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Healing—and Leading—After Tragedy, Part One

Recovering from trauma is possible, necessary, and sometimes very hard.

Millions of predictable seconds will tick by, marking out a lifetime for each of us. Just a handful of moments will stop us short, altering our future so completely that it’s not recognizable as connected to our past. Thirteen years ago, I was confronted by this kind of moment.

I had a happy childhood that was coming to a close when I met Rich Bourke. I was drawn to his natural charisma. He was one of those ridiculously talented people you can’t help but envy, but who make you love them anyway. He was effortlessly charming, oblivious to his good looks: tall, athletic, and tanned with bright blue eyes and an easy smile. He was quick-witted, funny, and articulate, with dozens of best friends. He was always the center of the room; he certainly had my attention.

To my delight, we quickly became good friends and spent hours together volunteering at church. Over the years friendship turned into something more. I fell in love with him and was blissfully happy when he finally asked me to marry him.

We had so many plans, enough to fill several lifetimes. Two weeks after we got married, a church hired us as youth pastors, and we were on our way! We packed up and moved across the country, excited and nervous.

Two years in, things were going amazingly well. The youth ministry, fueled in large part by Rich’s talent, had grown to more than 800 students. We were astounded and thrilled by this success. At 23 years old, I’d happily settled into a behind-the-scenes role.

To celebrate our second wedding anniversary, we took a few days off for a road trip. Rich wanted to be back well before our youth service, so we started our eight-hour drive home the night before. I took the first shift and Rich took over in the early hours of the morning. I drifted off, trusting all was well.

I woke up as our vehicle swerved, and my head banged against the doorframe. The SUV began to roll over. I held on, willing it to end, relieved when the truck finally came to rest upside down. I dazedly glanced over to the driver’s side. Rich was gone.

My stomach lurched as fear and adrenaline flooded me. I scrambled to unbuckle myself from the seat and dropped down into the broken glass and debris. I managed to crawl through the crushed window frame and frantically looked around to get my bearings. We were sprawled across the interstate with traffic stopped on both sides, my things littering the highway. Rich was about 50 feet away, crumpled in a little heap, his head lying in a pool of blood. He was absolutely still. The terror that rose in me still resonates in me today as I write.

An ambulance came and whisked him away, then another came for me. They strapped me onto a gurney, popped me into the ambulance, and drove to a nearby hospital. I remember the worried eyes of the EMTs and the whispered conversations as they wheeled me into the emergency room.

I waited, still strapped down, until an elderly doctor came into my stall. He stood there, clutching his clipboard. With tears brightening his eyes and a quaver in his voice, he told me Rich had died. Rich was 20 years old. I felt like I’d been punched in the gut, hit by a bus. My insides felt like they were shredding.

This kind of pain feels like it’s drowning you. If you have ever played in the surf and been caught by a rogue wave that took you under, you have felt this helpless. The wave tumbles you and you can’t tell up from down. You are stuck, unable to find your footing, unable to resist the waves that keep crashing over you.

As alone as I felt in that moment, I wasn’t unique in my brokenness. Unfortunately, everyone will likely face severe emotional pain in this lifetime. The truth is that most of us limp a little, working through different stages of our healing, and that’s okay. But we can’t stay there.

I have friends who have gotten stuck in their hurt. Years of unhealed pain can lead to infections of bitterness, fear, or depression. If these kinds of deep soul wounds are not healed, they can lead to mental ill health. Pain we don’t deal with winds up controlling our lives with depression, post-traumatic stress, and anxiety. God did not design us to live trapped by hurt.

Unhealed trauma has the ability to permanently alter our worldview. When we see life through this lens of pain, circumstances look darker and scarier. The Bible teaches us that “a broken spirit saps a person’s strength” (Proverbs 17:22). This kind of brokenness robs us of strength and energy for living. Finding success in our relationships and in our work is harder.

Recovering from effects of trauma is possible and is necessary. Jesus came to redeem the broken places in our lives and give rest to troubled souls. Jesus promised us, Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.] Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29, AMP).

Healing is a journey. It doesn’t happen quickly. As with our bodies, the worse the wound is, the longer the recovery takes. Pain does not go away by being ignored. Getting total healing from trauma is possible, but it requires that we be willing to let God touch memories we may prefer to avoid. For me this was incredibly difficult but well worth it. That day was the beginning of a journey of God’s grace and restoration.

This article is continued here.

Anna Morgan has been in ministry for fifteen years and currently serves as a church consultant, speaker, author, wife, and mother. Anna's blog, “Church Girls Who Don't Bake Cupcakes,” can be found at annarmorgan.com and information about her ministry at johnandannamorgan.com.

February12, 2015 at 8:00 AM

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