A Father's Broken Heart

by Jim Sitton
Jim was asked to speak at a GriefShare support group, and this is what he said:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, SO that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves received from God.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

I’ve been told that when folks hear what we’ve been through and they see that we are still standing, they begin to feel that maybe they too can survive the valley of death and eventually overcome evil with good. So I’m not here to be pitied or to appear super human. I’m here to encourage you to keep putting one foot in front of the other until you can learn to trust God again and find rest and comfort in Him.
Makayla Joy Snug as a Bug
Many times my wife would ask me “How are we going to do this? (return to our house, attend funeral, testify in court, design headstone, have Thanksgiving, celebrate Christmas, see Makayla’s friends) I would say, “Honey, place one foot in front of the other.” It’s the only way.

That’s how I got up here on this stage! That’s how I will tell you what happened to us Thanksgiving night, Nov 26th 2009.

After dinner and singing around the piano I put Makayla in bed. We then all went into the kitchen area to pack up leftovers and begin saying our goodbyes. (Maybe it’s better that I don’t have much time so I can spare you most of the horrid details.)

Without a word the murderer began shooting. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. First, he killed his sister right in front of me as I helped her with a bag. Then her pregnant twin. It sort of gets blurry at this point, but my wife’s mother was also killed and 2 others wounded. Then, he started toward the front door. But, just before leaving, he stepped into our 6 year old daughter’s room and shot Makayla Joy Sitton three times as she lay in her bed.

I was asked to tell you about Makayla, but it’s impossible to even begin to tell you how special she is, in such a short time. So I’d just like to let you experience the last conversation we had as I tucked her in that evening. My wife, Muriel, was busy entertaining our guests and so I offered to put her in bed. A couple of days later I wrote down our conversation, so I would never forget.
Thanksgiving 2009 9:15pm, as I put Makayla down in her cozy pink bed.

Me: Wow honey, you were amazing tonight! I thought you were going to talk about the Pilgrims. Thanks-FEELING? I’ve never even thought about Thanksgiving like that. Where did that come from?
Makayla: (smiling from ear to ear) I’ve been reading about giving thanks in the Bible and just thought how rude it it would be to receive blessings from God and never thank Him. That would only be Thanks-FEELING. So, I decided that our singing, playing piano and dancing tonight could be our way to GIVE THANKS to God for all He has done for us.
Me: Baby, I love you soo much. I’m very proud of you and the way you explained that to everybody. I think they were all shocked at how mature you are. (she smiled humbly) Honey, I want to give thanks too that God has allowed me to be your Papa. I’m thankful that you’re my little Makaylakoo. You have been so thoughtful to everyone tonight. I saw how you greeted Lisa and Patrick at the door and made them feel welcome. And that game of Thanksgiving toss was very creative too. I loved the opportunity to tell you how beautiful you are from head to toe! And you were so brave to help me with the fire pit. You overcame your fears and put that big log on the fire. Wow, you are getting so big! OK, let me give you kissing hands and get you to bed.
Makayla: (giggling) Nope kissing hands are just for Mama!
Me: What? OK, I guess I’m stuck with kissing FEET! (I grab her feet and bring them up to my lips) EWwwWWw! PEE YOU! (more lil girl giggles) Those are some stinky feet! (Not really, they smell like an angel’s breath, I begin to kiss her toes with a sour look on my face.) She suddenly stops laughing and says, “Papa, smell my hair.” I press my nose into her hair and it smells like smoke from the fire pit.
Makayla: Does it smell like smoke?
Me: Yeah baby it does.
Makayla: Just like you huh?
Me: Yeah baby, just like me. (She likes that thought and smiles knowing that she had helped me keep that fire going, in spite of her fears.)
Me: It’s getting late, let’s pray. Father, thank you so much for this beautiful little girl. Thank you for this sweet time together, and for these stinky lil feet. (she giggles) God, I am so honored that you have allowed me to be her Papa. Help me to be the kind of daddy that she can always be proud of. Help me to always lead our family in the way you want us to go. We thank you for our entire family and we hope to be reflectors of your light and love to them and to everyone we meet. Thanks too for Mama! We thank you for giving Makayla the most most wonderful Mama in the world. And for brother JJ! God, thanks for that game of Thanksgiving toss that Makayla made. We were all given the chance to tell each other how much we cherish them. Thanks too for Makayla’s teaching on not just feeling thankful but the need to actually GIVE thanks to You and each other. Thank you for giving me a little girl that has such a sensitive heart toward you. I know you have great plans for her and eagerly await for them to unfold. Most of all we thank you for your son who willingly gave up his life, to pave the way for us to have this close relationship with you. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Makayla: Papa, I’m so excited I can’t sleep.
Me: I know baby, but close your eyes as you listen to your hymns and think about how brave you were tonight and how much we love you. (turns off light, turns on CD player)
Makayla: Papa?
Me: Yeah baby.
Makayla: I love you.
Me: I love you too! Now get some sleep, you’ve got a big day of dancing at the Nutcracker tomorrow.
Makayla: I can’t wait!
Me: Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite!
Makayla: Papa, my feet don’t really stink do they?
Me: Of course not, they smell just like flowers!
Makayla: So you’re just pretending?
Me: Yes my love.
Makayla: I like how you pretend they stink, and make those silly faces. Do that next time too, ok?
Me: Ok, stinky toes.
Makayla: I really do smell like smoke though, right?
Me: Yes.
Makayla: Just like you?
MeYeah baby, just like me. I’ll see ya in the morning.
Makayla: Goodnight Papa
Me: Goodnight sweet pea. (closes door softly and smiles for the last time.)
I was wrong about never smiling again. Although, It took over 3 years before I felt true joy again. Our home had once been full of love, laughter and music. But it instantly fell silent, cold and empty. No more lil’ girl giggles. No more hugs or kisses for Papa. No music.

