Brotherhood: A Primer to the Art of Empathy

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Romans 12:15”

About my guest

Tim is naval officer with over 35-years of combined service, specializing in the fields of Meteorology and Oceanography, with a career spanning the senior enlisted to the senior Naval Officer ranks. 

He and I served together from 2011 to 2013 and have developed a strong bond, not only as fellow warriors but as Christian Brothers. He’s married to the former, Ms. Karrie Lynn Freeman, and has five children: his eldest son Mike and daughter-in-law Kara, his daughter Luci and son-in-law Noah Cabello, and twin sons, Steve and Dan. He and Karrie have two grandsons, Davian, and Kieran.

Tim has been a close mentor, trusted advisor, and special friend to my family and me and has also been key and instrumental in helping my family and I grow, heal, and steward our challenging life experience. He has devoted countless hours as a plank owner of my blog/social media presence and is a core confidant in the labor and development of my book “HOPE – a memoir: my journey of love, loss, and faith.”

He’s been a constant companion these past several years and has lovingly administered emergency spiritual and emotional triage to my family and me during our darkest hours following the tragic loss of my oldest child Elizabeth.  His ‘ground zero’ experience as a spiritual and emotional first responder and battle buddy provides a unique perspective into what it looks like to support and care for a friend or family member who has suffered through a tragic loss. 

I have invited him to share these experiences in order to help others. His practical advice and insight will equip you with a model of ‘what right looks like’ if someone in your world – neighbor, friend, or family – ever suffers a massive loss.

Matt


BROTHERHOOD: A Primer to the Art of Empathy

By Tim Uncapher

Matt wanted me to share a series of blog posts discussing, “what right looks like.” As you know by now, he and his family have been through the worst horror any father, mother, and little sister could ever know, the violent suicidal death of their precious daughter and a big sister who was taken by the greatest lie ever devised by the author of all lies; “you have no hope.

In the past year of this fog-of-war, called, “COVID-19” this same false narrative has successfully taken hold in the lives of thousands.  A lie that obscures the spiritual battlefield perceived within the human cognitive domain; “you have no hope” resulting in such cascading devastation as to cause a crisis of despair and death beyond the disease itself, and a crisis of faith within the hearts of God’s children. Suicides worldwide are alarming on the rise, and God will CALL His people individually and even congregationally to mission and ministry in response. And those whom He CALLS, He Equips, just as he equipped me to minister directly into the lives of Matt and his precious family. A calling I would never expect nor planned for, and in my own understanding, personal knowledge and strength would I ever believed in my own ability to walk this kind of journey with Matt.  

Yet, I have seen CLEARLY the Lord’s hand along the way, divinely equipping and preparing me -despite all my flaws, insecurities, and spiritual doubts- from Matt and I’s very first brief encounter.  In a dimly lit passageway of the U.S. Warship, we both served aboard, he a Chief Petty Officer, and I a prior member of the Chief’s Mess (no coincidences in God’s Kingdom) and an Officer with no connections beyond that, the Lord reached in divine preparation.  As Matt and I frequently look back in amazement recalling the events transpiring from then to this very day, we are most often awestruck and evermore convinced in His overflowing GOODNESS and LOVE for us.  

So, the Lord calls to be sure, and the Lord equips, indeed! But if there’s one message I personally want to impart to you, the reader, is that in His calling me to Matt’s side, where horror, despair, anger, fear, and sadness have abounded, indeed God’s grace, mercy, love and blessings have abounded even greater! And strengthening my faith for times such as these.

In this first of six blogs, I simply want to reinforce God’s message of Hope in that He is on His thrown, and He is active in our everyday lives as we actively seek Him in our prayer, the Word, and involvement with His people and the broken world around us. As I thought back to those few things, I did to come alongside Matt through he and his family’s time of need to this very day, I came to realize that mostly through God’s leading, He called me in amazingly simple, yet significant aspects supporting Matt and his family, and while not prescriptive, I wanted to at least give the reader a descriptive explanation of the actions I’ve take in walking with Matt.

Being a Sailor and 34-year veteran of the military, I default to the dreaded “acronym” when presenting operational concepts or introducing core principles of leadership. And do so again here in the hope the reader will find a great measure of comfort and confidence that the Lord does truly provide and equip.

“Lift up your hands to the holy PLACE and bless the Lord (Psalms 134:2) … (for) this is my resting PLACE forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it. (Psalms 132:14)”

Pray, Listen, Affirm, Comfort, and Empathize… “P.L.A.C.E.” As in the Lord’s “Dwelling Place.”

As a Christian, we are called to be obedient in serving others, not motivated from some personal righteousness and perceived benefit, but as an expression of our love for God and His Church. Jesus affirmed that the greatest of God’s Commandments was, “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Not because God needs our worship and blessing, but that in where our thoughts focus, where we put our value and treasure (efforts, money, and devotion), there is where our hearts will follow, and from where all blessings truly flow.  This Commandment is His first calling, and what prompts a response from us in our obedience to our Lord.  

