“Zac and I met on July 6th, 2015. I remember every detail of that day because I experienced a true love spark in that moment, a ‘love at first sight.’ He always knew how to make me laugh, even from day one. I don’t think there was one silent moment on that six-hour drive back home from a church camp in Neosho, Missouri, back to Denton, Texas. I knew I wanted to get to know him more after that, thanks to his go-getter personality and desire to make me laugh after barely even knowing me.
Soon after that camp ride, we went on a mission trip to Zambia, Africa, both for the first time. Our love was evident and unstoppable at that point. If you think you’re interested in someone, try going across the country with them, you’ll know after that. I could not believe how our story was falling into place, before my eyes, because I believe it was truly from the Lord. I fell in love with the children, the atmosphere, the presence of the Lord, the culture, and God gave both of us such a burden from being in that place. Our story started with passion and hunger to do something for Him. I began to really start to believe that, when we make Him priority in our lives, He places things and people in our life, that we didn’t even know we needed (I’m even seeing that now). We serve a great and wonderful God, even when He places things that we were not expecting, we can trust that everything… yes everything, is placed there for a reason.
After we returned from Africa, I knew God was drawing me towards attending a Bible college in Neosho, Missouri, which is where my Pastor graduated and, conveniently, where Zac was going to finish his senior year. We shared many laughs, tears, and the beginning of our relationship there. We were both in the same Africa prayer band where we would gather weekly and pray for the country and we were both in the Overcomer’s choir that year, too. I was on cloud 9. Zac was crazy and loved to make me laugh. So that’s exactly what happened that year, sometimes I felt like I couldn’t keep up.
Life was happening so fast and I knew pretty soon that he wasn’t messing around with being in a relationship. He knew what he wanted and went after it. That’s how he was with everything. He was a dreamer and liked to make his dreams become realities. He could’ve been the greatest missionary, youth pastor and CEO of a business all at once. That was just Zac. He had a passion for people and never met a stranger. One of the greatest things he taught me is the importance of investing in a life, the difference it makes, and the joy that comes from bringing a smile to someone’s face.
Zac proposed at the Reunion Tower in Dallas, Texas, on a cold December night. I actually remember feeling like it was going to happen that night, but he tried so hard to keep everything secret and surprise me. It was the sweetest thing. My stomach was in knots. He stood up from the dinner table and asked the waiter if he could take a picture of us. He then walked towards me, got down on one knee and said, ‘Erika, I love you. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life without you. Will you marry me?’ I said yes with tears in my eyes and we left in shock and overjoyed at the same time. He had already graduated college and I went back for a semester to finish my second year.
I enjoyed several more trips with Zac between December and August, when we got married. We had many adventures with family and were planning our life together.
As things began to settle during married life after our honeymoon in Durango, Colorado, we both started working, along with being assistant youth pastors at our home church in Denton, Texas. He truly had a heart for youth and always wanted to be a youth pastor. He was constantly planning activities for them and making life fun for our church family. And I loved being beside him, doing it all together. Zac was so loved by everyone, and I truly believe if he could have done more, he would have. It’s crazy though – when you’re comfortable in life, in your routine, and on the mountaintop, how God can completely shake things up in just one day…
July 21st, 2018. The complete tragic turn of my life, the day I thought my life was completely over.
I can remember every single detail of that day, like it’s forever burnt into my mind. It was a Saturday. I woke up and started getting ready for work. I worked at a Discount Boot store in our hometown. Zac helped me get the job by connecting me with a family friend. He didn’t have to go into work that day and I remember leaning over the bed and telling him goodbye that morning. The day went on and I hadn’t heard from him up until my lunch break at 1 o’clock. Also, my car conveniently wouldn’t start for me to get home on my lunch break, so he gladly picked me up for lunch, without hesitation. Side note: he had never picked me up for lunch before and I think God divinely did that in order for me to see him again that day, one last time.
