Defining a defining year

How does one measure how defining a year is? Is it by the changes you make personally? The lives you impact? The places you have visited? The jobs you’ve held? A defining year might be because of events you’ve initiated: changes you’ve made personally. Or, for some a defining year might be because of events that happened outside your control. The only choices you were left with was the choice of reaction.

Some years of a person’s life pass with little change, no major events, no incredible changes, just living life. Some years aren’t defining until much later. Some of the 8 years J and I spent together were defining in that moment: marriage, having C, and moving to Texas. Others were simply years we spent living. However 2013 was not only the most drasticly changing and impactful of my 29 years of living. The events of 2013 definitely defined me, but they also made the last 8 years spent with J defining years as well: even those years we were simply just living.

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The years J and I spent together were comfortable, and I liked that. Most weren’t what I would have called defining in that moment. Yes, I grew, I changed, I learned, but I wouldn’t have called them defining years. I wouldn’t have labeled them as life changing because I didn’t really see my life changing. I measured success differently then. Honestly, I’m really not sure how I measured my success then because how I view my life is so different now. What I do know is whether at the close of a year I labeled it as defining or not, it was. The events of 2013 have taught me a incredible amount because they have altered my perpective of life.

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Today as I spend the last 11 hours of 2013 sitting by a pool and watching my little one learn to “swim” under water, I can’t help but reflect. One would think I would be reflecting on the events of 2013: J’s death, the funeral, learning to be a single parent, beginning The Pink Behind The Thin Blue Line, learning to live with only the memories of my soul mate. I have spent time reflecting on each of those, and how they’ve changed me, but honestly, I spend a considerable amount of my time reflecting on each of these events. I reflect on them daily. These events have defined my future. Today, actually this week at Disney in general, I’ve found my thoughts on the past 8 years. The years that I really thought were simply passing years. Sweet memories but far from life altering.

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The years where I was growing ever so slowly and subtly into the woman I am today. The years of learning how to be a wife, and an officer’s wife at that. The years of learning to be mommy. A better teacher, daughter, sister, and friend. The years where I learned to cook breakfast, only to have to learn how to keep it warm without drying it out completely. The years I spent being a therapist to a silent man who grieved the tragic events he saw, but was never able to completely tell me about them…but yet somehow I gained the knowledge of how to help him heal without subjecting me to the horrors of his job. Years spent perfecting cupcake recipes, from a box, and learning how to package 36 plus cupcakes so that he could safely transport them without having to sacrifice yet ANOTHER cupcake carrier. I now smile at all the sacrificial cupcake carriers gone to the depths of a patrol room. I still couldn’t tell you where they all are: because I know no other officer wants a cupcake carrier!

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I smile at the small, funny notes that were left to me on the counters, the pockets of his uniforms I washed and pressed so many times. The many times I saved him by squirting kool-aide bursts into his mouth as his sugar dropped, YET again, because he refused to listen to me about eating protein. I marvel at my emergency driving abilities as we FLEW down the interstate to the ER because SOMEONE took 90 units of short term insulin instead of long term. By the way, short term insulin takes effect in 15 to 20 minutes. My racecar driving of a Nissan Altima made a 20 minute drive a 10 minute one.

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I now marvel at the patience I had while waiting for him to decide that he wanted to marry me. A fact I knew from the first time I saw him. I now laugh at the NUMEROUS times I spent embarrassed by his less than PC actions, or his incredibly “talented” dance moves. I look back at the years he spent playing on the floor with Caden: teaching him how to escape from various wrestling holds. In essence teaching him his own strength, patience, and bravery. The years they spent playing army, coast guard rescue swimming, hide and seek. The years I spent in a sleep deprived state STILL accomplishing all the tasks of the day. The surprise gifts or flowers, texts, and 5 minute visits snuck home in between calls. The stories of the lives changed for the better by our money spent on baby formula or canned food on a welfare check.

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One of the last gifts Jason have me, surprise gift of course!

I find myself laughing at the spontaneous breakouts of “Ice Ice Baby” no matter where we happened to have found ourselves.

I find myself smiling when I see a package of Skittles: the candy he offered me in an effort to create a conversation with me for the first time. The same candy we handed out at his visitation, because in those sad moments of my life, Skittles still brought q smile to my face.

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The first picture I remember taking as a couple.

Marveling at my ability to make executive decisions while I spent time waiting for a simple, “Yes” or “no”text. In the end just making the decision and texting him the outcome because at that time his dedication to protect and serve was a greater need than our own. And my own understanding and acceptance of that…because it is OUR calling.

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As I sit poolside in the last few hours of 2013, I’m amazed at my ability to survive this past year…this year of course has been a defining year. But, even with all the events of this year, the unfortunate losses, the voids, and the blessings, what I’ve chosen to reflect on the most is how the past 8 years of my life have defined me as well. At the close of each of those years I’m sure I “reflected,” but I doubt I was as thankful as I am now. This year in my reflections, memories don’t seem to stop, they just keep flooding my mind, and, for all of them I am thankful. Each of those moments were defining: sometimes in their simplicity, other times in their incredible outreach, but nonetheless defining. Each in some way prepared me for the most defining year of my life thus far.
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At the close of this year I find myself saddened that the future years for both me and C will be without our soul mate or daddio, but I also know that each of those years will be defining. Because my definition of a defining year has been forever altered. Now, at the close of years I pray I truly reflect, and cherish all my defining moments: memories, mommy and son moments, strength gained, and lives changed.

Today, I’m ending the worst year of my life with the absolute best gift J ever have me: C. And as we start 2014, we are starting it by living!

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Yep, he has his daddy's personality!

As you reflect on your year, I pray you recognize it’s defining moments, no matter how small. The moments of this year: the bumps, hilltops, valleys, and the roads you drove as you were simply living, have in some way prepared you for events of future years. Appreciate the years you simply just”live.” In those moments of living, you’re constantly making memories. You’re becoming the person you were destined to be. Who is that person? Are you reflecting and changing to become him or her?

I wish you the absolute the best in 2014, but if it brings you heartbreak or loss, I pray that you use those moments to define you as well. Each year is defining because in the end each year brings you closer to the person you are meant to be. And, I believe that person changes each year: you decide if it’s for the better or worse.

