Beneath this roof at midnight, in the days
That are no more, and shall no more return.
Thou hast but taken up thy lamp and gone to bed;
I stay a little longer, as one stays
To cover up the embers that still burn.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
I have decided, after some reflection, to repeat a post that I wrote a year ago.
It's now been 21 years since that day, June 6, 1989 when my life suddenly changed forever. I know that there are those who would say that I should move on, or that it's not healthy to continue to carry these things around with me.
I adamantly disagree.
Just in recent weeks, I was "introduced" through the world of blogging, to a woman who only recently experienced similar tragedy. Reading some of her story lead me back to this belief...........
The pain and sorrow I endured those many years ago, equip me to be, if nothing else, a listening ear for those who find themselves in these moments when the evil and violence of this world, come crashing into their everyday life, and leave them changed.
So first, I republish my post from this same day last year, with some updates that people have requested.
June 6, 1989 fell on a Tuesday.
1989, twenty years ago.
That Tuesday was a typical early June day in Denver. Overcast in the morning, slightly humid. It had been rainy and chilly for several days, but the sun came out that afternoon.
Tuesdays were long for me. As a youth pastor, on the staff of a large church, Tuesdays meant Staff Chapel at 8 a.m., followed by Pastoral Staff meeting at 10am. Depending on the agenda for the meeting, we often found ourselves buried well past the lunch hour.
Don't remember one thing about that day's meeting, but when it finally ended, I called a friend and we made plans for that night, for dinner and a movie.
Back in my second floor office, I sat at my desk.........staring out at the Virginia Creeper vine that surrounded my window. The sunlight was hitting it just so, and it was flourishing with all the recent rain.
I decided to call an old and dear friend, who was living and working in the Northwest. I had known Craig, and his wife, since our junior high days, and he had proceeded me as youth pastor at our church.
His voice was comforting, as it always had been during other bumpy periods in my life. It was good to talk with someone sympathetic about my growing restlessness and frustration, not about being a youth pastor, but with the day to day "politics" that are prevalent in just about every church. He understood, he had walked that same path.
We talked for a half hour or so, I heaved a big sigh, told him I was going home, but he left me with an assignment.
"Go out and have some fun tonight. Promise me.... you will go have fun. You need it. Everything will work out".
So I headed home to my little apartment. Happy to have some time to myself. And looking forward to an early dinner and maybe a movie, to take my mind off the growing sense that life was coming to a crossroads. It was a feeling I'd been having for months. Couldn't put my finger on what, but I felt a certainty that my life needed to, and was going to ....... change.
I had no idea that afternoon how dramatic that change would be. I had no idea, because I was living on this side of the dime.
You know, the dime. "Life turns on a dime".
It would take multiple posts, and hours and hours, and even then, I couldn't possibly tell the whole story, with all of it's twists, and turns, and miracles and yes, with all of it's traumas.
On June 6, 1989, evil men would come into my world and my life.
But I didn't know that yet. All I knew early that evening was two very close friends picked me up, and we were looking forward to spending an evening together. After an early dinner, we decided not to see a movie, but had a wonderful night none the less. Driving around, laughter, lively conversation. Just the night Craig had assigned me.
At the end of the evening, they dropped me off at my apartment, headed back to Steve's house, where those evil men were waiting.
One of the many miracles that happened that night was the miracle that I didn't walk into that house where they were lying in wait. They came to kill my friend Frank, to keep him from testifying in a robbery trial. Things like that didn't happen here, and they certainly didn't happen in my life.
They murdered Frank and Dan, and left Steve for dead.
When my phone rang at midnight, Steve was on the other end, and in that moment life turned on a dime.
I began learning about things I never thought I would know.
I know too much about cops and crime scenes. About detectives, and district attorneys. About line ups, and investigations, and evil people who live in a culture of crime. I know what color fingerprint dust is.
I know too much about paramedics, and emergency rooms, and having a police officer posted outside your friend's hospital room. I know how it feels to see your life on the front page of the newspaper, and the top story on the local news.
I eventually would also know too much about trials, and courtrooms. Judges and juries. About motions and delays, and how slowly the "wheels of justice" turn.
And how in the end..........there is no justice.
