Refusing to Be a Victim

“It’ll get easier.”

“Eventually you’ll get accustomed to it.”

“There will come a time when you look back and realize you finally moved on.”

And the list could go on.  All sayings people told me after Jason was killed.  And, to each one of them, I smiled, agreed, and went on.  But the one I heard most often, the one that cut through me, and caused me to shiver, was “It’ll get easier.” As if time will erase the hurt, the absence, the void, the feelings of guilt.  Time heals all wounds – right?

How in the world would things get easier was all I could think? And, before we go further in this, please do not think I’m offended by people saying phrases such as this to me.  In reality, I know they are trying to help, and they are saying the best advice they know how.  Few people I know are in my position, and those who try to help are VERY appreciated, and honestly, I don’t want people to know first-hand what my life is like.

I don’t want them to ever feel in the depths of their soul, the reality that things would never get easier, only different.  I don’t want them to experience the heart-wrenching moments where the smell of his cologne catches you off guard, and you fight back tears in the middle of a department store.  I don’t want them to understand the days when all you can do is exist.

Things haven’t become easier, and they never will. Each moment, day, month, year would bring with it new challenges, thoughts, and events.  None would be easier, perhaps I will be more prepared for them.  Really, all the preparedness does is camouflage the hurt, “guilt,” and pain associated with whatever I’m accomplishing.  Being prepared doesn’t make things easier. Living a life after you lose your husband isn’t something one can ever really claim is easy.  It’s not something you train yourself for, practice the skills needed until you reach your max capacity.  What happens is: I will learn to adjust, to alter, and to compensate whenever possible, but an air of easiness will never accompany these changes within myself.  With each change, alteration, and compensation comes guilt, loneliness, and worry. And lately, with each change of my life or C’s, comes a sense of overwhelming unfairness.  Unfair that my life seems to be made enormously more difficult because of one small choice.

I’m a firm believer in seeing the positive- not ignoring the negative in your life, but looking around it to see the positive.  But lately my viewpoint of how unfair my life seems to be has caused me to fall into the deep despair of negativity.  A pit I haven’t found myself for any length of time since Jason’s death.  Yet, in the last 3 weeks, I’ve wallowed in this pit.  In fact, while in the pit, I’ve thrown myself quite a few pity parties, and I’ve been the guest of honor! Each day in the past 3 weeks, it has felt like various people stand over my pit and toss more dirt upon me.

Meetings planned where I will view the evidence (a necessary and requested event on my behalf) – dirt!

“I miss my daddy.” “ I wish daddy were here to play football with me.”  “ Why did MY daddy have to die?”-   dirt, piled upon more dirt, and a few huge boulders that seem to be lodged permanently upon my chest!

People who make decisions that demonstrate their lack of respect or gratitude for our family’s sacrifice – dirt ground into the innermost parts of my heart and my soul.  The places that influenced my choice to be an officer’s wife to begin with, and now some are rubbing dirt into those sacred places, and disrespecting our sacrifice.

In the beginning, being positive smiling Stephanie, I had my handy shovel, and I tossed dirt right back.  And while tossing, I always tried to spin it, trying to somehow see the positive.  And then, one day, I just couldn’t shovel anymore.  In fact, I couldn’t even flick dirt.  Positive seemed to be erased from my vocabulary, and in its place, I seemed to be substituting the word “unfair.”  And each day I spent with my newfound use of the word “unfair,”  I despised myself for being this way.  I tried to embrace the bad days, and to turn them into good, but it just never seemed to happen.  And, with each small pile of dirt, I truly felt for the first time:

“ this is my life, and I guess I’ll just have to accept it.”

While in my pit and throwing myself yet another pity party, I was explaining this feeling of being defeated. I discussed how scared I was for the trial to happen, and how at the same time I needed for it to happen.

Did I really have the ability to watch the videos of evidence?

Would I ever be able to vocalize exactly how my life has changed as a result of Jason’s death?

Could I sit in the courtroom and hear officer after officer recount the moments right after Jason’s death, and somehow resist the urge to go and hug them, to thank them once again for all they have done and continue to do for Jason and for our family?

I wasn’t sure I was ready to “go there.”   And, the more I sat and thought about all this trial would expect of me: the physical, mental, and emotional moments I would have to prepare myself for, the more I began to feel defeated.  I had waited for 8 months to be able to lay this chapter of Jason’s death to rest, and now, when it’s approaching, all I can feel is apprehension and fear.  And again, the feelings of how “unfair,” this was crept into my mind.  When the following message appeared on my phone, “If going there scares you, can you cope with your how your life will be by not going there?” And I thought:

Could I live with myself if I never sat through the trial?

Could I respect the woman I was if I never gave a victim’s impact statement?

And the answer was overwhelming….Nope!

