26: Unmarked Intersection-Rhonda Robinson
About the Guest
- FreeFall: Holding onto Faith When the Unthinkable Strikes by Rhonda Robinson. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1563093006/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_0KTnFbWK9BSYD
- Check out all that's available on the FamilyLife Podcast Network.
- Your generous support of FamilyLife helps create podcasts like Unfavorable Odds™. https://donate.familylife.com/unfavorable-odds/
Rhonda RobinsonRhonda Robinson is a mother of nine who carefully built her life nurturing her family, gardens, and writing parenting columns. Rhonda saw her world shatter with the words, “Dan died at the scene.” Through life-altering events, disabling illnesses, and devastating loss, Rhonda learned to break down and rebuild her life. She became a witness to the undeniable, unseen hand of God.
For Rhonda Robinson, June 3, 2008, split her life in two. On that day two of Rhonda’s sons were involved in an accident. One son survived, one did not
26: Unmarked Intersection-Rhonda Robinson
Rhonda: We walked in and the chaplain that called us, he ushered us past our family and friends and into a room and closed the door, and he said the most horrific words I’ve ever heard, “Dan died at the scene.” At that point, my life shattered. Everything that I had envisioned and tried to create just shattered.
Kim: From the FamilyLife® Podcast Network, this is Unfavorable Odds. I’m Kim Anthony.
Unfavorable Odds is about finding hope and help in those seasons of life when things are pretty tough. Jesus has promised us that whenever we walk through those dark valleys, He’s always with us. We will never have to go it alone so on each episode of this podcast, we’ll be talking with people who have learned how, during those dark times, to draw their strength from Jesus.
Sometimes we think that if we do the right things like love God, go to church, give to the poor, we will be immune to hardships. In other words, good behavior equals a good life. But what happens when devastation interrupts your good life and changes it forever?
I spoke with Rhonda Robinson about this very topic. Two of her sons were in a horrible accident on the day that would split her life in two.
Rhonda is a mother of nine and the author of the book Free Fall: Holding onto Faith When the Unthinkable Strikes.
One thing that stood out to me when I was talking with Rhonda was that we don’t really have complete control over our lives. Sometimes we think we do, but we don’t. Yet knowing the One who does, makes all the difference.
You describe June 3, 2008, as the day that splits your life.
Kim: What happened on that day?
Rhonda: My Hannah was scheduled for surgery. She had an injury, a childhood injury that had caused her a lot of discomfort. We had scheduled the surgery. We got up early one morning and we all gathered. My Danny, he was 13 at the time—he was just a month away from being 14—he stopped all the hustle and bustle and said, “Let’s pray. Let’s pray for Hannah.”
So we did. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember much of the prayer. I really don’t. My mind was thinking of all the things that we had to do and gather up. It was going to be a long day at the hospital, and I was just kind of anxious about it. The hospital alone was an hour away.
We kissed everybody goodbye and ran out the door. It was a long day. It was a very, very long day. Danny had asked to go with us. We said, “No,” because, as I said, he was 13. All I could think of was he was going to bankrupt me with vending machines. [Laughter] So we told him no. We left.
The day was long. We sat in the waiting room waiting for them to come in, but they kept coming in telling us they’d had a little bit more complications. There was more scar tissue than what they had anticipated so a routine surgery added extra hours onto the surgery.
By the time we were getting ready to go into the hospital room, I get a phone call. It was my girlfriend. She just started talking, going on and on. I had no idea what she was talking about. She just kept rambling.
I said, “Wait, what are you talking—”
She could tell by my lack of understanding that I had no idea what she was talking about and she says, “Oh, Rhonda, you haven’t heard.”
I said, “What?”
She said, “There’s been a terrible accident.”
At that point, all I heard was “terrible accident” and “airlifted”. I didn’t really grasp who was airlifted or who was even in the vehicle. In fact, at that time we didn’t know who was actually airlifted. I turned to my husband. We just looked at each other and said, “We’ve got to go. We’ve got to go now.”