Learning to live again: A Mid-flight Revelation

I’ve lived two lives in almost 30 years of living. We’ve talked before about the befores and afters. But the life I’m living now, is just exactly that, for the now. And, I promise this won’t be a plug for YOLO. GASP, goodness just thinking about that craziness scares me!

I’ve spent 29 years and 6 months playing it safe. Planning every aspect. I thrived off predictability. Plan A, B, C , D and the ever trusting plan E for the absolute emergency.  My life was a planned out event. I was the conductor of my own symphony. Orchestrating lesson plans, child care for the afternoon parent teacher meeting, making dr appointments for J, only to reschedule them because the court date was moved, and he had to attend court. Packing lunches, refilling insulin prescriptions, planning trips home for the weekends that he worked, so that we could have family time, but not miss time with him. Planning a birthday party for the weekend before or the weekend after someone’s actual birthday just to ensure it was J’s weekend off. I was a well oiled machine. And, honestly, I rarely made time for myself.

For those who knew me before J’s death, you probably would have nicely used the terms control freak, planner, safe, and slightly if not entirely square. I rarely made jokes; I lived in fear of embarrassment. I hid my face in shame at J’s crazy gestures, jokes, and comical attitude. I rarely took chances. J was the risk taker, the throw life all of the table and see what it gives you. He didn’t go half speed into anything. Nothing was calculated in his personal life. If you weren’t giving it your all, disregarding embarrassment, political correctness, and your wife’s constantly flushed face from your recent joke or prank, then you simply weren’t living-in J’s world. I learned to ignore his less than normal social interactions, and to compensate for his lack of political correctness. In the early stages of our marriage, I’d actually become angry at him because of a prank. I simply found it near impossible to, “laugh it off, and enjoy life.” J and I enjoyed life differently…but all the while I compensated, rectified, and ignored, I admired him. I was always jealous of his ability to let go and live. Everyday J was alive, he lived it. I, well I lived, if you mean I breathed, ate, slept, and most importantly planned. Envious all the while. After some time, I just gave it up. I figured this was the way God made me. My planning and calculated life had its role and place in our relationship. And, let me just say, no one is to blame for who I was. I just craved the safety of a calculated life.

Other officer’s wives will understand this, I even planned what I would do if I ever received a knock on my door. If I ever had to raise our son without his daddy. I planned financially, emotionally, and physically. Planning didn’t erase the fear, but it eased it. It was my way of coping…

And then 6 and a half months ago all the planning was to be enacted. Except, well, from the moment I answered the door, I didn’t follow the plan. In fact, I forgot about it all together. I lived in those moments. Each minute from that knock until about 3 months after it, I lived in each moment. I stopped trying to plan after about 15 hours into the hospital stay, and I just lived. I used to say I survived. That word has exited my mouth more times than I can count. In fact, up until about 20 minutes ago, mid-flight to Orlando, I would have told you I survived. But, a 2 hour flight provides excellent reflection time. I know, “technically,”the denotation of survive and live are essentially the same. The connotation, the emotions attached to the two words, well there in lies the difference. For the past 6 and a half months, I have chosen to live each moment not to survive. Surviving is what the old me would do. To make use of, ration out, and plan for the worst with every essential item I was given. The old plan, was a survival plan. The new plan,  well, it’s simple-to live.

As I’m writing to you from somewhere between Texas and Florida, I’m in awe at my, “bravery,” as some call it, to travel ALONE and more crazily,  WITH a 5 year old! Gasp! Yes, I’m in awe at being on this flight because the old me wouldn’t have taken the risk! She would have always wanted for C to experience Disney, but would have fretted too much over the germs, the crowds, the risk of driving or flying. I would have worried about saving the money, and then spending it, and what if we needed it later on. I would have been so focused on the what ifs, that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it, if we did take the trip.

As we are prepping for landing in Florida, I am at peace. I am enjoying the sounds of a awe-struck, police officer’s child, who is looking out the window into the dark clouds of nightfall, and telling me, “flying on the night shift is the best!” Yep, he refers to anything performed after dark as, “the night shift.” I recall those ever so distant plans of what I would do if J were ever killed, and I chuckle. Who needs plans? Who needs worry? I have plenty of things to worry over, but they won’t change because I worry. I don’t need any of those plans, because none of them were about living. And yes, planning in some capacities has its place in life. To sine degree, planning is part of being an adult, and living a successful life. But, planning doesn’t have to be ALL of your life!

Instead, what I need is for C to experience life, as, “daddy flies on his Angel wings beside us.” I need him to live his life to fullest, to have no regrets. I had always PLANNED on J To cultivate these characteristics in C. Characteristics I was adamant he have. I didn’t want him to miss out on anything! Now, instilling the ability to live into C is my job! And, while the old me might have worried, and the new me sometimes still does, we are living.
If some people look at our living, and they mistake it for not “properly grieving”the death of my husband. Please know, I respect your right to feel that way, but I’m laughing at you. Because for those of you who knew J, you know he’s dancing his crazy moves in heaven watching his wife become more and more like him.  After losing J, I spent some time thinking that living wasn’t grieving. That I couldn’t do both. And, in doing so, I spent a short time not living… I lost myself, only to find a new one. So for those who think, “gallavanting across the USA” isn’t appropriate. I’m sorry. Each person grieves differently, and if you grieve in your home, great. Grieving however you want to is fine. But as for me, we are grieving, but choosing to live in the process.

After the death of a loved one, everyone feels his or her presence differently. Reassurance on difficult times, peace when needed…me, I feel those too. But most accurately, I feel him pushing me on to live, and to help others along my way.

Tonight, as I’m literally, landing in Orlando, the new me is loving it! C is promising me daddy is right outside the window, now riding on the wings,( TOTALLY a J Thing to do), and I’m smiling. We miss him more than words could ever tell you, but we feel him more and more each day.

We are living!

