Faith is Essential for a Survivor:

Recently I had the extraordinary privilege to witness the testimony of one of the men involved in the firefight that took place when the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi was attacked on September 11, 2012. Not having read the book based on their eye witness accounts, “13 Hours”, nor having seen the movie adaptation of the book, I knew little of the role the six elite security contractors played in this tragedy. With so much focus on the political issues tied to this tragic event, years of experience in law enforcement has taught me to be skeptical and avoid the public accounts reported in the media in such matters.

The riveting testimonial of the vital significance faith played in the survival of these heroic men was inspiring and humbling. Not only did these men survive the fight of their lives, two members of this close knit security team did not survive the ferocious assault as they were killed fighting along side of their brothers-in-arms. The very public affirmation of three of the surviving security contractors credits God and their Christian faith for their survival:

  • “We had so many times we could have quit and because of our faith in God and our faith in each other, we didn’t”
  • “I know that His presence was there with me and it’s what got me through.”
  • “So that’s what I hope that people get…Have faith in God that He will help you overcome any obstacle. Have faith that you’re in a situation that whether it’s good or bad, you’re there for a reason and keep your faith in Him.”[1]
  • “Faith means quite a bit to me, it’s just something that kind of guides you. It’s not about dying, it’s about how you live your life.”[2]

Although my experiences pale in comparison to what these extraordinarily brave survivors endured, the sentiments they expressed are consistent to the lessons I have learned through my trials and that which I have observed through the experiences of others. I have been blessed to have been shown that there are choices we can make that will help us become a survivor just like these brave men of faith, instead of accepting the mentality of a victim. The difference between the two is a state of mind. A victim accepts their plight, surrendering to the adversity that has befallen them. Conversely, a survivor is unwilling to allow any tragedy to define who they are and actively works to overcome the adversity they now face. A survivor never gives up, as God is always with us during our times of greatest need.

Through the course of my life, I have observed an essential factor in developing the mentality of a survivor is faith in something greater than ourselves. It was my Christian faith that gave me the strength to never give up hope, to have the courage to continue to believe even when all seemed to be lost in my life. President Theodore Roosevelt contended, “Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.” Faith gives us the strength of courage, the ability to maintain hope, to incessantly continue to believe against all odds that all is never lost.

When the unthinkable happens, I have found the Bible offers guidance that can allow us to avoid becoming a victim or stop being a victim. Likewise, the Bible reveals the choices that must be made to become a survivor. Not only does it help us to recover, the Bible discloses to us how to take what has happened and helps us become stronger than we were before. Using this newly found strength, we can have an even greater positive influence on the people around us.

In his commentaries of the Apostle Paul’s teachings The Epistle to the Romans, prominent Welsh Protestant minister Martyn Lloyd-Jones offers the following interpretation of how God can make use of tragedies and difficult times to develop and shape our character:

“The initial hope comes from understanding the blessing of being justified by faith. We begin the Christian life full of faith and hope. Then we get hit by difficult trials. We cling to God like we’ve never had to cling before. We prove His faithfulness and He develops proven character in us as we endure. We come out the other side more certain of the hope of eternal glory with Him than we were before the trials. Our hope is stronger because it has been tempered in the flames of affliction.”[3]

As I continue my study and grow in my understanding of the Bible, the more I find this is a book is both written for everyone in the world, yet at the same time a personal message from God to each of us individually. Incredibly, it is in this way the Bible is able to address examples of every experience we may encounter. When I read and reflect on the guidance we are given in the Bible, I am consistently reminded of how God has already applied so many of the lessons in my life.

This was never more evident to me than during the most difficult time I have experience in my life, the callous execution styled murder of dad in the Line-of-Duty. Dad, a Colorado State Patrol Patrolman, was killed two days after Christmas, and less than a month before my tenth birthday. Not only would God guide me through this most devastating event, and the difficult times that would follow, I would come to marvel how God would use my journey through these painful periods to help others. Just as God used people to help me through my difficult times, God has used these traumatic events to shape my character into a survivor so I could help others.

