It feels strange to write about an event like what took place in our house on February 22. In one way, the essence of writing is distilling down something – an idea, an event, a person, a theory- into words that are a clear summary of that thing. How does one clearly reduce an event like that into something coherent?
So, more than usual, this post is a very personal reflection – on where I’m at – as we’re all moving through this at our own pace and in our own way. Read this merely as a snapshot of where I am now – not where I should be, or where I will be, or where I want to be – but what I’m thinking and feeling today.
Yesterday was exactly one month since we were the victims of a violent armed robbery in our home, and to answer the question many have asked us – “how does it feel now?” – the only answer is … still kind of surreal.
One thing that has surprised me about being back in our house is that it has not created as many of the triggering events I was worried about, although they do happen. For me, at least, the most frequent thought, and strongest emotion is a reoccurring sense of …. ‘really?’
As in: “Did I really get stabbed here in my kitchen, exactly where I’m now standing to make myself a pour-over coffee?”
“Is that pink bookshelf in the girls’ bedroom, really the last thing I saw before I passed out as I was being beaten?”
I am not trying in any way to be flippant about what happened, or to shock, but that is how it feels right now. I am fully aware that these phrases are bizarre even to read, and that in itself is part of the surreal nature of all this.
There were still specific markers of various kinds that reminded us of what happened when we got back. The bloodstains that got missed in the cleanup before we left. The map in the girls’ room that was torn down as they were looking for a safe that doesn’t exist.
Then there are the things that are still just as they always have been, but now have drastically different memories associated with them.
That place on the living room floor. That spot in the hallway. That cupboard in the office. They don’t look any different than they ever did, and they are the same, but they’re not.
It’s hard to make sense of an event like this. One month out, it seems one of the hardest parts of the whole thing is to keep walking away from the mental game that one loses every time: trying to make sense of it in my own mind.
As my mind struggles to make sense, there is a stream of questions that ultimately have no answers (or more accurately, no answers that I will ever have).
How does someone plan and scheme an armed attack with the express intent to steal money that has been donated to build up and support the community? How do you plan out a professional hit like that, and get the target so wrong, looking for money that’s not even there? How do we deal with the sting of knowing someone we know and trusted was involved in targeting our family? How does someone turn so quickly to beat another human being with a loaded machine gun to get some money -just some money? How is smashing someone’s foot with a hammer even something that anyone can do to another human being?
We were told in our counselling that searching for explanations is one of the ways we can fall into a trap of self-blame, looking for ways that we could have prevented it from happening.
“If only I would have ….. “
If we can complete that sentence with something, even though we logically know it is nonsensical, it somehow makes things feel more acceptable. Partially this helps because we have tricked ourselves into thinking that we have control. The temptation is to find some path of hypotheticals to walk down that feels less chaotic. “If I can figure out what I did wrong, I can now change that, and this will never happen to us again.”
Which of course is wrong – in every aspect. I could not have stopped it, and I cannot prevent it.
I do not have that kind of control, period.
There are things we can’t understand, there are things that are hard to comprehend, and there are things we don’t want to make sense of.
I can’t understand the origins of the universe.
It’s really hard for me to makes sense of the right direction to take for our family right now in a time of unprecedented uncertainty in a country with a history of instability and violence.
What I don’t want to accept is the faith I hold teaches, very clearly, that while some actions have greater consequences (for good or evil) – there is no person who lives up to a standard of non-evil. If I claim to follow the teachings of Jesus, I have to accept that the things I do (and don’t do) and my thoughts, my anger, my jealously, make me just as unworthy of God’s love as the men who beat me in my daughters’ bedroom, and the guy who stabbed me in my kitchen. I am no closer to living up to God’s standards on my own than they are.
That’s something that in my core I don’t want to accept because it’s hard.
But it’s true.
The other reason why walking down a path that we hope leads to comprehension is hard is that the why’s of the event become very difficult very quickly.
The line of questions that get to the very bedrock of our lives very quickly are the ones that start with: Why would God …
Why would God allow this to happen?
Why didn’t God stop it?
Those are not trivial questions and they do not have easy answers.
I’ve heard it said that what we are truly made of – not just what we want others to think of us – comes spilling out like if you bump a cup that is full to the brim. Once the cup of your life is hit, you can’t help but have the real you splash out for everyone to see.
For me, one of the most beautifully redeeming things that came out of this entire event was finding out that while we were separated, Susan and the kids were not panicking, they were not freaking out, not frantically trying to take care of themselves. Although they were scared, they held it together. And despite everything that was going on, everyone’s first concern was for the others. And everyone’s first reflex was to pray.
I have vivid memories of lying on the floor of our hallway, the nurse who was at our house for supper was cutting off my pant-leg to get to the wound on my leg, and right there next to me was Susan and the two kids who were home – quietly sitting, praying. The attackers had just fled our house, but we had no idea if they were coming back, or were really gone, or were heading to another house in our community. My family, sitting there, was quietly yet confidently praying for my wounds, for the protection of our friends and neighbours, and for the very men who had just done this to us.
There is nothing I’ve ever been through that makes me more proud to be a husband to Susan and a father to my kids than when I saw what spilled out of them when they were hit so hard they simply couldn’t hide what’s inside.
So even the answers to the why’s may not be easy – they are in some ways simple.
“I don’t know – and I never will – and that’s how life works when you’re a human.”
The Old Testament book of Job is a story about a man who suffers terrible personal loss – his family, his livelihood, his own health. Eventually, he succumbs to the temptation of questioning God, his goodness, and his control.
God essentially replies by saying: Were you there when I created light? Did you help make the earth? Do you understand all the creatures of the world? Do you have control over weather patterns? Did you arrange the stars in the universe?
At one point God says: “Do you presume to tell me what I’m doing wrong?
Are you calling me a sinner so you can be a saint? “
Eventually Job answers God:
“I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything.
Nothing and no one can upset your plans.
You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water,
ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’
I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me,
made small talk about wonders way over my head.”
I think that’s where I’ve landed. I don’t have answers to the why’s and I think I am now OK with that. If I don’t accept the fact that there are things in life I don’t understand then I’m assuming my own omniscient power. The only other way forward is to accept that I don’t understand everything, that I never will, and I am fine with that because I trust that God – who has proven to be loving and kind – says that he does.