Refusing to Be a Victim

“It’ll get easier.”

“Eventually you’ll get accustomed to it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the answer was overwhelming….Nope!

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

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

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

c in the leaves with txt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erasing The Guilt…

Isaiah 57 1-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one seems to understand that

God is protecting them from the evil to come.

For those who follow godly paths

Will rest in peace when they die.”

Isaiah 57:1-2

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

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

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

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

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

And in the end, please know:

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

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

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

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

check presentation

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

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

crowd

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

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

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

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

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

austin and officers

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

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

An Attitude of Gratitude: In Everything Give Thanks

clouds and hay

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

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

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

Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 41:13

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

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

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

isaiah 41 13

The Greatest Gift J Ever Gave Me

images

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

Defining a defining year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The first picture I remember taking as a couple.

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

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

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

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Yep, he has his daddy's personality!

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

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