I have to insert here that my core, brother core, and sister core were wonderful. I love them to pieces and wouldn’t trade them for anything. I wouldn’t trade my time at the HA for anything because of some of the so precious relationships I still have. We loved on each other, had some wonderful times, and created some beautiful memories. I love those people and am so thankful for them. They taught me so much about selflessness and love, about support. Wonderful wonderful people.
My confrontations were never huge blowups. I don’t think I really stood out to much of anyone. I didn’t have any major mess up’s, I wasn’t hugely hot or popular or vocal in class or a star at anything other than submitting trouble tickets to IT. As awesome as my core family was, I never really felt like I fit in with any of the groups. I did my quite times and everything else on my Accountability Card (or, if I missed some stuff here or there like a QT or workout or ten, I lied because I was terrified of getting in trouble and disappointing even more people). I was determined to be the perfect intern. I would finally prove that I was not a screw up. Prove that my brother was wrong, I could do something right.
I remember that one of the holidays I had major problems again with my brother. I called my CA wanting to come home early and saying that I did not want to go home at Christmas or at least didn’t want to go home for the whole break. I was essentially told to tough it out and “we’d talk later and we’d see.” I did go home for Christmas. I think I remember feeling like it wasn’t really abuse because once again, I wasn’t being taken seriously and my feelings were being diminished so obviously I was exaggerating (I was telling myself this). My CA was a wonderful woman, I just think she mishandled the situation. It did make me happy to get back to the HA and my friends at the end of Christmas.
I don’t really remember any particularly outstanding negative incidents over the spring. I know that I came away from the HA feeling like I had to look nice to please God, feeling that same Elitist attitude others have described, and having a difficult time adjusting to life “outside the bubble.” However, my core/sister core/brother core were as great as ever. Our brother core gave us a really really great experience in Dallas and my core made my Birthday really special. They also showed their wonderful colors when I was sent home on a fundraising trip due to being behind on my funds. I came back with nowhere near the amount I needed and was crying the whole way, sure I was going to be financially dismissed. I walked into my dorm expecting to start packing my things. On my bunk was a Styrofoam cup with writing and notes and numbers. My core, sister core, and brother core had, unbeknownst to me, done some fundraising on my behalf. They called people and got people from THEIR homes and THEIR families to donate. They donated their extra funds that were left over in their accounts. They raised all the money I needed. I was blown away. I literally started crying. They demonstrated such a selfless act of love. I can’t even put into words the way that has stuck with me through the years as an example of grace and friendship. I would get to finish my internship and graduate.
The worst experience of my time at the HA came towards the end of the year. For most of the year, I was on a GE call team called the Pathfinders. We only handled teens who had been on a GE trip before. People who got GE alumni on an incoming call transferred them to us. All of us had been on a GE trip before. We would have this special bond with our missionaries and would be able to remind them of the passion they felt and the need they had experienced for missionaries like ourselves to take the love of God to others. We would have our own stories of fundraising, and testimonials to the safety of the trips and to how God worked, we would be able to sympathize with the feelings of culture shock when we came back from a trip. I was on this team all the way from August through when call teams were broken up at the beginning of the summer and I was transferred to be a Summer Volunteer Coordinator (that was my request as I had been a Summer Volunteer and wanted to love on the kids, I knew I would be moved and wanted to feel like I was really making a difference… and maybe get to carry a radio and learn to drive a gator? Haha! The gator did not happen, for the record.).
The whole year, I had worked with the same people except for a little bit of turnover in January, as was to be expected. One of the guys on my team was Michael Tackett. He was my Team Leader for a lot of the year. He was a great guy and someone I got to be really good friends with. Again, no sunflower, although I am a little surprised in retrospect that I didn’t get confronted about it. Anyways, everyone liked Michael, I don’t think he ever met a stranger and it is impossible for me to imagine someone meeting him and not liking him. He loved God and he loved people. I think that’s the best way I can sum it up. He was kind, compassionate, and funny as all heck.
