It was on a bitter, cold, blustery day in January 1993 when we received a letter from our teen-age daughter, Laura. "How lucky can you get," I proudly pondered, "she's just 45 minutes away and we get a letter from her! How special! She must really appreciate us." I hurriedly began reading the long-aV, ailed letter. Within minutes my joy changed to horror. I found myself weeping, crying, wailing and shouting out to God, "Where have we failed!" The letter told how depressed, lonely and out of touch with reality Laura was. "I have no place to turn," she pled, "I'm thinking about committing suicide, but I'm just not sure how to do it without it hurting too much."
It was almost impossible to read the remainder of her plea through the flood of tears. The extreme emotional "baggage" I was bearing seemed to blur her message.
A cross-country move, loss of friends, as well as the loss of her peer support group, caused her desperate loneliness. She was crying out for help!
Because her father was employed at the conference office, Laura continued, "I didn't want to embarrass you with the truth." "So," she anguished, "1 tried to carry the burden alone." The burdens of her lonely life became too heavy to bear. Over lad en by the weight of the load, she was wanting to end it all. The last paragraph of her anguish cry was: "Mom and Dad, I love you and it isn't your fault!"
Have you ever received a letter like that? What do you do? Who do you turn to? Feelings of failure, embarrassment and guilt seem to blur your view of reality. The thought "What if someone finds out?" pour down on you like thunder crashing and lightning flashing. How could I ever talk about it—all those myriads of questions, crushed feelings, baffled thoughts raced through my mind—and still do. Even as I write, my eyes fill with tears reliving the trauma we went through.
After regaining my shaken and distraught composure, I called a dear Bible teacher friend at the academy my daughter was attending. She had mentioned how much she was impressed by the Bible teacher's classes. Embarrassed and overwrought, I shared with him a brief summary of Laura's letter. I told him, "I can't do anything right now until I think this through. Perhaps you can keep an eye on her and make sure she doesn't follow through with her threat."
Ben, my ministerial secretary husband, had not yet arrived home from an out-of-town meeting. When he walked in the house, needless to say, one look at my white-ashen face told him something was seriously wrong. Bursting into tears again, I handed him the letter. As he studied each word, he became speechless. Fear marred his face!
The teachers and other personnel at the academy gave Laura time off from her studies so she could obtain counseling. She needed time to \ restructure her life. I thank the Lord every day for the dedicated academy personnel who so willingly worked with us.
It seemed like we were in a daze for the next six to eight months. Our hands seemed totally bound by circumstances. I ached inside, wanting to fix the problem, wanting to save her, wanting to redo whatever part we had in this. Yet, we had to step back and allow God to heal her and us. Wow! I can still remember the pain!
In our 20+ years of pastor-team ministry we have dealt with many kinds of situations like this, but always from the "other side of the desk." When it comes to your own child—what do you do?
The glue that held me together and gave me sanity through this ordeal was the awareness that God is so reliable through difficulties and trauma. He is the God with SuperGlue who carries us through these situations. My grip on Him was slippery with the unknown. There were times when I couldn't hang on very tightly because of my fear. However, at that moment when I gave Laura—mentally, physically and spiritually—to Him, I began seeing a change in myself and Laura.
You see, some of us have this "Messiah complex" where we are driven to fix everything that needs fixing—and the hard facts are—we can't! We can't BECAUSE we are NOT the Messiah! We don't have the power to save! We don't have the power to fix it! How often we think we can because "we're in the ministry, that's our job." Ultimately, only Jesus has that power!
The next few months were grueling, spent in constant self-examination, a revelation of our family and ourselves. We had to allow God to teach us what steps to take moment by moment. What an awe-inspiring thought. Just when we felt we couldn't see beyond our tears, the Lord brought a special person into our lives. Recognition on our part that we should restructure our lifestyle was one life changing revelation. A pastor expends so much emotional energy and involvement with others, it is easy to become blinded to situations in the home, even when something is staring him in the face. Some of our spouses feel that it is the "work" that will offer salvation. My observation is that the devil blind-sides us, trapping is into "workaholism" which often leads to the destruction of our own families. What a sin!
The Lord realizes that unless we go to Him for answers, we can self-destruct. Sometimes, however, it takes experiences like we went through to get our attention, to force the fact that we cannot be "Saviors."
Through a series of heart wrenching prayers, submission to our Master and total reliance on the Lord, we, as parents, were able to work through many issues. A good Christian counselor for both Laura and ourselves helped to bridge some chasms in our relationships. We have become more sensitive parents. Now we aren't afraid to be vulnerable with others.
Many of us have the idea that because of our positions, we show a weakness in our walk with the Lord if we talk about our struggles or problems. Yet, by going through this experience personally, we can better understand the anguish some parents go through. God has brought us various opportunities to interact with hurting families.
When Laura started college 3,000 miles away, I again encountered fear, "What will she do if she gets overwhelmed again?" Then I remembered that I wasn't the one who "saved" her to begin with. It was my loving Savior and Lord who cares far more about her than even I do. It's hard to imagine! Oh, the immeasurable love and compassion my dear Lord and Father has for us—He longs for us to adore Him and to allow Him to embrace us with His strong arms and healing touch. The jewels of God's promises soothed my aching soul like the olive oil healing the gaping wounds of wounded sheep. "I'll never forsake y ou nor leave you," the assurance of His presence, kept ringing in my ears.
Laura had a rebirth experience during her year in college. I'm constantly letting her go, watching her go through difficulties. I sit back and watch God perform His miracles in each of us. Pleading with God to show us what to do each moment is a freeing experience, although it is not without a struggle.
It is amazing what God does when we step out of the way and give Him permission to take control of our dear children instead of us trying to be a "savior." Too many times, we want our "cherubs" to be an example so we will look good, and others will think we are doing an acceptable job of parenting! In other words we usurp God's kingly power.
Through this excruciating experience, I have learned that God is a much greater, bigger, compassionate God than you or I could ever begin to imagine. Now I experience the love letters Jesus personally writes to me. Claiming His promises, keeping my prayer diary and sharing with others have given me opportunity to tell the story of Jesus as a real, personal, caring, intimate God. He's alive and well! He still performs miracles in us and in our children, if we will only allow Him to.
I've come across two books that enhanced my spiritual journey: The Discipline of Grace, by Jerry Bridges, and Embracing God, by David Swart. These book have helped me realize I must "preach" the gospel of salvation to myself every day.
I would like to share a quote about God's amazing love and longing to embrace us in His life: "God became a man who stood right in front of us, not in some church setting, but in the gritty and exhausting arena of everyday life to show us what He was like. Jesus' teachings, healings, dealings with people—even His death on the cross—show anyone taking a moment to look the deepest concerns of God's heart. Intimacy: . . . God goes first; the Bible is His diary where His heart is bare on every page. His love for us and disclosure to us make Him vulnerable. But He always thinks the risk is worth it." (Embracing God, p. 24).
Have any of you received a suicide letter from your child? Have you had a "parent's nightmare"? Arc some of you hurting spiritually, mentally and in your relationships over the "loss" of a child? Read God's love letters. May God give you the assurance of His peace and His love as you allow His grace to penetrate your lives.
Please note that permission has been given by all parties involved to share this story.