Forgiving the Unforgivable

How does a person forgive the unforgiveable? Almost four years ago, my Phil was assassinated in the very worst way possible by someone he liked and trusted. He did not die when the first shots hit …

Source: Forgiving the Unforgivable

Two are Better Than One:  The Road That Led Me Home to Stan

Love after traumatic loss is a gift—a gift that often begins before the death of a spouse and comes in unexpected manners.  There is no timeline on grief, nor is there a  limited capacity of the he…

Source: Two are Better Than One:  The Road That Led Me Home to Stan

Two are Better Than One:  The Road That Led Me Home to Stan

Love after traumatic loss is a gift—a gift that often begins before the death of a spouse and comes in unexpected manners.  There is no timeline on grief, nor is there a  limited capacity of the heart to fully love another again.  One feeling does not negate the other.  I will always love Phil, but it isn’t an either or thing.  I love Stan with everything in me—the me that came from being loved well for 23.5 years.  The me that emerged from the ashes.  Stan loves me for the girl I have grown into because I had no other choice, and he shares and lives the same faith that is central to who I am.  That faith is my rock and where the story starts.

My story with Stan began in the last face to face conversation I had with Phil.  I wanted nothing to do with the what if conversation because Phil had been in the military 26 years.  We had never talked about the what ifs until his last deployment.  Because he was going over in the role of an officer training military members, it felt safe.  It was supposed to be safe;  it was supposed to be a year -long interruption of our life together.  I made jokes about Raul the pool boy because I did not want to consider living without Phil.  I made jokes because I thought it was stupid to be wasting our last few minutes together talking about something that wasn’t going to happen.  We all know how this deployment played out, but the biggest gift Phil gave me was this simple statement—“Linda, stop it.  If you died first, would you want me to be happy again?”  Well, yes, yes, I would.  He gathered me in his arms, kissed me, and said, “I  love you so much that I want that for you.  Your heart is big and would be able to love someone in a different way than you love me.”  I never forgot that conversation and thought about it often both before and after he was killed.  Equal but different….

God’s promise was the second thing that has brought me to Stan.  This one is still hard for me to talk about, but I have written about.  It scared me and it came from the absolute worst day of my life.  The worst day of my life was not hearing that Phil had been killed—it came about six weeks later when the pictures of my husband’s very broken body came in the mail.  I broke.  I went to my bed and wrapped myself in all of the blankets.  As I lay weeping and with every bit of hope gone, I wondered why my Phil and why not me.  I cried out to God begging for death and for release from the shattered shards of my heart.  A jolt zapped me and I felt and saw a light everywhere inside and outside of me.  I saw myself standing in front of a minister with a man who was clearly not my Phil.  I couldn’t see his face, but I felt our love and our joy.  The man clearly adored me.  I denied it and cried harder.  “No, God.  Please no. “  I didn’t want to consider another person then or for a long time.  As I wept harder, the jolt came again.  The jolt and the vision was stronger than before.  It terrified me.  I jumped out of bed and tripped on the covers.  As I lay on the floor weeping, I looked up.  Through my bedroom window, I saw the first complete double rainbow I had ever seen.  I knew then that God was promising me something.  I just didn’t want to consider it.

It took me a long time to date.  I went on a date here or there in the past year,  but nothing felt right.  Something was always off in the person.  They weren’t bad people, but they were not someone I saw myself with in terms of marriage.  There was always a sense of something missing.  The missing piece was always the understanding of the faith that compels me to be the woman that I am.  That faith has defined me and carried me since I was 6, but never more than at the moment of Phil’s death and in the journey that followed.  This is not the life I imagined for me and my speaking and writing emerged from the fire of the Holy Spirit calling the least able, least willing, least prepared, and least ready to be the girl that stands before you.  I am a hider.  This is not natural for me, and yet, this is what I have been called to do since the start.  In the past, the few dates I had, they couldn’t understand.  I don’t understand.  I just obey.  In that obedience, I took the only job that felt right to me this summer.  That job was in Missouri—Misery.

