Learning Life Lessons

tonyromo

As a volunteer high school football coach for ten years, I was captivated by the life lessons young men can learn from this consummate team sport. Sports help teach young men and women how to deal with the exhilaration of success along with the heartbreak of the disappointments that are encountered during our lifetimes. Team sports reinforce lessons learned from our parents by demonstrating the achievement of dedication and working together for a common goal, while simultaneously exposing the fatal flaws of giving in to human weaknesses.

All to often the focus is on the negative examples of high profile athletes revered in our society. Fortunately, yesterday served as a profound positive example to what can be learned through sports. In a demonstration of grace that we can all learn from, Tony Romo expressed his frustrations, competitiveness, humanity, along with his maturity, in an elequent statement in which he conceded another player had earned the right to replace him. I found the end of his statement especially profound:

“…Lastly, I just want to leave you with something I have learned in this process as well: I feel like we all have two battles or two enemies going on. One with the man across from you. The second is with the man inside of you. I think once you control the one inside of you, the one across from you really doesn’t matter. I think that is what we are all trying to do. Thank you guys. I appreciate it.”

Survivors and Good Samaritans alike can learn a lot from this thoughtful, emotional statement. If one can learn to “control the one inside” of us, whatever the obstacles anyone faces “really doesn’t matter”. Below is his entire statement. I hope you to will find the same inspiration in his words as I did.

God bless!

 

ESPN: On Tuesday, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo made his first statement since suffering a compression fracture in his back and addressed the injury along with the success of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott in a prepared statement. The full transcript is below:

“To say the first half of the season has been emotional would be a huge understatement. Getting hurt when you feel like you have the best team you’ve ever had was a soul crushing moment for me. Then to learn it’s not three of four weeks but 10 is another blow. And through it all you have a tremendous amount of guilt on having let your teammates, fans and organization down. After all they were depending on you to bring them a championship. That’s what quarterbacks are supposed to do. That’s how we’re judged. I love that. I still do.

But then here you are sidelined without any real ability to help your teammates win on the field. That’s when you’re forced to come face to face with what’s happened. Seasons are fleeting. Games become more precious. Chances for success diminish. Your potential successor has arrived, injured two years in a row and now in the mid-30s, the press is whispering, everyone has doubts, you’ve spent your career working to get here. Now we have to start all over. You almost feel like an outsider. Coaches are sympathetic, but they still have to coach and you’re not there. It’s a dark place. Probably the darkest it’s ever been. You’re sad and down and out and you ask yourself why did this have to happen. It’s in this moment you find out who you really are and what you’re really about.

You see football is a meritocracy. You aren’t handed anything. You earn everything every single day single day, over and over again. You have to prove it. That’s the way that the NFL, that’s the way that football works. A great example of this is Dak Prescott and what he’s done. He’s earned the right to be our quarterback. As hard as that is for me to say, he’s earned that right. He’s guided our team to an 8-1 record, and that’s hard to do. If you think for a second that I don’t want to be out there, then you’ve probably never felt the pure ecstasy of competing and winning. That hasn’t left me. In fact it may burn more now than ever.

It’s not always easy to watch. I think anybody who’s been in this position understands that. But what is clear is that I was that kid once, stepping in, having to prove yourself. I remember the feeling like it was yesterday. It really is an incredible time in your life. And if I remember one thing from back then, it’s the people that helped me along when I was young.

And if I can be that to Dak, you know, I’ve tried to be and I will be going forward. We all know something magical is happening to our team. I’m not going to allow this situation to negatively affect Dak or this football team by becoming a constant distraction. I think Dak knows that I have his back. And I think I know that he has mine. Ultimately, it’s about the team. It’s what we’ve preached our entire lives.

I can remember when I was a kid just starting out wanting to be part of something bigger than myself. For every high school kid out there or college player, there is greatness in being the kind of teammate who truly wants to be part of a team. Everyone wants to be the reason they winning or losing. Every single one of us wants to be that person. But there are special moments that come from a shared commitment to play a role, while doing it together. That’s what you will remember. Not your stats or your prestige, but the relationships and the achievement that you created through a group. It’s hard to do, but there’s great joy in that.

And all the while your desire burns to be the best you’ve ever been. You can be both. I have figured that out in this process. It’s what separates sports from everything else. It’s why we love it. It’s why we trust it. It’s why I still want to play and compete.

Lastly, I just want to leave you with something I have learned in this process as well: I feel like we all have two battles or two enemies going on. One with the man across from you. The second is with the man inside of you. I think once you control the one inside of you, the one across from you really doesn’t matter. I think that is what we are all trying to do.”

Thank you guys. I appreciate it.”

