Christmas Thoughts for the Hurting
Last year Christmas was very difficult for our family. In the midst of the culmination of a dream – the release of my first published book – our family experienced a very painful season. In light of so many life-altering events that we hear about and experience every day, I want to share our story – humbly and vulnerably – in hopes that it will bring hope to those who are hurting.
In the fall of 2011, my son, fresh out of high school, left for USMC boot camp. We had invested a 2-year journey of exploration, prayer and gut-searching talks about this decision, and Chief and I were very supportive, as were our other three children. We were ready – even a little excited – about being a Marine family.
Five weeks in, it all began to fall apart.
My son called me from an ambulance – he and several others had pneumonia, but they also suspected he had meningitis. His boot camp brothers were given antibiotics and sent back. My son underwent a spinal tap, which paralyzed him from the knees down for three days. He was subsequently separated from Bravo Company, a devastating blow.
This set into motion a downward spiral of ill-fated circumstances that stripped our son of everything. He fought back with a burning intensity, but in the end, he was medically discharged from the Marine Corps, and arrived home shortly before Christmas.
To add insult to raw hurts and insecurities, our reunion in the airport sparked the interest of some nearby. He was mistaken for having come back from war, and was thanked for his service. He looked, talked, walked like a Marine, but he was not a Marine.
Our journey had only begun. We were not fully aware of the things he’d undergone. We just knew he was deeply confused, lost, and hurting.
We had planned to postpone Christmas until the second week of January, after his graduation. The kids were totally willing to wait. We were gonna keep the tree up no matter how dry, and have people over for dinner, and do the whole thing in January. But that didn’t happen either. We spent Christmas Day together in a fog. We went through the motions, very glad to have our son home, but there were questions lingering, and pain that oozed from our confusion, and we passed over it in the spirit of the season.
I suspect that many of you will do the same this year. We’ve lost several of our blue brothers recently, one only on the job for four months. Just this month, California Highway Patrol lost two of our own – one from his own hand, the other in an off-duty hit-and-run. There are 27 families in Connecticut that will be without their loved ones, and in Colorado 12 more. Losses, cancer, people without work, broken dreams, broken lives, broken people.
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining…”
Some words I wrote in this season:
“Oh, Lord, I come to you this morning with heaviness of heart. With longing for peace, for answers, for direction… As always I look for quick answers – for resolved revelation, so we can move on from this dark, confusing place…
“Can I, in this Christmas season, have joy in the midst of hardship? Can I rejoice – return to joy – amidst my circumstances, by faith? Help me to understand this: there is unfinished business in our home, but You know all about it, have a plan, had a plan, and are carrying it out now. The solution will not be wrapped as a gift under the tree at Christmas Hollywood-style, but yet help me return to faith, return to joy, return to the knowledge I have of Your character. It is in this place, bolstered in the assurance of Your sovereignty and individualized love for my family, that I dare to re-joice.” – (Journal Entry, December 23, 2011)
Five months later, I was at the Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington DC. It was Mother’s Day – and the Candlelight Vigil was to begin in a couple of hours. My phone rang, and my son wished me a happy day. And then he told me that while in boot camp, he witnessed a suicide attempt, close enough to get blood splatter on his uniform.
A cold chill went down my spine. And then the thoughts that had been a jumbled mess for months suddenly aligned. Oh. Now I get it. My son had post-traumatic stress from a violent act he witnessed firsthand.
I listened. I prayed. I called Chief. I called our Marine recruiter. And while I was on the phone, a Marine in his uniform hobbled by on crutches at the Vigil site. He had only one leg.
Finally, the truth was known. Now we can do something.
When I got back, we got our son into EMDR therapy. We journeyed alongside him through nightmares, anger, grief, sadness, and the aftermath of difficult sessions.
And then, slowly but surely, he started coming back. And our relationships deepened. Trust was built. Genuine, unguarded hugs were exchanged. And the darkness has lifted.
My thoughts this year:
“Lord, I am amazed by Your faithfulness. This past year has been a walk of faith through many trials. And although life isn’t perfect, it is good.
“I have trusted Your character, Lord, and You have been completely faithful. I have been imperfect in my trust, but You have been perfect in Your love and guidance, in Your vision for us, and Your plan in the midst of our pain.
“This Christmas season has a renewed hope within our lives. We’ve been through the storm – tossed and shaken, uprooted and battered. And now we are rebuilding. My trust in You has grown; my inner panic in the midst of circumstances that seem so bad on the outside has subsided as I learn how You work. You are the Master Potter, the Chief Weaver, the Patient Artist. You have Your vision, and You carefully, faithfully, lovingly bring it together in Your time.
“I am peaceful in the midst of this process – still afraid, still moved by circumstance, but anchored by the hope of Your Mighty Hand.” – Journal Entry, December 1, 2012
Losing loved ones in the process of human life is so difficult. The grief can be devastating. Walking through unknowns in our marriages, with our health, our kids – overwhelming. But there is One who is very much concerned, very present in your pain, and very able to comfort. He will help you rebuild, from the inside out.
Life’s solutions are not wrapped in pretty packages. They unfold in time, as we dare to emerge from the shadows, knowing there is the light of hope beyond the dark.
“O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee…”