And, just like always, when I’m throwing too many pity parties, God ever so “gently” taps me on the shoulder, and reminds me “His scales, not mine.”   He reminds me of His bigger picture, and that my human mind will always view the changes, alterations, and problems that stem from Jason’s death as unfair. That even though my life may seem more “difficult,” than others, in the end, it’s all part of a bigger plan.

Today, for the first time in 3 weeks, I realized that the way to balance the scales is by being the person I was created to be in this situation.  The person God has been preparing me to be for quite awhile now.  I can’t cope with how my life would be if I didn’t attend the trial, hear the evidence, or even testify to how our lives have been changed, because the person God has created me to be isn’t the victim.  She isn’t the girl who lays in a pile of dirt and allows others to generously pile more on top of her.  She’s the one who gracefully throws the dirt right back out, but while doing so she makes it into positive.  The dirt I’m created to throw back is the way to balance the scales.

Community service, forgiveness, friendship, supporting other police officer’s wives, raising a boy into a generous man, giving back, and being positive is how God intends for me to balance the scales.

c in the leaves with txt

Of course life seems unfair when I’m at the bottom of my pit throwing myself hourly pity parties!!!  My view of the world is obstructed in my pit, and the only thing I can see is DIRT.  Being the victim is easier when you allow yourself to remain in the pit. When you allow yourself to see your situation how the secular world wants you to see it.

Balancing the scales, well yes, it’s hard.  It requires continual sacrifice, changes, alterations, and events that I don’t always feel I’m cut out to do. It requires me to relive the evidence a few more times, to think about exactly what happened that night, to verbalize the best I can the pain, fear, void, and emotional turmoil we have endured since Jason’s death, but even though all of these make my life more difficult, they are what I’m called to do.  These actions make me the victor, not the victim.

I know I’m not alone.  All of us can be a victim to some circumstance or event in our lives.  We can allow the world to dig us a pit, and lay down in it while dirt is continually thrown upon us.  What are you allowing yourself to be a victim to today?  Who are you allowing to throw dirt upon you, to darken your perception of the world and humanity?

Identifying what put you in the pit, and who is throwing dirt upon you is vital to eradicating your status as a victim.  But most importantly, what are you going to do to change it?

People will throw dirt at you as long as you allow them, so how will YOU change it?  I can promise you that it isn’t through negative Facebook posts, whiny messages to your friends, or giving up.  Nope, I’m not judging you for doing any of those because I did them all!  And, they didn’t work.  What works is refusing to allow the devil to continue to demote your mindset to victim, and instead, fighting his attempts to demote you, with positive thinking and giving back to others.  Want to balance your own scales?  Want to no longer be a victim?  Then be the person God created you to be – a being created in His image.  And, I can assure you that’s a far cry from a victim. His image is generous, graceful, forgiving, loving and the list goes on and on.  Join with me today, and fight to no longer be a victim to whatever pulls you down.  Instead, be a part of the good in the world, and watch as your status rises out of the pit and into the victor’s ring.  And not because you did it alone, but because that’s the type of person God created us all to be!

As I prepare for the trial, and all of the emotions that I will experience, I ask that you continue to pray for our family.  Pray for my strength to be the victor, no matter the outcome in the judicial system.  Pray that whatever is decided at the end of the trial, that I will have the peace of mind to know that I have do everything possible to seek justice.  And that afterwards, even though my life won’t be any easier, that I’ll continue to remember it’s “His scales, not mine.”

Erasing The Guilt…

Isaiah 57 1-2

Guilt implies that a person has committed a sin or an act of transgression. But, we also tend to use the word to imply a state in which we wish we could have done more.  It’s a word I’ve heard frequently since Jason’s death, and one that I never really can provide a solution for.  Each person I spoke with after Jason’s death seemed to have some form of guilt: “if only I would have talked to him one more time,” “maybe I should have forgave him,” “what if I had been here instead.”  In living through 8 months of grieving and watching others grieve around me, one thing I am familiar with is guilt.

And the people around me aren’t the only ones wrestling with their own guilt.  The night Jason was hit, my cell phone wasn’t working properly, and I was anxious to get to the store to have it fixed before too much of Jason’s shift had passed.  As an officer’s wife, I hated being without a form of communication, especially on the nights he worked.  And, in my rush, I decided to leave for the store before Jason left for work.  In my mind, I would have the phone fixed before he started his shift, and all would be well in the world of an officer and his wife. I hugged him, kissed him, told him to come back to me. Instead of his normal “always,” I heard, “I’ll try.”  I hated that answer, but I didn’t really press it. Instead I left for the store to get my phone fixed.

