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Linda Hendrick shares life experiences

Feature written by Barbara McKay in the March 2007 issue of The Barbara McKay Magazine: “Simply the Best.”

On a chilly Sunday afternoon, October 24th, 2004, to be exact, I received a phone call from Linda Hendrick asking me to come over. Linda and I have been the best of friends for decades so I didn’t even ask why, thinking maybe she may needed a little help with something. The truth was that she wanted to help me, by protecting me from hearing from someone else the most tragic news a mother could ever endure. She wanted to tell me herself that her son and other family members were on a plane that was missing at the time.

As we huddled and prayed together in a back room, the world was buzzing with the mystery. Then the news came: The missing Hendrick Motorsports plane had crashed into a mountain. There were no survivors.

I stayed at the Hendrick home for the next week just hoping I could help in some way, but the truth is that Linda’s faith, courage, and strength profoundly helped and changed me. Her story may help someone you know…or maybe even you.

In Linda’s words in conversation with Barbara:

BM: What was your first reaction when you heard the plane was missing?

LH: My first reaction was to fall on my knees and cry out “God help me!” I knew this was bigger than me and I needed divine help to get me through it. I went to the One who held the answers. When I heard there were no survivors, I have never hurt so badly in my life. I couldn’t understand how I could hurt so much and yet still breathe, or how my heart could carry so much pain and still keep beating. In an instant, my entire life had changed forever.

BM: I remember so clearly the agony of waiting for them to find the missing plane. They thought no one would be able to find it for a long time because of the many miles of forest and mountain range shrouded in dense fog. Then something quite miraculous happened. Please talk about that.
LH: I desperately needed to know where the plane was in case some were still living and needed help. Even though the pilots said it was impossible to find for probably days, I knew that God knew exactly where it was. I began to pray for finding it. I needed answers. About that exact time, a helicopter pilot scouting the area looking for our missing plane, said the clouds in front of him just parted and he saw the crash. The pilot was so amazed because in 10 seconds, the clouds closed back up. But he then knew where to send the ground rescuers. They discovered there were no survivors. We had closure and knew we needed to accept the situation, as horrible as it was.

BM: As the reality set in, what were your thoughts?

LH: The tears were endless and the pain seemed unbearable, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how thankful I was for the 24 years that I had with my son Ricky. I’ve learned that the greater the love, the greater the pain. So I knew how I felt was the way I was supposed to feel.

BM: Throughout our many years of friendship, I know you often have “a feeling” that something is about to happen. Did you have any forewarning that such an enormous tragedy was coming?

LH: About ten days before the tragedy, I was speaking at The Cove, the Billy Graham Retreat in the mountains of North Carolina. God’s Spirit spoke to my heart telling me, “If you look at the mountains in front of you, then that’s all you will ever see, but if you look up, you will see the son (spelled s-o-n) and His light and glory will shine upon you.” I didn’t know what that meant, but it was so powerful that I shared it with the group, thinking it was meant for someone in the audience. After the crash, I knew that it was meant for me and that God was preparing me.

BM: At 24, Ricky was extremely busy as an important part of your family business of cars and racing. Both of your schedules were very demanding, yet the two of you spent the last eight days of his life vacationing together in Hawaii, returning just the day before the crash. That timing is so extraordinary.

LH: Ricky had always wanted to go to Hawaii and I had been promising him since he was a young boy that we would go one day. I believe it was God’s grace that gave me the desire and direction to plan the trip at that time. It was the last week of Ricky’s life on earth and I am thankful that I was able to spend it with him and now I have those precious memories. It was truly God’s gift to me.

BM: I’ve known Ricky since he was a little boy and watched him grow into a very popular fun-loving teen, talented no-fear athlete, a racing success, and a brilliant young business man. His talent, good looks, magnetic adorable personality, and success made him a NASCAR fan favorite and loved by all of his friends. Tell us about his spiritual side.

LH: Ricky believed at a very young age that Jesus Christ was God’s Son sent to earth to forgive and rescue all who asked for His help. Everyday he asked for forgiveness and prayed for direction. It made Ricky a very loving, generous, and forgiving person who desired to live his life by the Spirit. I believe he enjoyed life and was so fun-loving because he had that peace and freedom within him of knowing everything happened for a reason and he never questioned anything, good or bad. He knew the importance of spiritual guidance. Accepting Jesus was the most important decision he ever made. Ricky’s spirit never died. As believers, we know Ricky’s spirit stepped out of his body wide awake and into the presence of the Lord. It was a horrible fiery plane crash, but I have the comfort of knowing that Ricky never suffered for a second. When he got on the plane that day, he thought he was getting off in Martinsville, but instead he got off in Heaven.

