MARYVILLE, Ill. Cindy Winters didn't set out to write a book. But as she journaled about her grief and pain after her husband Fred was killed in his Maryville, Ill., pulpit four years ago, she realized how healing the writing process could be.
Pastor Fred Winters was killed at First Baptist Church in Maryville in 2009, when a gunman entered a Sunday morning worship service on March 8 and shot him in the pulpit. Media outlets immediately descended on Maryville, pushing the story into national headlines. Just days later, Cindy Winters extended forgiveness to the shooter on CBS' "Early Show."
"We have been praying for him," she said. "... We really firmly believe that he can find hope and forgiveness and peace through this by coming to know Jesus."
Hope, forgiveness and peace are among the themes in Winters' new book "Reflections from the Pit," available now on www.amazon.com. Her writing process started simply, when she sat down with pen and paper to express some of the emotions that were overwhelming her.
"I would leave that writing experience with a sense of renewed strength," Winters said. "Oftentimes, peace would sweep in over me, and then hope. And just a sense of 'OK, you know what, I'm going to be able to make it through the rest of the day.'"
In brief devotion-like sections, Winters shares her thoughts in hopes of easing some of grief's isolation. The book also includes Scripture passages, nature pictures, prayers, poems and space for readers to write their own journal entries.
"They're all highly personal, and they all come out of a feeling of being overwhelmed," Winters said of her entries. "They're not all sad, they're not all dark. Some of them are funny. Some of them come from really good places; some of them are obviously from a really bad spot."
And the book isn't just for people going through grief. "I think it's for anybody who has found themselves in the pit, regardless of how we get there. The pit can be very painful, and very dark, and very hard to get out of. So I think it's for anybody who can say, 'You know what? My life's in the pit right now.'"
Winters feels a close connection with the Maryville community that protects her husband's memory and legacy, evidenced in part by Fred Winters Memorial Park, scheduled to be completed this year.
As for her family Winters has two teenage daughters she admits life still feels like a roller coaster.
"We still have so many transitions that we are making," Winters said. "That is so odd to say after four years, but we are. There's still a lot of things that are kind of unsettled and a lot of aspects of our life that are still extremely difficult to try to navigate through.
"But there is a level of normalcy to our life now that there wasn't a couple years ago. There are things we do now that don't have the same kind of sting to them, you know, because we've done them now four times in a row."
And God has sustained them.
"... It all comes down to just knowing that God is faithful and that He's good, and trusting Him, and looking at that every day. And not relying on ourselves or our circumstances to be our comfort. And knowing that only truly God can heal and comfort us."