Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hurricanes and Crosses: My Interview with Jason Wright

When I first heard of Hurricane Isaac, it's path, and the day it was going to hit, one of the first things I thought about was Jason Wright's novel, 'Recovering Charles'. It was a book he had written which focused on a man in search of his father in New Orleans, a city torn apart in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
When I asked what he thought about Hurricane Isaac, Jason said, “I kept thinking this is going to fizzle, it’s going to run out of steam before it ever got anywhere close to the coast. I don’t know if that was my heart talking because I didn’t want to see a Katrina 2 or if I just wasn’t paying enough attention to the news.”
Jason Wright is a New York Times Bestselling author. Along with 'Recovering Charles' (2008), he has written many bestselling novels, including 'Christmas Jars' (2005), 'The Wednesday Letters' (2007), 'The Cross Gardener' (2010), 'The Seventeen Second Miracle' (2010), and 'The Wedding Letters' (2011). Jason has also been on CNN, Fox News, and C-Span, and writes the weekly column 'Wright Words'.
"My first reaction was I didn’t have a reaction,” he continued, “because I just kept thinking it’s never actually going to come to this. Now that it has, it’s been very surreal.”
I asked Jason what inspired 'Recovering Charles'. “I watched (the storm footage) for hours and hours and hours. Before, during, and after Katrina. It was more gripping to me than 9/11. It was just so heartbreaking.”
I was working in a town in northern Virginia called Fredericksburg at the time, far removed from Katrina, and there were some people I ran into that had the attitude that the people in New Orleans could have left but didn't, and so deserved what they got. Jason ran into that sort of attitude too. “Some were talking about how the people down there should have seen it coming and that’s what they get for living down there,” he said. “I was just hearing so much of that, how they weren’t prepared, they should have left, all that kind of stuff, and I just didn’t see that. I just saw the tremendous human suffering.”
It sometimes seems that when we're far removed from a tragedy, the impact of it doesn't seem as real to us as those who have to go through it. Jason decided to go there, to New Orleans, and see first-hand what recovery there was like. “So many people think Katrina was just so clear cut,” he said. “The reality is a bunch of those people are generations in the gulf and didn’t have resources to leave. They didn’t have access to funds and cars. For most of the people who were there when the city flooded, they didn’t have resources to be anywhere else. For me, Recovering Charles was a chance to tell a little bit of a human story. I thought the city was treated unfairly.”
We then talked about his book 'The Cross Gardener', which was my favorite of his novels. It's a story about a man who, after his mother is killed, is adopted and raised on an apple orchard. After his adopted father dies, his wife is suddenly killed in a car accident, and he is left to mourn her at a small cross he erects on the road where she died. There he meets a mysterious stranger caring for the roadside memorial, a man he only knows as the Cross Gardener.
It’s not a doctrinal book,” he said. “I’m not suggesting any of this is how it works for everybody. I just thought that it would be interesting to just invite readers to think about what that process of stepping from this life to the next might be like. If you’re by yourself at 2 o’clock in the morning on some remote highway, are you really alone or is there someone there to help with that process? The book was kind of a way for me to ask myself some of those questions.”

I finally asked him about the movie adaptation of his novel, 'Christmas Jars'. “There’s a kind of a good news bad news thing,” he told me. “We have one script partner we thought was just about to happen and it looks like it’s fallen apart. On the other hand their option is up in a couple of months and we have another team quietly waiting in the wings very patiently, and have been for quite some time. They have expressed to us that they are further down the path than we might realize in terms of their preparations if they get another chance, or if they get a chance at all, and that they’ll be in a position to move very quickly. That happens in November, and we’re hopeful that something will happen there.” Jason said that on many occasions they had been very close to beginning the movie. “We’ve been within days of production,” he said.
Most of Jason's books are stories of recovery from tragedy, of triumph over trauma, the very spirit of what this blog is all about. They are truly inspirational, and may provide comfort for those who are recovering themselves.
You can find out more about Jason and his novels at

Monday, August 27, 2012

Cartoons and Healing: My Interview with Amy Keating Rogers

There is a yearning to return to innocence.

In a fallen world full of illness, terrorism, wars and rumors of wars, a growing number of people are focusing their minds on things that bring them back to a child-like wonder. Not to be confused with a childish attitude, but to view things from the perspective of a child – for a fantasy world that, though not without confrontation, will always have a happy ending.

This is not a new phenomenon. Certainly, J. R. R. Tolkien began writing his mythical tales of Middle-earth in army barracks, recovering from the horrors of World War 1. In C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, the series opens with four children – Peter, Susan, Edmond and Lucy Pevensie – being evacuated from London to escape the very real threat of the Blitz, the German bombing of the United Kingdom in World War 2.

It could be said that much of fantasy and children's media has been derived from very real and serious events. It is no wonder that both children and adults have benefited from them.

