Read an Excerpt
The invisible substance called meaning
had been drained from my life,
and most of what I saw now looked senseless:
the striving, the hopes, the dreams. The struggles.
Life didn't seem worthwhile.
Trying was stupid.
The force we were fighting felt overwhelming,
the odds not in our favor.
The "Other Person" Turned Out to Be Me
Tough stuff has always happened to the other personsome stranger in the newspaper or someone who lives two blocks over. But now it's you. You have felt so badly for others; who would ever believe this unbelievable event is yours?
Can anyone own anything this big? Does this really belong to you? Are you stuck with this? You didn't ask for this! Anger. Fear. Total shock. The unknown. The impossible. Is this a bad dream? It's much worse.
The hurt is so gigantic that you can't comprehend the depth of the wound. You need help. You need big help, and you know it. But how, what, where, when, and who? Un-answers keep trying to pull you under.
God Will Make a Way is a book with arms . . . arms to hold you. Let this book lead you to the arms of God. Let him caress you entirely. Be still. Let him guide; let him talk; let him listen; let him cry with you. All of your schemes have been dismantled. There seems to be no way. God will make a way.
I am grateful for my handicap,
for through it I found my world,
my self, and my God.
The evening of December 7, 1992, best I recall, had a cool crisp edge in the air. Mary and I returned home from a Christmas play to find a note from our daughter, Wendy, that was not in the least bit alarming. "Have gone with Mark McCoy. Will call you later." Simple enough.
Little did we know that backing those two simple sentences was the unleashing of hellish terror and pain. Just moments later the phone rang. Its message, now months later, is still all too clear.
In a very deliberate voice, our dear neighbor, Judy McCoy, carefully spaced each word. "Terry-I'm-so-sorry-to-tell-you-thisSomething-terrible-has- happenedWendy's-boyfriend-has-been-killedAnd-Terry-it-wasn't-an- accidentIt-looks-like-someone-has-murdered-him-and-his-brotherMark-has-taken-Wendy-to-the-sceneI-am-so-sorry-to-have-to-tell-you-thisTerry-I-am-so-sorry."
I thanked her the best I could, and in shock, hung up.
Although I remained standing, I couldn't verify that there was a floor beneath me. I picked up where Judy's cadence left off and repeated the message to Mary. This information was too stunning to be heard, let alone be true.
I just stood. My first thought was, "God, how would you think I ought to handle this?" It was too hard to hear. I had to call Judy back and ask her to repeat everything she had just said to be certain I had heard her right.
Twenty-six year old Bobby Phillips was engaged to Wendy. He had called from work that evening and was to be at our house by seven. But first, he had to run home to change clothes.
Although I had heard Judy twice, I still thought she must have had the story wrong. Most likely the boys had been badly hurt . . . but not killed. I was pretty sure someone had gotten a little overanxious and had exaggerated parts of the story.
Mary and I headed immediately for Bobby's house. The night air had turned soupy with fog. The speedometer read 55 mph. But it seemed the car was moving so much slower. My hips and legs didn't have any feeling.
Neither of us said much in the car. One would mumble something about Wendy. Much later another would ask what the possibility was that someone had simply misunderstood. Maybe it wasn't a murder, but rather an accident. Maybe he wasn't dead. Not Bobby.
I didn't think we would ever get to his house. On the other hand, I didn't want to get there.
We wove through the heavy fog that lulled the streets into quiet slumber. The closer we got, the more anxious we became. Shock seemed to make everything too strange. My whole being felt as out of place as an arm that goes to sleep in the middle of the night. This was all too wrong.
It was a strain to read the street signs. As we found the entrance to their housing addition, an ambulance was leaving. We moaned. Shortly, we came around a corner, and the fog was pierced by a staggering scene.
Squad cars with their kaleidoscopic flashing lights were everywhere. Yellow tape rudely barricaded the Phillips' lawn and house against the rest of the neighborhood. Enormous gigantic sickness rushed in and drowned my heart. It was true.
Light beamed from every room of the house. The roof line and shrubbery were dancing with strings of Christmas lights. The house itself spoke of irony. Something was brightly wrong.
Reporters moved about doing their job. Television crews, along with trucks and equipment, added to the overwhelming assurance that Judy's words were, after all, true.
We approached a neighboring house that was being used as "police headquarters." I really preferred not to step through the door. We entered into massive heartbreak. Bobby's parents, Wanda and Bob, sat on a sofa. Wanda sat with her arm around Bob, who was slumped in tears. His jacket was stained with Bobby's blood. A police chaplain somewhat anchored the room while the policemen and policewomen continually moved back and forth between this house and the Phillips'.
