Thursday, April 4, 2013

March Against Child Abuse Tulsa, OK April 22

Why will I March Against Child Abuse? It’s really easy to say we love children. It’s really simple to say we don’t want children to get hurt. No one is shocked that good people don’t think those that can’t protect themselves should be protected.

It’s also easy to lump “children” into a picture we can find on Google Images or the masses we see filing out of a school at 3 o’clock. Sadly child abuse isn’t something that just happens to “those children.” The ones who are short, a little dirty, adorable in their own right, but don’t really have a face or a place in our hearts. It’s not just a newspaper story that we shake our head at and say, “oh it’s such a shame,” or, “bless her little heart.” Abuse is real. It happens to real children with real heartbeats, real tears, real fingers and toes, and real hope for the future if we give them one.

I have loved a child who was abused. I have loved him so fully that he changed my heart and mind completely. It is still hard for me to talk about him out loud. The pain threatens to swallow me whole every time I open the lid to the container I keep it in. Jace came to us from the hospital where he lived until he was six months old. My sister was his nurse there, and she and I shared a house together. The state determined he couldn’t live with his mom, so we decided to give him a home and a family. Jace was sick. He was born too soon and had too many problems. They said he would likely die. The first night he came home I held him in my arms begging him to stay alive while my sister called the doctor trying to figure out why he wouldn’t breathe. He couldn’t eat through his mouth; he breathed through an oxygen tube; and was on a dozen medications.

Jace was a fighter though. It makes me so much more ashamed that I failed to keep him safe after he fought so hard. Jace spent over two years with us growing into the happiest, cutest, smartest, most perfect creature that ever lived. He wasn’t the picture you see in the papers of abused children. He was cherished and cared for. He was spoiled and adored. Jace was popular with everyone. He was clever and funny and everyone who met him loved him. He truly was a light.

Evil has never been able to stand the light, and in 2010, evil entered our lives. My sister wanted a normal family. She wanted a dad for Jace. She wanted to be loved. She was na├»ve and trusting and blind. When she started dating him, I didn’t like it. He seemed crass and trashy and ignorant. I found he had protective orders filed against him in the past. He wasn’t educated, but he wasn’t stupid. He had an answer for everything. A reason, an excuse, a believable story. We think people are good, we think people tell the truth, we think people mean well. He wasn’t good, he didn’t tell the truth, and he didn’t mean well.

On June 13, 2010 he was left alone with Jace while my sister went to work over night at the hospital. We will never know what happened that night. I imagine Jace wouldn’t go to sleep and kept crying and getting up. He beat him, threw him, and shook him so hard that the doctor compared the damage to his brain like a high impact car crash. Jace finally went to sleep that night and never woke up again.

At the trial the prosecutor asked me what I wish I would have done differently. I wish I would have done whatever it took to keep Jace safe. I tried, but I should have tried harder. I should have fought, I should have called, I should have laid down in front of the door and said, “YOU WILL NOT COME IN HERE!” I should have done more for him. Now he’s dead and I can’t fight for him, but I can fight for the other kids. The children I know and the children I don’t know. I can do whatever it takes to keep them safe. I can look in the eyes of the children I meet and say, “I will not stand back while someone hurts you.” I will give you a voice because you don’t have one. I will find the dark people in the world and invite them into the light. If they refuse, I will fight to keep them far away from our babies.

These kids who are being hurt, they aren’t just a news story. They aren’t just some dirty little boy whose mom lets play outside after dark. They are people. They are human beings. They are Jace. They matter to someone. They matter to me. The problem is they don’t know they are being abused. They don’t know they can’t trust the people they love the most. They don’t know they are in danger.

This is why I will March Against Child Abuse. I won’t stand back and ignore what’s happening. If helping a child takes up my time, my energy, and my money – it’s worth it. I will shout from the rooftops, “Children are precious and should not be hurt!” I will pray. I will cry. I will annoy people. I will make a fool of myself if I have to, because children are being killed, beaten, and raped. This is why I will March. Jace deserved better.

For more information about this event visit:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Leslie's Victim Impact Statement

Here was Leslie's statement at he sentencing.  It was very powerful. 