In Ephesians 2:8-10, the Apostle Paul teaches us:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast. We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”[4]

Every time I read this scripture, I am astonished at how God has applied it in my life. It is astounding to look back at the tragic death of Dad and see how God would use this unthinkable experience to “prepared me in advance” so I could take such a horrifying experience to “do good works”, to somehow help by sharing what I had experienced with another so they too may know they are not alone. Knowing this they may find the same comfort, hope, and peace God had given me.

 

[1] “Men Of ’13 Hours: Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi’ Felt God’s Protection In Midst Of Battle”. Christian Post. N.p., 2016. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

[2] “Heroes Of ’13 Hours’ Say ‘God Was With Us’ In Benghazi Terror Attack”. Christian Post. N.p., 2016. Web. 30 Apr. 2016.

[3] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Romans: Assurance” [Zondervan], p. 71.

[4] New International Version (NIV).

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.
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An Opportunity for Great Joy:

Regardless of the cause of death, the pain and grief felt by the parents and children that loved them very often are all to similar. This is especially true when the deaths of the loved one is traumatic, unexpected, premature, or somehow preventable. My dad was murdered in cold blood when he stopped to help the driver of a stranded vehicle on a cold December day. Yet, my experience could be strikingly similar if Dad had been killed by a drunk driver, died from cancer, or killed while serving in the armed forces. It is not the cause of death which defines the level of pain and grief of the loss that is experienced. The impact of the pain and grief we suffer is correspondent to the personal emotional loving connection that has been broken along with the level of dependency that has been lost.

There is nothing I can say that can take away the agony we all feel with the loss of a loved one, or the pain felt from other tragic times anyone may have experienced. I can only hope that by stepping outside my comfort zone and sharing my experiences, I can somehow help show that we all have a choice on how difficult times we experience will define us. In James 1:2-4, James, the brother of Jesus, imparted to us:

“when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”[1]

I know that this seems absurd to consider any tragedy an opportunity for great joy. Nevertheless, there are infinite examples of how God has made use of tragic events to provide magnificent transformation on our lives and the lives of others. As Theodore Roosevelt maintained, the life of a survivor is an impactful life, a life that is often desired and admired:

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

If God had not had me step outside my comfort zone, sometimes way out, I would have never opened my thick skull to how much of a difference we can each make if we reach out and open up to someone else that is experiencing their own tragedy. God gave me a choice, and although I had to work through some difficult times, this choice has allowed me to honor Dad and keep his memory alive today in a very positive and productive way.

It is important to know that this is not a journey that we have to experience alone, it is vital to understand that just resisting grief will only prolong the natural process of recovery. Failing to grieve will at best prevent you from moving on with your life, and at worst can lead to the darkness of depression which can lead to a lost life. It is my hope my story will help others see that there is hope, there are incredible people out there willing to share their stories so you can know you are not alone, and that Christ is there for you if you choose.

Although I miss my dad, to wish that this had not happened to him would be as though I was wishing it happened to someone else instead. I just could never wish such a terrible thing to happen to anyone. Consequently, I understand I have to do my best to trust in God and watched for God to use this tragedy as “an opportunity for great joy”. One such opportunity took place on Father’s Day, 2015, when the following memorial was posted by my daughter for her grandfather. Although it does not replace the loss of my dad, I hope you can see the “great joy” and peace that God has given me, through my daughter’s words:

“Reflections for Patrolman Thomas Ray Carpenter: It is amazing how someone whom you have never met can have such a huge impact on your life. The legacy of Patrolman Thomas Carpenter is far greater than anything he could of done in this lifetime. He was able to give me the gift of the most amazing father anyone could ever dream of having. My grandfather, Patrolman Carpenter, raised a man who respects, accepts, and protects everyone who he comes across. My grandmother, his wife, was able to keep his memory alive and instill the values that he believed to be important for their children to know. Patrolman Carpenter is a hero to me and I am blessed that he was able to raise a man who is the most amazing dad in the world. I wish I could have met the man who gave me my father to tell him Thank You. But it would never be enough.”

