With my voice I cry out to the Lord;
    with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.
I pour out my complaint before him;
    I tell my trouble before him.

When my spirit faints within me,
    you know my way!
In the path where I walk
    they have hidden a trap for me.
Look to the right and see:
    there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
    no one cares for my soul.

I cry to you, O Lord;
    I say, “You are my refuge,
    my portion in the land of the living.”
Attend to my cry,
    for I am brought very low!
Deliver me from my persecutors,
    for they are too strong for me!
Bring me out of prison,
    that I may give thanks to your name!
The righteous will surround me,
    for you will deal bountifully with me.
-Psalm 142

One of the best things that we learned in the early stages of this disaster was the importance of understanding our feelings and their ebb and flow throughout the healing process. Vocabulary is incredibly beneficial in making sense of the crazy rollercoaster ride of emotions that happens in the wake of trauma. Most therapists and counselors will refer to a grief cycle, which often includes four to six phases. The one our family appreciates is: Denial (Avoidance Confusion Elation Shock Fear); Anger (Frustration Irritation Anxiety); Depression (Overwhelmed Helplessness Hostility Flight); Bargaining (Struggling to find meaning Reaching out to others Telling one’s story); Acceptance (Exploring options New plan in place Moving on).

However, as the parents of primary victims but not the victims directly, our experience of the very same incident is much different. We were not exposed to this like the proverbial frog in the pot of water. Our awareness of the pain and abuse was instantaneous – going from ignorance one moment to disclosure the next. This, coupled with our role as parent/protector/provider for our children, creates a different environment. And while we absolutely engage in the spectrum of the grief cycle, I find that a different graphic better fits my reality. In the wake of natural disasters, there is an understood trauma cycle that can be seen during the hours, weeks, months, and even years following community-wide catastrophes. It is this trauma cycle that I find myself engaged in on a daily basis.

  1. Sudden Impact: For us, the sudden impact was the phone call when Georgia’s friend’s mom called to say there were concerns that Asher was sexually abusing his siblings.  In the midst of sudden impact, the only thing you can do is hold on until the immediacy of the moment passes. I had to listen to this woman share her concerns, awkwardly apologize for the conversation, and suggest possible explanations. I could only grip the phone and stare glassy-eyed at my husband sitting on the couch across from me. In this stage, your autonomic nervous system kicks into high gear and adrenaline rushes through your body. Your responses are almost involuntary.
  2. Heroic Phase: I can vividly recall driving home from Hobby Lobby, hundreds of dollars worth of new wall hangings and decorations for the kids’ bedrooms in the back of my suburban, when I suddenly started to wail. It was only two weeks after we learned of the abuse, and I was determined to provide my children with a clean slate filled with scripture, blessing, and purity. This meant completely redoing their rooms – and redoing them immediately. We spent the entire weekend painting, rearranging, and purging the boys’ and the girls’ rooms. Looking back now, I can see how ridiculous it was to think that those few details would somehow “fix” the horror of years worth of hidden and systemic abuse. But it was the only thing I knew how to do, and I believe that Christ’s grace is sufficient to come alongside my feeble and probably misapplied efforts to engage my children’s heart in the truth that their father and mother were desperate to show them how badly we felt about their hurts. But in the heroic phase, there can be unintended harm. For instance, I unknowingly removed safe places that my children, Nathan especially, used to drive away the demons during the abuse. Heroics are those actions and ideas that we throw ourselves into in the immediate wake of terror in order to assure ourselves that we can rebuild. The problem is those heroics are fueled by illusions of control and often fail to truly appreciate the depth or validity of the catastrophe.
  3. Disillusionment Phase: It doesn’t take long to realize that the heroics just won’t halt the inexorable tide of anguish. Taking a cup of water out of the engorged river won’t stem flooding. Taking a gallon doesn’t do it, either. As a single person, and even in the context of community-wide disasters, we are simply no match for the size and magnitude of the aftermath. Slowly, that realization brings about disillusionment. The expectation that our efforts will substantially staunch the hemorrhage inevitably turns into a despair that nothing we do is effective. I am firmly planted in this phase. I am seeing, more and more clearly, how pathetic were my attempts at facilitating a timely resolution that kept our family away from rumors, difficult confrontations, and ultimately “helping” God miraculously heal and restore us to better-than-before with little journey from point A to point B. The end of this phase is characterized by an open acknowledgement that the calamity occurred and cannot be retroactively avoided or changed but with a sweet recognition that there is still good in the world. As a Jesus-lover, I never truly came to a point of questioning the goodness of God. And I am ever aware of the ways His redeeming love is even now working in the lives of people across the world. But I am struggling to see the ways His goodness is active in my own life; the promise that He works all things together for my good is something that exists in my mind alone. My heart simply hurts too much, right now.
  4. Rebuilding and Restoration Phase: Our Lord chooses to intimately work in the lives of His children, and He most often chooses to do it through other humans walking the journey of life with us. So, rebuilding is not devoid of genuine human effort to attend to the casualties of the trauma. Rather, it is implementing honest initiatives that are sustainable and realistic. They recognize a true timeline and have expectations firmly rooted in reasonableness. They do not ignore the work of a miraculous God, and they never fail to look for ways He might be moving outside the box of our own efforts – in fact, rebuilding and restoring is done in light of the impossibility to execute any lasting change without the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. But instead of heroics, which looks to itself (and maybe to God for a miracle) to restore the situation to its pre-disaster state, this phase sees the onward progression of God’s greater design through the painful consequences.
  5. Wiser Living Phase: Slowly but surely, rebuilding and restoring will ultimately provide for a wisdom born of experience. This wisdom works itself out in lifestyle changes that more accurately depict Christ’s character and His design for us while on earth. Wiser living is deeply rewarding because it sees that the work to heal was not in vain, and it embraces the compassion that only shared experience can provide. Finally, it uses that particular grace that comes from Christ’s comfort during great affliction to minister to others who just walked into their sudden impact. It realizes 1 Corinthians 1:3-5, which says, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

For now, I continue to hold on to Psalms like 142. They remind me that even as I struggle through disillusionment, frustration, and despair I can reach out to a God who hears me, sees me, and rescues me. It is not in vain that I bare myself to the creator of my soul.