Tuesday, October 27, 2015

When Trauma Hits Home

On Saturday, October 24th, my immediate family drove with Sheryl’s parents to Stillwater to attend the Homecoming parade at OSU.  Sheryl’s cousin was up for homecoming queen and we wanted to see her live and in person.  This would be the first time I had been to a homecoming parade in Stillwater since my senior year when I was in it.

We were watching the floats go by from the corner of Main Street and Hall of Fame.  As we stood just behind the front row of people, we were lamenting that we weren’t closer so that we wouldn’t have any obstructions in our line of sight.

At the end of the parade, we heard a loud bang from our left and I first thought it was some kind of fireworks signaling the end of the festivities but then we saw the car smashing through the crowd right in front of us.  It happened so quickly, that there wasn’t time to think.

Then we saw the aftermath.

I began to search for our children to make sure they were okay.  I got them to Sheryl’s parents and then turned to see Sheryl trying to help the victims.  I remember imploring people not to move anyone but to wait for the medical personnel. 

Then I pulled her away from the scene and we all made our way back to our vehicle.  Our daughter then noticed that she was bleeding slightly on her hand and must have been struck by debris from when the police motorcycle was hit by the car. Before we left town, we circled up in the parking garage and prayed.

In the initial moments when I realized this was horribly wrong, I had this sense of fear that it was an attack similar to a school shooting and I wanted to get my family away from the scene as quickly as I could.  

Later as the shock wore off, I began to feel guilty that I didn’t do more for the victims of that crash.  It was especially bad after I realized that the immediate danger was the only danger and no additional attacks were forthcoming. 

Sheryl had the right idea of helping the victims but I also felt that I needed to keep our children from witnessing the deceased and the injured among the mayhem. 

It is hard to know the right thing to do in such a moment.

How do we bear witness to the love of God in a scene like this?

As we attempt to return to our regular lives, we are replaying the scene over and over.  It is distracting us and keeping us from all the regular things that are going on around us as if everything were normal.  It is crying out for our attention. 
When we hurt, we offer this pain
to God who suffers with us.

We are certainly praying for the victims and their families.  We are praying for Adacia Chambers as well even though she almost killed us.  Like the rest of us, I can only speculate at this point on the question of why it happened at all. 

I have ministered before in times of tragedy and loss.  I always state confidently that I do not believe that God is the ultimate author of this tragedy.  People do things to hurt others and have the free will to do so.  I also have the free will to respond.  No matter how many times people try to put others on the cross through pain and suffering, I believe that God responds with resurrection.

A part of our witness as followers of Jesus Christ is to point out where we see it.

As the images of that day replay in my mind and I worry about what kind of emotional trauma my children may be experiencing from it, I am praying not to be bitter or resentful.  I am free to feel or experience whatever I would like.  But I believe peace is the ultimate prize.

May the peace of God be yours today.

In Christ,


Photo by Immanuel Giel, Memorial Church in Speyer, Germany, used under Creative Commons.


  1. Sam, I am saddened to hear that you and your family were there to experience this moment in time. I am glad to hear that you were all, relatively, safe from harm.

    You did what you needed to do. You needed to gather and protect your family. You didn't try to step into a role that you were ill-equipped or untrained to deal with. You were also emotionally impacted by the event. You were a part of the brokenness. Taking care of your family was the best thing you could do in that situation.

    The doubts about what you could have/should have/would have are the human side of us trying to work out the "benefit" you received that others did not. The reality that you were the recipient of providential grace is not your fault. Now that you are out of the context of that time, you can be a peacemaker; a blessing-giver to your family, your church, other victims, and even the one who is at the center of this.

    May you also have the peace you offer in your benediction.

    (deleted for spelling error)

    1. Thanks for the good word, Todd. It is helpful. My guilt over not having done more likely stems from a desire to have control over the situation. When we feel helpless over an occurrence, it seems like we become plagued by the "if onlys". I've counseled many on this and so now I must say, "Physician, heal thyself!"

  2. Sam, glad you and the family are okay. I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts and being honest about how these types of events can and do affect us. It is God's people I pray for you and your family as you all come to grips with this experience. Surely, God had you there for a reason, even if just to tell the story of how God is a keeper at the time of the incident and as we struggle to make sense of it all.

    Again, thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Semaj. I think I've come to terms with the fact that I'm human too and effected by what I witnessed just like anyone else. God is helping me heal just as God is trying to work with all of those that were there on Saturday.

  3. Sam, what a powerful, honest reflection on your experience on Saturday! I know you are not alone in wrestling with all that happened, and I am also grateful that you and your family are physically OK. This is major trauma for anyone and especially for children. I can well imagine that your actions might have been different if it had only been you and Sheryl who were present, but your children come first. God has entrusted them to us, and that is a deep, permanent responsibility which we share as parents. There will be other opportunities to help them experience caring for their neighbors in difficult circumstances. I bet they remember well all that you and your church did to care for people after the Piedmont tornado.
    As I am praying for you and your family, along with all the others who were present, injured,or lost loved ones, I am asking for the Great Healer to give you rest and peace. Keep listening well to your kids and each other. Find safe people you can talk to as well. All the emotions you report (and several others, no doubt) come with the territory of trauma. I am a really good listener, if you or others need to talk. I am sending you love, comfort and strength, as you go through your days. God is at work in the midst of this. Thanks be to God. Grace and peace, Dianne Peters

    1. Thanks Dianne - I may take you up on that sometime! We did go as a family last night to counseling - very helpful! I always encourage anyone who experience extraordinary circumstances to seek counseling - for most, one time is all we need to keep us healthy. I always learn something as a pastor as well!