(The beautiful young woman in the above photo is the daughter of a MN police officer. Photo by Jamie.)
With all the terrible things happening around our country lately, it’s too easy to feel despair.
To feel hopeless.
To feel anger.
To feel defeat.
I’m not going to go into detail about those terrible things. Chances are, police wife or not, you are already aware of the record number of police officers killed in the line of duty this month. You already know about the latest horrific violence against high schoolers and teachers. You might even have kids in one of the schools that were recently placed on lockdown to investigate threats of more violence. No one is immune from the effects of these losses.
These events impact EVERYONE in some way or another.
Mothers and fathers are afraid to send their children to school.
Wives and husbands are wondering if this morning’s goodbye kiss will be the last.
Children and teens are running drills on active shooter scenarios.
The common thread in these now everyday occurrences is a four letter word: FEAR.
From an evolutionary perspective, fear has a place. This emotion protected humans from predators and other threats to the survival of our species. In our modern world, the need for this emotion does still exist, but not to the same degree as we've evolved and dangers have changed.
In my opinion, instilling fear in others is a tool used to accomplish a means to an end. It’s an emotional device for others to wield as they seek to carry out their own agenda - whatever that is. Maybe it’s to seek revenge. Maybe it’s to punish others for a perceived wrongdoing. Maybe it’s to keep good people from answering the call to serve as a police officer.
In the meantime, police wife or member of the public, we must decide what to do with that fear that makes our blood run cold.
The list is of reasons why people use fear and engage in wanton acts of violence is too long and keeps growing. By seeking to understand why, hopefully, we as a society can address some of the underlying causes and triggers so that our generation and those that follow us continue on a different trajectory.
HOW DO WE CHOOSE TO RESPOND TO FEAR?
We all have choices. We can choose to become a victim of the circumstances. We can choose to go quietly into that good night. We can choose to alter our actions to the point of constant hyper vigilance. We can choose to let fear rule our lives, our relationships, our parenting and our career choices.
We can choose to rise above it. We can choose to carry on even when the world is a scary place and the future is uncertain. We can choose to love men and women who put their lives on the line every single day to protect and serve others. We can choose to keep bringing children into this world not knowing what life holds.
We can choose joy.
We can choose each other.
We can choose hope.
IT SURE SOUNDS PRETTY, BUT HOW DO WE DO IT?
So how the heck do we choose hope and joy in the face of evil and tragedy? How do we push our fears aside and keep going? How do we keep choosing joy, choosing each other and choosing hope when it becomes harder and harder to do just that?
I've spent a lot of time the past couple of weeks reflecting on these questions and talking about it with some police wife friends and leaders of our Backing the Blue Line community. A very strong theme quickly emerged:
As I talked more with others and explored this theme and framework, it became clear that faith as it relates to the law enforcement lifestyle is truly multi dimensional. It can be found in several forms: faith in family, faith in your police officer’s training, faith in your police officer’s partners, faith in your friendships, faith in yourself and spiritual faith.
If you are still reading, stop. Get up from where you are sitting and refill whatever you are drinking and come back and get cozy. It's going to take a few more minutes to delve deeper into this.
FAITH IN YOUR FAMILY
When someone finds out that you are married to a police officer, the second question they ask (after first asking how to get out of a speeding ticket, #truth) is how do you send him or her out the door everyday and not spend your whole day worrying about them?
There are many different strategies to squelching the worry that can come with this lifestyle. A lot of us deal with it by being very intentional in nurturing the strong connections within our families and marriages. We do that because when the family unit and our relationships are strong and connected, it becomes easier to have faith that together you can help each other through anything. One way many police families strengthen bonds is by making up and regularly engaging in little rituals that hold special meaning within the individual family.
Amy, our Marketing Chair, enjoys the playful back and forth between her husband and their two teenage sons that helps keep them connected. “They have always done this thing where hubby yells upstairs to them ‘Morning, See You!”’(Like he’s Yoda, instead of saying ‘See you in the morning’.) The boys respond with some sort of yelling gibberish that never makes any sense.”
