a light and felt a Presence and a sense of peace and calm in the vehicle as she waited for help to arrive.

Little Tabi, only three, related to folks later, “The angels just came,” and she demonstrated by raising her hands in the air, “and took my daddy to Heaven.” Jerrel was forty-eight.

Paul was Dave’s brother, and Jerrel was his cousin. Paul was one of Dave’s greatest supporters and his friend. Jerrel and Dave were friends and camping buddies and planned to grow old together. They had a lot of things they were going to do when they got old – things they didn’t have time to do now. They didn’t get that chance to grow old and do those things together.

The summer before Jerrel’s death (June of 2011) Dave and Jerrel and their boys spent a Saturday on a bike trip. They didn’t have an agenda; they just wanted to ride with their boys, so they did. And they decided they’d start a tradition: every year on Father’s Day weekend, they’d do a father/son bike trip on Saturday. Six months later to the day, Jerrel went to Heaven.

1st Memorial Bike ride, 2013
1st Memorial Bike ride, 2013. Brothers of Paul and Jerrel, their nieces and nephews, and Jerrel’s four sons

Come June, there was still a bike trip because Jerrel’s sons wanted to continue the ride. Jerrel’s sons, brother, his cousins, and their sons and daughters joined the ride. In memory of both Jerrel and Paul, the bike ride was completed. Each year, more people have come, and more bikes participate. Anyone who knew Paul or Jerrel is welcome to participate.


And they ride – not to memorialize Paul and Jerrel, but to remember the goodness of God and the blessings of lives well-lived and well-loved. While the grief from losing Paul is not as painful as it once was, the grief of losing Jerrel is still strong.

In the two and a half years since Jerrel’s death, his family has experienced many changes. Joyce’s daughter gave her a grandson – and then later buried a stillborn granddaughter. One son has gotten married; another one recently announced his engagement. A third son completed aviation mechanic training and is living in Canada. Joyce is taking classes toward a nursing degree and has a part-time job. It seems that Jerrel has missed so much in the short time he’s been gone.

rest stop near the site of Jerrel’s accident

Questions asked are not always answered. But this we know: God gives strength and courage to go on, even when life is unbearably hard. God provides resources and people to help carry the load. Riding up the mountains and around the curves reminds us of how far we’ve come since these tragedies have ripped us apart.

Having the gentleman who hit Jerrel’s Jetta along on the ride the past two years has been both difficult and special. Standing at the site where Jerrel lost his life, he shared his journey following the accident he caused that claimed this father’s life.

There were many tears – not just his, but ours as well. It has been poignant and painful – and healing. In our grief, there is healing when we reckon that we’ll never understand this side of Heaven, but we know that God does all things well.

So we carry our stones out of our deep waters and place them on the ground for others to see and for us to remember. They help us remember how He was there in those dark days and nights when we cried, “Why?” and there was no answer.

There are many different ways to remember loved ones. For this extended family, it makes sense to do a motorcycle ride. Paul and Jerrel both loved to ride. The plan for an annual ride had been made before Jerrel’s death, and his boys wanted to continue the tradition after he died.

the site where Paul met Jesus on October 27, 1998

One person shared with Dave this year, “Thanks so much for doing this. I was not prepared for the emotion that would hit me when I visited Paul’s grave. I hadn’t been there for probably ten years, but Paul was my best friend. It was so good to be here today.”

Standing in the front yard of the place where Paul met Jesus, we remembered the faithfulness of God. Having Regina standing there with us, affirming the faithfulness of God is like placing another stone on the altar – so that we do not forget how good (in spite of the tragedy) God has been.

the store  across the road from the place Jerrel met Jesus on December 15, 2011

The folks at the store across the road from where Jerrel met Jesus still remember. They ask about his youngest daughter who was in the car with him. When we leave that site this year, there is a cross on the tree that tells the story.

On the white paint are the words, “I U Tabi”, written by that little girl.BIKE RIDE CROSS 1


Each year, the group is different. This year was the first that all of Paul’s brothers participated. One of Jerrel’s sons is in Canada, and this was his first year to miss the ride. Cousins travel in to participate, and others wish they could. Co-workers join the ride, remembering a fellow worker.


We ride, not as those who have no hope. We ride because we have a reason to celebrate. One day, we will be together. For now, we ride and we remember.

God has been good, and we never want to forget.


BIKE RIDE 6 coming this way


Regina chose to have the words “God is good all the time – even now.” put on the marque of the church during the days following Paul’s homegoing.  This poem was written following that theme, in November, 1998.

Even Now, Even Now, God is Good

Though my questions are unanswered and I’ve cried with no relief;
Though there is no human logic and I’m torn by fresh, new grief;
Though the voice of God is silent, I will not doubt; I still believe:
Even now, even now God is good.

God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.
Even now?!
Even now God is good.

He is my Lord, He is my Shepherd; in Him there’s nothing that I lack,
Though one I’ve loved is gone and is never coming back;
Though the darkness may surround me, I know God knows what He’s about.
Even now, even now God is good.

Though the night is dark about me, I can’t see the light of day;
Though my heart is crushed within me, and it hurts too much to pray.
Yet I feel His arms around me, and I will not be afraid.
Even now, even now God is good.

God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.
Even now?!
Even now God is good.

I can claim the peace of Jesus; I’m hiding ’neath His wings,
And the Victory of my Savior gives me the power to sing.
Though I don’t understand His reasons, He’s still my King of kings.
Even now, even now God is good.

Though the waters would o’er take me, He’s my rest, He is my calm;
Though the fire would consume me, He’s my strength, He is my balm.
I still believe that He is faithful in this darkness before dawn.
Even now, even now God is good.

God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.
Even now?!
Even now God is good.

by Gertrude Slabach