Finding God's Message in The Face of Murder and Suicide

Editorial note: This piece was originally written to give myself some direction for meeting with a pastor.  Upon completion, I realized I may have something bigger than I intended.  I shared it with those mentioned below, and received permission and encouragement from each party to share it here.  In the words of my mother: “The most important thing is that it helps someone else.” 

I’ve felt convicted lately with the reality that I have not been pursuing Christ… like actively digging into God’s word to learn about who God in the flesh actually was.  I feel like my faith and my relationship with the Father has been super surface level, unintentional; like I’ve been overwhelmingly complacent.  I have been confronted with this truth through the death of my best friend’s mom.

I feel like I’ve stood close to death and evil twice in my life: the first being when my own mother tried to commit suicide five years ago (the eve of Halloween 2013), and the second being Labor Day of this year, when Meg was brutally murdered. 

Five years ago, I was working in customer service at a marriage and family ministry.  I was constantly surrounded by Godly leaders, and it was my job to seek God’s Word and share it with people who called to buy a resource. 

On the eve of Halloween, my then-boyfriend (now husband, Daniel), was at my dad’s house cooking dinner for us.  I received a call from my dad telling me not to go anywhere… Mom just tried to kill herself by taking a bunch of pills and was on the way to a hospital in Heber Springs.  I collapsed on the floor, my heart suddenly went into overdrive and I had a panic attack.  Danny rushed to meet me on the floor, wrapped his arms around me and held me as I choked out the words that I didn’t think I could utter.

An hour later, we were in the car following my brother to a hospital more than an hour away. I couldn’t get there fast enough as my eyes continued to swell and overflow with tears. 

Danny, my brother and I rushed in and spoke with the front desk.  One of us could go back to see her, and that one of us was me.  My heart was broken into pieces, floating up into my throat.  I wasn’t even thinking about what to say or do.  I just needed to kiss her and tell her how much I loved her.

Mom was lying in bed, in a druggy daze.  She could barely speak or open her eyes.  I took her hand in mine and told her I love her.  All that mattered in that moment was for her to know how important and loved she is.  She turned her head toward my voice, and asked if it was me.

I said, “Yes, it’s Robyn.” 
She replied, “Oh baby, I just want to go away forever.” 
“Why would you say that to me, Mom?  I need you!  Ryan needs you.” 
Then she hit me with words that brought the dark lie of what was going on in her head to life.  “You don’t love me.  You don’t visit me enough.  You don’t need me anymore.”  

Again, I felt my whole being collapse.  Is this MY fault?  Was she choosing death because of decisions I made? 
“Mom, that’s not fair.  And you know that isn’t true.  I can’t visit you every day like I’d like to because I have a full time job in Little Rock.  You know I love you, and I can’t put into words how much it hurts me to see you hurt like this.”

She mumbled some incoherent things and then opened her eyes to really SEE me for the first time.  “Oh baby, I am so sorry!  I am so, so, so sorry.  I just want the pain to go away.”

“You don’t have to apologize,” I told her.  “I know you’re hurting, and we’re going to make sure you get better.  Ryan is here to see you, too.  We came as soon as we heard.  We love you, and we want to see you get better.”

The doctor came in to say my brother could come back, too.  Ryan joined us, and we prayed over Mom.  Eventually, she was moved to her own room, and we started the long night of watching her fall in and out of sleep, and back into sobriety. 

Mom doesn’t remember seeing us at the hospital that night.  I talked with her about it for the first time a couple months ago, and she was truly surprised by what I described, and by the darkness that filled her head, lying to her about who she was and what she meant to us.  Since that day, I believe God has shown himself through His divine healing of our mother-daughter relationship, and through her recovery.

It was a really long road to recovery.  We took her straight from Baptist in Heber Springs to Baptist in Little Rock and checked her into the psych unit.  She was under suicide watch, and received care from doctors, counselors and social workers alike.  Before she was discharged, my brother and I were called to a meeting with all the professionals caring for her.  Dad was there, too, but because he and Mom had filed for divorce, the social workers made it clear that Mom was now Ryan’s and my responsibility.  It weighed heavy on me how drastically our parent-child relationship changed in that moment.  My brother and I would be caring for her and making sure she got the help she needed.  I felt like I had stared a dark, evil kind of death in the face that day at the Heber hospital, and now medical professionals were telling us we needed to prepare to help her find life again. 

