It was Thanksgiving Day 2007. Our extended family had planned a dinner for 6 pm.
The weather was bright, and the sun was warm and forgiving. My wife and I had gone for an early afternoon coffee and muffin and were returning home when we received a cell phone call that our son was in Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, B.C., and we needed to get there quickly.
We weren’t told what had happened, so I was left to speculate that maybe our son had fallen down the stairs or done something clumsy – after all, he was a developing 16-year-old teenager.
We arrived in the hospital to find an RCMP officer present and our son awaiting a surgery to remove metal from his neck. We were completely shocked to find out our son had been terrorized and violently assaulted.
Random act of terror
He was waiting at the bus stop across the street from our home. While neighbours were cutting their lawns and entertaining their kids outside, a carload of three older teens drove slowly through the area, past the bus stop. The car turned around and accelerated towards our son.
The occupants pulled out two Walter P99 replica pellet guns and began firing shots (steel pellets – the kind that too often get used to kill birds or squirrels) into our son’s body. One of the pellets penetrated his neck with a sting.
As the perpetrators sped away, one of the neighbours identified several digits from their license plate, and the colour and make of the car. Our son used his cell phone to call 911. Because the police detachment is near our home and they were able to quickly deploy several units, the carload of perpetrators was swiftly apprehended.
Our son waited about an hour to get simple surgery and five stitches, but still managed to join us for the family Thanksgiving dinner.
A messy season
I wish I could say the story ended there and we all lived happily ever after, but it didn’t.
Within a couple of days our son broke down and began to express much hurt and anger. His emotional condition began to affect his studies and other relationships. He had difficulty concentrating and struggled with paranoia when he walked on the street or waited at a bus stop. School authorities indicated that his PTS (post-traumatic stress) was more than the counsellors were able to deal with. So our son was placed in therapy with a specialist who deals with violent assaults.
It was a very messy season in the life of our son and, consequently, in the life of our family.
We were advised to take the route of restorative justice, which meant that our son and family would face the three perpetrators and their families in an extended meeting, with the goal of bringing some understanding, public apologies, resolution, closure, and healing.
One of the hardest tasks was that of forgiveness. We discussed the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35) with our son and how practicing forgiveness was a deep part of our faith and worldview. We didn’t pretend that forgiveness was easy, but it was necessary in order to “move on.”
Sadly our son was getting revenge and retaliation messages from his friends. At first, he refused to go into a restorative justice circle. But after nearly four months, some therapy, time away from school, and time to reflect, he was ready to face his three perpetrators.
In the evening after the restorative justice circle, our family of three huddled to pray before bed. We were amazed that our son prayed for each of the perpetrators by name.
Today our son is more peaceful, and has come through a difficult emotional process. He’ll never forget the experience, but realizes it could have been more serious. He’s mindful of God’s providence.
Life can be messy and it may be difficult to talk about what’s going on in our homes when things are quite frayed. As a pastor, I couldn’t publicly discuss many of the details of our situation at the time. Lining up our emotions with our beliefs takes time. Healing takes time.
But I’ve witnessed, by God’s grace, that a day arrives when healing is evident. In our home, we’ve chosen to call it Thanksgiving Day.