Introduction to Police Week and Forgiveness:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Why We Need Good Samaritans

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In my life, God has repeatedly demonstrated to me how important it is that everyone knows that each of us can help another person. In “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” Jesus clearly reveals the significance of the actions any of us can make if we are willing to take the time, step outside our own comfort zones and put forth personal effort to provide aid to another. Opportunities to help others happens all the time if we simply pay attention to what is happening all around us.

One such opportunity took place on August 21, 2016, when an officer in Yoba City (California) responded to a vehicle accident. When the officer contacted the men that were attempting to flee the scene of the accident, he was viciously attacked by both men in the physical struggle that ensued. As the officer was fighting for his life, one of the assailants gained control of the officer’s baton and “began striking the officer in the head with it”. It was at this moment a bystander intervened, disregarding his own safety to do the right thing. The Good Samaritan pushed the assailant off of the officer and fought with him until additional officers were able to respond.[1]

Another example occurred in Cleveland (Ohio) on May 6, 2013. On this days neighbors responded to the cries of a woman from a house she had been held hostage in for ten years. After these Good Samaritans helped free this woman and her daughter from the house, the police would find two more women that had been abducted and held in the home since 2002 and 2004, respectively. During their captivity these women had been repeatedly raped and beaten by their abductor. If these Good Samaritans had not responded to the cries for help on that fateful day, not only may these women and the little girl continued to be tormented, their abductor would have remained free to victimize other young women.

It does not take great risks to be a Good Samaritan, as even a simple act of kindness can make all the difference in the life of someone else. Today I read another story where a family with a young child was stranded on side of a busy road when their vehicle broke down. The family remained in their vehicle all night with the hood up and hazards on without anyone stopping to offer assistance or even calling 9-1-1. It would be early the next morning before a courtesy patrol vehicle would stop and offer them assistance. This frightening ordeal could have easily ended tragically. Sadly, no one traveling the road was willing to take the time to help, they were either too busy to notice or too afraid to get involved.

There are simply so many amazing opportunity each of us has to get involved and make an important difference in the life of another. It is this point that I passionately hope that I am able to convey. It is far too often that we fail to act on this lesson emphasized by Jesus in “The Parable of the Good Samaritan”. Whether we decide it is not our place to get involved or we simply believe we are to busy to stop and help, time and again people in our society ignore the opportunities to get involved. Instead they simply make the choice to leave it up to someone else to address the problem.

It is in Luke 10:25-37, that Jesus reminds us first of “The Most Important Commandment” followed by the “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” to emphasize the importance for each of us to to get involved when given the opportunity. As so often is the case, this message is as applicable to non-Christians as it is to Christians:

The Most Important Commandment:

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” 

The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” 

The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Parable of the Good Samaritan:

Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

“By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. 

“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ 

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

In his book “Studies in the Sermon of the Mount”, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones states:

“You remember the parable of the Good Samaritan told by our Lord in response to the question ‘who is my neighbor?’ The Jews traditionally hated the Samaritians and were their bitter enemies. However, our Lord tells us in the parable that when the Jew was attacked by thieves and robbers on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem, several Jews passed by and did not help him. But the Samaritain, the traditional enemy, went across the road and cared for him and did everything for him. That is loving our neighbour and our enemy. Who is my neighbour? Any man who is in need, any man who is down through sin or anything else. We must help him, whether he is a Jew or a Samaritain. Love your neighbour, even if it means loving your enemy. ‘Do good to them that hate you.’ And our Lord, of course, not only taught it, but He did it” [2]

The Apostle Paul echoes this theme in Romans 15:1-7:

 Romans 15:1-7: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up…For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope…May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”[3]

After Dad was executed in the Line-of-Duty, there were witnesses that came forward and admitted they had observed two men struggle with dad after he had stopped to help them. The witnesses did not initially do anything as they did not want to get involved. As in the case in Yoba City, Dad may have lived if these witnesses immediately called the police. Yet, they will never know if they could have made a difference. What they do know is that they did nothing and as the result a patrolman was brutally murdered.

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Conversely, Good Samaritans like my uncle, my high school counselor, and many others would prove to be critical to my ability to overcoming both the cold blooded murder of my dad as well as the events that took place when I was a freshman in high school. It was the willingness of these Good Samaritans to take time out of their busy lives to provide the support I needed which helped me become a survivor. Without this support, I would never have found my way back to the road I was meant to travel. The impact these Good Samaritans and my dad had on my life, along with the inaction of the witnesses of the abduction of my dad, would have a profound influence on the choices I would make the rest of my life.

