The Lord Gives, and the Lord Takes Away
About the Guest
Today on the broadcast, Rick Rigsby, president of Rick Rigsby Communications and chaplain for the Texas Aggies, talks to Dennis Rainey about his late wife’s battle with breast cancer and her eventual death. It was through those hard times, Rick says, that he began remembering and cherishing his father’s wisdom, including his admonition to him to 'Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.'
Rick RigsbyDr. Rick Rigsby is President and CEO of Rick Rigsby Communications. The former award-winning journalist followed a television career with graduate school—and two decades as a college professor . . . most of those years at Texas A&M University, where he also served as character coach and chaplain for the Aggies football team. Named twice as an outstanding professor in the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M, Dr. Rick has numerous publications. His first non-academic book—...more
Today on the broadcast, Rick Rigsby, president of Rick Rigsby Communications and chaplain for the Texas Aggies, talks to Dennis Rainey about his late wife’s battle with breast cancer and her eventual death.
The Lord Gives, and the Lord Takes Away
Bob: You've heard the expression "image is everything?" Author and speaker Rick Rigsby says image isn't nothing, but it's a long way from everything.
Rick: What I cared about for so many years was how do I look not how do I live? What I cared about was what do you think about me not how do I live? And I see so many Christians, so many dads, so many moms not living their full potential that God wants them to live because we are so, so gripped with this whole notion of impressionistic living.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, June 5th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We're going to learn today some of the powerful lessons Rick Rigsby learned from his father who was a third grade dropout. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. We have a guest on today's program who has his Ph.D. but, you know, I think that the street smarts that he's learned throughout his life are maybe as valuable and as important for our listeners as his academic learning is, Dennis.
Dennis: It's our privilege today to have Dr. Rick Rigsby with us in the studio. Rick, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Rick: Dennis, what a joy and an honor it is to be with you. Thanks a lot.
Dennis: It's great to have you here. Rick is the president and CEO of Rick Rigsby Communications. He is also the founder of a ministry by the same name. He and his wife live in College Station, Texas.
Rick: Go Aggies.
Dennis: Yeah, I knew you'd get that in there, I knew you'd get that in there. They have four sons from six years old to a college graduate.
Bob: And we ought to say here that one of the reasons for the disparity in the age range of your children is because you have been married twice.
Rick: Yes, sir.
Bob: Your first wife passed away. Tell our listeners how you and your first wife met.
Rick: Back in the '70s, I met the finest woman at a dance that followed a football game back in Northern California State University Chico. And we met, and I fell in love immediately, it took her a while. And we just had an incredible courtship, and I was so excited and so thrilled and so filled with passion for this woman named Trina, who became my college sweetheart. We dated all through college, I am so grateful I graduated in four terms – Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan.
Dennis: Did it really take you that long?
Rick: No, it didn't. It seemed like it did. As soon as I graduated from college in the late '70s, I started my career as a television news report for a CBS affiliate in Northern California. My wife was a registered nurse. Our lives were great on the outside. Inside, it was a different issue.
You know, the Bible talks about how the inside of the cup is filled with rubber, in self-indulgence, yet the outside was shiny clean, and the Pharisees made sure that the outside was shiny clean. That was my life – Matthew 23 – that was my life. On the outside of the cup, television news reporter, great suits, looked awesome, great image, which meant I fit into American culture perfectly.
Rick: Inside, it was all about Rick.
Rick: It was all about Rick Rigsby, and it was not about pursuing actively a love affair with my wife or being a great dad. I was blessed to have a couple of children.
Dennis: Were you neglecting your family at that point?
Rick: I really was, because my ego was out of control, so my job was everything. It was being on the news 6 and 11 at night, it was covering the San Francisco 49ers, it was covering the San Francisco Giants, it was living this glamorous life at the expense of my children.
I'm here to tell you that ego is the anesthesia that deadens the pain of stupidity. Pride is the burden of a foolish person, and I was caught in the crosshairs of pride.