On the drive home we were talking about a man in our church’s funeral. It was my sister-in-law’s grandpa. It was going to be that day at 2 o’clock and I was upset because I couldn’t get off to go to the funeral. Zac of course wanted to go because he always was helping and super involved in our church, with singing, to teaching a Sunday school class, to helping out with the youth group faithfully every Friday night. I remember him telling me that he wasn’t feeling that good, so I told him, ‘Babe, why don’t you just stay home and rest?’ But he insisted on going because he wanted to help sing in the service and help in any way they needed. We held hands all the way home and enjoyed the drive together. As we pulled into our country, gravel driveway, we passed our brother-in-law, Trevor, and I said, ‘Why, don’t you just ride with Trevor? He’s already on his way into town. I’m sure he would wait for you to change for the funeral.’
‘Nah, it’s okay, I’ll just take the motorcycle,’ he responded. Little did I know, what exactly was going to take place. I’d go back to that moment in a heartbeat and insist on another way into town, to beg him more to stay home, to pick up my phone and call Trevor to tell him to wait on Zac, to get my car running so that way he could take it, something… anything… After we kindly passed Trevor, waving at him as he drove by (I can still see it and replay it over and over again. It was almost as if I can go back and watch Zac’s life disappear as the car pulled away, and the opportunity slipping out of my hands). Zac then ran inside our house to get clothes for the funeral, his backpack, and his helmet for the ride. He jumped back into the car and took me down to mom and dad’s house for lunch. I got out of the car and gave him a hug as he put his earbuds in, and his helmet on. I attempted to kiss him with his helmet in the way, our lips barely touched, but we smiled and laughed about it. He started up his bike and got on it. I remember him turning around before he pulled away, smiling and waving at me, along with blowing me a kiss. I waved back. Then I remember being frozen, and hesitated going inside. It was weird. It’s like something stopped me in my tracks and made me turn around to watch him leave. I watched him pull away on that gravel road, until I couldn’t see him anymore. I had no idea why I watched him pull away, but I remember thinking that I loved him and how he was so selfless. That was the last time I would see his smile, hug his neck, kiss his lips, hear his laugh, watch him ride his bike… any of that. But, how could I have known?
I went back to work after my lunch and continued working for about an hour. I thought it was strange I hadn’t heard from him, because the church was only a 30-minute ride. His little brother Jesse called me and asked if I had heard from Zac. ‘No,’ I responded, as my heart began to pound. I had called him a few times with no answer. So I radioed the girls at work and started to cry, not even sure why yet, but I told them that something was wrong because I couldn’t reach him. After pacing in the break room, his mom called me.
‘Hey, Zac isn’t here,’ she told me. ‘I’m leaving the church and going to look for him. To check the ditches.’
I remember my heart stopping as I let those words ring in my ear. I felt completely helpless because I was stranded at work. I was bawling my eyes out, praying, and asking God to help him, even though I had no clue what was going on. She called me about 10 minutes later (which felt like an hour) and said, ‘I need you to tell the girls that you have to leave work. I’m coming to get you.’ My panicked response was, ‘What’s going on?!’ She responded, ‘I am not telling you over the phone. Just get your stuff and be ready for us.’ I was so shocked and couldn’t catch my breath at this point.
The girls at work hugged me tight and said, ‘Everything is going to be okay,’ but I just had a bad feeling about it all and felt extremely sick to my stomach. I remember one girl specifically telling me, ‘You’re the one with all the faith, you can get through this.’ Everything was happening so fast, but I can still hear those words in my head from that day. Mom and Jesse (little brother) rushed inside when they got to my work, with me shaking uncontrollably and crying. I sat I the front seat and Jesse was driving. We held hands all the way to the hospital and it felt like we were driving for hours.
