(Potential trigger warning: please be aware I briefly describe and discuss an extreme incident of child abuse in the following post.)
Several weeks ago, I read a tragic story about a 10-year-old girl, Candace Newmaker, whose adoptive mom was struggling with her radical attachment disorder (RAD) and brought her to a two-week intensive therapy series. The plan for the final session was to wrap Candace up in blankets, cover her with pillows, and have her fight her way free as a method of revisiting the birthing process.
Instead, the therapist wrapped her up, held her down too tightly, and she wasn’t able to get free. In the course of this inappropriate therapy, Candace died. During the process, she was begging, literally for her life, asking to be let out, while the therapist called her weak and told her she’d just have to die if she wasn’t willing to fight with enough strength to get out.
I keep returning to Candace’s story in my mind and as I revisited again today, I found myself asking just what it is about this tragedy that catches me.
Criminal neglect, abuse, whatever trauma she’d previously experienced that resulted in RAD, Candace had already lived through hell before she was ever brought to the therapist who ended her life.
And God didn’t step in to save her.
That’s where I’m stuck this morning.
God could have granted her strength to tear apart the sheets and claw her way out. He could have supernaturally given her breath, despite the tightly wrapped blankets and the adults pushing their combined weight against her. Yet He chose not to do anything of the sort. Instead, Candace begged for her life while the therapist heaped verbal abuse on top of the physical abuse that was literally killing her.
And while I’m incredibly sad for this poor child and her mother, and maybe even can spare a feeling or two for the therapist – who, I sincerely hope, meant well, even if her methods were dangerously unorthodox – I realize what really captures me about Candace’d story is this: I’m afraid that’s what’s going to happen to me. I’m afraid that all the words I think I’ve heard, all the feelings I’ve felt about God loving me, in the end, will just be empty promises because natural laws bring ever more fear and sadness and death.
I’d like to tell myself that I don’t know the whole story. I don’t know Candace’s own experience, other than what I’ve read online. I’m not aware that she experienced God’s loving presence as she died in this terrible way. Maybe she did. Maybe, if I could talk to her now, she’d tell me she doesn’t blame her mother or the therapist, that even before she died, she experienced Love like she’d never had before and now, of course, she spends eternity wrapped in His embrace.
Those are comforting thoughts, but I don’t know that they’re accurate. Maybe she’d never felt loved in her life and in death only felt completely beaten down. The mom who’d chosen to adopt her was sent out of the room and the therapist just reinforced every terrible, shameful, lie she’d ever been told: she didn’t deserve to live, nobody cared enough to help her, she was abandoned, alone, unworthy.
I’m afraid that’s what I will find. I will live with the belief that Love truly does love me, but find, in the end, it’s just me, all alone, abandoned by the One I thought would save me, realizing that I truly am not worth it.
Even as I write that out, something (Something?) inside myself is arguing that I am, in fact, worthy. Even if God doesn’t exist and Love doesn’t love me, I am worthy, simply because I am me. I am worthy merely by the fact that I exist.
And if that’s true, which I so often doubt, then perhaps the rest of it is true as well. Perhaps God does exist, perhaps He created the universe and everything in it, perhaps He loves me more than I can even comprehend.
Maybe, possibly, I don’t truly understand the experience of suffering, whether it’s acute, as in Candace’s death, or long and drawn out, as it surely was in her life. And because I don’t really know the power of redemption, I can’t see the value in pain.
These thoughts keep turning over in my mind’s eye. The glimmering possibilities sparkle in the light and warm my heart with hope.
Maybe my pain, my suffering, is more valuable than I recognize. Could it be that my story means more than I see? Is it possible that, even in these moments when I doubt that God is really good, I am able to keep my faith in Love that never ends?
Might it be, even though I’ll probably never be convinced by a detailed theology of God’s great goodness, I can know Truth because I have experienced Love?
I hope so.