All of that was replaced by a mothers’ wailing, anger and questions of WHY? Why Makayla, WHY US? Why GOD? How? How are we to survive this? Is it even possible?

We had only 2 choices really, run from God into booze, anger and drugs, OR run to God seeking comfort.

Muriel was suddenly a stay at home, homeschooling mom, with no child. How sad is that? We would just sit there for months, deeply hurt, dazed and confused. PTSD, shock, ANGER and fear. The murderer was still on the loose. Cops were protecting us 24/7. They were parked in front/back of our house in case he came back to finish us off. I was patrolling the inside, shotgun in hand just in case.

We were not sleeping much. When I did wake up from needed rest, there would be a second or so where I would think, “maybe it was all just a horrible dream”, but then the memory and pain would rush over and through me again. The first thing I would hear would be Muriel wailing in Makayla’s room. This went on for weeks and it began to piss me off because it was instant audible proof that, now, my waking life was a living nightmare and sleep was my only escape, however temporary. I felt robbed of those few seconds of groggy hope.

TV cameras, reporters and investigators were everywhere. Man hunts and searches seemed to go on forever. I was in hyper protective mode for a month before he was finally arrested. John Walsh, from America’s Most Wanted and the US Marshals had finally found him.

Then silence, only our pastor and close friends came around. A year or so of numbness. I eventually went back to work. Muriel would be left home all day, alone in that empty house that had once been a home. Her mom used to visit almost daily but she was gone now, too.

We tried having a baby a bunch of times. Our hopes would rise and fall with each failure until God finally showed mercy and brought blessing upon us in the form of Natalia Grace.
Natalia Grace
One morning I woke up and heard something strange. It was different – quiet and peaceful. Singing from another room? I listened closely and heard my broken wife softly singing, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound…” She was almost whispering but I knew at that moment she would survive. We will survive.

Mourning lasts through the night but joy comes in the morning! Natalia Grace is 21 months old now.

It wasn’t over. Grief never heals, it’s more like an amputation. You eventually get accustomed to the missing limb but it’s never really healed. You learn to live life differently. You learn to laugh (even without guilt sometimes.)

God never promised an easy, carefree life. He said that we will have suffering and mourning and heartaches, but He also promised that He will be with us, to comfort us and re-unite us on the other side, on that glorious shore. That is our hope, He is our only hope. I pray that you too will place your faith in the only One who has the power over all, even time and death.
The Sitton Family
Jim and his wife Muriel spoke at Calvary Chapel Palm City about living in grief on December 4th, 2010 (two days before Makayla’s 7th birthday).
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