I got offered many jobs this past summer, but none of them felt right.  I got offered jobs in the states that I felt called to go to—WA and CO, and the job that brought me to MO wasn’t even the job I loved, but when I was offered the job in MO, everything clicked.  My heart quieted.  I knew that I was being called to a state I never saw myself living in.  I bought a house without seeing it by letting my brother pick it.  I just came.

The next part of God’s humor in our journey is something that started when I saw my daughter more than a year ago.  She had encouraged me to try online dating.  I wanted none of that because I felt like people grocery shop for looks and that people were looking only for hook ups.  I was afraid of the psychos.  I signed up with her encouragement and then did nothing with it (nothing for the entire more than a year) until I was offered the job.  I went online to see if there was someone about my age to get information from, but I did not want to date the psychos.  I found Stan who was just starting his dating journey.  So there we were, two jaded people.  I wrote to him about this new area I was moving to and told him all of the reasons I wasn’t datable.  We became friends.  I looked forward to having a good guy friend in my new area.

We went to dinner the first night I was here.  I liked him, but I still considered him a vanilla friend.  It wasn’t until he agreed to spend hours in the car with my brother and his family going to Branson that I began to look at him in a different light.  As my brother probed him about his faith and about his life, I recognized a kindred spirit.  I recognized that we had potential.

Still, it took us seeing one another almost every day to recognize that what we share is truly the Ecc 4:9-12 love.  That verse says that two are better than one for if one falls down the other is there to pick him up.  That verse recognizes that a person cannot keep warm alone and that shared faith is the tie that binds a lasting love.  I felt this only once before and I eloped after knowing Phil for 7 months.  When I was making jokes about Raul the pool boy, I told Phil he would have to shove someone into my arms for me to recognize love again—that he would have to make it abundantly clear.  Well….God has the greatest sense of humor because here we stand as two people leery of online dating, leery of relationships and intentions, leery of marriage.  We share our faith and we share loyalty and commitment to not only each other, but to God.  We share a love for our children and for the people in our lives. Stan understands and is proud of what I do and why I do it and he is there for me whenever I need him.  There is no wavering, no doubts.

While we are figuring out how we can marry and when we can marry due to benefits and retirement, all we know is that we want to spend our days building a life together.  We want to grandparent together and travel together.  We want to honor God and be the people we are being called to be.  I recognize what is in front of me because of where this journey started—well before I met my Stan.  My heart echoes and is full because I have been doubly blessed in my life.

As Job says to God, until now, I had only heard of your blessings, but now my eyes see you (42:5).  Now—you have the rest of the story.

That’s What Faith Can Do

It is easy to claim faith when everything is going well. When the hits start coming or when a major body slam occurs, it isn’t so easy to believe that a loving God would allow bad things to h…

Source: That’s What Faith Can Do

That’s What Faith Can Do

It is easy to claim faith when everything is going well. When the hits start coming or when a major body slam occurs, it isn’t so easy to believe that a loving God would allow bad things to happen to good people of faith. It is hard to believe that prayer warriors can have unthinkably terrible things happen to them or to people close to them. Isn’t prayer and faith supposed to insulate a person against trauma, tragedy, unfairness, or evil? Isn’t faith supposed to mean that the believer has somehow won the lottery in terms of immunity against failure, tears, or loss? While the Bible relates story after story of loss, betrayal, and unfairness, I thought that if I prayed hard enough or believed well enough, my life would be blessed. While I had setbacks and hard moments before Phil was assassinated, nothing—nothing-prepared me for that moment of devastation or loss.

