In February of 1986, I turned thirty and my husband of seven years walked out. There was no warning, no prior struggles, no big fights – just a simple, “I don’t love you anymore and I don’t want to be married.”
To say the bottom dropped out of my little “Susie-Homemaker” world would be a severe understatement.
I had been a high school art teacher for 6 years, and really longed to pursue a free-lance art career. My “ex” told me to go for it, so I resigned my teaching position and was picking up little jobs here and there, just barely starting really, when he dropped that bomb one sunny afternoon. Within two weeks, he was gone, and there I sat devastated and un-employed. To make matters worse, I was a new Christian, and watched as my church friends stepped away as if marital troubles were contagious. I’ll spare you the parts of the story that cover the depths of my despair, separation from God, damaged ego, and feelings of desperation and skip right to the happy ending.
One day, after the divorce, while perusing the want ads and commiserating with my parents about my lack of funds, I saw an ad from the St. Louis County Police Department looking for police officer recruits. My heart beat faster just reading the ad. I remember thinking: “I think can do this!”
My dad was a former police officer, and I grew up listening to the stories about his adventures on the street. Always interested in the job, I remember asking him as a child if there were lady police officers. He told me the only women in the police department worked as matrons in the jail for female prisoners. I was really disappointed, and remember thinking that if I couldn’t do real police work I wouldn’t want to be a lady police officer.
Well, times had changed and there was my opportunity to be the real thing staring me in the face. My dad encouraged me and told me he thought I’d be great at the job. My mom cried.
I began the lengthy hiring process, passing a background investigation, psychological exam, physical, and polygraph test and in January of 1987 , I began the 16-week journey that was the Police Academy. Oh…and I met Jeff there.
At the time city and county police trained downtown at the same training facility- the same academy my dad went to in the 40’s, rich in history. I walked into the building that morning in January a little bit stronger and ready for a new challenge and a new career. I walked up a long flight of stairs to a lobby area where I saw 41 other people in business attire standing around looking as awkward, and nervous as I did- except one guy…
He was tall and self-confident, with his topcoat draped across his arm nonchalantly, carrying a brief case. He walked around the room greeting people, and shaking hands, his deep voice resonating in the quiet room. I thought it was very promising that one of the instructors was nice enough to come around and make each person comfortable. I also thought he would be easy on the eyes for the sixteen weeks ahead.
My reverie was harshly interrupted when a hard-core police sergeant walked in and bellowed at us to line up. He led us to our classroom where we found a seat. When I had a chance to look around, I soon realized Mr. Confidence with the briefcase was not an instructor but a recruit! A briefcase-carrying recruit! A peon! I didn’t know whether to laugh or be annoyed. He smiled at me, and I decided I was definitely not annoyed.
The Police Academy was probably the most intense sixteen weeks I have ever endured. Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, State Law, Traffic, Defense Tactics, Firearms, First Aid, Juvenile, Human Behavior, Physical Training, Role-playing and so much more. Out of the 41 recruits, 5 were women, and at the time, I was the oldest female to go through.
Being a female in a man’s job meant proving every day– academically, physically and mentally that you deserved to be there, and that you wouldn’t be a liability on the street. To survive the intense academics, recruits form study groups. Tests contained a LOT of information and came fast and furiously. Conveniently, Mr. Confidence was in my study group. He was hilariously funny and a wee bit naughty. To say I wasn’t interested would be a lie.
I first realized he was interested in me (beyond quizzing him on the culpable mental state for Murder in the first degree) on the day before our first day at the shooting range. On firearms training days, we spent our mornings in the classroom, then dismissed to grab lunch and carpool to the range. Everyone was pretty pumped about getting out and shooting, and was setting up carpool arrangements. As I was leaving for the day and looking forward to this new phase of training, Mr. Confidence (who I now knew as Jeff), handed me a note. I shoved it in my pocket and grabbed my coat. Later at home I found the note, which read, “If you haven’t made other arrangements, would you like to ride to the range with me?” Now THAT is romance! My heart melted.
As I got to know Jeff better, I began to realize what I had been missing for the past seven years. We formed a bond, a friendship made deeper by our shared experience and, as I soon discovered, a shared faith. He too was a Christian that had fallen away from church, and we became committed to finding a church that we could attend together. As we each re-established our relationship with God, our own relationship strengthened.
Our sixteen-week training in the Academy was the best of times, and the worst of times. In the end, we graduated: a city cop, a county cop, and very much a couple. When we married a year later, our families and our police family were there to celebrate this city-county merger.
Those first years together were the best! We worked different shifts for different departments but still managed to find enough time to be together. We shared “war” stories, and hung out with cop friends. We loved police work. Never the same day to day, we got to see things and do things we could not have imagined before being “on the job.” It was exciting, scary, nerve-wracking, sad and hilarious– sometimes all at once.
It wasn’t long before our daughter came along, and trying to navigate parenthood after working a midnight shift just wasn’t how I envisioned life with baby. It was hard (especially trying to find a babysitter from 10pm till 2am), and I didn’t feel like our daughter was getting the best I could give. In the end I gave up the job I had worked so hard to achieve to start the best job I’ve ever had. I stayed home with her, and several years later we welcomed her brother into the family. Jeff went on to work 21 years on the job, retiring as a Lieutenant.
Clearly God had His hand on my life when I found the ad in the paper that day.
Looking back, I could say the job saved me. It came at a time when I felt like a victim and enabled me to become a stronger, wiser person. I reestablished my relationship with God during that time, and learned to walk with Him daily. I learned what it meant to forgive and to trust, and met the man with whom I will spend the rest of my life.
I know divorce is not in God’s plan. I also know that the greatest gift God has ever given me is Jeff Barnes. Out of the ashes of sin God brought something so good to my life, and I marvel at how what initially seemed to be the end turned out to be the beginning. Jeff and I have endured so much as a couple over the years, and I cannot imagine anyone else at my side. God took that difficult time and used it to shape me. He is an expert of bringing good out of bad, and my heart continuously overflows with gratitude to Him.
“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15.
I am a wife, mother, and a daughter of the King. God has blessed me with a rich and varied life. I have been a dancer, police officer and art teacher, and have participated in everything from beauty pageants to search warrants.
I have been married to my hero, Jeff, for 26 years. We’ve raised two wonderful adults, Allie (25) and Charlie (22), and are enjoying the incredible bond that comes from weathering years of experiences together…. good times, and bad—joys and sorrow. I am blessed to be working with children every day teaching them about art, and the Ultimate Artist—God. I love drawing, painting, reading, …and picking up a gun for some target practice now and then.
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