Dennis: You described yourself as coasting?
Rick: That's exactly right, that's exactly right. I was going through the motions, Dennis.
Dennis: That was not the way you'd been raised, though?
Rick: No, not at all.
Dennis: Your daddy had a great impact in your life, and he had really taught you to do different, hadn't he?
Rick: He had an amazing impact on my life, and it taught me quite differently. But the thing that I really want to stress at this point is that a lot of times we are not ready to receive those teachings from our dad until we get in the midst of crisis, and my crisis was coming. And one day during a simple visit to a doctor's office, my wife's physician said, "Trina, we're concerned about this lump in your breast. We think we need to biopsy it." We come back a week later and get the results – breast cancer.
All of a sudden, my world came to an end. I am now driving by funeral homes rehearsing her funeral. All of a sudden, I'm up at 12:00 at night instead of focused on me I'm washing clothes for our two little children. All of a sudden, the stark reality that my wife needs a man and not a boy is piercing my heart with a kind of pounding that I could no longer ignore. I had to grow up, and I had to grow up fast.
Six years after that diagnosis, me and my boys walked up to Mommy's casket and said goodbye, and for two years my heart didn't beat, and I could not make sense of things. It was then when a lot of the lessons that I talk about in this book from my father really started to resurface during conversations that we would have. Here I am in my 30s, I've coasted through my 20s. My wife is sick, it doesn't look very good, she goes through six years of radiation and chemotherapy and surgery, and I'm on the phone, literally, saying, "Dad, talk to me, help me, coach me through this."
Dennis: And, fortunately, you had a father.
Rick: Oh, man, did I.
Bob: Your book is really – it's like a tribute to your father, Roger Marion Rigsby, and you describe him in here as a strict disciplinarian. Now, he was one of how many children, growing up?
Rick: He was one of seven children. They grew up in Huntsville, Texas. It's in the piney woods of East Texas, and my father left school in the third grade to help out on the family farm, but just because he left school doesn't mean that his education stopped. Mark Twain once said, "I've never allowed my schooling to get in the way of my education."
My daddy taught himself how to read, he taught himself how to write, and right in the midst of Jim Crowism – my father happened to be African-American – right in the middle of Jim Crowism, my father makes a decision that he is going to hold onto the wisdom of the Bible, the wisdom he learned from his mama's knee. He's going to hold onto the wisdom of the Bible, he's going to stand, and he's going to be a man.
He's not going to be a black man, he's not going to be a white man, he's not going to be a brown man, he's going to be a man – that's the kind of model that I had. And I want to tell you something – what families need, in my opinion, are people who are modeling Christ – not talking Christ but modeling Christ.
Harvard Business Review, September 2004, the article is titled, "Deep Smarts." Here is the conclusion – "Lecturing is the worst kind of teaching method." It's what our university systems are based on. If you really want to get the message across, model the intended behavior. My daddy modeled lessons.
Dennis: Your dad was a pretty strict disciplinarian, and you tell a story in your book that I thought was a classic. It had to do with some fish he'd prepared one evening for you to be able to eat.
Rick: Yes, sir.
Dennis: You kind of stood him down on this deal, didn't you?
Rick: I really did.
Dennis: Or at least you thought you were going to stand him down.
Rick: I thought I was going to get away with it, Dennis. You know, we were poor, growing up, so when it was dinnertime, you were expected to be appreciative, grateful, and eat everything on your plate.
My father had made some fish this particular evening and, all of a sudden, I thought, "I don't like this fish anymore." I think it was baked cod, if I recall. And, all of a sudden, I developed this allergic reaction in my own mind to baked cod, and my father simply and unwittingly said this – "Son, you're going to stay at that table until you finish eating that fish." That was a 6:00. At 10:30 I was still sitting at that table.
