when life breaks…

I’ve had the privilege of being involved in some of the really high points in peoples lives.  I’ve been able to tell very excited husbands-to-be that “you may now kiss your bride.”  I’ve celebrated new births with family and friends, and I’ve sat with a teenager on his first ever roller coaster ride, screaming “GOD HELP ME!!!!!!” at the top of his lungs on the first drop, full of both terror and exhilaration (and ending in laughter!).  I’ve baptized people into a new life of following Christ, celebrating God’s grace.  Let me tell you, those are some great moments.

Lately some of the moments that I’ve been a part of have not been so great.  Last night was one that will stand out for a long time.  My wife and I had the unfortunate and gut-wrenching experience of watching someone’s life unravel right in front of us.  We spent the final hour of what was supposed to be an enjoyable date night, on the side of a highway, trying to calm down a drunk woman who had been in multiple accidents (we witnessed the last one), all the while driving with her 5 month old in the backseat.  I won’t go into the whole story, but it was one of the most horrifying experiences possible, watching the life of a child be forever altered in that moment, and watching this woman deal with the consequences of choosing to give up control of her life to alcohol.

After watching her rear-end another car with a relatively minor bump, as we were driving directly behind, we pulled over and I hopped out to help, since it was clear that this was an inebriated driver.  Interestingly, our bias made us assume it was probably a young man behind the wheel, not a woman, and certainly not a mother with a baby.
The driver of the bumped car got out and stood bravely (or foolishly) in front of the woman’s vehicle, forcing the woman to inch to the edge of the road instead of a hit and run, which is what she was attempting to do. The first thing I noticed was that the front of the car had already been completely demolished, and the airbag already deployed, pointing to a huge accident earlier in the evening that she had already fled from.  After getting her out of the vehicle, I spent about 30 minutes making sure that this very angry woman who could not even walk didn’t get back in the car and kill herself and her 5 month old at the next stoplight.

As Bethany and I stood there, trying to talk with her about her child, find out his name, and establish ourselves as people who truly cared about her (although not without anger that she would put her son in such danger), our own children sat in our minivan 20 feet away, watching it all unfold.

As is often the case with drunkenness, the emotions of this young lady soared and plummeted.  Maybe the most heartbreaking moment occurred right after she told me off for the 3rd time (she was really upset that I wouldn’t let her close the driver’s door).   She finally moved to the backseat to sit beside her screaming infant, and a moment of reality set in.  She cried out in her brokenness and wept over her child, saying over and over again:

I’m so sorry baby, I’m so sorry, it’s been such a long day, I just want to go home.  I’m so sorry baby, I’m so sorry, it’s been such a long day, I just want to go home.”

She rocked back and forth, almost mimicking her little boy.

I’m not usually that emotional, but my heart completely broke at the horror of everything about this situation.

After calling 911, the police finally arrived, and two lives would change dramatically in one night.  A DUI, two accidents in one night, a child taken to Children and Youth Services, and a court case that will possibly end with a mother losing her right to care for her child (rightfully so- we’re convinced they both, and maybe others, would have been killed had she continued driving).

I usually write this blog with the purposes of sharing thoughts on leadership, re-imagining what the church could/should be in the world, things Jesus is teaching me, and fatherhood.

But this time I just needed to share the brokenness of life.  It’s all around us.  And it makes me cry.

Several days ago I was speaking to a group of people who had lost loved ones to cancer, and the message I shared focused on the loving presence of a God of restoration.   It’s tough to believe in restoration when you see destruction that seems beyond restoring.  Easy to talk about, but so hard to believe.

And yet, even when it’s not visible, I’m trusting that redemption is possible.  Restoration is possible.  For everyone.  For her.  For her child.  For me, in all of my brokenness and insecurities and insufficiency.

I trust that good can come from the worst circumstances.  That God can truly bring life from death, and freedom from bondage. That God can break down the crap in our lives and turn it into fertilizer that helps us grow into something new and beautiful.

That’s the story of God.   That’s the message of Jesus.

It’s an incredible message, but not an easy one.

Because it’s easier to believe that we’re a lost cause.  I’ll just throw in the towel, because I’m a screw-up.  I want to give up.   I’ve gone too far already.  But that’s not hope, and that’s not really living.  And, according to Jesus, we’re intended to really live.

By the way, really living is not about religious stuff.

It’s not some super spiritual, pray-a-prayer-and-make-sure-you-use-all-the-right-words kind of thing.  It’s real life.  It’s us acknowledging that we have issues, and we’re not going to make it on our own.   And it’s the acknowledgement that we can’t fix those issues by suppressing them, drinking them away, fighting them alone, seeking value from hollow relationships, or numbing them with technological distractions or cheap entertainment.  We need God.  And we need people.  And that’s ok.  In fact, that’s how our lives are supposed to work.

I hope and pray that this young lady understands the severity of the choices she made last night.  Without a doubt, she’ll be experiencing lots of consequences.  And I hope she never even thinks of getting behind the wheel after she’s been drinking.  I hope and pray that her little boy has a chance to experience the love of a family that will care for him with all the love and grace and attention that he deserves.

I also hope and pray that she has people come into her life who can share in her brokenness, because they’re aware of their own need as well.  And I hope she sees that God can still love her in spite of the worst decisions we make and crimes we commit.   That restoration is possible.  I’d like to meet her sometime, when she’s not intoxicated, and tell her how much of a failure I am.  And maybe we’d cry together at how tough life is, and maybe we could even hope together in the grace of a God who seems to specialize in loving and transforming what is broken.  Because we are.  But God has come.

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3 thoughts on “when life breaks…

  1. Hard stuff, but good job, Keith. You will find that kind of brokenness right in the middle of a settled church family as well–with the same depth of tragedy and the same possibilities for redemption.

    Peace to you.

    Uncle Dan

  2. Keith and Bethany, I appreciate your perspective and the hope you have in seeing a hurting life come to know Christ. Coming from someone who has been closely touched by alchoholism I long to see restoration for those struggling with this and for this woman.

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