I also learned about friendship. About the people who stick with you, and those you only thought were your friends. I learned that churches are not always good at being there for you when you need them the most. And that a significant number of people are quick to think the worst of you, NOT give you the benefit of the doubt.
But not all the things I learned are bad things.
I learned what it means to have a "peace that passes all understanding". I know what it feels like to be in the palm of God's hand. I know what the sunrise looks like the morning after, when you realize that you are alive and little things like where you live or what your job is, or even where you will be in a week .......don't really matter.
What matters instead is that you are alive and God is still in control, and you will find a way to pick up the pieces of your shattered life. Because guns can't destroy everything.
I learned that some people will take you in. Literally take you in. Give you harbor and sanctuary. A place to lay your head. Feed you, love you, nurture you, make you feel safe again. Because of those friends I learned how to care for other people, even when it's hard, or scary, or messy.
I learned that police officers and homicide detectives can be your heroes. And that prosecuting attorneys will fight with all their might against the bad guys. They will take it personally, and do everything they can to put those bad guys away.
I know for sure that most things in life are not all good or all bad.
I know what the word bittersweet means.
I know that tragedies and miracles can lay side by side on the dining room floor.
June 6, 2010
A few clarifications:
"I learned that churches are not always good at being there for you when you need them the most. And that a significant number of people are quick to think the worst of you, NOT give you the benefit of the doubt."
- I was a youth pastor when all this happened. The church where I worked was not a safe and healing place for me. I know now, that people don't always know what to say, so they say nothing, or avoid you entirely. You feel invisible. People at the church used "prayer requests" to spread half truths and lies. This caused doubts and gossip, all in the guise of concern. In the end, I resigned. My parents, and Steve's parents left the church. Both sets of parents had been at that church for more than 30 years. Not all churches would respond this badly. But sadly, in the years since, I have run across hundreds of people, with similar stories. People in their greatest hour of need, and finding their church has failed them. It's my opinion that the "church system" is woefully broken and in need of repair. This is not a statement concerning my faith, which has stayed intact. But we need to do a better job of taking care of each other.
- The men who brought all this devastation into my life have taken different paths. One, is in prison with a life without parole sentence, and will never get out. One, killed himself in prison a few years back, leaving a note which said he was doing "what the State of Colorado should have done". Shockingly enough, the third man has recently become a free man. Plea bargains, and a horrendously broken justice system has said that he has paid his debt to society. Really?
- Someone emailed me and asked what that last line of the post meant. Those familiar with the circumstances understand. For everyone else.......Steve and Dan were lying on the dining room floor that night, held at gunpoint. They were both shot in the head from point blank range. Dan died and Steve survived. I still don't understand this. I mourn for Dan, and rejoice in the miracle that is my friend, Steve.
I HAVE been shaped by that night, but not overwhelmed. It changed me forever.
How have I been changed?
- Not a fan of violence in movies or media. But I do watch violent things. The difference for me is the message that violence portrays. Does it make you look away and grimace? Does it disturb you? Or does it portray violence as cool and exciting, causing an audience to cheer? If I watch "Band of Brothers" on HBO, it is difficult to sit through. But it makes me appreciate the sacrifice and bravery of those men, and know that war is a terrible thing.
- I seldom make it all the way through a newscast with out shedding a tear or feeling a lump in my throat. When I hear about trauma and tragedy in the lives of strangers, I can't help but be pulled in. I say a prayer and hope they have people around them to give them the real support they need. Some days I'm not up to watching the news. It's not just stories, its some one's real life.
- I treasure every day. If you read things I write here at this blog, you can see that fact between the lines. The mountains, the birds, the flowers in my garden. Each are valued and treasured. Music isn't just a pass time. It stirs and moves me. In some cases, it heals me. Friends, family are valued and appreciated for the love and joy they bring to my life.
- Many time in the last 21 years, when I have felt safe enough to tell someone the story of that night, they have said "someone should write a book". Some one has. I spent hours on the phone with an author who thought it was a story worth telling. He poured over court transcripts and spent hours interviewing all the pertinent people. If you're interested, send me an email and I can let you know how to get your hands on the book.
As we walked back to my friend's bedside, I knew that my life had been spared................and that I needed to make it count.