One More Step Away…

Hanukkah

Hanukkah (Photo credit: Itzike)

As one of my colleagues and I sat looking at photos of our children at the company Christmas party, the national news feed notified us that a gunman opened fire in a Connecticut elementary school, killing 20 children. Most of them younger than ours.

The sheer horror of the event turned my stomach. In my mind’s eye, I saw the interiors of my daughters’ schools, their teachers racing to put safety protocols into action, and children hiding in corners and under desks. They’d had breakfast that morning, gotten on the bus, learned a little math and punctuation, maybe took gym class, and then someone started shooting.

That’s when despair and disbelief fell on me. Darkness had weight and substance. Something clawed at my faith, trying to extract it. An echo of anger and loss said, “A just God doesn’t let stuff like this happen” and “It’s Christmastime. It’s Hanukkah. Seasons of light and hope. There is no hope here.”

In the last couple of weeks, several people I love have experienced struggles and losses – financial burdens, ill children, deaths of parents, cancer battles, uncertainty. I’ve walked many of those paths myself before and might again. I could feel their pain and fear. And I wanted to take it away or fix it. I couldn’t, and I also knew on some level it was happening for a reason. In some cases, I could see new directions evolving in their lives or priorities realigning, even if they couldn’t yet see it themselves. It wasn’t my place to say anything though.

I thought about a mom like me, somewhere in Newtown, drowning in pain, shock, and disbelief. There isn’t anything I can do for her. Saying “there’s a reason for everything” in a circumstance like that feels lame and insensitive.

It feels like we’re “leaving Eden” – our individual sacred places, places of safety and beauty – are getting further away, whether we walk away from them, or are driven out.

We have a choice.

If we look at life as a battle between good and evil, with evil taking every opportunity to disengage us from what is right and good, from our faith and human compassion, then looking at Newtown, Connecticut, it feels like evil is winning. If we start stacking up the injustices, inequality, and pure evil from around the world, evil is wearing a smug expression. “You haven’t the courage to beat me.”

“Leaving Eden” by Brandon Heath has been speaking to me on a new level. Some of it is about the fear of change, and the sorrow that goes with it (“feels like I’m further away with every step I take, but I can’t go back”). Life used to be one way, now it’s another way, and I don’t know if I like it.

But as Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Wipe the smug expression from evil’s face. For every sorrowful event that challenges your faith, steals your hope, and threatens to swallow you in darkness…light a candle of hope. Light two. Light 28 candles. For every injustice, respond with two acts of kindness. Wave to a stranger and see if he waves back. As my friend Julia posted on her Facebook page, “Speak truth, even if your voice wavers.” Refuse to let despair win.

We cannot undo the tragedy in Newtown. And pointing fingers isn’t going to do a damn bit of good – it hasn’t to this point, so why continue? We cannot “fix” the tragedies, but that doesn’t mean we can’t combat the darkness with light and build a new Eden.

“Leaving Eden” by Brandon Heath

A September 11th Prayer

Heavenly Father, Creator of All, we are grateful for the beauty of this day. For sun, wind, earth and stars.

We thank You for the opportunity to gather together, to renew our hearts and spirits, to draw strength from Your word and from the testimonies of others. We are reminded that through faith, and with Your encouragement and grace, we can endure anything.

We ask for Your mercy and healing touch on those who are hurting – physically and emotionally. We are human and fragile. We break easily. But with Your hands to hold us up, nothing is impossible. We can not only stand, but fly.

“…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint…” – Isaiah 40:31

Today, we remember those who died in New York, in Washington, and in Pennsylvania in 2001. We remember all the soldiers and civilians who have died or were persecuted in the violence that followed. We ask for healing for their families. Dry their tears. Mend their hearts.

We pray for healing in our world – that rather than using the past to create wider chasms, we use it to build bridges of compassion and peace. Give us the courage to do what may be the toughest thing of all – forgive. Give us the courage to love our neighbors and refuse to succumb to hatred. Give us the strength to face our fears and the faith to seek Your help when we need it.

In our times of joy and pain, You are with us and will never let go. In the spirit of peace, in the Name of Your Son we pray – Amen

*prayer written for a service of healing and wholeness at Epworth UMC in Toledo, 9/11/2012

“Don’t Get Hurt…”

Dear Dad,

When your journey ended 22 years ago today, mine began. I see that now. I’ve been told you knew your time had come. Sometimes I want to know what you knew, or see what you saw…but I know I was 160 miles away at the time for a reason. Just like mom and Dan were there. Maybe they were stronger.

I know now that, in time, I’ll get to talk with you about it. Just not right now. It’ll be at a time when I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do, and we’ll have a family reunion that will make St. Peter roll his eyes in embarrassment. Until we hand him a properly grilled bratwurst with Stadium Mustard, and some of Gram’s potato salad, and Papa’s stuffed cabbage rolls. That potato salad can bring order to the Universe.

Then there will be a sandlot baseball game. Jesus should umpire, of course, but Gramps can be first base coach, and Uncle John can take third base side. Unless he’s off scouting some ringers for the home team. You should pitch, though. Nana and Gram and Aunt Mernie and Aunt Florence will sit in folding chairs under a tree and be the cheerleaders. Ask Uncle Steve if he’d rather have infield or outfield. Center field was never my favorite position. I always preferred infield.

Remember that time Annie ripped that flat pitch of mine back at the pitcher’s mound and it caught me in the shoulder? I lost the feeling in my arm for almost an hour. Thank God it wasn’t my face! What were mom’s last words before we went to the ball diamond?

“Don’t get hurt!”

Don’t get hurt…

It hurt to realize you weren’t coming back. If I hadn’t hurt, though, I wouldn’t have needed to heal. And if I hadn’t learned what healing is, I wouldn’t understand the difference between religion and faith. If I hadn’t walked out of God’s house and slammed the door, I couldn’t have come back. I never would have known grace or heard Him say, “Welcome home, child. Now…I have plans for you.”

I’ll bet when I argue with Him about His plans, you have a good laugh and look at each other and say, “Kids! Whaddya gonna do?”

There was a time when I wanted to pull an Elijah…lay down under a broom tree and say, “That’s it. I’m done. Take me home.” The grief was too much. But angels brought me food and water…and sometimes tequila and chocolate…and they made me move. Also like Elijah, I couldn’t hear God in the chaos. Only in the silence. Only after the storm passed.

And what I heard was, “I’ve always had My hand on you. You’re okay. Now, what are you doing here? Your journey isn’t done yet.”

Still the angels come. One gave me solace. One gave me courage. One set my feet on the Emmaus Road. One knows how I feel. One bound my wounds. One dried my tears. One told me, “Get out of your comfort zone.” Some guide my children. Some bring music and laughter. Some circle around me on a daily basis.

I miss you, Dad. And sometimes I’m angry or disappointed that you aren’t here to be a grandfather – you’d be awesome at it! I remember Gram telling me that just days before you died, you were playing soccer with cousin Steven. He was maybe two years old? Now he’s in Afghanistan. And he has a wife.

It’s taken me 22 years to even recognize that everything does happen for a reason. Sometimes it leaves you bruised or empty or outraged. Sometimes it feels like you’ve caught fire inside, or you want to spin in circles and laugh until you collapse is a dizzy, giggling heap. Sometimes all you have is awestruck silence and tears of joy.

I do wish you were here sometimes, so we could do all that stuff we¬† never got to do. But I just wanted you to know I’m thinking about you and everyone else who’s with you. The weather is exactly the same as 22 years ago today…

…and I am okay.

Love,

Beth Ann

Video: “The Hurt and the Healer” by MercyMe