I was 5 years old the night my world changed. There was a lot of domestic violence going on in our house. My dad, most of the time, directed his anger towards my mom. There were times he beat my mom so bad that she took us to a battered women’s shelter to get away from him. But as a lot of women do, in cases of domestic violence, she kept taking him back. I’m not sure which was more prominent, her fear of being alone or her belief that he would change. But he never did change and it cost me my family. At the time, I was 5 and my brother was 8 years old. My parents were both 27. It was a Sunday and my dad asked my mom if he could come over and talk things out with her. They were separated, in the midst of getting a divorce. That night my dad was ‘under the influence.’ My brother and I were put to bed as my parents kept arguing. The fight got ‘heated’ and ended up in the bedroom. That is where my dad put his hands on my mother for the last time. He put his hands around her neck and started squeezing until she passed out. He finished by suffocating her with a pillow at the foot of the bed. Then my dad went and grabbed his .38 caliber gun and came to my bedroom where my brother and I were sleeping. He walked up to my brother and stuck the gun to the back of his head and pulled the trigger. He then turned towards where I was, stuck the gun to the back of my head and pulled the trigger. After killing everyone, he then went to the living room, sat down in his chair and committed suicide. Paramedics were called to the scene somewhere between 12-18 hours later. Everybody was pronounced dead on the scene. One officer reported that Rigor Mortis already set in on my body. There was no pulse, my muscles were stiff and my body was cold. As the paramedics were leaving, one paramedic noticed that my hand moved as he walked past me. With that, he opened the door and said, “We have one alive in here.” The scene now went from a crime scene to an opportunity to save a young boys life. They carried me down to the stretcher and then over to the helicopter on my way to St Francis Hospital in Tulsa, OK. The surgeon told my Grandpa, “If we do this surgery then he may die during surgery but if we don’t do the surgery then he will die pretty soon.” You see, my dad didn’t miss. The bullet went in behind my left ear, destroyed my cerebellum (part of the brain that controls movement, etc), shattered and exited behind my right ear. “You have to save this boy, he is very important to us, “said my Grandpa. The surgery was about 6-8 hours and afterwards the surgeon told my grandparents that I made it through surgery but he couldn’t predict my future as far as a possible physical handicap or speech impediment.
The next chapter of my life has just begun. I will never forget that hospital bed. As I woke, I had no strength to move and I couldn’t talk. My Grandparents were sitting to the right of me. (When I mention my grandparents, they weren’t actual blood relatives but more like half-grandparents through a previous marriage) But they are the ones that stepped up and raised me so they ARE my grandparents. As people started coming through the doorway to check on me and my grandparents, I looked past them. It was a nice gesture that these people were all here but I didn’t care. I was looking for my mom to walk in the room and tell me things were ok. I kept staring at the doorway and she never came. Eventually I realized that she wasn’t coming and something was wrong. I was so scared. Eventually I got my strength back and started to talk again, all the while nobody would tell me what is going on and why I’m here. The State of Oklahoma told my grandparents not to tell me what happened once they got me home because I couldn’t handle it so for the longest time I was lead to believe that I was the only survivor of a car accident. (My grandparents never actually told me that) I can’t remember how I got that idea but it was what happened as far as I knew. I switched schools and started back up once my grandparents saw that I was improving and decided that I needed to get back in the swing of things and be around other kids. I still remember very vividly my first day at my new school Peters Elementary in Broken Arrow, OK. I walked up the corridor to Mrs. Jackson’s kindergarten class and felt so scared and alone. I knew in the back of my mind that my grandparents would always be there to provide shelter and food to eat but it wasn’t the same. Where was my mom at to walk me to my first day of my new school? I was already a shy kid stemming from the domestic violence from my dad and so once I was able to, I didn’t ask many questions. I started harboring my feelings and emotions because I didn’t know how to express them. All throughout elementary school I felt alone and confused but I think I did a good job of hiding it and suppressing it. My goal was to be the class clown in my classes. My grandparents can attest to that as they would constantly get reports of me talking too much in class and making jokes. They were shocked because I was completely different at home. I was quiet and never talked much when I was home.