I found Wendy in the next room with Mark McCoy. She was white. Her countenance was totally blank. Her heart was blown away. Her fiancé was dead. Words were futile; their combinations did little to mend the moment. Hugs, tears, broken sentences, and a lot of coffee filled the hours ahead.
Intermittent sobbing verified that the night was filled with grievous disorientation. In and out. . . . in and out-the detectives were hustling. The woman whose home we were using ministered sweetly to us: "The phone is clear now. Would anyone care for more coffee?"
Mary stayed with Wendy. I moved from Wendy, to Bob and Wanda, to the phone, and then circled again . . . and again. I called my boys and told them what I couldn't bear for them to hear. Mostly, I sat with Wendy on the floor against an out-of-the-way bare wall. Maryann and Brad (Bobby's sister and her husband) came in from an otherwise enjoyable evening to be pelted with the worst. It was unbearable to watch this evening unfurl its nightmarish saga.
Police worked in overdrive, while the rest of us sat with glazed eyes and did our best to think of something intelligent to say. I heard one officer ask Bob and Wanda if they owned an ax. What in the world had happened to our boy?
The events of the double murder remain sketchy. Bobby's nineteen-year-old brother, David, had been home alone. David was mentally handicapped. At approximately 5:00 p.m. someone had entered the house, had shot David in the head, and had then strangled him. It is possible that when Bobby came home, he noticed that something was dangerously wrong.
It appears that he entered from the garage into the kitchen, picking up an ax along the way. The intruder(s) turned the weapon on him and also stabbed him. This clean-cut, handsome, hardworking boy was ruthlessly bludgeoned to his death.
The next few days were treacherous. At night, wails muffled by her pillow could be heard coming from Wendy's room. Sometimes there would be a shift into perpetual sobbing. Her terrifying nightmares would awaken us all.
Our world of friends overwhelmed us with warmth, compassion, and love. The Phillipses, too, were bombarded with consoling strength from those who loved them. The grief was suffocating all the while. It killed me to know why people constantly brought food to the house. Flowers were everywhere . . . absolutely everywhere.
Television reporters repeatedly came to our home for interviews. Other media would call wanting to know the floor plans to the Phillips' house, etc. I believe the worst experience of my life was when I took Wendy to the funeral home. Due to the blows to Bobby's head, whether the family should view his body was undecided. A couple of his cousins and I went in first to determine if others should follow. Viewing was permitted.
The right side of the skull had received extensive trauma. Wendy continually patted his face and felt his arms and chest. Suddenly she said, "Daddy, look at this over here." She was pointing to the undamaged left side of his head and face. "Look how smooth it is over here. Could we turn him around?"
It took a lot of explaining to convince her that we could not. With a certain peace, she sighed, "Oh well, I'm just going to always remember the good side."
December 11 presented a picture too baffling. The pace of pain seemed to gain speed and weight. Tom Bedicek, the minister of Bob and Wanda's church, opened the services of the double funeral. Mitch Wilburn, David's youth minister, spoke in honor of David. I was privileged to preach the funeral of Bobby, who had become my own son.
To look into the eyes of family and friends was incomprehensible. We three men didn't have the strength to carry this load. There was an unspoken respect for each other's brokenness. It was only and literally by the genuine assistance of God that we functioned. Each was conscious, and that was the extent of our strength for the moment.
Once again, there was no feeling in my hips or legs. Unsure whether I was making contact with the floor, I felt a floating sensation. I kept feeling as if I might collapse and feared that Tom and Mitch would be forced to hold me up while I addressed those packed into the church building.
The days following were streams of bewilderment. Numbness sometimes showed signs of dissipating. I felt extremely close to God. He was doing the work for I was far too weak to function. The Lord was always strong; I never was. Sorrow flooded my mind, heart, and soul.
Chaos ensued. Detectives warned the Phillipses and us that additional lives might be at risk. Guard dogs were brought into both homes. For days, the local news interviewed Bobby and David's family and Wendy and myself. For weeks after the incident, it was not unusual to hear the radio announcer say: "The latest on the murder of Bobby and David Phillips . . ." Sometimes I could take it.
When I came home in the evenings, I would often find Mary sitting in the dark, replaying the events in her mind. Sometimes I would find Wendy folded in tears on her bed. But even so, only moments later, Wendy would say something that would let me know she was going to come through this. We were always aware that Bob, Wanda, Maryann, and Brad were across town, also feeling stunned and hurt. Everyday I expected to be done crying. I did well in front of people . . . sometimes. I cried the hardest and the hottest and the longest in the shower. I felt like something must be wrong with me, that I shouldn't be this devastated. I finally had to quit telling myself that I wouldn't cry anymore. I still cry.
