Prelude: I was asked to speak at a Remember My Name event to honor victims who died due to domestic violence homicide in 2018. My husband Christopher Race was killed by my first husband whom I left because of domestic violence in 2007. We were completely blindsided by this attack. It has taken an immense amount of courage to face the world in the days since and lots of help and hope from God and counselors as we make our way. Following is the speech I gave at the beautiful event to honor victims of domestic violence homicide. But, by the grace of God it was not I who died that day! For that I am also so very grateful!
A great musician once came to the stage to perform a magnificent concerto on his violin, and as his piece began one of his strings snapped. He did not stop…he barely paused. He played the whole musical piece with only three strings instead of four barely missing a note. At the end of his performance the musician wrought with polio and with the aid of his crutches slowly pulled himself to his feet. He said to the audience when the applause at last died down. “It is my job to make music with what remains.”
The day I got the call was the worst day of my life in which I learned one of the greatest lessons. I was sitting in a Brandon Barber Coaching Conference an hour away from home. We had just talked about life circumstances and how practicing gratitude can make such an impact on how we deal with life. Most of us aren’t really paving our path… creating life. No, most of us are just reacting to all the events that happen around and to us.
That morning I’d rushed off early to work at our bakery coffee house. I made my fifty-ish giant cinnamon and caramel rolls and served customers ’til my husband arrived at 8 am. He took over the counter tidied the dishes and made me my favorite iced coffee. Heard and hushed my worries about leaving on a busy Saturday. He reassured me that I deserved the break and to go and enjoy my time learning about self care with my friend. I picked up my coffee and tilted my face up for another sweet kiss from my handsome man. He hugged me tightly within his strong arms, holding me a few extra seconds, he said, “I’ve got this…it’s your day to go. I love you!”
Off I ran to my friends waiting car. She and I, we sat side by side at our conference exchanging notes and glances of agreement. We learned and listened. We settled in discussing gratitude during the afternoon session. I listened to the chatter around the room. The husbands and wives, of people who despised their jobs…of ungrateful children etc. I listened and the realization of the blessings of my current life began to flood over me. I tuned out the crowd and wrote in my notebook. I have it made! My life is perfect! I am Loved, Valued and Blessed! I am so Thankful!!
How could it be that the best lesson was learned on the worst day all at the same time you ask? Well, simply because in the very same instant that the most horrible event of my life was happening I was also learning the very lesson I needed to carry me through it. Gratitude for the good around and in me is a very strong rope to hang onto when it feels like the foundation of your entire universe has shifted and you can see nor feel nothing but shock and sorrow. So when the call came that day and I fell deep deep down into what could have been a pit of endless despair…I landed there with that slip of paper in my hand. I am loved…I am valued…I am blessed! I am so thankful!
Later that day and long into the evening as detectives and a multitude of other departments related did their job I waited in the building at the back end of the bakery. My heart pounding in my chest, my brain spinning in circles. The who, the how, the why and the what next. The safety of my precious babies. How do we fathom a life when one of our truly most valuable players is missing? I had no words, I had no tears, I didn’t even have a prayer. My sobs and my moans were to deep for sounds. Deep within my spirit I looked up to my Father God and lifted my arms up to Him like a little child. I climbed onto His lap with all my five sons around me and tucked them in tight and there I rested. God holds me on His lap when I don’t know what to say, when my pain is to deep for words, when tears are my only offering. I am not strong, but daily He puts me on my feet and helps me lift each child to his feet also to be able to carry on. I learned to have real and very direct conversations with God throughout this grief journey and the trial of a man I thought I knew so well charged with murder. God doesn’t hesitate to answer me back just as directly either. Other times He offers me comfort and soothing, peace that only could come directly from the throne of His great grace. I couldn’t do this without divine intervention, let me make that quite clear. We are loved! We are valued! We are blessed! I am so grateful!!
On the day that I met Christopher and even in the next couple of months he came a calling I had no intention of dating a man. No matter how handsome or smooth talking he might be, and Chris was a lot of both. I figured it’d be another 10-15 years before I even thought of risking the peace and calm in my childrens’ and my life to the hands and mouth of another man. Chris didn’t take no for an answer not giving up very easily as I brushed off his inquiry to spend more time together. About 4 months after meeting I finally relented and went for a walk at the lake with him. By this time he’d begun to understand that I saw myself through the lenses of anothers’ cruelty who placed my value so very low. He saw imperfections in me but did not deem me worthless. He saw my value and begged me to see it too. He ran his hands over my past lingering over my dents and bruises and worn edges of my heart. When I thought he’d run away like others had, he told me I was a warrior and that I’d never fight another battle alone.
To love and care for someone who is whole is beautiful…to love and care for someone who is wounded, weak, broken, afraid and burdened from life’s troubles is and amazing deep and intimate love. We were not perfect by any measure, but we loved deeply and lost greatly in his death. He loved, valued and blessed us and for that I am so grateful.