My daughter’s fiancé was there. I just looked at him. I said, “Please take care of my girl.” I said, “Just don’t tell her what’s going on.” I was so afraid she would wake up in this fog of anesthesia with bad news and she’d be trapped in this horrible nightmare. I put a horrible burden on her fiancé by—he had to carry this and smile and just let her try to recover. She knew something was going on though when she woke up and I wasn’t there.
We ran out the door as fast as we could. My husband was driving our truck. He was an ex-police officer and I swear he was driving it like a squad car. The weather had turned really bad on us. There was hail just pelting the windshield. I was frantically trying to call hospitals because we didn’t even know where the boys had been taken.
At that point, all I knew was that Tommy was driving—my 16-year-old. Then all of a sudden, you know how the volume just kind of turns up in your mind and you remember something? All of a sudden, I realized who she said was in the vehicle. It was Tom and my Danny, my two youngest boys.
I thought, “Wait! Dan was supposed to be at home. Why—he’s not old enough to play basketball with them but he was. He had gone. His big brother had decided that it was time that his little brother learned to play basketball with the big boys because he was going to be 14 shortly and that he would be soon going into high school.
There were two boys, two 16 and two 13, and they were on an unmarked country road and another truck t-boned them. At that point, I didn’t know where they were. I got a phone call from a chaplain that said that he was in charge of Tom and would we please come to St. Mary’s Hospital. At that point I knew at least where my Tommy was.
We went to go to the hospital. We walked in and the corridors were just lined with friends and family. Word travels fast in a small community. We walked past them and the chaplain that called us, all of a sudden, he wasn’t really worried about Tom or about me seeing him. And I say me, my husband was by my side the whole time. This is from my perspective. But he ushered us past our family and friends and into a room and closed the door.
He said the most horrific words I’ve ever heard. He said that Dan died at the scene. At that point, my life shattered. Everything, everything that I had envisioned and tried to create just shattered on that unmarked intersection.
Kim: Rhonda, I am so sorry. I’m so, so sorry. [Emotion in voice]
Rhonda: Thank you.
Kim: Will you describe, if you’re able to, what it felt like those early moments after finding out that Danny had died.
Rhonda: There’s a mixture of feelings that all converge. There’s disbelief. The pain is so great honestly that your mind really can’t absorb it all. I really think that’s why we go through denial because you literally push it away.
When your leg is severed, if you were to look down and see a severed leg or a severed arm, your mind just stops. You go into shock. Your brain says, “Oh, I can’t deal with that. I’m out.” You know, it can’t.
When your heart is shattered like that when a death rocks your world, it happens the same way emotionally. Your brain just says, “I can’t deal with that.”
The pain comes in waves because I think that’s one of the ways actually that God is merciful and that we take it bit by bit. The pain is actually a physical pain in your chest. It is a physical crushing pain and it is mind numbing. The best way that I could describe it is I felt like I was in a complete and utter freefall. I just fell back into my Savior’s arms and said, “I can’t do this. I can’t. I don’t understand.” [Emotion in voice]
Kim: Were there any questions you were wrestling with, maybe not early on, but as time passed?
Rhonda: Oh sure. Oh sure. There’s so many. One in particular was I asked myself the same thing I think everybody asks, “Why me? Why my family? Why my son?”
The first thing that came to me is, “Why not? What makes me so special? What makes my family exempt?”
I thought, too, I thought, “Why my son?” Well, who would I want? Would I want the other family’s son? No, no. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone so in an odd sense, I was grateful that it was my family and not someone else’s.
I know that sounds really weird, but I learned that if I could be grateful for things even in this time that helped my peace define things, because there were a lot of things that I questioned. But one by one the Lord would come to me and help me work through those.
Kim: How does one become grateful in times like these? Is it just a choice? You just choose to say, “I’m grateful,” or was it a process for you?
Rhonda: It’s definitely a choice and it was a process. I have to say, too, that you can’t give someone who’s grieving gratitude. You can’t say, “You have eight other children you could be grateful for them.” Because it doesn’t work that way.
Nothing could replace that one child. Of course I was grateful that I had all of my other children, but gratefulness comes out of a communion with God. It comes from your heart. It comes from within. It’s something you have to look for and think about.