I don't know what others thought of how we were doing. I don't know how we ought to have done. God was doing good in us, though.
Thirteen days from the funeral, pain increased its pace. Friends of ours, Chris and Linda Jones had gone with Mary and me to the Christmas play the night the boys died. Linda's sister, Susan Martin, was also a dear friend.
During the week before Christmas, Linda commented several times that Susie was not feeling well. She seemed to have come down with the flu, which was certainly an inconvenience while trying to get details for the big holiday in order. She finally became so ill that she called for her mother, Linda Myers, to come to help.
Before long, Chris and Linda were called to the city. Susan had been hospitalized, and it appeared somewhat serious. I called the Martin's house about five that evening. Chris said that David (Susan's husband), Linda, and her mother had just been called to the hospital. I called the waiting room. Linda was crying.
Treatment was ineffective. She asked me to call a Tulsa doctor friend of David's to see if he had any insight as to what could be done for her sister. Contact with Dr. Reese was immediate. Just as quickly (maybe three minutes), I returned a call to the waiting room to let Linda know of my conversation with Joe Reese. I asked the woman if I could speak to Linda Jones. The voice on the other end very carefully said, "I'm sorry, but Susan didn't make it." It was Christmas Eve.
I put my head on the table and sobbed away what was left of my heart. This just couldn't be happening. Mary, Wendy, and I cried; layers of grief were beginning to accumulate. I couldn't accept that now the Martins, Myerses (Susan's family), and Joneses were thrust into their own impossible swirling pit of disorientation. Not this. Not now. Not them.
David, Bobby and, now, Susie. This thirty-five year old wife and mother of three little boys had died of toxic shock syndrome as a result of infection in her hand. Susan Martin was perfect; she just was. And now she has disappeared. We hold her close in the wonders of memory.
A slight word revision of the late '60s song continually swept through my mind, "Have you seen Bobby, Martin, and David?"
This just couldn't be true. Mary and I drove immediately to Oklahoma City to be with this family who hurt beyond measure. Everything becomes so foreign when we feel we have lost control. Individually, we find ourselves stripped of meaning.
I had conducted Bobby's funeral on December 11. I did Susie's on December 28. To watch the family file into the auditorium seemed all too impossible. Their facial expressions begged for someone to assure them that this was a mistake. How painful is pain! How unacceptable is this which we are forced to accept!
Was there a plug we could pull to make all of this stop? Did anyone know of a rewind button? How could this happen? This stuff happens to others, not us. None of us received any warning. There were no yellow lights of caution to prepare us for this unfathomable intersection.
"So, Terry, where was this God you say loves us? Where was his compassion? And of what benefit was your faith?" These haunting questions are the reason I reveal my story to you.
Early in December, a friend asked if I was working on a new book. I told him I was and that the theme was grief. He asked why I chose that topic. My only response, with a shrug of my shoulders, was that I felt from God that he was preparing me to write this book. Four days later the boys were murdered. Seventeen days after that, Susan passed away. And, here's the book.
I believe God will make a way. This book is intended to help individuals who can't do stress another moment. The remaining chapters will point depressed and discouraged souls to incredible hope in God. What I have endured, I can't fathom. What I have experienced has been wonderfully privileged and blessed. I have tasted ruin. God has hurried to help. He has made a way when there seemed to be no way.
The events I share with you reveal multiple personal weaknesses found in me. I share my story that you may know the glory and beauty and power of God. The radiance of the diamond shows up best when placed against the darkest cloth.
Grief can't choke out our hope if God has our permission to spend that hope. Rather, grief gives way to delight and eventual joy. As Jack Hayford said in Leadership magazine,
Trials cannot be avoided, but they can be navigated. Pain will come, but it will be healed in the presence of Jesusmaybe not overnight, but the healing will come.
I can't say that we ever get over significant loss. By his work in us, though, we do get on. We move forward with great tears, assured healing, enormous sorrow, comfort from the Spirit, painful reminders, happy reminders, and hope. He alone will make a way.
In other words, when I write of the privilege and joys of pain and the ultimate hope and victory available, you will understand that I know grief from lifenot from a textbook. I have sampled it firsthand so that I could know how you feel in your awful pain. I have eaten at the table of spiritual poverty that I might pass the plate of encouragement.
As you try to pick up the pieces, I give my support. When you stare off into endless space, I gaze there myself. When you talk of the deceased as if they were alive (having momentarily forgotten they are not), I have done the same. When your tears have nearly drowned you and your mind won't quit rehashing the series of events, I have communion with your pain.
Therefore, I insist . . . when there seems to be no way, God will make a way. Hope is on its way . . . from above!