When bad things happen, we cannot go back and change it, but how do we move forward in peace?
A few months ago, our kids started pulling out some old videos from years back that we kept below our television.Since we’ve been spending more time at home during the pandemic, we’ve been having particular fun watching footage from the children’s early years, and reliving many of their different events and milestones.
One afternoon, the kids decided to watch a particular tape from June 2010 — the month our oldest (twins), Zach and Emma, turned four.Immediately, my wife and I recognized the significance of this time period, which we will never forget as long as we live.
On June 20 of that year, our daughter Emma got what every 4 year-old child wants on her birthday: an emergency craniotomy complete with seven new titanium plates in her forehead. Biking with our family on a paved trail down by the river, she went down a grassy ravine and plunged headfirst into rip rap, only to emerge with a hole in her forehead after a stone had crushed through her skull just under her helmet. Since we could see the outer covering of her brain and she was bleeding profusely, we wondered if we had just seconds to behold our daughter before she passed on.
Yet, miraculously, just four days later, we emerged from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital with our daughter not only alive, but speaking and walking as she had before the accident.With huge raccoon eyes (from the swelling) and a massive bandage wrapped around her head, Emma began her rapid path to a most improbable recovery. To say that it was miraculous underscores all the incredible things that occurred, given how horrific the accident had been.
Now, almost 10 years later, what we didn’t remember was that prior to lots of footage from the hospital and those first days home, there was a brief video of us on the morning of the accident.The footage was filmed on our driveway, and looked like another typical weekend day of a family getting ready for a fun activity.Emma and Zach were biking around near the garage, excitedly talking about the trip down to the river trail that was to occur less than an hour later.As we watched the video, my wife, Amy, and I sat there, not knowing what to say, but knowing just what was to come.
Instinctively, I felt a protective urge emerge.I wanted to talk to those people (us) on the screen, and warn them about what would turn out to be the scariest day of their entire lives. But sitting there with our kids in the living room, all we could do was just watch until the footage ended.
Weeks after this, I found myself with conflicting thoughts and emotions.I was sure that if I could have spoken to our younger selves, I would have told them to stay home.I say this even while knowing that the lessons we learned in the weeks and months to follow the accident have changed us in deep, meaningful ways … Lessons of awareness, gratitude, mindfulness, resiliency, and so much more.But all of that wouldn’t have mattered to me if I knew that Emma could have avoided the pain and trauma she experienced, and that we felt as her parents.
Yet what is just as true is that what could have been a traumatic re-experiencing of the accident never happened.Skeptics might say that was because our daughter lived and is still thriving. And maybe they’d be right.But many people recover (or see others recover) from horrific events, and the trauma and anxiety remain for a long time. Long before the first anniversary of her accident, however, the trauma was gone, replaced by a peace that has never left. Why?
People often say that “everything happens for a reason.”I tend to agree, but in a different way than what is often meant.Sometimes it does seem that God orchestrates events in our lives that we would never have chosen because we need to grow.But mostly I believe the “reason” is that we human beings encounter God’s natural law (or other human beings), and events occur as they will.At the very least, God allowed Emma to have that accident (i.e., because the natural law was operating and God did not supersede it) and then orchestrated it all for a greater good — which He certainly did.
Whatever the explanation, when bad things do happen, we don’t have a choice to go back and direct our former selves away from the impending danger.If life were like a home movie, played at a later time, we would just adjust to the dangers we know are to come.
But, no matter what happens, we are always left to ask the question, “Where has this led me to now?”If it is a place of continued trauma, we need to seek help to heal from that. But if it is a place of growth and formation, then we might be forced to acknowledge that sometimes it is better that the situation turned out as it did, and that we were to simply do our best, trusting God with everything.