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

“I am my brother’s keeper..”

“I am my brother’s keeper….”

Officers often live by this phrase; it permeates their everyday life. It circulates through their blood as a vital part of who they are. They have one another’s 6. It’s not just a phrase; it’s a way of life, and it’s part of their calling.

I first heard this phrase when Jason was a rookie. He told me that he wanted to get it tattooed on his arm. Honestly, as a rookie officer’s wife, I didn’t give the phrase much thought. I asked him what it meant, he explained, and I went on. When Jason signed on as an officer, there was no war on officers, and the phrase didn’t seem to have as much “reality” to it as it does in our lives today.

To the general public, it might mean to watch out for one another, to ensure a wife hears the sound of Velcro signaling the end to her husband’s shift. And, those are accurate surface level definitions. We don’t expect you to truly understand the sacrifices, mentality, love, and dedication, required to be your brother’s keeper. It’s a mentality few possess, but one from which the general population benefits. Having your brother’s back means the streets are safer, officers are more diligent, and more criminals are behind bars. The same fierceness that defends their brothers, also defends you.

The same fierceness and dedication never allows an officer to truly be “off duty.” It means that when you are in the line at the coffee shop, and an off duty officer is behind you, he still has your back. Officers don’t pick and choose who they defend; they don’t turn off protecting when they remove their vest. And being their brother’s keeper doesn’t cease when their brother falls in the line of duty.

Instead, as the surviving family of a fallen officer, the phrase means much more…

The phrase can’t accurately be defined, but instead is shown and felt….

In the moments when they stand beside you in line at your husband’s visitation, just to hold your water.

In the sweat pouring off their heads as they stand at attention in class A’s, enduring Arkansas’ mid-June heat, as they say their final goodbyes to their brother.

In the wall they form between you and your husband’s killer when he stands across from you in the hallway, as the jury deliberates his guilt.

In the look they have in their eyes when they see you in the store: one of sadness, admiration at your strength, pride to be his brother, and bewilderment as to what to possibly say to take an ounce of your hurt away.

In their silence as you tell them thank you: forced silence because there are no words to describe how they truly feel.

In the wall of officers they form outside his hospital room: signs of support, love, and solidarity.

In the hand they give you to hold, as you stand in the park at midnight because you simply can’t believe it’s already been a year.

In the random phone calls, texts, and messages to just check in to make sure Jason’s “mini-me” is doing okay.

And, in moments like today, when they research, sacrifice, and deliver Jason’s prized AR-15 back to his son…

 Jason's AR coming home

Many of you have come to know our story through my blogs; however, some of you may not know we were not originally from Texarkana. We had only lived there a year when Jason was killed. You also may not know the struggle and sacrifices made in order for us to move to Texarkana. C was frequently sick when he was younger, and the medical debt was difficult to manage on an officer and teacher budget. We viewed the move to Texarkana as a fresh start for our family, and we wanted to move as debt free as possible.

In order to make this dream possible, Jason sold many of his guns. Thankfully, he sold them to friends and brothers because most of them have been returned to us. As C ages, he wants to know more and more about Jason. He knows he’s a hero, but he wants to know Jason’s personality. About a week ago, one of Jason’s dear friends, and now one of my friends as well, told me he had tracked down Jason’s AR-15, and that HE wanted to pay for it to return back to C. I’ll refer to him as “D” in my blog, out of respect for his privacy.

I was overwhelmed with happiness, and once again amazed at the lengths to which his brothers will go to ensure they have his back. Jason had sold the gun to his brother G, and now the two of them were working together to bring Jason’s gun back home. The night he told me, I sat and recalled the day Jason bought the gun. I was angry. We didn’t have the money, and now we owned a gun we had “no use for,” in my mind. It’s funny how grief taints our memories and alters our perspective of events. I remember being so angry at him, but as I sat and reflected, my mind kept returning to Jason’s willingness to sacrifice his gun in order for us have a better life.

Today, as I watched C’s eyes light up when the officers explained the history of the gun, I saw Jason all over again in those eyes. C had the same look of admiration, appreciation, and awe at the gun. He had very few words, as is normal for him, but his look said it all. I watched the officers as his eyes light up, as their sacrificial nature radiated from their eyes. The same officers who defend our streets with the brutality that is sometimes necessary to do so, were gentle in their explanations, honorable in their efforts to remember their brother, and truly their brother’s keeper by watching over his son.

Jason's AR coming home 3

It is my hope that C has the same willingness to sacrifice and defend running through his blood. As much as I truly believe our sacrifice was unfair, it our willingness to do so which ensures chaos is kept at bay. As much as our sacrifice angers me, it also empowers me to know that others would do the exact same for our family. As much “wrong as there is in society,” there is still so much good. Today, in my living room, in the eyes of my family as they watched two officers honor their brother, and as they watch C’s eyes fill with happiness, we were reminded of the good.