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Merging “before” with “after”: A New Meaning of “O Holy Night”

Before and after- prepositional phrases usually utilized to indicate when an event took place. Useful in indicating passage of time.
Words that find themselves frequently used in the English language, small and seemingly insignificant, lost among the eloquent and more grandiose words; yet, vital just the same.
Words that have never had a profound effect upon my life until six months ago. In the world of traumatic loss and grieving, life is seemingly defined as “before,” “the event/loss,” and “after.” When writing those three categories, it seems fairly easy. Each part of your life becomes neatly tucked into one of those three categories. If all the events of your life become tucked into categories, and there are no loose ends, everything will be okay. Well, that’s just simply wrong. Yes, chronologically, I can place events into the one of the three categories: “before J’s death,” “the time spent in the hospital,” and “after J’s death.” Chronological is simple. Every event in our lives will chronologically fit into one of these categories, and because each event will fit, we sometimes give the impression that we are continuing on with our lives in a normal fashion.
Chronologically placing the events into a category is what I like to call “head knowledge.” When we can attach a date to an event, our brain automatically places the events into chronological order. Before J’s death, my memories seemed to be organized chronologically. Meaning, memories before a certain milestone in our lives didn’t really hold more significance emotionally, than a memory after a specific milestone. Maybe you are different, but in the grand scheme of things, I relived my memories chronologically. After J passed, everything changed. Instead of each event fitting neatly into a category, lines began to blur.
As I sit and reflect on last Christmas- the traditions, the memories, and the love, I can logically tell you “those were before J passed.” Traditions of J putting together toys while he and I drank hot chocolate out of the snowman and penguin mugs we bought our first Christmas together. J eating the cookies, and writing C a special note from Santa. J griping about the coordinating pajama bottoms and shirts that I forced us each to wear. Opening our gifts together Christmas Eve, just the two of us, so that Christmas morning could be about C. J letting the dog onto the front porch so that he could have a special treat of all the reindeer food. Opening one sentimental “mushy” card and one funny one from J. If it were left to J, I would have only received the funny one. That’s the man he was, but after the first Christmas, it became established that both were necessary.  Traditions that chronologically fit into the “before J passed” category.
The problem is our “heart knowledge” blurs the chronological lines, and it causes us to have difficulty placing a tradition or a favorite memory into the “before J passed” category. I don’t want to place an event there. I don’t want to even believe that category exists some days. I want to erase it, hide it, banish it into oblivion. And because I want to obliterate the category altogether, reliving the memories that fit into the “before” category are extremely bittersweet. Placing a much loved Christmas tradition into the “before” category feels like re-living “the event” all over again. The fears, anger, resentment, sadness, anxiety all flood back in. And this happens when I least expect it. It can be caused by a song, a random Christmas sack you begin to wrap a present in, only to realize someone has written J’s name in marker on the outside. It can be caused by wrapping a gift, and thinking, “wow J would have had ‘fun’ putting that one together.” And, I find myself not ready for those moments. My mind isn’t guarded, and sadness comes flooding in. And so, when trying to place memories and traditions into categories, I find myself torn. Placing a tradition into the “before” category feels as if I’m burying it too….
If I force a tradition into the “before” category, it is more than likely because the tradition is impossible to continue because of “the event.” People offer all kinds of advice. “Continue on with all of your traditions, make J a part of Christmas still.” Well, that creates a problem. You see, in a 5 year old’s mind, daddy is in heaven, and he can’t physically be a part of our traditions. “Create brand new traditions, and leave the old ones.” Well, that feels like a betrayal all together! And, so I find myself wondering what in the world will we do for traditions on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? How will I find a balance of the before and after? How will I ensure J’s memory and his personality ring through into C’s world?
The “afters” often feel like betrayals. They feel “too soon,” “cold” and “uninviting.” They lack J’s physical presence- his laugh, his smile, his crazy hats he would make out of wrapping paper. J made Christmas fun. There is no J to help create the “afters.” There’s my memory of him, my stories I share, and my attempts to incorporate him, but there is no him. And so, creating the “afters” is hard work. It is something that I’ve been working on for well over a month. I have no way of knowing how C will react without his daddy on Christmas. In fact, I have no way of knowing how I will even react. In therapy they say, “create new memories while incorporating old traditions.” How does one do that when every single tradition had J all wrapped neatly into it? Tearing apart a tradition is almost like tearing apart a neatly wrapped gift. Try as you might, the wrapping paper never goes back together the same way again. How do I continue to honor the traditions, when a vital part of them is missing?
And, again, people have advice, and all mean well, but the reality is a tradition from “before,” rarely fits into “the after” in the same way. When a tradition from “before” merges with a tradition formed in the “after,” it brings with it a void. It never appears or feels the same, and by bringing along its void, it in some way seems to tarnish the traditions of “after.” The difference is, I control how much it tarnishes the after.
And so, as I sit writing, when I should be cleaning my house in preparation for Christmas, I am stuck. I’m rarely one to just “wing it,” but it seems as if this might be the case this Christmas. Creating “afters” is a necessity. One I wish I never had to contemplate more less experience. Creating new traditions, requires me to continually remind myself that I’m not betraying J. (Yes, I still suffer from self-imposed guilt). But, ultimately, creating “afters” is the only way to continue to move forward. To continue to walk, even at a slow pace in this marathon I’m running. Right now, it feels like a marathon ran during a hurricane, but the reality is, the “afters” are in my control. And, so we will begin the process of merging “befores” with “afters.” And in the end, we will make it through. We’ll keep walking, and new beautiful memories will be made. I’ll never escape how the “befores” tarnish the “afters.” The bitter sweetness of “before” memories are treasured in my mind, but as we approach Christmas, it becomes even more clear that in the end, the traditions we celebrate are important, and serve their place. But the celebration of Christmas is more than just about family traditions.
In the end, celebrating the birth of our Savior and His choice to walk among the flesh has no tie to “before,” or “after.” It is a welcomed event that thankfully fits into neither category. And because of its continual presence and its inability to fit into a “before” or “after,” I am blessed. Because our Savior chose to walk among the flesh, I am able to be comforted by him “before losing J,” and “after losing him.” Christ is my one and only constant that doesn’t need to fit into either category. His choice to walk among us and to be born into the flesh and to be crucified and risen again is what allows me to have peace. As new traditions are made, He calms my heart and reminds me that I’m not betraying J. As I merge old traditions into the new, He creates in me an ability to remember, cherish, but still move forward. He is why I am able to keep walking.
At the end of the day, it is comforting to know that Jesus understands the human feelings of loss, as He was once human, but that because of His resurrection, He is able to provide us comfort no human ever could. I am thankful for that “O Holy Night,” when He chose to become flesh. That night is my affirmation that I can live through this first Christmas “after” we lost J.

