It is a challenge to praise God during your hardships. Life
is hard. When it starts to rain, how do we respond?
I’ve been fighting depression for about a year now. Things
seem horrible even when they aren’t. I’m a homicide survivor. Maybe that was
the trigger. I am living apart from my wife and family. Maybe that’s it.
I know that there is a God. I know He wants the best for me.
I know that He answers prays according to His will. He doesn’t always give us
what we pray. When He does not, it is because He has a good reason. We may not
know the reason until later. We may not know the reason until we go to heaven.
I want my story to help at least one other person out there.
I have faith that it will.
But that was five years ago. What do I do right now? My life
is still far from perfect.
Praise Him in the Storm
My wife asked me why I don’t write about my experience? My
response is that my life wasn’t a triumphant “success” yet. But then I realized
that “success” might not happen. Maybe it is “successful” right now. Maybe not
in the ways of the world. Maybe in the ways of God.
Jesus tells us many, many times that the life of a Christian
is not easy. Just the opposite, He tells us that our lives will have many
problems. Have an honest conversation with any Christian you know. If you
scratch the surface, you will find your share of problems.
We are here for each other. We can and should share
each other’s burden.
For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!
Ecclesiastes 4:10 English Standard Version (ESV)
Sometimes I have to stop and think of my blessings. What
successes do I have?
My health. I’ve experienced life in a hospital bed. It is not fun. Some people have to live in a hospital bed. I feel pity for them and I am blessed to not be one of them anymore.
A big, loving family. A loving relationship is more important than money. The older I get, the more I appreciate this. I will hug my wife and kids again someday. I will hug the son I lost again someday. I have family here in the US that I can hug anytime.
A roof over my head. I am not “rich” financially, but I have the things I need. I am not homeless. I have a bed and warmth. There is a saying in The Philippines:
A small blanket is better than no blanket.
American citizenship. Some people literally wait multiple years to enter the US. Some are so desperate that they enter the US illegally. This comes with a whole list of blessings, many of which we take for granted. It usually takes a trip overseas to really understand how good we have it. It really is true that the poorest American still has more than most of the world. That is sad, really.
If we take the time to stop and think, we have many reasons
to rejoice. This is “counting our blessings.” We can talk it out with a friend,
or write it out in a journal.
The really hard thing is that depression ignores all the
good things, and one really bad thing can wipe out 10 really good things. I was
not counting my blessings when my
son was killed.
God is in Your Praise
When something bad is happening, we really want and need Him
to take action. He is mighty and powerful. We need Him.
Is there something that seems impossible? Is there something
that only He can do? That’s where He works best.
When the Israelites went into battle, they went first
with praise. When we praise Him, He is there. Do you want a miracle? Do you
want Him to witness the situation and perhaps take action? God inhabits the praises
of His people. Do you believe that? I do.
When Lazarus died, was there anyone other than God who could
have raised him? Jesus waited for Lazarus to die before he went to visit. He said
He was doing this so that the glory of God could be displayed for all.
Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”
John 11:40-42 English Standard Version (ESV)
The apostles were instruments in raising the dead, but the ultimate
power comes from God.
Your praise meets several different needs at once. God is
good at multitasking:
Reminding you that you need Him and nothing is
too difficult for Him.
Reminding you of your blessings.
Bringing His power to your current situation.
Is Life Hard? Praise Him
This is difficult to do. It is a practice. I have to remind
myself to praise Him in storms and difficulties. We are told to rejoice in our
problems and difficulties. I am still trying to work this one out.
But you don’t have to understand the commands of God to
follow them and receive His blessings. We only have to obey. He tells us to
rejoice during tough times. Therefore, I practice rejoicing during hard time.
When things are at their most bleak, when you need a
miracle, that is the time to reach out to God. That is the time for praise.
That was my first question when I went to my first support group meeting, Parents of Murdered Children (POMC).
The answer, almost to my horror, is never.
The pain never goes away. I heard a man speak who lost his daughter to murder over 30 years ago. He is still dealing with his pain.
Initially, this made me recoil.
Never? The pain would never go away?
The pain of the first year is almost unbearable. The idea that this pain would go on forever was unthinkable. Over several years of meetings, I have learned the rest of the story.
Yes, the pain of a traumatic loss never goes away, but it softens. Survivingvictims of homicide are trying to save another life — their own. They are on a quest to find “the new normal.” We aren’t trying to “move on.” We will never move on from our tragedy. Instead, we “move forward” in spite of it.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me go back to the beginning.
I’m a big fan of motivational speaker. Mainly because… they motivate me.
My latest is Mel Robbins.
