Friday, March 6, 2015

Unbroken





Everywhere I look, I see the wounded.

It is a realization that has slowly worked it's way into my consciousness.

Everybody is hurting.

Every. Single. Body.

The first time this thought flashed across my mind was the night Dad died.  As I grappled with an overwhelming sense of irreversible loss, it dawned on me, nearly every person on earth will experience the loss of someone they dearly love.  This is what it feels like.  Never again would I be able to nonchalantly brush past the casual remark made by near strangers, "My Daddy's been gone for many years now."  Death is a pain that we all share.

  Next was the feeling of solidarity with those who have lost their unborn children.  A sisterhood of private grief.  A grief that is complicated by a culture that is reluctant to grant personhood to the tiny victims, a grief that is difficult to absorb or explain to others or to even be understood by self.

Over the years, as I have been privileged  to know more people and their life stories, the catalog of suffering has expanded.  So many hopes and dreams dashed.  Disappointments, losses, pain of every sort: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual.  I cannot think of one friend who does not have something troublesome in their life right now.  So many have multiple trials, deep trials, ongoing trials.  And those are only the things that I see.  How many of us carry secret burdens?  I would say every one of us, without exception.  Because this is the human condition.  All of creation groans with us.

The past three years have brought another group of walking wounded to my awareness.  Those who suffer with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  

When the Worst happens, it sometimes takes up residence in one's soul.  That is what PTSD is.  It's when events that are beyond your control continue beyond your control long after the event is officially over.

I had a very small taste of this.

It was the worst year of my life.

I did not know if I would ever be able to move beyond The Events, if I would ever be able to reclaim my thoughts as my own. 

I feared that I would be forever caught in the twilight of my memories.  That the Highlight Reel of my life would be stuck on Pause at it's lowest moments.  That I would never be able to enjoy peace and quiet because my default mode was to flashback to some of the worst days of my life.

When a flashback would start, the lights around me would literally fade, my pulse would quicken, my senses would become razor sharp.  I could see, hear, and feel everything that happened to me all over again.

I was never officially diagnosed with PTSD because I was afraid to speak openly with a doctor.  I did not want to be drugged or analyzed.  I just wanted to forget.

During this time I did some internet research, just your basic Google-ing, to see what I could learn about PTSD.  It would seem that there is really no cure.  It's just something you learn to live with, if you can.  Most of the articles were directed towards soldiers and survivors of violent crime.  I was suddenly aware of the host of individuals, (throughout time!) who had survived unimaginable situations.  And I wondered, how did they deal with it?  As I read histories and biographies, as I watched the evening news, I was always scanning for those who were forever changed by their experiences.  They are everywhere.

I just finished reading Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand.

It took my breath away and left me shaking, awed by Redemptive Power of my God.

It is the story of POW Louie Zamperini, captive of the Japanese during World War II. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  I have yet to see the movie that just came out, but I have heard that the movie is not the complete story. 

The movie left out the miracle.

The story of Louie Zamperini is larger than life to begin with.  A legendary troublemaker from the start, he was on his way to being a juvenile delinquent when his younger brother sweet-talked a high school coach into allowing Louie try out for the track team.  His brother, Pete, then forced a sour Louie to train relentlessly until one day he too finally caught the vision.  Not only could he run, he could run faster than everyone else.  People started to take notice of the young man.  Some even believed he would be the first to break the four minute mile.  Just the sports career of Louie would make an incredible movie.  He broke records, overcame long odds and dirty tricks.  He competed in the Berlin Olympics of 1936, met Hitler and stole a Nazi flag.  And that's just up to page 40! 

World War II broke out and broke into Zamperini's dreams of competing in the 1940 Olympics.  The games were cancelled and he found himself in the Air Corp, even though he hated flying.

When his B-24 is downed while on a rescue mission, Louie finds himself fighting for his life on a tiny raft on the immense Pacific Ocean.  He and his two comrades repel hunger, thirst, insanity and sharks for 46 days.  At one point there is a Japanese Zero strafing his raft from above, forcing him to dive below for shelter.  But the sharks are there, waiting for him.  He is literally fighting the sharks away, barehanded, underwater, while bullets whiz over his head.  That alone would have haunted me for the rest of my life!  But things were to get worse, much worse.  I was shocked with every turn of the page by how much worse things could get.  Just when you think you can't take the agony of baking along with the men under the equatorial sun with no food and no water, they are captured by the Japanese. 

Out of the frying pan and into the fire.


They encounter a sadistic prison guard known as the Bird, who is the embodiment of pure evil.  I don't think I have ever heard of a more blackhearted villain.  The atrocities he perpetrates are hair raising.  And he fastens onto Louie as his favorite victim. 

With every chapter my heart broke for these heroic men.  I was inspired by their courage and indomitable spirit.  But I wondered, how were they going to ever have normal lives after this?

I understand that the movie ends as the war ends, with Louie's release.  And that was a joyful day to be sure.  But Louie had no idea that his personal war was far from being over.