"I think if people can find healing in the shows I’ve worked on, that is fantastic!" said Amy Keating Rogers, a writer and story editor for such cartoons as 'The Powerpuff Girls', 'Dexter's Laboratory', 'Samurai Jack' and 'My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic', the popular reboot of the 1980's Hasbro toy franchise. "That is not the original intention of the programs I’ve worked on, but that doesn’t matter. If someone can find hope then it means everyone that worked on that show has surpassed expectations!"

Amy has been nominated for four Emmy Awards, and has also written Powerpuff Girls chapter books for Scholastic and Golden Books. "I’ve been in touch with a man that suffered a stroke and watching The Powerpuff Girls gave him the drive to work on his recovery," she said.

"When you write, what are your thoughts concerning the adults who are also going to be watching?" I asked.

"When I write, my primary concern is the children that will be watching the show," she said. "Having children myself, I try to write things that I feel would be appropriate and that I wouldn’t mind my kids watching. I also have the network Standards and Practices to take into account for any show. Each show has different guidelines that I must be aware of while writing. Some shows let you push the boundaries while others are more strict. Finally, I take into account the parents that are watching with their kids. I always throw in humor that the adults will get a kick out of, while staying appropriate for kids at the same time. But if I laugh at it, I figure other adults will too!"

I was curious how adding confrontation into a show was determined, without having too much confrontation.

"It depends what the subject of the story is," she said. "If it’s about a character coming into town and causing trouble, I write them being confrontational. But these characters are also modeling behavior for our kids, so there needs to be a balance of that character being confrontational but then getting their comeuppance. They may not learn from their bad behavior, but if the other characters are aware of it and are unwilling to be treated that way again, that’s a good payoff."

I asked her about the adult following of the recent 'My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic' show, a group of people who call themselves Bronies and Pegasisters. "I have had some great interactions with the Brony community," she said. "I went to BronyCon back in June and will be attending more Cons coming up this year. Everyone I have met has been very kind and appreciative of the show. The episodes of MLP: FiM were not originally intended for an adult, male fan base. But if they enjoy and are inspired by the show, I think that’s fantastic!"

'My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic' is about ponies from a town named Ponyville in a world called Equestria, specifically one pony named Twilight Sparkle and her quest to study friendship, under the guidance of the wise Princess Celestia.

"The Brony community is also not just about watching this show," she added. "It’s about following the examples set forth by the characters in the show. And the Bronies have taken it to heart, raising lots of money for various charities. I’ve been very impressed by them."

It would seem that the followers of the show have been impacted for the better by the strong morals, values and strength of friendship it portrays. By doing a quick search on Google, I was able to find one group who was raising money to send financially strapped students to an art university.

Those who attended the BronyCon held in Secaucus, New Jersey were a very kind crowd. According to an article on Buzzfeed, they cheered for two National Guard members who came to the convention in uniform. In a time when the military is sometimes protested, this show of respect spoke volumes concerning this community.

"I spoke with many people personally at BronyCon and in emails that say that MLP: FiM has changed their lives," Amy said. "MLP: FiM seems to show people a more peaceful, utopian community that is a great escape from the real world."

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic airs on The Hub network 

Much like Lewis' Narnia, the show has some conflict, but always it's the good that wins. Strong life lessons are taught, and examples on how to treat others are given. "The show was always geared to show stories about friendship—thus Friendship is Magic," Amy said. "And friendship can have a lot of conflict. In life, there are always misunderstandings and assumptions. Pride and ego can get in our way. Wanting to please everyone yet pleasing no one. But, through these conflicts, our goal is to demonstrate how apologizing and accepting apologies makes those friendships stronger. Being older and wiser, Celestia understands these issues better than the younger ponies and is able to offer her wisdom."

I asked about one character in particular, a show magician named Trixie who was a bit of a snob when she arrived in town, and if the main characters would be forgiving if an episode was made where she returned. "That’s a very good question," Amy said. "I think if Trixie came in wanting to make amends, then certainly. It would depend how she entered Ponyville. Is her motivation to make friends or to cause more trouble? The other characters would respond accordingly."

Is it bad for adults to watch and be impacted by a children's show? Not at all, if they benefit from it. C. S. Lewis once said, "Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence."

"When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."

Finding in things what is morally beneficial; finding what helps us move beyond our tragedies; to search through the coats in a wardrobe for a portal to a place full of innocence and wonder, especially with our own children; that truly is magic.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Peace that Surpasses Understanding: A Response to Aurora

Sometime around 3:00AM Eastern, the radio told us there had been a shooting at a theater in Aurora.  We had been visiting with family on the east coast the weeks prior and began our journey home to Colorado around 12:30AM.