My brother brought Pastor Chad Denmon from New Life Church to the hospital to meet my Mom before she was discharged.  She described who God was to her: disappointed.  She felt like she’d failed Him.  It’s a description that often defined her relationship with her own earthly father, an alcoholic.  Chad spoke life to all of us there that day, surrounded by other patients in the common room.  “You love your children, don’t you?”  Of course, my mom said.  Then he drew a powerful comparison that changed how my mom thought of God.  He compared God’s love for her to the way she loves my brother and I.  When Ryan and I messed up, Dad and Mom didn’t want death and destruction for us.  They wanted to see us do better.  They loved us through our mistakes.  They extended forgiveness over and over and over again.  They constantly poured their lives out for us, their children.  God, our Heavenly Father, has also poured himself out for His children.  The power of His good and perfect character was displayed in human form when He sent His son Jesus to the cross to FORGIVE us of our sins.  Our Father loves us that much.  He, himself, died for us.  That’s how much he loves her.  That’s the kind of love He calls all of us to give, a supernatural love.  Something clicked in my mom that day, and she realized how badly she needed Christ’s love.

I cannot overstate how challenging the next several years were.  My mother survived suicide. The end she thought she wanted in a moment of darkness has been illuminated by God’s grace. Praise God, we were given a second chance with her. We were also confronted with a very real, toe-to-toe battle against mental illness: a reality of living in a fallen world.  Mom says she takes responsibility for what happened… but I believe there was a greater, supernatural force working against her and he has a name: Satan.  Addiction and depression are the poisonous fruits of his labor, not hers.

I believe God had me working at a ministry specifically for that life altering event… I was surrounded by Godly people day in and day out who poured the Word into my life to help me get through what happened.  I was drained by what happened on the eve of Halloween, but 40 hours a week, I was being filled by leaders who surrounded me, and I was in turn pouring out love to strangers who called our call center.  My faith was tested and strengthened that season, and I felt Spirit led and Spirit filled.  My mother’s statement to me that night about how much I didn’t love her made something transform inside me.  I think God used that event to teach me how important it is to love others.  He turned the lie my mother believed into a truth to use for His glory, “Love others as I have loved you” (John 13:34).  

Fast forward to Labor Day this year.  My best friend’s mom, a woman I’d known for more than a decade, who went wedding dress shopping with me, who sent gifts to my bachelorette party, who threw a baby shower for my son, who visited the week I brought him home, was murdered in her home.  Beaten to death, possibly by someone who knew her well.

My heart broke into a million pieces when I got that phone call.  My heart broke because of the loss I was experiencing, and it broke ten times over when I realized the magnitude of the loss my best friend was experiencing.

Since then, I’ve felt confronted by a harsh truth: I have no idea what the Bible says about a time like this.  I know all the cliché verses, like a personal favorite of mine: “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).  Or, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (Psalm 23:4).  But even though I know what those verses say, I have no true way of applying them right now.  They almost feel too sugar coated, too simplified.  There is nothing simple about experiencing the murder of a loved one. 

What does God’s Word say about real fear?  In the days and weeks after Labor Day, I’ve had countless sleepless nights.  Insomnia due to pure fear.  I have been terrified of bodily harm.  If that could happen to Meg, who’s to say it couldn’t happen to me?  I think I’ve been hit by the reality of how quickly life can be taken away from us.  A single thought can bring death.  And then I ask myself, “If I die, am I ready to meet the Lord?” 

I can’t say that God would tell me, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23), because I think I’ve been on cruise control for a while now. 

In the days immediately following Meg’s death, I stayed close to her family.  I saw my best friend rise up as the leader of her family while her dad mourned the loss of his wife.  I saw Tim experience some of his first panic attacks, and then I believe I witnessed healing and amazing faith through Christ’s love for him.  Just two days after Labor Day, the house was filled with visitors.  Tim led all of us in prayer before a meal.  He opened it by saying, “God, thank you for my wife.  Thank you for your unfailing love for us even in this time of trouble.”  He didn’t say, “God, how could you do this to us?”  Tim had faith.

