By clicking on the “Into the Deep” underlined below, or perhaps a blue button once and then clicking again on the opened article, I believe you can view half of the article. Or you can go directly to the Plain Values website and search. A script of the entire article follows below in this blog. Contact me if you desire a free copy of Robert’s third book, “Rise Above: How to Heal the Hurts and Overcome the Worst.”
Into the Deep or Finding God in the Depth of Sorrow
Words directly from from two of Robert Roger’s books and arranged by Merlin Erb.
For the September 2022 issue of Plain Values magazine
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new.’” Revelations 21:4-5
It was Labor Day weekend 2003, and we were returning to our home in Liberty from a family wedding. In our minivan was myself, my wife Melissa, and our four children: eight-year-old Makenah Alexandra, five-year-old Zachary Seth, three-year-old Nicholas Adam, and one-year-old Alenah WenYing, who we had recently adopted from China.
An unfathomable flash-flood inundated our minivan on the Kansas Turnpike. It thrust our vehicle off the highway, plunged us into the deluge, and washed half of our precious family out the window while our youngest three were still strapped in their car seats. Miraculously, I survived.
“Mr. Rogers, we need to ask you to identify the bodies of your three youngest children. They are dead.”
Those piercing words from early Sunday morning, August 31, 2003, changed my life forever. Perhaps you can relate. You know at that moment life will never again be the same.
I identified our three youngest. Later my oldest child Makenah was found on a barbed wire fence nearby the van – a mile and a half from the turnpike. Three days later they found my wife, my beloved Melissa. All I cherished most was gone: every dream, every hope.
Life Before the Flood
I met my wife in Massachussets. In March of 1989 I returned to Digital Equipment Corporation in Boston for my engineering job. The year before I happened upon a gentleman outside Lily’s Café delighting a crowd on a baby grand piano. When he took a break, I offered to fill in for him and from there it was history. I loved to fill the cobblestone sidewalks with music.
When I returned to my job, I also resumed playing piano at Lily’s during my breaks. One warm spring Saturday afternoon, an attractive blond stopped by while I was playing. I was instantly smitten. Before she left, I gave her my business card. Melissa, from Kansas, was working as a nanny in Boston, but I had no way to contact her. I could only hope she would return, which she did. Unbeknownst to me, Melissa returned to the square numerous times that summer to observe me play from a distance. When I returned to college that fall, I got a card from her with a poem she’d written for me titled “The Piano Man” while listening to my café music. Soon the romance was underway, and we got married on New Year’s Eve, 1991.
Our first earthquake occurred during the birth of our first daughter, Makenah, scheduled to be a home water birth, but after 48 hours of hard labor, a C-section was performed and all ended well. We learned a valuable lesson: Even though everything that happens to us is not always good, God can still bring good out of everything that happens to us (Rom. 8:28). Makenah’s difficult delivery was an experience that drove us deeper in our faith.
Our son Zachary was born after a normal delivery but within hours were told, “we believe your son has Down syndrome.” We were speechless, and Zachary was whisked off to Children’s Mercy Hospital for heart and bowel complications. Zachary also was autistic. Such pressures often cause marriages to break up. But for us, instead of tearing us apart, Zachary galvanized our marriage, bringing Melissa and me closer to each other and God.
Unknown by me, we were being prepared by our years of crying out to Him in our deepest pain – during childbirth, during Zachary’s surgeries, during Down syndrome complications, during Nicholas’ birth, during Alenah’s adoption, during marital struggles, during months of more bills than paychecks, while nearly drowning in a riptide, enduring all sorts of trials – because we turned to God rather than away from God. In those times of deepest pain, we grew to know and receive God’s deepest presence when nothing made sense but ultimately revealing God’s deepest and most intimate loving nature.
The six of us were on our way home from a family wedding. Around 8:55 pm, 11 miles out of Emporia, Kansas, having driven in heavy rain since Wichita, we noticed several vehicles parked with their running lights on along the right side of the road in the Flint Hills. We were among about eight vehicles that kept moving in the left lane past the stopped vehicles. Almost instantly, it seemed as though we were surrounded by water, not merely a pool, but a river flowing from left to right.