The traditions in another MN LEO home varies a bit from week to week. Shannon, our Memorial Rose Chair, shares that she usually tells her husband, "Love-You-Be-Safe-Have-Fun" all in one quick breath just the same as she did when he worked in a totally different career. Their see-ya-laters change up a bit depending on the tenor of nationwide events. Sometimes it becomes, "BE SAFE. But seriously, babe. BE SAFE. Don't do all your reports in one of your regular hidey holes. Keep your head on a swivel. Avoid being predictable."
Shannon and her hubby banter back and forth as a way to cope with the unknown of the day and stay connected. She will also sometimes remind him to be "Always vigilant, never complacent." And when she receives acknowledgement from him, their bond keeps growing because she sees that he does in fact take it to heart.
FAITH IN THEIR TRAINING
Many wives/partners/fiancees/girlfriends feel confident that their husbands and wives are receiving good training to keep their skills fresh, minds alert and bodies ready to respond to whatever appears in front of them on a shift.
Recent high profile events in Minnesota have created unique opportunities for agencies to collaborate on training for many types of scenarios. (Hey! Does anyone remember when that little football game without the Vikings was in town?) These kinds of training sessions help build relationships and tools to each law enforcement officer’s toolbox.
For me personally, it was really comforting knowing that my husband would be working with countless other law enforcement officers from around the state and the country during the weeks that led up to this high profile, target rich event. In retrospect, it’s easy to see that the investment of time and resources for all the specialized proactive training and logistics planning really paid off. There were no critical incidents and the joint task forces related to human trafficking and counterfeiting were very successful in doing what they set out to do. And when things didn't go exactly according to plan, our law enforcement officers were equipped to adapt and keep things moving.
MINNESOTA SETS THE BAR HIGH FOR OUR LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS
Since being a police officer is indeed a true profession, with standards to meet each year, the bar here in Minnesota has been raised to ensure our communities are served by knowledgeable and skilled peace officers. The State of Minnesota requires, by law, that every licensed law enforcement officer must complete 48 hours of training in a 3 year period. Active officers are required to undergo use of force training on an yearly basis and complete emergency vehicle operations/pursuit driving every 5 years.
Those are just the state standards. Individual police agencies often have training requirements in addition to the state minimum. For example, my husband's agency does mandatory training on a quarterly basis for common topics and specialized training on top of that depending on team assignment.
New in 2018, Minnesota POST Board has approved fresh learning objectives for training which now include mandatory training in crisis intervention, conflict management, mediation, recognizing and valuing community diversity and cultural differences. These new objectives by new legislation with input from the community and members of law enforcement following a series of high profile, divisive and racially charged critical incidents that occurred locally.
Knowing that Minnesota is at the forefront of expecting more of our law enforcement officers and is actively investing in equipping them with the right tools and skills helps me and countless other wives feel confident in our husbands’ and wives' abilities on the job.
Rebecca, our organization’s Social Events Chair, sums it up best by sharing that she “...trusts with his training that he knows what he is doing and will do everything in his power to come home.”
FAITH IN THEIR COWORKERS
Knowing that the person you love is out doing their job with skilled coworkers is also a source of faith and comfort to many police wives. This is very true for me. And the feeling was confirmed once again recently when my husband responded to a very dangerous situation involving a chase and a shooting. Knowing his partner, shift mates and other officers from several agencies were working together and were literally covering him when he went in to the thick of it was a huge source of security and peace for me when I learned what happened later.
I know that I can count on his fellow deputies and law enforcement officers from other agencies to have his back. Knowing that, I sleep better at night. I have many fellow police wives to thank for the reminder that this kind of faith is an important and powerful tool in quelling fears that crop up while my husband is at work. Over time, I've learned to put it in the backseat.
Meghann, our organization’s Secretary, shared how she has built her confidence in her husband’s partners on the job. “I am lucky to have met at least a few of his partners. He used to work with the husband of a friend (aka Mr. Amy) and I knew those two could get out of (and into!) anything! It’s the same now. I trust him and trust his partners, their gear and their training. We don’t let fear have a place in our home.”
How well we cope with things relies upon our choices and our mindsets.
FAITH IN YOUR FRIENDS
One of the fundamental reasons Backing the Blue Line exists at all is to provide support to the wives/domestic partners/fiancees/girlfriends of current and retired Minnesota law enforcement officers. This group is a ready made support system where friendships blossom and grow. Where women can learn from one another. Where women work together to help make Minnesota a better place.