She said something in a speech that really stood out to me.
If you are doing something new, you might tell yourself that you’ll succeed or fail. –Mel Robbins
She goes on to say that we should tweak the saying. In our modern society, there is little chance that we will fail (or die). In ancient times, failure could mean death. Today, failure means we get a sternly-worded memo from HR.
Instead, she said, we should tell ourselves, “We will succeed or survive.”
I like this, because I’m a survivor.
To understand my story, we have to go back to 2013. I was living in Hood River, Oregon. I though I was living a pretty good life.
I had good friends. I had a good job. I had a good family. I had a beautiful little boy. He was autistic and non-verbal, but he gave really good hugs. I wish I could have heard him say, “I love you,” but both of us knew.
That’s when my whole castle began to crumble.
I got a brain tumor. It was in a very sensitive part of my brain. I couldn’t feel the left half of my body. I could not walk. I was confined to a hospital bed.
I got good care at the local Providence hospital. My friends and family rallied around me. It boosted my spirits.
I was going to buckle down and recover!
Two months later, I was diagnosed with a rare form of MS. I spent a month in rehab relearning how to every common task you can think of. Standing up, walking, brushing my teeth, and dressing myself.
In the two months I had been confined to my bed, all of my muscles had atrophied.
I was starting as a baby again at the age of 40.
I’m used to tears and humiliation and hard work. You haven’t lived until you’ve messed yourself in public (that’s a joke). It makes a person humble, though.
A month later, I returned to my home in a wheelchair with a walker.
I wasn’t deterred. I was going to keep at it, work hard, and recover!
Life wasn’t done dealing me blows.
The Continued Fall
Then my wife had a “nervous breakdown.”
I’m not making light of mental illness. It’s a serious thing. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, get help immediately.
I am saying that my wife didn’t have a real nervous breakdown. At least, the later police investigation didn’t come to that conclusion. Their opinion is that she was pretending to have a nervous breakdown. Why? Maybe she didn’t want to deal with a special needs son and a special needs husband?
It’s all speculation. We may never know.
What I do know is that she was a master of manipulation. You thought of her what she wanted you to think of her. She wanted everyone to think that she was a poor victim of a “nervous breakdown.”
She entered the mental health system of Hood River. We bounced around from therapist to therapist. No one really did anything. Of course, nothing would have worked. She was allegedly faking it and showing different symptoms to different people.
When they started talking about putting her in an institution, my aunt and uncle came to the rescue. They offered up a room in their house for her to stay. Yes, she has a name, but I prefer not to use it… ever.
We’ll call her The One Who Won’t Be Named.
Now I didn’t have any support at home. My wife had been the primary care-giver for my son. I had come a long way, but I wasn’t yet up to the task of parenting a very energetic, special-needs boy.
My mother-in-law extended her vacation and stayed with me two weeks. My mother took a vacation to stay with me two more weeks. She was the one who said this wasn’t a long-term solution. She had life and job back in Newport, Oregon.
“Pack up a few boxes. You’re moving in with me.”
It was like quickly leaving a disaster and grabbing only what you need. There were so many things that I left behind. Years later, I don’t miss most of those things. It was forcing me to become a minimalist — and fast!
Life continued like this in Newport — maybe a month or so?
I worked on daily exercise. I was still determined to “get better.”
Then, my wife’s condition “got worse.” She made some very angry, violent threats toward my aunt and uncle. The police were called. She was taken into state mental care. Quick hint out there for those of you dealing with mental illness. The police that came to the scene would sooner have just left things alone. That wouldn’t have been a good thing. You can tell when somebody needs mental care. In this case, she was allegedly needing serious mental care, but that’s beside the point.
My uncle insisted that she be placed in state care. He threatened to take legal action if they didn’t. Bravo, uncle! Between you and me, I think you dodged a bullet there.
Lesson: Make the public officials do their jobs, even when they don’t want to.
So, the unnamed one was placed in a group home in The Dalles, Oregon. Six months later, they requested a phone call. Apparently, she was “cured” (she wasn’t) and she was good to “come home” (it wasn’t a good idea).
Lesson: Even if a mental health professional tells you someone if “cured” don’t believe them. Get a second AND third opinion. Set up a meeting and see for yourself.
That may not have helped in this case, because she was acting “crazy” and acting “normal” based on her needs at the time.
She came home to Newport and lived with us for about six months. I shiver when I think about the kind of danger we were all in.
I regularly got out of the house to practice walking or go swimming at the local pool.
On the evening of November 3rd, 2014, I went out. She said that she was fine to watch little London (she wasn’t).
I was gone for about two hours.