BM: That must keep you going.

LH: I miss Ricky’s smiles, laughter, hugs and daily phone calls to tell me he loves me, but our last chapter has not been written. I have so much to look forward to because of our faith. I look forward to our living in the same world, that is grander than anything we on earth can imagine, where there will never be an end to our life together. I want to meet this Jesus that I have trusted with my life.  I want to thank Him for taking care of Ricky and for giving me the comfort, peace, hope and joy to go on with my life everyday.

BM: We’re told in the Bible to be thankful and joyful no matter what. How hard was that to put into action after such a horrific experience?

LH: I focus on being thankful for the 24 years I had with Ricky. I realize that he might never have been born or he could have died much earlier. I’m grateful for every second I got to enjoy with him for over 24 years.  I find great comfort in knowing there was a plan for Ricky’s life from the moment he was born and nothing was going to change that. It was his time to go. Ricky also believed that. We talked about it often. He told me he was ready whenever it was his time.

This tragedy has been a reminder to me that when Jesus died on the cross, He gave us even more than eternal life, He gave us hope and peace to get through this life. How could I not be grateful for that?

BM: What do you say to people who do not have your faith and strength and therefore blame God instead of turning to Him for help?

LH: People struggle to find a way to survive heartache. They sometimes think the weight of the pain or guilt will feel lighter if they blame someone or something else. God is an easy target. The problem with that is that it doesn’t work, will not bring relief or give any comfort or lasting peace.  It’s not life against us. It’s just life. My tragedy has been more than a story to tell. It’s reminder that our life on this earth will not last long. Some leave before others, but we all leave. We would all prefer to leave together as a family, but that’s just not the way it usually works.

This world is not all there is. Since man is God’s creation, only He can fix things. Look for the answers by focusing on Him, reading the Bible, and praying. God wants to rescue us. Give Him a chance to be your friend. Whatever you have suffered, He will make it up to you. He can handle a lot more than you can. Whatever heartache you are going through, I promise that He cares and wants to help you if you only ask. When we trust Him, it is His responsibility to take care of us and he’s very good at it. He is exactly who He says He is. We are not very good at trying to be God.

If we live in the past, we will die in the past. We have to keep moving until we’ve completed our assignments in this world.  Then it will be our turn to experience a life with no end with those we love, in a place more magnificent than we could imagine. I know it will be worth any hardship and heartache we could have suffered.
BM: Your faith and love of family are so beautifully revealed in your home. Tell us about these special touches.

LH: There are many ways that I have expressed the love of my family throughout my home. For example, on the ceiling of my bedroom, I have the names of all my family members painted throughout the artwork. People would never know it was there because of the design, but I do.

In the foyer, I have a painting called “The Story of Life” on my ceiling. Scenes of eternal and maternal love are painted on the walls to bring it all together.

Upstairs I have a hallway of Biblical paintings which also tell a story. People tell me there is such a sense of peace they feel when I tell the story of each.

BM: You have such peace after going through such terrible, gut-wrenching pain, can you see good that has come from this?

LH: Because of this tragedy, I have had many opportunities to help others who are hurting or confused. I had never lost a child before and the pain is the greatest I will ever experience. Because of my loss and darkness, I have needed a light to shine brighter and longer to get me out of the darkness. Now I am experiencing life at a whole new level. I have a closer walk with the Lord and I wouldn’t take anything for my relationship with Him. I’ll never know all the answers in life, but I’d rather know Jesus than to know all the answers. When I join Ricky in Heaven, I am probably going to wonder why I ever shed a tear when I see how powerful and loving God is.

BM: If after reading this, someone wants the faith that you have, what would you suggest they do?

LH: Read the Bible. It tells us that by faith we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Then ask forgiveness. It’s a gift from God, so ask for it, take it and use it. We don’t have to understand it, just believe it. Then pray and trust Him, regardless of your situation. He will be faithful and you will never regret your decision.

For more information, please visit www.barbaramckay.com.

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