On the day that Chris’s life was brutally taken from us our trust in humanity was sorely put to the test. I wanted to retreat like never before. It took months before the shock and awe of what had happened to lift. In between we’d experience the beginning waves of grief and loss. There are a million feelings, a thousand thoughts and hundreds and hundreds of memories all for this one dear person. Grateful is definitely what I feel when I realize that I’d rather have had him only for these precious moments, than never at all…these tiny little 5 years, 8 months and 25 days. I’d still rather endure this unfathomable pain of surviving his death than to have never known and have loved him.
For 19 months I’ve adapted and persevered on. My husband died is said so often it resembles, “how are you?” I’ve grown used to the absence of his manly smell and his toothpaste and beard hairs in our bathroom sink. We said we’d always be strong for our boys no matter whatever happened. I never expected to fulfill those words alone so very soon. I’ve sprayed cologne on his side of the bed desperate to have some part of him still lingering. Though I know doing this will inevitably cause me tears on the morrow when I arise and reach for him and find only cold empty sheets once again. For 19 months I’ve assumed every role. I’ve cared for 5 sick boys while I too was suffering. I’ve left school and therapy meetings bearing the brunt of the news alone. I’ve walked through a 3 year old with a ruptured appendix and ambulance rides to another hospital and then ultimately surgery. I’ve woken multitudes of times with toddlers who anxiety vomited relentlessly. Sometimes managing with 5 hours of sleep myself. I’ve tried to revive things Daddy and his boys did together and while their mouths thank me repeatedly, their eyes told me it just wasn’t the same. I too miss the tickle monster and good morning Mr Sunshine sing song. Daddy rides on shoulders and tossing up to the ceiling. That Daddy, he was just so much to remember and be thankful for!
For 19 months I’ve wept. I’ve been in shock. I’ve stood strong. I’ve been numb. I’ve hurt for me, I’ve hurt for our families. I’ve hurt for his parents and family. And oh, the agony of our children. I’ve listened a few doors down to the sobs in the night muffled sometimes by pillows. Sometimes the shouts of rage and the fists into the punching bag. The music gets played to match our emotional fury. Oh, the music that leads us into or out of our grieving turmoil as needed. I hurt for the son who never saw 1 single birthday with his Daddy. I surely am thankful that Daddy was his first and best word, though he doesn’t often speak it now. The suffocating pain called love temporarily engulfs us. Sometimes it hurts to breathe. I wish I could feel his breath again.
For 19 months I’ve imagined what we’d be doing just now if he was here. How he’d love our different house and bakery setting. He’d truly love the slower pace of business life I’ve set up for us which leaves more family connection time, though he wouldn’t like the income adjustment quite so much. For 19 months I’ve come to expect his presence at the store when I glance through the greeting and cards and walk away weeping at the ones I know he’ll never give me again, or perhaps chuckle at the ones I might now be brave enough to give to him with my changed and relaxed attitude towards our relationship. I bristle and reminisce in the kitchen when his favorite sweet pastries or spicy jalapeno breads are baking, oh how he loved my baking. He was my greatest critic and my best motivator to excellence. When I make cocoa wheats for the boys I do my best not to stir and leave in a few lumps just like Daddy did. I went away to an event early on that we usually did together and instinctively I made him a plate of food first and went to find him. After not finding him, I did my best to eat his favorite things around the lump in my throat. Sometimes I couldn’t even fully grasp that he was fully gone.
I didn’t fully understand it was possible to love someone so fiercely. The love this man showed me helped me heal from a past so littered with trauma. That kind of fierce love is what carries us onward now. Time passes but not one day goes by that he’s not here in our hearts. The day he died is not just a date on the calendar. It was the date our very existence changed forever.
For 19 months now I’ve been blessed to be here to raise our sons – his little legacies, the loves of my beloved. One of our sons is looking at me with his sad swollen eyes and asking, “We’re going to be ok? Right Mommy?” And in that moment I’m standing there and I’m and so not ok. Nothing in that moment feels very ok. Here though is part of my beloved in human form asking, “Is it going to be ok?” And I say to the last part of the question,of the living, of the survival, of the enduring – “Yes, just like the song says, just like the verse in the Bible says. If God can care for every sparrow of the field can we not trust He’s going to take care of us too. So we keep on believing in enough for today. Enough energy, enough sleep, enough money, enough food, enough motivation for school and work and to press through past the hurts and reach our days goals. Somehow we get it, and little by little just as we need it, God provides.
Yes, we are brokenhearted, we cannot hide our broken heartedness. Each of you would willingly give us a piece of your heart if it would make us whole we know…but daily we are growing and healing. Like the musician though a string short in the violin of our life, we go on making music with what remains. We know that life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful, so…
Together we stand – We are loved, we are valued we are blessed and I am so very grateful for the walk we have through this life!