Looking for Light in the Darkness Following a Tragedy

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

When I was in college, my soccer coach took our team into a cave. Despite being cold and wet, we had an easy time navigating it, guided by our flashlights. However, after being in there for a while, my coach told us to turn our flashlights off and find our own way out. What seemed easy before became difficult as we repeatedly hit our heads on the cave walls while desperately seeking the exit.

I feel this is the place our community has come to, as over the past few days we have been dealing with the tragic death of two of our high school students and the injury of two others; for whose recovery we now pray.  We, too, are in a dark cave, trying to desperately make sense of and find purpose in, our pain and sorrow. In fact, life-tragedies often cause us to feel that we are trying to walk through the brokenness of our situation, while overwhelmed with hopelessness and despair! Personally, I have experienced the pain of my wife suffering a miscarriage; the near-loss of our child at one week of age; a daughter coping with chronic pain that eventually required three surgeries to correct; my mother’s battle with cancer; and currently, having to witness my father-in-law’s daily struggle with liver disease. Experiencing moments like these, we can all find ourselves in a desperate search for any guiding light through the darkness of our situation.

As my teammates and I continued to struggle through the cave, our coach told one of us to turn on a flashlight. The darkness vanished instantly in the brightness of that light. While in itself the flashlight did not show us the exit, it gave enough light to show us the direction in which to go, and we made our way slowly forward to the brightness of sunshine just outside the cave.

To those in my community and to others facing their own tragedies, there is a light that can guide us through the darkness of confusion and pain. Lexi and Danielle both knew the Source of this light, for each had given her life to Jesus Christ. Because they looked to Him, their lives continue to shine brightly in our community as a reminder of the ONE that we all can look to, who can heal our broken hearts and strengthen our weary souls.

For we who remain after a tragedy, the challenge is in trying to find our way out of the dark cave of loss. But we no longer have to navigate the darkness alone. This same Jesus, who gave light to Danielle and Lexi, is ready today to give light for us all. He hears our cries! He is ready to embrace us in His loving arms and help us move forward through brokenness and pain. While this process may never be fully completed in this life, we have the sure hope that He will one day guide us to that exit, to be fully embraced by the true Source of light that awaits us at the end. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we can know the certainty of a future where He will wipe away all tears; where there will be no more death, sorrow or pain (Revelation 21:4). Until that day, may the legacy of these girls continue on in how we choose to live; like them, may we embrace the light that Jesus gives so we, too, may be a light for others.

“Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, ‘I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.’ ” (John 8:12).

No matter where you are in your life, remember: The WHY may knock you to the ground, but the WHO is always there to help you stand back up.

Finding Hope in the Midst of Tragedy

By BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

This has been a very sad and difficult week for the community that I live in. This past Sunday (February 10th), four high school students from our school district were in a severe accident. The accident led to the tragic death of two of the students. As I write this blog, the other two students are in the hospital dealing with a range of injuries. This tragic event has impacted me personally as my family knew these girls and, being the high school girls’ soccer coach, I use to coach one of the girls who died. In simplistic terms, this has been an emotionally difficult situation to deal with as it has brought me face to face with the reality that no one is immune from the tragedies of life. But despite this reality, it is in these moments where we learn the most valuable life lessons. For instance, I was reminded of the importance of community. As I spent time at the school on Monday talking with faculty and students, I was encouraged and comforted to see everyone come together as one. Despite our differences, there was singularity in purpose. A powerful reminder that not only do we need the support and love of others, but we also need to return that same love and support. We need to bear each other’s burdens. I hope and pray that you have others in your life that are helping you bear your burdens, and in return you are coming alongside them to bear theirs.

Along with the idea of community, this situation has reminded me of the importance of being intentional with my loved ones: to never walk away angry, or let the sun go down without letting them know how much I love them. I need to live each moment with appreciation for the time that I have with my family and friends. Life can truly change in a moment, so we all need to let others know, through both our words and actions, how much they mean to us.

A final impression that I have gained from this tragedy is how important it is to live our lives with purpose. As I stood watching the students flow into the room that was set up at the school for them to come and grieve, I was overwhelmed to hear their stories about how their lives were enriched by knowing the girls who had died. One particular staff member told me that when they first moved here, her daughters had a hard time adjusting to their new surroundings, but that the transition was made easier because one of the girls who had died introduced herself to her daughters and made them feel valued and accepted. This is a great reminder how just a simple word and action can make the difference in the lives of others. While our school has lost two remarkable young ladies, their memories will live on through those they impacted. Their lives were taken from us way too early but they leave a legacy that will continue for years to come.

In the uncertainty of this tragedy, I do see God actively involved. From the love and support of surrounding communities to the unity displayed by our faculty and students, I see God working in and through each one of us. As in any tragedy, the WHY will continue to knock us off our feet, but it is the WHO that will enable us to stand back up. Though our faith in Jesus Christ is shaken, it will not be destroyed.  His loving arms are embracing our community and bringing comfort and hope in our time of pain and sorrow.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).