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Tonight I am thankful for that “O Holy Night,” and for the “younder [that] breaks [and brings with it] a new and glorious morn!”

After reading this, I ask that you say a special prayer tonight. This year would have been the first year in over 60 years that line of duty deaths were kept under 100. Sadly, the number 100 was reached today. Pray not only for these 100 families who are stuck in the limbo of before and after, but for all families who are spending their first Christmas without a loved one. Above all, pray that they too will realize that the birth and resurrection of our Savior fits into neither the “before” or “after,” and that they will allow Him to bring them comfort and reassurance in this difficult time. Please pray that they too recognize the significance of that “Holy Night”.

A Trip To San Antonio, A Vanishing Scale, and More Blessings In a Storm

For those of you who have followed me on Facebook, you know about my spur of the moment journey to San Antonio to pray with officer Deckard’s family. For those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook, I’ll briefly update you. For all of you, what you are about to read is one of the most humbling and grounding experiences I have had thus far in our journey since J’s death. I hope that the story I’m about to share and my reflections thereafter move you the same way they moved me. I pray that as you read this you too feel God’s presence in your life, and that you will feel a desire to give back as well.

Please note that I didn’t intend to share this trip with anyone. I didn’t want any recognition or praise for my decision. My posts on Facebook were merely to rally more prayers for a well-deserving wife and family. However, as the events of the day unfolded, it became increasingly evident that sharing was meant to be a part of this journey. So, please note, this isn’t a post designed to generate praise for my decisions, instead it’s a post designed to demonstrate the power of our God and how gratifying and rewarding it can be to follow His will.

So, here I was absent mindedly scrolling through my newsfeed while waiting for the cashier at Super One to finish my transaction. And, I happen upon a status update from 53 hours stating the condition of San Antonio Police Officer Robert “Bobby” Deckard’s condition wasn’t improving. As I read about his status, tears filled my eyes. I was reading a summary of injuries that mirrored those I heard from our own doctors 6 months prior. After finishing reading and rushing out of Super One, this urge to drop everything and go to San Antonio kept pulling at my heart. I texted a friend to see if she would tell me I was crazy to even consider dropping everything and driving 7 plus hours to San Antonio. I fully expected her to pacify my urge, but to tell me it was crazy. Well….she didn’t. And she didn’t because that trip to San Antonio was meant to be.
And so, I put away the cold items, as I attempted to get a hold of someone at SAPD. You would think getting to talk higher ranking officers would be more difficult…however it wasn’t. In a matter of 15 minutes I had arranged the trip with the family assistance officer who is helping the Deckards through this time. At this point, it’s obviously a God thing. For those of you who visited me in the hospital, you understand the tight security; however, I passed through it with flying colors. I packed our bags, and headed to San Antonio. On the way, I got a call saying my hotel reservations had been anonymously taken care of, and was told where to report for the night to ensure my safety. Let me just stop for a moment and say, there really are no boundaries to our blue family. As if I even needed validation of that!
Other than dropping off C, I drove straight through. I arrived at the hotel at exactly midnight. I checked in, showered, and spent what time I should have been sleeping, praying. If you can’t sleep…you might as well pray. How could I sleep? I just dropped everything, literally on my kitchen floor, and left my house, drove almost 8 hours non stop, and I found myself lying in the bed of a hotel room in San Antonio. I was in awe at my own decision. I tried to figure out what made me decided to come, but all that came to mind was I was in a way told to make the trip. I laid in bed for quite some time, and prayed. I prayed that somehow through all the pain I’ve experienced I could turn that experience into a comfort for his wife and family. That when I walked away from the hospital at the end of my visit, I could help create a blessing in someone else’s storm.

Throughout my visit, Officer Deckard’s condition didn’t change. The doctors seem to be nearing the end of the aide they can render, and at this point if he is to make through, it would be a “God thing.” I prayed as I waited to meet his wife Denise. And, I talked for awhile with his family. During my conversations with them, I couldn’t help but feel like maybe this was a mistake. Maybe I was imposing. Maybe I should have just remained at home and prayed. But, when Denise and I sat down to talk, the words just flowed out of my mouth. Our conversation lasted what seemed like only a few minutes, but apparently was an hour and a half. And throughout it we seemed to finish one another’s sentences, complete thoughts that the other struggled to find the words for, and shared feelings that everyone else would think were absurd. When I looked at Denise, I saw the same fear, anxiety, hurt, and exhaustion that I saw in my own eyes 6 months prior. I couldn’t help but revisit those fears and feelings. Honestly, as I drove to San Antonio, I doubted whether or not I was emotionally ready for what I was about to experience. As I looked into Denise’s eyes, and she finished my sentences, I knew this was where I should be.

