As we prepare for our offering for Haiti at our Valentine “Heart to Heart” Family Rally, I’ve been pondering how we talk with children, and more importantly listen to them when tragedy strikes.   Not too long ago I heard a parent say to a child, who was upset about the death of another child, that “God just needed her for an angel.”

While I understand the adult’s attempt or need to soften the blow I have to ask, “What is it that makes us want to speak for or on behalf of God?”  For some reason we feel as if we need to defend God, or blame God.  We want to wrap up a tragedy and make it fit into our own construct of reality.

God doesn’t cause bad things to happen to people.  Things simply happen, or some things, so called “destiny producing deeds” are a result from our own behavior.  In short, we reap what we sow.  For example, too much CO2 in the atmosphere creates global warming, a person who has smoked for years develops lung cancer, or our consumptive lifestyle creates an imbalance of justice, not only to other people, but also to the environment.  These are the sad outcomes because of our sinful behavior.   This is something kids can understand.  “If I take a toy away from a friend, I risk a tug of war.”  “When I plant this seed a green shoot pushes through the soil.” 

Natural disasters have nothing to do with God, aside from the fact that God created the earth.    Nor does the fault lie in people.  Tectonic plates shift, and a whole city and her people are smothered and crushed in the dust. No one is to blame, even if insurance companies want to call it an “act of God.”

 Scripture does tell us that God hates with a perfect hatred. God’s heart breaks when our hearts break.   God hates cancer, earthquakes, murder, famine and malaria, most anything that robs all of us of the abundant life.  So what does God do?  God redeems terrible times and brings good out of them.  God stays very close by our sides, and walks with us through our bewilderment and agony.  As scripture promises, God greets us every morning, offering us new mercy, after our “dark nights of the soul” when “our tears have been our food, day and night.” 

Jenny and Hal Runkel of ScreamFree have two excellent articles on how we might respond to our children during a catastrophe.  These are written both out of their expertise and more importantly, their personal experience.  With ScreamFree organization’s permission, I have included them here on our website. 

Suffice it to say, we can say to our children and teens, “I don’t know,” [why this tragedy occurred].   Also we might invite our children to share what they are wondering, by asking, “Tell me more about your thoughts on that…”  Or perhaps, if they are having very strong feelings  in terms of justice, or with regard to their own fear and security, we can simply ask, “how are you feeling about this?”  And it is always important to wonder out loud with our children, and share with them how we feel too, “I have lots of unanswered questions, and my heart breaks when I see and hear the cries of the Haitian people.”

What I do know and believe is that God is with us, beside us, there to catch us when we fall, and there to meet us as a friend, when we depart from this world.”

See you this Sunday at the Heart to Heart Family Rally on Valentines Day! (For more information about this fun event, visit our event page on Facebook! You can also view this informative summary page.)


Rev. Lisa Mullen
Director of Children and Family Ministries
Board of Christian Education

 Read the ScreamFree Parenting articles here…

Talking to Your Kids About the Horror in Haiti
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
By: Hal Runkel

How you can help your kids navigate this tragedy in the best possible way.

These are tough times, obviously. The distressing news about the suffering in Haiti is everywhere, 24 hours a day, in every mass media available. While incredibly informative, all this attention can also become overwhelming.  Especially for our kids. While they may not be completely in tune with this tragedy, they are not immune to its impact. It is highly probable that your kids have caught glimpses of incomprehensible horror this past week, from open wounds to mass graves. It is also likely they’ve heard a few stories of improbable rescues and newly orphaned children. 

Wondering how to handle all of this in a responsible way in your home? Searching for the right balance of protection and exposure, both for your kids and yourself? Well, so am I. Right after Katrina, my wife Jenny wrote about this very topic (see below).  She articulated some insights that I still find incredibly helpful, insights that can turn tragedy into meaning, heartbreaking situations into profound maturity. Here I’ll just add some practical guidelines you can start using tonight, regardless of the ages of your children.

