Introduction to the Survivor Stories section of “The Hope Chest”: There is nothing more powerful than hearing other people’s stories of overcoming adversity. Sometimes we feel we are the only ones battling our way through something, which is very isolating and serves to increase our stress level. When we realize there are others who’ve walked or are walking similar paths, we feel a sense of connectedness and of hope. Learning from others can propel us to get “unstuck” and start our own journey of healing. Here, we will be highlighting stories of trauma survivors who have risen above their usually quite complex trauma experiences. They may even be in a place where they are capitalizing upon the survival skills they developed to manage the trauma, and not just surviving, but thriving. They may have also taken their journey to the point of becoming instrumental in making a difference in other people’s lives.
And with that, I will introduce you to a man named Philip Kent Church, who I met in 2003 when I was what I call a “baby therapist,” meaning I was young and inexperienced in the field, not too far into being a clinician, and working at a local community mental health center. Philip had an extremely complex and long-standing trauma history that spanned the age range of 2 to mid-20’s. He came with multiple mental health and medical diagnoses that I won’t get into here. Suffice it to say, he was showing his ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences). The long-term trauma history he had was clearly at the root of all the mental health challenges he had been experiencing and was continuing to experience at age 40. However, this gentleman had built the most impressive set of survival and coping skills, including the gift of writing, and we were able to start capitalizing on those things. He went from journaling for himself and me, his therapist, to eventually launching himself into the literary world. By the time of Philip’s unfortunate death in 2020 at age 60, he had written and published close to a dozen books and had been working the poet, storytelling, and dramatic reading circuit for about eight years.
For my first Survivor Story entry into “The Hope Chest,” which I’ve entitled “Poet, Prophet, Outlaw, Sage, and Trauma Survivor,” (a nod to the title of his first published collection of works in 2013) I give you Philip Kent Church’s first poem ever written entitled, “Love, Brad,” dedicated to Brad Adkins (1975-1995) with whom Philip worked as an aide during Brad’s high school years. I dedicate this first Survivor Story blog post to the memory and the legacy of Philip Kent Church (1960-2020).
From a sea of shame I was tempest tossed,
To a last chance for life, or would I be lost.
I received a sweet, small voice from Heaven above,
To finally get it right, I must learn God’s love.
To know God’s love? What did that mean?
It’s there in First Corinthians, Chapter Thirteen.
For me to live such a life, was an example to be had?
The voice said yes, his name was Brad.
Brad’s long suffering could extend to be ancient,
In virtually everything, he would always be patient.
Life was unfair, he knew in his mind,
But he didn’t care, for he chose to be kind.
In acquiring so many things his friends were quite zealous,
Brad didn’t mind, he was just never jealous.
While others reveled, their selfish pride to save,
In an unbecoming way he would never behave.
To him, great and small raised their cups and toasted,
But he was not arrogant, Brad never boasted.
Regardless of the person, their friendship he’d hone,
Brad accepted everyone, not just his own.
Some were mean-spirited, they might’ve been choked,
But he’d just let it go, he was never provoked.
While attacks could be cruel, their intentions unbuffered,
Brad let it pass, counting no injury suffered.
In celebrating wickedness some would make their choice,
In things such as that, he refused to rejoice.
In small things some complained and showed great care,
But it was a mercilessness illness roar he had to bear.
Jaded by the world, our hearts’s desires we might leave.
But from Brad’s innocent heart, he would always believe,
And while those around him struggled to cope,
He would not surrender, he always had hope.
This world, his direction, vexation would send,
Brad never relented. He endured till the end.
And so I had from my gift above;
I’ll always remember Brad….He showed me God’s love!
1 Corinthians, Chapter 13 (verses 4-7)
Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous: love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth: bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Forever in my heart & always on my mind – miss ya, bud! – Philip Kent Church
Philip K. Church, you are forever in my mind and heart, just as Brad is in yours. Thank you for your courage, your persistence, the inspiration and gifts you brought and shared with the world despite your suffering, and the trust you placed in me to be your therapist for 7 years.
Wishing you all a day sprinkled with hope,
Melissa Adamchik, Executive Director, Tristate Trauma Network