first days

You know what it’s like–the first day at a new job. The nervous excitement, the warm thrill of opportunity. You start to imagine what could be. Everything is new and fresh and full of potential. That is the magic of first days.

Recently, there was a young woman not so far from me who started her first day in a high pressure job. She chose a job that allowed her to help other people. And she started that job no doubt full of dedication, eager to serve.

But her first day was the last day of her life. Ashley Guindon, a 28-year-old former Marine Corps Reservist, was shot and killed on her first day in her new position as a police officer.

Ashley had a bachelor’s degree in aeronautics and a license to fly historical aircrafts. There were any number of careers she could have pursued. But she chose to protect and defend.

The reason she was killed? Domestic violence. She and other officers were responding to a domestic disturbance in an expensive, suburban neighborhood south of DC. The man who killed her also killed his wife and wounded two other officers.

It’s easy to think domestic violence is a private issue, a personal one. It’s a lie victims often tell themselves. “It’s just me. It’s just this situation. No one else will get hurt.”

Lies. Lies designed to weaken the victim, separate her from the strength she needs to get help.

If that’s you, please let me tell you: it’s not just you. You don’t deserve this treatment and yes, someone else could get hurt or killed because you remained silent. If you won’t get help for you, get help for them, the future victims.

No one wants to consider themselves a victim, but if you don’t fight back by getting help, you’re allowing yourself to become a victim. I’m not saying it will be easy. It’s difficult and it takes a lot of courage. But don’t let your voice be suffocated along with your right to feel safe. Reach out. And if you suspect domestic violence is happening to someone you know, speak up.

Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline. You can chat online or call 1-800-799-7233.

If just one person is emboldened to get help because of Officer Guindon’s death, I think she would be honored. Nothing can bring her back or soften the sting of loss, but maybe, just maybe, her tragic death can bring awareness to a silent problem and help prevent future deaths.

Because everyone deserves more first days.

season of joy?

Ah, Christmas, the season of joy and warmth, of gifts and traditions and family. It’s a heartwarming time of year.

But not for everyone.

For some, this time of year brings extra pain, the reminder of lost loved ones. This season, I find myself thinking of them, of the hundreds of families in France and Kenya and Nigeria, and elsewhere around the world, whose loved ones stolen away by hatred, leaving an achingly empty seat at the table.

I’m thinking of those who watched a family member fade away due to illness, and those for whom tragedy struck unexpectedly, an accident that ended a life.

No matter how their loved one was lost, I know there are thousands who feel the weight of grief amidst the cheerful candlelight, a pain that grows more acute while the world around them celebrates family.

As the rest of us greet family and gleefully open presents, those who lost loved ones this year will be thinking of the presents that will never be opened, the plans they used to have, the expectations that are now shattered. They’ll see their loved ones everywhere they look—in that window display with the twinkly lights she adored so much, in that gift he would’ve loved. A wave of pain can hit unexpectedly and suddenly the cheer and festivities become cruel reminders of loss.

If you’re grieving this season, please know you’re on my mind and in my prayers. The pain you’re feeling will never vanish, but it will fade, over time. Little by little, the memories you clasp tightly will begin to bring a smile instead of anguish. Those seem like empty words now, but cling to that hope and let those around you carry you through when the pain becomes too great.

And although your loved one will always be with you, one day you’ll find the grief doesn’t crush you any more and the future doesn’t look so daunting. One step at a time, one breath at a time.

For now, let the tears fall without shame, and I’ll be here, wrapping my prayers around your wounded heart.