I prayed daily for my Phil just as other family members and friends stood in stead for him. Phil prayed for his own safety. Nobody wanted to come home more than he did. In fact, he refused to drive across the compound because it took him outside of the wire. He walked instead and told me time and time again that he would hide or run or—whatever—to avoid the unthinkable. He had me convinced that it was just a one year inconvenience before we started living and planning of next page of our chapter. He had me convinced that Air Force officers are far removed from danger. I believed him to the point that the prayer almost seemed like an afterthought because surely Air Force professors do not get assassinated. Surely working as a trainer or an advisor with higher ranking Afghans meant that he was far removed from considering the cost of wearing a uniform. I lived in a quiet smug knowledge of thinking that the Air Force was the country club branch of service. I convinced myself, others, and my children that being an Air Force officer was the safe, easy way to get an education, see the world, and to give service back to one’s country. I never once thought of the what if. On 27 April 2011, the what ifs and the word assassination and betrayal became a living reality for me.
There I stood in shocked disbelief hearing words I had watched a thousand times in movies. As the walls crowded in on me and my heart clenched in an iron fisted vice, I dropped to my knees keening. One thought crossed my mind. How could I claim to have faith if in my darkest hour I turned from the faith I claimed. I chose to trust, to believe, and to fall into that faith that I had claimed for as long as I could remember. I didn’t understand why my Phil; I still don’t understand. I chose to believe that in the wasteland of devastation something good could come from the shards of my heart, the ashes of my life, and the loss of every dream and hope I had for my future. The funny thing is that I remember bits and pieces of that moment, but I have never wavered on that nano-second decision.

I truly believe that I was called to make a choice and that choice has made every bit of difference. I don’t understand, but I have been able survive and then thrive. Initially, it was breathing through the pain. Everything hurt. I woke up crying, couldn’t keep food down, my bones hurt, and I was lost on every front. Many times I could not even pray, but God met me through music and through people. I survived knowing that he was going to work through the ashes. As I made simple choices that felt right to me, the way forward has unfolded. The way forward has given me a voice and a purpose by allowing me to honor and remember the past. The way forward has given me an opportunity to utilize the talents, interests, and prayers of my youth. It wasn’t supposed to unfold this way, but I prayed that God would make me the woman he was calling me to be for five years. I knew I was being called to be more that the woman of faith the way I was living.

As simple as it sounds, the choices I felt like were non-choices, became the pathway forward. After the choice to fall into my faith, the second biggest choice was in agreeing to talk to the media to get them off of my children. This quiet and shy girl (at least I was) watched as the media glommed on to my family. Phil had a huge story and the five stair stepped children, four of whom wear a military uniform, meant that nobody was allowed to grieve like a child. They grieved like the military officers they are. One felt like he had less merit because he didn’t wear the uniform. I felt like the wrong person died, yet I spoke so that my children had a choice. I spoke so that my students (his students because he substituted), his cadets, our community could find footing in the worst storm. Imagine a community that is mostly military and a school where every student has been touched by one person. Imagine a community where a family is involved in so many things that it was personal to us all. I knew that if I spoke to the media and if I could speak at the funeral without falling apart, that it would help with the healing. I stand by that choice and in that choice to dig deep during that moment, I found a way forward.

I chose to lace up my running shoes because in the whispered prayers of my feet, I found footing. I was able to quiet the raging seas. peace did not happen overnight or for a long while, but I was able to work thorough the anger and chaos. I was able to find a way to forgive the assassin and Phil’s parents. I was able to recognize that by clutching the anger or wanting what I could not have wasn’t going to bring Phil back. It only took real estate in my heart. That real estate kept me from the happy memories or from fully living. It is still a process because some days, I just don’t have it in me to forgive. It is only in the miles run that I can move past these moments to a full life.

I chose to return to work five days after the funeral. I didn’t have to, but it allowed me 9 hours a day of normalcy where I wasn’t rock bottom. Even as others walked on egg shells or said the wrong things, I was able to find a small rafter to cling to. I wasn’t “that girl”. I was a teacher and the students needed me. I was Mrs. A. Nothing else. I was mom. Nothing else. I was a runner girl. Nothing else. It was safe and it was what I knew.