As a result, I decided after I returned from Alaska, I never again wanted to come that close to quitting or giving into my fears again. I may make some mistakes along the way, which I have many times, yet I never again wanted to be afraid to face my fears. You just never know when you might do something that has a dramatic impact on someone’s life, including your own. You might even save a life. Doing nothing, especially if it is due to fear, has not been a option in my life ever since I was able to come to terms with my greatest fear, the fear I faced as a freshman in high school, when I failed to face my peers after becoming overwhelmed with years of repressed emotions.

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This approach to life is permeated with the potential of risk, yet I face the same risks if I choose to do nothing. In the film, The Patriot, there is a decisive moment when the main character Benjamin Martin states, “I have done nothing. And for that I am ashamed.”[4] It is this sentiment that I strive to avoid as it gives me a sick feeling in my gut whenever I think of the consequences of doing nothing. I believe God gives us opportunities by placing us in situations for a reason, and I believe that reason is seldom ever to do nothing. As a result, I have chosen to do my best to live my life and to tell my story with the hope it will do more good than harm.

God bless!

 

[1] “Yuba City Officer Beaten While Investigating Accident”. Chicoer.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.

[2] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Studies in the Sermon of the Mount”, Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Company 1976, pg 272.

[3] New International Version (NIV).

[4] The Patriot is a 2000 American historical fiction war film directed by Roland Emmerich, written by Robert Rodat, and starring Mel Gibson, Chris Cooper, Heath Ledger, and Jason Isaacs. The film depicts the fictional patriotic character of Benjamin Martin which was a composite figure loosely based on American Revolutionary War heroes Andrew Pickens, Francis Marion, Daniel Morgan and Thomas Sumter.

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

 

The Road Less Traveled

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Like so many, for as long as I can recall I have been captivated by the iconic poem, “The Road Not Taken”[1] by Robert Frost. I find it mesmerizing how this artfully crafted poem can both seem to be a simple metaphor on the choices we each must make in our life and at the same time it offers a complexity of permutations of potential interpretations. In this poem, Frost deftly draws us into the emotions of the choice the traveler has taken, drawing us to interject ourselves into the narrative and wondering how this choice applies to our own lives. Frost never clarifies which road is the one “less travelled by” as it is his intention to press the point of indecision, leaving us to speculate on which road was taken. Frost deftly exposes that there is no way to know what lies on either road without making a choice, and once made, that choice will make “all the difference”.

As I write my story, I see a deeper personal meaning of the title of this poem as it relates to this time of my life, a time when I was faced with a critical choice of what road I should follow. At my point of indecision, I only saw the road that lead into darkness and did not sense there was any light on the other side. I was desperate to see another choice, another road that did not lead into this darkness devoid of light. Without seeing another road, I erroneously feared I had I already made my election and had no alternative other than to follow the path in to the darkness. I somehow knew this was a critical moment and my next step would have a tremendous impact on how my life would take shape for years to come. I knew this choice would make “all the difference”.

I was looking for a definitive choice where there was none that I could see. Like many people who experience tragedy, after our life has been shaken to the core by catastrophe all we want are guarantees in our life before we move forward. As Frost was contending the choices we make in life do not come with guarantees. This is what Frost implies when he asserts that as you “looked down” each road as far as you could, each road is “just as fair”, as they both had been “worn…really about the same”. At the time I was not focused on the only guarantee that I would ever find in life, the promise offered by Jesus. Even though I still believed in Jesus and what He had promised, I was too immature, too short-sighted, to see how Jesus could help me with the issues I was dealing with at that time.

For me, the title, “The Road Not Taken” was the key. I was on a road I was never meant to take so I needed to find my way back to “The Road Not Taken”, the road I was meant to take, the road I had missed. I had been on an impossible journey down a road that led only to darkness, a road devoid of light, a path that I now believed led only to depression. This was a road I had foolishly chosen when I decided to turn away from God and take my own path so God would have more time to watch out for my mom, sister, and brother. It had been my choice, as no one had literally expected that I could replace Dad, no one except for me.

Yet, even though I was not focused on Him, Jesus was still focused on me as struggled to make this most most critical decision I would ever make. As a result, somehow Jesus would reach out to me and I realized I still had a choice, I could still change course (see Blog Post: Avoiding the Darkness). It was at this moment I finally recognized for the first time that although I could not reverse time and change the mistakes I had made, that did not mean the mistakes I had made that had taken me off course were irreversible. I was finally able to understand why Jesus had stopped me just short of stepping into the darkness. It was at this moment I at last understood I did not have to continue down this impossible road I was never meant to take. I realized even though I had made a mistake, Jesus was disclosing to me that I could still choose to reverse course so I could find “The Road Not Taken”.

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Today I am reminded of the “Parable of the Prodigal Son”  Jesus told the apostles in Luke 15:11-32:

“A man had two sons. When the younger told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now, instead of waiting until you die!’ his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

“A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and took a trip to a distant land, and there wasted all his money on parties and prostitutes. About the time his money was gone a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him to feed his pigs. The boy became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the swine looked good to him. And no one gave him anything.