What I learned, we have an ability or we have this idea—I think everybody does it—we say, “It could always be worse.” It’s more along those lines. We think, “Life could always be worse.”
You think, “How could life be worse than losing a child?” It could be worse if I lost two children. It could have been worse if I was at the scene. I learned to be thankful for things like, “He didn’t die in my arms. I didn’t watch him suffer.” So many parents have to watch a child suffer for years sometimes and I could be grateful that I didn’t have to do that.
Now does that make my situation better than someone else’s? No, but it shifts my ability to go from my own perspective and my own pain to empathy for someone else. When you have empathy for someone else’s pain, then you can pray for them. It’s a mind shift and a renewing of your mind that takes you away from your own sorrow to understand that you could be grateful of the things that didn’t happen.
I was grateful that there was a young man who knew my children who actually came and identified my son’s body. He didn’t want to do this. He was only 23 years old. But they told him if he didn’t do it that his parents would have to come. [Emotion in voice] He didn’t want us to have to come and see him, so he did it for us. I was grateful to that young man that he spared us that.
That’s what I’m talking about, gratitude, and having to find it on your own. You can’t give somebody or tell somebody to be grateful. It doesn’t work that way.
Kim: I’m sure it took you some time to get to that place of being grateful.
Kim: Along those lines, I want you to tell me about that Sunday morning when you wrote about how you were crying to God and you were not sure if you could make it. You were crying out to God and God spoke to your heart in a way that gave you comfort.
Rhonda: Yes. There were more than one time that I felt like that. But one in particular time that I believe that you’re talking about that I shared in the book was, I was restless and I just really couldn’t—I felt like a caged lion—I couldn’t sit. I just couldn’t stand the pain anymore and I cried out to the Lord. I said, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this anymore, Lord. I can’t live the rest of my life like this.
People will always tell you, “You know you never get over it,” so “Is this my life sentence that I’m going to live like this forever?”
He spoke to my heart and He says, “Okay, so what if I gave you what you’re asking me? What if I gave him back to you? What if I could give him back to you today? Bring him from My presence and put him in yours and you could spend the rest of your life with him. You could grow old and see his family.”
Immediately I realized that if I truly loved him, I couldn’t take him from the presence of the Lord. That that’s actually where I want to be. That’s where I want all of my children to be. If that’s the case, then it was really just my mama’s heart that was hurting and missing him. If that was the case, if that was the deal, if He came and He said, “I’ll give you this boy for 13 years and no more. You can have him for 13 years and then you’ll mourn him for the rest of your life, would you take the deal?”
I thought, “Yes! Yes, I would take that deal in a heartbeat.” If that’s the case, then the reality of it is that I kind of took that deal in posthumously. I kind of—that I wouldn’t change anything.
I began being thankful for the times that I had with him and I didn’t allow my mind to go into what I didn’t get, what I couldn’t have, that I didn’t get to see his grandchildren or my grandchildren, that I didn’t get to go to his wedding or his graduation; but I could be thankful for this delightful little boy who would get out of bed and go kiss his big sister goodnight and turn off the light for her every single time she asked.
That was a turning point. Thank you for asking. That was definitely a turning point in my heart.
Kim: As you were describing that, it made me think of some people who refuse to have children because they have such a fear that they may lose them. But what you’re saying is that no matter how long we have our children with us the value of their lives and their impact on you and the people around you, their siblings, the community, is priceless and so worth having.
Rhonda: Oh yes, yes! We’re not promised tomorrow. Nobody—
Rhonda: —whether we get 90 days or 90 years, it’s living today. We get one day at a time.
The Lord really helped me prepare. I like to think of it as like putting pillows around to help absorb the impact. About being a teenage boy, we had some deep discussions and I grounded him one day for something he had done. I looked at him and I said, “Have I told you today that I loved you?”
And he says, “No.”
I said, “I love you!”
I remember thinking that I needed to check on that because he was going through those emotional times where they’re just not sure, “Mom and Dad, do you really love me?”
“Yes, I do. Just because I grounded you does not mean I don’t love you.”
I made it a point every day that I said for about three months before the accident, every single day I made it a point. I said, “Hey,”—I’d catch him by the arm—“have I told you today that I love you?”