I chose to write because I didn’t have the words to speak. I could relay my thoughts and purge myself of the roiling raging sea by writing. That writing became a book and it has opened doors for me for work, running, and friendships. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. I was supposed to write a children’s book about Bailey, the naughty dog or Prince Bugle, the naughty sassy bunny. I just knew I needed to write and when the speaking chances came up, I spoke not for me but for those coming after me. I began to heal.

Like a broken bone, my heart has knitted back together. I am stronger than the girl I once was and my faith is what I stand on. Like a broken bone, though, there are times I hurt and ache. Sure, I still wonder why and I still can hurt sometimes, but my faith has changed. I realized two things: evil exists on earth because people have free will and the whole story isn’t what happens in our temporal lives. It is what happens next. Phil’s assassin had a choice. I have a choice. I can let evil destroy my faith and hope, or I can choose to see what lies ahead. I can choose to remember and be thankful for the 23.5 years I had with Phil instead of looking at what I do not have. I can choose to see that while the physical connection is gone, the spiritual connection lives on. I can choose to look at God not as Santa Claus, but I can live with the promise of Romans 8:28 about all things working together for the good of those who believe. I do believe. I see it. I know it.

It Wasn’t About Politics

People have repeatedly pushed me to express my political views or to tell me that I shouldn’t go to the Mother’s Day Tea (Obama’s) or to Inaugural Parade (Trump) because of their own views. To me? It doesn’t matter who is in a position of power, I go to honor and to remember a man who chose our country at the age of 18. I go to honor the man who chose the United States over France and Venezuela because he recognized the freedoms and opportunities given to him with his American citizenship.

 

At the age of 12, Phil came to our country knowing two words of English: sumateamus for sometimes and ewsa for USA. As he approached high school graduation, he realized that he was going to have to return to Venezuela and then to France to serve in their militaries because at the time both had mandatory military service. He had witnessed first-hand what happens if a country does not operate under a true democracy. In Venezuela, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and if a person disagrees with the political party, opportunities dry up. His 90 year old father still has to work and cannot leave Venezuela without giving up all of his assets. Phil wanted the American dream. He wanted the freedoms I had taken for granted since birth.

 

He joined the military and was granted citizenship at 18. Phil spent 16 years enlisted; 10 as an officer. He planned to stay in until the Air Force made him retire because he loved it that much. While Phil never had recruiting duty, everywhere we went, he spoke to young people about the many benefits of military service. He woke our five children up with Jodies and military cadence chants. He reminded our children that as Americans they should be willing to give back through military service or service to others? Is there any wonder why we have four of five of our children serving?

 

Phil volunteered to go to Afghanistan five days after finishing his PhD because he believed in two things. He believed he needed to set the example for the cadets and his own children that service included commitment and sacrifice. He volunteered because he believed that through education and empathy nations could change. Ultimately, the biggest betrayal came when someone he liked and trusted (should have been able to like and trust) assassinated him. I recognize that Phil’s story is bigger than life because of his choices and his death. It is for that commitment, devotion, loyalty, and love of country that I go to events at the White House.

 

I go to pay homage to those who like Phil, give everything defending those rights for the rest of us. The Inaugural Parade was a chance for me to celebrate my country, my life, and the life of my Phil. To walk the streets of Washington DC with my daughter in law who chose our country also, to see our new President, and to stand united as a nation is what it was about for me. My voice is love and devotion to my flag and my citizenship. My voice is for Phil who is the ideal that our country was founded on. I am the flag.

People have repeatedly pushed me to express my political views or to tell me that I shouldn’t go to the Mother’s Day Tea (Obama’s) or to Inaugural Parade (Trump) because of their own views. To me? It doesn’t matter who is in a position of power, I go to honor and to remember a man who chose our country at the age of 18. I go to honor the man who chose the United States over France and Venezuela because he recognized the freedoms and opportunities given to him with his American citizenship.