Many police wives come to our group seeking to expand their circle of support. As an organization we have grown up through the years and have become very adept at circling the wagons when one of us needs an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, help with childcare, job leads, recipes, advice, prayers or motivation to become the best she can be. The value of the support given and received literally cannot be calculated. It's truly invaluable to those on both ends. The lifelong friendships that have been created are truly special.
Kati, our Marketing Sub Chair, finds faith in her Backing the Blue Line friendships because “…it means what we can share our joys our interests, our frustrations, our love and everyone understands them at some level because - at the root of it - blue stands together and we understand the stresses and victories our husbands’ job entail.”
For Amy, her BTBL friendships are meaningful and add a lot of depth to her life. “BTBL friends help because it’s nice to know there are other people who ‘get it’ without you having to explain it. It’s also kind of neat to know that after many years of being together, I have a perspective on being a LEOW that means not only can I come to the group for support, but I can also offer advice based on (AHEM) a few years of experience in this gig.”
Karen, our Membership Benefits Sub Chair, easily places faith in her friendships within BTBL and shares, “I know that if anything were to ever happen to my LEO, they are here to support and take care of me. They might not be blood, but they are my blue sisters. I have their back and they have mine.”
(Photo of 28 members of Backing the Blue Line at the Plymouth Fire Station in September 2017 with the 2,000 signature blue memorial roses prepared in honor of Officer Mathews, who was killed in the line of duty.)
These are just a couple of perspectives on the friendships and connections we have with one another within BTBL. Whether you are new to the group or a veteran member, we are here to cheer one another on as we each face tough times. Whether we come out on top or have to pick ourselves up and dust off some dirt to go another round, we encourage each other to celebrate our victories and the valuable life lessons we’ve learned.
(Photo of Backing the Blue Line members enjoying an afternoon of canoeing while participating in the annual SWAT retreat in September 2017. Beautiful photo submitted by a BTBL member.)
FAITH IN YOURSELF
We choose this lifestyle because a woman or man we love wears a badge. In addition to our roles as LEOWs, we are also sisters, daughters, friends, mamas, neighbors, PTA members, business leaders, employees and volunteers. Each of those aspects take a lot of love, energy, skill and compassion to succeed.
When you ask any of our husbands or wives why they chose us as their life partner, you will receive a lot of similar answers. Most of them would cite the qualities of independence, resourcefulness, the ability to roll with the punches, faithfulness, a sense of humor, loyalty and self confidence.
I posed a similar question to several the BTBL leadership team. (What is it about yourself that makes you thrive in this lifestyle?) something both amazing and telling happened. The women answered with almost the identical list of qualities and personality traits. Independence was hands down at the top of each list.
There’s a strong link between confidence and independence. Without confidence, it would be very difficult to be independent. The women I spoke with about this are proud of their independence and certainly see it as one thing responsible for their abilities to survive and thrive in a lifestyle where today is not the same as yesterday and tomorrow isn't guaranteed.
Rebecca, our Social Events Chair, has a great take on self confidence. “I think having been a single mom before marrying my LEO, I grew in my independence and have always been a go with the flow kind of person. I know that no matter what, I will be ok. Whether he is working overnights, is gone for training for an extended period of time or has a ‘normal’ shift, I will be ok! It takes a special kind of woman to be an LEOW. It’s hard not to feel pride in yourself and your abilities when you step back a moment and take stock of the things you’ve accomplished simply because you had to.”
The more our mettle is tested and the more adversity we overcome, the stronger our confidence grows. Each new season we experience as a LEOW offers new ways to survive and thrive. And this is another way we build our self confidence.
(Photo of Jennifer K. on the ropes course at the SWAT weekend retreat and training. Photo submitted by another attendee.)
Kill it on the ropes course at SWAT weekend? Check.
Learn how to unclog the sink drain? Check.
Keep 3 kids under 3 entertained and safe during a tornado? Check.
Mow the lawn. Check.
Plow 8 inches of snow of the driveway. Check.
Plan a surprise vacation for you and your hubby. Check.
KEEP said vacation a surprise. Check.
Feed the chickens, cows and pigs each morning and night. Check, check and check.
Clear the house when you hear a weird noise outside. Check.
With each accomplishment, the seeds of self confidence grow. And before you know it, those small seeds grow into a beautiful flowerbed of faith in yourself.