He’d say, “No.”
I’d say, “I love you.” He’d give me a great big hug and a kiss for three months every single day until the day he left. [Crying] I took such comfort knowing that—
Kim: He knew that you loved him.
Rhonda: He knew that I loved him, yes.
Kim: As you grieved the loss of Danny, did you ever feel responsible in any way—
Rhonda: Oh, yes.
Kim: —for him not being here?
Rhonda: Oh yes, absolutely. I felt a tremendous guilt on a couple of levels. One in particular was the fact that he had asked to go with us. Had he been in the hospital with us and I was feeding vending machines and keeping him occupied and talking to him, then he wouldn’t have been in that vehicle.
Yes, I carried a great guilt over that. I was sure it was my fault. I could have avoided it, but I didn’t.
Kim: How were you able to overcome that guilt?
Rhonda: I struggled with it for a long time and I realized that Satan was telling me a lot of lies. I realized also that he was whispering the same thing to a lot of my family. Most of us felt like it was our fault. My oldest son felt that it was his fault because he had bought the truck for his little brother that they were riding in.
My son who was driving felt the weight of it because he was driving, so he was responsible. He had invited him—my daughter held them up. They were 10 minutes later leaving. If she had not kept them, then they wouldn’t have been in that intersection at that precise moment.
When I started seeing that—realizing that there were a lot of lies we were being tormented with, I wrote down the lies. I wrote them on a paper. I said, “This is what I’m hearing in my head.” I wrote it down. Then I looked at that and went, “But here’s the truth.” I wrote down, “It was my fault. I was too selfish. I didn’t want to feed him out of vending machines. I didn’t want to have keep him occupied while he was bored in a hospital waiting room. It’s my fault. If I had not been so busy and so preoccupied, he would have been alive today.”
But the reality was I was not given a choice for him to either die or go with me. I was given a choice for him to play K’nex with his nephew or go to a hospital. I’m often busy but I’m not too busy to take care of my children. I believed that that was the best thing for him; that he would be happiest that day where he was. I left him safe at home. When I realized—when I could see the lie and the truth, there was a big gap.
Rhonda: There was no connection. When those thoughts could come in, I could push them aside, “Nope, this is truth.” I began to retrain my mind and seek only what was truth because I think that it’s very common. I think the enemy comes in and tells us often that, “It’s your fault,” or “Things would not be this way if you hadn’t….”
He’s the accuser and a liar. As parents we always think that we can fix things or we always think that we can control our children’s surroundings because we want to so badly to keep them safe, so why wouldn’t he use that against us.
Rhonda: It all goes back to, there are so many things out of our control. Control is an illusion. And what that exercise did is it showed me that I was not in control.
Kim: Many times we either choose to believe the lies and we get buried in them or we try to ignore what we’re feeling and push through anyway. But I love that you were able to stop, and as you said, compare the lies to the truth and see that the truth is what wins out.
Kim: What type of support system did you have?
Rhonda: My main support system was my husband, and I had a couple of very, very close friends who we could just sit and cry—who would just allow me to cry and allow me to be me. That was primarily my support system.
I honestly really withdrew quite a bit. In the beginning we had our family and our church family who was very, very supportive. Don’t get me wrong. I had a very close-knit church family, a very close family, but time goes on. For me, that kind of changed because they needed me.
When you have that kind of support system, it’s usually because it’s a two-way street. Because I was mom, I was a wife, I was Grandma, and they still needed me. But they needed me or they thought they needed me to be the same person I was. It was only the Lord that could show me that this was going to change me and that that was okay.
Kim: Yes. I remember sitting with a counselor shortly after a major loss in my life. She told me that very thing. She said, “Kim, you will never be the same. This will change you.” I didn’t understand it but now I do as I’ve processed that grief. Do you feel that you were allowed to grieve as much as you needed to?
Rhonda: I had to make a new way. I wasn’t in the beginning. We ended up having to make a very life-changing decision in order to allow that to happen. We ended up moving. I—after a year in that old farmhouse that I loved so much, the memories became triggers so we moved to another state—took the children that were still at home, which at that point was just two, and we moved to Tennessee. We moved from Illinois to Tennessee.
