You never think it’ll happen to you. At least that’s what you tell yourself. In fact, I used to make fun of guys who “struggled”, guys who needed help, guys that lost it.
Turns out that was all tough-guy bravado.
I’ll explain. If you know anything about me and my story, you know I was a police officer for many years. I’ve talked about it quite a bit. Here’s what I didn’t know. I didn’t know that, even after I left the job, it wouldn’t leave me.
There are some things you never really move on from. At least not in this life.
I didn’t know that until a couple years ago. I was just kinda cruising along with life, not really thinking that anything was wrong. One day we got a package in the mail. After opening it and giving that delightful bubble wrap to my daughter to play with for a bit, something happened. I don’t know if it was my wife or my daughter but someone popped one of those bubbles.
I don’t know how or even when it happened but somehow I dove to the floor. I don’t remember doing it. I just realized that I had just dived to the floor. My wife was like ‘what just happened?’ I think I may have even said out loud ‘What just happened?’
This was kind of the beginning. My wife and I began to talk a little about it, how she could help me avoid that type of thing happening again. I found that, as long as I was looking at it or expecting it, sudden loud noises didn’t bother me.
But recently other things have happened. I’ve begun to experience a really driving need for control and to contain my environment. I’ve had intense nightmares, woke up weeping. I’ve developed anxiety in some areas. I don’t sleep much.
These and other things led my wife and I to discuss and realize that, although not officially diagnosed, I am struggling with some symptoms of PTSD.
When that term first got sort of thrown out there with me, I rejected the notion outright. I had been a tough guy, a SWAT operator, an undercover narc…like I had this image to uphold.
I wasn’t broken.
But the reality is that I am broken. I’m tired of trying to hide this fact because of shame. See, in the culture I lived and operated in, weakness was a bad thing. A shameful thing. Something to hide. Or at least mask. Maybe hide it behind a certain bravado…drink more, cuss more, get in more fights, chase more bad guys etc.
But, in the last two years, I have come face to face with my own “weakness.” This morning, in church, while our pastor was preaching, he gave an illustration about a guy pulling up on a house fire. He talked about the guy pulling out garden hoses to put out the fire. This is the weirdest thing. When he said the word “garden hose” it was like I had an out of body experience.
See, many years ago, I pulled up on a house fire while on patrol. Two people died in that fire. One of them was a lady that was 9 months pregnant. I couldn’t save her, despite being able to see her and even put a hand out to grab her. The fire was too much, the smoke overwhelming and she was unconscious, dead weight. I tried with all my might to lift her out a window. My sergeant pulled up and began to spray me with a garden hose so my uniform wouldn’t catch on fire.
When my pastor said “garden hose” I was at that house again. I could hear that woman’s breath rattling in her smoke filled lungs. I can still feel the hotness of her skin as I grabbed her arm to try to pull her to safety. I can still hear the screams of her fiancé as he begged me to save her and their child. I can still smell the stench of burnt flesh. It all came back in a flash.
And I began to cry sitting there in my chair at church. I wiped my eyes and fought back tears for the rest of the service.
I want you to know this, not so that you’ll feel sorry for me, cause I don’t want your sympathy. What I do want to do is say to the men and women who struggle with symptoms of PTSD from years of fighting crime or terrorists, “You are not alone.” I want to encourage you with three things that I’m learning.
1. Admit you need help.
Don’t be that guy. You know who I’m talking about. That guy who doesn’t ask for help because you think that makes you weak or you’re afraid of what other people will think. I was that guy. And now I am in a place where I have to admit that I need to talk to somebody. So I’m going to talk to the elders at my church and seek their counsel and go from there.
Don’t be silent. Your silence about what you’re going through helps no one. Admit you need help and go find it.
2. Learn to grieve.
I really wish that someone had taught me years ago how to grieve properly. When my sister died, I didn’t know how to grieve and it cost me. When all these horrendous things happened around me during all those years in law enforcement, no one told me it was okay to grieve. So let me be the first to tell you, friend.
Grieve. Violent death is unnatural. It’s okay to cry about it, be confused and seek answers. Grief is necessary if we are to move on from some of these horrific things in life. Learn to grieve. Tears are not a bad thing.
3. Turn to Jesus.
If you hear nothing else I say, please hear this. All that pain you carry or hide or pretend like it’s not there won’t go away by itself. You can’t drink it away or take enough pills to make it go away or run away from it. So maybe you should turn to the one person who can offer you the healing you so desperately crave. Turn to Jesus.
Throw yourself on his mercy, grace and tenderness for you. He may not take away your pain and your issues. He may not help you sleep more. He may not take the nightmares away. But what He will do is redeem you. And with that redemption comes promise.
See, He promised that one day He would return and that when He returns, He will wipe away every tear and take away all that pain. For those who are in Jesus, what you’re going through now will pass eventually. Today is a drop in the bucket of eternity, friends. When Jesus comes back, all this bad stuff goes away.
