Choices in Grief

Separating humans from “animals,” choices are the building blocks of society. Our choices are the source of evil and paradoxically they are the source of good. We spend our lives as parents trying to instill thoughtful, strategic, and logical decision making abilities in our children. One choice may have the power to end a life, save a life, alter the perception and belief of millions, or simply choose the menu for dinner that night. Billions upon billions of choices are made daily and never given a second thought.

In preparation to “grow up” we are taught to research, plan, and prepare for many common choices adults are faced with: choosing a life partner, buying a home, planning for a family. We are taught to honor our core values, save money, live within our budget, and selflessly put aside our own desires so that our children may have all they need. There are guide books, how to manuals, and countless online sites devoted to assisting young adults in making the choices which consequently become the cornerstone of their mature adult life.

We are geared toward preparing, planning, and perfecting our adult life; however, often life does not go according to plan, and we are left to make choices we never dreamed of making. Choices we are not prepared to make. Forced choices caused by the choices of others, or caused by an unknown or unplanned force. Whatever the cause may be, these choices suck the air from your lungs, they surge through every neuron in your body, and they leave you gasping for some semblance of your perception of reality. They throw you on the ground, pin you there, and taunt you to try to defy them. Once on the ground, you have the choice to remain there a victim, or to fight, make choices you never dreamed you were strong enough to make, and rise a survivor.

Making the decision to take your husband off life support.

Applying for his death certificate.

Planning your husband’s funeral when you are suddenly a widow at 29.

Debating on the least detrimental way of explaining his daddy’s death to your 4 year old son.

Facing your husband’s murderer as he freely strolls around during his trial, and has the audacity to attempt to hold the door open for you.

Raising your son who is left with 4 years of memories of his daddy which now have to be enough for a lifetime.

Waking up daily to suppress the bitterness, anger, vengeance, and contempt weighing down your heart. Praying, begging, and pleading to be able to have the energy to eradicate the hate you feel, and instead transform it into good.

Realizing for you: hate makes you a continual victim, and honoring by living makes you a survivor is a difficult pill to swallow. Choosing to be a source of good when an evil choice derailed your perceived perfect life isn’t easy. One choice eradicated my ability to make any future choices with Jason, but it didn’t erase my ability to choose to survive.

I’ve spent the past 3 years of my life rising from the ashes of forced widowhood, living as a victim of a murder, and advocating for society to treat the defenders of good as humans and not badges or uniforms. 3 years of choosing to bring about good when evil attempted to ruin our lives.

I’ve survived how catastrophically bad life can be; I’ve experienced hate, but in the midst of the darkest days, the saddest moments, and the endless anxiety and tears, I’ve also experienced the most genuine of good. I’ve met some of the most charismatic, kind, loving, and resilient people. I used to believe phoenixes were beautiful mythological illusions; however, I’ve met countless phoenixes: strong survivors who daily rise from their ashes and create beauty from them.

A few months ago, I began thinking of the way I wanted to honor Jason’s memory on his third EOW. My wedding dress had moved from Arkansas to Texas and back to Arkansas. It hung in several closets as a bittersweet, but unused reminder of the constant struggle of merging the past with the present: the before and after in my grief journey. As I ran my hands over the beautiful embroidery and crystals, I knew that this stunning symbol of mine and Jason’s love could serve a larger purpose: I knew it too could be a phoenix.

That larger purpose came in the form of another phoenix, Regina Binz and her organization, Holy Sews. After losing her beautiful baby boy, Regina sat in the middle of her own crumbling life. Ashes of her “before” life blew around her, constantly reminding her of what life could have been like. Yet, solid constants of everyday life reminded her of the stark reality of what her life truly was. Continual pull and tug between grieving and moving forward, yet, in these ashes, she knew beauty could be formed.

Wedding Gown Donation

She founded Holy Sews, a nonprofit organization who provides handmade burial clothing for families that experience the loss of their baby during gestational weeks 16-25. I knew through their countless hours of dedication, my dress could join the hundreds of others which are given a new purpose.

Photo Credit: Holy Sews Organization

When I met with Regina, I was touched by her statement, “we give families a choice in the clothing in which they bury their child.” Thankfully, I have never buried a child; however, I do know the agony of choosing a burial garment. The micropreemies are too small for infant clothing; yet, Holy Sews provides the families a choice. For parents thrown into the midst of sheer chaos, that choice helps organize even a small area of the chaos. Through donations and volunteers, families are provided the opportunity to honor their precious baby by choosing a garment, and in that moment, in one small way, they begin to heal.

I’m not alone: grief alters the lives of everyone. Loss is the cost of love. While Regina and I have experienced a different type of loss, so many aspects of grief are interconnected. Yet, through loss we’ve made the choice to show compassion, choose joy, and to honor our loved ones by living our lives. We fight daily to continue to rise from our ashes.

In early 2006, I choose my beautiful wedding dress, later that year Jason and I would marry. He’d choose to be an officer, and years later, I’d choose to follow his dream to Texas. He’d choose to protect and serve, but one man’s choice resulted in Jason making the ultimate sacrifice. Almost 3 years to the day later, I still choose happiness. I choose to make a difference, and because of Regina and my choices, grieving parents are able to choose an outfit and begin their healing journey.

Despite the reasons we have to be angry and bitter; love and compassion heal us. “Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, [however,] not always in the way we expect.” Jason’s spirit of service, compassion, and love live on through our decisions to embody his spirit. Today, on his 3rd EOW, I challenge you to do the same. Choose compassion, bring about some good, and honor a man who lived his life to the fullest!

More information about Holy Sews can be found at: http://www.holysews.org

True Cost of an Officer’s Sacrifice

There is a moment every night that simultaneously breaks my heart yet paradoxically drives me to start over again the next day. Right before my little man falls into a deep sleep, and he lets go of my hand that he still needs to hold in order to fall asleep, my heart breaks all over again. Never to the degree that it did the moment I said my final goodbyes to Jason, but close.  After he releases his hand, his breathing changes, and he is peaceful. In that moment, I don’t worry about whether or not he misses his daddy, or where he is in our “grief journey.” You would think this moment would lift my spirits, and in some ways it does. This moment often provides me the strength to continue on tomorrow; however, after Jason paid the ultimate sacrifice, this moment, like all other moments, is bittersweet. I wish that my son would be able to have more peaceful moments.  More moments that were all about just being 6, moments that were all about him.  I wish that when he blocks a goal at a game, I could look into his eyes and only feel immense pride and happiness, instead of the bittersweet feeling of the absence of Jason’s presence mixed with my own happiness at my son’s success.  Yet, after living well over a year as an officer’s widow, I’m well aware of the bittersweet state in which I frequently live my life.

We are an example of the true cost of an officer’s sacrifice.

As a mother when I look into the eyes of my little man, I see his bright future, his unlimited abilities, his over the top personality. As I spend moments playing with him, I witness his optimism, hear his laughter, and see his active imagination. However, as an officer’s widow, I also endure his pain, longing, frustration, confusion, and anger.  I see his fears acted out in front of me, his anger that surfaces when one minute detail goes wrong, and I see the thoughts of “I wish daddy were here,” flash across his face. Each day, I wake up and I am a mom who fixes, plays, corrects, loves, hugs, kisses, and laughs. Yet sadly, I am a constant reminder of the reality that it is JUST me left, that I will never be able to bring his daddy back, and that as much as he wants me to be able to fix everything, the reality is – I can’t

We are an example of the true cost of an officer’s sacrifice.

