Category Archives: Christianity

Surviving The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building Bombing and Other Unnatural Catastrophes

I sure welcome any opportunity to honor my dearest friends and colleagues who perished April 19, 1995 in the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building. From my office alone, we lost Carrol, Kenny, Shelly, Rona, Carrie, and Carrie’s unborn son. I welcome the opportunity to help educate upcoming generations about this event so that we might never forget. But in order to make a difference, talking about it now — 25 years later — has to be more than just a recitation of facts about those who died and those who survived. Five years ago I wrote an article entitled “The Why and the What of April 19, 1995.” And now, on this anniversary, I think there needs to be a dialogue about how that survival spurred us forward with hope and healing not just for ourselves, but also for others. We have to loosen the death grip we have on the death of our loved ones, in order to lay hold an even stronger grip on living. We do that by helping others survive their own tragedies — be it betrayal, loss, divorce, financial ruin, a terrorist attack, coronavirus, or criminal violence. For me, I believe that I honor my belated friends every single time I choose to step into another person’s difficult journey.

Initially, surviving typically encompasses enormous amounts of unfathomable pain, both physical and mental. Events like the bombing of the OKC federal building, 9/11, divorce, death of a loved one, loss of a job, or family hardship, are no discriminator of persons. Adults, children, women, men, daughters, sons, wives, and husbands. Hardship has a name, and it’s yours. Tragedy has been churning out victims since the creation of man. But whether you become a survivor or a casualty of that tragedy, is completely up to you. So how do we navigate that choice? No one wants to be held captive by their pain. Everyone that I know desires a life that has purpose and meaning and joy. I would gently submit this for consideration: The less time we spend focusing on the lives of others who might need our insight, the more time we spend in that perpetual and painful place of surviving, rather than thriving! Pitching our tent in this place effectively disables us from helping a single other soul, because after all — day after day, month after month, and year after year — you are just trying to keep your own head above the crashing waves.

The morning of April 19, 1995, I was just shy of 30 years old, still a newlywed, and crazy abut my job as a Federal Agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). That morning, my job started out with no surprises. I had worked late in my 9th-floor office of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building the night before and left around 8 p.m. Apparently, several of my co-workers had been out even later than me. Like me, they returned to the office, tidied up their case work, locked up, and left for home. I was back early the next morning and parked my car in the underground garage directly below the building. This garage linked the federal building to the federal courthouse via a tunnel. The tunnel extended several blocks south of the courthouse as well.

Out of habit, I walked into the federal building and headed straight to the elevator, intending to go up to my office. It was around 8:30 in the morning. I punched the up arrow, and then remembered I had everything I needed in my brief case for a meeting with the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) about four blocks south of my building. I swiftly turned around, reentered the garage, and walked the four blocks via the underground tunnel. I was there in the AUSA’s office about 30 minutes later, when the bomb exploded at 200 NW 5th Street at approximately 9:02 AM, killing 168 innocent men, women, and children — including 5 of my best friends from my office, 2 of my colleagues from US customs and 7 from the US Secret Service, and another 154 people, such as the children in the daycare center on the 2nd floor and the employees of Federal Employees Credit Union on the 3rd floor, whose faces I had grown to love.

The building I was in on Park Avenue shook, and one of the administrative assistants came into the office where I was standing with the AUSA. She said these words which are forever etched in my mind: “It’s the Alfred P. Murrah building.” I was stunned. “That’s my building, and I’m four blocks away.” I immediately tried to call my office, but the phone just rang — no answer. I left a message on my home answering machine for my husband. I also left a message with his squadron at Tinker Air Force Base, thinking he would certainly get the message at one of those two places.

Then I just ran.

The truth is when tragedy hits us, we all run! The question is do we run toward the fight or away from it? We all know the basics about the “fight or flight” phenomenon. Essentially, it is a combination of many emotional and physiological reactions to stress. It basically evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people (and other mammals) to react quickly to life-threatening situations. The end result is to fight the threat or flee to safety.

