Category Archives: Parenting

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!”

Why Teaching Our Kids Self-Advocacy Is So Dang Important!

From The Author’s Photo Library

If your kids are like mine, they grew up with plenty of what they needed. Well, don’t get me wrong. Ours had plenty of chores to do. They volunteered a ton. They had lots of homework and extracurricular activities that required personal responsibility and time management. But still, we did a lot of stuff for them. I made doctor’s appointments, negotiated the bills, cooked hundreds of meals, which they gladly consumed, washed endless loads of laundry, and goodness, the “taxi” driving we did for them. Meg Meeker, MD, a renowned pediatrician and parenting expert said, “Never do for your kids what they can do themselves.” I think that is great advice. Why? Because as parents, we already, inherently complete a ton of tasks for our children that frankly they can’t do for themselves, at first. But, if we never let them do anything on their own, (age and stage appropriate), we are doing them a ginormous disservice. Who knows? Maybe even putting their life at risk. Scary stuff I know.

It became magnanimously apparent to me, this need for teaching our children self-advocacy, when we started parenting young adults.

Example 1: Recently, our youngest daughter, a college sophomore, was immersed in a very difficult situation at her job. The truth was written on the wall in plain language. She needed to confront a superior about some serious issues involving the amount of work and hours she and her co-workers were putting in. And she did. But she vacillated for several weeks before calling that meeting, while many of her young co-workers waited in the wings to see the outcome of her courage. 

That’s the irony of self-advocacy. Sometimes it just effects the one taking a stand. Still, other times, self-advocacy impacts a whole lot of other people.

Example #2 My middle daughter recently had a serious of doctors’ appointments necessary to treat a serious dermatological issue she was having. Newsflash. Over 18-year old’s have to handle all their own medical needs, appointments, and prescriptions. Because, well, they are of legal age to do so. No one is going to talk to Mom or Dad without a special release of information on file. It doesn’t matter if they are in college and still on your insurance plan. Same for the bursar’s office at their respective college. Doesn’t matter that you are dropping 1000’s of dollars into an account in your child’s name each semester. You don’t have an automatic right anymore to know a thing about their tuition bills or their grades. So, when my girl left the doctor without gathering important information concerning her follow up appointments, logistical chaos ensued. It was a hard lesson learned about the need to advocate for herself.  

The truth is I know adults much older than my 19 and 21-year-old who would never undertake this type of necessary confrontation. They won’t confront a boss with professionalism and confidence to discuss ongoing problems. And they don’t ask the doctor appropriate questions that concern their own health and welfare. Is it such a surprise then, when our young adults struggle with self-advocacy?

In the current pop culture that our children and young adults live and work, it has become more and more of a challenge to expect our kids to advocate for themselves. 

Why?

I’m going to submit two highly plausible reasons for your consideration.

1 Because we DO and we BUY way too much for them when they are growing up. We do stuff that is far outside the scope of what parents should and should not do for their kids. We speak for them when we shouldn’t. Teachers, coaches, youth ministry leaders, doctors, restaurant staff, etc. We “handle” all of their personality conflicts for them! Furthermore, we often spend ridiculous amounts of money on them, (whether it is a special occasion or not), just because they want it? Year after year of that, and boom, you get a young adult whose appetite for self-indulgence can only be satiated with immediate gratification. He doesn’t know how to stand up for himself because his parents never allowed him to experience disappointment. If your kid has no framework for disappointment, that is going to make the real world an overwhelming place for them to survive. They will be out of our house sooner or later. Parents that is not the place or time we want our kids to begin negotiating disappointment.

2 It has become less culturally acceptable to teach our kids prevention. Prevention has become a dirty word for blaming the victim. Which is utter nonsense. For instance, it is critical that we teach our children self-advocacy when it comes to sexual activity or mixing drinking with their social life. We want to equip our girls and boys for what’s heading their way before it clobbers them like an oncoming train. I want my girl to have the tools necessary to maximize her safety and to avoid becoming a victim. That means teaching her prudent ways to manage her social media. It means teaching her that she is worth more than a “like” on a stupid phone. It means teaching her the importance of moderation in drinking alcohol, and the dangers of being drunk and incoherent in social settings. It means teaching her that indiscriminate sexual activity could inflict deep physical and emotional wounds that will leave an indelible mark on her life. We should understand that teaching our kids prevention, means that we are teaching them both self-respect and self-advocacy in a culture that is extremely shallow and unforgiving.

  • Both now and/or later, our kids need to be able to:
  • Order their own food without being rude to a waiter.
  • Have a professional and grace filled confrontation with micro-managing bosses.
  • Talk to their spouse about their personal needs in that relationship.
  • Negotiate a doctor bill that does not sync with the corresponding explanation of benefits from the insurance company.
  • Say NO! when they mean NO!
  • Do for themselves all of the stuff that we have done for them all of these years, laundry, cooking, driving and more.

And they need to understand that they can advocate for not only themselves, but when and where necessary, they can intercede for another person.

Remember the “Me Too Movement”? 

Of course, you do. We all do. Especially us moms. Our hearts broke as the respondents increased day by day by the hundreds of thousands. This sad state of affairs should inspire us as parents to teach our girls and our boys with gazelle intensity how to advocate for themselves and others. Hopefully, all that pain and suffering has not been lost on us. How many fewer, precious souls would be hash tagging “Me Too,” had they been taught more about healthy boundaries in their life and the paramount importance of self-advocacy? 

We can and should equip our kids with the life skills needed for engaging in healthy conflict resolution and confrontation. We can and should equip our kids to speak up for themselves and others, not with arrogance or rudeness, but with professionalism, grace, and confidence. We can and should arm our children with the necessary tools for maximizing their safety and to avoid becoming a victim of someone else’s evil intentions.

We have a choice.

We can emphasize the importance of self-advocacy when raising our children. OR we can hope for the best without teaching these life skills. Clearly, there is no fool proof way of ensuring our child’s safety or success in life. But we can do better than the status quo. We can do better than what has been done up until now. We must. Our child’s physical and emotional health may be hanging in the balance.