I noticed a bunch of emergency lights on the Newport bridge (the Yaquina Bay Bridge). I assumed there had been an auto accident. I was stuck in the slow traffic as it crawled across.
I kept my eyes forward on the slowly-moving cars ahead of me. This was for several reasons:
One of the reasons traffic goes so slow is because people slow down to look at an accident. I told myself I wasn’t going to be a “lookie loo” a long time ago.
Sometimes people get into fender-benders by looking at the accident and not at the road. I definitely don’t want to be one of “those” people.
I was fairly fresh to driving again after rehab. It’s like riding a bike, but it still required focus.
If I had been looking, I would have seen my wife’s car.
I got home and watched a movie with my dad. I still can’t stand the Transformers movies for that reason. That’s a whole bunny trail we won’t go in to here.
A couple hours past. It was dark. I was starting to get worried.
I called. I texted.
Then there was a knock at the door. It was a group of police and a chaplain. They asked to come inside. They asked me to sit. Then they told me what had happened.
She had driven London to the Newport bridge. Parked the car. Walked him out to the middle of the bridge. Picked him up. Threw him off the bridge.
When the police told me, I started to cry.
I cried non-stop for about three days. I cried so much, it felt like I broke. I have trouble crying even to this day.
When you hear something traumatic, your mind instantly goes into shock. This is not a good time to be talking to anybody.
Lesson: Do not give a statement to the police while you are still reeling from a crime. You aren’t thinking clearly. You don’t want to be “on the record.”
But that is another bunny trail.
The very next day, friends from Hood River began to arrive. This is about a three-hour drive. I was surrounded by shared grief and support. While I had been in the hospital, London had lived with many of these families. To them, it was also like losing a son.
Honestly, the first year is mostly a blur.
I think it’s a self-protection device of your brain. While the pain is fresh, the brain can’t compute. It mostly shuts down.
Witnessing all of this love, generosity, and support softened my heart. I gave my heart to God and his son, Jesus Christ. He has been putting my life back together ever since.
Some homicide victims are angry with God. If so, that’s OK. He’s a big guy, He can take it.
I never blamed God for what happened. I think He was the first one to cry.
I’m not here to convert anybody. I’m just saying that embracing faith has helped me on my journey
That began my nomad life. I began to wander aimless. Newport had too many memories. I moved up to Portland, and have been staying with one friend after another. I didn’t know where I was going.
An Exotic Beauty
A year later, I was still going through the trial. People ask if a “successful” trial brings closure. It does not. The legal process is a different kind of pain. As a society, we should be ashamed. We take a person who has been through a traumatic situation and put them through another traumatic situation (a trial). So, to answer the question, the end of a trial is just a relief — regardless of the outcome. It could be good or bad.
I just wanted it to be over.
I wanted to learn how to breathe again, instead of gasping for life.
When I needed a friend at the end of the trial, Malou reached out to me on Facebook. That’s an amusing story, but yet another bunny trail. She didn’t know anything about what I was going through. She just knew I was a Christian and she thought I was cute.
I’ll take that. I needed a friend as the pressure-cooker of a trial was underway.
She lived in Rome, Italy. She was a private chef.
We started to chat every day. In one of our chats, I mentioned the trial. I thought everybody knew because it was such a huge story. She had no idea.
The next day, she had done some research. She apologized. She had no idea.
We became closer and closer. At this point, I still didn’t know what she looked like. Her Facebook profile picture had photos of her children (adorable). Turns out she was a widow. She was working overseas to support her kids back home (in The Philippines). As I got to know her, she was a beautiful person. I admired her level of self-sacrifice for her kids. We started to talk about the possibility of getting married.
It was a lame proposal, but she agreed.
It wasn’t until after the proposal that she sent me a photo of herself. I almost dropped the phone. She was gorgeous!
A year after that, I went to meet her for the first time in Rome, Italy. When I met her, she was surprised. She had seen my photos online of me at rehab in a wheelchair. She didn’t expect me to be walking. At that time I was walking with a cane. Now I walk without that.
Family, Wedding, and VISA
I travelled once to The Philippines to meet the family and kids. She has SIX kids and one grandkid! We saved up for another year and then travelled again to The Philippines to get married.
More bunny trails there.
Now we are working on the VISA application. Holy Cow! Talk about pulling your fingernails out! My 1st application is about 80 pages long. Notice that I said “1st application.” There will be many, many more hoops to go through.
Six Years Later…
It has been six years since the murder. I am now a totally different person than I was. I am remarried. I am writing again.
If I had any advice for somebody going through traumatic grief, it would be this:
Do what you have to do. There are no rules. Stay busy and try new things.