From When I Lay My Isaac Down
(Gene and Carol Kent have had to face the reality that their only son, Jason Paul Kent, twenty-five years old and a graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy with an impeccable record, killed his wife’s ex-husband.)
We never know how desperately we need people in our lives until an Isaac experience forces us to admit, first to ourselves and then to others, that we can’t make it alone. Karen Burton Mains refers to this community of helpers as her “holders.” She writes:
Holders are people who stand beside us even when things are unpleasant; they have a capacity to stay unshaken for the long haul. Holders are not afraid to speak the truth. Truth simply spoken can be one of the greatest comforts. I’ve come to realize that the people who help me the most are the ones who have the questions, not the ones who have the answers. (Comforting One Another)
Gene and I began to see a pattern among those who grieved with us. Initially, people were in shock and had a need to “do something.” As we got past the two-month point of their initial knowledge of our crisis, our “holders,” who were beside us for the long haul, were the people who “stuck like glue” and refused to let us withdraw from society and relationship.
As I’ve been writing this book, I’ve realized that due to my work as a traveling speaker, God opened a nationwide door of support for our family during this unthinkable crisis. There are, no doubt, many readers who can honestly say, “I don’t have a network like that. Who is in my ‘community of caring people’?” You might be an only child, or you might have a very small circle of friends. You may wonder if anybody really cares.
Soon after Gene and I received the devastating news that our son had pulled the trigger and killed a man, we went to the home of our pastor, Peter Foxwell, and his wife, Kim. They listened more than they talked. They comforted us by their presence. They didn’t quote fifty Bible verses. Peter and Kim acknowledged our pain, hugged us, and prayed with us.
A trained Christian counselor, Kim asked, “Do you have any support people in your life?”
“Oh, yes,” I said. “Even though the news has not been heard by everyone yet, we have had remarkable support.”
Then she said something I will never forget: “When you’re in a crisis, if you have only one supportive person, you can make it through the journey. We all need at least one person to be there for us in the middle of a tragedy.”
Some time after that visit, a surprising and significant note came to us via the Stretcher Bearers who had sent updates to many of the people who knew our family personally. One of those update letters went to a former next-door neighbor. Our sons, J. P. and Chris, had been best friends in their growing up years. Tony wrote:
The Kents are among the nicest people I have ever met, so it stands to reason that April [J. P.’s wife] is very special also. As Gene and Carol would tell you, I am not a very religious or devout person, but I do believe in a greater power and on occasion do pray to give thanks. I am sending a check to April today. I do not know if I can be a Stretcher Bearer, but I will carry the Band-aids.
Tony’s note said it all. None of us can do everything for the people around us who are in need. But all of us can do something. An interesting fact about stretchers is that it is impossible for one person to carry a stretcher alone. It takes the teamwork of several people working together to get the job done. In our case, Tony was willing to carry the Band-aids by providing help toward April’s expenses, and others assisted with frequent-flyer miles for our trips to Florida. Another friend made it her mission to send books to J. P. on a regular basis. The primary assistance provided by others was prayer support. Some individuals made personal encouragement to Chelsea and Hannah [J. P. and April’s two daughters] their “main thing.” It was a community of people who, one at a time, did what they knew they could do – what the apostle Paul encouraged the early Christians to do.
Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”
That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir – not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!
So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it!” (Romans 15:1-7)
If you are a community of one and you see a need, you can still be a stretcher bearer. It starts with carrying the Band-aids.