And you know what it points to? There was a time in this society when a man said something, he meant it. Roger Marion Rigsby meant everything that he said. He was a cook, a simple cook. He gets a job in Northern California at California Maritime Academy in Vallejo, California. At the height of his career, he's making $500 a month. That's at the height of his career, Dennis. But he's cooking at a school that trains merchant seamen. These are the folks that go into the maritime industry.
In order to graduate from this particular school, they have to go to sea three months out of every year. My father is on the support staff at this school. He's a cook, which means he has to go to sea right along with these midshipmen. In all those years working at California Maritime Academy, he was teaching me lessons that it took me a while to go back and revisit, but listen to the power of these lessons.
"Son, I've been all over the world. I've seen good and bad in every shade. Don't judge a person based on what you see." I mean, is that not the face of Jesus? It was Jonathan Swift who said, "Vision is the ability to see the invisible."
"Son, you'd rather be an hour early than a minute late." My dad, Dennis, had the breakfast and lunch shift – 5 in the morning until 1:00 in the afternoon. California Maritime Academy was 15 minutes from our house, which means he could have probably left at 4:30. My mother said in all the years he worked, he left home every day at 3:45 in the morning.
Dennis: He got there an hour early.
Rick: And, you know, what I didn't realize, Dennis, until I got into my 40s is that my father wasn't talking about time, he was talking about discipline. The Bible says, "For the moment, all discipline is painful rather than pleasurable but later it yields peaceful fruits of righteousness to those that are trained by it." My father was saying, "Son, live a disciplined life. Live your life on purpose."
Dennis: I want to know what happened at 10:30.
The fish had been on the plate; had to be stone cold by then.
Rick: It was.
Dennis: Did you ever eat any of that fish?
Rick: Oh, yes, I did. In fact, I was not released from my sentence at the kitchen table until several bites of that fish was consumed.
Dennis: So at 10:30 …
Rick: At 10:30 at night …
Dennis: What'd you do?
Rick: I finished eating probably seven or eight bites. I walked into what we used to call the TV room. My dad was half asleep but promising me that he was watching every moment of the Giants-Dodgers game, and I said, "Dad, I've eaten several pieces of fish." He says, "Let me see your plate." I go back to the kitchen, bring my plate to my father. He says, "That's enough. You can now brush your teeth and go to bed, son." That was when I was 10 years old and what Daddy was saying is this – when Daddy says something, he means it.
You see, Roger Rigsby was not wishy-washy in the least. If he said "eat the fish" then eat the fish.
Bob: (chuckling) Yeah, that's right.
Dennis: You know, I can't help but smile as you tell those stories about your dad, and it reminds me of my home where I grew up. My parents' word was pretty much rock solid. I mean, if they said it, and I disobeyed it, I knew what was going to happen, and I can still remember the last spanking I received because I didn't do what my Mom asked me to do and, as I recall, I was about 12 years old. Now, today, you know, that's virtually unheard of in this culture that a child would get a spanking at 12 years old for being disobedient, but I flagrantly disobeyed my mom, and I knew that if she didn't take care of it, my dad would.
I want to take you back, though, to the time when you finished coasting. You had been dealing with your wife's illness and, undoubtedly, the process of going through that illness bit-by-bit of watching her die and watching her struggle with that disease had to have a profound impact upon your life.
During the last days of her life, did she have an impact on you as you witnessed how she handled death?
Rick: Oh, my goodness, Dennis, yes. You know, my wife, Trina, never complained one time in six years. She was always more concerned about me and the children. I would watch her fold a shirt in front of our little son, Andrew, and I would listen to her say to Andrew, "Mommy's not always going to be here. You need to learn how to fold this shirt." Andrew is only five years old not understanding what's going on.
I watched with profound salience my wife walk the talk. In Philippians 3:10, the Scripture says "That I may know Him, the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering." Trina had written in the margin of her Bible, "My purpose for living." And, I want to tell you, Dennis, that woman lived it. She lived it. She never complained. I know that she had to have been frustrated and upset over unmerited, unwarranted circumstances, but she lived Job, chapter 1, "Naked I came from my mother's womb and naked I shall return. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away blessed be the name of the Lord," and through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God. That's the way Trina lived.
