May 10, 2019. Three days after the shooting I just sat there. Numb. Watching the scenes around me unfold. My son walked around our church as white t-shirts with #STEMstrong on them are distributed by grade. A mourning community uniting to support one another.
Signs are posted in front of the school, pictures of Kendrick, flowers, balloons and cards. And it is all familiar, yet starkly different.
I remember the outpouring of American support when we returned from Afghanistan. I remember a hanger on McChord Air Force Base filled with signs of support, love, admiration and unity. I remember my beautiful wife standing there with tears in her eyes and our son in her arms.
We made it back. Or made it out, depending on which way you see it.
We gathered and connected; it was beautiful. All those years ago we were beginning to process our trauma together. We have a bond that lasts a lifetime to this day. Trauma pulls you together with those who experience it in a special way. You never wanted to be a part of this club, but it is unique.
I am 13 years removed from my last rotation to Afghanistan, 6 years since being diagnosed with PTSD. Sitting in these community meetings, we watched these gatherings, watched our children laugh and connect and be children and my body shuddered with a mixture of joy and sorrow.
We can’t imagine what these kids are feeling right now, but as a dad who has experienced trauma, here are the conversations we have with our children:
- Every day, every moment, we will do our very best to meet you where you are. We are not perfect, but we love you and we are here in the journey together.
- Everyone in this community is here with you, not for you. Don’t get it twisted. There is an army of people out there who are healing from trauma, the ones who get better understand this simple truth, the ones who don’t become entitled and never get out of this.
- We are at the beginning of a lifelong journey. The way you feel today will not be the way that you feel years down the road unless you choose to stay in the pain of the past.
- We are here with you, we empathize with you, but we do not sympathize. What you experienced is wholly yours. It belongs to you and the others who experienced it with you. I have experienced extreme trauma, I have been to war four times, but it is not the same. I went to war to experience my trauma. You went to class. I respect that and I am so sorry that this is the world we have handed you.
- I will share my story with you, and in doing so hope to build a bridge between our hearts. I have no other agenda than, “I love you”. We will not compare our traumas. My encouragement is that you do not compare yours with other students who were in the room, in the building or fellow students who were off-campus at that specific moment in the day. Everyone’s trauma is different and we all experience hurt on our own terms.
- As parents, we were not in those rooms where bullets ripped through walls and reality. As children, you were not in the moments of terror praying to God for news that your children were not the next casualties. Let’s not hold these facts against one another.
- This was not your fault, nobody deserves to experience horror like this and our hearts hurt that this happened.
- It’s okay that you feel bad, that you feel guilty that you did not get shot when your classmate right next to you did; that is normal. But it is not fair to you and it’s not your fault. 16 years ago a friend was killed in Afghanistan and I wasn’t. I felt horrible that it wasn’t me. I felt horrible that I wasn’t there for him or the rest of the guys that experienced that situation. Since then, I have lost 7 more men I called “brother”. While my sorrow still exists, my ownership over the desire to trade lives with them no longer does.
- We do not choose who lives and who dies in traumatic situations, we cannot know; only God knows. The more you replay the situation, the more you look for answers to questions you cannot find, the more you will arrive at a place where you must surrender your false sense that you will understand this. Seek God, not answers to these questions. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13
- You will not understand why because you cannot understand this. There is a darkness in this world, an evil that you have now experienced first hand. For that we are so sorry. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5
- You get to be angry, you get to be scared, you may feel unsafe and it’s okay. It’s okay to sleep with mom and me, or with the lights on again. Call for us in the middle of the night when you need to. Take some breaks when you have to.
Finally, We are sorry we couldn’t protect you from that evil. We cannot protect you from evil, but God can. God did.
This is where we are now, but it will not be where we are forever.
Originally published on www.appliedleadershippartners.com