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.

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