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

 

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The Danger of Holding onto Anger:

Twain

In my earlier blog (see post: Learning to Control My Anger), I describe how my Dad made a memorable point of how he expected me to “hold myself to a higher standard”. I can look back now and see how my dad taught a stubborn kid with a short fuse “to be slow to anger” as he knew anger leads “only to evil”. Dad did not know, yet God did, that following that cold day in December my ability to deal with anger would be be put to the test.

To be angry, even intensely angry, after a sudden traumatic loss of a loved one is normal and to be expected as it simply is a reaction to the pain of losing someone you loved. According to the most widely accepted model of how people deal with grief, the Kübler-Ross Grief model identifies anger as one of the five emotional stages that most people will experience during grief. Since anger is normal, the question becomes how do we deal with this anger. How to preclude ourselves from holding onto this anger and not allowing it to take root in our persona.

Good people suffer all the time when they do not know how to deal with the adverse powerful effects of negative emotions. This happens when these negative emotions are held onto and allowed to take root in their persona. As distressing as it is to see how anger not only results in the tragic death of a beloved person, it is even more devastating when multiple additional people are consumed and lost to the anger generated from this tragedy. Often the people marred are the people closest to the person that was tragically lost. By holding on to their anger, they too became additional victims of the same event, not survivors as God intended.

Joel Osteen[1], author and Senior Pastor of one of the largest churches in the United States, understood that we have an important choice in how we respond to the actions of others:

“Every day we have plenty of opportunities to get angry, stressed or offended. But what you’re doing when you indulge these negative emotions is giving something outside yourself power over your happiness. You can choose to not let…things upset you.”[2]

Due to his childhood, Dad understood what anger does to relationships. Dad had known how anger can twist and distort our judgement to the point where we retaliate only to the pain when we lose sight of our own morality. In Genesis 4:4-8, God warned us of the danger of anger in the story of Cain and Abel:

“Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’ Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.”[3]

If I had focused on how the men murdered Dad, instead of all the great memories I had of Dad, I could have easily ended up like Cain. If I would have given into anger as Cain had, I too would have lost everything Dad had taught me, just as Cain had lost his morality when he killed his own brother. Instead, God guided me to make a choice not to focus on the men that had killed my dad. By God focusing me on the loving memories I had of Dad, God allowed me to let go of any malice as I had been taught not to hold onto my pain and anger. This is a gift I will always be thankful for.

turtle

This may be one of the reasons I find the spiritual leader of Tibet, the Buddhist monk “The Dalai Lama[4] so fascinating. Combined with his engaging personality, his inquisitive nature, and open minded approach to life, this leader of a tiny overrun country has incredibly become a best selling author with his captivating charm that is something of an enigma in our western culture. In the following quotes, The Dalai Lama explains the danger of emotions anger and hatred if they are embraced:

“I believe that generally speaking, anger and hatred are the type of emotions which, if you leave them unchecked or unattended, tend to aggravate and keep on increasing. If you simply get more and more used to letting them happen and just keep expressing them, this usually results in their growth, not their reduction. So, I feel that the more you adopt a cautious attitude and actively try to reduce the level of their force, the better it is.”

“We cannot overcome anger and hatred simply by suppressing them. We need to actively cultivate the antidotes to hatred: patience and tolerance…When we are engaged in the practice of patience and tolerance, in reality, what is happening is you are engaged in a combat with hatred and anger.”[5]

“Anger is the real destroyer of our good human qualities; an enemy with a weapon cannot destroy these qualities, but anger can. Anger is our real enemy.”

“If we live our lives continually motivated by anger and hatred, even our physical health deteriorates.”

“Happiness cannot come from hatred or anger. Nobody can say, ‘Today I am happy because this morning I was angry.’ On the contrary, people feel uneasy and sad and say, ‘Today I am not very happy, because I lost my temper this morning.’ ”[6]

The views on the dangers of anger held by The Dalai Lama seem to harmonize with the teachings of Christ in the New Testament. Similar to how The Dalai Lama teaches patience and tolerance, Jesus stressed this theme in what is considered his most impactful sermon. In His Sermon on the Mount, three of the eight points Jesus emphasized to his disciples in the Beatitudes were the antithesis to anger, hatred, and bitterness. In the Beatitudes, Jesus pronounced:

“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” [7]

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”[8]

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”[9]

Jesus would underscore these pronouncements by warning his disciples not to respond to murder with anger. In Matthew 5:21, Jesus first reminded disciples of the teachings in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17 where we are taught “…You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment”. In the very next verse, Mathew 5:22, Jesus warns us that “…if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment![10], asserting that to be angry is viewed as harshly by God as murder. Jesus continued by clarifying with his disciples in Matthew 5:38-44:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also…You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”[11]