I’ve said time and time again how I feel there is a purpose in J’s death. And each time I try to find that purpose, I always find myself saying, “Well, I don’t think God took J’s life JUST for that…” and I try to figure out what purpose would be worthy enough in God’s mind to take J from his family. I’ve struggled with my calling because even with all of the affirmations, I haven’t felt it was a “worthy enough” cause to take J away from his little boy. Each time I try to weigh out why it happened, my scale never balances. No matter how many reasons I place on the side to rationalize why God would have taken him, it just never seems to equal out.
Up until I looked into Denise’s eyes, and I saw her pain, and I felt it all over again in my own heart, did I finally realize why my scales weren’t balancing. It’s because I’m using the wrong scales. I’m using my own…my human rationalization, my human measuring increments when instead it’s not my place to measure out and attempt to balance it out. In my human mind, there will NEVER be a reason worthy enough to take J away from us, but in God’s mind there was. And, I know I may be opening a can of worms here by writing about this, but I truly believe everything happens for a reason. And tonight, I won’t lie to you and tell you that I will always accept that at face value about J’s death.
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But, I can tell you that my impromptu trip today was a vivid reminder of my own calling. I know in my heart, I would have never have made that trip before J passed. I would have read the status, prayed a prayer, and went on with my life. I would have never had the courage or determination to make the trip. I struggle because sometimes I despise that J had to die in order for me to attempt to make a change in the world. But, I don’t know how else I would have ever found the courage and strength within myself to attempt. Here we go with those paradoxes again. I want answers and justification for his death. I want to know why…but the answers never appear on beautifully written cards in front of me. “Stephanie, J’s death was because I want…..to happen.” Instead, my answers come only if I follow the path He has set before me. Even if my human scales tell me my calling isn’t reason enough for J to be taken away from us…I simply have to keep walking down His path.
Tonight, as I lay in bed, when yet again I should be sleeping, I’m attempting to place my scales out of my mind. I’m attempting to accept that whatever the reason for J’s death, it’s justifiable in God’s greater plan. I won’t lie, accepting that idea is very difficult. And even after a life changing trip, I still haven’t fully begun to accept it, but the important part is I’m trying…I’m still walking.

When I left for San Antonio, I thought that maybe I’d possibly make a small difference in a wounded officer’s family’s life. That I would pray, and turn around and drive home. Boy…was I wrong. An 8 hour trip gives you a considerable amount of time for reflection. My time spent with Denise and her blue SAPD family was once again affirmation of my calling, but more importantly tonight for the first time in almost 9 days, I hope that Denise doesn’t feel alone in her waiting room of 30 people. I pray that she knows that even though our circumstances are tragic, that we are each other’s examples of blessings during our storms. Denise, if you ever read this, I pray that you feel how much of a blessing you were in my life today. Even though the topic of our conversation was tragic, our bond is an example of something on God can do. It was a moment I was meant to experience because it helped my grieving process as much as yours. Denise, thank you for being my reminder that I need to stop using my own human scales to justify God’s plans.
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As I drove to San Antonio and tried to convince myself I was crazy, every single door was opened for me. And each door I drove through helped me erase just a small piece of my scale that I use to justify J’s death. Tonight, I lay here able to at least entertain the idea that it isn’t about my scale, and I pray that eventually that entertainment of an idea will give way to slow acceptance of it as well.
As you read this, I pray that you will identify what scales you use to try to justify behaviors or events in your own life. And that you too will find ways to began to erase that scale. When the scale vanishes or is almost invisible, is when you simply let go and let God. I’m a work in progress; my scale is still very much visible. However, now when I envision it, it’s missing a few pieces. Pray that it will continue to diminish. And, also, please say extra prayers for Officer Deckard and his family. Believe me, prayers are ALL they need at this point.

6 Months of Walking Through a Storm

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On Sunday December 15th, it will be exactly six months since J passed away as a result of injuries sustained during a hit and run accident.  In those six months I have changed more than I did in the 6 almost 7 years I spent married to him.  6 months- it’s difficult to imagine that I’ve lived 6 months without a touch, without a simple “Good morning beautiful”,  without validation that I am doing anything correctly, without seeing him play with C, without another 3 am call discussing the horrors of his job or reporting on something amazing that happened to him that night.  6 months without washing a bullet proof vest and meticulously spreading it out so that it stays put together correctly and dries completely, without washing, ironing, and re-ironing creases into pants.  6 months without reminding him, “do you have your gun, badge, veria-card (spelling), insulin, needles, cell phone, charger, ticket book, pens, etc.” 6 months without hearing, “This is J, I can’t answer the phone right now, please leave me a message, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.” because I was calling for verification on a problem, but he was on another call. So, I’d leave a voicemail, wait, and then ultimately make an “executive decision” on my own, only to receive a call 5 hours later, “hey, what’s wrong I missed your call.”

In 6 months every single role, identity, security in my life has been completely turned upside down, and reinvented from scratch. I’ve had no “guidebook,” no “instructions for how to put your life back together.”  The person I am today while writing this post is a far cry from the person who got in her car on June 13th, 2013, and drove away while watching J stand in the doorway waving at us.  The woman who was driving away from her waving officer was “busy, preoccupied, insecure, worried, and distracted.” This isn’t me downing myself, often times most people are that way, it’s just part of our busy lives.  The woman driving away thought being an officer’s wife meant, washing, ironing, reminding, scheduling birthday parties and holidays around his rotating shifts. She thought it meant lying in bed praying that he would come home, but always believing in her heart he would.  She thought being a teacher, a mother, and a wife were her identities, where her only true strengths and talents lay. She would have never thought she could handle and survive 6 months of rapid changes, never feeling her husband’s hand again, being a mommy and a daddy, or looking into the eyes of her almost 5 year old son and telling him that his daddy wasn’t coming home anymore.  Never, even if the Lord himself would have come down and pre-warned me that this was my fate, I wouldn’t have believed I was capable of even mere survival, much less day-to-day functioning after the death of J.   There was absolutely nothing wrong with the woman I was 6 months ago.  I was happy, content, and knew how to make an officer’s and teacher’s budget stretch.  I was in my comfort zone, and I would be perfectly content going right back to that zone.  I’d trade every bit of blessings we’ve received for the “square, content, and naïve teacher, mother, and wife” I was 6 months ago.