Then you’ll be free. You’ll be free from your pain. You’ll be free to run wildly in the love of God for you. Live in that hope friends!
Soli Deo Gloria!
It was almost six years ago.
I made a decision, in consultation with godly men that I knew and trusted and with my (at the time) fiancé. I believed with all my heart that God was calling me to full time ministry, to preach and teach His Word. This interior call was initially confirmed by the counsel I sought and eventually by the elders of our church in Raleigh who ordained me.
So I walked away. I walked away from what, to that point, had been a good and long career in law enforcement. I had been successful as a police officer, earning promotions, commendations and some accolades. I had served alongside some of the finest, most courageous and deeply committed men and women in the world.
I had no idea how things were going to turn out.
If I’m being honest, had I known then what I know now, there are days that I can honestly say I wouldn’t have done it.
This path has been really hard. And long. And I’m still not in full time ministry. And I don’t know if I ever will be.
I have to be honest and admit that I look back often. I look back and wonder if I made the right decision. I wonder this because, since then, my family has wandered a bit it seems. We have moved at least five times in six years, started a business, planted a church (tried to anyway), had two children, shed a lot of tears, had some pretty serious fights as husband and wife, prayed a lot, learned a lot, questioned a lot.
I was talking with my wife last night about this and honestly lamenting my decision. Then my wife said some things that cut me to the bone and humbled me and reminded me of God’s grace.
I said to her, “If I had stayed in the Army (I was supposed to sign a contract at 18 but never did while in ROTC), I’d have retired 6 years ago. If I had stayed at Anniston PD, I’d be in year 21 and eligible for retirement, if I had lived.”
She looked at me and said, “True but we’d have never met. And you’d never have been blessed with those two beautiful girls sleeping in there.”
In that moment, I felt several things.
The first thing my mind thought was, “Yeah well, you’d probably be better off.” You guys, that’s the first place my mind went, you’d be better off. My first thought wasn’t one of gratitude for my beautiful, patient and godly wife. No, my first thought was self-pity. How broken are our hearts?! How broken my heart and mind is apart from Christ!
I find myself so self-absorbed in those moments that I am staggered by my own selfishness. God have mercy.
The next thing I felt was guilt. I felt guilt because, in my broken heart and mind, I felt responsible for “dragging them into this.” I felt guilt.
The next thing I felt is what I’d really like to talk about though. Because the next thing I thought brings me comfort. It lets me know that, by God’s Spirit living in me, He is slowly but surely changing my heart, sanctifying me, teaching me, guiding me, convicting me of sin and making me into the image of His Son.
The next thing I felt was gratitude. Sure, things haven’t gone the way I want them to but there has been grace given to me. Here is what I’m grateful for:
Grateful for my wife. My wife is a rock star. She has been through so much, supporting me and following me and being my partner in living out this call. She has endured move after move to places she never wanted to live, barely having money to buy groceries, having children with no insurance, watching her husband despair and complain and try to lead from a broken place. Yet she has maintained her grace and goodness. Don’t hear me say she’s perfect; she’s not. But to see her eagerness to gather with God’s people on Sunday and worship our great God, to sit on the couch with me and read God’s Word and discuss it, to jump into the mission of planting a church, to mother our daughters and care for me…what grace God has given me in the gift of my wife!
Grateful for my children. I have to be honest and say I never wanted to have kids…or so I told myself in my own self-absorption. But then my wife and I prayed about it, left it in God’s hands and He blessed us with, not one, but two beautiful daughters.
As an aside, it’s ironic for those that know me that I have daughters.
But in the gift of these children, I have learned so much. I have learned anew how selfish I am and how selfless I am capable of being by God’s grace and strength. It is only because I have children that I more fully understand the concept of God as Father. Having children has given me a whole new perspective on His patience with me and love for me and His children. Having children has given me fresh hope in the covenant promises God has made to be a God to me and my children. What grace God has shown me in my children.
Grateful for God’s grace. As I look back over my life, I am overwhelmed by God’s grace to me. In His grace, He has chosen me as a son. He has placed His affection on me and called me to Himself so that I may be justified and brought into the company of His people. I did nothing to earn this. In fact, I did everything to push His mercy away. I was in full rebellion, “cosmic treason” as R.C. Sproul calls it. The only thing I brought to God’s grace toward me was my need for it.
I want to encourage you, reader, as you struggle with life. I want you to know that life on this planet at this time in history is hard and I know it. But history is going somewhere and there is a plan. Sure, we can’t see it all. We can’t see the big picture. To be honest, even if we could, we probably still wouldn’t understand.
But there is a Saviour who understands. He lived in history, sweated and suffered just like us and ultimately in a way that you and I cannot possibly fathom. Jesus understands. In fact, He is the point of history. This is all going somewhere…and it’s going straight to Him.
One day, those of us who are in Christ will stand together around God’s throne and we will begin to understand the depth of His mercy and grace to us in the person and work of Christ.
Until that day comes, stand in God’s grace my friends!
Soli Deo Gloria