But to get to the focal point of your question, the most profound thing that happened was just days before she died. Now she's not that brick house anymore that I met back in the '70s. It's 1996, she's been battling cancer since 1990. She has no hair because of chemotherapy. Her little tummy is pooched out, the result of a liver no longer working. She weighs about 70 pounds. I'd carry her to the bathroom, just skin and bones. Her breathing was labored, and she knew that she was just days away from going home.
One day, in that condition, she looked at me, and she said these words – she said, "It doesn't matter to me any longer how long I live. What really matters most of all is how I live." That can't help but have a profound impact on a person, especially a person who could have cared less how they lived.
I made a decision, I made a couple of decisions at the casket. I'm looking at my lover, my best friend, the mother of my children, my wife of over 20 years, and I'm wondering how I'm going to make it. And I said to Trina, as her body lay in that box, I said, "Most of my life I have focused on how I look, and I've heard you say to me, just a week ago before you went home, it doesn't matter to you any longer how long you live. What matters most is how you live. Trina, I promise you that with God's help, I'm going to try to live more of a godly life. I am going to try to be the man that God called me to be. I'm going to try to rear our children not so much with my words but by modeling Christ, having the same attitude that He had, loving people, encouraging people."
I really think it takes, sometimes, a tragedy to save us from ourselves. I had to be saved from myself. I was a Christian, Dennis, but yet people's opinions meant so much to me. Sorry.
Dennis: No, that's okay, I can – well, I can't begin to imagine saying goodbye to my wife, I really can't.
Rick: And I don't want you to.
Dennis: And I read in your book where you said it was the most difficult thing you've ever faced in your life. You also tell the story of how her death impacted your daddy.
Rick: Yes, sir.
Dennis: And how he stood by her casket …
Dennis: And for one of the first times in your life you saw him actually break down.
Rick: Yes, sir. My father was one of those staunch, tough, big, Texans. You can just imagine the image, and I'd only seen him emotional two times prior. Once when Willie McCovey retired as the first baseman for the Giants.
Dennis: Yeah, that's a tragic moment right there.
Rick: And the other was April 4, 1968, when an assassination's bullet took the life of Martin Luther King. Those were the only two times I had seen him just close to tears, but I'd never seen my dad cry. And I'm in my 40s and never seen him cry.
And so my dad reared boys – my brother and I – never had a daughter. Trina was his daughter. I met Trina in the early 1970s, and she had been part of our family for over 20 years. So he walks up to her casket, and I'll never forget, Dennis, he caresses the hand that used to caress him, and he just broke down, and he cried. But then something amazing happened, if you'll allow me to just tell it.
It was my turn now to see Trina for the last time, but before I did, Daddy turned to me, whispered Ephesians 6 in my ear to be strong in the Lord, the power of His might. And then he told me three words, he said, "Son, just stand." He didn't say anything else, but I knew exactly what he meant. We never finished that conversation because my daddy died a year later, but I knew what he meant. What he meant was, "I've invested in you for 40 years for this moment. Not for the good moments, not for the moments when everybody likes you, not when you're releasing balloons under sunny skies, but I've invested 40 years of my life so that at the most critical juncture of your life, you'll stand. You need to stand, and you need to show those boys who you're following today, whose faith your standing on. You need to stand. Your mother and I need to see you stand. You'll have questions, you'll have issues, your life will never be normal again, but you have to get to a point where you say, 'Naked, I came from my mother's womb; naked, I shall return.' Sometimes the Lord gives, and that's His business. Sometimes the Lord takes away, that's His business. But by me standing at this casket, I am saying, regardless of what happens, blessed be the name of the Lord."
