Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Everything Happens For A Reason

I have not posted to my blog for a few weeks. I have not felt like writing much. It’s not that things here in Kenya don’t continue to amaze me. It’s just that I have been pre-occupied with news from Texas. For those of you that I have not been able to update about recent events, my cousin Robert (Robbie) Tolan was shot in the chest in his own driveway on New Year’s Eve by a Bellaire police officer who believed he was a car thief. He is still hospitalized in Houston, TX recovering from surgery to repair his lung (the bullet remains lodged in his liver).
When I fist heard the news by email from my Dad, I was in disbelief. Robbie is such a good kid, and I just could not picture it in my mind for some cop to feel that he was a threat. Then as the news settled in, I became very angry about the police officer who had shot him. My anger was mitigated by the fact that the shot was not lethal, and I was thankful that my cousin had survived this injury (and continues to recover). The bullet came so close to vital structures, and it could have easily been a much worse tragedy.
My anger evolved into cynicism about the situation. To be shot in front of your own home by police, on a mere suspicion of wrongdoing makes it hard to have faith in our law enforcement agencies and society in general.
The more complex issue of this being a white cop shooting a black resident in a predominantly white neighborhood is even more unsettling. It’s a painful reminder that while our country stands on the eve of a great moment in reconciling it’s ugly racist history with Barak Obama’s pending inauguration, we still have not resolved the institutionalized racism that continues to divide this nation. What do we tell Robbie’s little cousins who adore him? When little Dean asks his mommy why the police shot cousin Robbie, how does she explain it to him? We are suppose to teach little boys to trust and respect the police, but in 2009, many black families still feel the need to teach young black boys to fear the police, and with good reason.
And Robbie may recuperated physically, but there are also serious emotional and psychological injuries that will be much more difficult to repair. What is it going to be like for him to function in society now that he has been shot by a police officer for no reason. How will he react if he is ever pulled over by a policeman for a routine traffic stop. How is he going to return to a productive and optimistic approach to life after something like this?

Needless to say I have been pre-occupied with my cousin’s recovery, and it has been weighing on my mind. Every moment of calm I have had in between surgery and seeing patients, I have thought about what it was like for my cousin to take a bullet in the chest…What it was like for my aunt and uncle to see their son shot down in their front yard, and those anxious moments going to the hospital, and then waiting for him while he was in surgery. It twists my insides into a knot to think about what that was like for them.
And I am left disillusioned about America and our social progress. Skin color is still a primary determinant of how much freedom we really are allowed to enjoy.


In the midst of such a difficult time, I returned to the one thing that helps me understand the world and gain a positive perspective on life’s most bewildering moments: I prayed. Even though I profess myself to be a Christian, I often find myself forgetting to stop and pray during difficult moments. Instead, I try to “figure it out” on my own, but I can never generate any peace through my own efforts.
As I went to God with my feelings about the events, a scripture came to me immediately…it’s a scripture that comforts many Christians in difficult moments, but it is a hard scripture to accept at times. The scripture is Rom 8:28. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God.” This scripture is a reminder that nothing in this world is as random as it may seem. That even when it seems like misunderstanding and chaos is reigning, God is actually in control, and even the things that seem wrong are not happening beyond the reach of His omnipotent hands. It’s a reminder that God can bring about good through seemingly terrible events.
Before I prayed, I had seen Robbie’s suffering as meaningless, and I saw the circumstances of the shooting as a confirmation of the hopelessness of our society to ever attain true racial harmony. But as I prayed, I realized that God is present even in the midst of brokenness. I realized that Robbie’s suffering does not have to be in vain. I realized that this police officer’s mistake was not random, but perhaps it might be used to shine the light of truth on the racism that remains in our law enforcement system and society in general. I realized that God can take this negative, and turn it into something positive.

Now my cousin is expected to be discharged from the hospital soon, and I have a much more positive outlook on what has happened. It is still difficult to accept this tragedy, but I am first joyful that Robbie has been recovering physically. Secondly, this trial has really drawn my family close together. We are already a strong family, but times like this, seem to strengthen us even further. Thirdly, I notice how much publicity the case has gotten, and I realize that it might be a turning point in how police work is done locally and maybe even nationally. Less than 24 hours after my cousin was shot, another black man was shot in the back by a police officer in Oakland while he lay unarmed and pinned face down to the ground by officers (this man unfortunately died). Perhaps, the timing of these cases, near the inauguration of our first black President, and the MLK holiday will set in motion some real self-examination of our country. While Obama’s inauguration is clearly an amazing milestone that America should be proud of, Dr. King’s dream is far from coming to fruition. We cannot rest on our laurels and declare America cured from the disease of racism just because we have a black president. As the Bob Marley song says, “until there are no longer first class and second class citizens” of the nation, there will not be peace in the land. And maybe…just maybe, Robbie’ story will help to arouse the conscience of the nation to change. Jesus was an innocent man unfairly persecuted, but his suffering brought about redemption to the entire world, so I know that God can use suffering for redemptive purposes. I pray that Robbie’s pain will help to redeem our nation as well.
And even if none of this happens…even if the media loses interest in Robbie’s story, and things go back to business as usual across the nation, I know that God remains in control…that He has a divine plan, and can use our pain to bring about healing and blessings. It may not happen in a way that I can see, but it will certainly happen. I am already blessed, because I have been reminded how precious each an every day is. I have been reminded to cherish my family. I have been reminded how important prayer is. But mostly, I am blessed, because after all of this craziness, I still have my cousin.

Yours in accepting God’s plan,

It is by suffering that human beings become angels
~Victor Hugo


At Sun Jan 18, 03:22:00 PM, Anonymous Carmen said...

Hey Chad it has been a while since I visited my space (I been on face book.) But after reading all of your blog, YOU MADE MY MAKE-UP RUN!! I was even able tofind some peice of mind about Robbies shooting. The bonds of our family reach far, but are strong.

At Sun Jan 18, 09:44:00 PM, Blogger John said...

Hi Chad -

What a contrast from your post on the monkey invasion to the shooting of your cousin! Thanks for sharing your feelings so beautifully. Have you ever considered writing along with medicine? I think they are both very healing. I live my life by Romans 8:28, have shared it with many, and always feel blessed by it's message.

Blessings to you, my friend,


At Sun Jan 18, 09:54:00 PM, Anonymous said...

Dear Chad;
John shared your recent blog and we
send our love to you and your family. We have supported a 43 year old marriage with one verse and that is Romans 8:28.The monkey story was
so well done, and yes very laughable.
We think of you often and keep you
in our prayers.

At Thu May 07, 11:01:00 PM, Blogger Charles said...

Hey Chad,
I will pray for you. I also want to send you something, perhaps through paypal, I was unable to do it through your blog for some reason. Let me know if you have a paypal account and who to address/send to. I am a Kenyan, thank you for what your doing for my country-men, indeed, humanity.


At Wed Dec 30, 07:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chad, You are doing an awesome work
and I commend you Sir. I live in McGregor, Tx. I was looking online for the scripture Physician heal thyself when I came across your blog. It was very touching & your being transparent is a quality that too few have.
I appreciate your valor to do as God would have you to do. Keep on! Always PRAY first, AIM high and STAY focused. I bless you in the name of Jesus!



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