Last weekend I attended a Spouse’s Retreat hosted through COPS (Concerns of Police Survivors). Over 80 widows of officers’ killed in the line of duty came together to offer support, share wisdom and encourage one another. The weekend was filled with heaviness and hope. It was a combination of heart-breaking stories owned by some of the boldest women I have ever encountered.
One of the most inspiring individuals I met during the retreat was COPS Executive Director, Suzie Sawyer. Her mere presence emphasizes her passion to assist in rebuilding the lives of surviving family members. She is the walking definition of care and support. One hug from Suzie and you feel like you matter. I watched her dance throughout the weekend offering encouragement. She is a visionary –passionately living out her mission. I can only hope to live with the same fervor.
A significant highlight for me during the weekend involved a high ropes
course, which could also be referred to as a 25-50 foot high tight-rope-walking jungle gym. Suzie encouraged many of the newer widows to
participate in this activity advertising it to be life changing. For
me it was mind-changing. I soon learned that the biggest obstacle
keeping me from reaching for more in my life is mental fear. In order
to reach my goals, I must tackle my fears whether real or invented.
I was the first to volunteer for the course. The guides instructed me
to climb up the first section, also referred to as an element. In
total, I would have five passages to complete. As I stood 15 feet
above the ground, I grasped tightly to the hand link behind me. My
first challenge was to walk free handed across a 20 foot long inclined
log. Although connected to a harness, there was nothing else for me to
hold. I felt unstable. I was beyond nervous that I would fall.
The entire event seemed more like a dare than an afternoon pastime.
Nervous and hesitant I stood motionless at the starting point. Suzie
stood below me coaching with her strong booming voice, “Jennifer, Go for it! You can do this. What
are you afraid of?”
Shaking I admitted, “I am afraid of falling. I am afraid of failing.”
“You won’t fall,” she promised.
“How do you know?” I questioned in disbelief.
“Trust us, Jennifer. We won’t let you fall.” She assured.
“But, what if I can’t do this?” I argued.
Suzie would not give up. “You can do this. Jennifer, is this the hardest thing you have ever done?”
Tears began to break, “No.” I admitted.
“Is this your greatest pain or biggest challenge?” She persisted.
Tears continued, “No.” I responded.
“Is this your greatest fear?” She continued.
Tears were now streaming down my face, “No.” I whispered.
“You are right, Jennifer” Suzie insisted, “The answer is no. You have
already walked through your greatest hurt. This is nothing in
comparison. If you have already faced your greatest fear, then what
are you afraid of? You can do this. Let go and walk!”
“But, Suzie,” I begged, “I didn’t choose to have Shawn die. I didn’t
choose the pain of losing my spouse. I didn’t choose to know the fear
of life without the one person on this earth I loved the most. And now
I am standing nearly two stories above ground with my only escape being
lumber logs and tightrope wires left wondering why I would choose to
place myself in this terrorizing position? There is nothing to hold
onto up here other than faith. Why would I submit myself to this
craziness? I don’t feel strong enough to do this.”
As I tried to rationalize and justify my dispute a sudden, strong,
serene realization seized me. A voice inside filled my senses,
“Jennifer – you must choose your fear in order to conquer it. You must
walk though your pain in order to see the other side of it. You must
step confidently in faith to overcome the very thing that paralyzes
you, otherwise you run the risk of living stuck in your past and
forfeiting your future. You are correct. This fear of the high rope
did not choose you. You chose it. Not because it doesn’t scare you –
quite the opposite – it swallows you with fright. Remember this: God
designed you to overcome and the God you cling to is your only
strength. Allow Him to take you across. Surrender your fear of
failing. This course is not about failing, it is about trusting.
Move, Jennifer. Take your first step and move. You were designed to
Legs shaking, arms balancing, eyes focused on the goal ahead, I sensed
Shawn around me and remembered our travels long prior when we spent
time serving with the Peace Corps in a small Honduran mountain
village. I could see in my mind’s eye the river we had crossed by foot
many times over, hopping from stone to stone, due to the bridge that
had been destroyed years earlier by Hurricane Mitch. To cross the
river, I needed to trust my movement and let it carry me. I couldn’t
hesitate or I ran the risk of falling into the water. I used the
momentum to assist me. Standing still or stopping halfway to the goal
only caused imbalance and added instability. I felt Shawn instructing
me, “When it’s time to go –Don’t look back…Go! Let the momentum carry
you, Jennifer and Move!”
With fear, trepidation and a deep breath, I let go. Without thinking
about the security of what was behind me, I forged ahead to the second
station. My next test was to walk across a tight rope cable.
Questions began to swirl in my head until I finally needed to verbalize
them out loud, “Are you sure you got me?” I yelled to those below.
With each inquiry a resounding affirmation was returned, “We got you.
You will not fall.” Suzie continued cheering, “You can do this. Look
at you – you are doing it. Look at you!”
At the third element, I switched safety locks, as is protocol, to
readjust my direction. My hands shook as I worked to secure myself
within the harness system. With legs like jello, I walked across two
sideway planks to level four and looked up in panic.
“Go up!” Suzie directed.
“What comes next?” I yelled.
“That isn’t important.” She countered.
“I need to know what is ahead.” I claimed.
“Just take one step at a time and climb. Focus on what is in front of
you. We will deal with what is ahead of you when you get there.” Suzie demanded firmly, yet with compassion.
Here it was again. The persistent message to be in the now; a message
that seems to follow me since Shawn died.
I began to scale the pole towards the fourth
position, ascending to 50 feet above the ground. At this height I
could now see what Suzie had avoided describing to me: two tightrope
cords that crossed in the center forming a wide “X” which forced the
climber’s hands and feet to meet at the intersection before crossing to
the other side.
I couldn’t imagine how my body would be able to contort to these narrow
parameters. It was at this point that I realized I had no plan. And
maybe that was best. I simply had to take the risk and figure it out as I
went along. There wasn’t any other option other than to quit
and in my mind I wouldn’t be satisfied to turn back now. Holding on
with every piece of strength I owned, I forced myself to keep moving
and eventually transcend to the other side. It was during this passage
that I discovered I could do what appears by sight to be impossible.
I reached the fifth and final barrier to the maze. The last obstacle
was called the Spider’s Web; a net of ropes with an opening in the
center. I sat in the woven design debating the requirement of free
falling in order to allow the pulley system to lower me to the ground.
This was one of many elements to the course that Suzie referred to as
mind over matter. She promised I could overcome anything if I
determined in my mind, regardless of fear, that I could indeed achieve
In faith I fell forward. This was the best part. I slowly lowered
myself to the ground smiling in victory. “I did it! I didn’t!” I
celebrated. Rejoicing, I thought of my children and especially my baby
Madelynn who at two years of age loves to express, “I did it! I did
it!” At the bottom, Suzie proudly hugged me through my tears – this
time tears of accomplishment rather than fear.
This was triumph. I felt stronger. I chose a vulnerable,
unknown, frightening path –not to better understand my pain – instead
to better understand my strength. I chose to walk through fear –
not because I want to live inside my insecurities – rather I desire to
live in confidence. I chose to walk through panic, dread and
apprehension in order to gain the other side – a place that rejoices in
trials overcome, in spirits uplifted, and heartaches that ultimately
Despite bumps and bruises, I wanted to stand on the side of survival.
I wanted to stand on the side that walks through darkness and lives. I
wanted to stand on the side that knows the pit of despair and the
depths of love shared and still continues to trust in a bigger
adventure. The high ropes course taught me that God’s abundant
possibilities lie on the other side of what fearfully holds me back.
This is why I had to cross over.