I have been waiting a year and 10 months for this moment. I don't even know where to begin. I could try to think of something profound and meaningful to say, but when I look at your face and hear your name I feel nothing nothing but anger and rage. I know I have to forgive you, but I am not there yet and I don't know when or if that day will come. For almost two years now I have put on a mask. I appear strong, I appear to be holding it together, I appear to be healing. Truth is, I am terrified of taking off that mask and facing myself in the mirror, facing the grief, facing the reality, facing the guilt. The reality and the guilt of knowing it was ME who let you in my home. Its was ME who trusted you. It was ME who let you completely take over our lives. It was ME who let you change me into someone I can't imagine being now. It was ME who believed all your lies. It was ME who didn't run for the hills the minute I learned you had a protective order against you no matter how old or how believable your explanation was. It was ME who believed you over my own son when he tried to tell me you shook him but he was 2 years old and didn't know how to explain himself. It was ME who left you alone with my son that night. In June 2007 when I took care of Jace for the first time and he was so sick that nothing I could do would make him breathe better and I just begged him to live and not die, I never thought I would be his mother 3 years later at his bedside in an ICU and once again be begging him not to die. I never thought I would be facing a world without him. I never thought I would be bargaining with God to take my life and spare his. I never thought I would be begging God to just let Jace wake up. He HAS to wake up. No matter how neurologically impaired or handicapped he would be I promised him I would make him better like I did before. I still have dreams about Jace. That he is alive, but hurt in some way and I can't fix him no matter how hard I try. These dreams are hard, but I cherish them, because for those few minutes he is still with me and it feels so real. Then I have to wake up and face the reality. The reality that my child is dead. And he is not just dead. He was brutally murdered. Murdered by a man who claimed to love him as his own. Murdered by a coward who won't man up and take responsibility for his actions. Murdered by a man who won't admit he took another life. Murdered by a man who will continue to lie until the day he dies and never give us an ounce of closure. How dare you. How dare you prey on women with small children who you know are physically and emotionally weak and you can control. How dare you manipulate every one in your life no matter who you hurt as long as Cody gets his way. How dare you continue to lie to your family and manipulate them into believing every word that comes out of your mouth just like you did to me. How dare you take from this earth the only thing that ever mattered to me. The only person that loved me unconditionally, gave me purpose, made me feel alive and gave me something to live for when I felt hopeless. How dare you take from this earth the spark that ignited life into every person in my family, who changed us, brought us together, made us laugh, made us smile even when we didn't want to, made us proud. How dare you take from this earth the miracle that was Jace Burgess. The 1.5 pound being that fought so immeasurably hard to beat all the odds when no one thought he would make it. Day after day he proved us wrong. He was a testament to what the power of love and determination can accomplish. My parents were born to be grandparents. How dare you take away my mothers joy and light. How dare you take away my fathers will to fight the cancer that took his life. How dare you took from my sister the little boy she helped raise, loved like her own, taught to be silly and shine the light of Jesus to all around him. But most importantly how dare you hurt an innocent child who can't defend himself. And not just one child but two. You looked me in the eyes over and over and fed me lies, acted like the perfect parent, knowing behind closed doors when no one else was watching you were hurting Jace. The only thing that matters to you is Cody. Have you stopped for one minute to think about how your actions affect the lives of others? And not just affect us but change us forever? Have you not once stopped to think about what you took from this world? As we sat in the St. Francis ER waiting room on June 13, 2010 in the middle of the night, before we even knew the extent of the injuries, before we knew what happened and before anyone was being blamed you cried in my arms saying you prayed so long for a son and a family and now it was being taken away from you. All you cared about was Cody, what was being taken from you. Not the fact that a little boy was laying in a coma, dying by your hands. You took a miracle from this world that proved he had so much potential and would do great things. He touched everyone around him. He had a glow surrounding him that was infectious. But he was no match for you. He was a fighter, but he couldn't fight the force being thrown against him of Cody Sartin. The hard truth is I know in my heart you will never take responsibility for your actions. You will never be an adult and take responsibility for murdering a child. Despite all the evidence and truth glaring at you in the face, despite a jury finding you unanimously guilty, you will never admit you killed my son. People think a Life sentence brings my family closure. Your life sentence means nothing. Because I have a life sentence without the joy of my life. The only thing that will start to bring me closure is you taking responsibility for your actions and murdering my child. That is what I will pray for. Instead of me lashing out in anger towards you or your family like you and your family have done to mine I will pray for them to see the truth. The hardest part is knowing it was my poor decsions and judgement that let you into my life, let you control me, let you near my son. I will live with the unbearable guilt of what I did and didn't do for the rest of my life. But I refuse to let it destroy me. It may cripple me, but when I fall I will get right back up and keep walking. I will continue to fight because Jace can't. I will be his voice. I will take the mistakes that I have learned from and armed with the education I now have and I will fight for children who don't have a voice and I will fight for women like me. I will do what it takes to not let this happen again. I am living proof that people can make horrible mistakes, ask for forgiveness, receive forgiveness even when it isn't deserved and live a blessed life. Despite my mistakes I have been blessed with a wonderful, humble, God-fearing, hard working husband and a precious son who has reminded me who I am and the power of love. Jace has a little brother he will never get to meet, but I will make sure my son knows all about his big brother Jace. I was not able to sit and listen in the trial and it is probably best I didn't, but someone who was in the courtroom the entire time summarized my thoughts perfectly, "No description of anger could describe the rage, no emotion could describe the sadness, and no sickness could diagnose the disgust." There will be no more fake sickness attacks, no more attempts at a mistrial, no more postponements from an unprepared attorney, no more excuses. You have been found guilty and will spend the rest of your life in prison. A sentence I believe is too easy on you for what you really deserve. But I take solace in knowing you will never have the opportunity to hurt another child, never be able to manipulate and control another woman and I don't ever want to speak your name again. I want to celebrate Jace's precious, perfect little life. Celebrate his accomplishments. Celebrate his impact. I don't want to focus on how he died. I want to remember him and cherish the memories of his life. And from this day forward that is exactly what I will do.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Victim Impact Statements

