Letter to a Christian Going through Trauma
Dear Christian going through trauma,
I write this letter to you after making it to the other side. The other side of a great journey that many others have traveled. I write after finally making it to the southern facing side of a mountain where the sun shines best. This letter comes from someone that navigated the treacherous path of deep hurt, pain, and fear.
I write this as a pastor, husband, and father that cares deeply about you, even though we may have never met. I understand that your journey may have you confused–wondering how you could take another step. I understand the deepest, darkest parts of a jagged mountain.
Yet, in spite of the terrifying times, I made it.
I can only hope this letter brings comfort as if someone was sitting on a log beside you saying, “I am here. I hear you. I know you are hurting and when you are ready, just know you can do it. You can get to the south side of this rugged nasty old mountain.”
My family found ourselves on the dark side of the mountain, in the pitch dark. Totally by surprise and without warning. The path that led us there was sharp, sudden and without any warning signs.
On October 28, 2016, my wife Amber and I headed to watch our girls play softball. Fall tournaments were in full swing and Emma our oldest would be pitching to Olivia. Nearly all year around since they were 6 and 8, the two played fastpitch softball. This particular morning was filled with excitement because both girls would have college coaches at the tournament to watch them play, and we would be facing some great teams.
It was another weekend to be filled with hours of games seeing our daughters do their thing. So we thought anyway.
We were driving to the park when my wife’s cell phone rang. It was a police officer calling from our daughter Emma’s phone. I can still hear two things in my head when that memory comes back: the fear in Amber’s voice and the sirens blaring through the speaker of Emma’s cell phone. Amber hung up the phone and said, “We have to get to the hospital. The girls were in an accident.”
My next memory was walking through E.R. doors. A dozen police officers were standing in the waiting area, all staring at me.
I still remember the sensation of a hand reaching into my chest, grabbing my heart and squeezing with a grip that would crush granite. I nearly vomited right there.
A woman took my hand and led Amber and me back to a family grieving room, and she began to explain the severity of the accident. Words like T-boned, crushed, fractures, and blood on the brain poured from her mouth while I was trying to slow my heart and mind from the hurricane of emotions and images. Now I vomited.
For 21 days, Olivia would lie in a coma with us sitting by her side wondering if she would ever wake up. She was hooked up to more machines than I cared to count. She suffered 16 skull fractures, a double compound jaw fracture, broken sternum, a brain bleed and oxygen on the brain. She was almost certain not to survive.
I imagined her funeral a thousand times.
Our oldest daughter Emma suffered severe lacerations, a terrible concussion and–worst of all–the horror of remembering every second of the wreck. She spent 5 days in the hospital but was released to go home and begin her own journey of rehab.
It felt as though our family had fallen off a cliff, more than just lost in the dark.
Day 22 arrived and Olivia remained alive. They moved us to a rehab hospital and began the arduous process of trying to wake her from the coma.
My soul found a level of pain I had no idea existed. In my life I have suffered tragedy, loss; even two years before the wreck our youngest son was hospitalized from a rare stomach illness, nearly taking his life. We survived the painful journey of losing Amber’s Mom to Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
Neither of these events could remotely prepare me for this level of heart-wrenching agony.
So why do I write this letter? Merely rekindling a story of hurting parents, loss, and the results of a broken world? No. I write this to you so I can say, “I hear you.” Maybe not in the physical sense, but in a spiritual sense. I sit in a different spot along the trail and I can hear the struggle.
More importantly, I know God hears you.
The Lord whispered in many of those dark nights, those quiet waiting rooms. The story of Jesus healing the boy with an unclean spirit in Mark 9 brought me great comfort. I must have read that story 100 times. In Mark 9:20-24, a boy is brought to Jesus by a doubt-filled father. He wonders if Jesus can heal his son. Jesus’ response is what brought me comfort. He is patient with the father. He reassures the heartbroken parent.
I will never understand, nor will any of us why God does certain things.
Why some face deep loss and others do not. Our girls’ story is one of survival and healing miracles. Olivia spent 87 days in the hospital relearning to walk, talk, read, perform basic math and even tie her shoes. She gutted her way through incredible rehab and with God’s healing hand and incredible medical providers, she is back playing softball and living the life of a normal teenager. Emma is pitching in college and Olivia just accepted a scholarship to play in college. We give the glory to God knowing he saved Liv and saw our family through the darkest times.
I know not all stories end that way. I have had the chance to sit and listen to many that end with loss and no celebration of a college scholarship.
What I can share with you is what I learned along the way. Maybe my journey will help you navigate the path differently or help avoid some of the pitfalls I found myself in.
I want to encourage you to consider these lessons learned:
- You cannot do this alone. Yes, Jesus is with you but you also need others. Allow people into your circle even when it seems scary or difficult. Both Amber and I wanted to isolate in the most painful times, yet people rallied around us. Spiritual strength is always found when we are dependent not independent. Following Christ leads us to greater dependence on Him and others.
- Take care of yourself. One of the nurse practitioners reminded me several times that the trauma we were navigating was a marathon. We needed to sleep, eat right, and exercise. Make sure to take care of your physical health so that you are in the best condition to uphold your mental and spiritual health, especially if the trauma you are going through has long-term implications.
- Seek professional help. I had no idea what the symptoms of PTSD were until going through our own trauma. Seeing a counselor helped all of us process memories and imagined thoughts that were creating debilitating amounts of anxiety. Yes, I had close friends, but in some cases our family needed professional help navigating this new world and the residual effects of our trauma.
- Celebrate the wins. Find the little things that God is doing and small victories along the way. Amber and I agreed early on that each day we would find one thing better than the day before. As small as it seems, this helped greatly. Find those small wins and celebrate them.
Whether you are in the middle of some horrible trauma, or the memories of something 20 years ago seem to never go away. I hear you. Jesus hears you.
In the context of relationship with God and others, I know He, the Holy Spirit, can and will bring you through this. If you find yourself sitting in the dark on some terrifying path, not wanting to go any further, or flat on your back from exhaustion, I am telling you to stand up. You can do this. The sun is shining on the other side of the mountain, so let’s start putting one foot in front of the other.