Again, the Apostle Paul would echo these teachings in Romans 12:14-21:

“If someone mistreats you because you are a Christian, don’t curse him; pray that God will bless him…Never pay back evil for evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honest clear through. Don’t quarrel with anyone. Be at peace with everyone, just as much as possible…Don’t let evil get the upper hand, but conquer evil by doing good.”[12]

Just as Dad had taught me that I should hold myself to a higher standard, the Apostle Paul was teaching that if you are a Christian, you are expected to make every effort to hold yourself to a higher standard so we could “conquer evil by doing good”. As Christians, we are taught that we must never seek personal retribution, no matter what has been done to us. Similarly, Jesus made it clear we are to “love our enemies” so we must never wish personal harm to someone that has harmed us. This is how we as Christians are expected to hold ourselves to a higher standard. This is how Jesus taught us to stop the dehumanizing cycle of seeking vengeance as justice.

MLK

To understand why Jesus was teaching us to hold ourselves to this higher standard, I believe we have to look no further than what happened in the infamous feud between the Hatfields and McCoys. This feud is reputed to have started over the alleged theft of a hog from the Kentucky family of Randall McCoy by the cousin of West Virginia’s Devil Anse Hatfield. This single act would lead to at least twelve murders over the next twelve years.

As the bad feelings were building between the families of Randall McCoy and Devil Anse Hatfield, the first personal vengeance was taken when three sons of Randall McCoy killed the brother of Devil Anse Hatfield. Devil Anse Hatfield and his family retaliated by raiding into Kentucky, arresting the Randall’s three sons, and executed all three sons in West Virginia without a trial. Each side continued to take matters in their own hand, avenging one wrong after another until it escalated to the barbaric murders of two daughters of Randall McCoy as the Hatfields assaulted and burned down Randall’s home in Kentucky.

Jesus knew that when we take the law into our own hands we give evil control of our life. If we take personal revenge, we are now no better than the person that originally wronged us. Jesus knew the only way to avoid this endless cycle of evil, the evil exhibited in the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys, we had to learn to leave retribution to God. By trusting in God, we can trust that God will enforce justice here on earth though our laws, hold them accountable after their time on earth is over, or both.

It is critical to understand that Jesus is urging us to take this course for our own well-being, not for the benefit of those who have done us wrong. Jesus does not want us to succumb to the same evil that has harmed us, as this is how evil gains control of our life. Jesus did not want us to suffer the same fate as the Hatfields and McCoys. Instead, Jesus is guiding us to a path that will allow us both to live a positive life during our remaining time here on earth and so that we will not face the same condemnation people that committed evil against us when it is our time to go before God.

Like Dad, Mom too understood this important choice we have to make to avoid the hatred that anger can lead to in our life. Instead of falling into the trap of anger, Mom instead focused on the Christian faith she shared with Dad. A few months after Dad was murdered, Mom provided the following profound statement explaining why she did not hate the men that had so ruthlessly murdered her husband in cold blood:

“I don’t have any hatred for the men, I don’t think I could live with this type of thing. It is hard enough to accept death to begin with, and, to accept murder is very difficult. But to accept hatred as part of your life – just won’t make life worthwhile. And you just can’t do that. I want them apprehended very badly…for them not to pay for what they have done is wrong…”[13]

Mom was able to understand how to separate letting go of the anger so she could recover in a healthy way without hatred from what needed to take place in the legal system. Mom served as a phenomenal example to each of us kids on how Jesus expected us to let go of our anger so we could avoid the hatred, resentment, and bitterness that embracing anger leads to in your life. Mom was an inspiration on how to become a survivor, which lead to first her involvement in Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) and then my involvement in C.O.P.S. through her example. She wanted the murders to be held accountable in the legal system and understood that she did not need to hold on to the destructive anger and hatred for that to happen.

In his book, The Journey: Living by Faith in an Uncertain World, the great evangelist Billy Graham warned us of the dangers of condoning the destructive emotion of anger in our lives:

“Every destructive emotion bears its own harvest, but anger’s fruit is the most bitter of all. Uncontrolled anger is a devastating sin, and no one is exempt from its havoc. It shatters friendships and destroys marriages; it causes abuse in families and discord in business; it breeds violence in the community and war between nations. Its recoil, like that of a high-powered rifle, often hurts the one who wields it as well as its target. Anger makes us lash out at others, destroying relationships…”  

“…we must stop making excuses for our anger or bad temper-blaming it on our parents, for example, or claiming we have every right to be angry because of something that happened to us in the past. We also must face honestly the toll anger and bitterness takes on our lives. They are our enemies. The Bible says, ‘An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered on commits many sins’ (Proverbs 29:22)…Never underestimate anger’s destructive power.” [14]