 

At the age of 12, Phil came to our country knowing two words of English: sumateamus for sometimes and ewsa for USA. As he approached high school graduation, he realized that he was going to have to return to Venezuela and then to France to serve in their militaries because at the time both had mandatory military service. He had witnessed first-hand what happens if a country does not operate under a true democracy. In Venezuela, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and if a person disagrees with the political party, opportunities dry up. His 90 year old father still has to work and cannot leave Venezuela without giving up all of his assets. Phil wanted the American dream. He wanted the freedoms I had taken for granted since birth.

 

He joined the military and was granted citizenship at 18. Phil spent 16 years enlisted; 10 as an officer. He planned to stay in until the Air Force made him retire because he loved it that much. While Phil never had recruiting duty, everywhere we went, he spoke to young people about the many benefits of military service. He woke our five children up with Jodies and military cadence chants. He reminded our children that as Americans they should be willing to give back through military service or service to others? Is there any wonder why we have four of five of our children serving?

 

Phil volunteered to go to Afghanistan five days after finishing his PhD because he believed in two things. He believed he needed to set the example for the cadets and his own children that service included commitment and sacrifice. He volunteered because he believed that through education and empathy nations could change. Ultimately, the biggest betrayal came when someone he liked and trusted (should have been able to like and trust) assassinated him. I recognize that Phil’s story is bigger than life because of his choices and his death. It is for that commitment, devotion, loyalty, and love of country that I go to events at the White House.

 

I go to pay homage to those who like Phil, give everything defending those rights for the rest of us. The Inaugural Parade was a chance for me to celebrate my country, my life, and the life of my Phil. To walk the streets of Washington DC with my daughter in law who chose our country also, to see our new President, and to stand united as a nation is what it was about for me. My voice is love and devotion to my flag and my citizenship. My voice is for Phil who is the ideal that our country was founded on. I am the flag.

Character Unfolding

I have been broken in life. I didn’t see my body slam coming and I would have wagered every penny with confidence I was never going to know a word like assassination. I didn’t even know…

Source: Character Unfolding

Character Unfolding

I have been broken in life. I didn’t see my body slam coming and I would have wagered every penny with confidence I was never going to know a word like assassination. I didn’t even know what I was when Phil was killed. I called myself a widower until an older lady gently corrected me. While my devastation came from no where, people have all had body slams. While mine looks different from another’s, we have all been brought to our knees by something. In those darkest moments and hours, character is revealed. Quite simply, there is no hiding and if the preparation isn’t done before, it makes it much harder to stand. My character has been revealed to the world by the knee jerk reactions from the start.

My journey has been public from moment one. The media knowing before I did, meant that the world had a front row seat to the devastation and implosion of my life as I knew it, however they missed a key component. As the total body slam hit, I fell to my knees keening. In that moment…truly in the moment where no other thoughts existed, one thought crossed my mind. How could I claim to have faith if in my darkest hour, I turned from that faith. I chose to fall into my faith and to trust in the God I had believed from early childhood. I chose to turn to my faith when details too brutal to reveal to others came to light. I never was angry at God, rather I asked simply to be given enough to make it through pain that seemed too much to bear. I asked for enough to find a way to survive and to find a life without my Phil so that my life wasn’t over the moment Phil’s last breath was taken. I didn’t have the skills and I had no practice at living as a young widow or alone without my Phil.

