April 21, 2017

What would you say to the man who tried to kill your husband?

I met Ralph in December 1996 on a blind date, and we immediately hit it off. He was friendly, funny, and came across as a deeply spiritual man—everything you could want in a husband. Hearing he was a law enforcement officer, however, left me apprehensive. The men and women called to this job do it knowing they may never come home on any given day. I liked Ralph, so I was concerned for his safety. Nevertheless, we kept dating and married in November 1998.

The lifestyle of an officer’s wife may be different than the norm as disturbances always take precedence over our pre-planned events; in fact, many nights you might be eating alone. But Ralph truly loves his job, and I know worrying doesn’t keep him any safer. That doesn’t mean that I don’t often worry, because I do! It doesn’t mean I haven’t paced through our house while looking out the window and wondering if another officer is coming to notify me of the unimaginable. It simply means that I’ve learned to trust in something, or rather Someone, who casts out all fear.

Eleven years ago, when our first born was only six-weeks-old, Ralph was sent on a call where a man was holding his wife hostage in their home. The suspect had been drinking and was extremely depressed. Ralph set up directly in front of the home, while fire/EMS, other officers, and the SWAT team were positioned closer.

Ralph directed his spotlight at the home and began calling for the man to lay down his weapons and surrender. While he was sitting in the driver’s seat of his vehicle, Ralph was reminded of something he had read earlier in the week about the patrol car being a target at all times. As soon as he got out to use his door as a shield, a gunshot rang through the patrol car windshield, and the bullet slammed into the headrest where he had just been seated. A SWAT team member took that opportunity to knock the suspect to the ground and end the conflict.

Months later, when the case went to trial, we were called to court to testify. I held our newborn daughter as I watched the man’s face. I kept thinking how he had tried to take my husband, protector, and father of our new baby girl away from us.

My mind swirled through all the what-if scenarios when my turn to testify came. Then the inevitable question was asked: “How do you feel about the suspect?” With my stomach roiling, I looked directly at him and said I was sad for him and his cowardly act that evening. I told him that the men and women in law enforcement vow to protect society, yes, even him, and that his extremely selfish act would not go unforgotten. I told him many things in that courtroom, but it was the last thing I mentioned that stuck with me through the years. I said I’d pray for him. I didn’t pray for him right at that moment, or even in the days following. But eventually, I did pray for that man. I prayed in spite of his sister confronting me vouching for his good character. I prayed even after he started serving his prison sentence. And I prayed despite never knowing what happened to him in the years since that day.

There are times I relive those moments and think, “God died for that man just as he died for my family and me. God loves him and his sister as much as He loves anyone else.” In the aftermath of the hostage situation and trial, I did not feel like I was able to pray for those people. It was in those moments that I realized the prayer, and the forgiveness that followed was just as much for me as it was for them.

Believing in God isn’t simply a bargain I make with Him in return for things like Ralph’s safety. I choose to believe because of the realization that God’s perfect love is so all-encompassing that He can and does love all of us the same. Regardless of the past, present, or future, God loves us, and that love drives out all the fear I may face.

Is this the only call Ralph has been on that has frightened me? Absolutely not. The threats become more prevalent each day. Officers everywhere are spit on, threatened, hit, and shot at, yet they continue to do their job through it all. What keeps me going is the knowledge that my husband is prayed for by so many. Even when days get really difficult, and the streets seem worse than ever before, I continue to believe that God is my refuge, my strength, and my help in times of trouble.

An original version of this story was published in the Texas Conference FLAME Magazine.