Some of my children, my adult children, really understood that I needed that and that we needed that peace. But there were other children that really did not understand that. I had one daughter tell me, “Mom, I feel like our foundations are cracking.” She said the foundations of our family are cracking. I had another one tell me, “Why would you build such a strong family only to rip it apart?”
I don’t begrudge them or I’m not angry for either one of their feelings because that’s how they felt. They needed me but I was not yet ready. I wasn’t healed. I told my daughter who said that about the foundations, I said, “Honey, the foundations are cracked. I’m trying desperately to fix them.”
I had to realize that I didn’t choose this. I didn’t choose this for our family. This is not how I envisioned my family to be. But this is the reality that we had to deal with. I needed to pick up those pieces and see what God was going to create out of them.
Kim: Right. When we experience loss, we often want things to go back to normal. It sounds like your family wanted the same thing. Why do you think self-preservation is the most common response to tragedy?
Rhonda: I think—boy, that’s really well put—that’s a really good question—I think because normal and self-preservation and getting things back, it makes it kind of—there’s this false assumption that it will be like it didn’t really happen; that, “This didn’t happen. See it’s all the same. It’s like it used to be. This didn’t—
Rhonda: —hurt us like it does.” It’s a way to ignore it. It’s a way to pretend that it didn’t happen. I think that’s a normal feeling. We like repetition. We like normal. We like predictability. We like to be in control.
How hurtful do you think it is though when we are in essence living in denial and we’re trying to get things back as usual knowing that they’re never really going to be?
Rhonda: Right. Oh, I think that that’s—I think that people talk about, “What does healthy grief look like?” or “Are they doing well?”
I think we have this misconception that just because they have a smile on their face or they’re going about their normal routine that that’s healthy grieving. It’s not. Healthy grief is understanding that your life is never going to be the same and you have a choice. It will either refine you or it will twist you into something that is unrecognizable and that you are never intended to be.
But you do have a choice. You do have a choice in how you’re going to let that pain shape you and mold you.
When those closest to us feel that their job is to pull us back into that normal, that was normal before the incident happened, what is it they’re not understanding about us?
Rhonda: They’re not understanding that there will never be the same, that you are no longer that person; that now what you have to do is you have to find your new normal.
It’s understandable because they need stability. They’re looking for stability. They’re looking for that person that they knew and that they could count on, but they don’t understand that, even though on the outside you may look the same, your internal world has completely shattered. And not just because of a loss, but also you lose your future. What they don’t understand is you can’t see what the future looks like.
Nobody has a crystal ball. Nobody really believes that they know the future but we act like we do. We have this vision of what things are going to be like. You get married and you think of the house that you’re one day going to have or the children that you’re going to have. When you have children, you think about their college.
You do have an idea of what you believe your future is going to be and you work towards that. We work towards that. But with a devastating loss like that, that future’s gone too. What they can’t understand is that you can’t see your future yet.
What we have to do is try to understand what this new world that we never wanted to live in is going to actually look like.
Kim: Rhonda, how does a person make this healthy transition from the former life to this new reality after tragedy? How do we do that?
Rhonda: I will say, this that it will take longer than anyone expects it to. Those people around you, maybe looking at you maybe a year or two years or three years afterwards, are looking at you going, “Okay, it’s time to get it together.”
It still may not be time yet. That is on your own timeline.
How you do it is it begins with trust. It does begin with reaching out for that unseen hand, that asking the Lord, “What next? Lord, I can’t do this.”
But I said “You know what? If I’m going to have to go through this pain, I want something in return.” [Laughter] “You’re going to have to make me better for this. I don’t want to be the same person. I want you to just melt away all these things that don’t really matter.”
Because what happens in this time of grief is that the Lord can draw closer to you. It is an opportunity to look at your life and see what is really, truly important to you because death has a way of making you realize that life is short and we can’t take it for granted. What exactly means the most to you and are you spending your life there?
I would say that where you begin is trust.
Kim: Trust, trust. In your book you give this great illustration using a puzzle and how it actually mirrors life after loss. Do you remember that illustration?