It's like Jehosaphat in 2 Chronicles, chapter 20 saying, "We're powerless, we're afraid, we don't know what to do but, God, our eyes are on you." That was what Roger Rigsby left me.
Dennis: And, you know, as you tell that story, and as I see you point heavenward, that your dad took the time …
Rick: Yes, sir.
Dennis: Even as you were an adult man with all the adult responsibilities of a wife and children and, at that point, facing life without your spouse, his charge was to follow Jesus Christ, his charge to you. And I think there are undoubtedly a number of dads and grandfathers listening right now who need to understand that their model, just like Roger's model, your dad, is, indeed, powerful. Your words are also powerful. They never stop being powerful.
I remember some of the last words my father ever said to me and some of the last times we had together before his death in 1976, and there have been many, many times, Rick, in the past 30-plus years when I wish my father was around to ask him a question.
Rick: Yes, sir.
Dennis: And if you are a dad right now, and you're listening to us, I want to think about your assignment. What a privilege God has given you to shape the character, the life, the relationship of the next generation. Do it well, and just as Rick's dad charged him, stand firm, son, stand firm.
Bob: Well, and this is the time of year when those memories and those longings can be stirred up. I think of a lot of the questions I wish I'd asked my dad before he died, or the time that I wish I could have spent with him before he died. And now, as a father myself, I want to make sure that I'm available and investing and connecting with my sons and with my daughters and that I'm passing on some of the lessons that God's impressed on my heart over a lifetime. And some of them are the same lessons that you talk about in your book, "Lessons From a Third-Grade Dropout."
This is a book we've got in our FamilyLife Resource Center that I think a lot of dads could benefit from reading and from just taking the theme of each chapter and sitting down at dinner one night and talking about Chapter 1 which is about kindness, talking about that with your children; or Chapter 4, which is about helping others; Chapter 5 about doing a job right; Chapter 6 about character. These are the kinds of lessons that dads should be passing on to their children and, again, we've got this book in our FamilyLife Resource Center.
Our listeners can go to our website at FamilyLife.com, and on the right side of the screen, you'll see a box that says "Today's Broadcast," and if you click where it says "Learn More," that will take you to an area of the site where you can get more information about Rick's book. You can read a transcript of today's program and, in fact, leave comments for us about the program down at the end of the transcript.
Again, our website is FamilyLife.com, and you want to click on the right side where you see "Today's Broadcast" listed. Or if it's easier to request a copy of Rick's book by calling, our telephone number if 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-368-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY. Just ask for a copy of the book, "Lessons from a Third Grade Dropout," and someone on our team will let you know how you can have it sent to you.
You know, a lot of our listeners would likely have what they would refer to as a "dad deficit." Either Dad wasn't in the home when they were growing up, or he was there, but he was unplugged, he was disconnected, and, as a result, a lot of listeners have grown up confused about what manhood is supposed to look like. It just never got passed along.
This month, we are making available to our listeners a CD with a great message from our friend, Stu Weber. Stu is a former Army Ranger, a Green Beret, who is now pastor of a church in suburban Portland, Oregon. He spoke to our staff a while back on the subject of masculinity – "Understanding Manhood." It's a message we've called "Applied Masculinity," and this month we're making a CD of that message available to our listeners when you make a donation of any amount for the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
You can donate online at FamilyLife.com, or you can donate by calling 1-800-FLTODAY. If you're donating online, and you'd like to receive the CD, you need to type the word "Stu," s-t-u – into the keycode box on the donation form. If you call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone, you can just request the CD on manhood or this month's CD, we'll know what you're talking about, and we're happy to send it out to you.
We just want to say thanks for helping to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We are listener-supported, and it's your donations that keep us on the air on this city and in other cities all around the country. We appreciate your partnership with us.
Now, tomorrow we have got more lessons that Dr. Rick Rigsby learned from his father who was a third grade dropout. I hope you can be with us as we unpack some of those tomorrow.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow.
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