We pulled into the hospital front entrance, where we were greeted by our assistant pastor and good friend, Tim Laurito. He said, ‘Just leave the car there, come in!!’ He put his arm around me and we walked inside. With my heart racing, he pulled us into a small room with Robin (Dad) and his two older brothers (Caleb and Josh) along with Josh’s wife, Brittany. Dad started yelling as soon as we walked in, ‘Zachary didn’t make it…’ Then Mom screamed out of horror and shock asking, ‘Why?! In the world? Are you kidding me? NO!’ I remember dropping to the ground out of complete shock and grabbing my chest, as if my heart was actually breaking because it felt like a thousand pounds. Soon after, the rest of the family got there. I felt like I was the last to know, along with feeling helpless because he wasn’t even here anymore and there’s nothing I could do about it.
A nurse came in and said we could go see Zac now. I remember feeling like I didn’t want to go in there at all. But we began to walk down a hallway that felt like a mile long. She told me, ‘There are some tubes and wires on him that we have to leave there right now.’ As we got to the door, Mom was behind me and I told her, ‘No, I’m not going in there. I don’t want to see him like that.’ She said firmly, ‘It’s closure, you need to.’ I stumbled in, shaking, and feeling sick. I saw him lying there, lifeless, with a brace on his neck and his head looked normal. I remember thinking this is a joke, there’s no way this is happening to me. My pastor came in the room with the rest of the family and I began sobbing, stroking Zac’s hair and holding his hand, knowing he wasn’t going to respond. But I prayed. ‘God, heal him. Why can’t you? You’ve done miracles before like this. I believe you can now.’ But then a sudden wave of unexplainable peace filled that room. As my pastor prayed, I knew this was it. This was the end. But I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. You shouldn’t have to say goodbye to someone at 20 years old, after only being married for 11 months and 3 days, not even a full year.
Soon after walking out of that room, I was bombarded by at least a hundred people from the church in the waiting room all crying and looking at us as a family to respond. We hugged people, wailed, cried and prayed together. But I remember leaving the hospital that night completely broken and confused. Zac died of major injury to his heart…and in a way, so did I. I felt like my life was completely over. Like you might as well just put me in the casket with him, because there’s no way I was going to be able to go on.
But now. I can tell you there is a way you can go on. Because I’ve done it. Through sleepless nights, frustration, confusion, unimaginable brokenness and pain, I’ve gone through it this past year. I’ve walked the road of loneliness. But I made up in my mind one day that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life crying at his grave for days on end. I wanted to move forward. I wanted to live again. I wanted my happily ever after. I didn’t know how. But I knew I served a God who was going to carry me (and still is) every step of the way.
I returned to college. The same one Zac and I were at together to finish my third year, because I felt like it’s what God wanted. I’m not sure how and I’m not sure when, but I began to heal. I was starting to smile again, God restored my praise back. I never gave up on him because I knew there had to be more to my story.
As the year went on and the story was continuing to bless people, I met someone. Someone who became my best friend. Someone I would talk to and he would listen. God was restoring in a way that I wasn’t expecting. But He gave me Timothy Sebastian. Someone I was praying for, but didn’t realize it. Someone who continues to grow and learn with me, along with assuring me by saying, ‘Hey, I’m not going anywhere.’ That meant so much to me and he continues to tell me that. God is still healing me no doubt, but he has also given me an ability to love again, in a new way. Something I didn’t even know was possible. I’m so thankful for Timmy standing by me every step of the way.
I’m living proof that, no matter what age, no matter who you are, you can walk through tragedy with the Lord, and continue on. Zac’s motto was ‘live everyday like it’s your last.’ And I wanted to continue to do that. No matter how dark the walk, the valley, the hurt, the confusion, the loss. If you hang onto God, through it all, He WILL restore. He will heal and help. And He will continue to give you opportunities to love. Through Zac’s loss, I have come to know God in a new way and I want to continue to stay close to Him as my story is being written. Keep going forward, friends. It’s going to be worth it someday.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Erika Williams of Texas. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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