The last message I remember sending Jason was something to the extent of,” yay, my phone is finally fixed. Hope to ACTUALLY get to hear from you at some point tonight. Love you and stay safe.”  Of course, no reply – I didn’t really expect one.  It was the first week of summer vacation, and they were already busy.  That night, I laid down to bed and forgot to turn my phone on loud, and because of that, I slept through 22 straight phone calls, and was awoken by a knock on the door.

And while logically, I know there is no reason to feel any guilt associated with my early departure, or my decision to let the, “I’ll try,” comment go, it didn’t matter.  The guilt was still present, and it ate away at me in the hours when I attempted to sleep at night.  I know that staying longer, never leaving, forcing him to reply with, “always,” wouldn’t have changed the outcome, but as humans when tragedy results in the loss of life, we always associate the feeling of wishing we could have done more with guilt.

In reality, I guess it’s the closest word we can find to describe how we truly feel.  The feeling that had we known the events of the night, we would have done everything possible to change them, to alter them, and to never have to live through a sleepless night of “what ifs.”  Yet, we know all of the impossibilities associated with that wish, and so, we describe how we feel as guilt.

And with guilt comes confession: the need for someone else to “forgive you.”  However, in Jason’s situation there isn’t anything to forgive.  We feel this “guilt” because we struggle with outcomes outside of our own control.  The events of June 14th and 15th were outside of our control the moment Jason checked in route to the call.  Even so, I spent a considerable time replaying the last conversation we had, wishing I wouldn’t have left so early, and begging for forgiveness, although in reality none was actually needed.

In one of my 3 am wide awake moments, I was debating in my mind of starting this blog, following what I felt was my calling, and I was providing God with many reasons I was undeserving of this calling, and why all of these thoughts and feelings should remain in my own mind.  I admitted how scared I was to share them, and how vulnerable I felt I would be.  I’ve written before about the dreams I had concerning starting the blog and the organization.  And, I struggled because I allowed my guilt to cause me to feel unworthy of my calling.   Actually, I still do that.  I still struggle with the unworthy feeling, and the admission that Jason’s death caused me to be a better person.

And, so when people admit their “guilt” to me, I often times clam up.  I provide generic answers, and I  don’t really know how to tell them to erase their “guilt.” I tell them it’s not merited; I remind them I’m not angry; I tell them I understand nothing I say will erase it, because I do understand that.  I understand it on a level few actually can.  I understand that no human can take away that guilt, and they can’t provide you a feeling of peace.  And every time I walk away from one of those conversations I’m secretly grateful that I’m not alone, but I’m upset with myself for my inability to say more.  I want to scream my feelings of guilt to them, and I want my feelings to erase their feelings; yet, it never happens that way.

Nothing anyone says to me erases mine; it’s still here, although it’s smaller and a little easier to manage.  It has less of a hold on my daily life, but it still haunts me each time I blog.  Blogging is therapy, but it’s also my reminder that my calling in life changed when my husband died…and then there’s that guilt again.  Yet, it’s lessened, and here’s why:

“Good people pass away;
the godly often die before their time.

No one seems to understand that

God is protecting them from the evil to come.

For those who follow godly paths

Will rest in peace when they die.”

Isaiah 57:1-2

Jason’s death had nothing to do with anything any of us could have done or actually did that night.  It wasn’t because of our actions; it was because of God’s.  And while at first that might make a person angry at God – it did me.  In the end, I have to trust that Jason’s death was part of God’s bigger picture for my life and all those who were present at the scene, the hospital, the funeral home, and even now in our lives.

Jason’s death has brought with it so many supportive, understanding, and caring brothers and sisters in my life.  And experiencing his death is part of God’s plan for their lives as well.  As difficult as that is to accept, just as accepting Jason’s death has allowed for me to finally get the chance to follow my own calling, I firmly believe we all have a choice after Jason’s.  A choice of how it is going to impact the remainder of our lives.  For some, maybe that means their calling changed – just like mine.  For others maybe it means they change for the better.  And still others, maybe it means they start actually living life.  But the point remains, Jason’s death was part of the plan in our lives, and how will we use that to change our lives for the better? Or better yet, how will we use it to change another’s life for the better?

And while I would love to erase that “self- imposed guilt” from your mind, the reality is, I can’t.  But, God can.  Jason’s death caused many to evaluate their lives, and I pray it is causing many to somehow better their own.  And, maybe the guilt will still be a battle we all fight in our own ways, but you can’t allow it to rob you of your happiness, your calling, and your contribution to other’s lives.  Allowing it to win, means we are yet another victim.

So, while I may not be able to tell you these things in person. While I can’t look you in the eye and admit my own guilt, or tell you how to erase yours.  I can use my calling, my talent, and my words here to hopefully reach into your heart, and remind you that you aren’t alone in your “guilt,” and that together, we need to make sure we use Jason’s death to somehow better our own lives and those around us.

