Ugh. I still haven’t allowed myself to feel my feelings about the deadly Officer Involved Shooting that just happened on Wednesday. I’m too afraid to go there.
But then this morning, as I was driving with the kids out to a nearby path where the girls were going to ride bikes and I was going to jog/walk with Ben in the stroller… I accidentally started feeling my feelings. I don’t even know what started it.
Maybe it was the gorgeous weather— still cool, but sunny and already starting to show signs of a perfect summer Saturday. Maybe it was the picturesque vineyards lining both sides of the 2-lane highway I was on. Or maybe it was the simple, pure-hearted excitement of having the opportunity to get my wiggles out with all three kiddos on the lovely path we were almost at.
Whatever the case, all I know is that all of a sudden— with no forewarning whatsoever— I started tearing up as I remembered the audio recording of the police scanner I heard on the news the other night: the recorded distress call from the officer who witnessed his sergeant get killed on a traffic stop for absolutely no reason. Before I even realized what I was doing, I found myself imagining how terrifying that must have been for him, hearing and seeing shots fired and having to both react in words (over the radio so that assistance could come asap) and in deed (trying to shoot back accurately at the shooter while also unbelievably shocked at the sight of his sergeant down and bloodied).
How the hell do people live through this shit?
How is that poor guy supposed to sleep with peace again, with that image and that adrenaline-memory running through his mind and body from here on out?
Jesus, we need You so desperately. Please help that officer. Please help the family and friends of the sergeant who was killed. Please help my own husband as he continues to process his own shooting from almost 2 years ago. And now this. Lord Jesus… please.
My throat tightens. My chest aches. It gets harder to breathe. Tears start to spill out underneath my sunglasses.
But I “don’t have time” to feel all this right now, I tell myself. I am in the car with my children— we are about to go live a great moment together. I want to just be with them and not be a sobbing mess right now.
Please, Jesus. Help me to not feel this. Not right now.
So I sucked it up, thanked God for the sunglasses I was wearing, and stopped allowing myself to think about it all.
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And now here I am. A few hours later, with a few moments to myself on the front porch. My girls are peacefully playing Legos in their room while J and Ben “play bad guy” throughout the house, Ben directing his daddy to be various Marvel characters while Ben, Captain America to the core, throws his shield and thrashes his dad around as much as he can.
Thud. I hear the shield bang against the front window, followed by a little chuckle and a lighthearted scolding.
Lord God— that scenario… a visit from the PD informing me that I no longer have a husband and my children are now fatherless… that could happen to us. Death is just around the corner for any of us— no one knows when their last day is.
Lord Jesus… I love this life I have. I don’t want it to change. It’s already hard enough, uncomfortable enough, dangerous enough. I don’t want to ever have to face what that precious sergeant’s family is facing right now.
How do people keep breathing after moments like that?
How do their bodies keep functioning, their legs keep working, their tummies keep growling for food, their lungs keep filling and emptying themselves of air after The Horrible Things happen to them?
I remember from my own dark times: my body somehow kept plugging along, though my heart stood frozen in time. When my mom left my dad to go live with her boyfriend… When my first love admitted he had been cheating on me for months… When my big brother’s marriage fell apart… When my baby died after only 12 weeks gestation… When my grandma passed away in agony right in front of my eyes… When my husband called me from work to say he had just shot and killed a man in the line of duty to protect his own life and the lives of the other officers there…
There wasn’t hunger back in those days. Mostly just darkness and confusion and friends and family members reminding me I should probably eat some food from time to time. And that my kids probably could use some food, too.
Yet somehow I stayed alive. Somehow the parts of my body that keep me breathing still worked. Somehow I was able to keep walking forward. Somehow my brain still knew how to tell my arms to lift things and my feet were still able to step on the proper pedals in my car so that I could get from place to place. Somehow I was able to keep functioning. Somehow I, too, didn’t die through those events.
I read a book a year or so ago— Choosing to SEE by Mary Beth Chapman. It was the raw, heart-wrenching, true story of how Mary Beth and her husband and kids all managed to survive— and somehow maintain their faith and trust in God— despite having to live through one of the most horrifying events I could ever imagine: one of their teenage sons accidentally hit and killed their youngest daughter right there in the driveway of their house.
Likewise, Ann Voskamp, in One Thousand Gifts, tells about her own journey— wherein she grew up mourning the loss of her own toddler sister getting hit by a farm truck in their driveway— right in front of her mother.
And of course there is The Hardest Peace, Kara Tippets’ story of courage and grace as she faced her own looming death, knowing that stage IV brain cancer would soon win, leaving her four little ones motherless.
How do people live through such grief? How do they ever become/stay “healthy, normal individuals” after experiencing something like that?
And how do these police families keep plugging along after such incidents like what happened on Wednesday…?
Well… as I have witnessed both in my own life, in all three of the true-life accounts mentioned above, and through my own and my friends’ dark times, it wasn’t easy. It was an up and down and up and then way down and then a little up and little more up and down and on and on kind of journey.
It wasn’t fast. It wasn’t glorious. It wasn’t predictable. It wasn’t like a sweet old Hallmark movie, full of people saying the right things at the right times and everyone around them always being amazing and the main characters’ faith never wavering.
No, it wasn’t like that. It was real.
It felt horrible and unbearable and like it just might not ever get better a lot of the time. It felt maddening and confusing and sometimes even surprisingly joyful and funny at times. It felt like a bad life mixed up with a good life all at the same time.
The beauty and the ugly mixed together. The pain and the unexpected blessings mingled with each other and… somehow… somehow… those folks made it through. They are still making it through.
Somehow God’s “peace that passes understanding” has been able to wiggle its way into these dark spaces in such a way that the people involved actually sensed it from time to time.
