One year ago this Lord's Day evening, on February 27th, 2022, right before midnight, I received "the" phone call from my daughter. Emory, her voice filled with emotion, informed me that her husband, Tommy, had been shot that night in the line of duty as an Indianapolis Metro police officer.
Many Gentle Reformation readers will recall the articles and videos we have shared this past year about this life-changing event in our family. All-in-all, we rejoice over Tommy's spared life, the progress that he has made, and the testimony to Christ he has given. Yet, unless we appear to gloss over the hard realities, Emory shares below some of the honest, raw truths behind the scenes that they have faced.
Shattered. The word I heard describing the damage the bullet had done to my husband’s voice box. This onomatopoeia could be our theme word for the last year.
Entering 2022, Tommy and I were overjoyed and expectant, facing our bright future together. We were fulfilled in our dream careers, part of a flourishing church family, looking to buy our first house, and planning to start a family. Then, one by one, these joys and expectations were taken away from us.
On February 27th, Tommy, a brand-new police officer not three weeks out of the police academy, was shot in his throat while apprehending a suspect. The trauma to his voice box and vocal cords was, to quote his doctors, “devastating,” requiring a feeding tube and a tracheostomy. He could not talk for two months.
The next four months were a blur of hospitalizations, doctors’ appointments, surgeries, caring for Tommy’s ongoing medical needs, visits from family and friends, and adjusting to the new reality of our lives. Doctors found over time that Tommy’s vocal cords were damaged beyond repair. While he could speak softly with his false vocal cords, he would never be able to speak loudly or shout again.
This answer meant that Tommy could never safely be a patrol officer again.
My heart broke every morning I woke up and saw Tommy’s broken body beside me, the rattling sound of him breathing through his narrow tracheostomy tube. My heart broke every time he choked while simply trying to swallow. My heart broke when my 25-year-old husband, in the prime of his life, could not walk upstairs without struggling to breathe. My heart broke when tears of frustration filled his eyes because people could not hear or understand his new voice.
My heart still breaks that my dear husband, who wanted nothing more than to serve as a police officer, barely got a chance before it was ripped away so violently.
In July, Tommy’s medical needs were lessening, and I returned to my night shift position. I struggled to be away from Tommy for my long, thirteen-hour shifts. Tommy began having frequent nightmares related to his incident. I came home many times to find Tommy asleep with the lights on, a knife for protection clutched in his hand.
In the fall, Tommy began his concussion therapy. He had 3-5 appointments a week on the south side of Indianapolis, a 45-minute drive. Most weeks there was precious little time between my work schedule and Tommy's appointments.
Working the night shift is challenging enough, but the strain of being away from Tommy overnight, our demanding schedule, and the exhaustion I felt switching back and forth from days to nights was taking a toll. We decided the time had come for me to put in my notice at work and take a break from working full time.
In less than a year, our careers, which seemed so certain at one point, had come to a close.
This next part is hard to write. While Tommy being shot has been a devastating cross in our lives, it has not been the only cross the Lord has called us to bear this year. I have wrestled and prayed about what I share - I often ask myself if I am oversharing and wonder insecurely if people care. But my sincere motivation in relating our vulnerability is to be humble and honest. I pray my words might bring encouragement, solace, and ultimately point you to Christ, our suffering Savior.
We have been married for four years and our conversations over the last four years have been filled with hopes and dreams for parenthood. We long and ache to have a child, yet God in His infinite wisdom has not given us this good gift.
Each Sunday as we sit in our pew alone, tears often fill my eyes as I imagined we would have our own little family sitting beside us. Each month is a battle to not get our hopes up, but inevitably doing so. Each pregnancy and birth announcement we hear are a reminder of the joy we long to have. Each time I watch Tommy’s face light up as he plays with our nieces and nephews or recalls their antics, I hope someday I can see his face light up as I tell him he is a dad. Infertility is a constant presence, a daily grief.
While these heartbreaks have been our daily bread, our church presbytery - our spiritual home our whole lives - has been rocked by deep hurt and divisions. Our pastor and his family decided to leave our church for personal convictions this past fall. The pastor that came to the hospital the night Tommy was shot. The pastor who visited us in our home when we were homebound. The pastor who cried when he first heard Tommy’s voice again. His and his family’s absence has left a gaping hole in our church and in our lives.
We are weary, exhausted, and broken. We do not know what our future holds. Our world seems to be crumbling around us ready to crush us. We say with Job: “My days are passed; my plans have been shattered; along with my heart's desires” (Job 17:11).
I often question in my own heart why God has called us to this suffering. He knows better than anyone how weak and ill-equipped I am for such a responsibility.
I cannot tell you how many angry tears I have shed. I confess that at times I have been angry with the Lord. I have even wrestled with the lie that He is not who says He is, that perhaps He is cruel and heartless and does not care what happens to us...
But no. I know this is not true. I will not believe this.
I know the Lord wept with me and for me the night I sat silently in shock not knowing if I would ever see Tommy alive again. I know the Lord wept with Tommy as he awoke and I had to tell my dear husband he had been shot in the throat and he could not even talk to process it all. I know He weeps with us as we cry out for a child. I know He weeps with us as we mourn the brokenness in our church.
I know this because Jesus wept with Mary and Martha after their brother Lazarus died even though He knew He was going to raise him from the dead.
Jesus knows the glorious ending to all this suffering, but He still loves us and grieves with us along the weary, lonely, heartbreaking way.
Who knows better how to grieve with us than our own precious Savior? His own body was shattered that our eternal future would be secure. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
If I had written this post one month or even one week ago my conclusions would have been different. The Lord is working in my heart, softening my bitterness, lifting my heavy head.
It helps to know that my dear, sweet Jesus is not just looking down from Heaven (though certainly He is there), but He is standing in front of me, for He is with me. I imagine Him standing in front of me, taking my hands in His pierced ones and saying with tears in His eyes, “I know, dear child, I know. Trust me.”
Am I willing to trust my loving God that all the tears, every desperate prayer, and all the dashed dreams will be worth it in the end?
I can honestly say with gratitude in my heart that our future, while not being the future we had planned for, is bright indeed. Our Potter is taking our broken hearts and hopes in His wise and gentle hands and sculpting a new future - one more glorious, whole, and complete than we could have ever imagined.
A future that will continue eternally.
Where I won’t have to imagine Him, but I will see Him face-to-face, reaching out His hands, wiping the tears from my eyes.
Where Tommy can sing and shout with me.
Where we join thousands of generations who have suffered before us praising God:
“Worthy is the Lamb Who was slain,
Forever He shall reign!
Glory to God
Who gave us life beyond the grave
Holy, Holy, is the Lord.”
*Lyrics taken from Hymn of Heaven by Phil Whickham, this song has helped me keep my gaze heaven-ward. Link to the song here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=LleCuXmulpk