Grace…

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26

Grace… five letters combined to form a word that is so small yet so profound and filled with meaning and love. It seems that in today’s world, we have so little grace toward each other. It seems that way even within the Christian community as well.

I always thought I understood grace. Grace: the ability to show love and kindness to someone wholly undeserving, as Christ exemplified grace when He willingly sacrificed himself for the whole of humanity, even though we are the most undeserving lot. And this is grace on the biggest scale of all, but what does grace look like in the smallest of acts. Again, I thought I understood grace, but it wasn’t until December 24, 2019 that grace smacked me upside the head, knocked me out and helped me back up again, even if at this point I’m only on my knees and not fully standing yet.

God’s grace was there in so many ways… His grace allowed me and my husband to find our daughter. I know it seems all wrong on the surface because wouldn’t God’s grace have kept her hand from pulling the trigger? The short answer is yes, but even if He doesn’t… this is a conversation for another day. That day, we found our daughter, not a stranger… the two people who love her more than any other humans, except maybe her brother. She could have left; she could have been in another state, she could have been anywhere else other than home. God’s grace allowed us to be there in the beginning when she entered this world, and to be there in the end, when she left this world. There’s more grace there than I deserve.

God’s grace was there when a sergeant with the sheriff’s office heard the call go out and even though it wasn’t his call, he came. Not because he could do anything for her, but because he knew us. He knew me, my husband, and our daughter. It’s hard to explain, but when I saw him, there was comfort there because he cared enough to come comfort us even though he knew he couldn’t help her, his presence helped me.

God’s grace was the law enforcement personnel and the… I can’t remember the title, but the woman who came to sit with us, to explain the process to us… her and the law enforcement personnel who came to work the scene. Their compassion, the way they spoke to me and my husband. They weren’t judgemental. They didn’t grill us about what we could’ve, should’ve done. There were questions that had to be asked of course, but in the asking, the grace was there in the way they dealt with us.

God’s grace showed up later that night when my oldest sister rang the doorbell and just hugged us. When she learned of her niece’s death, she got in her car and drove six hours just to hug us, cry with us, pray with us. Although we welcomed her to stay, she didn’t.

God’s grace showed up when two men from our church came that night. One is the music director with whom our daughter loved, and whose family embraced Shelby and took her in as one of their own. He was the one who married Shelby and her husband almost two years earlier. The other young man did not know Shelby, but he knew her brother. Their tears flowed with ours, and their prayers saw us through the night.

God’s grace was exemplified when I had called my closest friend earlier that afternoon and asked if she could go to our son who had remained at school for the holiday break. I didn’t want him to be alone when I told him of his sister’s death. Without a moment’s hesitation, she drove the six hours north. Telling my son of Shelby’s death… I knew his life would never be the same. I dreaded that moment… we had been through so much as a family and he loves his sister with a love that can only be described as unconditional. The sound that emanated from his soul when the words hit his ears… As his mom, it utterly broke what was left of my heart to know that there wasn’t anything I could do to take away his pain, but my friend was there. She was there to comfort, to hold, to take him to her home so we could get him the next day. God’s grace showed up in her love for my son and our family.

God’s grace showed up when my family surrounded me with their love, their hugs, their tears… at different times, my sisters came, my mom came, my dad and second mom came… our son’s cousins came. Each in their own way helped carry the emptiness and the excruciating pain that filled our hearts.

God’s grace was there in the form of another dear friend who drove an hour to come take me to church the Sunday after Shelby died. Sitting next to me, she held my hand… she too loved our Shelby.

God’s grace showed up in the details of planning Shelby’s funeral, from a dear family friend who helped with the writing of the obituary to the admiral who approved the burial to the fly over at her funeral. The funeral home staff… the grace they showed in their handling of every detail.

God’s grace was on full display in each person who attended her funeral, from those who knew Shelby to those who did not, but wanted our family to know they cared, they were praying… it seems a small thing to attend a funeral, but for me, it meant everything that without being asked to attend, they came.