 

The woman I am today, almost 6 months ago, is a polar opposite of the woman who answered that
“knock on the door,” at 12:40 am on June 14, 2013.  In opening that door, and seeing the look in J’s brother’s eyes, I was changed forever.  Mind you, a change I never asked for, prayed for, or even believe could happen to me.  In that 5 minutes it took me to get dressed, get C dressed, and fly to the hospital, I became a new woman.  One who was confident, who could make decisions, speak to mass crowds, and control her emotions.  One who was beyond fearful on the inside but portrayed optimism and gratefulness on the outside.  I can describe the woman I became then because you have told me.  To be honest, I can chronologically put the events in order now, but you all have fill in the gaps. You’ve helped me to preserve these memories.  In the week after J’s death, I learned what true brotherhood looked and felt like.  I watched as J’s brothers and sisters in blue surrounded me, lifted me up, and most importantly cried with me.  I watched a support system form like no other I have ever seen.  It was in that first week, that my definition of an officer’s wife changed.  Before J died, I could have stopped being an officer’s wife any time I wanted.  I could walked away from our marriage, or he could have walked away from his calling.  Now, 6 months after his line of duty death, I can never walk away from being an officer’s wife, and I never would want to.  Now, instead of ironing his uniforms, I hold his class A shirt next to me, and I think about how handsome he always looked in it.  I look at it and reflect on the honor, courage, and morality it took to wear that shirt.  Many people refer to me as an officer’s widow, I’ll let you continue to do that because it is the proper and legal name for my status, but my heart says otherwise.  My heart says that I’m not an officer’s widow, that I’m still his wife. In 6 months, I’ve learned that being a “police wife isn’t a status; it’s my lifelong promise to him.” MY life LONG promise that doesn’t end with his death.  So much of the Pink Behind The Thin Blue Line is about me continuing to be an officer’s WIFE and by walking that line daily.  Being an officer’s wife is how I continue to honor my fallen hero.  And choosing to stay an officer’s wife after his death has also helped me learn how to become a mommy to a little boy who lost his daddy.  Because the mommy I was before isn’t sufficient for his needs now…

If you would have asked me how I felt I was doing as a mommy on June 13, 2013, I would have told you that I finally felt like I was figuring this parenting thing out.  And just as I was figuring out and feeling comfortable in my mommy skin, my world gets turned upside down, and now I have to figure out how to compensate for a missing daddy.  You see, J was an AMAZING daddy to C.  There is no replacing him.  On June 15th, I not only lost my husband, but I lost my son’s daddy.  And that alone hurts more than I could ever even describe to you.  I can make decisions; I can fight for justice; I can run a household without J because I am grown. NOT BECAUSE I WANT TO. But my baby, he shouldn’t have to do any of that.  He should still be sitting in the floor planning out “strategic tank battles” with his “daddio.” And so, not only do I have to change every part of who I am…I have now compensate for the loss of his daddy as well.  And while most days C doesn’t seem to feel upset, there are weeks like this past one where daily he feels the absence of J.  Just 2 nights ago, I turned my house upside down looking for J’s childhood stuffed animal, “Ozzy,” while C sat in the middle of his bedroom floor screaming at me, the walls, the guinea pig in his room, and anyone else who would listen because he was angry that I lost Ozzy.  There was no calming him down, rectifying his behavior, or explaining why we shouldn’t scream at mommy.  He wasn’t really angry at me; he was angry because his daddy wasn’t there. And nothing in my “mommy bag of tricks” will EVER fix that. Losing J is a part of C’s life that as a mommy I can never fix, and some days the sheer knowledge of that is almost defeating.

  I spent hours searching to no avail.  Finally, we begrudgingly substituted J’s baby blanket, and he eventually fell asleep still angry at his mommy.  The next morning, I rushed him to school, and came home to search for another whole hour before finally locating Ozzy.  At that point, I was so emotionally drained that I sat in the floor and cried.  When C got home, Ozzy never left his arms. He clung to him in every task he did last night, and before going to sleep, I hear him whisper, “thank you God for letting my mommy find Ozzy.  He was my daddy’s and he’s beyond special.” Those moments change you forever.  They require you to possess strength you never prayed for, and level-headiness to be able to  comfort your child while you are falling apart inside.  And I comfort him because he deserves to have a normal world.  His life has changed enough, and he deserves to just be a kid.

Every characteristic of the woman I am today is because of two choices.  One of those choices occurred between the hours of 12:00 am and 12:40 am on June 14th, 2013.  That’s the choice that I find the hardest to accept.  It’s the one I had absolutely no control over, yet the waves of its repercussions continually rock my boat.  Sometimes they are so strong, as when I’m looking for a stuffed animal while my son screams angrily at me in his room, that I simply don’t think I can push forward.  I simply think just letting it be would be enough.  That it would suffice…but those moments are when the other choice comes into play.  The choice I have complete control over.  The choice to push forward and to try to be a part of the good in the world.  And that choice, is mine.  It is where my control lies in this situation.  I have no control over the justice that hopefully will be served, over the future events of my life, over other people’s reactions to my decisions, over the people who hurt me unintentionally, but I have control over being a part of the good in the world. And so today 6 months from the anniversary of the last normal day I spent with J, I am writing this not to make you cry, although, I’m unsure how it couldn’t have. I’m writing you this because C and I are a testament of how our choices affect our lives and others as well.  Both of these choices that occurred on June 14th, I can never change.  I can’t change the choice to be in a park that night nor can I change my choice I made when opening the door after the “dreaded knock in the middle of the night.”  One I wish with all my might I could change, and the other I thank God daily that I made it. 

My strength comes in waves, just as yours does.  I try to share the ebbs and the flows with you.  I try to be honest with you because in my honesty I am affirming to you how important our choices are in our lives.  The choice to be in that park that night, no matter who it was that hit J, is a choice that forever changed mine and C’s lives.  At first I thought, how unfair of God to allow another’s choice to so substantially alter my life, and then as the days went on, I began to think, no, I’m the one who chooses how this alters my life.  I don’t always choose correctly, and I have far more moments of weakness than I could ever write about…but at the end of the day, my fulfillment comes from giving back to the world. 

 

As I write this, I still stand in awe that exactly 6 months ago today, I spent the last normal day with my husband.  I stand in awe at the ways in which our lives have changed, and how God continues to bless us daily.  I look back at the storm I have walked through, and I realize it’s not always about how brave or confident you are while walking through your storm, it’s just important that you simply keep walking. Some days walking means dragging one foot behind me while carrying a hundred pound weight on my shoulders, and sometimes I simply just walk.  The storm C and I are in has no end.  It can’t have an end because when we signed up to be an officer’s family, we signed up for life.  Our choice to continue that calling, doesn’t end today, and it is what carries us through to tomorrow. 

