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.

 

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

Mercies in Disguise

To those of you who follow regularly, you know that I frequently discuss what I have to come to feel is my calling in life after J’s death, or maybe as a result of his death.  I don’t like how that last part sounds though; I don’t like having to lose him in order to attempt to touch lives.  In fact, when I woke up this morning, I’ll be honest, I didn’t even want this to be my calling.  I spoke with a good friend about sometimes praying that this wouldn’t be my calling, that I could have an easier one.  Maybe that seems selfish, but, I’m sharing it with you anyways, because like always, my pity party leads to a blessing. You see, my reason for not wanting this to be my calling is because I want one that only allows me to suffer, and not my sweet little boy. I feel like even though I shouldn’t have to endure this experience, he should have to even less.  And, truthfully, I’ve debate TIME and TIME again about starting this movement and putting myself and my emotions out there.  I debated about whether or not people would believe in this cause, whether they would back me, and whether or not I could really honor our family’s decision to walk the line and be a part of the good in the world.  And, really, for a long time I thought it would be easier to grieve if I didn’t make it so public.  The reality is, the exact opposite is true.

Today, as I was walking through a local craft fair, I began to reminisce about the last year I attended the same fair.

How J and I had watched C’s eyes light up as he witnessed Santa appear by helicopter, as he got to sit on his lap, and walk through the crowded aisles holding our hands and pointing out toys he wanted. I also distinctly remember him wanting a VERY pricey fire truck, and J having to carry a four year old out while he was kicking and screaming about said fire truck, while I got to stand in line and wait for our pictures.  As I watched J carry C out, I remember thinking how lucky I was to have such a wonderful husband who supported me in parenting our child.  And how C was blessed because he had a daddy who required a level of behavior from him that would eventually lead to C becoming a responsible adult, even though at the time C was not appreciative of said behavioral expectations.

As I absent mindedly walked through the aisle of the same fair this year, I couldn’t help but think about how much has changed in one year for us.  And, as I was deep in thought, another officer’s wife came and introduced herself to me.  And while I’m sure she has no idea how much her words meant to me, and how much of a reminder they were, I pray she is reading this tonight.

Just as she began to speak to me, I happened to catch a small phrase of a song that was being sung.  It’s called, “Blessings” by Laura Story.  Here’s the link:

As the officer’s wife was speaking to me, I heard “What if your blessings   come through raindrops? What if your healing comes through tears?” being sung.  And, at first, I really didn’t pay much attention to the song.  I was attempting to focus on our conversation.  As we spoke, she was telling me her own story, her own trials and tribulations, and her own blessings.  And, we talked about the strength it takes to overcome those trials.  Towards the end of the conversation, she told me through teary eyes, that “you have no idea how many people God is allowing you to bless through your loss.”  Honestly, I’m not sure what the rest of the conversation was about, and that isn’t because of lack of interest. It was because I’ve been told time and time again by therapists that the grieving process never ends, but it lessens when acceptance of the event and of your future without your husband finally happens.  I’m by no means proclaiming acceptance today, but before today, I didn’t even entertain that as option in my life.  How does one finally accept such a loss?  I simply thought that this was some “therapist invented word or stage” that was meant to make me feel better in the moment.  Yet, her words struck me, as the first stage of accepting.  We lost J- that will never change. He’ll never come back.  But what is left of my life, my future, that’s where the acceptance begins.  Accepting that we are still here, and because of his loss we can bless other people. I’m not there yet, but I feel like her words planted a small seed.  A much needed one at the time.

As I walked out of the fair, I felt a need to look up the song I had heard such a tiny portion of.  And then, as I read the words to the song. I sat in my car for a long while and simply cried.  While I won’t comment on all of the lyrics, I do want to discuss a few  – the few that provided the affirmation of what the officer’s wife said to me earlier.  It seems paradoxical that I could be blessing people through my own loss.  And, really, I’m not blessing anyone, God is.

“ What if Your blessings come through rain drops? What if Your healing comes through tears?  What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near? What if the trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?”

Maybe those words don’t speak to you, but I pray they do.  I’ve always said that my life could be worse, and believe me, God shows me that frequently by others that I am destined to meet.  A new friend whose son is in a group home because of a childhood illness that left him debilitated.  The anger, the guilt, the responsibility, the sense of failure as mother.  Sometimes, I think what seems like the absolute worst situation, could be worse.  Sometimes what seems like a punishment is actually an act of mercy from an all mighty God. Maybe J’s death isn’t the worst thing that could have possibly been handed to me?  And while that seems impossible to actually believe sometimes, I do feel that we have been spared from worse.