Every day when I wake up before my feet hit the floor, I am comforted by the brief microsecond where the semi consciousness from sleep still clouds my thoughts and lulls me into the false assumption that I live a normal life.  In that microsecond, I sometimes begin to think of a story I have to tell Jason when he gets home, or I start to strain my ear for the sound of Velcro – indicating he’s taking off his vest, and is once again in the safe haven of our home.  At times, when I’m out running errands, and my mind is preoccupied with the long to do list of the current day, I find my thoughts centered around, “ what to make Jason for dinner,” or straining to recall whether or not uniforms have been washed, dried, and pressed for the next shift.  Each morning when I wake up and put my wedding rings on, the paradox of the indestructible love they represent, and the reality of my life without him, is often times a heavy burden to bear. Yet, I still put them on.  I wear them because they are a symbol of the paradoxical life I am now forced to live, and one of the few symbols from the past that I can still cling to.

We are an example of the true cost of an officer’s sacrifice.

A life where I constantly compare the after to the before.  A life some say “I signed up for,” that I “knew the risks of, yet still chose to stand beside him anyhow.” A life where I walk my son into his first day of Kindergarten, and we wave to daddy who is watching us from heaven.  A hallway I walk down alone, as I leave my son standing at the end, silently crying for me to return to him.  There’s no husband to wrap his arms around me and comfort me, and there’s no daddy to retell his first day of school to.  Hours spent concentrating on my thoughts and hopes, praying with all of my being that they will reach heaven, and somehow, if I’m still and quiet enough, I will feel his answer in my heart.

We are an example of the true cost of an officer’s sacrifice.

At times I feel cursed to never live a normal life again.  And the mommy in me, metaphorically dies a thousand times a day at the little moments my son no longer gets to share with Jason.

Each milestone, each tear, each goal, each birthday.

Each year, each day, each minute, and each second.

Every breath, every picture, and every decision.

Every moment of the rest of our lives is how you can weigh out the true cost of an officer’s sacrifice.

Yes, a life “I signed up for,” and I even willingly brought my son into; yet, as a nation we are witnessing more and more of our officer’s families begin their journey in the “after,” and as a whole, we are doing nothing. Yes, we all “signed up for it.” Jason “signed up to be willing to give his life for the betterment of the community.” I “signed up to stand beside him, and to continue to honor and respect our officers if he ever were to be killed.” However, since when did someone’s willingness to sacrifice for their community, or his wife’s willingness to raise a son on her own become a valid reason for one’s death?

Sacrifice is no stranger at the Sprague household; however, lately, I’ve been quite angry, and I can’t help but find myself thinking how much will I have to sacrifice? And, when I stop to think about the answer, it frightens me to my core.  We have been chosen to continue to sacrifice for the rest of our lives.  There will never come a day when my son or I can escape the reality of Jason’s willingness to pay the ultimate sacrifice.  Even as C grows older, I began to form a “new” life, and our day-to-day routines become as “normal’ as possible, we won’t escape the reality that our family has been destined to a lifetime of ultimate sacrifices. We have a future that is forever altered by one choice.  And the frightening aspect is, the same choice that ended my husband’s life is being made at an alarming rate in our society. The choice to see our heroes as less than human.  As a target, a nuisance, evil, a blue uniform, an enemy, but not human.

Have you ever truly stopped to contemplate the true cost of an officer’s sacrifice?

When you pass a police car on the side of the interstate, do you think about that officer’s family? Or, do you just slam on your brakes in hopes to avoid being clocked by his radar?

When you are badmouthing our nation and its crime ridden neighborhoods, drug infested homes, and broken education system, do you ever stop to think about how much worse it would be without those who are willing to assume the responsibility that comes with putting on a badge and gearing up to be an officer?

Where would our nation be without families who are willing to send their officer out to walk the thin blue line and right as many wrongs as possible in a 12 hour shift?

Yet, their willingness to do so is now being used as ammunition against them.

Our nation is rapidly assuming a detached attitude towards our blue defenders. Maybe it seems that having no opinion towards an officer’s willingness to protect and serve is not a pressing issue in our society; however, if we aren’t careful, we could create a nation where statements such as, “if [that] officer had stayed in his car, he wouldn’t have been shot,” become the norm.

The ammunition of “we signed up for this life,” is being aimed at us from all directions, yet, the Law Enforcement world is made up of officers and families who are born fighters. We aren’t giving up, and even though we are forced to sacrifice some, you aren’t winning.  While my family is forced to sacrifice for the rest of our lives, I still don’t view the “other” side as victorious.  If members of our nation refuse to help us humanize our heroes, we will continue to fight.  Families will still send their officers off at the start of each shift, and we will pray until the return home safely.  And if we lose one in the battle, know this we won’t back down. Yet, it isn’t just “our” job to humanize our heroes. We shouldn’t HAVE to worry about losing one of our own.  We should live in a society who guards those who are willing to give their lives.  We shouldn’t have to dodge the verbal ammunition of “signing up for this life.”  But, we do.  Our officers continue to walk the line daily, and the very LEAST members of society could do would be to view them as human.

The true cost of an officer’s sacrifice can never be repaid because it can never be accurately measured.  When we lose an officer, we are losing one more hero who stood on the line between good and evil, and we are creating one more family to live in the “after without their hero.”  Another hero who left his hat for us to cling to instead of his hand, as we start on our new journey without him….

Photo Credit to: John Bunch http://www.bunchphoto.com/

Photo Credit to: John Bunch http://www.bunchphoto.com/

“Always”

 always

Life is full of “guarantees.” It’s full of “always.”

 

“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Bright laundry detergent is guaranteed to lift those tough stains.”  “When you graduate high school…”

“Don’t worry about cooking dinner tonight, come have dinner at Sally’s restaurant: where the food is always fresh and the staff is always friendly.”

 

We coast through our daily lives bombarded by guarantees.  We even take an active role in the cycle of promises.  So, naturally, when a life is taken “too soon” by our standards, we feel cheated, lost, and confused.  We can’t seem to grasp the concept that our “forever and always,” is no longer a possibility.  We are lulled into a false sense of security by society’s continual cycle of promises, and we refuse to accept the one guarantee in life- we’re all going to die. 

We are all guilty of choreographing the beat of our lives to the guarantees society presents to us because in the end, we find peace and comfort in the word “always.”

 

I’ve written before on the conversation Jason and I “always” had before work.  It’s the same basic conversation all law enforcement wives have before sending their husbands off to fix society’s problems and “save the day.”  I’ve even written about how the conversation didn’t end in “always” the night of Jason’s death.  How for whatever reason that night, he couldn’t reassure me with always.

 

What I haven’t shared, is how our relationship seemed to be built around and based on the reassurance of the word always.  I ended every letter, every goodnight text, every conversation with “love always.”  When he asked me if I loved him, I replied, “always.” For us, it was a foundational word and hearing it somehow convinced me that everything would work out.

 

Not hearing it over a year ago shook me, but it didn’t break me.  And, since then, I’ve often thought about how different the night’s events might have played out if I had heard it instead of “I’ll try.”  Realistically, I know the result would have been the same, the verbalization of one word wouldn’t change the events of the night, but I think it would have changed how I accepted them.