If we do nothing else as a family, we want C to truly understand what it means to be your brother’s keeper: to defend others with a fierce protection, and to always honor those who gave their lives ensuring ours could continue.

To Jason’s brothers, still 2 and a half years later, we feel your love, your support, and your protection, and we are incredibly grateful. We will walk beside you as we continue to be examples of the good in the world. We have your back, and it is our honor to help protect and defend YOU!

 

Re-opened Wounds…

broken heart

I’ve prayed for this time to hurry up and get here.  The time in which I could finally start to “heal,” and my life could somewhat return to “normal.” I’ve attended numerous pre-trials, to the point, for lack of a better description, the courtroom almost seems like a “normal” aspect of my life. Yet, the closer I come to Tuesday, the more terrified I become.

I’ve spent the past week worrying about how in the world I was going to survive days of sitting and listening to HOURS of testimony, pieces of evidence, and arguments from both sides.  After Jason’s death, I was able to escape for a moment if needed. I could change the topic, walk out of the room, or simply “zone out” into my own thoughts and feelings.  However, 9 months later, as I prepare to walk into a courtroom where I will be bombarded for hours a day with information about Jason’s death.  I simply can’t say that I am ever going to be ready for that.  Who could ever be?  How can I prepare myself for the evidence we will see, the testimony we will hear, the act of witnessing Jason’s family and friends have their wounds re-opened and all of their emotions exposed all over again.

In the last 9 months, I’ve worked very hard to “heal” those wounds as best as possible. Although, rationally I know there will be no time in which they are completely healed.  There will always be tender spots, or small cuts that never heal.  The wounds that do close, are scared over and jagged.  They aren’t small perfect little incisions.  I envision my body, my heart, to be covered with wounds of all sizes- small little jagged ones from each time my heart jumps when I unexpectedly see a picture of him, huge ones that with raw spots all in them from every night when I hear, “I miss my daddy,” or “daddy used to play with me like this…you’re doing it wrong.”  I know my body will always metaphorically be covered in wounds. And the more I’ve prayed for this day to get here, the more I thought with certainty I’d be ready- that the wounds would be healed enough where I could handle the trial. My thought process was that once some of the wounds have healed a little, and they aren’t quite so open and exposed, that maybe it would be easier.

Let me tell you, I was wrong. Actually, it’s tremendously worse to have these wounds ripped back open, and the worst part is each time it’s unexpected.  I had psyched myself up to believe that I could somehow make it through trial without re-opening wounds.  I guess, maybe it was my way of coping until I could no longer ignore the facts any longer, and I had to face the realization that trial will tear open all those wounds, and expose my emotions, feelings, and darkest thoughts in ways that I could never prepare for.  For those of you who know me well, you know I can’t stand to spill my emotions everywhere- yet, there’s no escaping from it occurring in trial.  And, at the start of this week, I was beyond angry that here we all were once again, wounds exposed, desperately missing our: husband, son, daddy, brother, uncle, brother in blue.  And as my thoughts continued to sink further down into the deep abyss of negativity trial has brought upon my thought process, something remarkable was happening outside of the “deep dark abyss.”

Every tear shed, or ill-spoken word that tumbles out of my mouth before I can remind myself the true source of my anger, are exemplifications of more wounds opened, and more raw emotions being exposed.  And, it’s come to a point where I simply feel that there really isn’t a place on my body: both inside and out, that isn’t covered in a wound from Jason’s death.  Yet, as I was sinking into my dark abyss, God was trying to open my eyes to the love that surrounds me: supports me, and lifts me up even when I have no idea it’s really being done.  For each wound that has been re-opened in the past few weeks, God has placed a blessing, both small and large, in my life.  And, as I began to open my eyes more to each blessing, the more I realized how God was choosing to answer my prayers.  I had prayed for the strength to handle this trial with dignity and grace, and the ability to walk out feeling we had completed everything possible to ensure justice was served. I guess I wasn’t sure how I expected God to provide me the amount of strength I needed, but if you asked me to envision it and describe how I felt God would answer my prayers, I could never in a million years come close to describing to you all of the blessings of the past few weeks.

I will not be able to cover each of them, but I’d like to list some of these blessings for you.  In hopes that maybe they will prompt you to look for your own blessings, and that they will serve as reminders when I am re-reading blogs next week as I reflect on the last 9 months of my life.