In the days that followed, God’s grace was there in the cards, phone calls, messages, flowers we received. God’s grace was there when I was told of a person – who not too long ago had been so unkind for reasons unknown – reached out to let me know he too understood because he had buried his son. God’s grace allowed me to see past the surface and to see this man’s heart, and in so doing, I have come to appreciate this person for his willingness to share his story and the memory of his son with me.

The shed that held Shelby’s final moments – one we had been planning to take down but hadn’t done yet… God’s grace was there when I asked a friend for his help… without hesitation, he reached out to another who allowed him to borrow the equipment to help with its removal. He spent three days helping us remove the shed. The first day, three other friends were there to help as well. The second day, when he came, I was sitting in the partial shed, looking at the piece of wood that still bore the blood stains of Shelby. I asked him if he could help me remove that section before proceeding any further. I can’t explain it, but I didn’t want anything to fall on that section. I didn’t know what I was going to do with that section yet, but I knew at that moment I had to get it out. He smiled and said, “okay.” He didn’t judge; he didn’t tell me not to. With grace, he said okay.

God’s grace was there when the young man who helps with our yard – if you could call it that at this point – offered the use of his trailer to haul away the shed. He not only allowed us the use of the trailer, but took the debris away – three loads. This young man also helped with our dogs when we had to go to California later to go through Shelby’s belonging and bring back her car.

God’s grace was there when another friend also helped us with our dogs. More than that, she listened, prayed, cried with… she went with me to get Shelby’s belongings that had been collected the night of her death.

Through the compassion of another sargeant who helped me through the process of collecting Shelby’s belongings and retrieving the incident report, God’s grace was there.

Through another friend, God’s grace opened doors to help I need to move forward. This man has allowed God to work through him to create an organization to help veterans (sofmissions.org)

God’s grace is abundantly evident in my husband… this man who I am wholly undeserving of has held me, prayed with me, wiped my tears and snot, has read the Bible with me, has taken my hand, has set aside his own grieve to give to me… God’s grace comes through everyday through my husband.

There were a million other ways God’s grace has appeared since December 24, 2019.  So while it may seem  that God turned His back on us that day, He did not… He turned His face upon us and provided grace and a peace that surpasses all understanding, but of all the acts of grace we were the recipients of, the most precious one of all is the grace Christ gave at the cross, because that grace – through His love and mercy – means I will see my Shelby again, and she is finally at peace in His arms and then enemy can no longer touch her.

How Long Does it Take to Process?

To read this email chain in order, start from bottom and read up. To date, no response has been received from U.S. Representative Gaetz. 

Re: Sexaul Assault and Military

Jan 16 at 5:21 AM

Yvonne Harper 
To: Matt Gaetz 
Good morning, Mr. Gaetz.

Three years ago I sent an an email with our story. You replied stating your service on the Armed Service Committee may help you bring some good out of our story. It’s been three years; I’ve heard nothing. An update to our story is that on December 24, 2019 – Christmas Eve Day – our daughter, age 25, took her own life. She would’ve been 26 years old on January 7.

I have thought back to our time in Japan and when we first learned of her rape. I can’t help but wonder if things would’ve been different if we had been told of Dr. Amerson when I asked if there was a child psychologist and told there was none. By the time we learned of Dr. Amerson and Shelby started to work with him – and make progress – it was just a couple of short months before he was deployed. If we hadn’t been lied to, and we were told about Dr. Amerson in the summer of 2008, she would’ve had almost a year working with him.

I can’t help but wonder if the incompetent doctor who prescribed trazadone had instead taken the time to actually listen to her and us, instead of blaming her father and quickly prescribing her a medication that should never have been prescribed to her – as was told to me when we returned to Florida in May 2009. The first thing her doctor said is, “She should never have been prescribed this medication.” He immediately began taking her off. The reason is it is used to treat major depression which she did not have, and the effects of it on a developing brain can have long-term adverse effects.