 

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time angry at the fact that my “always” was taken away from me.  At times I’ve felt defeated, lost, and just plain mad at the idea others get to continue their own “always,” and I get stuck with remembering an “always cut too short.”

 

The reality that I have now “observed” two anniversaries without my “always,” is difficult to stomach at times.  In fact, the idea to write this blog about the reassurance of the word always has been in the back of my mind for months…and I just couldn’t bring myself to write it.  I wanted to be okay with my “always,” no longer being here, but how can one grasp the idea that “always” is gone.  By sheer definition of the word, it’s an impossibility.

 

And, tonight, as I was getting ready for bed, I looked through the Facebook page for the upcoming Officers Down 5K to benefit Jason’s scholarship and ODMP, and I had an epiphany.  As I scrolled through the posts, I paused at Jason’s picture and promotional information for the race staring down at me from a billboard.  And tears begin to flood my cheeks.  In that moment, my definition of always changed.  I realized that it is impossible for always to truly be gone.

race billboard

 

The reality is, my role in the “always” has changed.  I thought that my role was to always make him feel loved, always support him, always help him, and always be by his side, and for almost 7 years, that was my role.  Now, my role is even bigger.  My way to continue the always, is to be a voice for the true cost of an officer’s sacrifice, to rally the LEO community together and humanize our heroes.  To raise a little boy into a man who understands the value of sacrifice and is willing to pay the true cost of it if need be.

 

I never thought my love ended with Jason’s death, but I struggled because so much of me was wrapped up in the idea of being his always. After he died, I felt imprisoned because I had no idea who I was. Tonight, I feel free.  Free because no action I perform after his death changes my love for Jason.  Nothing can lessen it, eradicate it, or diminish its purity.  Instead, I get the rest of my lifetime to continue to work on the always.

 

Whether I remarry or not, move or stay, teach or not, none of those change my love for him.  Instead, they just continue to prove it.  I prove it by living. I prove it be striving to be a voice for the true cost of sacrifice.  I prove it by starting an organization, and then they join in on proving it.  We prove it by hosting a 5k, and by rallying a community together around the idea that our officers should be thanked, and that their humanity is our first priority.

 

I believe in signs from Jason, and tonight even though that billboard didn’t say “always,” the message clearly was conveyed.  A year ago, I would have never imagined the idea that together we could host such an event.  I would have never thought we would be this far in humanizing our heroes, and demonstrating the true cost of sacrifice, but here we are.

 

My always didn’t end, and it never will, because I have control over its permanence.  Always doesn’t end with death, it just changes form. Always doesn’t end if I change anything in my life, start a new life, or leave it as close as possible to how it was. Now, it comes in signs from above, little nudges in my heart, and a little boy who looks and acts just like his daddy.  It comes from sisters who love me, family who supports me, and from friends who lift me up and help me continue my always.

 

Call me crazy, but for me, always comes in the form of billboards, interviews about sacrifice, and making baskets for a silent auction.  And, while it would be nice to be able to hear him say “always” one more time, he shows me our “always” all the time.  I just have to be still and listen.

 

How blessed I am to be able to continue my journey of “always.” And at the end of my life, when someone asks me “You still love him after all this time?” I’ll be able to answer, “always,” and my actions will provide the proof.  How blessed am I, that when I said goodbye to my officer that night, I awoke being able to help ensure that my fellow sisters get to hear their “always” as they send their husbands off to begin their shifts.  How blessed am I, that I get to help humanize hundreds of thousands of officers.

 

Willingness to sacrifice isn’t just in an officer’s DNA, it’s in his wife’s as well.

 

Happiness Can Be Found Even In the Darkest of Times…

happiness can be found even in the darkest of times

11 months ago at 12:25 am, I was asleep in my bed. Jason was probably either up watching Netflix, playing on Xbox live, or was out patrolling the streets. All was right with C’s sense of safety. Our universe was in order, our cards seem to be dealt right, and it felt like God was leading us down a path of the happiest years of our marriage and lives. Jason had the job he wanted, we had a supportive group of friends and family, and C loved his school. The hardest decisions we were making at the time pertained to either buying or building a future home, and whether or not we wanted to begin to try again to have another little one. At the time, those decisions seemed overwhelming, and I wasn’t sure if we were making the right ones.

 

11 months ago, my world had the illusion of perfection. If God could throw glitter and gold down upon our lives, it seemed as if it couldn’t be more possible than where we were 11 months ago. From the moment Jason decided to apply for the job in Texas, to the moment we crossed over the state line and officially became “Texans,” every door was thrown open, and God seemed to be saying, “Come on my child, follow me. I’ll lead you where you need to be. Trust me.” And, so we did. We trusted. We trusted enough to leave every bit of our biological family, friends who we had known since we were in diapers together, jobs we had become emotionally and financially vested in, and we threw our hands in the air and trusted… Little did I know at the time, what our future held almost exactly one year to the day from when we “trusted,” and officially became Texans.

 

11 months ago, when my world was rocked at its innermost core. When a piece of my validation, my sense of safety, the daddy of my precious baby, my best friend, my comical relief, and my counter-weight left the world, I was angry because I had “trusted.” I fought back bitter thoughts that flooded my mind; I repressed sour tasting words that seeped into my mouth and escaped as an almost silent whisper in the dead of the night- when no one was there to hear them but me and the one whom I trusted. I’ve yet to share those darkest of times, not because I am ashamed of them- we are human. We are flawed by our nature. We are cursed because of the sins of our forefathers, to strive to reach perfection, but to never quite achieve it. I’m not ashamed of my doubt and anger at the fact that I trusted God’s plan. It’s just sometimes we don’t realize how important a moment is, until another moment comes along and connects the two. I didn’t realize how important those early morning hours spent lying in bed, crying, and silently whispering my deeply rooted anger at how I felt betrayed, confused, and lost because we had taken a leap of faith, and trusted. I couldn’t realize how important those darkest moments were because I had turned off the light. I had created the darkness.

 

In those darkest moments, I was blaming God for the lack of light, when in reality, my hand was on the switch all the time. I was so blinded by my anger and sense of betrayal, that for a small amount of time, I was struggling to believe the light switch even existed any more. Thoughts of “how could you rob my baby of growing up with his daddy,” “ why of all people did we have to suffer this much,” and, “how could you lead us down such a ‘path of perfection,’ to allow it to end in death, heartache, and destruction?” My words lashed out at a God I felt misguided me. While my tongue acted as a whip in an attempt to rationalize the reality before me, my hands were searching. Searching for the light switch…the moment where my doubt would leave me, and an answer to “why,” would appear.

 

As I searched, certain events, dare I say milestones, occurred. Many firsts without Jason, hours of phone conversations with dear friends, the reality of a dream coming true, The Pink Behind The Thin Blue Line forming, the trial, memorials, and so many more events happened around me, and all the while, I’m still searching for the switch.   My human mind was looking for a switch that would instantly flood my dark world with light once more. Yet, that instantaneous flooding of light isn’t really possible after a traumatic loss. One naturally expects because the light was taken away so quickly, that the same mirrored effect must happen for it to return. It wasn’t until recently, that I truly realized the impossibility of such a request. I wanted a flood light to appear out of nowhere. Ball park stadium lights to flood my life once more…but I wasn’t praying for the right “light switch.” A quick fix wasn’t in my future. Instead, God installed a dimming switch.