Later in my life I would have the opportunity to serve on the National Board of C.O.P.S. where I would discover the harsh reality of how anger can destroy a person. Good people suffer all the time when they did not know how to deal with the adverse powerful effects of negative emotions when they allow these negative emotions to take root in their persona. It was distressing to see how anger and bitterness not only resulted in the tragic death of the person in the Line-of-Duty, but could devastate multiple lives when the anger was allowed to develop into bitterness and resentment. By holding on to their anger, they too became additional victims of the same event, not survivors as God intended.

redheadbird

The people closest to the officer that had been killed, naturally experience anger following the death of a loved one. This can be even more dangerous when the anger seems so justified due to the circumstances of their loved ones death, as it would have been in the case of Dad’s murder. Justification does not lesson the trap anger represents, instead it intensifies the danger. The more justified a person feels they are to be angry, the easier it becomes to rationalize remaining angry and giving in to these negative emotions. This is the trap, the longer a person remains angry the easier it is for them to lose themselves to hatred, resentment, and bitterness. It is in this way the evil of anger can sadly consume multiple lives, when these negative emotions are allowed to take over the persona of anyone that has tragically lost a loved one.

God bless!

 

[1] Joel Osteen is a televangelist, author, and the Senior Pastor of Lakewood Church, in Houston, Texas.

[2] Heslop, Jessica. 2014. ‘Step By Step: How To Free Yourself From Negative Emotions – Purpose Fairy’. Purpose Fairy. http://www.purposefairy.com/70068/step-by-step-how-to-free-yourself-from-negative-emotions/.

[3] New American Standard Bible (NASB).

[4] The 14th Dalai Lama describes himself as a simple Buddhist monk. He is the spiritual leader of Tibet. In 1959, with the brutal suppression of the Tibetan national uprising in Lhasa by Chinese troops, the Dalai Lama was forced to escape into exile to Dharamsala, northern India.

[5] Falahee, Jamie. 2012. ‘How To Deal With Anger (According To The Dalai Lama)’. Heallovebe. http://heallovebe.com/2012/05/22/how-to-deal-with-anger-according-to-the-dalai-lama/.

[6] Bond, Annie. 2015. Care2.Com. http://www.care2.com/greenliving/the-dalai-lama-s-wisdom-about-anger.html.

[7] Matthew 5:5, New American Standard Bible (NASB).

[8] Matthew 5:7, New American Standard Bible (NASB).

[9] Matthew 5:9, New American Standard Bible (NASB).

[10] New Living Translation (NLT).

[11] New American Standard Bible (NASB).

[12] The Living Bible (TLB).

[13] “Tom Carpenter A Proud Patrolman”. 1974. Patrol 829 Volume 1, Number 1 (q): Page 3.

[14] The Journey: Living by Faith in an Uncertain World by Billy Graham, Published by W Publishing Group (2005). Pg 180.

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Introduction to Police Week and Forgiveness:

forgiveness

Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) did not exist when my dad was murdered in the Line-of-Duty, so it would not be until after I relocated to South Carolina that I would be introduced to the special work done by this extraordinary organization. At this time, I had little interest in C.O.P.S., or what Mom was doing with this charity, as I was too focused on starting my own career in federal law enforcement. Not long after my wife and I had relocated, FBI Special Agent James Horn and my mom approached me about coming to the next Police Week. They hoped I would speak at a “Forgiveness” workshop in which  Mom was helping Special Agent Horn with at the next conference held by C.O.P.S. during the days that surround the National Peace Officers Memorial Day.

This workshop was designed to help survivors understand the need for “Forgiveness” in the grieving process as it allows the survivors to overcome the anger that all too often leads to bitterness, resentment, and at times hatred. Special Agent Horn explained that it would be casual and all I would need to do is tell my story about how I dealt with my dad being killed in the Line-of-Duty, focusing on how I felt about the men that had killed my dad. Incidentally, Special Agent Horn had been assigned to the Denver FBI office at the time Dad was killed thus had assisted in the investigation of his murder. Special Agent Horn was also good friends with the police psychologist that had contacted me about first talking to a surviving family (see: Responding to the Call). Again, it is astounding to me how God weaves events in our lives together so they can lead to a purpose you never would have foreseen.

This was way out of my comfort zone and I really did not want to do it. The only time I had talked about how I had dealt with the death of my dad, there were only four other people in a small office. Moreover, at the time I did not fully grasp the premise of “forgiveness” in this context, nor did I understand how my story had anything to do with “forgiveness”. Special Agent Horn and Mom convinced me that my story worked with what Special Agent Horn was doing with this workshop and that this would again be a great way to give back to everyone that had helped our family over the years. As before, extremely reluctantly I agreed to do it.