It began with a phonograph recording of his voice.  His family had no idea that the broadcast of him speaking over Japanese radio was a propaganda stunt, forced on him under duress.  That prompted a spiral of nightmares and flashbacks.  A plate of rice, a dropped bottle, a word that sounded similar to a Japanese word were all triggers.  He began drinking, just a little at first, to get him through the anxiety of standing before a crowd and recounting his experiences.  Before long, alcohol was the only thing getting him through the day and the only thing that got him to sleep at night.  But sleep was no refuge.  The Bird stalked his dreams, screaming at and beating him, night after night.

Louie met a gorgeous young lady named Cynthia.  They both fell in love, but Cynthia had no idea what she was getting herself into.  Louie was depending on her to save him.  It was an impossible task.  As Louie slid deeper into his nightmare twilight, one thought stood clear.  If he was to ever reclaim his life, it would be by hunting down the Bird and taking his life.  His dreams now were of his hands around the Bird's neck as the Bird screamed.  But on one occasion, the scream came from Cynthia.  Louie was throttling his pregnant wife in his sleep.

Things could not continue like this.  When Cynthia walked in to find Louie shaking their infant daughter, she knew she had to leave.  She was filing for divorce.

The day that Cynthia returned to the apartment to pick up her things, a neighbor invited her to attend a special service, held by a young Billy Graham.  She came to Christ that night.  When she went home, she told Louie that she was no longer seeking a divorce and she pleaded with him to come hear the evangelist the next night.  Louie had absolutely no intention of doing any such thing.  Cynthia had to resort to fibbing, telling her science buff husband that Graham spoke at length on science.  Louie went, but was wary.  As he heard the Word of God preached, he was filled with unbearable anxiety.  He rushed out before the service was over, dragging Cynthia with him.  Undeterred, Cynthia begged him to return the next night.  Louie reluctantly agreed, but on the condition that they leave before the final prayer and alter call.  (Just a note, altar calls are not Scriptural.  You can not "make a decision", pray a prayer, sign a card, get baptized or do anything else to trigger salvation.  Salvation is Christ's free offer, "Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden.  And I will give you rest."  The coming is in one's heart, a casting of all one's hope onto Jesus Christ and Him alone.)  Just as Billy Graham called for every head to bow, every eye to close, Louie saw his chance to escape.  He sprang for the exit.  But God stopped him cold.  A long suppressed memory rolled over him.  He was on the raft, dying of dehydration, no help in sight.  He promised God, out of desperation, that if He would save him, Louie would serve him forever.  At that moment, God sent a life-giving downpour.  Louie and his friends had enough to drink that they could live on.  God had kept his word, Louie had not.  At that moment, Louie gave up.  The cruelty of war could not break him.  It was the mercy of God that finally did.

From that point on, Louie was a changed man.  He drove straight home and dumped all his liquor, trashed the cigarettes and immoral magazines, got rid of every remnant of those ruined years.

He never had another flashback.

At this point I was nearly in tears, for this is very much how God dealt with me.  I was already saved, but I was laboring, enslaved in bitterness, anger and fear.  I couldn't let go of the pain and trauma that came with two postpartum hemorrhages and four miscarriages.  The day that God prompted me to relive my experience with gratefulness, thankful for all the blessings that attended me in the midst of the trial, was the last day I ever had a flashback.  I knew it was God who delivered me.  I know that He is not limited and can do the same for anyone.  But last night, reading this story it really hit me.  There is nothing, absolutely nothing that God cannot heal.

Jesus did not come to save us from our circumstances.

He saves us through our circumstances. 
 
This morning I was directed to Psalm 146.  This psalm is for everyone who is hungry, oppressed, imprisoned, adrift.

Psalm 146
 
Praise ye the Lord.  Praise the Lord O my soul.

While I live will I praise the Lord: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being.

Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.

His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.

Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his hope, whose hope is in the Lord his God:

Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth forever:

Which executeth judgment for the oppressed: which giveth food to the hungry.  The Lord looseth the prisoners:

The Lord openeth the eyes of the blind: the Lord raiseth them that are bowed down: the Lord loveth the righteous.

The Lord preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.

The Lord shall reign forever, even thy God, O Zion, unto all generations.  Praise ye the Lord. 

Louie's story ends with a happy man, pursuing a full life of service towards others and forgiveness for his captors.  You will have to read it for yourself to find out what happens to the Bird.

I just want to say two things.

First, no matter what your deepest pain may be, the Cross of Christ is your only hope.  "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him and with his stripes we are healed."  Isaiah 53:5  There is healing to be found, there is peace, there is forgiveness both for us to receive and for us to give.

Second, look around you for the wounded.  They are everywhere.  The testy cashier, the one person that drives you batty, the rebellious teenager.  No one crosses our path by accident.  Maybe all that you have been through is so that you can reach one hurting person with the Good News of our Victorious Saviour.  And that makes it all worth it.