Today marks what most call the anniversary of the death of Russ Barker. I choose to call this Russ’s birthday, and even though I’ve never personally met Russ, I feel as if I’ve known him fur-ever. The reason why I changed my thought from anniversary to birthday is I believe that God is “the” Creator of all life, but in order for us to walk face-to-face with Him, we must pass away from this life, to enter into the presence of God. So, I believe that today there is a celebration going on in heaven, celebrating “year one” of Russ’s life in heaven.

Today also marks another day, and that is the one year mark for a woman who always will…  miss her brother.

Kelly Barker was, and will fur-ever remain the older sister to Russ Barker.  I met Kelly shortly before her brother died, and from the moment we became friends, our conversations would always lead to a “Russ Barker” story.  Kelly never had children, but was given two brothers, and I know first hand that the love Kelly had for Russ could be compared to the love that a mother has for her first-born child. It’s automatic and fur-ever!!!

I was introduced to Kelly through a mutual friend, because I needed help with my non-profit.  I am the Founder of Owie BowWowie and Friends,  and Kelly and her brother ran a family business. I was told that, if you need help Gina, Kelly Barker is the woman to meet! 

From the moment the two of us met we became instant friends and a few days before Russ’s death, Kelly happened to be showing Russ,  Owie BowWowie (which is a plush dog that is given to hospitalized children) when Russ uninterrupted her and said, “Hey, if this is a comfort toy than why doesn’t he have a heart?”  Kelly called me and shared Russ’s insight and the two of us agreed that Russ was right.  Owie needed a heart!

The morning of the funeral,  Kelly forwarded  me the words in which she would share. Kelly lives in Michigan and I live in California so I wasn’t able to make the funeral, but was so blessed when I was able to read her heart, and as I read each word I cried. Here was a woman who just days before had a brother, a business partner, a friend, and within one moment her whole world STOPPED and changed direction.  From that day “onward” she no longer had her brother, a business partner, and she would fur-ever… miss her friend.

During this past year there hasn’t been a day where Kelly hasn’t shared a “Russ Barker” story with me. I’ve been in awe of the way she’s been able to work through her tears and kept their business going, but the one thing that truly amazed me is how personal Owie now is to her. She gave Owie his heart, and because of that, Russ Barker, will “FUR-EVER” be remembered!

Each day I’m surrounded by those who have lost someone they loved. I know I’ve lost more friends than I’ve been able to keep, and maybe that’s part of why I give comfort. I must write that it’s rare to find someone who goes through so much loss, has a business to run, and then says, “I want to help with Owie. I loved Russ with all my heart! Can we please add Russ’s heart to Owie?”

The beautiful part of this story is today is the day that Owie’s being introduced to all those who have been friends of our Foundation and have given comfort and joy disguised as a toy to thousands of hospitalized children. A year ago today Owie did not have a heart, but today Owie is all heart, and it’s because Kelly didn’t run from her pain, but ran towards the memory of her love for her brother.

Today I  wanted to remember this Appointment with God.  God knew that Russ would share with Kelly that Owie needed a heart, and God knew that Kelly loved Russ so much that she would work tirelessly to make sure that Russ received his one request,  and from this day “onward” each Owie that is given away, is given with a heart of knowing that it’s through pain and suffering where true love is actually waiting for us.

And to Kelly Barker. If you happen to read my Appointments with God today, I want you to know how proud I am of you. I’ve been blessed to talk with you each day for a  year, and even through your tears you always showed up to finish the tasks that were before you. I’m proud that God allowed me the opportunity to meet such an incredible woman with a kind heart, and I look forward to a lifetime of giving away comfort with you, and this verse is your story…

“Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you! John 16:22

Because…  A year ago today you grieved, but YOU WILL SEE RUSS AGAIN, and your HEART is rejoicing because you’re giving love away and no one will ever take this joy away from you!

Owie 1 card






Filed under Appointment with God, Belief, Bible, Faith, Gina Gippner-Woods, Gina Woods

2 responses to “HAPPY BIRTHDAY RUSS!

  1. So enlightening! My grandmother had her “birthday” two months ago. Some moments are harder than others. She was such a vital part of my life. Yesterday, was a grandma moment day when I kept thinking about her. Thanks for your encouraging words.

    • Thank you for sharing your grandmother with me. My grandmother’s 10th birthday is coming up on the 23 of this month. I loved her dearly and there is not a day that I don’t think of her. She was such a gift and I was so blessed that God allowed me the gift of her.

      Praying you have many more grandma moments!


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