A short time before Police Week, Mom let me know that she would not be able to attend the C.O.P.S. conference that year. As a result, she would not be there to assist with the “Forgiveness” workshop I had agreed to speak at. This made me more nervous and anxious than ever. Nevertheless, Mom convinced me that everything would be fine, all I had to do was contact Special Agent Horn when I arrived and he would take care of everything. With apprehension, I nervously agreed to keep my commitment and drove to Washington DC to speak at this “Forgiveness” workshop as planned.

As soon as I arrived at the hotel that was hosting the C.O.P.S. Conference for Police Week I realized how much I had underestimated what I had allowed myself to be talked into. The size and the scope of the event was way beyond anything I had ever experienced. The event consumed the entire hotel, and the hotel was designed for conventions in our Nation’s Capital. There were officers from all parts of the country escorting the survivors along with the families themselves. The sense of emotion was unmistakable, much like a funeral the air was full of stress, despair, pain, loss, fear, and anger. I felt overwhelmed and full of trepidation.

As I arrived at the conference room reserved for the workshop, I felt as though I had been mislead. The room seated at least 40-50 people and there was a film crew setting up their equipment. Special Agent Horn had decided to take this opportunity and have the crew film my story along with the story of FBI Special Agent Judson Ray[1]. Special Agent Ray had recently told his story on the top rated CBS television news show “60 Minutes”. Special Agent Horn hoped to use the video as part of his “Forgiveness” workshops in the future. At this moment I realized I was totally unprepared, out of my league, and wondered what I had allowed myself to be talked into doing.

After Special Agent Horn made his presentation on the need for “forgiveness”, he asked me to speak first. I was dressed casually, had no notes, and had a hard time seeing anyone through the bright lights of the camera crew. As I nervously began telling my story, God seemed to help settle me and allow me to recall details I had long forgotten as I told my story better than I thought possible. I was surprised as I slowly began to sense how so many of the survivors seemed to relate to much of what I had to say. I was even more surprised when Special Agent Horn said it was a powerful story and he would later ask me to come back the next year to help him again.

FBI Special Agent Ray went next. He was a senior agent, a member of the FBI’s Behavior Science Unit made famous by retired FBI Special Agent John Douglas’ book “Mind Hunter”, a Vietnam veteran, former police officer and homicide detective. Wearing a perfect suit, and working with prepared notes, Special Agent Ray was exceptionally well prepared. To my amazement, the first thing Special Agent Ray said was that he felt I had stolen his speech. As he then told his amazing story flawlessly. It was obvious he was an accomplished speaker and had done this numerous times. As he spoke, I felt confirmation that I had no business speaking on the same stage with him.

In 1981, Special Agent Ray had been ambushed at his apartment by three hired contract assassins and shot several times in his back, leaving him for dead with a collapsed lung. As he recovered from his wounds the investigation determined Special Agent’s Ray wife had hired the men that had tried to kill him after Ray had informed her he wanted a divorce and custody of his daughters. Instead of collecting on her husband’s life insurance, his wife was convicted as were the men she had hired to kill him.

As he recovered from his wounds. Special Agent Ray realized that to survive both emotionally and physically, he must find the capacity to forgive his wife and the men she hired to kill him. Special Agent Ray had not been a particularly religious man. Yet, God had disclosed to him that the path to becoming a survivor required forgiveness. Speaking at a Critical Incident Conference at the FBI Academy, Special Agent Ray asserted that the most important thing he could think of to help any survivor was:

“Bring that person to forgiveness. Yes, we may be able to function, but we cannot be whole until we forgive.”[2]

Over the years I worked with Special Agent Horn a few more times during Police Week. As a result, I spent a great deal of time engaged in introspection as I tried to gain a deeper understanding of the context of “forgiveness” as it related to my story. It was important to me to know how I could do a better job conveying this important message to others, and I thought that started with having a better understanding of “forgiveness” in the context of the workshop.

kushner

My story was simple, at least it was simple to me. I never spent any time thinking about the men that killed my dad. In my mind, they simply were not worth my time or thought. In a single moment in time these men had taken Dad from me forever and I was not going to allow them to take anything more from me. If I spent even one moment thinking about them, in my mind, it would allow what they had done to overshadow what my Dad had done. Time and memories were all I had left and I was not going to waste it focusing on what they had done in that single moment. Instead, I wanted to concentrate all my time remembering and honoring Dad. I only had Dad for nine plus years and I wanted to remember as much of what he had taught me during that time as I possibly could.

