Just 9 short months after God gave Ben his Rose—she went home to heaven. Rose was his best friend and Ben had meant what he’d said when he had vowed to love her in sickness and in health until death do them part. Soon, he would be haunted by a holy solitude. Driving home from work, he would walk up the sidewalk to an empty, lonely apartment once filled with laughter. But the God of all comfort, the One who had promised to be close to the broken-hearted and to rescue those who had been crushed in spirit, met Ben in his brokenness. This King of Kings and Redeemer, Jesus, bound up Ben’s broken heart. He renewed his mind. He restored his soul.
Death was a fire. But the Lord over the fire would rescue Ben and trade his ashes for beauty.
* * *
AK: How did you find Jesus?
BM: I grew up being taught about Jesus. I knew about Him. From a young age, I can remember praying the prayer several times. My prayers really came from a place of fearing hell, more than anything else. I would think about God a lot but I didn’t know I could talk to Him or hear Him. I knew the shell of the Gospel, but I didn’t have a real relationship with God until I got to San Diego.
AK: Where did you grow up?
BM: I grew up around Dallas, in Corsicana. It’s a small town of about 35,000. I went to school twenty minutes away in an even smaller town that had a population of seven hundred and seventy-five. My parents were teachers there. It was super cool.
AK: What brought you to San Diego?
BM: I graduated from Texas State, with a degree in communications. On a whim a good friend of mine and I made plans to move to California. He was this big precious African American guy with dreads. I had known him since 5th grade. We were literally two guys with one bank account and we saved up $3000 so we could get to San Diego. My intention in getting to California was to continue the party from college. When we finally got here, I would listen to the radio on my way in to work. I found myself listening to Pastor David Jeremiah. He would be talking about some story from the bible, and I would think to myself, I remember that story from when I was a kid. It reminded me a lot of when my mom used to teach me the scriptures. Something felt really good about it. Soon I found myself cracking open this big black bible I had brought with me from Texas; I would keep sneaking a peak at it now and then.
AK: How did you meet your first wife?
BM: I had just been drunk the night before. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a big drinker—I hated the way a hangover makes you feel. But that particular night I had been at a work party and woke up the next morning not feeling so good. My friend invited me to a club in Pacific Beach the next night anyways. I agreed, as long as I could be the designated driver. I was seriously over getting drunk. When we got to the club, most of the people around us were intoxicated, but I hit the dance floor anyways and was actually having a good time sober. I remember this kind of odd girl caught my attention. When I went outside, she came outside too and approached me. My friend, who at this point had become intoxicated himself, grabbed my face and told her to look at me; then he told her she was going to remember my face for the rest of her life. Looking back now, it was a bit prophetic. I found out this girl’s name was Rose, and she invited me to church. I’m still not sure why I said yes. I didn’t have a cell phone to give her so she could contact me, but I told her my landline and she remembered it.
AK: What happened next?
BM: We went to Flood Church a few times and soon we started attending Rock Church too. I just kept going to church with her. We got really close and she was always around. We were learning a ton about God and more about each other. I would come home from work and she would be waiting there at my apartment door with Chinese food. We loved to go thrift shopping together too. And sometimes I would take her to the hospital for her treatments. I had learned early on in our friendship that she had Cystic Fibrosis. There was this one night in the hospital, I stayed up really late talking with her. I knew then that I actually liked her in that way. I can remember looking at her and thinking to myself I am seeing her as beautiful right now. I like her. And she is my best friend.
AK: How was God becoming more real to you during this time?
BM: As Rose and I were getting closer, we were also spending more and more time at church. It was more than a Saturday night and Sunday thing for us. We were getting involved in a young adults group and involved in church activities throughout the week. I was having these moments with Jesus that I had never had before. I didn’t grow up knowing that church could be like this. I remember I was on this run at Torrey Pines and I just stopped and got down on my knees on the side of the path. I just started confessing all this stuff to God. He gave me this real hunger to know His word and I started reading the bible like crazy too. I didn’t understand what I was reading a lot of the time, but I was going after it.
AK: When did you decide to propose to Rose?