As I continue to follow my calling, create a support group for officer’s wives, and hopefully find the courage to fulfill a few more portions of my calling, I pray that my words resonate in the hearts of my brothers and sisters who have stood by me from day one.  I pray that they too pray for me – that they pray I won’t allow my guilt to win, and that I will continue to follow my calling.  Please know, that whichever way you chose to allow Jason’s death to change your life, I’ll support, but I pray that you find the courage to follow whatever calling it has set in motion in your life.

And in the end, please know:

“The heart of the man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Proverbs 16:9.

While your path towards your calling my cause you to wander, I think it is safe to say that “all who wonder are not lost.”  Don’t allow your guilt to cause you to lose your way.  Fight it, and instead as you wander, make sure you impact the lives of others around you.  I assure you, that you’ve already impacted mine.

Investing In Our Community: The First Recipient of Jason’s Memorial Scholarship

Today I was given another opportunity to give back to the Texarkana community and to invest in the education of future law enforcement officers.  We awarded the first ever check for the Officer William Jason Sprague Memorial Scholarship to Austin Butts.

check presentation

When we established the scholarship the goal was to provide a support system for those intending to enter into the criminal justice career field.  I have often times felt that many individuals give up on their dream or calling to be a law enforcement officer because they simply don’t have the support system they need. This is not the department, the college, or really anyone’s fault. It’s simply a need that should be met, and I intended to help meet it by establishing the scholarship.  My prayer is that by investing both financially and emotionally in the lives of future officers, we can better cultivate individuals who will follow their dreams and callings to be officers.

As I awaited the start of the presentation ceremony, I watched in awe at all of the support from my blue family, the community, and my family at Texarkana College.  The lobby was filled with individuals who were there to remember Jason’s legacy, but also to support Austin in his endeavors to become an officer.  I couldn’t help but smile and think how proud Jason must be of all the positive ways we are helping the greater Texarkana area.

crowd

As I stood and listened to James Henry Russell, president of Texarkana College, and Chief Shiner of the Texarkana Texas Police Department, I was reassured that this is the path God intended for me.  I am beyond blessed to be supported by my blue family in my walk towards ensuring Jason’s memory is not forgotten by daily impacting our community and investing in its future.

When I lost Jason, I lost more than a piece of myself. For a short time I lost my ability to breathe, to make decisions, and really to function.  I couldn’t imagine how something horrible could happen to my family.  And then, time after time I was supported.  My blue family lifted me up, carried me, and fixed what I could not.  They pray for me, hug me, and encourage me to follow my dreams.  To have them with me today as we set in motion our first investment in our community’s future, was beyond fitting.  They are my family, and I wanted to stress that to Austin today as well.  Without every member of my blue family, I wouldn’t have the courage to follow my dreams and to impact our community. Austin, please know that today’s scholarship was not a gift from just me, it was a gift from all of my blue family.  They are a large part of my confidence and ability.  And I pray that our investment today provides you with the emotional support you need to follow your own calling in law enforcement.

I can say without any hesitation that Jason approves of our choice for the very first recipient, and he is beyond proud of his brothers and sisters who shook Austin’s hand today and reassured him that he has support.  Austin, you have gained many future family members today if this is where your path takes you, and if you chose another, please know that I meant what I said, I am investing in your future…a long term investment, not a short term one.

To the staff of Texarkana College, please know thank you does not even begin to describe the gratitude I have for all that you continue to do for the future of Texarkana.  Your generosity today is humbling and a validation to me that I am on the path God called me to be.  Thank you for allowing me to honor Jason’s memory by investing in the lives of your students! You ALL are doing amazing things with Texarkana’s future, and I couldn’t have picked a better location to establish the scholarship fund!

To my family in blue, thank you for believing in me, picking me up, helping me, and pushing me to follow my dreams.  Thank you for being my support system, and for making your presence known in person or spirit today!  You all make me feel loved and safe daily, and for that I can never repay you.  Your support of Austin today was heartwarming to me, and I pray that we get many more chances to experience this together!

austin and officers

To Austin and his family, thank you for being a part of my journey! Thank you for applying and helping me honor Jason’s memory.  Austin, I pray that you follow your calling, and that you use every resource you have been given today to ensure your own success.  You are a wonderfully mannered and determined young man, and I can say without hesitation that Jason approves of our choice. I also pray that you will encourage other young people to follow their own callings.  The path you have chosen is far from easy, but it is filled with support and love from all of us!  Good luck, and please keep in touch!

We need you help in raising money for the scholarship.  We are currently at 14,000 and need 25,000 to ensure this is a permanent scholarship. If you would like to invest in the future of our community and the lives of future officers, please contact Katie Andrus at Texarkana College in Texarkana, Texas.  She will be glad to direct you on how to donate to the memorial scholarship!