What I am suggesting, is if you are entrenched in surviving mode and not thriver mode, that maybe you need to run toward the fight. Maybe you chose flight at the outset, which is okay. Sometimes we just have to retreat from the battle and from that overwhelming sense of loss. This world inflicts deeper wounds than what our individual skill sets alone can reconcile. But we can ask for help. And with that, we can run to the fight. Because if you never wrestle with your loss, you will never get to survival. You will be stuck in surviving. Then when you do encounter someone else who is facing their own decision to fight or flight, you will not be able to help them. And that itself deepens the wounds that are festering inside of you.

So I ran. I ran headlong into the chaos, four blocks to my building. What I saw when I got there was one of my worst nightmares. My desk sat on the north glass of the 9th floor, which would turn out to be the blast side. At least that was where it used to be. No one — and I mean no one — ever expects to get up on a “normal” morning and discover their place of employment has been bombed by a demented, domestic terrorist. Likewise, it is in no one’s — and I mean no one’s — life plan to have to deal with the consequences of divorce, betrayal, disease, personal disappointment, loss of a child….

But we have a choice.

We can run headlong into our struggle or away from it.

There is a remarkable painting which adorns one wall of a chapel just inside the Cathedral St Sulpice, located in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, France. An original Eugene Delacroix from the mid-19th century, it is an excellent depiction of Genesis 32:24-30 where a battle-scarred and travel-weary Jacob wrestled with God in a determined effort to receive a blessing. Ostensibly, in one agonizing moment, he chose fight over flight. Verse 28 says “Then the Man said ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” 

Jacob chose the fight, and received a blessing when he did. The rest of his life wasn’t always easy (just keep reading). But, in that very moment when he chose to wrestle, he became the father of a great nation — the father of Israel. He became an overcomer. Indeed, he was so overwhelmed with the blessing he received, the next morning he named the place where he wrestled with God, Peniel, meaning the face of God. Clearly, he never wanted to forget his own moment of reckoning with his pain.

If you and I are going to be survivors; if we are ever going to be able to lead someone else forward out of their pain; then maybe, just maybe we need to run to the fight. Maybe we need to wrestle with our worst fears and when we’re done, give it a name. Peniel. Triumphant. Overcomer. Healed. Whole. Forgiven. Hopeful. Undaunted. New. Faithful. 

I’ll say it again: bombing, divorce, betrayal, abuse, devastating loss — whatever life trauma has beset you. Survival must eventually be the conclusion of surviving. At some point, we have to move from a place of pain to a place of healing. And then from a place of healing to a place of influence. I want someone who’s hurting to look at me and say “If she can do that, then so can I.”

A sweet friend of mine went through a very difficult divorce almost two decades ago. I was doing life and work with her when that happened. Fast forward, about a year ago, she sent me a message that said: “Judy!!! I don’t know if you remember that card you gave me after my heartbreak … ‘take a step back and look at things a different way’ … but I have always used that!!!!”  I was blown away, and cried when I read it. She was a survivor. And in some small way, I had unwittingly helped her get there. But clearly only because I had moved from a place of pain to a place of healing myself. I know that if Carrol, Kenny, Shelly, Carrie, or Rona were able to tell us something on this 25th anniversary of their death, the 25th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing, they would say, “It’s time to emerge from the rubble of the tragic events of your life. Someone else needs you. Someone else is cemented in their pain. And your story of survival might just be what they need to hear!”

Telling Your Fear to Stand Down: Phobos vs. Yare’.

On the subject of fear, we all have it, but is it phobos, or is it a yare’?  It  makes a difference.

Phobos is the original greek word for the fear found in 1 John 4:18. which says “There is no fear (phobos) in love. But perfect love drives out fear (phobos), because fear (phobos) has to do with punishment. The  one who fears, (who has phobos,) is not make perfect in love.”  This fear we all know and recognize. This greek word is defined as terror or alarm, and the part I find the most eye-opening: withdrawing or fleeing for feeling inadequate, or to avoid because of dead fright. Phobos.