We cannot have a discussion on faith and overlook spiritual faith.
If your husband or wife has ever had a close call, been injured or has been a part of responding to a critical incident, it’s nearly impossible NOT to thank God or a higher power for letting him or her survive it. Spiritual faith is something that provides many officers and their families a framework for how they live, how they interact with others and how they approach their careers.
While BTBL does not take an official position on religion or require members to be of a certain faith, we wholeheartedly welcome members of all faiths. We strive to provide an environment of openness and acceptance of spiritual faith. Many members participate in a smaller private Prayer Group on Facebook. Inside this smaller subgroup, members are free to request and offer prayers to one another, group admins take turns leading a daily devotional and the women serve as spiritual resources to one another.
For Meghann, our organization’s Secretary, spiritual faith plays a large role in her outlook. “God as already shown us that he won’t keep our LEO out of every scary situation, but he will bring him (and us) THROUGH them. That tells me over and over that my husband is doing the job he’s supposed to.”
Rebecca, our Social Events Chair, sums it up with one of the biggest themes that comes to mind when thinking about faith: “Let go and let God. I can’t control what happens when he walks out that door. I don’t let my brain go there….ever. I hand him over to the Lord and pray for protection. That’s all I can do and that gives me peace.”
Many wives keep a favorite verse or piece of scripture nearby to help them remain steadfast in their faith as a way to find peace about their officer’s daily work. Kati, our Marketing Sub Chair likes to recall God’s promises in Jeremiah 29:11 “…for I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
(Photo of the beautiful and talented BTBL Marketing Chair Amy and Mr. Amy by Jamie.)
Another faith perspective is offered by Amy, our Marketing Chair. “I trust that God put me with this really tall guy for a reason, even though I swore up and down I’d never marry a cop. In all seriousness, my faith constantly reminds me I’m not in control. And I think that’s a pretty big thing to get okay with when you’re married to a law enforcement officer.”
FLOURISHING IN SPITE OF FEAR
Backing the Blue Line helps police wives/domestic partners/ fiancees and girlfriends of Minnesota law enforcement officers find and cultivate the various types of faith highlighted here. We support one another as we navigate family dynamics that can be complicated by the law enforcement lifestyle. We help each other find faith in the training our law enforcement officers get each year. We look out for one another in many ways.
In the few years that I have been a part of this group, I've gone from a Facebook group lurker trying to figure out what this group was really all about to someone who has made amazing lifelong friends. I've evolved as a mama, a police wife, as a friend and as a person. The women in this group, their friendship, their quiet inspiration, their courage, their faithfulness, their huge hearts and their vulnerabilities have helped me become many steps closer to being my best self. I've been inspired to take some risks, see things a different way, offer grace more readily and pray more. I've also learned how to better understand my husband, how to be a better wife and balance his needs with mine with more love.
And I know I'm not the only one who feels this way.
(Family photo of the writer, her husband and their sons by Melissa Soto Photography.)
So when I see the latest headline, hear the sirens in the background of a phone call from my husband, or get a text from him that says "I'm bloody, but ok" I have so much more faith that things are going to be ok. And if I can keep growing stronger through all the different kinds of faith described here, my kids will grow up not being paralyzed by fear. Ultimately, I cannot protect them from everything, but I can give them the tools to help them grow up as confident, loving, compassionate and servant humans who also want to make this world a better place.
Everyday, all of us are faced with opportunities practice putting faith over fear.
Let's encourage one another to keep doing this. The stakes are too high not to.
We will be free to embrace all the small things we love about our daily life.
We will be free to to recognize and celebrate the small things.
We will be free to live life fully present with our loved ones.
We will know joy.
We will see brighter tomorrows.
About the writer: Jamie is married to a patrol deputy who stole her heart and refuses to return it. On their wedding day, he vowed he would make her laugh at least once each day. Even on the days she hasn't felt like laughing, he's kept his word. Together they have three young sons who just want their daddy to come home safely to at the end of every shift. Jamie is a writer, professional photographer, working mama and recovering sinner. She currently serves as the Isanti County Regional Blue Angel and as managing editor of this blog where she enjoys encouraging emerging and seasoned storytellers.
If you are married to a MN law enforcement officer or in a committed, long term relationship with one, we invite you to become a member of Backing the Blue Line.