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Healing—and Leading—After Tragedy, Part One

Recovering from trauma is possible, necessary, and sometimes very hard.

Millions of predictable seconds will tick by, marking out a lifetime for each of us. Just a handful of moments will stop us short, altering our future so completely that it’s not recognizable as connected to our past. Thirteen years ago, I was confronted by this kind of moment.

I had a happy childhood that was coming to a close when I met Rich Bourke. I was drawn to his natural charisma. He was one of those ridiculously talented people you can’t help but envy, but who make you love them anyway. He was effortlessly charming, oblivious to his good looks: tall, athletic, and tanned with bright blue eyes and an easy smile. He was quick-witted, funny, and articulate, with dozens of best friends. He was always the center of the room; he certainly had my attention.

To my delight, we quickly became good friends and spent hours together volunteering at church. Over the years friendship turned into something more. I fell in love with him and was blissfully happy when he finally asked me to marry him.

We had so many plans, enough to fill several lifetimes. Two weeks after we got married, a church hired us as youth pastors, and we were on our way! We packed up and moved across the country, excited and nervous.

Two years in, things were going amazingly well. The youth ministry, fueled in large part by Rich’s talent, had grown to more than 800 students. We were astounded and thrilled by this success. At 23 years old, I’d happily settled into a behind-the-scenes role.

To celebrate our second wedding anniversary, we took a few days off for a road trip. Rich wanted to be back well before our youth service, so we started our eight-hour drive home the night before. I took the first shift and Rich took over in the early hours of the morning. I drifted off, trusting all was well.

I woke up as our vehicle swerved, and my head banged against the doorframe. The SUV began to roll over. I held on, willing it to end, relieved when the truck finally came to rest upside down. I dazedly glanced over to the driver’s side. Rich was gone.

My stomach lurched as fear and adrenaline flooded me. I scrambled to unbuckle myself from the seat and dropped down into the broken glass and debris. I managed to crawl through the crushed window frame and frantically looked around to get my bearings. We were sprawled across the interstate with traffic stopped on both sides, my things littering the highway. Rich was about 50 feet away, crumpled in a little heap, his head lying in a pool of blood. He was absolutely still. The terror that rose in me still resonates in me today as I write.

February12, 2015 at 8:00 AM

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