 

Each event, each “milestone,” each conversation, moved the dimming switch a tad bit lighter. The change in lighting wasn’t easily recognizable, and some days, it never changed at all. Yet, gradually, the light became a little brighter.

 

Tonight, almost 11 months after my light was turned out, I stand on the brink of attending National Police Week. A week dedicated to honoring our fallen. A week that ensures a “hero remembered never dies.” The sheer thought of attending such an awe-inspiring and honor-filled event leaves me feeling humbled. I fully understand the true cost of our sacrifice – I live it every minute of the day. Yet, still even 11 months afterwards, the honor that is so freely and willingly demonstrated for our fallen brings tears to my eyes. And while for some National Police Week may see to another reminder of their officer’s death. I sit here now, knowing my attendance at NPW is another way to honor my husband and all of the other brave officers who willingly sacrificed their lives for the greater good. I am able to have this perspective, because I am the one in control of my own light switch. God’s light has been shining all along. I created my own darkness.

 

Looking back on the past two weeks in my life, I can now measure the increase in light. In many aspects, the healing is harder, the pain more raw, and the moments of longing are more intense: yet, for some reason, even though the fog has lifted, and the reality of my new life has hit, there is more light than ever before. The memorials are never easy. They are vivid reminders of the true cost of an officer’s sacrifice. Yet, at the same time, they serve a dual reminder that Jason IS a member of a family who stands together no matter what. And, who demands that others respect them as well. I would give all the honor and respect back, to see C play with his daddy once more. The reality is…there shouldn’t have to be a week dedicated to our fallen. Even though it’s honorable, and their death heroic, it’s always unnecessary, and could have somehow been prevented.

 

Yet, this week I will stand with thousands of other families who understand the true cost of sacrifice. They too hold their switch to their own light source: and each one at a different stage of grief. I will stand next to thousands as they call out the names of the more than 100 officers who gave their lives last year. Tears will stream down my face as evidence of the sheer heartache Jason’s death has caused our family.   And as those tears are streaming down my face, my heart will simultaneously feel grief but honor.

 

My light is getting brighter because the honor of Jason’s death is finally sinking in. Yes, it was unnecessary, and could have been prevented. But, I know without a shadow of a doubt that I married a man WILLING to sacrifice his life for the greater good. I know I married a man who put the safety and well-being of others above his own, and he did so right up until his death. I know that he isn’t alone in heaven. He and those 100 plus officers will be standing at the gates of heaven, and they will be smiling down at people who still remembers heroes. While the week will bring its share of sadness, it will also bring with it the reminder that even though we lost Jason, we are still winners. We chose the path of sacrifice, and because of that, there is honor in his death.

 

thin blue line wreath

 

11 months after, I sit with a new found peace and comfort in the fact that while all of us wish there was no need for a fallen officers’ memorial, I am blessed to have such a close support group of men and women who understand me and stand beside me. I sit today feeling blessed even though tears will freely flow as reality sets in when I see his name forever etched in stone. But, I will be held up by a nationwide blue family who will forever carry Jason’s memory, and will ensure his sacrifice is never in vain.

 

Today, almost 11 months after Jason’s death, my dimming switch is far from at it’s peak capacity. It’s far sometimes even from flood lamp brightness, but my appreciation for and faith in my dimming switch, is the best it has ever been.

 

I firmly believe that God knew the end result of our move when we trusted Him. I know that He was preparing our family for a greater purpose much larger than ourselves. I also believe that He knew I would doubt Him, and lash out in anger, but that He planned to wait patiently. To gradually introduce me to people, and to place events and moments in my life that would slowly lead my hand towards the dimming switch. And each time my hand moved the switch up, my faith increased and my confidence did as well.

 

Tonight, as I finished packing for National Police Week, I was calm and at peace with attending. While Jason’s death was the darkest part of my life, I can’t continue to live there. It can only get brighter from here, and the only person who has control over that is me. The beauty of my hand being on the dimming switch, is that I’m in control of how dark I allow it to become. And, I have full faith that my hand is being guided and directed by my flood light. And if for some reason my world becomes dark again, I have such a wonderful group of blood and blue family who will be right there beside me until I can see the light again.

I am in charge of my light and my darkness, and while Jason was taken from us at a time I feel was “too soon,” I know with full faith God sees the greater plan. “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light…”

 

The Trial, Constellations, and Grace

cross with stars

Today marks one month since the trial began for the man convicted of Jason’s death. Throughout the passing of the one month, I have sat down on more than one occasion and attempted to write about my experiences at the trial. I have thought to myself on NUMEROUS occasions, “you wrote so easily and freely concerning Jason’s death, pull it together. Surely a trial can’t be harder to write about than your own husband’s death.” Yes, I know I am a very harsh critic when it comes to myself, and I know you all did not see it this way at all. Yet, I still “punished” myself mentally for my inability to truly capture the essence of how traumatic and life altering the trial was for me and for all those who supported me. I’ve spent countless nights wide awake because of the evidence presented, praying that I could erase it from my mind. Hours spent analyzing my words when I took the stand. Were they good enough, did I accurately portray the gut wrenching death of my husband that in turn caused me to lose who I once was, and causes my son to miss his daddy? Could I have said something more? Should I have cried more?

 

I’ve spent more of my time replaying evidence over and over in my mind, and analyzing Jason’s last moments. Yes, I sat through that rear dash cam video more than once. I promise you, I still don’t know how I did it. I wonder if the message my presence during the video sent to the jury was worthy enough of the years I’ll spend replaying those last few moments in my head. I find myself washing clothes or cleaning, and thinking, would Jason have wanted me to endure all I chose to endure, just to ensure that honor was given to his sacrifice. I’ve thought over and over again how unfair it is, that I had to sit through 7 days of emotional turmoil in order to be the presence in the courtroom who silently demanded justice to be served. And, it’s usually at that point in my thought process that I enter into my “dark zone.” The place in my mind that I attempt to push back, cover up, in hopes that the repression eventually erases it all together. In reality, I know that in order to heal, I have to enter my dark zone. Yet, in those moments I’m there, and I’m walking through it, I honestly feel the furthest from Jason I could. My “dark zone” is generally a swirling storm of anger. I hate feeling anger, while it’s productive, I feel it blinds me. And so, I avoid it at all costs. Yet, there was no avoiding it. In fact, it’s been on the backburner of my mind up until tonight. Showing its blinding face at every twist and turn in my life. Clouding my judgment, and causing me to dislike who I was.

A considerable amount of my anger doesn’t stem from the sentencing portion of the trial…although at first, it did. Instead, my anger is more often directed at myself. I can try forever to explain to you the paradoxical emotions of praying for justice to be served, but feeling your heart strings slowly ripped as you watch a mother saying good bye to her son before he’s lead away. Or the prayers that the amount of years will in some way equal the loss we endure daily, but also almost feeling sorry when you look into his eyes and see the reality of his choices sink in. I’ve been angry at myself for feeling such paradoxical emotions. I’m angry because these emotions feel as if they are a betrayal to Jason’s sacrifice and to his brothers/sisters in blue. In fact, I have debated sharing such emotions because I was afraid people wouldn’t understand why I felt them. I have feared that this paragraph I’ve written numerous times would alienate me from Jason’s brothers and sisters, and that they would turn their backs on me because of my true feelings.