Rhonda: Oh yes, yes. I used the illustration of a box. You go buy a box; don’t look at the puzzle pieces. On the front, it has this beautiful picture of what it’s going to look like when it’s all done.
That’s kind of like our life. We have this vision of what all these pieces of our life is all going to come together and look like some day.
If you could imagine, you had your box and you open it up but as you were going to the table that you were planning on—you tripped and it all went all over. All the pieces were scattered and some were lost. Some of the pieces no longer fit. It’s no longer the picture that you had envisioned.
But that’s just it. It’s the picture that you envisioned. Our lives can’t be put in a box. We have a God that has actually has a vision for us. He’s painting that picture.
Rhonda: As you pick up each one of those pieces of our lives, we can examine it closely and we can decide where it goes. As we do that, it creates a better picture, a more loving picture, a picture that’s filled with trust and one that’s designed, not by our hand, but by the Master, the Master Artist, our Creator.
Kim: When we see that picture, not only do we see a future where God is able to use us in extraordinary ways, possibly because of what we’ve gone through, but we also see life change, we see heart change; we see a maturity in our faith that maybe we would not have experienced had we not gone through the struggle.
Rhonda: Oh, absolutely. I am not thankful that I lost my son but I am thankful that the Lord has come to me in times and ways that I would have never ever known Him had I not come to the end of myself and been in the deepest darkest places. I’ve come to know a very loving, real God. I have felt His arms around me. I have felt that peace in ways I never would have known any other way.
Yes, I am a different person and I like this person better. [Laughter] But the pain that I have felt, I have learned to accept and it is still there almost 12 years later. It’s just a part of who I am.
Kim: Yes, yes.
In your book you talk about platitudes that we often use to try to comfort those who are hurting. What I’d like to do is I want to go through a few of those platitudes that you mentioned. I will say the platitude and then I want you to talk about your thoughts regarding those things. Is that okay?
Rhonda: That’s fine.
Kim: Okay, the first one is “Everything happens for a reason.”
Rhonda: Yes, that’s actually a twist. I believe that that’s for every good lie, there has to be this grain of truth that strains through it for it to be believable. What people will do is they’ll see the good that comes out of something and they’ll say, “Oh, well that’s the reason it happened.”
But that’s not it. What is truth is that God can come to us and He can take any situation and bring good out of it. He is a good Father.
Kim: Another platitude we often use to comfort other people, or maybe we’ve heard it ourselves in our times of need is, “God never gives you more than you can handle.” What are your thoughts on this platitude?
Rhonda: We often have things that we can’t handle. We absolutely do. [Emotion in voice] Our life alone is more than we can handle without Him. That’s why we need Him. That’s when we call on His strength.
Kim: That’s good. And the last one I’ll mention is, “It’s God’s will that whatever you experienced happened.”
Rhonda: I had a woman come up to me and say, at the funeral actually—she was an elderly woman, a very sweet woman, and she came up to me and she clasped my hands in hers and she looked into my eyes and said, “God just needed another rose for His bouquet.”
I’m like “Wait, what?”
People will also say, “God just needed him in heaven more.” It’s just another version of saying, “Everything happens for a reason.”
God’s will, I believe, is just kind of carelessly tossed around to make us accept what’s happened. If it’s God’s will, then it’s kind of like, “Okay, we’ll just swallow and bear it because this is His will.”
When I realized—that was probably one of the platitudes that made me realize that accepting those platitudes are deadly to somebody who’s grieving.
I think it’s the reflection of the truth that God, He is the Father, He is the Giver of Life, and He’s given us a free will. But He has also provided for our failings. He puts in to our lives things that will help us to get through this, like I was saying, the pillows that speaking to my heart saying, “Tell him you love him. I know that you love him.”—those kind of things—that is God’s will. God’s will was for me to have peace after his death.
Kim: Your community provided emotional support for you and your family when you lost Danny, but they also provided a different type of support, financial support, when you all were going through some difficult times.