On his way driving back from visiting his family in Nebraska, he was in a wreck in Dallas. He was in a coma for a couple of days. Finally, he died. I had been praying, with everyone else, for his recovery, but I kept having this feeling that he wasn’t going to survive, that it would end with a funeral. Every time I would scold myself for my lack of faith and pray even harder and believe as fervently as I could that he could be healed. Well, one day, Rick Brenner sent out a ministry wide email saying there would be a “Family Meeting” in the auditorium and everyone who wasn’t out running Extreme Camps was to be there. Somehow I knew what it was about. I walked out of my office in the hanger to go to the Admin Building and saw Rick, another intern (J), and someone else, I can’t remember who, walking along. I asked him what the meeting was about and he said he couldn’t say yet. I asked him “Michael’s dead isn’t he?” and he said yes, but that everyone needed to find out at the same time and I needed to act like I didn’t know anything.
For the next hour or however long, I had to go around looking cheerful and acting like I didn’t know anything. I saw J in the foyer and hugged him and started to crumble but had to pull together because I couldn’t cry yet. I had to go all that time knowing that my friend was dead and I had to act like he wasn’t. That was a lot to ask of a 19 year old girl. I wish they had taken me up to an office to let me sit in one by myself until the meeting. Anyways, when we went in, I picked out people to sit with whom I know I could lose it around. I remember sitting there thinking “It’s about to be real” and almost wishing that I could just keep on pretending so that I didn’t have to face reality. That did not happen. We were a mess.
I remember pretty much everything that happened that evening up until a certain point. It’s hazy but I have memories and basically know where I was. I went back to my office to call my parents and tell them. My supervisor told me to take a few days off work. Bless her, she didn’t make me feel guilty or anything, she was so compassionate and understanding. I remember going to the SUB that evening for a sort of visitation with Michael’s core and sister core and hugging a friend I had been in a fight with. I saw one of the Ministry Team girls I was friends with and we ran back to the cafeteria together in the rain, I said that it was like God was crying with us. We ate supper together and talked (well, I sort of picked at some salad). She didn’t know him that well I don’t think but she cried with and for me, because she was my friend. It meant a lot.
After that I went to the Auditorium where they were doing Praise and Worship in the evening session for the campers. I sat on a stack of chairs in a dark corner in the back where a wall met the sound booth and cried. One of the guys from the MT gave me a huge hug and just held me, not trying to explain anything or offer any platitudes. I don’t know if he knows (heck I don’t even know that he remembers me) but that meant so much to me. It still does. I got so sick of Christian platitudes and hearing that “It’s okay, God has a plan”, etc. etc. It wasn’t okay and I wasn’t okay and I was having a really REALLY hard time trusting God or seeing any good in what seemed to me to be the untimely death of someone who had his whole life before him, someone who had plans to be a missionary, who was making such a difference and was going to continue doing so.
Anyways, I remember walking out of the auditorium and across the foyer. I remember opening the door and stepping out of the Admin and the next thing I can remember, I was walking in the doors of Carey Hall after curfew. I’m guessing I must have told someone since I didn’t get in trouble for being late. But I have no recollection. And it’s not even like I remember time but have a big 4 hour block of nothing. That’s the worst part, I think. I have literally no sense of time passing. It literally felt/still feels like I blinked. I don’t know where I was, who I was with, what I did, what I said, nothing. For all I know I went out in the Back 40 and did a naked sun dance around a sacrificial goat. It freaks me out so so so badly. I have tried so often to remember but I can’t. And that fact scares the heck out of me. I think about that missing block of time and I freak out. I literally feel my heart start to race, and feel like I’m going to have a panic attack. I want to remember but I can’t and I don’t know why. Why can’t I remember? Why can I remember parts of the day? Wouldn’t it make sense that my memory lapse would start when I found out or when they made the announcement? No, I remember all of that far more vividly than I would like. But what I want to remember I can’t. Maybe it’s silly that it bugs me so much but it does.