I have told myself over and over, that a “true officer’s wife wouldn’t feel sorry for the person who took her husband’s life.” That she shouldn’t wish it would become a learning experience for him, and that in the end he will leave prison with the ability to impact others, and with a hard-earned respect for the value of a person’s life. I’ve told myself that a “true officer’s wife would not ‘be okay’ with a sentence that is less than a life for a life.” And, yet, no matter how often I “tell” myself anything, these paradoxical emotions creep up on me, engulf my thought process, and drown me.

 

For the past week, I have been fighting them off. Forcing myself to stay incredibly busy in the hopes that they will fade, and that I won’t have to truly deal with how I’ve been feeling. That I wouldn’t have to write this blog that I’ve felt weighing on my heart since the verdicts were issued. Realistically, I knew the possibility of such an occurrence was extraordinarily rare. All day today, I found my thoughts elsewhere, and my thought process erratic, and the difficulty level of accomplishing even the simplest of tasks frustrated me. I have felt out of sorts, as if a thousand piece puzzle were thrown to the floor, and its pieces placed hastily placed back together. The general outline of the puzzle is there – a shell, but the inside is all jumbled together with pieces forced together to fill a space. As I prepared for tonight’s Pink Behind The Thin Blue Line meeting, I found myself sporadically “accomplishing” items on my to do list, but never feeling as if I had anything together.

 

Even as I began the meeting, my frustration levels were high, and I struggled to pull myself together for these ladies who have given so much to me. Yet, when I started that meeting, a few of the pieces of my jumbled together puzzle were placed back into their correct location. The longer the meeting went on, the more pieces were correctly placed. Conversations after the meeting, placed a few more into their permanent homes. Each piece placed was a small weight lifted. Ladies who support me, back me, and understand how an “officer’s wife, could look into the eyes of her husband’s killer and feel immense anger at all he took from us, but also understand how a mother could look into those same eyes and feel in some small way sorry for him as well.” I shared a small portion of how I felt at the trial, and they all supported me. They wrapped their arms around me in support, and the encouraged me to keep going. I promise you they don’t even know they did it, but I felt it.

 

And so, I left the meeting with more pieces in place, and a certain sense of calm that I hadn’t felt in quite some time. When C and I arrived home, we got out of the car, and as always I looked at the sky. Tonight was beautiful, clear, and peaceful. I commented on the stars to C, and he looked too. And what happened in those moments of arriving home, placed even more pieces in place. He looked at the sky, and he immediately found the big dipper, a skill Jason taught C at an early age. He smiled, and he pointed out a “winking” star in the handle of the dipper. He turned, and he looked at me, and with childlike faith said “ That’s my daddy’s eyes winking at me tonight.” Normally, I would have lost it at that point. I would have mourned Jason’s death, and how C is forced to live without him, but this time I didn’t. Instead, this time, we sat down in the middle of our driveway, and we looked at the stars.

 

This was the best picture I could get :)

This was the best picture I could get 🙂

C talked on and on about how Jason had taught him how ships used constellations as a GPS, and that he thinks Jason would have chosen the big dipper to build his mansion in heaven. I listened, and I remained quiet as he kept talking. Listening to my baby be so happy that we are “closer to daddy tonight,” calmed me, and it placed more pieces in their place. At one point, he jumped up, and ran inside to get “Jason’s blanket, a pillow, and his DADDY’S flashlight, so that he could hold it and remember his daddy.” I joined him, and we lay down under the stars, and we snuggled. While he sat and watched the stars, I began to think about how angry I’ve been at myself for feeling a little sorry for the man who killed Jason. And just as I allowed myself to begin to process why I felt that way, C pointed out a constellation he felt looked like “the cross Jesus died on.” He asked me why Jesus would want to die for us, and I began to explain grace and mercy to him. He remained quiet for a long time, and I welcomed the silence. In the silence I began to realize how irrational my anger at myself was. All along, I had convinced myself to believe that feeling sorry for my husband’s killer made ME a bad person. That it erased my status as a “good and dutiful officer’s wife.” When in reality, the exact opposite was true. Those moments I spent looking at the man who killed my husband, and telling him exactly how he changed my life, were moments when I kept telling myself, “stop feeling sorry for him. It was his choice. He did this; he created his own consequences.” Yet, instead, those moments standing before him in the courtroom were the first moments when I truly saw a glimpse that forgiveness might be possible. In reading my statement to him, I chose to leave out the last line of the letter. In that line, I told him that if I ever did forgive him, to make no mistake, the forgiveness would be so that I could move with my life, not so he could feel better about his own choices.

I didn’t tell him that, instead, I just went and sat down. Up until tonight, I’ve regretting not reading that last line to him. Tonight, when C and I talked about the cross, salvation, grace, and mercy, a number of more pieces fell into place. I realized that feeling sorry for his decision to drive away that night, didn’t make me a bad person. I thought, if I truly believe in salvation and the grace Jesus must extend to us in order to be willing to die on the cross, then forgiveness on my part should come at some point. Forgiving him or forever living in anger affects the remainder of my life, and I thought for a while it would never affect his. I was wrong.

Extending grace is modeled time and time again throughout the Bible for Christians, but it’s rarely practiced in today’s world. We are taught to feel anger for others who hurt us and to look out for ourselves. This belief is what caused me to be angry at myself for “becoming a soft officer’s wife.” I’ve always felt that people who say “ they have forgiven their loved one’s killer,” are lying. That there’s no possible way it could occur. And, I won’t say that I’m there yet, but a lot more pieces came together tonight as we sat beneath the stars.

 

When we were getting ready to go to bed, C turned around, and he blew a kiss to heaven. He then came and kissed me as well. He told me “ daddy’s bed is now in the big dipper, and that’s okay. It means he gets to watch everything I do, and be proud of all I do.” We carried our items inside, and we laid down for bed. I listened as C told Jason all about our day. How the he remembered all the lessons Jason had taught him about constellations, and how he hoped his daddy would visit him in his dreams tonight. And then, we told daddy we love him to heaven and back. C turned over, and he held my hand as he drifted to sleep with a smile upon his face. Tears streamed down my face as I marveled in his ability to never feel anger at Jason’s death.

 

I laid in bed, and cried. In those moments I realized, C isn’t angry because I’ve always made it a point to never inflict my anger at the situation upon him. He gets to live in a world of child-like faith, and I get to wish I could go back to that. Tonight, I realized, if I would have listened to my heart all along, God was trying to push me back there. If C can go his entire life and never feel anger at the man who killed his daddy, this mommy has done something right. The conversation we had tonight where I explained grace wasn’t for C, he already readily extends it. I was the one who was being reminded of the true meaning of grace.

 

If you’re reading this today and you think “I’ll never be able to forgive him. He took too much. He took my brother, a daddy, a husband, and son.” I want you to know I understand. I felt that too. In fact, a part of me still feels that way…and maybe it always will? Please know that I’m not writing about my steps towards forgiveness in a judgmental manner of those who aren’t ready to forgive. I’m in no way telling you how to think, feel, or act. Instead, I’m reminding us all, of where we would be today without grace.

 

Think back on a situation where you didn’t deserve grace, but were granted it anyway. A time in your life when you should have been allowed to fall flat on your face, without any help from a hand to lift you up, yet they extended their hand anyway. We’ve all made choices where grace should have never been extended, but it was there waiting for you, lifting you up, and pushing you forward. Where you a different person afterward? Did you allow that experience to change you for the better? If I can cultivate C’s ability to extend grace, and allow it to become a part of who he is, then I know with certainty that I’ve raised him to be a person that Jason would be proud of.

