Happiness Can Be Found Even In the Darkest of Times…

happiness can be found even in the darkest of times

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

thin blue line wreath

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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.

Veterans- Personification of Sacrifice

Anything I write will pale in comparison to a veteran’s willingness to sacrifice. I’ll never be satisfied with the end result of this blog. It will never be enough to thank those who made my ability to write this blog a realistic freedom. But, a failure to write anything because I don’t feel it does justice to their level of sacrifice, just isn’t right. So, tonight it’s not about my family’s sacrifice. Tonight, it’s about those who paved the road and continue to clear it again and again, so that we all can continue to be free.

veterans day

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

                                                    -Thomas Jefferson

As a teacher, I’ve often used this quote.  I’ve utilized it in a variety of ways- to discuss hypocrisy, to lead a discussion on sacrifice, to establish a pre-reading conversation on the book, The Things They Carried, and many more ways.  It’s actually one of my favorite quotes.  Its simplicity speaks volumes.

And, as a high school teacher, I quite frequently discuss my students’ plans for the future.  Many of my students want to join the military.  And, sometimes they tell me, “people don’t understand my motives.  They tell me, ‘why would you want to intentionally put yourself in harm’s way?'” And often times, my students can’t verbally express their calling.  They can’t put into words why they feel they should enlist.  Some join because they feel it’s their only option.  Others join because they “need to grow up, and have a better life.”  And then, on a rare occasion, I have students who are enlisting for a far different reason.  In these students, you can see their calling in their eyes.  You can hear it in their voice.  And before we go farther, please understand that I am in no way saying one reason for enlistment is better or more noble than the others.  Anyone willing to enlist is in my definition the personification of sacrifice.

But today, I want to share with you a story of one of my AP students from last year.  A young man who has inspired me, and is wise beyond his years.  A young man who has had military running through his blood since I have known him.  A young man who understands the nature of a sacrifice on a level few people twice his age could. In fact, he hasn’t even been given the opportunity yet to sacrifice for his country, but I can assure you he gets the motive of sacrifice.  He told me that he was enlisting for his 17th birthday present to himself.  I hope that the conversation he and I had will inspire you to be so willing to sacrifice in your life – even if it’s on a much smaller level.

I’m going to quote his conversation verbatim, (please remember he is a high school student):

“I just don’t understand…everybody asks me why I want to [enlist in the Marines], and I can’t give them an [exact] answer.  It’s not a matter of what I want. It’s just something I feel like I have to do for myself.  I don’t want to sign a piece of paper knowing I could be signing my life away. And I don’t look forward to all of the sacrifices I’m going to have to make, but nothing pushes me away from it either.  If anything, it pulls me in more.  It makes me want to do it even more.  I honestly don’t understand how people can live with themselves without making sacrifices.  In my eyes sacrifice builds character. If I’m not willing to sacrifice what I have for something I believe in, then I am too caught up in material things and I’m being selfish. The people that others are losing their lives for are no different than you and I.  I would expect others to sacrifice what they have for me.  And it would be pretty hypocritical of me not to do the same for them.  If people would realize the sacrifices that others make for them and choose to make the sacrifices for someone else, the world would be so much different.  Now I know there’s no way that will ever happen, but that’s just the philosophy I live by.  I’m only one person, and I can only do so much, but if I can do just enough to inspire someone else to live their life that way, then I feel like I have done my job.”

What could I possibly add to that? In fact, anything else I have to say fails in comparison to his comments.  This young man, hasn’t even had a chance to become a veteran yet, but he, and each and every veteran, are the personification of sacrifice.

I loved his honesty with the statement, ” I don’t look forward to all of the sacrifices I’m going to have to make.”  That statement right there is why he and all of our veterans are the personification of sacrifice.  The mere definition of sacrifice implies giving up something of value to a person; it implies hardship or loss on the part of a person.  And often times it requires the same difficulty and loss on the people around the person choosing to sacrifice.  Yet, sacrifice is vital to the progress of our country.  The ability and willingness to sacrifice is what separates those who want to become a better person from those who are willing to remain stagnant.

Yet, despite the loss, the difficulty, and the hardships, our veterans and those who are enlisting today, choose to invest in our country and the well being of its citizens with each enlistement, service, or tour. Each requires sacrifice.  Their enlistment writes a check to this country that we can’t ever repay them for. Yet, they still are willing. Thank you, even though the words are small, my heartfelt feelings are much larger. Thank you to all of my friends, family, students, and those who enlist, and I’ll never know your name. Thank you for being the personification of sacrifice.

And so, I end with the thought, what would our city, our state, and idealistically our country be like if more people were willing to sacrifice, even on a much smaller level.  Willing to go without something, or to go out of their way for someone else?  My vision for The Pink Behind the Thin Blue Line is just that.  Random acts of kindness and organized ones as well, that require small sacrifices on our part, but leave the world in a better place.  While we can’t all be the personification of sacrifice that our veterans are, we can still leave an impact upon the world with our own small sacrifices.  To all who have served, a thank you isn’t enough, but please know that we hope to honor your sacrifices by being willing to sacrifice of our time, money, and resources to continue to invest in our country in our own way.

Look for more information on The Pink Behind the Thin Blue Line organization, its events, and the sacrifices we are currently planning.  For more information about upcoming events, please visit my Facebook page, The Pink Behind The Thin Blue Line.  If I were more tech savy, I could link it, and I’ll work on that for you.