In 2 Timothy 1:7  We are told clearly that “God did not give us a spirit of fear (deilia) but one of power, love, and self-discipline.”  The original word used here for fear is deilia which means timidity or cowardice. Ouch. Both deilia and phobos are the types of fear that control us, keep us sidetracked; off-center, out of balance; preoccupied; and therefore….unhappy and disgruntled with the world and the people around us.  Do you see any connections?

On the other hand yare’, a wholly different kind of fear found in Deuteronomy 10:12 seems to be one that drives us forward; motivates us; spurs us on to do the right thing; to embrace healthy risk, Hope, and goodness:  “And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear (yare’) the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?”   

Phobos. Yare’.

The first, phobos, is the one that most all of us fall victim to-I don’t care what religion you profess, even no religion at all. We all fall victim to phobos.  I mean these are the original Greek and Hebrew definitions for two distinctly different types of fears, particularly as they are used in this context, and the ancient writers of scripture apparently found them useful in making sure their readers understood the types of behavior characteristic of both phobos and yare’.

 Phobos vs. Yare

I just finished a 15 day overseas trip with my youngest daughter Katie. The tradition started when my oldest daughter Shelby graduated from high school and requested a “mom and daughter” trip.  She chose England. My middle daughter chose France and Katie chose Ireland.  What does this all have to do with phobos you ask?

Well, a lot really.

I think I am guilty as charged of posting a plethora of pictures when traveling, perhaps presenting the idea that “this is all so carefree and easy.”  Tripping across the ocean alone with my child, renting a car and driving on the left (the wrong) side of the road; negotiating foreign lands, cultures, ferries, boats, planes, uncharted territories and situations. I often feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of being the sole caretake for my girl-protecting her from harm’s way were it indeed to come our way. I pour over the details in pre-planning stages, then when we are in the eye of the storm, I reexamine, every. single. night. our itinerary for the next day. Truth. I sometimes lose sleep  (not just from jet lag) and have a lot of anxiety.

That is when I realize that the phobos of 1 John 4:18 is taking hold of me, and I need to tell it to stand down.  Because the almighty God is the house. I know this specifically because 1 Corinthians 3:16 is explicit about where the Almighty dwells….in me. I am the house.

When I trade phobos in for yare’, He moves into first place, and my phobos is suppressed by the only thing it can be, yare’.  Yare’ is phobos’ greatest enemy.  Yeah we need to name our fear.

Life is full of bumps in the road, to put it mildly right?  Death, murder, loss, bad diagnosis, betrayal, disappointment, depression, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of opportunities for us to be 100% consumed by a phobos kind of fear. Yes! But we have 100% reason to not be either. We have all the more reason to be covered with a yare’ kind of fear.

If you were to take a poll of 100 people and asked them which emotion consumes them the most. Which one takes up residence in their hearts and minds, I think phobos would be the clear winner.   Yes, it wins over all of them: jealousy, anger, hurt, sadness, joy, disgust…because I believe phobos is at the root of all of these emotions. I belive that phobos is the common denominator among all of our negative emotions.  Just as yare‘ is perhaps the common denominator among all of our positive emotions.

Fear (phobos) of inferiority or insignificance can cause jealousy.
Fear (phobos) of commitment can cause loneliness.
Fear (phobos) of loss can cause depression .
Fear (phobos) of failure can cause timidity.
Fear (phobos) of the darkness can cause hopelessness.

On the other hand,

Fear (yare’) of God, can lead to understanding.
Fear (yare’) of God can lead to wisdom.
Fear (yare’) of God can lead to Hope.
Fear (yare’) of God can lead to Joy.

So what can we do about phobos? Capture every single thought that is riddled with phobos and trample it into a million fragments under your feet into nothingness.  Every thought or pretention that sets itself up as truth-but yet it is not-let it disintegrate into the same darkness from which it came. (2 corinthians 10:5) If you need to, write your phobos on a piece of paper, and rip the paper to shreds. It is a thought, a contention, a fear- a phobos- whose only purpose is to separate you from your God, from yare’.

Yare’ advances us. Phobos puts us into retreat.
Yare’ puts phobos in its place. Yare’  tells phobos in no uncertain terms to stand down.  My God is in the house.