In this simple way I was able to avoid the trap of anger that naturally comes with focusing on the pain that had been inflicted on me and my family when these cruel men killed my dad. Yet it was more than just that. By holding on to the lessons I had been taught by my dad I was able to control my anger to the point I was simply able to let it go. Remembering how my dad had taught me not to hate and to hold myself to a higher standard, I was able to avoid lowering myself to the level of hate the these men had exercised when they ruthlessly executed my dad. When God focused my thoughts on the dad I had, I was blessed as the wonderful memories I had of Dad would protect me from the dangerous path of anger, bitterness, resentment, and hate.

During my journey to comprehend forgiveness, I came to understand that all of us have been wronged at some point and if we hold onto the pain we felt from that moment we will eventually develop anger, bitterness, and resentment. All of which lead to hatred. The more justified we feel we are, the more difficult it becomes to see what the angry, bitterness, resentment, and hate are doing to us. Regrettably, the greater the hold these negative emotions have on us, the less we see the effect it has on the people we love the most. The more entrenched the anger, resentment, hatred, and bitterness becomes in our lives; the more these negative emotions will diminish our ability to give and accept love. This is why Jesus stressed our need to forgive after he emphasized the most important commandment is to love God and then love our neighbor as we need to forgive to do this wholeheartedly.

mlk-2

I believe this is the significance of Jesus warning his disciples of the dangers of responding to murder with anger (Matthew 5:21-22). There was a important reason that in Mathew 5:25 Jesus advises us to “…settle our differences quickly…[3]. I believe Christ was warning us to forgive quickly so we could avoid the anger we experience when someone murders a loved one from taking root in our lives. I believe this is why Christ led the Apostle Paul to advise the Ephesians to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger…along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you[4]. To help us avoid this anger from taking root, I believe Christ lead the Apostle Paul to advise the Philippians in Philippians 4:8[5] that they should focus their minds on the good things God has done in their lives.

In Luke 6:37, Jesus added “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.[6] Jesus wanted us to be able to forgive, so we could be forgiven; because he wanted us to be able to love, to be able to be loved. Although Jesus advised us to “settle our differences quickly” in Mathew 5:25, I believe Jesus understood that not all of us would be able to do this. I believe Jesus emphasized forgiving quickly as he was trying to protect us from allowing anger, hatred, and bitterness, from taking hold within us.

In his book, The Journey: Living by Faith in an Uncertain World, the great evangelist Billy Graham proclaims the transforming power to be found when we forgive:

“…be quick to seek not only God’s forgiveness, but also the forgiveness of those you hurt. If you have been harboring anger or bitterness or jealousy in your heart toward someone – a parent, an ex-spouse, a boss – hand it over to Christ, and ask Him to help you let it go. In addition, discover the transforming power of forgiving others…” [7]

My personal journey has taught me that strong negative emotions can eventually cause us to emotionally shut down and withdraw from everyone that loves us. This can lead us to withdraw into a place so dark that we are in danger of never finding our way out. These emotions are so strong that they can slowly take over our life and prevent us from expressing and receiving love, because love is the polar opposite emotion to anger, bitterness, and hatred. It is through this “transforming power of forgiving others” that we free ourselves to heal and move forward with our lives. By forgiving others we are freeing ourselves from the past allowing us to be a survivor. In contrast, when we hold onto the past and do not forgive we remain ensnared in the psychological trauma of victimization.

God bless!

 

[1] FBI Special Agent Judson Ray was nearly killed when he was shot at his home by two men hired by his wife to kill him.

[2] Bromley, John S. 1991. ‘Suicide – The Survivor’. LEO-Trainer. http://www.leotrainer.com/suicidesurvivor.pdf.

[3] New Living Translation (NLT).

[4] Ephesians 4:31-32, New International Version (NIV).

[5] Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” English Standard Version (ESV)

[6] New International Version (NIV).

[7] The Journey: Living by Faith in an Uncertain World by Billy Graham, Published by W Publishing Group (2005). Pg 181.

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Concerns Of Police Survivors

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President George H W. Bush singled out the “good works” of Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) during his address at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Ceremony in 1992. The story of Concerns of Police Survivors epitomizes the essence of what is to show mercy and take action as demonstrated by the parable of the Good Samaritan. While serving on the Fraternal Order of Police Auxiliary as the National Secretary, Suzie Sawyer suggested they sponsor an annual National Memorial Service in Washington, DC, for the law enforcement officers that had been killed in the Line-of-Duty the prior year. Although she was successful in getting her idea approved and organized, Suzie Sawyer was disappointed that only about 125 people attended the first service to hear the names read out aloud of the officers killed in the Line-of Duty the previous year.