Years and years passed by and I was that kid that came home from school, got a snack and did my own thing whether it was hanging out by myself in my room or shooting hoops by myself in the driveway. As I got older and would still get in trouble at school a lot for talking, etc and my grandparents would send me to counseling. I’m not sure how many I went to but it seemed like a different one each year. I didn’t usually take to it very well. How was a stranger supposed to be able to help me with my problems? That was my viewpoint. At twelve years old, my grandparents decided to take me to a counselor that I knew from church. The counselor was the dad of one of my friends at church. Since I was familiar with this counselor, I didn’t mind going. I soon realized that something was wrong when both my grandparents came with me to the appointment. Usually my grandma just drops me off for my session but this time was different. My mind started racing and I assumed it had something to do with school and was not prepared for what I was soon to endure. As we sat down, the counselor greeted us and then it happened. My grandparents started to tell me about my life and the graphic details as to what happened. Now, kids are pretty smart and throughout the years I had figured a few things out about my past but never put all the pieces together. I knew that my dad was violent and I realized how selfish he was but wasn’t aware of all the details that they threw at me. One time during a fight between my parents, my dad trashed the house and there was a family portrait that he had marked all over to display his obsession for my mom and maybe bitterness towards my brother and I. My dad had taken a black sharpie and marked out my face, marked out my brother’s face, and circled my mom because he was so obsessed with her and nothing else. I’m assuming that night my mom finally said “no” to taking him back and it pushed him over the edge. As I sat in that chair and listened to my world crumble AGAIN, I didn’t say a word. I kept it all inside but my feelings spinning throughout my head were magnifying. The hatred for my dad and what he did, being mad at my mom for taking him back so many times, and being mad at my grandparents for not telling me about my life. Also, as kids, we always feel like things are our fault so I struggled with that as well. I held it all in and kept it in for several years because I didn’t know how to process it and didn’t want people to know about my past. I already didn’t trust people so I didn’t want to have to figure out who was really my friend and who was feeling sorry for me, so I just didn’t tell people. When the hairstylist would ask me why I had scars all over my head as she was cutting it, I would just make up stories. It was my chance to be creative and I just had to hope that my grandma, who was usually sitting on the other side of the room, didn’t hear my made up stories.
A few years later around the age of 14, my church was going on a retreat and I was invited to go along. I didn’t really want to go but I didn’t have anything else to do and saw it as an opportunity to just hang out with some friends (and a girl I had a crush on). It was a weekend retreat for the high school youth group. There was a Saturday night service going on and I wasn’t really into it so I ducked out the back and headed back to the dorms. When I got to the dorms I heard the door behind me. I turned around and it was my youth minister. He was fairly new at our church and was only a few years older than the seniors in our group so we had become pretty good friends. He came in and said, “Chris, you are always cracking jokes and having fun but you never talk about yourself and I can tell something is wrong. If it is ok with you, I would like to know a little more about you.” Even though it had been several years since I found out the complete truth about my past, I hadn’t shared it with anyone. I don’t think I could have explained it without crying so I just said, “Read this” and I handed him the article that I carried in my wallet. He sat down on the bunk across from me and started reading intently. I looked at his face as he was reading this piece of paper about my past and he started to tear up. At first, I was shocked because I thought it was a huge weakness for a man to cry but then I realized he was having this reaction because he cared about me and was sad that this happened to me. A few minutes later my best friend walked in and said, “What are you guys doing?” I handed him the article as well and he started to tear up also. You see, he was my best friend but he didn’t know anything about this because, just like I mentioned earlier, I didn’t want people to know. I wanted to be a normal kid. So here I am, sitting here with two guys that I respect and they are both teary eyed over a piece of paper about me. That was a huge night for me. I realized that to ‘make it’ through life I needed to let others help me. Up until then I had been flying solo and failing miserably at being happy. I was also just getting the concept of our Heavenly Father and his unconditional love. Psalm 68:5 started to resonate with me. “He is a father to the fatherless.” That Bible verse was huge in my healing process. I don’t remember the exact time but one day after sharing my testimony at my home church in Tulsa, OK a little old lady came up to me and said, “here, take this and read it later. I love it.” Not being one with patience, I quickly looked at the slip of paper as soon as she walked away. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11. WOW. That was such a cool verse and very nice of that lady to give that to me amongst a crowd of people. Over the next few years, my youth minister helped me to process and to verbally tell others about what God has done for me.