BM: I wasn’t a big researcher, so Rose’s illness didn’t really play into my equation. In my mind I thought, I really love this girl and I haven’t loved a woman in long, long time. I felt a deep love for her. She wasn’t an object, but a friend—a real and beautiful person. I asked her to marry me at this Italian restaurant in Coronado. It was so much fun. It was like she got zapped with a thousand bolts of electricity when I asked her. She was so happy.
AK: Did her parents express any concerns, knowing Rose’s condition?
BM: We had been dating for 9 months when I proposed. Her parents had come down from Seattle to meet me and her Dad and I had this one-on-one. He really got honest with me and looking back, I respect that now so much. He asked me if I really knew what I was getting myself into, or if I was just one of those guys that liked to fix “broken” stuff. This was a really good question. He continued pressing me to really play out marrying Rose. He asked me to picture the hospital—to picture the moment when her lungs were failing. He asked me to figure out if I was ready if her health went that way. His questions and concerns didn’t dissuade me. It didn’t detour me. I didn’t feel scared. I just felt really appreciative of him for being so real about it. I still thought marrying Rose would be worth it, even if she died young. So in that same conversation, at twenty-four years old, I told him I was in. Rose and I married four months later.
AK: What was the sweetest part of being married at that time?
BM: The feeling of being married. I would be at work and would find myself just wanting to get home. The reality that I was married and had a wife to come home to was amazing. This one night we were sitting at the dinner table and we were both marveling that we were actually married. I remembered looking across the table at her and saying that this was as good as it was going to get… and I don’t know why but we just started laughing and laughing and then crying because we were laughing so hard. In some ways you had to be there, but it was a precious time. I remember there would be times that we would start to argue about something, but there was just this understanding that we were not going to continue down that road. We’d stop ourselves pretty quickly because we both knew that we didn’t have much time. There wasn’t a lot of room in our marriage for focusing on negative stuff; we didn’t want to give the time that we did have, to that.
AK: When did things take a turn for the worst?
BM: During our hospital visits for Rose’s treatments, I started meeting others who had Cystic Fibrosis. I learned that those who had Rose’s condition would succumb to death because their lungs would fill up with mucus. Cystic Fibrosis is a condition where the body doesn’t know how to stop making mucus and it eventually causes suffocation. I would work on Rose’s back every night—giving her pats to get the mucus out of her lungs, but I could tell that her lungs were becoming more and more damaged and her body was weakening as a whole.
AK: Rose’s death came quickly. How did Jesus meet you in that?
BM: Rose got to a point where she had to stay in the hospital with full-time care. The hospital where she was at was actually really close to my work up in Del Mar. This one afternoon in particular, I had missed her call. Her symptoms were more severe than she had ever felt them. I remember getting off work and going to her room, but she wasn’t there. I knew immediately something wasn’t right. I got that horrible sinking feeling. It was so heavy and fear swept over me. I had to sit down on a bench for a moment to regain my composure and then go find out where she was. She had been moved to the ICU. When I walked into her room, she was so happy to see me. She was afraid that she was going to die without seeing me. The doctors took me aside and started leveling with me and I was frank with them. Rose and I had agreed that we didn’t want any sort of evasive action taken and that she was not to be plugged into any machines that would breathe for her.
AK: Rose shared her last words with her father. What was that like for you?
BM: This was so hard. We got her dad on the phone. I hated having to tell him. I first let him know that we were in the hospital. This wasn’t strange to him, because we spent most of our relationship in and out of the hospital. But I had to tell him that this time wasn’t like the other times. He handled it so well and immediately asked to talk to Rose. She was short of breath and they were having these last words together on this beige old hospital phone. I could hear his voice. He was telling her that he was going to see her in heaven. After that, God gave us two more days together. To me it felt like there was a lot of waiting. She was losing more and more energy and more and more of her capacity to breathe. She was hooked up to all these monitors. At one point, this kind of creepy lady came in and asked if she could take Rose through a guided spiritual walk—and I was like, no thanks, we don’t want that, we’re good!
AK: Tell me about your last words with Rose.