To increase the attendance and exposure of the National Memorial Service, in 1983 Suzie Sawyer arranged to have the National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Board Meeting scheduled along with an evening reception for the FOP the evening before the Memorial Service. In addition to the FOP members, ten police widows who had come to hear their husband’s name read at the Memorial Service came to the reception. The FOP reception was more of a celebration party atmosphere and was not appropriate for the widows mourning their loss. As a result, Suzie Sawyer offered to take the ten police widows to the FOP Lodge in Washington, DC, where they could talk.

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As each widow shared her story, Suzie Sawyer became aware how similar each of their stories were. How the respective departments had not taken into account the widow’s wishes when planning the funerals. Worst of all, how they had been ostracized from their own tight-knit families of blue after their husband’s death, as it simply hit to close to home. After hours of talking, the widows felt better and asked Suzie if they could continue meeting. Even though she understood how no one in the law enforcement community felt comfortable talking about Line-of Duty deaths, Suzie Sawyer saw these women needed help, how important this was to them, so she stayed in touch with them over the next several months.

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As did the Good Samaritan, Suzie Sawyer saw a need and stopped to take the time to help these ten widows in their time of distress. As a result, the very next year C.O.P.S. was started to serve the needs of the surviving families of law enforcement officers that had been killed in the Line-of-Duty. Under the direction of Suzie Sawyer, C.O.P.S. would grow from the 110 original members in 1984 to over 30,000 members in the next 30 years. Additionally, C.O.P.S. developed a handbook that is one of the primary authorities on how public safety agencies should meet the support needs of the surviving families following a line-of-duty death. This is the lesson Jesus wanted us to understand from the parable of the Good Samaritan. This is what can happen when we stop and help a person in need.

Suzie Sawyer would tell you that she never would have seen herself becoming involved in an advocacy organization that helped victims overcome their loss to become survivors. After all, her husband was not killed in the Line-of-Duty, he lived to retire from the force long before she would retire as the Director of C.O.P.S. Becoming the pivotal force that would spawn an organization that would change the landscape of how law enforcement agencies interacted with and supported the surviving family members and members of their own agencies may not have been her goal, but it would prove to be the path Suzy Sawyer was meant to take.

Looking back over my life I am astounded how God weaves the path of our lives to cross paths with specific individuals to give us the opportunity to prepare for the purpose He has for us. First I was ask to help a family by Dr. Roger Solomon[1] (see: Responding to the Call), a Police Psychologist that would be at the forefront of trauma and grief counseling and a strong supporter of C.O.P.S. A few years later another leader in his field and important supporter of C.O.P.S., FBI Special Agent James “Jim” Horn[2], would convince me to speak at his C.O.P.S. “Forgiveness” workshops ( see: Introduction to Police Week and Forgiveness). These amazing contacts, in conjunction with the service of my mom with C.O.P.S. National Board, would led to a call from Suzie Sawyer to see if I would be the first child of an officer killed in the Line-of-Duty to serve on the C.O.P.S. National Board.

Each step of this journey, I had been an extremely reluctant volunteer. In addition to trying to be a good husband and father, I was focused on making a difference with my career and as a volunteer coach at a local high school. Helping others heal by discussing the memories I felt I had moved on from was never my idea. Yet as so often is the case, God had a different plan. As a result my life kept intersecting with this incredible organization along with some of the most impactful, passionate people I would ever be blessed to know. In Jeremiah 29:11 the Lord declares, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”[3] I continue to be astounded how God had a plan to use me in this way, a way I would never have imagined, a way I unknowingly was uniquely qualified.

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Prior to my involvement with C.O.P.S., I had learned to become a survivor out of necessity. I was simply too young and too caught up in trying to get my life on track to understand what had happened, not to mention how it had happened. Fortunately, God would press and challenge me to learn the true deeper meaning of what it meant to be a survivor and what it had taken to get me there. It was through this process that I learned the true appreciation for all the selfless sacrifices made by all the Good Samaritans that I had been bless with during my young life.

During the years God had led my life to intersect with C.O.P.S. I had the great privilege to witness firsthand the incredible phenomena that takes place when caring people share their own personal experiences and time with people that are hurting. It was extraordinary to witness how this sharing gave comfort, promoted healing, and lead victims to become survivors. It simply is not often that one can witness the entire process play out in front of their eyes. People suffering from the tragic losses of loved ones receiving healing, learning to become survivors as they receive comfort from survivors that had themselves been comforted and had become survivors in the previous years.