Toddlers to Pre-K

Obviously, your young children may be oblivious to the larger outside world, and maybe you’d like to keep it that way. But don’t automatically assume they won’t hear something from their daycare, church class, other relatives, what have you. And don’t automatically assume they are better off being sheltered from it all. Kids are incredibly “bouncy,” they can handle so much more than we give them credit for. I challenge you to use this Haiti horror to introduce your kids to your own broken heart.

  • Talk to them about it in gentle, but realistic, terms, even using terms like earthquake, people dying, kids losing their family members, etc.
  • Use the dinner table to talk about or pray about this, and let your kids see your genuine concern.
  • Let them know how you’re contributing, how you’re praying, and how grateful you are for all the blessings that so many people no longer have.

School-age kids

There’s no doubt that these children have heard and/or seen their fair share of this tragic event. When universal events are on everyone’s hearts and minds (and lips), your kids are looking to you more than ever. They don’t know how to articulate their questions or concerns, so it’s incumbent upon you to help them.

  • Volunteer some of your thoughts, concerns, and actions.
  • Ask them about theirs. What do they think about all this? Are they afraid? Do they have questions about death, about suffering, about God? Do you? How would they like to help?
  • Encourage them to pitch in. Jenny and I have already helped our kids send some of their money, and our kids felt not only aware of the suffering but a little more empowered to handle it. This can have long term benefits as well, equipping our kids with a greater sense of compassion, responsibility, and capability to handle whatever comes their way.


Kids all over the world are mobilizing to help in numerous ways, from raising funds to organizing supplies to planning later mission trips. Don’t let your teen miss out.

  • Talk openly about the tragedy with them, confessing your own feelings of heartbreak, gratitude, and compassion. Then, and this is critical,
  • ASSUME that they are already wondering what they can do to get involved. Don’t ask them WHETHER something’s going on at their school or youth group, ask them WHAT IS going on, and ask how you can be supportive. Don’t ask them IF they’re thinking about getting involved, ask them WHAT they’re ALREADY thinking about doing. Kids like to be thought well of, and they respond so differently when adults assume the best about them, rather than the worst. This is a prime opportunity for you to practice this.
  • Finally, don’t get upset if they haven’t started thinking about getting involved, however. If not, then you can ask IF they want to, and offer your support whatever they decide.

One of the fascinating aspects about catastrophe is the difference in people’s responses to it. Studies and experts agree that those Haitian survivors who get quickly involved in helping those around them, even beyond their own family and friends, are the ones who will suffer less emotional and psychological trauma later. Those that, understandably, allow themselves to get paralyzed by the trauma, will, unfortunately, perpetuate the trauma in their own lives going forward. The same principle is true for all of us, and for our kids. Get aware, get conversational, and get responsive. Share your experiences with your kids, and watch them surprise you with their own hearts and hands. We’ll all be better off, even in the presence of trauma.


Hal Edward Runkel, LMFT


The ScreamFree Institute

After The Flood
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
By: Jenny Runkel
How to respond when your kids ask tough questions in tough times.This article was written shortly after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Even though last week’s events in Haiti are larger in scale, some of the same principles apply when it comes to our parenting during these times of great crisis. “After the flood, all the colors came out…”
-Bono, U2, “Beautiful Day”As I write this, thousands of people in New Orleans and the surrounding areas are struggling to survive. Millions are wondering when they’ll even have a city to come home to. I watched the news last night in disbelief. The Superdome looks like a shell and the French Quarter is floating with debris. These are national landmarks and it shocks us as a country to see them changed by chance.The thing that struck me the most about the scene was not the floating cars or the hundreds of emergency vehicles waiting at the ready, though. It was one quick shot of a family stranded on their porch signaling to the media helicopter with a flashlight. The father was flashing an SOS signal with one hand and holding a child in the other. The water was up to their knees and was rising.These are people just like you and me. They own businesses and attend PTO meetings. They saved up for sofas and new cars. They cherish their photo albums and family heirlooms. Only they have just lost everything. Their homes are ruined, their water contaminated, and their “normal” has forever been changed all by one turn of a storm. One of these people is my brother Michael. He lives in Gulfport, Mississippi. He and his girlfriend and her baby evacuated in time, thank God, but their home is probably a pile of toothpicks this morning. He is 21 years old and is just getting his life together after a rough start. Now he has to start again.This could very well turn out to be the worst natural disaster in our nation’s history. My husband told our family all about the happenings over dinner last night. As he talked about the rising water and the trapped people, I watched my six-year-old son’s lips tighten and his brow furrow.“But, Daddy,” Brandon protested, “God said he’d never do that again. And He keeps His promises!”“Do what again?” someone asked.