Today was the sentencing in which we got to read victim statements.   At the last minute the defense objected to me and mom reading our statements, and so the judge asked us to just summarize them.  That was pretty frustrating for me, because I was not at all prepared to "summarize."  Who knows what I actually said, but here is what I planned to say:

God tells me that I have to forgive you.  I don’t know what that kind of forgiveness looks like.  I know how to forgive someone who honks at me while I’m driving.  I know how to forgive people who are having a bad day and take it out on me.  I even know how to forgive the man who shot me as a teenager.  He didn’t know me.  I didn’t feel like it was personal.  I don’t know what it means to forgive someone who did something so personal to me.  Does that mean I have to be willing to shake your hand or visit you in prison? Does it mean I have to stop being angry? 

A part of me wishes that we could have helped you.  A part of me wishes that my family could have been Christ to you and taught you about what real love and a real family looks like.  I wish we could have broken through the layers of hurt and lies and abuse that have ruined you.  But part of me knows you were too far gone.  You made choices a long time ago that took you down this path. 

I have never loved anyone like I loved Jace.  I have never been loved by anyone like I was loved by Jace.  He was light and salt in the middle of a difficult life.  No one has ever brought me more joy, and I am grateful for every day I spent with him.  He made all of our lives better because we knew him, even yours.  He was willing to love you even though you were incapable of truly loving him back.  No matter how many times you hurt him he was willing to forgive you.  He was able to look past your flaws and love you.  In return you murdered him.  You murdered him.  You murdered him.  Listen to those words and let them sink in.  Stop lying to yourself.  You murdered him.  You saying you didn’t do it doesn’t make that any truer than you telling me you worked for a rich uncle, went to Paris, and almost finished college. 

I said once that you had sentenced all of us to a life sentence of unhappiness, but that isn’t true.  You don’t deserve that kind of control over my life.  I refuse to stop living because of what you did.  I will love even more fiercely, pray more fervently, laugh more hysterically, give more unselfishly and work more diligently to help others from having to suffer pain in their lives.  I will be a better person because I knew Jace, and I will not let hatred take away what I have left.  I will be happy.  I will be happier than I have ever been and when I cry and hurt and miss Jace, I will let myself feel that pain, but then I will remember this promise, and I will not let you ruin me. 

I will also forgive you.  I will forgive you again every time I start to hate you.  I choose to forgive you because Jesus forgave me.  I choose to forgive you because Jace forgave you time after time.  This doesn’t mean that I want you to leave prison and come over for Christmas Dinner, but this means that I pray that you face the truth about yourself, your past, your depravity, and what you have done.  I pray that that truth will set you free in some sense.  Not free from incarceration, but free from the evil that has taken hold of you.  I pray that you find some sort of peace and find a way to turn from that evil and do good with your life.  I forgive you.   

 I will try and post here what my mom and sister had to say at the sentencing.  My sister was AWESOME!  There were also letters written from his previous victims that I will try and get a copy of it to post here too if I can. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Guilty and the Not Guilty

Our family is thankful to the prosecutors, detectives, and jury for giving Jace the justice he deserved.  There are so many things we could say, and Thank You can never be enough.

I have tried to be very careful all along not to say anything about Cody Sartin on here or facebook.  I did want to inadvertently give the defense any ammunition or say anything "wrong."  I think that some things now deserve to be said publicly, and I think I will probably use this blog to say them in the near future, but there is someone else that deserves my attention more.

I have gone through every emotion toward my sister during the last two years. I have been mad at her, sad for her, blamed her, forgiven her, but every minute I have loved her.

She has had to listen to criticism from people who do not know the whole story.  Even today there are comments on news stories that say she should be held accountable too.  She was naive.  She made mistakes.  She didn't listen to her smarter older sister, but here is the difference between her and the man who was just found guilty. 

She admits to every mistake she made.  She accepts responsibility.  She feels remorse.

While Jace was dying in the hospital, she begged God to let her trade places with her son.  Meanwhile, Cody Sartin went to our house and stole our TV.

I could tell you a lot about the ways she was lied to and manipulated, but I don't have the energy this minute. I think a lot of "smart" people including myself could have found themselves in this situation. She was also a victim. 

