When Jennifer Talton’s friend posted a link on her Facebook page about a retreat for law enforcement officers in the mountains of North Carolina, Jennifer was immediately intrigued.
“I knew as soon as I read about it that we had to be there,” she said.
Recently, she and her husband, Chuck, and their two boys have faced one storm after another—from finances to relationships to medical emergencies.
“Finances alone can destroy a marriage,” Chuck said. “We probably have five or six issues we’re juggling.”
“It’s a miracle from God we’re still married,” Jennifer said. “We’ve had significant marriage issues that we’ve been working on for the past two years.”
Some of those issues are directly related to Chuck’s job. As a police officer, he faces unique stresses and dangers that affect the whole family.
“He’s seen terrible, terrible things,” Jennifer said. “He’s seen a lot of death, and he’s kind of emotionally detached from that.”
“Even though law enforcement officers are encouraged to talk with someone about these things, there is often no provision made to meet their spiritual needs,” she continued. “Many departments don’t have a chaplain at all. So, officers tend to bury things, but doing so will destroy you.”
As Jennifer looked into the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team’s first National Law Enforcement Retreat, it seemed like it was meant for her and Chuck. She prayed God would make a way for them to get to Asheville, North Carolina.
A short time later, Jeff Naber with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team left a message on the Taltons’ answering machine. Jennifer had applied for a scholarship to attend the retreat, and Naber was calling to let her know two spaces at the event were hers. She and Chuck just had to make the 500-mile drive from their Gainesville, Florida home to Asheville.
“When I heard the message I just started crying,” Jennifer said.
“I’m pretty sure God just wanted us to be here,” Chuck added.
This week at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove, the Taltons are joining more than 240 fellow law enforcement officers and spouses from 17 states, Canada and the UK.
A group of 11 Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and their spouses made the trip from Moncton, New Brunswick. Many of them are still reeling after a gunman killed three of their own and injured two others this past June.
“It just kind of turned everything upside down,” said RCMP officer Jamie Hawkins, who was able to come to the retreat with his wife, Katie, thanks to a scholarship from the Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers Canada. “It’s nice to look around the room here and see other police officers who share your faith. Just being here in this environment is awesome.”
During the Oct. 13-15 retreat , officers and their spouses have the chance to worship, pray, explore the Blue Ridge Mountains and take part in workshops on topics like “Serving and Protecting Your Family,” “Career Development without Compromise” and “Post Traumatic Growth with God.”
Speakers include author Dr. Richard Blackaby, as well as former and current law enforcement officers like North Carolina Highway Patrol Master Trooper Kirk Hensley, who is teaching a workshop called “Spiritual Survival Tactics.”
Retired police captain and Rapid Response Team member Kelly Burke spoke Tuesday about taking advantage of the chance to grow closer to God and to one another while at The Cove.
“This is truly a safe house, and everybody here is for you,” he said.
Burke spent 25 years with the Tallahassee Police Department, during which time he and his wife weathered many of the storms the men and women at the retreat are facing. After telling part of his story, Burke shared a Bible verse that once helped him see his calling as a police officer in a new light.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. –Psalm 73:26 (ESV)
“Sometimes bad things happen,” Burke said. “Sometimes we’re just not enough. Our focus today is that good comes from bad. Beauty rises from the ashes. Joy comes from mourning and from grief and tears. Hope springs eternal.
“But how? It’s in knowing the God who protects and serves. And who knows you and your need and your family and your community better than you know yourself.”
Together, Jennifer and Chuck are learning the truth of those words as they soak in the Scripture, the wise teaching and the presence of God at The Cove this week.
“The last couple of years, I’ve been pretty much at the bottom of barrel,” Chuck said. “My prayer to God, basically all I can get out, is help me. That’s almost all I have, so I’m here for whatever He will give me.”
“He’s fought the battle on his own and he lost,” Jennifer said. “So my prayer is that these godly men, with their law enforcement background, would be able to speak life into my husband. And just give him hope.”
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