Rarely do I get completely serious here on these pages, in this online space I've created for myself. I use this area to record memories, to share things with friends, and to start conversations on topics that matter to me. Tonight, though, I need to process some things I'm dealing with, so this will be uncharacteristically heavy. Fair warning...
Last Thursday, something happened that has shaken me to the very core. It didn't happen to me, this isn't my personal tragedy and I don't want to pretend for one second that it is. There is a family at the center of these events that is torn and broken in ways that I can't even begin to imagine. Still, so many of us tonight are reeling, aching, and confused.
Thursday evening, we got word that a former pastor of ours and longtime friend of my family committed a horrendous act of violence against his wife and daughter. To say that we were shocked would be a huge understatement. In fact, I believe my comment was that if I had a list of all the people I know and ranked them in order of who I might expect this from, Terry would be at the absolute very bottom of that list. We just couldn't believe it.
Sadly, despite our shock and disbelief (and "shock" is a word that has been very abundant in our conversations over the last four days), this is a new reality. The man who we all looked up to, admired, and loved for more than twenty years, is in the hospital under police custody, recovering from self-inflicted stab wounds and charged with the murder of his wife and the attempted murder of his daughter (who is thankfully alright...but who can imagine what she is going through?). Things that would have been utterly unimaginable last week are now undeniably real.
Despite the fact that everything, every memory surrounding this beautiful family, will be altered from here on out, here are a few things I knew to be true, right up until last Thursday...these are the times I don't want to forget during whatever will come in the future:
--Terry loved, loved people. He had been dealing with a lot of health problems during the last few months (which is the ONLY thing most of us can come up with to explain these bizarre events) and he and Lisa often stated they couldn't handle visitors yet. All of us now realize just how out of character that was for him.
--Whenever you saw him, he was greeting you with a big hug and asking after everyone in the family. We are a family of "double names", and he loved that and always used those double names. I can hear it: "How's Jenny Ross and Connie Faye?"
--His voice. This might be what hurts most, to know that I'll never hear that amazing, unique Southern drawl of his from the pulpit or praying at a wedding or funeral (which comprised the bulk of the times we saw him during these last few years). His is the voice of my childhood church-related memories...I can so clearly remember laying over in my aunt's lap one during a rare Sunday evening service I attended, drifting in and out of sleep to the sound of Terry's voice.
--When he pastored our church, there was a particular benediction Terry used to say every Sunday. He would walk toward the back of the church, arms raised, calling out "May the Lord bless you and keep you; May the Lord make His face shine upon you..." Again, the sound of my childhood church memories...
--When Jeremy and I met with Terry to discuss our wedding ceremony, I asked him to do that benediction. Though he said it had changed a bit over the years, he recalled the particular one I referred to and promised to include it. He did, and I teared up, of course.
--The first time Jeremy met Terry, we visited the church he was leading in a nearby city. From the pulpit, Terry told how glad he was to see us there, how he couldn't believe the little girl from early in his ministry days was sitting down there with a serious boyfriend. He made Jeremy turn a little red and made everyone else laugh when he said, "I haven't checked him out yet...I've got my eye on you, son!"
--I remember his eyes shining a little and his smile when he concluded our marriage ceremony. From the moment we began planning our wedding, the only person I imagined marrying us was Terry...luckily Jeremy was on board with that!
--Whenever Terry saw that a couple he married was having a baby, he'd say, "I sure tied that knot tight, didn't I?" You could just tell how proud it made him to see us growing our families.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention Lisa here as well. Sweet Lisa
seemed to be always gracious, always compassionate, and always with a
kind word. She was my second-grade teacher the year before they moved
from our town (yes, that's how long ago it has been since they were
here; that's the kind of hold this family had on people--once you knew
them, you loved them forever), and she was so, so good to me during a
difficult year. I think she was the kind of lady who was surely created
to work with children, and I would bet she touched a lot of little
lives at a time they needed it most. Lisa seemed to be the soft-spoken,
calming counterpart to Terry's bold presence. I, at least, imagined
them as a great team.
As this article pretty eloquently explains, it is just nearly impossible for most of us who knew him to reconcile the Terry we loved with the man who did these things. (If you click and read that article, please, please skip the comments. Offhand online comments seem a million times worse when they're talking about someone you know.) He loved, adored, and cherished his wife and daughter as far as we ever knew. We have so many questions that may very well never be answered.
I wanted to get these thoughts, these memories, recorded here before they are further tainted. Whatever comes to light in the days and months, these were the things I knew to be true about a family that meant so much to me over the last twenty-six years.
If you pray, please pray for this broken family, for their daughter, and for all of those who love them and are struggling with this. Our hearts are tired and aching, and there is surely a long road ahead.