I can’t help but wonder if the licensed-counselor on base had been more concerned with actually helping her instead of having her listen to a video about how all she needed to do was to put good thoughts in the universe and good things would happen. As if telling a rape survivor that putting good thoughts in the universe in order to have good things happen is ever good, because what that tells the survivor is she didn’t put enough good thoughts in the universe, therefore, that’s why she was raped.

I can’t help but wonder if she had actually gotten the RIGHT help in the beginning, if the ending would’ve been different.

I know you are busy and my daughter’s life is inconsequential to you because she was just a daughter of a man who honorably served this nation for 30 years, and a daughter of a woman who honorably served as well. She didn’t make headlines; she isn’t the child of some high and powerful member of Congress or the rich and famous. She merely gave everything during her childhood up to when she graduated high school as her father served this nation in the United States Navy.

So now I’m left wondering, does it matter now? Is it important to you now to do something? I mean actually do something that will help other children who silently serve, and were never asked to serve, but do so because of their parents. Now that she is dead, is it now important?

Yvonne C. Harper
Navarre, FL
850-910-1572

“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; He also is become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:2

On Sunday, January 22, 2017, 5:11:21 PM CST, Yvonne Harper <ycharper@yahoo.com> wrote:
Thank you for your time and feedback, Congressman Gaetz. If I can be of service in the process, please let me know.
Again, thank you.
Yvonne

Sent from my iPhone

On Jan 22, 2017, at 4:32 PM, Matt Gaetz <matt@mattgaetz.com> wrote:
Yvonne –

I can’t imagine the courage it must have taken to reduce this to writing.  My service on the Armed Services committee may help me bring some good out of this.  Let me think and process how to best address some of these structural challenges.

Matt


From: Yvonne Harper 
Sent: Tuesday, January 17, 2017 7:55 PM
To: Matt Gaetz
Subject: Sexaul Assault and Military

Good evening, Congressman Gaetz.

First, congratulations on being seated as the Representative for Northwest Florida.

I spoke with you regarding sexual assault in the military, specifically family members. You asked me to send you details. I did not at that time because I was not sure how it would be received. My family’s story is not one I often tell; it is personal in a way one cannot understand unless one having gone through it.

My daughter asked me to write our story. I finished the story – I am sending it to you. I know you are busy. I know there are many pressing for your time. If you can, please read the attached story. If after, this is something you wish to proceed with – fighting to improve a system that serves only to check a box and provide nice sound bites – I would be truly humbled.

Thank you,

Yvonne C. Harper
850-910-1572

“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; He also is become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:2

Nothing More Than I Can Bear

“There hath no temptation taken hold of you but such as is common to man. But God is faithful; He will not suffer you to be tempted beyond that which ye are able to bear, but with the temptation will also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” 

I Corinthians 10:13

December 24, 2019: it began as any other day really. Coffee, letting out the dogs, deciding the grocery list for Christmas dinner. Nothing out of the unusual. Our daughter awoke, put in a load of clothes in the washer. I asked her if she’d like to drive around to look at Christmas lights that evening. She got that childlike smile and replied, “I’d like that very much.” I was excited about her and I doing what had been an annual tradition. However, as with all traditions, sometimes time and space interrupt them. This had been one of them. Our daughter had married almost two years earlier and was with her husband, who was stationed in San Diego. Our son, for this Christmas, had decided to stay at school. It would be the first Christmas without our two children together so I was already feeling a bit off… so the idea of driving around looking at lights, listening to Christmas music with my daughter took on a new sense of joy.

Our daughter had been home since early November. We had spent Thanksgiving together: the last time we were together has a family – me, my husband, our daughter and our son.

Deciding upon Christmas dinner, I asked my daughter if she needed anything from the store. She gave me a couple of items, and per my usual reply, I asked her to text me the items because I’d be sure to forget. I asked her if she’d like to come; she replied she did not. As we left, she saw us to the door. We hugged each other. “I love you,” she said. “I love you too, hon.” She stood in the doorway as we left.

