Deciding whether to even write this blog had been one of the harder decisions I’ve ever made. It was one year ago that our family experienced the greatest trauma of our lives. A violent intruder, recently released from prison, brutally assaulted our daughter-in-law and kidnapped and assaulted our four-year old granddaughter. This led to a nation-wide manhunt and she was miraculously rescued several states away, thirty-six hours later. There are still tens of thousands of websites, photos, videos, and articles online about this whole ordeal.
We had flown through the night to the East Coast to be with our son and his family, and were with him that next evening when he got the phone call from the FBI that our precious little granddaughter had been rescued. That moment was the complete antithesis of our nightmare – the greatest sense of relief and joy we have ever experienced even as all the local and national news media was broadcasting our family’s ordeal constantly.
Those thirty-six hours were, quite frankly the closest thing to ‘hell on earth’ I have ever experienced. In the early hours of the morning, while quickly packing our suitcases before leaving for our flight to be with our son and his family, I had briefly hid from my wife in our laundry room where, in the dark, and through desperate tears, I told God that if my precious granddaughter was not found alive, I did not think I could serve Him anymore.
After the extraordinary news that she had been rescued and was safe, my family ‘statement’ on Facebook ended up being shared and read 27,000 times. This was something we could have never anticipated, nor was it anything I had ever desired!
In the days following, we were barraged with media request, and I was even offered opportunities to speak at churches and share “the story.” Yet, I knew the “story” was also a story of assault and abuse and a lot of recovery that I simply could not reconcile personally, or theologically.
So, one year later, our family is recovering… we’ve spent time with therapists, we’ve embraced God’s grace in this nightmare, but at the one-year mark, I find myself still very reflective.
MY ‘TAKEAWAYS’ FROM THERAPY, FROM PRAYER, AND FROM MY REFLECTIONS THESE PAST 12 MONTHS.
God is not silent, even in the silence.
It was my trauma therapist who said to me, “Even when you were threatening God, in the midst of your trauma, you were still in a conversation with God, and that counts for something!”
I’ve traveled around the world, many times over, but the initial middle-of-the-night two-hour flight to Chicago, on our route to Charleston, South Carolina, was the longest flight of my life. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t rest; all I could do was worry and despair! With my earphones on, I fingered through various playlists on my phone and landed on the classic song, “You are my hiding place,” based on Psalm 32:7, and sung by the vocal band, Selah. I played that song over and over as I sat on that plane. Somehow, God was telling me, ‘it’s ok, I’m here.”
God actually wants a relationship with us after all!
I was a pastor in the Jesus Movement and for several decades following that revival. Over twenty years ago, I was president of our local evangelical association and I was the ‘guy’ who was often quoted in the newspaper when evangelical / biblical issues were addressed. At times I have probably lived in that ‘ivory tower’ of academia and theology that people talk about. I always had a ‘thoughtful,’ even provocative answer or response to their questions.
As it turns out, the bumper stickers were actually correct – I have come to understand that God wants relationship with people, not with theology, policy or political positions!
I came to appreciate that God wanted me, with all this ‘stuff’ I was going through, to just be in relationship with Him!
Don’t compare someone else’s crises or trauma.
It’s always the temptation, to begin a conversation with someone who has experienced trauma or loss, and start with ‘I understand what you’re feeling, because I…” No, actually you don’t understand, neither did I, so please don’t do that.
It’s true that St. Paul told the Corinthian believers that because of the struggles and difficulties they had experienced, they would be able to comfort anyone with the ‘comfort you yourselves received from God.” But comfort is not comparison, nor is it trying to give answers when there really aren’t any. Comfort is your kindness, your presence (when appropriate) and your commitment to loving them, praying for them, and being available.
There is great help out there! Get help when you need it!
Quoting the Apostle Paul again, he told the church in Galatia to ‘bear one another’s burdens.’ Yet, just a couple sentences later he seems to contradict himself, saying “and each one should carry his own load.” Putting my theologian hat on for a moment, I would note that these two sentences have very different words in the original Greek language. The ‘load’ that everyone should just ‘carry’ is much like a little ‘day pack,’ in other words, day to day, we all have our challenges and responsibilities, so just carry them! But, in that first sentence, the ‘burden’ we are told to help one another carry is akin to a massive millstone, something so heavy, so monumental, that if others do not help, it will crush us!!
I was embarrassed to actually call the trauma therapist to make my first appointment. I am glad I pushed through my own personal awkwardness because, quite honestly, he was used by God to help rescue me from what was becoming a very dark place in my mind and imagination. Someone once responded to the question if ‘therapy was helping’ by simply saying ‘yes, the help helped!’ I would agree! Get the help you need!
I find myself more reflective, some of the things that used to really agitate me don’t have the power they used to have in my mind. I feel very blessed, though a little bit broken, and I think that’s ok. After all, I don’t want to end this life with people talking about how I was some great thinker or preacher or writer, I want people to say that, even if only in a minuscule way, I was ‘like Jesus!’