Sunday, July 9, 2017

One Year: A Bridge and a Box

As the weekend of my "Birthday with a Purpose" draws to a close I am overwhelmed with the wide spectrum of emotions I experienced in just a couple of days. There were times I was laughing with Dallas Police Officers as they heckled one of their own and there was a moment at 10:02 am when I was physically holding up a female officer on the side of the road as she sobbed on my shoulder. There were jokes about my height and hesitation about my presence. But as I went Station to Station I was met with men and women who did their best to heal me while my sole purpose was to heal them. But that shouldn't surprise me because that's exactly what one officer did when I was at the Memorial last year.

In 105 degree temperatures she stood out there in front of the Dallas Police Headquarters in full uniform. And in my Red Cross vest I asked if she wanted a bottle of water. It was a simple gesture but one that never left my mind because of her smile. She was so sweet and so appreciative in a moment when I was supposed to be expressing my appreciation to her. And because of her smile she is the only officer I had my picture taken with at the Memorial. I held on to that picture and found comfort in it somehow. Two females serving their community. Both wearing vests. One incredibly brave and the other incredibly grateful. And this July 7th we were reunited. This time I didn't have water for the officer but a thank-you card. And I was able to explain to her who I was, what she meant to me and how I found strength in her smile. I took a piece of the pain from last year and I put a new smile on it.

To end the Birthday with a Purpose I decided it would be special to participate in a "Run for the Blue" 5K race. "Special" was one way to put it. It was 90 degrees at 6:45 in the morning. Not the slightest of a breeze was blowing. Clouds were nowhere to be found. And almost 3,000 people had shown up to run. I wore my special shirt. I presented the check for the Signal 15 Fund to an officer with the organization. I stood at attention for the National Anthem. I bowed my head for the prayer. And when the race began... I cried.

I cried. I cried as I ran past officers standing in front of their squad cars with lights flashing and clapping their hands to cheer us on. Tears streamed down my face as I let it all out: the fear, the heartbreak, the anxiety, the helplessness, the confusion and the anger. I cried as I thought back to July 7th and watched the images of that nightmare Downtown play over and over in my head. I cried at the anger I felt at the protesters and their heartless words for police officers trying to protect them. And I cried at the memory of the man I was going to marry telling me that he "just couldn't do it anymore" so that somehow in the midst of the chaos that night I became single. I ran harder. And I cried more.

Then we came to a bridge.

The race went up and over the bridge and then the course reversed and went back up and over the bridge on the other side. At every turn there were officers with their hand out to slap yours. Some were standing in full uniform in the unbelievable heat. They cheered us on as we ran a race dedicated to supporting them. It was cyclical appreciation at it's finest. At the bottom of the bridge there was an officer that I had seen at the Memorial last year. I remember him bending down to talk to a couple of kids who were upset because they thought there were more "bad guys" out there. And this officer was crouched down and assuring the kids that the policemen were there to keep them safe and he promised that all the bad guys would be kept away from them. I will never forget that conversation or the way in which he comforted those kids who hung onto their Dad.

And there at the bottom of the bridge, on a bicycle, was the officer I saw that evening cheering me on as I ascended what must be one of the only inclines in the city of Dallas. I alternated between jogging and walking and nearly falling over from heat as I made my way across the bridge. And I thought, as I crossed it and turned back around at the bottom to climb it again, of the symbolism on that bridge. I was crossing over the past and leaving the intense pain, the confusion, the disbelief and the heartbreak on the other side. The events of July 7th, 2016: where the lives of five brave men were tragically ended in Dallas and in a house outside of the city my future became a past. I crossed the bridge into the present day. I crossed the bridge from when the officer was comforting a scared child to when he was encouraging me to finish the race.

And I did finish. But waiting for me to run that last stretch to the finish line was my brother and together we crossed it. Just like always, the people that I love stepped up and stepped in to help me accomplish something I was positive I could do on my own. But it was better done with them by my side. 

That sentiment is what made today's gift so special. Just as I was adamant last year that my family come together to celebrate my birthday, I was beyond vocal that I wasn't celebrating mine this year. It was no secret. (If banners could have been flown overhead I would have done that too.) But there was a big secret being kept to which I was at the core of... without even knowing. My sister decided that she couldn't let July 7th go unacknowledged. And so she reached out to countless friends through social media and asked them to help create a "Box of Love" for me. In a message that she wrote to each of them she told them that she would like to collect letters, cards, stories, memories, pictures, etc. that will make me smile on a bad day. She collected all of these items from across the world and presented me with that box today. 

I could not have been more surprised nor humbled at the site of a beautiful box filled with letters and cards from childhood playmates, high school friends, family, Nashville loves, new Texas friends and even my unborn nephew. The box is huge and my heart is full. 

If I learned anything this past year it's that even though I try to be independent and headstrong I can do nothing without the support of loved ones. And those loved ones don't have to be right next door to me. They can be back home in Nashville... in California... on base in Japan... doing missionary work in Brazil... in a small town in Vermont... in the big city of New York... and down the road here in Texas. For the girl who didn't have a single person show up to her 12th birthday party it's hard to wrap my head around the dozens of letters and envelopes in that box. How did I meet all of these people and what did I do to deserve so much love and affection? 

A year ago my heart was broken by a man who told me that he had a broken wing. And despite all my attempts to fix his wing and love him through it... I failed. Recently someone said to me, "You've earned those wings you wear." And I thought to myself, "I don't want wings because they break and from what I've seen- they're irreparable."  But now I know that perhaps they don't always break. Maybe they just bend a little. And sometimes those wings get a little heavy too. That's when we need to turn to our loved ones and ask for help. That is: If you know how to. And I didn't know how to this past year. I didn't ask for help but every time I thought I was going to fall someone was there to pick me up. 

You gave me a spare bedroom to sleep in so I didn't feel alone.... But I never asked. 
You met me at a Memorial and then you found me 3 months later... But I never asked. 
You sent me care packages to help with tumor medicine side affects... But I never asked. 
You texted me funny pictures and quotes that made me smile... But I never asked. 
You loved me through it all... And I never even asked. 

Thank you for all the love, support, kindness, sweetness and strength you have given me this past year. I won't lie and say that it's been an easy one and I won't lie and try to say everything will be good going forward. But in crossing that bridge yesterday I found the freedom to move forward with a renewed faith and strength... and in receiving that box today I found the source of the love to get me there. 

A year ago I wrote how I felt I had fallen through a rabbit hole like Alice... and I couldn't have been more correct. So with that I say, "A very unmerry unbirthday to me" and here's to a birthday that will forever be celebrated with a Purpose. 

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