Rhonda: Oh yes. Losing Dan was actually not the first tragedy we had gone through. We had almost lost my husband a couple of times, so we consider every day with him to this day a blessing. One in particular time, he had had a blood clot that had gone to both lungs and we almost lost him. In fact, the doctor said that he had never seen that type of a clot and someone living because by the time he usually gets to them they’re gone.
At that point, our church family while we were still in the hospital—I say we because I was by his side—when he went into the hospital, I stayed in there with him—our church family gathered and the men made a decision that we were not going to lose our home over this.
They all pitched in and they each one decided how much they could spare to support our family. They were $15 and $30 and just small amounts out of each paycheck they gave us and for two years while my husband was recovering and couldn’t go back to work, they paid every bill that we had.
Kim: That’s unheard of.
Rhonda: I know, I know. It still takes my breath away. These were not—this was not a large church and this was not a wealthy church. We were all very rural and raising young families. But they sacrificially gave to make sure that we were okay and that we did not go without. And through that entire time that he was without work, we did not go without, not once.
Kim: —not once.
Rhonda: —not once.
Kim: What do you think is the most important lesson you learned during those times?
Rhonda: Wow. For some reason I seem to have to learn that one over and over. It was just trust. It was also not just trust but also fear. I realized looking back that what was really the hardest part was not about what we were experiencing but what I was afraid we were going to experience.
Kim: I see.
Rhonda: It wasn’t that there wasn’t food in the refrigerator but, “Would there be food tomorrow?”
And shame and I also—there was a time where I felt bad because I didn’t have this big family for somebody else to feed. I didn’t. We created this family because this is who we wanted to be so it was a real hard blow to my pride that someone else would have to feed us and take care of us. But what I realized, too, is that that is part of being a follower of Christ is to be able to accept and to be able to accept the gifts as well as to be the giver.
Kim: That’s a good lesson to learn. It really is.
Now God proved himself to you with Danny’s situation. He proved himself to you in your husband’s situation, your family’s situation, but you still had a little more trusting to learn about Him because there was fear—you talked about trust and fear being a theme.
You had a fear in your heart that what you had believed when you were growing up that you were a mistake was still the case. Yet you yearned in your heart to know the truth so your sweet husband, he gave you a special gift on your birthday. What was it?
Rhonda: He gave me a DNA test so that I could learn my family heritage. Now I have to say that I was afraid of that. My children all desperately wanted to know. But see I had told myself a different story. Because part of my story and part of my belief that I wasn’t wanted and I was a mistake was because I was told that my mother was just 14. That is a scary story. Fourteen-year-olds don’t normally just fall in love and get pregnant.
I was afraid of what that story really was. Did that mean I was a product of rape? Did that mean that she was seduced or incest or—there was a whole line of stories that could be. That was a box I really didn’t want to open. But my husband thought that this would be a great safe way for me to find out, that I could find out my heritage, I could find out all these things, even health issues, and I wouldn’t have to knock on anybody’s door.
I desperately did not want to knock on somebody’s door and say, “Hey, remember that mistake you fixed? Um, it’s here.” That scared me.
Kim: That is scary.
Rhonda: It is. It’s was just a story I was afraid to learn.
When I got the DNA test back and I was looking at my phone and I did opt in that if anybody wanted, if there was any DNA relatives, that they could contact me. But what I didn’t realize is that when you do that, they’re also going to show you the DNA relatives. I really didn’t take that into consideration. Silly, I know, but I didn’t just think of it. I looked at my phone and all of a sudden there were names and it said “uncle” and “first cousin”.
Kim: Oh my goodness.
Rhonda: My heart just sunk. I took a screenshot and I sent it to my son. I said, “Look at this! What do I do with this?”
He says, “I’m going to work on this, Mom.” Thanks to modern social media, within just a few hours, my son was able to locate my family and I found out the truth. The truth was that my mom was not 14, she was 19 and that she didn’t have a choice. That in the days in the 1950’s, when you came up pregnant, you went away and arrangements were made. I was put up for adoption.
She fell in love with a serviceman. But in those days, again we had no cell phones, we had no email, we had no instant communication. She was actually in a boarding school and snuck out in a party one night and met a handsome man in a uniform. When she went back, they were caught—actually, there was a group of them—and she was caught so she was expelled from school and he was shipped out. They never saw each other again. I was not fortunate enough to meet my mother or my father.
