You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. —Psalm 88:6
Picture an idyllic, sun-kissed valley. Fields stretch to the base of a pine-cloaked ridge, a green and yellow patchwork of tall, tasseled corn, drying alfalfa, ripened wheat and barley. Apple and cherry orchards raise boughs heavy with ripening fruit. A creek, whose clear water offers refreshment on the hottest summer days to valley residents, both humans and animals, contributes trickling harmonies. And there is the laughter of children playing.
Let’s not forget the laughter.
No valley is without storms. Rains, soft and hard, occasionally flatten crops, scatter flower petals and unripened fruit. But those same inconvenient rains provide the moisture that makes this sheltered paradise so fertile. Within the valley’s memory there has even been a hurricane or two, ripping shingles from roofs, toppling fences and trees, sweeping away chickens, and ripping crops from the earth. The farmhouse and barn survived these storms, having been built strong and on solid foundations. The valley, though not untouched, was quickly restored by picking up the broken pieces, replanting the lost crops.
And then one day a new and different storm arises. No mere hurricane this one, but a tsunami. There’s been no warning. No single feather of a cloud in a blue autumn sky. Only the trembling of the earth underfoot. Against the merciless, impersonal awfulness of that monstrous curling wave, what use the desperate cries for mercy, for help? What can the valley do except brace for annihilation?
That serene, perfect valley is an image of my own life. Tucked away in my memory is a truly idyllic childhood. I was privileged to grow up amidst lush countryside, rolling hills, quiet woods, and quaint villages in one of our Creator’s most perfect garden spots—Lancaster County in central Pennsylvania. I never doubted the love of parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins. Or the existence of a loving and good heavenly Father. I met and married a wonderful man who was—and still is—not only the love of my life but also my best friend. We were blessed with four beautiful, healthy sons.
Of course, life is never without its storms. The normal wind and rains of raising four rambunctious boys. A miscarriage. The inevitable ups and downs of marriage. The challenges of a demanding job. A hurricane blew in with a diagnosis of breast cancer. But I’d survived every challenge. Life was good. My children were grown and settled. I had grandchildren to love. Other mothers would approach me to say what a wonderful job I’d done raising four sons. My very identity was wrapped up in being a wife and mother who wanted God’s best for each member of her family. I was living the “happily ever after.”
Then the tsunami struck. On October 2, 2006, my firstborn child, whom I’d cradled in my arms, overseen his first steps, taught to love and serve God, watched grow into a gentle, hardworking man, a loving husband and father—this beloved son walked into an Amish schoolhouse with an arsenal of guns. Before it was over, five precious young girls were dead, five more were seriously injured, and my son had taken his own life.
Suddenly I had a new identity: the mother of the Amish schoolhouse shooter. I cannot describe my devastation, the gut-wrenching pain, the nights of anguish. All those sweet young lives, families, our own family—changed forever because of a single senseless act of evil and rage committed by my own dear son.
I would survive this tsunami. I found myself hanging on by my fingertips as the storm battered my body, inexorably loosening my feeble grip. What kind of a mother was I that my son could do such a terrible thing? Where was the God who’d been there with me in all the other storms of my life? The God in whom I’d taught my children to place their trust? Why had He not stopped this? Was there a single ray of light, of hope in this darkness?
*Excerpted from Forgiven: The Amish School Shooting, a Mother’s Love, and a Story of Remarkable Grace by Terri Roberts.
Terri Roberts travels the United States and the world speaking about the Nickel Mines Amish school shooting, forgiveness, and hope. She has been interviewed by CBS News, the Associated Press, and Reuters. Terri is a mother of four sons and a grandmother of eleven, including two step-grandchildren. She and her husband, Chuck, live just south of Strasburg, Pennsylvania.
Learn more at JoyThroughAdversity.com.
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