 

I pray my honesty hasn’t changed your opinion of me as an officer’s wife, and that in the end you sincerely know that I respect wherever you are in the grieving process. I just know I can’t continue to live in anger, if I want to raise a son who is free from it. Tonight, while gazing at the stars, Jason wrapped his arms around us both, he winked at us through the stars, and for the first time in a while, we were at peace…my prayer is that this moment is coming for you as well. Jason would want peace for all of us…I pray that you find your own path to peace.

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.

An Attitude of Gratitude: In Everything Give Thanks

clouds and hay

Giving thanks is easy when a new job comes along, or a new baby.  Giving thanks is easy when we are sailing along, and life is good.  But, then “disaster” strikes, and our natural inclination to thank, flies right out the window.  And, we are left feeling abandoned and asking God why.

As Christians, it’s very easy to feel that the initial act of salvation, belief in God, and “following” Him is enough to create a reliant relationship upon God.  Often times I think we feel that we have trusted God with our ETERNAL life, and that’s enough.  I find it odd that we are so willing to allow Him to control our eternity, but we struggle with mentally allowing Him a role in our daily lives.  We trust Him to allow us to enter Heaven, but we get upset when we don’t get the job we REALLY wanted, and we seem to think that we know best.  We forget that following Him means accepting His will, even if it’s not what we envisioned for our lives at that time. Up until June of 2013, I thought God and I were sailing along just fine.  I trusted Him, he blessed me.  I had a few hiccups in my life, and then they were fixed, but nothing major.  No real test of faith… and so, until then, it was easy to accept God’s will and be thankful for it at the same time.

A long-time friend of mine challenged us to come up with one word to focus on for 2014.  I liked this idea much better than a resolution.  And, so, I chose:

Gratitude

I debated on many words: determination, faith, confidence, but my mind kept coming back to gratitude. I found myself reflecting on the past almost 8 months, and trying to pin point what brought me out of the fog I felt after losing J.  After some reflection, it occurred to me that I finally truly started thanking God.  It started out small at first, but the more I practiced, the easier it became.  I developed an appreciation, and turned all situations back to praise. Which makes it sound like a 5 step process: step 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and now you have an attitude of gratitude; however….

An attitude of gratitude isn’t an occasional thought process, and it isn’t a thought process that is natural for us as humans.  It’s something we have to work towards daily.  When we signed up to trust in God, and receive eternal life, we signed up to follow Him, and accept His will – no matter the short-term outcome of it.  We signed up to allow God to be in control of our lives, and to trust that in the end, all things work out for the good of Him.

I agree, believe me, it’s beyond difficult.  I’ve OFTEN times, thought, and sometimes even voiced out loud: “God, you want me to thank you for losing my husband?” Yep, I’ll admit my faults, and in my opinion, I think God expects them. As a human, when I watched J take his last breath, I wasn’t thanking God.  I didn’t thank Him when I attended the visitation, the funeral, the many events that occurred afterwards.  I didn’t thank Him when I had to explain to C how his daddy died, or why he would never come back. I spent a good while angry. Gratitude is difficult to express when we don’t see any potential good in a situation.  And, I’ve written frequently on finding the purpose for J’s death, and how I need to weigh it on God’s scales and not my own.  My scales are overweighed with doubt, insecurities, and grief.

Our doubt is just one of the many reasons we needed to trust in Him to receive eternal salvation.  I do find it difficult to have an attitude of gratitude when it comes to J’s death.  I find it difficult to be thankful for something when I can’t see the purpose or the outcome of it. When I look into C’s eyes and see hurt, or I lay in bed at night wishing for one more “I love you,” my human mind doesn’t immediately thank God.    I’m still working on finding gratitude in all areas of my life.  For now, I’m focusing on thanking Him for the smaller pieces of it:

  1. The incredible family and friends I have gained.
  2. The doors that are opening and allowing me to help others as a result of J’s death.
  3. My ability to grieve but still try to give C as normal a life as possible.
  4. The ability to seek justice in the court system.
  5. Wonderful therapists who go above and beyond to ensure we are doing as well as possible.
  6. An understanding and supportive family.
  7. My ability to see my strength, to believe in my ability, and to use this experience to find ways to praise our God.
  8. The numerous memories I have of J and how grateful I am for the years we were given together.
  9. That I get to watch J’s legacy and beliefs impact our community.
  10. Finally, that God gave me C – he’s my reminder daily of how great my life still is.

Honestly, the list could continue on for much longer, but the idea is that while I may not can thank God for my husband’s death, I can thank Him for the opportunities that have came out of J’s death, and maybe that’s the point.  If I truly trust God, then I trust that all things work for HIS good and his purpose.  And while I didn’t want to lose my husband, I can be thankful that I have chosen to make positive out of a negative situation.

Many people ask me how I do that.  How can you be so positive? Well, it’s a choice.  Being positive doesn’t mean that you never see the negative, it just means that you chose to make the best out of every situation. When I find it difficult to go forward with a positive attitude, when I just simply want to lay in bed and cry, I try to envision the verse:

“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

Isaiah 41:13

How can my life not work out if one of God’s hands is holding mine, and the other is overseeing my life?  When I think that there’s just no way to see the good, and to thank Him for a situation, I have tried to envision this verse.  And, while I know God understands my doubts, my questions, and my attempts to just “do it myself,” I still try to find the good- my attitude of gratitude.

So, maybe you think I’m crazy to try to find the good in the death of my husband.  But, I don’t have to find it, when I am a part of creating it.  My attitude of gratitude is easier because as God is holding my right hand, I’m working on using my left to create some good in the world.  And no, this post isn’t meant to praise myself.  I promise, I have my fair share of doubts, insecurities, and independent streaks.  Instead, this post is to remind you that accepting Christ isn’t the last of our trust in Him; it’s just the beginning.  And in order to trust Him, you simply have to be thankful.

As I continue on this journey of gratitude, I would like to thank you for all of your prayers, support, and belief in me!  You all know how to make a girl feel loved, and I hope you know that I pray for you as well. I pray that you will be able to find moments of gratitude in your own life.  Anger at the situation doesn’t change it, but being grateful for the opportunity to turn it into something good does change it.

isaiah 41 13

The Greatest Gift J Ever Gave Me

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Sunset strolls along the beach…
Small notes in the pocket of your jacket…
Flowers on the table after a hard day at work…
Cupcakes made just because…
The way my hand fits perfectly into yours, and immediate sense of safety that follows…

All examples of the love we show someone else. I’m sure you could come up with a million more ways we demonstrate our love for others. And each time we initiate an action, there’s always some kind of response from the person receiving the “love.” Grant it, the response may not be exactly what you are searching for, but a response is generated nonetheless.

We spend our entire lives demonstrating our love for others: the daisy the little boy picks and runs to his mommy when he should be catching a ball in the outfield, the adorable and quite “perfect” pair of shoes the mom slowly returns to the shelf because her daughter needs new dance shoes, or the birthday flavored ice cream and root beer the husband returns from Wal-Greens with at 12:30 am. Each relationship we enter into by choice or birth requires demonstrations of our love for that person in order for the relationship to prosper. And each time we show our love, a response is given….

