Operation Heal Our Patriots: Chris and Lisa

God did amazing things in Chris and Lisa's life at Operation Heal Our Patriots®.

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The joy through our Operation Heal Our Patriots ministry of being baptized to new life in Christ, and the despair almost six years earlier of an attempted suicide—Lisa and Chris Harding have experienced both.

“It’s the next step in our faith—we’ve officially accepted the Lord into our lives,” said an elated Lisa, after she and Chris underwent a morning baptismal ceremony in the bone-chilling water of Lake Clark, along the shoreline just below Samaritan Lodge in southern Alaska.

Contrast that scene with a morning in November 2009, at their home in Morinville, AB. Back then, when his baby boy was only 18 days old, Chris went into his garage, climbed on a chair, tied a rope around his neck, and began tying the other end of the rope around a ceiling joist.

The then-30-year-old Canadian Armed Forces veteran had become so traumatized by his seven months in Afghanistan, and so uninterested in everything around him back in Canada, that he wanted to die.

During that cold November, Lisa awoke about 3 a.m. to baby Oliver crying. Chris soon came home drunk, they argued, and he went outside. Lisa wrapped their newborn in a blanket, dressed their three-year-old daughter, and went outside to find him.

They discovered Chris in their garage, seconds from hanging himself.

“I screamed and started fighting with Chris, trying to get him safely down,” Lisa recalled. “When he pushed back at me, I almost dropped Oliver. I was fighting for Chris’ life. I knew what his worth was, even if he didn’t know.”

She eventually convinced Chris to return to their house, but remained terrified for the rest of the night, and for many nights afterward, that he might try again to kill himself.

Chris’ military career had come to a sad end 19 months earlier. A Master Corporal, he served in Bosnia in 2002 before an exhausting deployment to Afghanistan in 2007 that was plagued by one deadly battle after another, week after week, month after month.

"I was fighting for Chris’ life. I knew what his worth was, even if he didn’t know.”

“It was just non-stop,” Chris said. “It seemed like we were cursed—like we couldn’t go anywhere without getting into a firefight with the Taliban.”

Two weeks before his scheduled return home, the tank in which Chris was riding drove over an IED or Improvised Explosive Device. It didn’t blow up the fast-moving tank but it did the armored vehicle trailing behind. Then another IED blew up a third armored vehicle.

Chris remembers body parts flying through the air, and a river of blood flowing down a hillside.

“That’s what really did me in,” Chris said. He came home emotionally distant from everyone around him, including Isabella, his four-month-old daughter whom he’d never met before.

“He didn’t want to hold her or anything,” Lisa said, tears filling her eyes. “And he didn’t want to talk about anything or do anything.”

Chris tried to continue his military career but he was plagued by nightmares and flashbacks. After being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Chris was voluntarily released in April 2008.

“I was angry all the time,” he said. “You get this adrenalin rush (from battle) that’s so high, and you stay there for so long, that you can get back down again. You’re always ready to fight.”

Chris coped by continuing to distance himself from everyone—and by drinking heavily.

He started working as a truck-driver in Fort McMurray, four hours north of where his family lived—and went home only three out of every 18 days. During those brief times with his family, Chris spent as much time as possible tinkering with his car or drinking with buddies. When Lisa pleaded with him to pay attention to her and their children, Chris responded with growing amounts of verbal abuse.

Their deeply fractured marriage continued like this for three more years. When it seemed things couldn’t get worse, Chris was in a near-deadly car accident—broad-sided by a pick-up truck going through a red light—in December 2012 that left him with a broken back, femur, pelvis, shoulder blade, collar bone, and arm, plus internal bleeding and a blood clot in his heart.

Chris’ injuries required 8 ½ hours of surgery, and three months in hospital. Three years later, he still has two metal plates in his arm, a metal rod in his leg, chronic pain in several parts of his body, recurring headaches, and short-term memory loss. He also walks with a cane, and “they feel I’ll never work again—every specialist I go to. I’m a 110-per-cent man, so not being able to work really hurts.”

Despite such enormous setbacks, Chris and Lisa say their marriage began to strengthen after the accident. His Christian faith that’d been marginally important to him before started to become very real. And so when Lisa learned about Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Heal Our Patriots ministry, and our plans to host 10 Canadian military veterans and their spouses for recreational activities and marriage renewal workshops in Alaska for a week in September 2015, she was thrilled to have Chris’ support in applying.

“We’ve gone through so much that was tearing us apart,” she says. I wanted it (Operation Heal Our Patriots) to give him, to give us, an opportunity to heal.”

In an answer to her prayers, Lisa and Chris were one of the military couples selected—the first Canadians to participate in Operation Heal Our Patriots. During the ministry’s three-year history, Samaritan’s Purse has hosted more than 500 wounded U.S. military veterans and their spouses in Alaska for a week of relaxation, recreation, marital enrichment and counseling, and spiritual encouragement.

“We’ve gone through so much that was tearing us apart,” she says. I wanted it (Operation Heal Our Patriots) to give him, to give us, an opportunity to heal.”

The relaxation includes a cozy little cabin for each couple, and delicious meals with all 10 couples together. The recreation includes professionally guided kayaking and salmon-fishing excursions, a hike to a scenic waterfall, and a float-plane trip to view grizzly bears. The marital enrichment and spiritual encouragement flows from workshops led by retired military chaplains.

“We have been pampered like nobody’s business,” Lisa said, with a delighted laugh, near the end of her week at Samaritan Lodge. “We’ve really enjoyed our time here. We’ve had some wonderful times outdoors with other people, and we’ve had some quiet times when we can sit and just reconnect.”

It’s been awesome,” Chris added. “We’re having time to spend with each other, and time to spend with other people having problems, and knowing we’re not the only ones with issues and difficulties.”

Click here to learn more about Operation Heal Our Patriots

Lisa shared her and Chris’ challenges with some of the other women at the lodge, and described how their relationship with God had helped them endure so much. Her testimony was so powerful that one of the women—Lieutenant Colonel Christine Carignan—decided she wanted that same God in her life.

“She (Lisa) said it was God that gave her strength,” Carignan said later. “I wanted that strength.”

Lisa And Chris 300

Lisa and Chris' marriage was strengthened after participating in Operation Heal Our Patriots.

Christine and husband Louis-Philippe, despite having never had a conversation about faith during their entire 21-year marriage, then met with the chaplains, prayed, and committed their lives to Christ.

Each of the 17 weeks of Operation Heal Our Patriots ministry every summer ends with the wounded veterans and their spouses being invited to be baptized. Lisa and Chris had never been baptized before, and decided Alaska was the perfect setting for it—with the other nine couples as witnesses.

“If Jesus can die for me, I can do this for Him,” a shivering and smiling Lisa said, after her and Chris’ brief but very chilly plunge into Lake Clark.

Ways you can help

Pray

Prayer is the most important gift you can give. Please keep these specific requests in your prayers: Ask God to protect our military personnel serving overseas. Pray for those service members who have been injured or wounded. Pray for the ministry of Operation Heal Our Patriots.

Give

You can help bring a military couple to Samaritan Lodge Alaska for a life-changing retreat they desperately need and provide ongoing follow-up care for years to come. Your gift helps provide these husbands and wives the spiritual refreshment, physical renewal, and marriage enrichment they critically need. Donate Here

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