From left, Schaefer, Kalli, Terry, Jan, Blake and Drew Hedgepeth.

‘True love’ was not what I expected


     In high school, I knew Jesus, but I felt a void.  Many of my friends were dating and seemed to be in love. I had dated but had not experienced love. So I knelt and prayed for what my heart most desired: true love.


     At the grocery store, I noticed a nice-looking gentleman and kept running into him throughout the store and at checkout. We never spoke but loaded our vehicles and drove off at the same time. I glanced in the rearview mirror, and I watched him follow my mom and me all the way home. He approached us humbly and respectfully. His name is Rick; he’s a fireman. He felt God telling him not to let me get away without speaking. Normally I would’ve been skeptical, but as he spoke, God gave me peace.      


Jan Schaefer and Rick May in December 1984.

     Rick and I became inseparable. We spent every free second together — attending church, praying and reading the Bible before dates. That July 4, Rick took me to a nearby lake. We lay on a blanket under the stars. As fireworks exploded, he kissed me and said those three magical words: He loved me! I felt the same — but couldn’t say it yet. He wasn’t upset and said he would wait. Three months later, we went on a picnic, and I sent Rick on a walk while I set up. The look on his face when he came back and read my homemade “I Love You” banner is still burned into my memory. He kissed me as he twirled me around and begged me to say the words out loud — again and again. I knew true love now, and I was so grateful to God.


     Months later, I woke from a bad dream and called Rick. Crying, I told him I’d dreamed he’d died in the line of duty. He assured me he was fine, but did say dying in the line of duty was exactly how he’d want to go.


     Days later, I dropped Rick off for his shift and we kissed goodbye. It would be our last kiss. I was at church when I received the news: Rick was on top of the firetruck as it pulled out. The heavy garage door malfunctioned and dropped in front of him, knocking him headfirst onto the concrete floor. He would be in a coma for three days before life support was removed.      


     Miles of people lined Rick’s funeral route. Many shared stories of his kindness, including one story from a family that had been stranded on the side of the road. Rick had seen them on his way to work and stopped to help, even though it made him late.


     I struggled to finish classes that year. Why would God take away my true love? I pleaded with Him: Tell me the why so maybe I could go on. I was in a parking lot when a man stopped me. He said Rick had often witnessed to him about Jesus. The man had brushed the words aside until the day Rick died. What if he had died instead of Rick? The thought had sent him in search of the peace Rick had, and he had become a Christian. Wow! God had just given me the why! I knew Rick would have happily given his life for this man to know Christ. I now saw that God had a bigger plan.


     Then, this verse came to mind: “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Greater love … TRUER love. Rick’s death in the line of duty showed true love. The stories people shared at the funeral were about Rick laying down his life to help others. THAT is true love. God had answered my prayer to know “true love” in a way I never could have imagined.


     In His grace, God helped me find romantic love again. My husband, Terry, and I have been married for 27 years. When we were dating, he told me he didn’t want to replace Rick in my life — he just wanted me to make room in my heart for him too.


     I feel blessed to know true love — a journey that started with a prayer.




Jan and Terry Hedgepeth have four children: Schaefer (24), Blake (23), Kalli (19) and Drew (18). They live in Madison and attend First Baptist Church of Madison.