Kim: I’m sorry.
Rhonda: But I was deeply blessed with siblings and two uncles who have opened their family and their arms to me without reservation. It’s been absolutely wonderful. God pulled the curtain back and showed me the story that He wrote, not the one that I had devised in my mind.
Kim: Again, He brought in that truth.
Rhonda: He brought in that truth and dispelled the lies. Yes, He did.
Kim: I love it. I love it.
Rhonda, would you close out our interview by speaking to that person who is heartbroken right now and they feel like they can’t possibly go on. What would you say?
Rhonda: I would say I understand. I get it. One day you have the world and you have a vision of what your life is and who you are and what you’re going to do and the next minute that world is something you don’t recognize and you’re not even sure if you want to live in it any more. I understand. But the good news is that God understands, too, and that God feels your pain and that He is there for you.
I know it doesn’t feel like it. I know His voice is a whisper, but He is there and He does feel it. If you will call out in your deepest hour and open your heart and reach out your hand, you will find a peace that passes anything you can comprehend and that you can be guided through day-by-day, step-by-step into this new life, one that is guided by truth and not the lies that we tell ourselves.
He will guide you through. One day you’ll look back and you’ll say, “That was horrible. I never ever want to go through anything like that again. But I am so thankful that I met the God that loves me and created me, and I am better for it.”
I promise you, if you’ll reach for that unseen hand, you will find it.
Kim: Rhonda Robinson gives a lot of encouragement to those who are struggling to make sense of their tragic circumstances. Hearing her story is a reminder that even when it appears that God is nowhere to be found, He is always at work.
What stood out to me most as I listened to her journey is how in the midst of her tragedy, one of the ways she was able to help further the healing process was by choosing the truth of her circumstances and more importantly the truth of God’s Word over the lies she was listening to.
Sometimes lies come to us from the outside. They may be the thoughts, opinions and beliefs of others, but they can also come from the inside: our own faulty thinking, skewed perceptions and sometimes plain old ignorance.
But wherever those lies come from, we all have a choice as to whether we will believe them or not. I don’t mean just choosing not to think about the lie. Doing that is like putting a book back on the shelf. It’s still there. The odds of us taking it off the shelf and reading it again are much greater than they would be if we chose to destroy the book altogether.
Instead of just not thinking about the lie, we need to destroy it by replacing it with the truth. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
It’s time for us, and I’m speaking to myself as well, to stop giving in and allowing our tragedies to win. We need to start fighting back. Perhaps the first step is to recognize those lies, shoot them down with the truth and then allow that truth to rule our souls. Rhonda Robinson has done this. I’m in the midst of doing it myself. I hope you’ll join us and do it too.
Thanks for listening. If you want to find out more about Rhonda Robinson or her book FreeFall, check out our show notes on the Unfavorable Odds page at FamilyLife.com/podcasts. There you’ll also be able to listen to the other podcasts on the FamilyLife Podcast Network.
If you enjoyed today’s conversation, I hope you’ll subscribe. You can search for Unfavorable Odds wherever you get your podcasts. You can also try asking your smart speaker or digital assistant to play the latest episode of Unfavorable Odds.
If I could ask you a favor, would you take a few minutes and leave a review of Unfavorable Odds on Apple Podcasts? It helps others to find the show, and if you think someone you know would enjoy today’s episode, consider texting them the link or posting it on social media.
Next time on Unfavorable Odds:
Bob: —in China, millions and millions of prisoners are waiting to hear the gospel.
Kim: But would it be legal for them to hear that gospel?
Bob: No! They’re not even allowed to have a copy of the Bible.
Kim: That’s Bob Fu, next time.
I’m Kim Anthony. Thanks for listening to this episode of Unfavorable Odds.
Unfavorable Odds is produced by FamilyLife and is a part of the FamilyLife Podcast Network.
We are so happy to provide these transcripts to you. However, there is a cost to produce them for our website. If you’ve benefited from the broadcast transcripts, would you consider donating today to help defray the costs?
Copyright © 2020 FamilyLife. All rights reserved.