 

Today, I encourage you, whatever storm you find yourself walking through to simply keep walking.  Some days the wind is blowing the rain sideways and pulling me in a thousand different directions, and some days there is only a mist and a gentle breeze  Who cares what you look like while walking.  Remember sometimes I have on leopard print rain boots and a purple and yellow polka dotted rain jacket.  Some days I wear my Wonder Woman outfit…and other days I’m walking with clothes I had on days ago…but we just keep walking. 
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Guarding Your Heart by Being a Peacekeeper

I’ve debated several times in the past few days about writing this blog. The events that inspired it and the topic of it were lessons I felt needed to be shared, but I wasn’t sure that I was ready to admit my faults. I’m all for sharing my faults for the sake of others benefitting and learning; however, for some reason, these faults I was ashamed of. They are uncharacteristic of me. And, I was so afraid you all would read it as me being ungrateful. Yet, each time I tried to push the burden to share away, or I tried to bury it underneath my mountainous to-do list, I simply couldn’t. Countless times over the weekend, I found myself writing portions of this post in my head. Tonight, as I was wrapping presents, again, writing and editing in my head. And at that point, I gave in…as I’ve learned God has a reason for me sharing. Tonight, I want to talk about being a peacekeeper.

As an officer’s wife, Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God,” is on countless shirts, pictures, websites. As an officer’s wife, I could quote that verse in my sleep, and you would think after all that exposure, it would have more meaning to me. That I would have thought about it in more depth. Yet, I read it when I get a shirt, or I look at J’s police academy graduation picture, and I think, “yes, that sure is a hard job they have.” Being a peacekeeper in the police world always leaves someone unhappy. Being a peacekeeper in their world means upholding the law. And those who usually break the law, don’t say, “oh officer, you are so right. Thank you for reprimanding me and taking me to jail!” In all honesty, the verse is so often associated with police officers, I’ve never really considered how it is applicable in my own life.

A fellow blogger, and good friend of mine, wrote on this topic recently. And, given the events of last week, I read the first few paragraphs, and I closed it out. My failure to continue reading had nothing to do with her writing style; she’s really a wonderful and talented writer. It had nothing to do with how busy I was, as I was sitting in the eye doctor’s office waiting for an appointment. My failure to read it had everything to do with the condition of my heart.

Throughout the past week, I have found myself judging other people’s intentions. Labeling them in my mind as to which acts are sincere, and which are for personal gain. And, now you see why I didn’t want to admit my faults. I don’t want any of you to think that I’m unappreciative of your acts of kindness, prayers, or sweet words. I don’t want you to think I’m judging you every time you say something nice to me. That’s not the case at all…I just had weak moments. I am very appreciative; I just simply let the “bad” of the world blacken my heart. In other words, once again, I went back to the place of believing the evil of the world outweighed the good. I let my feelings of being “robbed of all my good” win out, and because of that, my view of the world was jaded.
And let’s face it people, I have plenty of reason to view the world through my jaded glasses! Sometimes I let feeling sorry for myself lure me in to judging other people’s intentions. My pity parties get the best of me.
I started wondering why people were offering to help me, what their intentions truly were, and I found myself emotionally miserable. And, I don’t even know if I was truly judging people, or whether it was me feeling unworthy of so much help and blessings. We’ve received so many, and yet with each one, I still don’t feel worthy of receiving it. It’s something I’m working on in my heart and with God, but I always feel someone else is more worthy, or has it worse than we do. Yes, there are people who have it worse than losing their husband and their child’s father. To end the week, I overreacted and misinterpreted an email from a very important group of people in my life, and added extra stress to their already stressful jobs. And so, I spent the weekend reflecting. Attempting to figure out why all of the judging kept seeping out of my brain. How could it be taking control of my life, when I really was appreciative of everything each person does for C and me? How could judging one’s intentions and being appreciative even exist within my heart? And, so I began to doubt whether or not I was appreciative. And then, after much reflection, it occurred to me that I was truly appreciative, but allowing my heart to judge was blackening my view of people who genuinely cared about us.
I found myself wrapping presents by the picture of J’s graduation, the one that so infamously quotes Matthew 5:9, and I started to ponder what qualities a peacemaker has. And what really is a peacemaker?

And, for the first time, I considered how this role plays out in my own world. I don’t force people to uphold laws; I don’t write tickets for speeding. I don’t make the world a safer place by forcing people to keep the peace. So, why was this idea of being a peacekeeper weighing so heavily on my heart?
Simply because being a peacekeeper was and will always be my way of cleansing my heart of its blackening tendencies. And the way to start being an effective peacekeeper is to change your heart.

Tonight, I had a conversation with an officer. We’re working on a cause that is dear to both of our hearts, and in the conversation, I mentioned my concerns about writing this particular post. He told me to “go for it, not to worry about they think.” That’s far more difficult than it seems. Later on, I had a conversation with his wife, and in that conversation, I told her that perspective is what allows me to get through this ordeal.

That choosing to see the good is how I survive, and how I find the strength and courage to share my story and to give back to others. There’s no possible way to be the type of peacekeeper I desire to be when my perspective is controlled by a blackening heart. You see, the type of peacekeeper I desire to be is one that keeps peace by giving back. By allowing others to benefit from my life, story, and abilities, I keep the peace because hopefully it inspires this person to do the same.

I can’t do that if I’m judging other people’s intentions. Really, it’s not my place anyway, and what does it matter why they are doing something? That’s between them and God. What matters is that I am sincerely grateful, and I look for a way to continue the pattern they started and to give back.
Tonight, I sit typing this realizing that there are two vital parts to that verse, and they are dependent upon one another. “Blessed are the peacekeepers, (part 1) for they are the children of God. (part 2.)” Those parts can’t be split up. I can’t be judgmental and have a pessimistic view of the world and continue to be a peacekeeper. And the reason why is….because then I would have no peace within my own heart.