It was very hard to be so far from home and not being able to know if I knew someone who was there, who may have been killed, or exactly the complete severity of the situation. I was even cut off from communication because the cell phone signal was so weak that we couldn't even send a text message.  The news outlets were being extremely careful about what they were saying.  Not much had been confirmed yet.

I was not able to fully grasp the situation until we got home around 10:00AM Mountain the day after.  Normally my imagination of things is worse than reality, but in this case, the opposite was true.

Today it is more than a month after the tragedy, and I'm driving north to a town called Thornton to meet with a man who was in theater 8 when the shooting began.

His name is Darrel Wilmoth, and he is the Pastor of Front Range Calvary. Darrel is the father of four and a Colorado native.

As I pulled into the Starbucks where we agreed to meet, I found the place to be very popular. I arrived around 9:15AM in hopes of finding a seat and preparing myself for the questions I'd be asking. I found this to be a challenge.

When he arrived we smiled, shook hands, and sat down with our respective drinks. “I'm going to turn to Philippians, Chapter 4,” Darrel said. “I didn't think about this before, I should have probably had you listen to it but, after the shooting - that was on Friday morning basically, at 12:30 - I taught Sunday morning, so if you really want to hear my heart in it, listen to that message which is on this passage."

I was somewhat amazed that after having gone through what he and so many others had experienced, he was still able to teach that morning, only one full day later.

That's going to help you,” he continued, “because of this passage here. This is what it says.”

We then read.

It was a passage of scripture that is well known to me. Having a variety of mental disorders, this passage has helped me through them all. It is Philippians 4:6-8, and it reads, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”

Paul's telling them to meditate on good things and pure things and noble things,” Darrel explained.  The reason why is, it's interesting, the things we want to remember we don't and the things we don't want to remember we do, and very vividly.”

It's peace that surpasses all understanding,” Darrel continued. “It doesn't mean we'll have a peace with understanding.”

It's like we don't need to understand,” I said.

How could you ever want to understand why someone could do what he did?” he asked.

I did not have an answer to that.

We then discussed forgiveness.

Can forgiveness exist even to someone that didn't ask for it?,” he asked. “Sure, absolutely because it's a two part transaction. You can forgive, it's just the other person maybe didn't ask or didn't receive it, they don't fully get and don't have this same peace that you do.”

I can even ask for forgiveness,” he continued. “I can go to you and I can ask for forgiveness and you can not give it to me, but I'm done, I'm free. I asked for forgiveness, I'm truly repentant, I'm sorry, and then if that person doesn't receive it, then they have the bitterness.

Concerning the inability to forgive, Darrel simply nodded to the passage and said, “You're not going to be able to have this.”

Going into this conversation I had so many questions about the event itself, but we focused more on what had happened in the days and weeks that followed. In a sense it was more fitting, as Darrel had pointed out on a notepad something that he had written, a note stating that what is important is the response.

That response is an inspiration to all who must overcome tragedy, that the peace that surpasses our understanding of any event, through forgiveness, meditation on things that are good, and complete reliance upon divine providence to get us through, will cause us to rise above it.

It's a truth,” Darrel said, “and it's a promise.”

You can find out more about Front Range Calvary, along with Darrel's teachings at

Friday, August 17, 2012

When I Talked to God

I remember very vividly the day I was going to kill myself.

I was in high school, and had been asking people what they thought would be the best way to die.  "I don't know," one guy said, "I'd like to get an axe in the chest, that would be cool."

Obviously he didn't know my intentions, and I didn't blame him.  I didn't blame anyone.

I was what some might call a loner in high school.  I think most people thought I was a bit creepy but it's not good to assume.  It's also dangerous.

After all of the past experiences that had happened, and with the loneliness I felt then, I didn't feel much will to carry on in life.  Please don't get me wrong, it has a been very long time since I thought about actually comitting suicide.  Had I gone through with it then, it would have been an incredibly selfish act.  That is not the reason why I backed out of it, however.

When I finally decided how to kill myself, I concluded that headache pills would be the best way.  I didn't know why, it just seemed awfully convenient.  I decided to do something first, however.  Just one last thing.  So I got up and walked out of my room, leaving the pill bottle there.

What happened then would save my life.

I walked through a neighborhood that I went to often to watch the sun rise.  There were large hills, covered in trees, rolling in the east.  The sun would slowly ascend behind them, making for a beautiful and magnificent sight.  At first I thought I would come out here for one more sun rise.  Then something inside of me felt the need to speak to the sun's Creator before taking my life.  I yearned to have an audience with the King of creation. 

So I did.

Please keep in mind that my part of the conversation that is to follow was based on my feelings at the time.  Feelings can be evil things that get the better of you, and certainly many of the things I said I do not believe now.  They were merely cries of desperate saddness.  As I said, suicide is an incredibly selfish act, and I was being selfish then.  I must be honest about what happened though, to the best of my memory concerning the conversation.  I do not believe that I was completely corrected by God in my thinking then, because God's will at that time was to show me what I'm about to describe, and make sure that I sincerely knew it before He continued my walk with Him.