And why? Indeed, to fulfill the second greatest commandment, that is to “love your neighbor as yourself” as an expression of selfless love; not a mere “feeling of love,” but rather a purposeful action of love, regardless of personal comfort level, or even our desire to be involved in loving others.  And who are others?  Who are our neighbors?  How about, “a shipmate.” And brothers, sisters, and both close and extended family and relatives.  Those in our immediate and extended faith family; those in our personal sphere of influence, and even those to whom God brings into our lives no matter how briefly.  The commandment is simple and typified in the well-known story of the “Good Samaritan,” about whom Jesus himself plainly illustrated His Kingdom’s definition of “neighbor.” “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a love that is not without sacrifice.  So, what did that love look like for Matt and me?

Pray – from the beginning, even before tragedy struck, he and his family yet again, in the worst imaginal ways; I asked Matt if I could pray with him in that same darkened passageway aboard the Warship we’d served aboard.  From that moment on, God set in motion events and activities neither Matt nor I could ever have imagined; and from that day until now, I try to pray every time my thoughts continue to wonder how Matt and his family are doing… “Okay, Lord, I’ll pray and call…” I have come to understand there’s more often than not, a reason He has put Matt on my mind, and I respond. And whether we were on the phone or in person, we pray together in praising God regardless of the circumstances, taking time to share the Word and God actively in our lives, and allowing the Holy Spirit to bless and guide us.

Listen – self-explanatory, right?  Well, for guys like me, a guy who can’t shut up at times, more difficult than you’d expect.  Understanding first, in the worst of the storms, Matt (and Erica) needs to talk through what is going on in that moment, and their needs are paramount!  Through prayer even prior to talking and silently during our most serious conversations, I endeavored to focus in on what Matt was telling me, not necessarily looking for any input from me at all, but to simply be there as his brother in Christ and friend.  There are times where I fail in this, but having established a solid bond of trust, Matt is quick to forgive when I speak out of turn, when I should simply just listen.  This kind of bond will require an answer very often, but if listening and letting the Holy spirit prompt, I am more likely to give a Biblical response of godly counsel, than simply Tim’s opinion.  And I always pray for the Lord’s wisdom, and never my own – but what God has given me in His Word and the Spirit’s conviction. Listening actively and putting myself in Matt’s shoes in doing so also allows me to respond without judgment and preconceived notions, as sometimes circumstances unlived but shared are going to be beyond my total understanding.  Finally, when at all possible, turn to the Lord and let His Word guide your advice and actions.

Affirm – in the raging sea and unceasing deluge in the aftermath of suicide: guilt, anger, despair, and overwhelming confusion so often press down on survivors, and Matt in those months following the loss of Elizabeth was pressed into those depths to the point for drowning.  Lies from the enemy tore at his consciousness and very often, in prayer we not only beseeched the Lord for relief, and I as often as I could affirmed in Matt God’s truth, God’s love and God’s value for Matt and his family.  Affirming words spoken in love demonstrate God’s value in the heart of man, and deliver Hope when survival is at stake; affirming words have been crucial to sustain, uphold, and encourage Matt, Erica and my Godchildren as they’ve navigated the most foreboding of seas; and affirming words are best said by the Holy Spirit’s prompting.

Comfort – whether in person or over the phone or on video calls, being available whether night or day, times of convenience or in the most inconvenient circumstances (as spiritual battles often happen), I’m there for Matt and his family, no questions asked, nor apologies needed.  I’ve found that Matt simply knowing this, knowing I’m a lifeline to he and his family provide great comfort and calming to Matt’s spirit.  And truthfully, regardless of how familiar we are with someone, simply the offer of availability and a lifeline to those in crisis is a crucial action (why we have crisis hotlines) and doesn’t require any familiarity with those to whom we are comforting.  Comfort often involves consolation, reassurance, and uplifting encouragement or all the other actions described in PLACE.  While at other times, as with Matt and I, comfort looks like a fondness in movies, music, and a Sailor’s shared yarn, lifestyle and sense of humor, often culminating in salty, yet good-hearted ribbing between us, and the particularities of a Sailor’s life and military service in general – aka., a “Band of Brothers” shared experiences.

Empathize – which can be the scariest of all actions because it involves putting yourself in the shoes and circumstances of the survivor.  Simply enough stated -to have compassion and seek to understand the other person’s experience and perspective- but far more difficult in practice.  And when it comes to suicide, Matt’s experience, by far required prayer and the Holy Spirit’s comforting guidance.  Empathizing with someone in Matt’s world, is going to be at times crushing, heartbreaking, and troubling in the extreme, but the Lord provides, and while all these things and more still, the emotions and experience will NEVER be so intolerable as for the survivor walking on a deck that is being pitched violently on the stormed tossed seas of suicide.  Through prayer and God’s equipping for this calling I have been able to be God’s closest confidant to Matt and his family; and as Matt has shown in his stewardship of these tragic events, never more have I been given a GREATER BLESSING, to be a part of a life and family so valuable to the Lord.

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