I have never been more proud of my sister than when she brought Jace home to live with us and took care of him.  She saved his life.  I am proud of her now too.  For the way she has handled herself in the midst of a waking nightmare.  She handled herself with grace and strength and as a picture of the power of God to restore, heal, and make beauty from ashes. 

Life will probably always be hard for us, but hard is not synonymous with bad.  I know Leslie will continue to make Jace and the rest of her family proud. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Justice for Jace

The trial for the man who killed Jace starts Monday February 13th in Judge Kellough's court.  Every day that Jace was on this earth was a gift, and that gift was stolen from us.  There is no reason, no explaination, nothing that will ever make that better. 

If you are interested in attending the trial, testimony will probably start on Wednesday.  Please pray for my family, because this is very difficult to face.  Every minute of it is just a reminder of the hole in our lives and the pain that will never fully go away.  The things we will have to think about and hear and face will rip that hole open again, and I'm afraid of how much that is going to hurt.  Please also pray for justice and for the truth to be heard.  Pray that good wins. 

I miss you sweet boy.  Aunt Stacey loves you. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dear Jace

It's been a year since I told you you couldn't spend the night with me.  I will regret that for the rest of my life.  If only I said yes, you would still be alive.  He wouldn't have hurt you.  My heart wouldn't be broken.  I know wanting you to be alive is selfish.  You're with Jesus.  I miss you every day, but most days I'm too scared to open the box of pain I carry around with me.  I know if I do, it might eat me alive.  I still can't watch the videos of you.  It hurts too much.  I'm so sorry you died.  I know it isn't my fault, but still I'm sorry.  I'm sorry I didn't protect you.  I'm sorry I let that bad man in my house.

You taught me so much the short time I had you.  You taught me how much better life is when I am not living just for my self.  You taught me how valuable and vulnerable the life of a child is.  You taught me I am stronger than I thought.  You taught me how strong love is.  It never mattered to me if you were "special needs" or sick forever or whatever.  You were perfect.  You taught me I was loveable.  Every time you were happy to see me and told me over and over "I love you, Stacey." You let me see how someone could discover God with a child's faith.  You believed God loved you and God would make you and papa and anybody "better" just because I told you so.  My favorite sounds in the world were your laugh and your singing voice.

My small finite brain cannot understand heaven.  I love Jesus so much, but I can't wrap my brain around this mystery.  I guess I have trouble trusting what people tell me about it, when God tells me so little.  I can't fathom something beyond time and space and that maybe you can see me or something, but then I think I don't really want you to watch me when I'm going to the bathroom or watching the Real Housewives on TV.   I trust that you're there and you're happy, and that you get to be around my dad and maybe even Andrea's mom, but really I just don't get it.  I just have to wait to find out I guess.

I just hope you know how much you changed me.  How much I love you.  How I promise to try and make your life worth it.  I promise I will try and stop other children from hurting.  I will try and be a better person because I knew you and not a worse person because you died.  I know someday the pain of missing you will grow less stinging and the joy of knowing you will grow more comforting.  I hope I'm not letting you down by still hurting so much.

I love you too much. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Walk On

Grief is like a constant companion.  It's always with you.  Sometimes I get to take a break and laugh and joke around and be obnoxious, but the ache is still there.  There are different kinds of grief.  The stabbing shocking tearing loss of having a child ripped from your life.  Then there is the dull sweet ache of looking at your dad's chair and knowing he'll never sit there again.  The ache that lays there as I look at the snow and know my dad won't come shovel me out.  That he wasn't much of a conversationalist but that he would do things like that to shout I love you at us. 

I think one day I'll hide it more, even from myself, but I also know it will never completely leave me.  It's kind of like when you are a kid and realize your heroes are flawed or that Santa isn't real.  You're never the same again.  When Andrea's mom died, I told her I felt like I was losing part of my best friend too, because the sadness would change who she was.  I had no idea I'd be missing myself so soon after.  I'll never be that person.  It's like I have this secret knowledge that not everyone knows and that I didn't want to learn.  I know now that the worst thing imaginable could happen any second.  No Bible no optimism no army can protect me from pain. 

I'm supposed to feel better because of heaven.  I try to.  I believe in it - I do. The problem is I believe in it, but I don't want to see Jace and my dad someday on a golden street or in a house with many rooms when I'm 83, because women in my family never seem to die.  I want them now.  I want to hear them laugh and sing.  I don't know much about heaven, but I know it will never be like it was.  Like what I miss so much.  I suppose it will be better, but I can't picture it.  I can't imagine it.  I don't know how to fathom a place without time or bathrooms. 

I'm not alone.  Plenty of other people are in this club.  They understand what it means to be sad.  To be in this shadow.  Sometimes we reach out to each other, but a million words or hugs don't change who I am now.  I know I'm not alone, it just feels so much like I am. 

In the end there's only one thing to do.  Keep walking.