The whirl of the wind and the noise of the rain were so loud that it was hard to hear anything else. We saw taillights in front of us getting through. We figured the height of the water was already at its worse. The water was soaking our feet and everything on the floor. We couldn’t move at all, blocked fore and aft by vehicles and to the left by the concrete median barriers, and to the right by debris, even vehicles that were now floating. We were trapped. Inside, the engine stalled when the water reached the seat cushion level. By this time, Makenah, Nicholas , and Alenah were all noticeably scared and crying. Zachary was the only not crying, Makenah got out of her seat belt and came up to stand between us.
“Okay, you guys. Let’s sing a song together.” We chose a song we had sang many times around the piano at home: “Lord, I lift Your Name on High.” I recited portions of Psalms 46, saying, “God is my strength, God is my refuge, an ever-present help in times of trouble.” Despite the fear and stress of the situation, I sensed an amazing reassuring peace that somehow we were all going to be ok through this. Inside the van the water had now risen to the steering wheel. Our children’s heads were still safely above the water level, but the water was so very bitterly cold.
Suddenly, around 9:18 pm, everything broke loose. Eyewitnesses from cars that were trapped described a seven foot wall rushing across the highway that swept the 11 sections of the concrete median off the road down the embarkment into the creek bed. Each section was 20 foot in length and weighed 10,000 pounds. These concrete barriers were all that held our van in place. Once the medians were gone, nothing remained to protect us from the fast cross current.
We took a nosedive across the southbound lanes of traffic and down the embankment. We seemed to hit something as we crashed with a sudden jolt; perhaps a culvert or one of the 11 concrete medians. It felt as though we were in a powerful waterfall. When I kicked out the window, it was like popping a balloon. I was instantly sucked out of the van. I lost all sense of direction as I was pulled downstream underwater. I’m convinced that both Melissa and Makenah, who were both out of their seat belts were sucked out immediately behind me. In the urgency, chaos, and confusion, Melissa and I shared no final kiss or words of good-bye with each other or our children.
I was drowning. I felt like a ragdoll tumbling in a washing machine. This can’t be the end, I thought. Not now. Not like this. Somehow, I wasn’t afraid. I felt a tangible, comforting peace of God. I was ingesting water and remember thinking that although I was truly drowning – and sensed my wife and children were as well – our whole family was going to heaven together, and it really wasn’t so bad. It was like being in a dream, only this was real. It felt as if God had reached down His hand and cupped our entire family into His palm to personally escort us directly to heaven together.
About a half mile from the highway, my head lifted above the water. Suddenly, I grabbed onto something and crawled out of the water on my hands and knees. I was utterly exhausted, in shock, and freezing cold. I could see the flashing lights of emergency vehicles up on the highway, so I crawled toward them as quickly as my body would allow. Nearly an hour after being expelled from the van, I approached a highway patrol trooper and blurted, “My wife and four children are still down there!”
But it was too late—in our family I was the sole survivor.
Life After the Flood
The day following the 2003 Kansas flash flood, I was visited by my engineering boss, his words deeply resonating within me. He helped me recognize nothing I could think or do now would change history. What mattered most from here forward was not my actions from last night but my reactions to last night. If I spent the rest of my life in pity, feeling sorry for myself, I would only imprison myself and serve no good whatsoever. I wanted my family’s lives to count for something. Already I could sense that God had a profound purpose for my life. Already I could see that people’s lives were being touched in a positive way. I began to sense God had spared me for a reason.
Before preparing for my first press conference, I spoke with my father, an extremely thoughtful man known for his wisdom and insights. “Son, this is where the rubber meets the road,” he said. “Give it straight. Explain how shattered you are. But don’t hesitate to say how you still trust God. Either we believe what we say or we don’t. Either God is God, or He’s not.”