I have felt changed by the events of Labor Day, similar to the way I felt changed by the events of Halloween five years ago.  My heart is so broken by the darkness in our world: the darkness that filled my mother for a season, and the darkness someone else was filled with which claimed an innocent life.  I can’t understand how a single thought can lead so quickly to death.  In one case, a thought almost caused someone I love to end her own life; in another, it was someone else’s thought that stole a life.  My own mortality has never felt so real, and I think the magnitude of the gospel has finally hit me. 

“But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.  And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 8:10-11).  So what does my mortal fear matter if I should have died to myself already?

I don’t know that I’ve felt the urgency of Christ’s Spirit in me as much as I’ve felt the urgency of His Word in recent weeks.

I am so HUNGRY for the Word, it’s like I’m a baby Christian all over again.  I feel a sudden urgency to seek the Creator of our universe.  He has given us everything we need in one book, the Bible, and I can’t get enough of it.  It’s the only satisfying truth that makes any of this begin to make sense.  It still doesn’t make sense, but I think God is going to use this to glorify His name somehow.   He always does.  I believe that’s who He is.

Maybe He’s using what happened to draw all of us who were so close to Meg and her family back into fellowship with Him.  I no longer work for a ministry, so I have to be even more intentional in seeking truth and community with fellow believers.  After nearly four years of searching, my husband and I have finally found a church to call our home: New Life Church in Saline County.  It just so happens that the lead pastor there is Chad Denmon, the one who helped open my family’s eyes to the truth of God’s character.  I don’t think it’s by accident that I will be meeting with him, for the first time since he met with us at Baptist, on the five year anniversary of my mother’s suicide attempt.  Could God be using poetic timing?  I don’t doubt it.

Maybe the whole point is that we don’t have to understand, or maybe that we shouldn’t understand.  Maybe a huge clue here is that I need to let go of my desire to know why these things have happened, and focus more on the who.  I don’t think I’m designed or meant to understand the darkness of murder or suicide that exists in the world.  Murder and suicide was never part of God’s creation but was introduced through Satan’s doing.  I think I need to better grasp that in God’s greatness and perfection, those things have been eternally conquered through Jesus.  Maybe the point is who He is in spite of all that and less about the external whys and hows that we can’t control and were never meant to control. 

A common theme with the brokenness I’ve witnessed and experienced has been mothers.  God blessed my husband and I with our first child last year, and I’ve completely poured myself into motherhood.  My eyes have been opened to what really matters in this world.  I’ve come to see the importance of being a role model for my son, and now also a role model for my unborn daughter. 

Two weeks before I learned I was having a baby girl, I believe God gave me a dream about her birth, and revealed that she would be a girl.  From that moment, I have prayed over our future mother-daughter relationship.  I pray that I would become a Godly role model for her; that I would reinforce His love for her and affirm her beauty by speaking truth to her every single day.  I pray that God’s character would be reflected in me, for both her and my son.  I pray that my relationships with my husband and each of my children would glorify my Heavenly Father.  And in the same way, I pray that my relationships with the rest of God’s children would reflect His character, too. 

I pray that I could truly learn how to surrender.  I pray that my own spirit may die so His can live in me.

I don’t know that I’ve ever prayed like that before.  I believe that I have witnessed and displayed some element of sacrificial love at times in my life, but I have fallen short time and again.  I want my love to be constant and true to Christ’s Spirit.  I want to be so engulfed in His Word and in who He is that it flows freely from me. 

God, let every situation I encounter glorify you.  In the face of the incomprehensible darkness of death, let me share your eternal life.  Even though I do not understand why or how things come to be, use me as a compass, pointing to you in the darkness.  Make me a light that leads people to you.  Release me from my desire to understand the world, and fill me with desire to understand your will and your Word.  Release me from my desire to understand the world, and fill me daily with desire to understand your will and your Word.

Coming soon: a word from my meeting with Pastor Chad.