What follows is something of a conversation, as best as I can remember it.

"Dear God," I said, "I really am alone.  On Friday and Saturday, when everyone's out having a good time and partying, I'm sitting alone, in my room.  No one invites me anywhere, no one gives a flip."

God listened.

"Really, if I killed myself right now, no one's going to care.  I mean, it'd be interesting to see my funeral but, so what?  Some might cry or whatever but no one's really going to miss me."

God listened.

"It seems like everything I touch dies.  It's like everyone I come in contact with hates me."

God listened.

"Why is that?  Why does everyone hate me?  What did I do?"

God responded.

"I love you," He said.

I stood there, perhaps blinking but otherwise silent.

"I love you," God repeated.

I frowned.  "But, I mean... you're God, you're perfect.  You created everything.  You created the earth, the universe, the galaxy, everything.  You're in charge of absolutely everything that happens, all the time.  I'm a sinner."

"I know, and I love you Ryan," God said.

There was a pause, a chance to let me comprehend that.

"I have loved you since before time began," God continued.  "I have loved you since before I made the earth.  I have loved you more than your mind can imagine.  I love you so much that, knowing absolutely every sin you would ever do, every crime you would commit, every evil thing that you would ever say, I still sent my Son, my only Son, the only thing I did not create, to die for you."

I remained silent as He spoke.

"I sent Him to die, the most horrific death humanity has yet created, so that you, Ryan, could be with Me.  As He died, He died for you."

I did not mutter a word.

"I love you Ryan.  I love you, and it is my will that you belong here right now.  I want you here."

As He spoke those words, in me ignited a hope that I had never felt before.  I knew at that moment that God had plans for me, plans to give me hope.  I did not know very much of anything else concerning my walk at that particular time, only that the Creator and King of all of creation loved me, and wanted me.  Nothing else mattered then.

When I got home I put the pills back where I found them, and went to bed.  I was very much ready to die.  Now, I was very much ready to live.

It would be some time before I walked that neighborhood again to watch the sun rising on the earth.  After graduating high school, I started keeping a journal, something I still continue to do now.  I wrote a quick entry, on the night of September 9th, 2001.

I believe this was a gift from God, to help me through what was about to happen to all of us, and to help me be a desciple to my family, my friends, my neighbors, to my grieving community.

It was my last journal entry before September 11, 2001.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


When I was three, I watched my brother get hit by a car.

When I was a teenager just learning how to drive, I was involved in a major car accident.

PTSD is a nightmarish disorder.

Shortly after I was born, I fell and hit my head.  I fractured my skull and my brain was sloshed.  No one can be sure what the long term damage could be, and though it can not be proven, my being prone to anxiety could be theorized as being caused by that injury.  Certainly it makes me cringe every time someone makes a 'Were you dropped on your head when you were a baby or something?' joke.  However, it could not have caused the PTSD I suffer with today.

The events mentioned, and others unmentioned could contribute to that.  Indeed, I have flashbacks of all of them, nightmares too, especially the one where I watched my brother being hit by a car.  It is my earliest memory, yet I can and always have been able to remember it vividly.  What happened, how I reacted, who was there.

Perhaps I'll go into more detail about that and other events later but, for now, the purpose of this introduction is to simply allow you, the reader, to know that they happened.

The posts in this free-lance editorial blog are stories of tragedy and triumph from the frontlines of traumatic events.  It is not about PTSD specifically. It is about overcoming and healing from trauma and tragedy.  It is my sincere hope and prayer that through the stories here, someone suffering might be able to benefit.  Someone might be able to relate and, through that relation, be able to take some sort of comfort.  I will do my best to make this blog simple, fair, and unjudging.

The scripture which inspired me to write here is from Habakkuk 3:8,

"O Lord, were You displeased with the rivers,
Was Your anger against the rivers,
Was Your wrath against the sea,
That You rode on Your horses,
Your chariots of salvation?"

I often wonder how the children of Israel reacted to the parting of the sea as they were escaping the Egyptians.  Was it intimidating to see such a thing in their rush to escape captivity, enslavement, even death?

As Dr. J. Vernon McGee said, this scripture is "highly figurative, beautiful language by the way and it's Hebrew poetry, and it speaks to the fact that God was not angry with the rivers because they blocked the way.  He just merely opened up the Red Sea and let them cross over as He did later the Jordan river."

I love how Dr. McGee uses the term 'merely', as opening up the Red Sea was only a simple thing for Almighty God to do.  It is an amazing comfort to know that, though these traumatic events in our life can be horrific, even life-altering, God will see us through.

No matter what hinders us, no matter how great the forces that "block the way", God has the power to merely open them up and let us cross over.
I hope you will join me in this journey.