Sutherland Springs was once known as “The Saratoga of the South.”
The rural community southeast of San Antonio at the intersection of Hwy 87 and FM 539 was once a bustling hot spot filled with hotels, restaurants, swimming pools, meat markets, ice houses, barber shops, blacksmiths, and boarding houses.
That was until October 1913, when a vicious storm dumped thousands of gallons of water in the area.
The beautiful swimming pools were turned into mud holes. The flooded hotels were never rebuilt. Business migrated west to San Antonio.
What was left in Sutherland Springs were strong farming and ranching families who decided they would stay and work the land.
My dad was born about 5 miles (as the crow flies) from Sutherland Springs in a one-room house in Stockdale. In fact, we had just visited the family cemetery plot Saturday, and came through Sutherland Springs on our return trip to San Antonio.
For many years my dad and I were ranchers in Wilson County. Our ranch was near Hwy 539, a few miles northeast of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs.
I hauled many bails of hay and trailer loads of grass sprigs from Sutherland Springs to our ranch.
As a result I was honored to know the strong, resilient, kind-hearted people of the area. Everyone I ever met in Sutherland Springs was a God-fearing, family-loving, welcoming neighbor. There are no strangers in Sutherland Springs.
The people there are strong and independent. They don’t look to the government for a hand-out. They prefer to make their own way by working the land, and then taking the Sabbath to attend church and give thanks to God for their many blessings.
That’s where they were when pure evil visited their community Sunday morning. In church worshiping and giving thanks.
And again, just as in 1913, their lives will never be the same. Once again their lives have been upended by forces beyond their control.
Today, they are hurting and suffering the pain of losing so many family members and friends.
There is no pain like that of unexpectedly losing someone you love, especially when it is a child.
With that in mind, I want to offer the following words to the people of Sutherland Springs from an adopted son.
I first published these words after the Pulse Nightclub shooting 2 years ago.
My prayer is they will be of comfort to those who are grieving the loss of their loved ones.
To The Families of Sutherland Springs,
You don’t know me – we’ve never met, but we are connected. I have an understanding of what you are feeling today, and I wanted to take a minute to share a few thoughts with you about the journey you began this past (horrible) Sunday.
Chances are you are in shock right now and none of this seems real. I believe God gives us the numbness to help us survive.
The things that you once barely noticed will become very prominent and significant to you. Smells, songs, and places will take on new meaning as you try to hang on to your lost loved one. At first you might not be ready to experience those things, to hear those songs, or return to the places you once shared, but in time you will seek them out as a point of contact with your family members.
Your loved one knows how much you loved him or her. Your tears are the evidence of your love.
Remember when I said we are connected? You and I belong to the same horrible club. My wife and I have been where you are – twice. She and I suffered the deaths of both of our adult children. Along with you we are surviving parents.
We like you didn’t choose these circumstances, and we like you would give anything for things to be different. What I want you to know is that you are not alone. There are many who have experienced child loss and survived, and although it might not seem possible to you right now please believe that with God’s strength you can make it through this.
Never give up.
God loves you and so do I – even though we’ve never met.