He was right. This was the moment my new calling in life began. I was facing and embracing head-on the worst pain of my life. I knew my only source was God, and the result was His peace amid the horrific reality. So many times on my way to work over the years, I have prayed Psalm 112. Now those words came back to me. “Even in darkness light dawns for the upright… Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever. He will have no fear of bad news …. His heart is secure, he will have no fear.’(verses 6-8)
The concept of heaven and eternity was never more real. As I kissed my children goodbye, I kissed death. Amazingly, it had no victory over me or them. My grief still tore at me, but death had lost its sting because I knew through Christ it represented our passage into eternal life. I could now feel the glory through the agony, life out of death. That’s the message of the gospel. Beauty out of ashes.
What matters most, I’ve found, is how you respond to the wreckage and remnants of what remains. Where do you run to after the ruin? Where do you hide? “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” (Psalm 91:1-2).
We each have that choice when life slams into the side of a mountain or under a wall of water. Yes, we can slam the door in God’s face, bolt it, and even lock it. Conversely, we can seek an embrace in His arms and allow Him Who holds our healing to hold our hearts as we grieve. It requires a steadfast, intimate relationship with God through a personal encounter with His Son, Jesus Christ. Even if our faith somehow remains intact, too often our souls remain messed up and wounded. Now my soul needed surgery and rehabilitation. Yes, I believe that God “restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:3 NIV) But, how can He? How will He?
It is a process, for certain. It takes time. Weeping is good. Tears hurt, but they heal and are vital to recovery. Now 19 years later traveling the country and parts of the world, people want to know “how” I made it. How do I still navigate through the unrelenting pain of the past, particularly as I recount raw emotions from my heart hundreds of times to all who invite me? The short answer is, “Only God.”
Throughout my five books and now nearly 1400 presentations, in a straightforward and practical way, I strove to answer in my third book, Rise Above, how God can heal your hurts and overcome the worst. I offer three simple steps to assist you on the road to recovery.
1st Step to Rise Above: Face It. Yes, admit it happened. Accept it. Don’t pretend it never happened. Rather than tell God how big your problem is, tell your problem how big God is.
2nd Step to Rise Above: Embrace It. Yes, dive in head first. Jesus surrendered to the cross to which His Father had appointed Him. He embraced it. So should we. “Even when I walk through the dark valley of death, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.” (Psalm 23:4)
3rd Step to Rise Above: Replace It. Yes, God has a marvelously divine exchange program. Right now, ask God to replace your pain with praise, your despair with joy, your ashes with beauty. He can and He will. Please consider these words and take them to heart for they literally cost me everything to share them with you. I pray they take root and dramatically transform your life,compelling you to join me in building a legacy of no regrets.
Bio: Robert Rogers founded Mighty in the Land Ministry after the death of his wife and four children. The ministry’s mission is to teach others to know God and live a life of no regrets. His compelling message impacts lives, transforms congregations, and inspires people to know God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. A tithe of everything given is placed in the Mighty in the Land Foundation, which funds eight orphanages around the world.
For scheduling or more information, contact Robert Rogers, Mighty in the Land Ministry, 429 East DuPont Road, # 230 Fort Wayne, IN 46825. Phone #: 260.515.5158 Email: email@example.com Website: www.MightyInTheLand.com
Bio: Merlin briefly interviewed Robert Rogers for this article and then wove direct excerpts from two of Robert’s books; “Into the Deep: One Man’s Story of How Tragedy Took His Family But Could Not Take His Faith” and “Rise Above: How to Heal the Hurts and Overcome the Worst.” into this feature story. Merlin’s work on this assignment was impacted by his own experience of loss in that in less than three years of marriage, his first wife tragically died in a car accident. Today, Merlin and his wife Loretta call Dalton, Ohio, home, and they are active members at Kidron Mennonite Church. They are anticipating the birth of their first grandchild this summer! You can read more of Merlin’s musings at merlinsmustache.com.
As mentioned above, if you desire a free copy of Robert’s spot-on inspiring third book, Rise Above: How to Heal the Hurts and Overcome the Worst, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t be bashful! Trust His Divine connections for your life as Robert did for his, and I, reluctantly did for mine; actually “ours.”
Blessings on your Journey today and Beyond…