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.

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