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Alive Day: The Reason Our Family Celebrates a Bullet to the Brain

13 years ago today Sergeant Jesse Rice and Staff Sergeant Shane Becker were on duty in Iraq with the U.S. Army when an insurgent pulled out a pistol and shot them both. The details of the report were grim: 2 men shot. 1 in the head, 1 in the shoulder, 1 KIA.

army guys before alive day
Jesse's comrades while on duty in Iraq

One minute you’re a guy with plans to go home and fulfill your dreams; the next minute you’re looking down at your own lifeless body. In an instant everything can change.

On April 3, 2007, the man that would be my husband laid in the sand with a bullet in his brain as a medevac flew him to a tent for his first of many surgeries, and the fight for his life began. While the soldiers, nurses, and doctors fixed his body, hundreds of others were on their knees, waging war through prayer and asking for one simple thing: Survival.

note of encouragement
Jesse received notes and prayers from all over the world.

Jesse couldn’t have known that despite the loss of his left eye, the permanent brain damage, and the shattering of his orbital bone and nearly every other bone on the left side of his face, this day would turn out to be a blessing. He couldn’t have known that despite his prognosis, he would live to not only walk and talk again, but to live a life of abundance and joy. He couldn’t have known that the anniversary of what was once the worst day of his life would be celebrated every year by the people that loved him as the day that he survived.

first alive day photo
Jesse's first Alive Day photo

This is Alive Day: the redemption of a day that by all standards was filled with unspeakable sorrow, and is now a day we choose to rejoice.

This year on Alive Day COVID-19 has caused us all to stop and just ask for the simplest of things: survival. We ask for the survival of loved ones, relationships, businesses, and a way of life that we have grown fond of. Families, communities, and countries are all living with the same burdensome thought: Even if we survive, nothing will be the same.

With one bullet, Jesse’s dreams died; and with one virus, our normal was stolen.

On Alive Day we hold tight to this:

There are things in this life that no weapon can destroy and no organism can take away.

Below the surface are our untouchable belongings: faith, joy, hope, perseverance, kindness, and love. While a bullet can destroy the body, it cannot touch the soul. As a microscopic virus brings nations to their knees and plants seeds of fear in the soil of our lives, we have to remember what it cannot touch. 

This is our plea on Alive Day – to call forth weapons of praise, of joy, and of thankfulness to wage war against despair. We are asking for the patience to see the what’s on the other side of the suffering, and the boldness to make peace with what has been lost.

The suffering is real. Thirteen years ago one life was lost just a few feet away from where another was saved. There is a family grieving the loss of a husband, a father, a son, and a brother today. We don’t celebrate in spite of their loss; but we celebrate to honor their loss.

Updates from home
Tim (Jesse's dad) emailed this update.

As we all try to battle this new enemy, I pray that we’d ask for more than survival. Alive Day is about asking for more, it’s about expecting more—and not because we deserve it, not because it’s fair or right, but because when we get the good thing that we know we don’t deserve, we can’t help but stand in awe. Jesse was knocking on death’s door, but he wasn’t dead yet, and neither are you.

If you have breath in your lungs your story isn’t over yet, so keep on writing, and make it worthwhile.

Alive Day then and now
Every year on Alive Day Jesse and his parents take the same picture. This is the picture taken on the 10th anniversary.


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