As I immediately downloaded the song, and placed it on repeat, I played it over and over again as I was going on about my errands.  And, each time I heard it, I felt weight being lifted.  No, I didn’t want this to be my calling. I want my husband and C’s daddy back. I didn’t ask for this suffering, but in this suffering, so many blessings have fallen as raindrops. Blessings in our lives and more importantly blessings in other’s lives.  While I’m far from acceptance, the idea seems plausible, if only plausible for brief moments.  I’ve spent what seem like a thousand sleepless nights, where I felt alone.  And, yet I always rise in the morning, and in the quiet moments before C wakes, when I sit and reflect on what I need to accomplish that day, and I pray for the strength to do it, I feel far from alone.  The sleepless nights turn into mornings where I’m reminded of His love for me and His presence near me.

“We pray for wisdom.  Your voice to hear.  We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near.  We doubt Your goodness.  We doubt your love.  As if every promise from Your words is not enough.  And all the while, You hear each desperate plea, and long that we’d have faith to just believe.”

Recently in doubting my calling, I’ve had my fair share of anger.  Mainly anger that C has to endure this.  That he has to suffer, and feel such a void in his life.  And often times in my prayers, I pray that he can just have a normal life.  That more suffering be on me.  And, still, though I pray, I’ve felt anger.  I’ve sometimes doubted the promises that we are given in His word.  And, I try to have the faith to just believe.  To just feel that in the end, this is somehow a blessing in disguise.  I often times tell people that, but believing it, is much different.  Yet, today, the songs the conversation with a fellow officer’s wife, both are proof that there is a greater plan.

A plan that brings honor to our sacrifice.  A plan that hopefully instills more good in the world.  A plan that allows others to change their lives.  A plan that brings honor and glory to our Maker.  The one who time after time after time, affirms for me when I doubt my calling.  The one who reassures me when I feel like I don’t have the strength to do this, or that no one really will believe in what we are doing.  The one who has given me wonderful friends and places on their hearts the exact thing I need to hear in the moment.  The one who allows me to hear today that through my loss I’m touching lives.  Through my strength that comes from Him, I’m receiving blessings through raindrops and passing them on to all of you.

I’m no where near accepting J’s death as a part of my life. I’m not where near accepting that unfortunately we have to suffer.  But today, I’m able to remember how truly awesome our Maker is.  I’m able to remember that even though our lives are almost unbearable at times, we are still comforted by His promises.  And that our faith is at its strongest when we are choosing to believe while kneeling on our knees. Choosing to believe when it seems impossible that we’ll make it through this.  Choosing to believe that even though the grief that comes with losing J won’t ever go away, in the end, eventually, I’ll be able to see its purpose.  That while its purpose may still be in disguise, eventually, it will be revealed to me. And, I can’t help but think that starting this blog, the 31 acts of kindness, each of you and your support are affirmation of that.

Today as I was on my knees and feeling like nothing else could be worse than my life in this moment, I was ever so “gently” reminded by a friend that having faith while on your knees is a choice.  And, it’s not a one-time choice.  It’s a choice we are forced to make frequently.  Tonight, I am thankful for the timing of our God.  For Him bringing the events of today together, and for Him giving me all of you as my support system.

“What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life, is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?  What if the trials of this life, the rain, the storms, the sleepless nights are Your mercies in disguise?”

Tonight I am thankful for serving a merciful Lord, who is my strength, comfort, and reminder of the greater days to come.  My reminder that even though my life is hard, He is sparing me from much worse.  And tonight dear friends, I’m able to see that and believe it, if only for a moment. Tonight I am thankful for a promise of a life beyond this one. A life I know in my heart J is enjoying, and that someday we will too.  Until then, I pray God keeps affirming to me through all of you, that I have a greater calling on this earth, and that hopefully our sacrifice can become a part of the greater good.

I pray whatever trials and tribulations that are present in your life today, you too can feel Him near.  And that if you find yourself on your knees, that you too make the choice to be faithful, and that you continue to make that choice to believe that sometimes blessings come through raindrops.