7 months ago today, I lost my response. And, in traditional me fashion, I’ve been reflecting quite frequently the past few days on love. I have been pretty down because both my 30th birthday and Valentine’s Day are quickly approaching, and for the first time in 8 years, J won’t be there to demonstrate his love, and I won’t be able to give him a response. Now, for those of you who knew J, you know that the love he showed me on my 30th birthday would have been in the form of teasing me to no end about the “old” lady I am becoming. But, my birthday and Valentine’s Day have always meant more to me than just the events, J proposed to me on my birthday, and we celebrated Valentine’s Day on the same day. So, for the first time in 8 years, there will be no flowers, no reminiscing of the day he proposed, no “happy birthday” texts, and no responses back from me.

J proposed at the very end of my birthday party. I thought we were there for a birthday...

J proposed at the very end of my birthday party. I thought we were there for a birthday…

And, it’s easy to get caught up in all the “ways” we demonstrate our love to one another. It’s easy to become upset that those physical or verbal demonstrations will no longer happen. To wish with all my heart that roses would appear on the doorstep, or we could lay on the couch, hands intertwined and watch a movie. To try to force myself to believe that one more “silly love poem” he would write to me could somehow make its way down from heaven.

And so the past few nights, I’ve found myself praying before I go to sleep that God would just let me dream about J, that maybe in my dreams I could hear his voice again, feel his touch, and in turn feel his love for me radiating through my dream.

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Each night before going to bed, I’ve focused on all the different memories from our times spent together, and I replay them over and over until I finally fall asleep. You see, when I met J, I was determined I was finished with trying to find “love.” That it was just about me and God; together, He and I would be just fine without marriage. I was a strong and independent girl, we could handle it just fine on our own. And while I’m sure that was true, God had different plans. And, slowly throughout the years of our marriage, almost all of me became wrapped up into who J was, and who we were as a couple. I now look back and can see how that “strong-willed, independent” girl slowly became a wife who gave herself over to her husband, and sought his validation, opinion, and desires. And, we grew together because of that. Each day demonstrating our love for one another. Through the ups and downs of our marriage, we still found ways to demonstrate our love…and each time the reaction of the other kept us going. And in time, all of me was wrapped up into our relationship, being a mommy, and loving the two most important guys in my life.

And then, 7 months ago, it abruptly stopped. The day we spent in the hospital, I prayed, and prayed for him to be able to give me one more sign of his love. One more syllable, squeeze, blink- anything. And the harder I prayed, the less likely it seemed it would happen. And, I remember vividly thinking, I pray he knows I love him. I hope he can feel it. That time in the hospital, I did everything I could to demonstrate my love, in hopes that he would feel it, and that somehow that would change the outcome. Maybe if I just squeezed harder, or said it with more “love,” this could be over, and he could show me once more just how much he loves me. That somehow my love would penetrate his wounds, heal them, and bring him back to us.

I recall a dear friend who was a nurse on J’s floor, trying to prepare me for the worst, and I remember being rude to her and saying, “no we’re going to be optimistic. I’m not ready to say goodbye.” And, I curled up on my small couch, and I just willed him to feel this love that I had tried so hard to demonstrate to him all day. I remember laying on the couch, alone (by choice), and willing him to feel my love.

And, then less than 45 minutes later, another knock on the door of the room I had barricaded myself in. Immediately, the anger rose up, and I just couldn’t take it anymore. And, as I looked into the face of the man who had knocked on my door less than 25 hours before, I heard him speak in what seemed like slow motion. I heard him present the same facts I’d heard 45 minutes before, and he stopped me before I could retort. And he said, “Stephanie, I want you to tell me what you have to do. I want you to say it out loud.” And, my world crashed before me.

I want you to say it out loud…
I want YOU to say it OUT loud..
I replayed the words over, and over, and over in my head. But they weren’t in my voice, or even the officer’s, they were in J’s.
The response I had prayed for 25 hours for, was sitting there before me…not through J’s actual voice, but through words the exact words he had said to me years before when we miscarried, and the pain was just too much. So overbearing, that I just wanted to forget that it happened, to pretend that my world was perfect, and to erase the pain. But, he coaxed me into talking, deciding, and working through the pain….
And, reflecting back on that moment today, I can see where my view of love started to change. Where it changed from relying upon actions to demonstrate it, to feeling it within my own body. J couldn’t demonstrate it himself that night, but I know God placed the words I needed to hear into my life. And, in the early hours of June 15th, I got to perform the greatest act of love I could ever show J – I made the decision to let him go. And no, that act doesn’t make the world’s “top 10 best ways to demonstrate one’s love to a person.” It isn’t going to win a Valentine’s Day “romantic getaway.” Even though, in my book, it was the single greatest act of love I could have ever shown J.
And, in the hours that followed my decision to let him go, we waited for the doctor to come around to inform him of the decision. As we waited, I had an overwhelming feeling that J would in some way be able to reciplicate his love for me one more time before he left. He did…
J in his death, showed a love for me that I could never deny. J defied the medicines he was on, and he chose to die.
And in doing so, that final act, gave me peace that could never be described. The peace that the decision was his; no guilt on my own. No selfish thoughts of “hold on just a little longer.” Just pure love. I firmly believe that in those moments J made a choice out of love – despite what the doctors ensured me was impossible. And, maybe I just have to believe that because it makes my life bearable, if so, that’s fine.
J’s decision, although it means he’ll never get to “demonstrate” his love for me again, or give me a response when I demonstrate my love for him, was the greatest gift he could have ever given me. The past 7 months have been difficult enough, but the peace I’ve felt about the decisions made in those early morning hours, is priceless.
As I find myself “down” the past few days, a close friend asked me yesterday, “are you really okay…” and all of these thoughts I’ve just elaborated upon came spilling out. Word after word, and as I sat last night, unable to sleep, I thought about all of the words I typed through text message earlier in the day, and I realized the journey I’ve made. How the past few days, I just wanted a sign, a response, of J’s love. I wanted to feel his touch, hear his voice, so much that I prayed to dream about him. And, then it hit me. Nothing would ever demonstrate his love as much as his final action. The outcome of death was inevitable, yet, J chose the way that made it the easiest on us. My decision to let him go, and his decision to go, weren’t “demonstrations” of our love. They weren’t flowers, cards, hugs, “I love yous…” they were sacrifices.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

In the end, our decisions during those early morning hours, meant that we’d never be able to demonstrate our love to one another again in person, but it ensured a lifetime of peace in my mind. And, in those quiet moments, when I stop and let myself truly feel that peace, I know that I still feel his love as well. The greatest demonstration of love, is sacrifice. And there’s no greater example that God sending his own son, sacrificing him out of love for us – as flawed as we are.
In those moments of peace, J’s last gift to me, I feel “death ends a life, not a relationship.” And I just have to remind myself that those moments of peace are the best I can get, and honestly, maybe you think I’m crazy, but those are better than any dozen roses I ever received.

A few months ago I asked a friend of mine, Katherine, to write a blog on forgiveness.  Katherine is the creator of the blog Proverbs and Pacifiers (www.proverbsandpacifiers.com)    I asked her to write on a topic that frustrated me.  You see, if you were able to browse through all of my draft blog posts, you would notice a trend: forgiveness.  You might also notice that each of them were still in draft status.  I never could write exactly how I wanted to feel.  I wanted to write about forgiveness because it is something I am striving for, no matter how unrealistic and impossible it generally feels.  God used Katherine to deliver in a way that my heart needed at that moment.