While I haven’t experienced the level of grief or loss that the folks in these stories have faced— and I cannot even presume to suppose that any of my hurts are even remotely akin to what they went through, or what Sergeant Lunger’s family and friends and co-workers are going through right now, or what unspeakable tragedies several of my friends and acquaintances have recently experienced (a toddler’s cancer diagnosis; a severely traumatized foster child who came out of living with his prostitute mother for the first three years of his life; a 35-year-old mom’s sudden death; a 5th-grader’s mysterious brain malfunction which almost killed him, but instead put him into a coma and he’s still not even close to “normal” again)… I cannot imagine how any of that must feel. All I know is that, as I have read accounts by these folks and as I have walked alongside my friends and acquaintances trudging through these messes… I have seen a theme tying these survivors together:
God is there, too.
It is not pretty, it’s certainly not easy, it doesn’t feel very miraculous or warm and cozy inside, and it follows no formula. Not one of them would have chosen these walks of tragedy they are on.
And yet… unanimously… at some point in their journey (usually later rather than sooner) they have all testified to what Jen Hatmaker said at this year’s IF: Gathering: “God is good when life is good and He’s good when life is hard… You want it to be true in the day but you find out if it’s true in the night— you find out if He’s good. And… He’s good. I would venture to say He’s even better when it’s bad,” she testifies while, by the way, in the midst of walking alongside her own dear mother’s current battle with cancer.
So… through the death of children, through cancer diagnoses, through sick children, through gone-to-heaven mommies, through Officer Involved Shootings, through miscarriages and adultery and broken marriages and betrayals and even through death… God meets His kids there, too. And He is good and comforting and peace-giving and patient and kind and generous… even there.
It’s when I am desperate, when I am at my wit’s end, when I am out of resources and out of energy and out of excuses and out of words and maybe even out of prayers of the old-fashioned sort… it is then that I am walking slow enough to really SEE. It is then that my heart is honest enough to really pray and to really notice God’s good gifts even in the midst of disaster.
It is then that the simple things, the small joys of life, are finally noticed and appreciated as the really true big and good stuff life is made of.
For me? When I am so broken that I cannot even see straight? That’s when I am looking hard enough for help to really be willing to grab hold of Him and to stop trying to solve it all myself. It’s when I am at my lowest that I have been able to see how Big and Capable and Strong and Loving and Incredibly Good God really is.
And even though certain pains may never really “heal up” in the sense that they will never leave me completely painless or scarless— some, like the loss of my unborn baby six years ago and the disintegration of my parents’ marriage, will be with me forever— there is a beautiful comfort in the fact that God is there even in that perpetual ache. He is aching along with me and for me and for the loss and grief I feel. Even these many years later.
And He loves.
From the tips of my toes to the tips of my fingertips to the tips of my ears, all the way down into the deepest, most honest place in my soul, I know this to be true.
So. Lord. As I kinda-sorta feel my feelings today… And as I kinda-sorta allow myself to imagine my own “what if?”… And as I consider daring to share this “journal entry” so that others might hopefully feel normalized and encouraged by my own honest processing here… and as I struggle through my own fears and inadequacies… and as I freely admit that I am clueless and have no answers and only know what little I know…
I ask You to enter into this time of grief and mourning and confusion and maybe even hopelessness for Sergeant Lunger’s daughters and long-time girlfriend and extended family and friends and co-workers… Lord, Jesus, I have no idea if they know You. I have no idea if he knew You. But, Lord, I know that You are real and I know that You care and I know that You want to be real and to be present with and to be felt by all of these people. Jesus, please help the witnessing officer and any post-trauma issues he is facing. Please encourage him and send folks to affirm him and let him know that not only did he do his best— but that his best was excellent. Please, Jesus. Please help him not to believe any lies that might try to get in there and tell him anything other than that truth.
God in heaven, please comfort and encourage Lunger’s family. Please comfort the officers and administration he worked with. Please provide for them all in every way that is helpful and is important to them. Please show them Your truth and Your goodness and Your great, great love for them in this time.
It seems to be human nature to ask “Why?” and “Where were You, God?” and “How could You let this happen?” in times like this. I pray, Lord, that all the people asking those questions would genuinely come to You and that You would simply be YOU there. You are big enough and strong enough and loving enough to handle any and all questions and frustrations and hurts and angers and even curses that come Your way. Lord, please provide all these amazing people with God-loving, God-following people to come alongside them and love on them through it all. May their loved ones show grace and patience and compassion and agape love for each other right now, God. May folks not offer pat-answers or trite advice or insincere condolences. Jesus, I ask You to please protect the hearts of Lunger’s family, of the witnessing officer and his family, and the hearts of all the individuals who love and care for them.
I also ask You to protect all the men and women who will be attending his funeral later this week— may no malicious people of any sort make their way to that event to either hurt or offend or scandalize anything or anyone in any way. May it be a time where Your Holy Spirit of Comfort is felt in a very thick and real way. And may You miraculously and very evidently come into that arena and shout Your great love for each and every individual there. And may they all come to know You and love You in a deeper way after leaving that place.
In Jesus’ name, I pray all this. I don’t have a clue what “the answer” to any of this is. All I know is that You have always been good to me, always been kind and comforting to me— even in my very darkest hours… and I trust You will be good and kind and comforting to Lunger’s family and to the witnessing officer’s family and to all the other fine people who are a part of this tragedy in any way. Please, Lord. Show Your true self to the world even in this.
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What about you?
What are your thoughts on this whole issue? How has grief played out in your life and/or how have you seen God’s hand in the middle of it?
Please feel free to share your comments or your own journey in the comment section below.