  1. Pink Behind The Thin Blue Line was okayed from Officers Down 5K Foundation to host the first ever Texas Officers Down 5K.  And not only that, we met with the city officials, and they are beyond excited.  The amount of recognition this event will bring to fallen officers and their family’s sacrifice still humbles me and brings tears to my eyes.  Within a matter of 2 days, our event was shared on MAJOR law enforcement organizations who service the entire state of Texas.  Each share, like, comment, and click that said “I’m going to this event,” broadened my smile, and helped me focus on a blessing for a moment instead of another wound that had just been opened.  We are so blessed to have Pink Behind The Thin Blue Line grow so quickly, and to receive such support in a short amount of time.  I asked God for affirmations a while back that this organization was my calling, and let me tell you, He hasn’t let me down yet.  Affirmation, after affirmation.
  2. As we continued through the week, more and more businesses volunteered to somehow help raise money for the scholarship fund.  This fund is a vital key to my goal of bettering our community.  It’s an investment in the lives of future peace officers, parole officers, crime scene investigators etc.  Which each investment we make, we are slowly instilling in these young people a belief that their community backs them, and hopefully when the time comes, these students will chose to start their careers here. Then they will raise families, and create an established career.  Those veteran officers will then become the training officers for our rookies.  And the cycle of community pride and service will continue.  And with each business who offered to support, I began to believe again that there was a greater purpose to be served through Jason’s death.  I begin to be reminded that the justice we pray will be served won’t be the “end” of remembering Jason and other fallen officers. Instead, it will be the beginning.  And I have been blessed with the means to ensure that this is just the beginning.
  3. I ended this week with the first ever fundraiser Pink Behind The Thin Blue Line held for the scholarship fund.  We had a pancake breakfast this morning, and I walked around to as many tables as possible, thanking them for their support.  My goal was to remind them how they were all blessings in my life, and all examples of affirmation of my calling.  As I talked to each person, I heard story after story about how Pink Behind The Thin Blue Line, or an officer, me, or one of my ladies had somehow touched their lives.  I heard how what WE are doing is exactly what our community needs.  And, while I was walking around today, speaking to people, I can tell you for the first time in a while it seemed like those wounds were gone- if only for a few hours.  In those few hours, I was surrounded by a tremendous group of ladies who would do anything in the world to help me remember Jason and other fallen officers.  I was lifted up by community members who took time out of their days to come by and remind me of their support.  And even better, we raised over 1,200 dollars for the scholarship fund today. And while when I left the wounds came back, I’m armed with more blessings to combat them.
  4. There are almost 50 new likes today alone for the Facebook page: The Pink Behind The Thin Blue Line, and I can’t even begin to describe the love I feel when I see pink behind the thin blue line as so many people’s profile pictures.  I can tell you that my ladies in my group have surrounded me, lifted me up, and shared my story with so many already. I look forward to ending each stressful day at trial with scrolling through the Pink Behind The Thin Blue Line Facebook page and seeing all of my supporters wearing their ribbons!  I am still in awe at the love I feel.  I know so many of you can’t be there in person, but I assure you, God is allowing me to feel your love and your prayers!  Jason’s memory is alive and EACH of you are honoring it as we walk this line to justice!

I know these don’t even begin to describe all the blessings from just the past week, but I want you to know I couldn’t have asked for my prayers to be answered in a more perfect way. For 9 months I have walked through a daily storm, and each day this week, something happened, and for just a moment or for a few hours, it felt like I was in the calm.  After 9 months of walking though a storm, the breaks were beyond needed.

I know the weeks of the trial ahead are the hardest parts of Jason’s death I will probably have to endure. They will require more strength, faith, and grace than even the act of burying him did- but I serve a God who has placed so many people and blessings in my life that there is no doubt in my mind that even though I will be walking through the tornado in my storm, I will be surrounded and uplifted by thousands who are praying for me.  And, when I walk into the courtroom on Tuesday morning, I will have the most amazing friends and family who have dropped their entire lives to sit through those hours of agony with me.  And, they will have their lives forever changed, but they aren’t even blinking an eye, because they love me that much! And it is through them, and all of you that Jason’s memory will be alive and well during this trial!  And while we are in trial, all of you will be praying, and hoping, and supporting me in ways I might never know about, but I promise you I will feel.  Your support provides me strength.

As we enter trial week, I ask that you go and like the Facebook page: The Pink Behind The Thin Blue Line, and that you copy why we have changed our profile pictures, and that you will do the same.  I pray that you will help us spread the love and support for all fallen officer’s families.  And know, even though I won’t be able to post, my gratitude for each picture changed, prayer said, or messaged sent will never be expressible to you, but it’s appreciated beyond measure.  Thank you all for believing in Jason’s memory enough to support our cause, and for supporting me throughout the weeks of trial.

https://www.facebook.com/thepinkbehindthethinblueline?bookmark_t=page

Thank you all for loving my scared body: but know that you are a large part of the reason the wounds are slowly healing!

pbttbl logo with words

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.”

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

Learning to live again: A Mid-flight Revelation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are living!

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