My dad was the family provider and protector. When I was kidnapped and he wasn’t able to protect me, this was very difficult for my dad and he went to extreme measures to assure my future safety.
The kidnapping experience didn’t only affect me, it affected my entire family and many friends in different ways. I didn’t realize how people were affected until many years later and I am still learning different ways that people were affected to this day.
From the perspective of a 12 year-old, I didn’t understand how difficult this time in life was for my parents. Now that I’m a parent myself, I can only imagine how devastating the kidnapping and the aftermath of the kidnapping must have been for them. I recently learned how my dad was affected.
My dad lived a healthy, happy life until the age of 70, when he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). He was strong and took amazing care of his body. Not many 70 year old can do 200 push-ups, but he could. When the disease progressed to where he needed more help, he moved to live around the corner from me so I could help take care of him. For a man that was so independent, it was extremely difficult for him to ask for help, but he had no choice.
He had Bulbar ALS, which begins in the throat area. One of the first skills that he lost was the ability to verbally speak. Thankfully, he had the ability to write so he carried a little note pad in his pocket and wrote down everything he wanted to say.
During the 3 years of silence, I saw my dad’s heart change. He tried to fight the disease every step of the way. He ate well, took supplements and exercised like an Olympian. As the disease continued to progress, he became angry and asked, “Why me?” He continued to fight, but despite his best efforts, his body withered away. I watched as he struggled to accept his fate. He teetered between sadness and anger for a long time. He was forced to let go of all of his hopes and dreams that he had for his life.
ALS doesn’t affect the mind at all. My dad’s thoughts remained clear until the day he died. ALS is a difficult disease to live with. There is one gift that ALS offers and that is quiet time to ponder. ALS allows the person to put their affairs in order and clean up any relationships or any other work they need to.
We hadn’t talked about the kidnapping for years; however as he was faced with his own death, he wanted to discuss this topic. My dad was always a protector. When he grew up, he was the oldest son with six siblings. He fought bullies for his brothers and sisters and took on the role of the protector of goodness. When his daughter was hurt by evil, my dad felt helpless and became very angry with God. His view of God changed. He thought, God is either a good God that isn’t strong enough to help us when we need Him, or He is a bad God that is strong, but chooses not to help us. Either way, who needs God if good people have to go through terrible situations?
My dad had carried this burden for so long. I shared with my dad for the first time about the near heaven experience. God did not leave me alone in this dark situation. He was right there comforting me. I’m so grateful and feel closer to God after seeing how loving He truly is. I explained to my dad all that I learned from this experience and how I felt confident that we all had purpose in life.
My dad was still mad and wrote, “How could a good God allow such bad things to happen!” I believe that we all given free will to live our lives as we choose. He doesn’t stop us when we make bad choices. There are consequences to our actions and hopefully these consequences will have us choose better next time, but we aren’t stopped. Free will is something that everyone wants. Unfortunately, sometimes people take that free will and hurt others. I wish people would make better choices, but I’m not mad at God for it, because He didn’t cause the suffering. God steps in and comforts us during these difficult times and He is able to take terrible situations and turn them into beautiful situations. As horrible as my kidnapping experience was, there were many blessings sprinkled into this situation. I’m so thankful that I was able to experience a small sampling of heaven. Every time that I share my story and someone tells me how hearing this story helped them in some way, I am amazed and grateful that God can take a dark story and turn it around into a story of hope that improves the lives of others. So God didn’t cause the tragic event, but He can turn it into something beautiful. So I’m not mad at God for this suffering. Instead, I love him even more for comforting me, showering me with peace and love and showing me the importance of living a life of purpose within the suffering.
I could tell that my dad held on to resentment for the kidnapper. Just talking about the kidnapper, you could see the anger in my dad’s eyes. I explained to my dad that I had forgiven the kidnapper. My dad was shocked upon hearing this, “Huh!” I explained to him that hanging onto anger doesn’t hurt the person we’re angry at; it only hurts the one who is angry. I can’t change the fact that I was kidnapped. We can’t change the fact that my dad had ALS. But we are in control of our response to what happens to us. We talked about how resentment hurts the person who is resentful and not the person we are mad at. My dad had to ponder on this idea for a couple of days, but I could see his heart beginning to soften.
I thanked my dad for taking care of me. After I made it back home from the kidnapping, I described where the kidnapper took me and what his car looked like and what he looked like in great detail. I didn’t realize at the time, but my dad was taking meticulous notes and then set out to find and kill the kidnapper who had promised to come back and kill me if I talked. My dad was going to stop the kidnapper before he could come back and kill me. I’m grateful that the detectives found the kidnapper before my dad found him, because I wouldn’t want my dad to go to jail for murder. His willingness to kill for me was such a selfless act of love. Words can’t even describe how this feels to have him willing to give up his life for me. I thanked him for his support and love. Then I explained how happy I was that he wasn’t able to follow through with killing the kidnapper.
“Greater love has no one than this; to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13
I explained to my dad that if I had died when I was kidnapped, my soul would have been fine, but I would have been so sad about the way my loved ones responded to my death. I wouldn’t have wanted them to hold onto anger. This would have made them a secondary victim of that crime. I would have wanted them to live a happy, purposeful life, with love in their heart. The only way to achieve this is through forgiveness. It’s impossible to feel love and anger simultaneously.
Shortly before my dad passed away, we spent an entire day together, as he had doctors’ appointments and testing for hours. He was irritated all day and kept bringing up the topics of God, the kidnapping, having ALS, and suffering. He wasn’t able to speak as a result of the ALS, but he could write. He was writing so fast and with capital letters to represent raising his voice. When I finally drove my dad back home, he quickly waved which meant that he wanted me to leave. I told him that I would leave, but first I suggested that he spend the evening in prayer and then to listen. Know that God is good and that He only wants the best for us. Sit in silence and feel his love, ask Him for peace. Believe in the bigger plan. Look at life from the eternal perspective. He listened and then waved again for me to leave, so I went home.
The next day, I came back to my dad’s house. He was sitting in his chair and when he saw me, he quickly tried to get out of his chair. I was surprised to see his face. He looked so peaceful, so happy – not irritated like the previous day. I told him that he didn’t need to get up and encouraged him to stay seated. He shook his head no and insisted on getting up. At this stage of ALS, getting up was no easy task. I walked over to him and he reached into his pocket and took out a note he had pre-written and handed it to me. I took the note and looked down and it simply read, “Thank You!” I looked into his blue eyes which were full of water and intensely bright. He nodded his head yes and then gave me a huge, meaningful hug. He was so happy! My dad forgave God, forgave himself and let go of all the resentment he had been holding inside. Seven days later, my dad left this world to be with the Lord. His work here was done. I’m so happy that he found peace before he died.
“Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28