“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired men have food enough and to spare, and here I am, dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired man.”’

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming, and was filled with loving pity and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

“His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and you, and am not worthy of being called your son—’

“But his father said to the slaves, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. And a jeweled ring for his finger; and shoes! And kill the calf we have in the fattening pen. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has returned to life. He was lost and is found.’ So the party began.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working; when he returned home, he heard dance music coming from the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on.

“‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the calf we were fattening and has prepared a great feast to celebrate his coming home again unharmed.’

“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve worked hard for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to; and in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after spending your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the finest calf we have on the place.’

“‘Look, dear son,’ his father said to him, ‘you and I are very close, and everything I have is yours. But it is right to celebrate. For he is your brother; and he was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’”

As I look back over my own life, I can see Jesus teaching us that even when we make mistakes, God will be there patiently waiting for us to return to the path he meant for us. We all make mistakes, yet the most significant mistake any of us can make is to believe our mistakes will prevent us from returning to the path God intended for us. It is a mistake I almost made when I was a hard-headed and impetuous young teenager who believed he did not need help from anyone, even God, as I tried to deal with the painful traumatic loss of my Dad on his own. This was something Jesus not only never intended for me to do, it is something he never intended any of us to do, as Jesus is patiently waiting to help us find our path as a survivor.

God bless!

 

[1] Frost, Robert. Mountain Interval.

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

An Opportunity for Great Joy:

Regardless of the cause of death, the pain and grief felt by the parents and children that loved them very often are all to similar. This is especially true when the deaths of the loved one is traumatic, unexpected, premature, or somehow preventable. My dad was murdered in cold blood when he stopped to help the driver of a stranded vehicle on a cold December day. Yet, my experience could be strikingly similar if Dad had been killed by a drunk driver, died from cancer, or killed while serving in the armed forces. It is not the cause of death which defines the level of pain and grief of the loss that is experienced. The impact of the pain and grief we suffer is correspondent to the personal emotional loving connection that has been broken along with the level of dependency that has been lost.

There is nothing I can say that can take away the agony we all feel with the loss of a loved one, or the pain felt from other tragic times anyone may have experienced. I can only hope that by stepping outside my comfort zone and sharing my experiences, I can somehow help show that we all have a choice on how difficult times we experience will define us. In James 1:2-4, James, the brother of Jesus, imparted to us:

“when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”[1]

I know that this seems absurd to consider any tragedy an opportunity for great joy. Nevertheless, there are infinite examples of how God has made use of tragic events to provide magnificent transformation on our lives and the lives of others. As Theodore Roosevelt maintained, the life of a survivor is an impactful life, a life that is often desired and admired:

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

If God had not had me step outside my comfort zone, sometimes way out, I would have never opened my thick skull to how much of a difference we can each make if we reach out and open up to someone else that is experiencing their own tragedy. God gave me a choice, and although I had to work through some difficult times, this choice has allowed me to honor Dad and keep his memory alive today in a very positive and productive way.

It is important to know that this is not a journey that we have to experience alone, it is vital to understand that just resisting grief will only prolong the natural process of recovery. Failing to grieve will at best prevent you from moving on with your life, and at worst can lead to the darkness of depression which can lead to a lost life. It is my hope my story will help others see that there is hope, there are incredible people out there willing to share their stories so you can know you are not alone, and that Christ is there for you if you choose.

Although I miss my dad, to wish that this had not happened to him would be as though I was wishing it happened to someone else instead. I just could never wish such a terrible thing to happen to anyone. Consequently, I understand I have to do my best to trust in God and watched for God to use this tragedy as “an opportunity for great joy”. One such opportunity took place on Father’s Day, 2015, when the following memorial was posted by my daughter for her grandfather. Although it does not replace the loss of my dad, I hope you can see the “great joy” and peace that God has given me, through my daughter’s words:

“Reflections for Patrolman Thomas Ray Carpenter: It is amazing how someone whom you have never met can have such a huge impact on your life. The legacy of Patrolman Thomas Carpenter is far greater than anything he could of done in this lifetime. He was able to give me the gift of the most amazing father anyone could ever dream of having. My grandfather, Patrolman Carpenter, raised a man who respects, accepts, and protects everyone who he comes across. My grandmother, his wife, was able to keep his memory alive and instill the values that he believed to be important for their children to know. Patrolman Carpenter is a hero to me and I am blessed that he was able to raise a man who is the most amazing dad in the world. I wish I could have met the man who gave me my father to tell him Thank You. But it would never be enough.”

GreatJoy

[1] New International Version (NIV).

[2] New American Standard Bible (NASB).

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