“Flood the world!” he exclaimed in a reference to the Noah story from the Hebrew Bible.

Brandon was angry. Others around the table jumped in quickly and tried to explain the particulars. When the rainbow appeared, God promised he wouldn’t flood the world again, but this was just a small portion of the world. Brandon didn’t care. That was a technicality to him.

“But he promised! He promised he wouldn’t flood, but he did and people are dying because of him? Why?”

The anxiety at the table was palpable. Some tried to explain the logic another way, but it was futile to this soft-hearted six-year-old. Hal stepped in and said, “Look everyone, there is no easy answer – let him question.” Later, after dinner we talked about how while God is all-powerful, sometimes bad things just happen. That’s life. It sometimes doesn’t make sense and easy answers only stop us from wrestling with that fact. They don’t really help, they just make us stop questioning.

While it hurts to watch my kids struggle, I hope my kids never stop asking those kinds of questions. I hope I never do either. The closest I’ve felt to God has been on the heels of me questioning him. The farthest away I’ve felt is when I listen to other people when they try to give me platitudes and easy answers. The sentiment I hate hearing the most is the dreaded, “God has a plan. He’s got some reason for your illness (or a flood).” That makes smoke come out of my ears. Not because it makes me question God, but for exactly the opposite reason. It’s too easy. That kind of thinking (and it’s prevalent, trust me) is based on the assumption that God GAVE me cancer and is sitting back smugly watching to see how I’ll handle his “gift”. Will I pass the test? Or will I “stand in the way” of his ultimate plan?

I think that’s a load of horse manure. That is not the God that I know and trust. My God hurts for those that are hurting.

He HATES that I have cancer, and he HATES seeing the bodies floating down city streets. He hates that my children cry in my lap at times asking me when I’m going to get better, and he hates the “flood” of crying children asking parents about fresh water, or whether their friends are even alive. He hates the fact that at 32 years old, I sometimes don’t even have the strength to get up off the couch, and he hates that so many thousands don’t even have couches anymore.

I refuse to believe that God is behind any of this tragedy. Does that mean he’s not all-knowing or all-powerful? No. It just means that we live in his created world, full of powerful forces that sometimes act against each other (love/hate, life/death, rains that nourishes/rains that flood). And sometimes, really terrible things happen because they do.

Yesterday, I read a quote in my LiveStrong notebook that I absolutely love: “When people tell me that cancer is the best thing that ever happened to them, I want to punch them in the face.” Cancer is terrible. It takes a perfectly good body and eats away at it. It takes everything you knew and held dear and turns it upside down. It fills your home with fear and uncertainty. Much like rising flood waters.

What I hold on to is that DESPITE the fact that bad things happen, my God has the power and desire to turn those bad things into good things, to bring rainbows after the flood. So I believe good things will come out of my cancer. They already have. And I have to believe that God can make good things come out of this terrible disaster too. That’s what makes him a powerful God. Who else could create the science, inspiration, and miracles that it takes to take a disease-ridden body and make it whole? Or the fortitude and hope it takes to take a debris-ridden city and build something better with it? (And knowing the faithful strength of the Cajun people firsthand—I’m from the bayou myself—I know New Orleans will be even better than before).

Such victories over tragedy are more triumphant and worthy of praise than a God who destroys in the first place and then watches like a mean school teacher to see what happens next. I hope my children grow up knowing the triumphant God. And I hope they always keep questioning.

By Jenny Runkel