As I made the trip last weekend to Officer Deckard’s funeral, I optimistically thought how much the trip was going to help me bring about more closure, as well as demonstrate support for a family who was forced to feel a hurt that no one should ever feel.  I attended visitation, the funeral, and instead of closure I felt a heavier heart.  I witnessed once more the outpouring of support, the beauty and honor that could only describe an officer’s funeral.  All around me was support and gratitude for our sacrifices; yet, in my heart, I felt burden and heaviness.  And it angered me because I should be feeling gratitude for the support and prayers.  Throughout the entire experience I kept feeling resentment towards the fact that God would allow our loved ones to be taken by such senseless actions.  And, all of the feelings I worked so hard to eradicate in the past months bombarded me.  I retreated, as I generally do when I feel overwhelmed, and I slept for over 14 hours in my hotel room.

Throughout the duration of the incredibly long waiting time in the airport, I found myself focusing on the “nevers” in my life.  The reality that my future is littered with “nevers.”  Never hugging him again, never hearing his laughter, never seeking his advice or affirmation, never knowing with absolute certainty  that I’m raising C the way J and I decided together we would, and never getting to watch him smile in pride as C grew into a man.  And the thoughts of never weighted me down.  Throughout my stay at the airport, and my flight home, I frequently found my thoughts gravitating towards forgiveness. In my mind, I was writing a letter to the person, whomever that may be, who is responsible for J’s death.  I was always writing the end of the letter,   and it always ended in statements such as, “the forgiveness I feel is for me.  It’s so I can move on, eradicating the anger and bitterness I feel.” And, I got angry with myself for even thinking about forgiveness.  Forgiveness has always come easy to me, yet, this time I couldn’t fathom how to begin. I knew I needed to, but I didn’t want to actually forgive.  To put it simply, in my mind forgiveness excused the actions, it smoothed it over, brushed it under the rug, and in a sense, it felt like dishonoring J’s memory.  And, almost in the same breath, I feel an urge to forgive, to understand that people make mistakes, and to live my life as happily as possible. There’s never a balance: never a day when I can just feel indifferent about forgiveness.  On the last flight home, I stared at the horizon, and once again the nevers overtook my mind. And I prayed that something in my heart would change, and that I could eventually be positive without a constant reminder and battle within my own heart.

Below you find the post Katherine wrote.  Thank you for your prayed over words Katherine.  I now pray that they touch others lives as much as they have my own.  I also pray that in some ways I can start the forgiveness process, however long it may take.

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“…as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Colossians 3:13

Forgive as you’ve been forgiven.

It sounds easy. In fact, many of us are probably guilty of making it seem a little too easy.

The Bible is clear that if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). He promises to remove our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (Ps 103:12). He forgets our sins and remember our iniquities no more (Is 43:25). He makes us white as snow (Is 1:18).

God then tells us to forgive others, just as we have been forgiven. Brothers, friends, enemies, no matter how many times they hurt us we are supposed to forgive…

…to let it go.

…to forget it.

…to move on.

…to wipe the slate clean.

We often paint a picture of forgiveness that’s all smiles and love and happiness. Someone apologizes, someone forgives, and then we walk off into the sunset holding hands. Now, this method might work when someone steals your pencil or cuts in line at the water fountain, but honestly, it feels painfully inadequate when it comes to the real struggles in life.

What about those times when we are cut to the core and our hearts are broken, when someone else’s actions, their words, their attitude, changes the course of our lives forever, when someone else’s sin robs us of joy and security and leaves us spinning out of control? Sometimes people apologize and sometimes they don’t, but in either case, the pain doesn’t just go away because the damage can’t always be undone.

It’s then that we learn the truth. Forgiveness is anything but neat and clean and easy.

The Cost of Our Forgiveness

The forgiveness and grace offered to us by God came at a great price. God sent his only Son to the cross of Calvary, to be beaten, mocked, and tortured. Jesus died a painful, messy, bloody death. But more than that, he allowed himself to feel the full weight of our sin and punishment. He who knew no sin became sin for us.

So we could be forgiven.

Let that sink in for a minute. The grace offered freely to us, was anything but free. It wasn’t easy. God didn’t wake up one morning and just decide to “let it go”. He didn’t just take a big magic eraser and pretend that none of it every happened.

Instead, God chose to sacrifice, to suffer and die, so that you and I could know what true love is all about. God paid a price that we will never be able to truly comprehend. The forgiveness we enjoy came at great cost to him.

So when God tells us to forgive others, it’s not a commandment he takes lightly. He knows what’s it like to be hurt by sin. The perfect people he created disobeyed him and turned their backs on him. And he knows what it’s like to forgive. He had the choice of throwing us all in hell, giving us exactly what we deserved with no hope for redemption, but instead he decided to sacrifice so that we could live in freedom and grace.

The Cost of Forgiving Others

When people hurt us our natural inclination is to be angry and bitter. We struggle with hatred and malice while our hearts cry for out for justice. Forgiveness is unnatural for our sin nature.

And choosing to walk in forgiveness is going to cost us, just like it cost Jesus. When we choose to to set aside our anger and bitterness, we are choosing a very difficult road.

Except we aren’t bearing the weight of other people’s sins. We are dealing with our own.

When you and I choose to forgive others we are humbly acknowledging that their life, their actions, their sin is no worse than our own. It’s a hard truth to stomach but we all deserve to bear the full weight of our disobedience. Not one of us is righteous. We are all bad people. (Romans 3:23)

In order for us to really forgive others, we first have to understand just how merciful God has been to us. And when our hearts are focused on the love God has given us, then we will be equipped to love and forgive others.

The love of God empowers us to daily die to ourselves. Die to our anger, our bitterness, and hatred. The Holy Spirit will slowly and often painfully cleanse us of our self-pity and our selfishness. As we daily turn our hearts toward God, we will learn to control our thoughts, to dwell on those things which are good rather than allowing ourselves to dwell on hurt and anger.

Becoming Like Christ

This is our sacrifice. We turn from our sin nature, die to ourselves, and let God daily make us more like him, full of love and forgiveness.

It’s far from easy, and it’s far from immediate.

The process of sanctification, becoming more like Christ, is a life long process that starts when we willingly confess that God’s way is better than our own. When we are hurting, it’s easy for us to focus on our pain and frustration. We cast blame on others and demand payment for their wrong doing.

But God’s way is better.

“And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.” Luke 23:33-34

At the height of his pain and sacrifice on the cross, Jesus looks upon the crowds of those who scorned him and prayed for them. He was hurting. He was heartbroken. And yet, he extended forgiveness.

My prayer for you today is that you know first hand the forgiveness that Jesus offered on the cross. I pray that you have been set free from sin and been made alive in Christ.

But I also pray that no matter where your heart is, no matter how deeply it’s been broken, that you understand the joy and peace that comes by forgiving others.

It is joy, not because it is easy, but because it is right.

It is peace, not because it is simple, but because it allows us to live free from the bondage of hatred and sin.

The truth is the deeper we’ve been hurt the harder it is to forgive, and the longer it takes for that joy and peace to make themselves at home in our hearts. However, we serve a God who understands our struggle. Jesus knows very well the pain and anguish we experience from other’s sin, and he also knows just how difficult forgiveness can be.

And he promises to give us the strength we need to walk daily in his footsteps. Forgiving others just as we have been forgiven.

“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:15-16

The Cost of Forgiveness