I grieved. A lot. I cried and cried and cried. I read my Bible, I prayed, I wrote, I think I cried myself to sleep on the couch in the HA lobby once or twice. I stopped eating, I had no appetite. I lost enough weight that my MT guy friend looked at me at lunch one day when he passed me in the Caf and could tell I had lost weight and made me eat something. Not only was I grieving the loss of a good friend, right before graduation, I felt guilty. I felt like my “lack of faith” was at least partially responsible. If I had prayed more/harder/better and believed God instead of “doubting,” Michael would still have been alive. It was my fault. I had killed him. I know now that that isn’t true, that I believed that God COULD heal him I just wasn’t sure if He WOULD. There’s a world of difference and I didn’t realize that. Occasionally I still feel a little guilty but it’s mostly gone now. I still miss him though and the loss of that time bothers me.
I wish there had been a large number of grief/trauma counselors highly visible and available. Maybe there were but if there were I can’t remember being told about them (other than Jose Cano). I think that my experience and not dealing with that grief has continued to affect how I grieve even now. I’ve had several losses in my family that I think probably some of the problems I’ve had in my grief at those losses can be tracked back to that time. I wish someone had seen how much I was hurting and made me go talk to a professional. I can’t really hold it against them though, everyone else was dealing with grief as well. I do think that if Teen Mania did not have multiple counselors available on campus, that was poorly thought out on their part. I hope to find out what resources were made readily and easily available and if there was a lack, make suggestions to TM as to how to handle it differently should they have a similar thing happen in the future (may it not be so).
We went to the funeral, we took a TM bus up to Nebraska. The bus broke down on the way back and we got back and literally jumped into debriefing and getting ready to graduate. There was no time to decompress or process anything. I can’t remember whether they addressed grief and his death during debriefing. We graduated. I went home. I slept for forever, I was exhausted in every way. I still haven’t really dealt with what happened. I’ve thought many times about going to see someone about it, especially with how much the memory loss upsets me, but I always put it off. I know I should but I don’t want to. It scares me to confront it, but I want my memories back. I at least want some sense of time passing.
I know now that it wasn’t my fault. I occasionally wonder if I could/should have prayed more/harder but I know that I did what I could. I have learned since then that prayer is not a vending machine and “In the name of Jesus Christ” is not a quarter to make sure that what we pray gives us the results we ask for. I just wish I could have learned the lesson an easier way and I really really wish I had talked to a counselor then and there. I wish I had never had to spend that time pretending everything was okay. I wish I could have just believed God both could and would heal Michael.
I’m pretty sure I’ve got more about the little things here and there that I probably need to process but I’m going to leave it for now. Most of the hurts I experienced were the result of a legalistic, sexist, elitist, judgmental culture at Teen Mania that replicates itself each year through GI’s passing along what they have experienced and eventually becoming staff. I don’t wish I hadn’t gone to the HA because I did learn a lot and have great experiences and make some wonderful friends I wouldn’t trade for anything. I can’t help but wonder though if it would have been better for me emotionally and mentally if I hadn’t gone to the HA, hadn’t known Michael, hadn’t had to deal with losing a co-worker, classmate, and friend suddenly and tragically.
I till to this day sometimes wonder if my faith is strong enough, if I am enough, if my little hurts matter as much as someone else’s big hurts, if some of my poor choices regarding guys (and trust, there have most certainly been some very very poor choices with regard to guys) are because I wasn’t friends with girls as much as I should have been or if I should have spent more time with girls and spent too much time/friendship on guys, why I didn’t feel like I really belonged. I feel like it must have been my fault for not being more.. I don’t know. More something. Anyways, I’ll close with a poem I wrote those few days off, to help express how I was feeling and what I wish someone would have seen and recognized.
I don’t like where I am
Or even where I’ve been
It’s full of dark, devoid of light.
Despair and anguish, these I know.
Looking at the sky I shake my fist
And cry out “God, oh God, oh why?
Why here, why now, why pain?”.
My heart is bruised and scarred,
More so with every tear I cry.
Cold, so cold and dark,
Devoid of light and light no more,
But not numb, I feel the pain.
It cuts my heart, it stabs and bites.
A dagger thrust inside.
And now drained, so drained.
Until more tears come to my eyes,
A memory inside my mind
It springs to life
And brings more tears, more pain,
More cold, more dark,
And more goodbyes to friends I’ve loved,
Too much too soon, I hurt.
Welcome to my heart.