BM: There wasn’t a whole lot. It wasn’t this dramatically beautiful parting, as I guess maybe some deaths are. I told her that I loved her and asked if there was anything I could do to make her more comfortable. She was fading. In the middle of the night, she woke up all of a sudden after a long time of not being able to say much and she didn’t know why she was in the hospital. She asked me to take her home. This was so tough. I had to explain to her, that she needed to stay there. She was really, really fading quickly after that. Some friends from our Rock Church LIFE group came, and it was so comforting to have them by my side. At one point we were all there standing around her and we started worshipping God. We started singing the songs we would sing in LIFE group. We were singing “This is the Air I Breath” and this peace came over Rose; she engaged in worship with us and I was like, this is so real right now, Jesus really is the air Rose is breathing.
AK: Some say death is a fire, with the pain of it, at times a slow burn, and at other times a raging inferno. How did you manage the pain Ben?
BM: In the hospital I was not a man full of faith. I was more scared and afraid of the loss than anything else. That’s just where I was. Sometimes I would use the hospital bathrooms so I could cry. And I would cry out to God. I was crying out to Him from a place of fear and desperation, asking myself, what do I do? I begged God to heal Rose. After she actually died, I was so exhausted. I would come home from work and have a lot of cry sessions. I would cry and read my bible. I remember she had died on a Wednesday and that following Friday was Good Friday; I went to Rock Church. I don’t know if I had ever worshipped God with that kind of intensity up until that point. Her death didn’t drive me away from worship, it drove me toward it. In fact I felt so raw and real with God. Through her death I was able to expose myself fully to God and not hold back. And I don’t ever remember being mad at Him or angry or blaming Him for her death.
AK: Jesus met you in the fire. What was that like?
BM: I have discovered that Jesus is Lord over the fire. I made it through Rose’s death and that fire didn’t break me because Jesus was with me. It didn’t burn me up completely—I didn’t spiral down into some god-forsaken lifestyle. It was the opposite, I found myself deeper in the love of God. There was nowhere else for me to go. Though I came home to an empty apartment, God was there. He made Himself so real to me at that time and He healed my heart. I had never realized how closed off my heart was to God until I lost Rose. And in His healing of my heart He brought me to a place of valuing people so much more. He gave me the capacity to look into their eyes and tell them that I loved them. And not just people I knew. He gave me the ability to look at people in general and see them as He saw them and I could feel His love in ways that I had never felt before. Sometimes I think about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Book of Daniel and the literal fire they were tossed into. Jesus met them in the flames. I truly believe that fourth man in the fire with them was Jesus, conversing with them. And they had to have had so much joy in the moment that God showed up. It was only in that fire, that they could experience Christ in that way.
AK: God would eventually trade your ashes for beauty. How did you learn to love again?
BM: I was hesitant. I wasn’t eager to do it. I would end up keeping my future wife Deborah, at good distance for a while. We had become really good friends but I never thought I would be married again. I didn’t plan on living that life. It wasn’t that I was nervous that another person would die on me, or that this person was going to leave me too… it was just when my first wife had died, the life we had built together kind of just fell to the ground. I was hesitant to rebuild a life with another person again. It took a lot of strength. For the next year, we hung out and became super close. And in that year God prepared my heart and gave me the capacity to remarry and I am so glad that I did! We will have been married 9 years this July and have 3 incredible kids, with another one on the way.
AK: If you could share anything with our readers, what would you want them to know?
BM: Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The scriptures say this and it’s true. Jesus takes the rap from His people so often and for the evil that happens in the world. I think it’s so awesome when we can get to a place in our heart of hearts where we don’t blame God as if He’s a thief. There is one that comes to rob, kill, and destroy, but that guy is not Jesus. If we’ll get humble, we’ll see more results. We have to have more than just a good confession; we need a life surrendered and a desire to see the Kingdom come to the earth. This makes Christianity eight hundred times more fun. Don’t just wait for heaven to come, we don’t have to postpone all the goodies for the afterlife. I believe we can experience the Kingdom of God now—that it dwells within us and comes to the earth through us. We can see miracles in our midst and God can and still heals. If we think we can read a couple of books and have our theological answers down pat, we won’t ever grow past our lack of experience of the supernatural. And that lack of experience becomes our justification and pretty soon, you’ve got a whole church that doesn’t walk in the power Jesus offers His Body. I want to walk in power. I want see the church walk in power. Rose didn’t get healed, but that doesn’t mean God wouldn’t use me to be His hands and feet to heal someone else.
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