Candice Ashburn

It was June 4, 2007, and a Monday that started just like any other day in the life of a cardiac surgery resident and his wife—awakened by a beeper.

4:00 AM David returned the page and the conversation ensued that he would fly from Ann Arbor to Milwaukee to retrieve organs for a transplant.10:00 AM He called to tell me he was taking off and would call me again before their departure from Milwaukee. That was our routine when he flew.

4:00 PM Organ procurement complete. Ready to return the lungs to the recipient waiting on the operating table at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor.

4:52 PM David called me on my cell phone. No answer. We were in ballet. I left my phone in the car.

4:53 PM David called me at the house. No answer. He never left messages. I believe he was calling me to tell me he was taking off and would be home soon. Little did I know, and little did he know, I believe, that he indeed would be Home in a matter of minutes.

5:08 PM The Cessna citation crashed almost immediately after take-off. David and 5 other men were on board.


Search and Rescue eventually turned into Search and Recovery, which lasted an inordinate amount of time—weeks and weeks. The weather did not cooperate which made searching the waters difficult, if not impossible. Though not all of the remains were found, official Search and Recovery was concluded by the end of June.

Just a couple of weeks before the accident, David and I happened to have had a conversation about how we wanted our funerals to be—and not be, should the Lord take us Home. We both concurred, no open casket, please. Neither of us wanted anyone to be focused on the physical remains, because that was not what was “remaining” anyway. We both confirmed to one another that we wanted a “celebration of life-lived and eternal.” So, not having a body was not an emotional event for me. The process itself was very emotional. The fact was not. I never thought too much about not having his body under the circumstances of his death. I was either in too much shock to think about it or, it was God’s grace. I think it was both. But there was one thing I asked to have back.

In July, I was at my sister’s house in Huntsville when I got a phone call about midnight with some “good news” and some “bad news.” The bad news was that a large portion of human remains had been found by several sailors on Lake Michigan long after the official Search and Recovery had ended. The good news was that it was identified as David’s—and that was good because it provided the surprising answer to my prayer.

What I had previously asked God to give me back was David’s wedding band . . . which, at the time, would have been nothing short of a miracle since I had no idea what would be found or left after such a crash. It was equivalent to finding a needle in a haystack. For graphic reasons that I won’t describe, the ring was the only way that they knew the corpse was David’s. His ring had both of our initials engraved in it.

It reminded me of the scripture in Isaiah 49:16 that says,

See I have engraved you on the palm of my hands; your walls are ever before me.

Just as David’s ring had his initials engraved on it which identified him under unrecognizable conditions, I knew God had my name engraved on His palms and that meant I would never be lost, abandoned, or unaccounted for in this life that was unimaginably unrecognizable to me.

I’m not sure what is more amazing . . . that God would return David’s ring to me under these circumstances or the mere fact that my sweet David actually had his ring on so soon after leaving the OR. It was quite unusual that surgeons would wear a wedding band at all. They have to take it off to scrub in, and the likelihood of losing it by taking it on and off was great. But David insisted on wearing his. He thought it was important. So for almost 10 years, he would wear his ring every day and when he took it off to operate, he would tie it to his scrub pant draw string. Then afterwards, put it back on. He never lost it. And so he did that day, too. He wasn’t a perfect husband, nor was I not a perfect wife. But we were committed to starting over every day in this thing called marriage . . . that’s part of my pain in the loss of our marriage. We had lived the good, the bad, and the ugly—and continued to choose covenant and commitment over comfort and conceit.

His ring was returned to me . . . in a Fed Ex box along with the other personal articles of his that were recovered at the crash site: his stethoscope, his wallet contents, and his lab coat. What is one to expect of the belongings of their loved one which have survived the elements of a plane crash? Would his once stark white lab coat be tattered, torn, charred or burned? Or would it have been cleaned before being returned?

“What am I supposed to do with these things? How can I open the box that holds all of what was left of him, Lord? The man who courted me, pursued me, whom You gave me to have and to hold forever . . . has now been reduced to this box. ”

Well . . . that specific answer is another story for another day. But God did whisper sweetly that He did not intend for the contents in the box to haunt me but to help me remember that He (God) hears every cry of my heart and does not miss a beat (the stethoscope); that He would always take care of me physically (the physician’s lab coat); and that He would be the husband that I had no more (his wedding ring.)

The “Fed Ex” box sits unopened on the same shelf next to David’s ashes that were just recently mailed to me in a US Postal Service box.

The postman walks up to my front door, “I’ve got something for you, mam.”

If he only knew. Great.

Have you ever held out your hands to receive a box and it was a lot lighter than you thought it was going to be? I don’t know what I was expecting, but I held out my hands to receive the box of ashes, and it was so much heavier than I anticipated that I almost dropped it. It was then that my body went into shock almost like it did the night that I received the news of David’s crash. My hands and arms were numb and tingling, and I found myself asking, yet again, “What am I to do with this, Lord?”

And then came another whisper from God.

“I will give you beauty for ashes . . . right here at this door.”

To provide for those who grieve . . .
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes . . .
gladness instead of mourning. . .
praise instead of despair . . .
for the display of HIS splendor . . .
restore the places long devastated . . .
they will inherit a double portion . . . and everlasting joy will be theirs.
Isaiah 61:3-7


The whispers of God don’t change that I was widowed at 34, left with a 4 year old, a 2 year old, and a 10 month old with Down ’s syndrome.

It doesn’t change the questions that I still ask myself sometimes

“Did David really die?”

“Did he really die in a plane crash-trying to save someone else’s life?”

“Did he really die just one year away from the end of the long ten year residency road?”

“Are my children really without a father?”

“Am I really going to have to explain all of this to them one day?”
And because the short answer to those questions is “yes,” she says, “I spend most of my time with my heart bowed to the One who has appointed this life for me…and He has been enough.”

Candice’s only response and deepest heart’s desire to such circumstance has been to represent God well. Part of her spoken testimony is that our testimony is one of the things that will preserve our life in times of hardship and heartache (Acts 4:20). It certainly has hers. Even through some of life’s greatest difficulties, there has never been another option for Candice except to trust God. “God is still good” were the words she uttered the night of David’s crash. Even if they were spoken through tears and shock, that is what she believed then, and that is what she believes now. “God did not fall asleep on that June 4 day, nor did He step away from His throne and have to revert to plan B. God was in control of my (“well planned”) life before June 4, 2007, and He is still in control.”

Candice says, “I don’t know of another god in the universe whose followers can proclaim that which followers of Christ can proclaim: that He is alive and well and reigns in the hearts of those who love Him…and practically speaking, that He is ever aware of the details of our days. I know that to be true as God has delivered me every single day since David’s sudden and tragic death to this point in my journey. I am utterly amazed to look back and remember what God has enabled me to accomplish-practically, mentally, physically and spiritually. He truly is a God who delights in doing the impossible…” (Luke 1:37 & Matt 19:26)

Candice will share God’s amazing grace and love as she shares her journey of love and life, disability and death. In a Christmas letter 5 months before David’s death, referring to the news that her newborn had Down’s Syndrome, she wrote, “I have learned that God places us exactly where He wants us, to grow us and to share Him with the world! The blessings that have come from initially devastating news have been indescribable. He does make beauty from ashes.”

Candice will challenge you to recognize God’s plan, see His glory, and experience the fullness of His grace in your own life.

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