We have so many people and blessings to be thankful for. Tonight, I’m thankful that God gives me the ability to smudge my heart, but also the ability to give me a fresh start or a swift kick when I need it. Yes, I was robbed of a husband, and C was robbed of his daddy. That’s NEVER going to change. One choice changed that forever, but what can change is my heart. So, tonight when I once again debated forever before posting this, I chose to post it because I vowed to be honest with each of you. I vowed to let you read about my journey, and to hopefully learn from it. Please know that you are my reason for continuing to see the good in the world. Each of you. Just this past week alone, so many of you have reaffirmed my belief in humanity, and it’s only Tuesday! In the past two weeks, an amazing landscaping company donated lights and their services to light up our house for Christmas, and I’ve had the privilege of watching sweet children enjoy the true magical feeling of Christmas by participating in shop with a cop. Each like on Facebook, positive comment, each prayer, each “I’m thinking about you guys.” All, every single one, is more affirmation and more armor for me to use to guard my heart from its blackening tendencies. Thank you for not forgetting about us, and thank you for continuing to stand by us until justice is served, and even then after! Thank you for reminding me to continue to guard my heart, and to continue to be a peacekeeper. We love each of you!

The Final Results of Our 31 Acts Of Kindness Journey

First, let me apologize for taking FOREVER to update you on the remaining acts of kindness before J’s birthday.  There are a lot of them, so for the majority of them, I’ll just list them, and possibly post a picture, IF I remembered to take one.  My memory, what’s left of it, seems to be slowly returning to me.  And, to be honest, most of the time, C and I were caught up in the act we were doing, and really weren’t thinking about pictures.  After all, I think that’s how it’s really supposed to be.

Recap of the first 8 can be viewed on a previous blog entitled: Raising a Boy into a Generous Man

9. Sent gift card and well wishes card to a personal friend in Arkansas who is suffering from a rare and aggressive form of cancer. I pray for this sweet lady and her family daily.

10. Donated to our police department’s “Shop With a Cop” program.  Selected children get the chance to shop for their holiday wishes with a uniformed officer.  I have always felt that officers needed more positive interactions with little ones in order to prevent possible negative interactions later in life.

11. Wrote a letter and gave gift cards to the nurse who was with us the night J died.  I have said time and time again how God placed the right people in our lives, and still continues to do so.  Tiffany was a Godsend that night.  She is the epitome of grace and respect.  She explained each step, and what we should expect.  She informed us of decisions we had to make, and was present when we needed her, and a silent worker in the background when we needed that as well.  I can’t imagine anyone else being with us that night.  Each of the three nurses J had were perfect fits for what we and HE needed at that moment. I can’t imagine doing what Tiffany did that night, but I thank God nightly for sending me her on that night and in that exact moment.

12. Donated to Heroes at Home at our local Sears store.  J had a love and passion for the military, and would have joined if his health had permitted. He passed that love and passion on to my son, who at 3 years old declared he wanted to be a “Navy Rescue Swimmer.”  Helping veterans has always been a cause close to our hearts!

13.  Donated to the Diabetes Association in J’s name.  J was an insulin dependent diabetic since age 12, and his younger step brother is now insulin dependent as well.

14. C had a wonderful time poking his own saved money into the Salvation Army’s bell ringer bucket.

15. C picked an angel, a 5 year old little boy, from the Angel Tree.  He personally shopped for most of the items we picked out for him.

16. We mailed Christmas cards to wounded soldiers at Fort Sam Houston in Texas.

17. We showed love to our ORANGE family by providing a much needed sugar rush the INSANE day before Thanksgiving break.  Really, a holiday AND grades were due. I felt your pain ladies and gentlemen! I hope our candy helped give you the energy to push through!

18. We placed a wreath and thank you card on a veteran’s grave.  C and I said a prayer and thanked God for our freedoms and for the men and women who sacrifice to allow us to be continue to be free.
veteran wreath

19. Donated Starbucks coffee to the fire company who came and mowed our yard while I was away planning J’s funeral.  That day they took C and his friend for a ride in the firetruck, and allowed them to spray the hoses.  C was so happy that day, and for that brief moment of happiness in the worst of our storm, gentlemen, it was the least we could do. Thank you for you and your family’s sacrifice!

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20. Donated to Wishing Tree.  A non-profit organization started by Texas High School senior Amy Tran. 

21. Paid off the layaway for a random family.

22. We are working on the plans to provide dinner for the ambulance crew who worked on and transported J the night of the hit and run.  If anyone can help me arrange this, please let me know.

23. Donated dog and cat food to our local animal shelter.

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24. Donated clothes that C outgrew to a local charity.

25. When C and I were in line in a drive through, we would buy the meal for the person behind us.

26. Purchased a stuffed dog from www.target.com to help support St. Jude’s.

27. Left money on random vending machines with a note explaining J’s sacrifice, and our rationale for acts of kindness.

28. Bought dinner for random police officers when we saw them in public.

29. Decorated a “Blue” themed tree in the police patrol room.  These guys and gals are working hard and long overtime hours away from their families during the Christmas season.  I thought it would be nice to spread some needed cheer!

30. Donated to the Wounded Warrior Project.

31. Went to Texas Roadhouse, and had a conversation with a young waitress who was simply having a bad round in life at the moment.  Again, God places the people we need to meet in our lives when we need to meet them.  I had planned to leave a larger than normal tip, but I was grateful for meeting Sara, and I hope she knows I pray for her daily!
waitress tip 2

Each time we finished an act of kindness, I felt J close to me.  It just seemed like such a fitting way to honor his memory.  Each act that C helped with not only brought a smile to his face, but HE STILL talks about ways to fill other people’s buckets.  This makes my mommy heart happy!  Small steps to raising a grateful and selfless young man! The day before I came home to celebrate J’s birthday, I visited his grave. C had decided we would leave J funfetti blue cupcakes because he LOVED it when I made those. It seemed more than fitting to continue the tradition of baking for daddy and delivering him cupcakes.

cupcakes

On November 30th, we were surrounded by our closest friends and family as we celebrated J’s memory.  Thank you to all who came out to celebrate, and thank you for all of you who support the cause to give back to our communities, and to be a part of the good in the world.  I know each act helped take away some of the pain and bitterness that seems to have consumed my heart recently.  I pray that you too can find the joy and peace giving to others will give to YOU.  Please join me in my effort to make the world a little bit better.  Please help us continue to walk the line and be a part of the good in the world!  While our acts helped change people’s lives, they changed my heart even more!

We are beginning to schedule meetings for volunteers after Christmas.  Please be looking for updates on the meeting times and places.  I have lots of ideas in mind after things settle down in the new year.