Trauma isn’t the same as physical pain. In two very different events of late, I’ve found it to be shocking… unsettling… a feeling that pushes me to disconnect from reality. Imagine it’s not happening. Keep telling myself it won’t last long.
You see, I had LASIK done on my eyes November 9. Then, one month later to the day, a gunman stormed into my home church — leaving 2 dead and others injured.
Now the real story here is how God’s used this for good, and I encourage you to read and spread the testimonies that were lived by many. But the feelings elicited within me were strikingly similar during both events. Thus, I offer as an analogy…
My pre-op visit the day before surgery didn’t bode well. The office was clean, professional… and huge. By the two hour mark (which wasn’t the end), I had been shuffled through 10 different test rooms and interacted with at least that many office staff. The doctor and I did speak briefly, though our talk was all about Huckabee’s chances in the election. Good subject, but I hoped he was focusing on my eyeballs as he poked with his medical instruments while verbally prodding me about who Texas politicians would get behind.
Finally I was deemed OK for surgery and slotted in for the next morning. The 6am slot.
WOULD YOU CALL IT COMEDY OR TRAUMA?
The first thing they had me do at about 5am when I arrived was put on a hairnet. I’m serious. Then they dilated my eyes and subjected me to bright light (as I say, it’s comedy and trauma.) Their path of “processing people” was more efficient than the pre-op: after a back room procedure, another staffer was waiting for the patient hand-off so he could score another medical test. All the action stopped once we reached the end zone: The Dark Room.
So here’s where all the million$ flowing through this office went. I’d gotten a glance at it the day before: a freezing cold room the size of an average Subway shop, filled with about ten massive machines. Each resembled a dentist’s chair, only with pricey computers attached and metal claws that sported powerful lasers. I didn’t think much of it the day before, but now as the room whirred with lights and sounds, as I and 3 others were told to keep our eyes shut and our hairnets on — well, I didn’t know what to think.
The woman beside me was jittery, so despite the sound of a half-dozen lasers cutting away, I reminded her that these pros know what they’re doing. A bit of Name it, Claim it theology in action there.
“TRAUMA IS LIFE WITH THE DULL BITS CUT OUT” – ALFRED HITCHCOCK (revised)
The only pain I felt in the next hour was when a metal clamp was placed over my eyes. To “pull back the corneal flap” and apparently drain fluids, I felt a sudden, sharp prick, my vision immediately went dark, and I was bandaged. Then someone held my hand (a little weird) and directed me to a spot where I awaited the final chair.
Even with my eyes out of commission, I noticed they occasionally turned on all the room’s lights, then just as quickly shut them off again. I don’t know why; inspiration from the world’s other leading isolation rooms, perhaps? I do know the surgery ultimately ended, I was given some goofy goggles, and family arrived for me.
I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW, THE PAIN IS GONE
Having gone through that ordeal, I looked forward to seeing the world differently. The change wasn’t immediate — a harrowing nighttime drive from Denver airport to Colorado Springs comes to mind. Is anything more scary than a blind man on icy roads? Yet within a few weeks, sights began to surprise me.
Coming into work, I could actually count the office building’s bricks from 60 yards away (great use of time), whereas before it was just a red blur. More remarkably, the vistas and valleys of Colorado opened up to me as never before. Now mountains stretch back further on the horizon… and snow-covered trees glimmer brilliantly, right down to each pine needle. I love it.
Early on, I experienced terrible headaches when using a computer longer than an hour. Considering my job keeps me on one for nearly 8 hours a day, I was motivated to find a solution. The Dallas surgeon’s office referred me to a Colorado Springs LASIK doctor. My sight was improving, he said, but I had to use eye drops more frequently.
Returning home over Christmas, the surgeon’s office further changed my treatment: eliminate one type of drops, use the other more often. Constant care became the theme.
SUNDAY AT THE TRAUMA UNIT
By now, you may see the parallels. What occurred at YWAM Denver and New Life Church on Sunday, December 9 was traumatizing… even for me, someone who was off the church campus over two hours before it occurred. (I’d been in the early service that morning.)
A certain worship chorus helped me understand why I was shaken up; it goes, “Blessed are those who dwell in Your house / They are ever praising You.”
While I recognize my body as the temple of God, I also know New Life as my church home. After all the prayer times, worship recordings, small group meetings, etc., I feel like I “dwell” in this house of God. What if a man with a gun parked at my home and fired off 30 rounds at my family members? That’s essentially what occurred.
“A MOMENT’S INSIGHT IS SOMETIMES WORTH A LIFETIME’S EXPERIENCE” – OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, JR.
Six weeks later, the place looks very different to me. Since we now know that 12 undercover guards participate in New Life services, I view my fellow worshipers with fresh eyes. Is that lady singing near me packing heat?
I also realize how God indeed provided our new leader. David Perkins’ blog mentions how New Lifers see Pastor Brady Boyd in a new light and it rings true. From big things like Pastor Brady’s handling of the police and media, to the little things like his fatherly treatment of Jeanne Assam, we became more endeared to his pastor’s heart.
Yet most of all, I see people differently — family, friends, passers-by. Think about the shooter, Matthew Murray: a 24 year-old homeschooled guy, from a Christian family, who trained at YWAM, whose brother is an Oral Roberts U. student, and whose parents called Ted Haggard their “favorite preacher” before his fall. Conversely, look at the Works sisters who were gunned down. They’d gone on short-term missions, also were homeschooled, big fans of Lord of the Rings, and actively part of the Desperation movement.
I see bits of myself there. And I’m not crushed or fearful seeing those similarities. It actually motivates me.
SEE THE LIGHT
Not so long ago, I would’ve focused entirely on the Miracles aspect of this story. Truly these testimonies (among many others) have been under-reported or entirely unreported:
>> New Life’s Special Needs group had long planned a Christmas party for Dec. 9, but canceled it due to bad weather. These folks would’ve been in the exact hallway of the shooting when it occurred.
>> Hundreds of Colorado Springs residents took advantage of the free crisis counseling offered the days following the shooting, given in conjunction with Woodmen Valley Chapel and Focus on the Family.
>> Without an ad campaign or giving drive, this tragedy enabled the Gospel to be preached to millions of people worldwide via CNN, Good Morning America and other mainstream outlets.
>> Colorado elected officials, including the Attorney General, Lieutenant Governor, Colorado Springs mayor and dozens of police/firemen/first responders, joined a packed auditorium of worshipers 3 days after the shooting. There were tears, yet also much rejoicing for God’s hand on us. “I’ve never been to a remembrance service like that!” more than one of the officials said afterward.
AND JESUS SAID, “TAKE CARE OF MY SHEEP” – JOHN 21:16
True stories of God working should be broadcast, and repeated, and Him given the glory. Yet what excites me right now is that New Life desires change just as I do. We’ve been nudged in a certain direction by these events. We want to become better at bringing in and caring for the Matthews of the world – because we had many chances.
“We have an absolute commitment to pastoral care,” Pastor Brady said shortly after the shooting. Already steps are being taken to build community more, such as Sunday nights becoming a gathering for small groups rather than a service. To really effect change, each of us must pray and think through how we can be the church… daily.
Like the eye drops after surgery, our healing will continue only with intentional, constant care over a long period of time. Like, until Jesus returns.