I started sharing my testimony at a few churches but the big moment was when I met a music leader for CIY (Christ in Youth) during a summer conference and he invited me to join him on stage the last night of the conference to share my testimony. It was in front of about 2,000 teenagers and I was overcome with stage fright. I think the music leader (Jeff) knew that so he shared my testimony with everyone as I stood there and then I read a poem, in front of all those kids staring at me, that I had written about my brother. There was so much I still had to go through as a teenager and so much I’m still going through today as an adult. I don’t want to make it look to everyone reading this, “hey look at me, I had a rough past but now look at me.” I am not perfect. I still struggle with trusting people, insecurities, and major anxiety problems but I know my faith, family, and friends will help pull me through the struggles. I am here as a miracle that God has provided. Science can’t explain why I am still alive after being shot point blank in the back of the head and left in my own pool of blood for over half a day. But that isn’t the end of the story. There is something else that happened that night. Today, when I get discouraged and feel like I can’t go on and get depressed or down on myself, I remember this next story and what I did as a scared little 5 year old boy holding onto my life. There is a one reason that my movement caught the attention of the paramedic that day as he was leaving. The movement I made was visible from the front of the house. How? Here is what happened. According to the coroner’s report indicated by the trail of blood, after I was shot and my dad went to the living room and took his own life, I crawled out of my bed and inched towards my brother. I saw that he wasn’t awake and I decided to find my mom. I turned and started crawling towards her room. I collapsed, from the loss of blood, right before getting into the hallway. That is where they found me the next day. If I would have stayed in my bed that night then they wouldn’t have seen my as they were packing up to leave the scene. I firmly believe that Jesus had his hands on me that night saying, “hold on, someone will come for you, just hold on.” I think about that story to this day and realize as I am complaining about my life now that if a little 5 year old boy with a gunshot wound to the head can crawl around his house looking for help because he didn’t want to give up then what am I complaining about today? That is my motivation to keep going, pressing on through struggles. Sure, my main motivation now is to honor my Heavenly Father with my life but along the way I had other, smaller goals. One goal when I was growing up was to not end up like my dad. Even when I was the most depressed, I knew that if I ended things, that would make me just like my dad and I wasn’t about to let that happen. Present day, I have my own family now and several others goals that keep me going. I thank the Lord for my second chance in life and want to do anything I can to help others that may be internally suffering as well. Remember, as cliché as it may sound, always treat today as if tomorrow will never come because life is short and we don’t know how long we have with our loved ones. Never turn your back on God; He is the one true constant. It took me a long time to realize that but now I will never forget it. Also, for me able to move on in life I had to forgive my dad for what he did. It took me a long time to do. I remember asking for prayer as a teenager at a youth conference because I was having a hard time forgiving my dad. But let me tell you, once I did forgive him a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Now I realize that I had to forgive for healing. I can’t reserve part of my heart for hating my dad and still give my whole heart to God and my family. It’s not possible. That hatred infects your heart and eats at you. If you are reading this, my challenge to you would be to not let your problems and fears define you. Let them go. So many nights, as a kid, I would lay in my bed hating life and just thinking about how miserable I was. Something inside was telling me to just, “hold on. It will get better.” So I would wait until the next day hoping for a better day. Honestly, sometimes the next day is worse but there is joy in patience and eventually it does get better if we hold on and let God guide our path.
I ‘held on’ and today God has provided me with an awesome wife and three amazing kids. Along with that we have fostered about 9 kids who just needed love and we were able to provide that love. Who would have ever thought as I was 5yrs old, laying there in the arms of the paramedic while she ran down the street, that I would be talking today about my HOPE in Jesus? Some people see this story as a story of tragedy. I see it as a testament of HOPE. The HOPE that is experienced through God’s love and mercy. The joy and peace that comes with perseverance. Remember, Life is hard but God is good. -cK