At the same time I was astonished to learn the amount of time, dedication, and sacrifice, that people associated with C.O.P.S. put forth to make this all happen. It was not just Suzie Sawyer, the board members, the mental heath professionals, the returning survivors, or all the other volunteers. It was the sum of all their efforts, the love and passion they all demonstrated working for one common purpose, that made this phenomena possible. Yet, everyone one at C.O.P.S. would tell you they did not feel as they were making a sacrifice, never regretted the time, as it was one most rewarding opportunities of their lives.

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My experience with C.O.P.S. profoundly changed my life. Not only did I learn what it meant to be a survivor, I learned how to help others to become a survivor. I learned what it meant to be a Good Samaritan, what it took to be a Good Samaritan, and best of all I learned how rewarding it was to be a Good Samaritan. Above all, I experienced what it truly meant to be a Christian, to engage my Christian faith and put into action what the words of the Bible were teaching. I witnessed what it was meant to do “good works”.

In the Epistle of James, we are taught by Jesus brother James that if we are just reading the words written in Bible we are missing the point. As James advocates in James 1:22-25:

“Do not merely listen to the word…Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”[4]

Similarly, James maintains in James 2:24-26 that it take more than just faith to become what Jesus is asking of us. As James maintains, faith holds no meaning if Christians do not put into action what Jesus has taught them:

“A man becomes right with God by what he does and not by faith only…The body is dead when there is no spirit in it. It is the same with faith. Faith is dead when nothing is done.”[5]

In James 1:27, James illustrates why he was also known as James the Just when he purposefully identifies two specific examples of the acts, or “good works”, that represent the pure message of Christ. In these examples, James contends that to be a person of the Christian faith one must care for the orphans and the widows in this world:

“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”[6]

Just as the Good Samaritan did not need to practice the Jewish faith to exhibit the mercy Jesus (a Jewish Rabbi) taught, people do not need to be a Christian to put into action the principles taught by Christ centuries ago. Organizations such as C.O.P.S. along with numerous non-Christians all over the world employ these same Christian principles every day to do “good works”, making a tremendously positive difference in this world. The message we find in James does not suggest you have to be a believer in Christ to do apply these principles and do “good works”.

In the Epistle of James, the brother of Christ was giving notice to the followers of Jesus that there was more to being a Christian than believing in Christ. James was reminding believers that Jesus called of his followers to engage in their faith by acting upon the principles He was teaching. To demonstrate to the world the difference Christians can make by embracing the principles Jesus was teaching, Christians need to put into practice what they believe, just as Jesus had centuries before.

In Philippians 2:3-5, the Apostle Paul stressed in his letter to the Philippians this same need to selfless place the need of others before our needs just as Christ Jesus had:

“Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus…”[7]

This was the difference Dad made by how he lived and lost his life. This was the type of difference I was trying to make with my life. Working in law enforcement we quickly learn that our actions will always be under a microscope, that any mistake we make will be magnified, sometimes unfairly, due to the public nature of our vocation. In much the same way, it is our actions, or more often our inaction, that are noticed most of by nonbelievers. People watch Christians to see if they practice what they claim to believe.

My experience with C.O.P.S. reinforced in me what it meant to embrace my Christian faith and to live my life as an living example of what I believed. It reminded me not to be afraid of making mistakes as I tried to do the right thing and make a difference. C.O.P.S. taught me I was able to have the greatest impact if I would listen to God and take action when given the opportunity just like the Good Samaritan. It is our actions as Christians that have the greatest impact upon the people we come in contact with in this world as the world watches to see if Christians put into practice the messages Jesus taught.

God bless!

 

[1] Dr. Roger Solomon is a psychologist and psychotherapist specializing in the areas of trauma and grief. He is on the Senior Faculty of the EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Institute. Dr. Solomon has provided clinical services and training to the FBI, Secret Service, U.S. State Department, Diplomatic Security, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, U.S. Department of Justice, and numerous state and local law enforcement organizations. Dr Solomon has planned critical incident programs, provided training for peer support teams and has provided direct services following such tragedies as Hurricane Katrina, September 11 terrorist attacks, the loss of the Shuttle Columbia, and the Oklahoma City Bombing (www.rogermsolomon.com).

[2] James M. Horn was a Special Agent with the FBI, was one of the original members of the FBI Behavioral Science Unit, and served on the FBI’s first SWAT Team. Special Agent Horn was an adjunct professor in psychology and criminology at the University of Virginia and also initiated and developed the FBI Chaplains Program and the FBI’s Advanced Peer Support Program. He has worked with the C.O.P.S. organization since it’s inception.

[3] New International Version (NIV).

[4] New International Version (NIV).

[5] New Living Translation (NLT).

[6] New Living Translation (NLT).

[7] Common English Bible (CEB)

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.