GreatJoy

[1] New International Version (NIV).

[2] New American Standard Bible (NASB).

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

 

Responding to the Call:

TheCall

When you decide on a career in law enforcement, you agree to respond when you are called upon. Regardless of the time of day, despite the potential risks, by accepting the commission of your position, you agree to be more than just a witness. You agree to take action, to get involved, to put forth an effort to make a positive difference. I first learned this from watching my dad as he served as a patrolman in the Colorado State Patrol, and it was re-enforced in me as I too spent well over twenty-five years in federal law enforcement.

Yet, the most difficult call I ever responded to was when I received a call from a police psychologist and I was asked if I would talk to the wife and her children after their dad was killed in the Line-of-Duty. The only experience I had in psychology was a freshman level core class I was required to take in college. Moreover, I had stubbornly resisted all the efforts of my mom, who had a degree in counseling, when she had tried to get me to talk to professionals following the murder of my dad on his last call. To be absolutely honest, I had moved on from that tragedy and the last thing I wanted to do was talk about what had happened fifteen years ago with a psychologist.

Like most men, particularly men in law enforcement, I was extremely uncomfortable discussing my personal experiences dealing with the murder of my dad, especially with a mental health professional. Undaunted, the police psychologist explained that it was important for the them to hear from me, as it would help give the family hope that they too could survive this even though right now it felt like their lives had suddenly and tragically come to an end. Although the idea terrified me, and I honestly did not see how it could help, I reluctantly agreed to talk to the family with the psychologist. I was dumbfounded that God could have a plan to use me to help a family in this way, a way I would never have imagined, a way I unknowingly was uniquely qualified.

As so often happens, responding to this call led to a second call. This time the call was from an FBI Special Agent that was working with Concerns of Police Survivors, providing a workshop on “forgiveness” in conjunction with the National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service. As before, I reluctantly agreed to speak at his workshop, although I did not at the time appreciate how my story could help, let alone how it had anything to do with “forgiveness”. As before, this experience would lead to more trips, to more workshops, and the next thing I knew I had been asked to serve on the National Board of Concerns of Police Survivors.

As I look back today, I am astounded at the dramatic impact responding to this call from a police psychologist has had on my life. Through these experiences, I began to see that my perceptions of mental health professionals were misguided, as I was introduced to how mental health professionals helped regular, ordinary people that have experienced extraordinarily traumatic events. I also came to understand the far-reaching impact provided when people were just able to talk to someone who shared a similar experience, letting them know the emotions they were feeling were normal.

These experiences have shown me that although coping with tragedy is a deeply personal journey, one that may never be quite the same for any two people. Even though each experience can cause us to feel so intensely isolated, and feel that no one else could possibly understand what we are going through, there is hope. There is an extraordinary phenomena that takes place when people open up and compassionately share their own personal experiences with each other. When this happens, we somehow find comfort, which allows us to heal, and we begin down the path of becoming a survivor.

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

 

 

Perspective:

Perspective

Although it has been over forty years ago since Dad was kidnapped and then murdered in the Line-of-Duty, the moment we were notified of his death is still frozen in my memory, as if it had only happened yesterday. As I look back, I can still relive the shock, along with the visceral physical and emotional pain, that engulfs a young boy in that moment, and the days that follow, as he learns as great as his dad was, his dad was still mortal. In this moment and the days that follow, it is impossible to envision how life can possibly continue, how a young son can possibly survive the most painful traumatic loss without the dad he has always looked to for strength.

Yet today, with the gift of time, I can now look back over my life and see how the story plays out. This gift of time allows for a perspective that was impossible to have in the hours, days, months, and even years that follow the tragic discovery of just how cruel the world can be. Despite forever altering my life, that traumatizing moment when my dad was brutally murdered would not prove to be a life defining event. Instead, my life has proven again and again to have been defined by the faith instilled in me by a loving father. It is with this gift of time that I can now look back and see how the faith, and the lessons based on that faith, imparted in me by my dad in the nine plus years of my life that he was alive would define my character for a lifetime.

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.