I did not want to merely survive, I wanted to find a manner to thrive and to live my faith. The second key was when I decided to trust myself. Those of you that have followed my journey know how hard this has been for me. I was afraid of everything, but I persevered. At times, I dropped to my knees and wept. At times I stood terrified and paralyzed and yet I acted. The girl too afraid to enter the teacher lounge midway through a lunch hour, chose to speak to the media from the beginning. It wasn’t conscious, but I recognized that if I spoke to the media, I could set the boundaries. I could decide the time and questions answered. I could get the prying reporters off of my children and I could live my faith and my hope of life beyond this life, by allowing people that knew my Phil to watch me trying to walk by faith and grace. It wasn’t always easy, but I am proud of the way I stood up in the storm and allowed myself to be carried by the tumultuous waters.
One of the hardest facets of learning to thrive was choosing to forgive. How does one forgive the unspeakable? I could have lost every personal item I owned. I could have lost my own health, but to lose my dreams of the future and to realize that Phil’s death was not as simple or as painless as the military wanted me to believe, meant that I struggled….a lot. Choosing to forgive came first from shifting my paradigms and instead of being angry and said over being cheated out of the future I wanted with Phil, I started being thankful for the 23.5 years I did have with Phil. The latter part of forgiveness is a process. Somedays I am better at forgiving than others. Somedays I am angry and resentful. Somedays I yearn for more, but I recognized something nearly four years ago. When I live in the realm of angry, sadness, resentment, to wanting to exact revenge, then the assassin won. He owns my heart. I do not want to give him real estate there. I truly want to live fully. I want what Phil would have wanted for me.
Emerging from the ashes has come from the slow process forward. It started with learning to identify the things in my life that I had to be grateful for and then setting small goals. Nothing was easy initially, but those goals allowed me to chart my course and to get back on course when I fell down. I found my footing with speaking and writing. Yes, I tell my story, but I do research in positive trauma growth and I am able to articulate ways the military needs to change. More than that, I have found that by charting my course, I can help families coming after me and that I can use my story to provide changes in the military world. I have truly faced every fear and insecurity I had in the past to stand up and relive the devastation of my life.

When I look in the mirror now, I see a girl living dreams she never knew she had. I have traveled to so many places and been able to do so many things I never thought I would be able to do in my life. I have been to China, lived in Europe, run all over the world, written a book, been on television, radio, and spoke to thousands. I always say that God can equip the least able, the least willing, and the least capable. I know this to be a fact because he equipped me. More than the places I have gone, the things I have been able to do, however, I have learned to live my values. Although I stumble at times, I look for ways to invest in the people in my life. I am an active participant in my life. I no longer wait to tell people how I feel about them. I put down my phone to engage with the people when I am with them. I let the house go if someone needs me (and that drives me bananas). I no longer sit home alone all of the time. I go. I do. I love.

My character has further been forged by learning to forgive myself. I don’t always have nice thoughts and I do not always want to do the right thing. Many of you know that I was a little peeved at Phil the day he was killed. Considering that we had so few fights that I could count them on one hand, it is worth noting that I had for the first time ever decided to play a game and wait him out. It was only later that the truth came out (in the form of his day planner and others with him). My slight irritability (and it was that) would have blown over in the first few moments of a phone call, but Phil was never able to make that call. I magnified my behaviors to the point I couldn’t move initially, but in the dawning recognition that it would have killed Phil if he knew I was beating myself up, I let it go. I talk about it because nobody knows how long they have with another person. I have those critical conversations even when they are hard because I want a full life. Do I have crushing moments? Indeed I do, but I push through them one step at a time. I may fall down, but I will crawl forward and walk when I can. I have learned that by breathing though the hard times one second at a time, one minute at a time, one hour, one mile, one marathon at a time, I will find a way to get through the pain. It may hurt more tomorrow and the next day, but I only have to look at the step ahead.
I have learned that living my values and living with transparency may mean that many people do not understand, but like that Disney Half Marathon in which the medal was going to be given where I ran or not, I live not for what others think. I live with transparency and joy because it is as simple as choosing to glean the good, trust what I cannot see, and choosing gratitude over what has been given for however long it has been given. One of my favorite Bible verses is Romans 5:4 :
Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance,character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us…
I have hope and I have joy. My character is mine to choose.

Maybe I am Broken and Unlovable

I am dating a man that even though it is early, I can see a future with.  He is a man any woman would be blessed to call hers, but he has chosen me. Yesterday, I almost walked away. Why would I wal…

Source: Maybe I am Broken and Unlovable

Maybe I am Broken and Unlovable

I am dating a man that even though it is early, I can see a future with.  He is a man any woman would be blessed to call hers, but he has chosen me. Yesterday, I almost walked away. Why would I wal…

Source: Maybe I am Broken and Unlovable