Ninety minutes later, we arrived home, turned off the house alarm. I went to our daughter’s room; she wasn’t there. Looking into the back yard, I saw the shed door open. This was not unusual as sometimes the wind blew open the door. Not thinking anything about it, I went outside to close the door. Upon entering the shed, I saw my daughter lying on the floor. I knew…

Screaming something unintelligible, I ran to my husband. Ran into the house to get the phone. My husband called 911, I went back to the shed, still screaming, “No!” I knelt down beside her. I knew… blood pooled around her head, gun laying by her right hand, her eyes half open. I took her hand, it was already cooling. “No, no, no…” was the mantra. Placing my head on her chest, I prayed, “Please God, oh please, no…” All I wanted to hear at that moment was her heart, but the organ that pumped life through her veins was forever still. I don’t know how long I knelt beside my daughter, holding her hand, kissing her cheek, placing my head on her chest, before my husband and a law enforcement officer pulled me away. One on each side, each taking an elbow, pulled me up, walking me out of the shed.

The light that had been my daughter was darkened, never to shine again on this earth.

The ensuing days were filled with the usual activity that surrounds the sudden death of a loved one. Family and friends came, the funeral arrangements were made, we buried our daughter. The usual words were said, “I’m sorry for your loss;” “Be strong;” “Fill the emptiness with her memories.” All meaningless, albeit well meaning.  It was during this time, those first days I came to truly understand the verse that opens this post. I learned how wrong I was. First, I had been wrong in its meaning for many years. I used to believe that God doesn’t give us anymore than we can handle regarding the trials we face in this life. Then I thought, “Well, He does because He doesn’t want us handling anything; He wants us to give it to Him.” Then I realized as I prepared for my daughter’s burial, that the verse has nothing to do with the trials and tribulations we face in life.

The verse, when read in context, refers to temptations not trials. There is no temptation that we face that is bigger than we can handle because God is bigger than any temptation, be it drinking, spending more time watching television instead of spending time with family, smoking, pornography… whatever that temptation is, it won’t be so big that we can’t overcome it because when we have Christ, He will deliver us when we earnestly seek Him.

It was then I understood the appropriate verse during these times is not the oft repeated paraphrase, “God won’t give you anything more than you can handle,” because burying my daughter who killed herself on Christmas Eve was definitely more than I could handle. It still is… So now, I remind myself of the appropriate verse that His grace is sufficient for me.

“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” II Corinthians 12:9.

Chocolate

As Christmas fast approaches, I am filled with complete motivation to bake with chocolate as the main ingredient… but not just any chocolate, dark chocolate.

In honor of all the delectable dark chocolate desserts I will be baking in the upcoming weeks, here is my ode to dark chocolate.

Life… It begins with a burst, a cry, a smile, laughter, hugs, kisses and tears.

The journey of life is often long, sometimes short; it is mountainous, with many valleys; there are sunrises and sunsets; thunderstorms bursting with thun­der, skies brightened with lightning.

The rare quiet moments, when stillness engulfs the soul and calm fills the spirit; there are obstreperous moments when chaos rules.There is love; there is hate. Life is bitter; life is sweet.

That first bite of dark chocolate is like the first breath of life: bitter… sweet. Just as pain precedes the joy that life brings, the bitterness of that first taste of dark chocolate precedes the sweetness that lingers long after it is gone.

Dark chocolate embodies life – with each bite, the bitter-sweet that is life is present and as it dissolves into memories, so too does life’s fleeting moments.

Dark chocolate evinces what life can be: goodness. Within dark chocolate’s composition, there are those phenomenal antioxidants that erase free radicals, those destructive molecules that can cause heart disease and other ailments.These antioxidants do for the body what a spring beach sunset does for the soul.

While milk chocolate or white chocolate may soothe for an hour or even a day, it is dark chocolate that goes the distance and provides benefits long after that last bitter-sweet taste. Like life, it has staying power.