Lessons from Tragedy

This last week, I did the unthinkable. I helped some of my dear friends lay one of their own children to rest. Even now, 10 days after the tragic car accident I find my self teared up over the reality of what the last week and a half has exposed about life and its frailty.

I wasn't ready to say goodbye.

I still am not ready.

And yet, here I sit having to let go at some level of a relationship that was severed too soon.

My dear friends are great people. They love the Lord. They have 11 children - 7 biological and 4 adopted. And they have chosen through adoption to love kids from tough places. And love they did. And tough it was... and is.

A quick aside... for many who have not been a part of the adoption world, we see those who adopt as heroes.  They "swoop" in and rescue this orphan and give them a place to be loved and accepted. It's a fairytale really. 

For those of us who have walked the road of adoption ourselves or with others, we know that often, the "one we rescued" doesn't see it that way. The whole experience is one more reason to be afraid - very afraid. And when all a person knows is fear, the ability to connect, to love, to hope is all but taken away. Trying to be a part of a family unit that is trying to love you is near impossible when all one knows is fear.

Perhaps while part of the world sees adoptive parents as heroes, those of us on the inside of this world who see the pain of loving someone so much that does not know how to love you back would not describe them as heroes so much as frontline soldiers who are willing to do battle for the hearts of those who have no one else to fight for them. This is eerily similar to the heart of Jesus - to love those who do not know how to love you back.

This hard road is a road that I have watched my dear friends walk for the last few years of their lives. And love they did!! And tough it was... and is!! They have continued to walk this road with grace and love and dignity. I think (just to myself) that they have had to wonder if it was all worth it sometimes. In those moments of desperation. But they have chosen to love. Chosen to love. Chosen.

Please be clear on this. Love is not a feeling that we fall into out of. Love is a choice. And they have chosen. And I am honored to know my dear friends as people of principle who do the right thing because it is right, not because it is easy.

I have often spoken of my dear friends to others. I talk about their resolve, their fortitude. I have spoken to others about their ability to be resilient and their unwavering hope that God redeems every heartache - everyone.

And then, Saturday.

I have the greatest job in the world. Not that any other honest jobs are bad per se. But to have the amazing and sacred privilege to sit with people in moments of desperation. To sit in this tension of wanting to be with them for any other reason other than this, and yet honored to be called to walk through whatever mess a person or family is in. What a gift!

While that is true, I have to tell you that I was not ready for this moment. I have now been in ministry full or part time for 23 years. I have a bachelors and a masters and part of a doctorate in christian ministries. I have done funerals. I have counseled crisis.

This one was different.

This one was closer to home. This was my dear friends. And for the love of God they have had enough. In my opinion, of all the people who need to catch a break, my dear friends are those people.

And then my dear friends asked if I would bring the message at the funeral. On one hand, I was so honored. And yet I found myself realizing that I could barely hold it together emotionally in their living room (and in my own). How in the world am I going to be able to get through a funeral service? But I would do anything for my dear friends. Even weep in public. And weep I did... and still do.

I have 4 kids. Each one of my children were connected to this event. And each one of my children had their own emotional experience. All 4 of my amazing children wrestled with this event in different ways. And I think I see in them some points to ponder as I process my own questions.

My 18 year old daughter came to me the day after everything happened and wept and wept over the news that my dear friends' daughter who was 13 had gone home to be with the Lord. She said to me, "I don't know why I am so shook up about this whole thing. But I can't stop crying."

Romans 12 has a great verse in it. While Paul is talking about how we are supposed to treat one another, he says that God's people rejoice with those who rejoice. And we mourn with those who mourn.

Lesson 1 about tragedy... God's people mourn. And we should never mourn alone. And so we are drawn to one another in times like these. This is how people who love Jesus act. We weep for the hurt of others.

My 6'4", 16-year-old son came up to me after the funeral service and I could tell he was "on the verge" of something. So I asked him how he was doing and he broke into tears. After a minute to compose himself, he said, "This just doesn't seem very fair."

Yeah, I had said that already in my own processing of the event.

So, I put my arm around him and simply said, "It's not fair. And God isn't fair. But He is good."

Lesson 2 about tragedy... To expect life to turn out "fair" (by which we mean people should get what they deserve) would only leave tragedy as tragic. God's love takes even the most broken parts of this world (and death is a very broken part of this world) and redeems those pieces for His glory.

An illustration I have used before: The rules of every great story are that at some point in the story everything has to fall apart. If that does not happen, the story is actually quite boring. The movie Gladiator needs Russell Crowe to lose everything and go from being a general to a slave. The movie The Patriot needs Mel Gibson to lose his children so that his cause to fight is just.

Any movie that has no tragedy is boring and uninteresting. We won't go see it.

Now at the other end of the spectrum are some of the plays that Shakespeare used to write. They were called tragedy. At the end of the play, everything falls apart and THE END. I submit Romeo and Juliet. This is terrible.

Whether or not our tragedies of life - and we all have them - are part of a great story or they are used to just make our lives a great tragedy is largely dependent on how we see where the tragedy lands on the timeline of the story God is telling with our lives and whether or not we believe He can redeem it in some way.

I have another son. He is 13. The same age as young girl who passed away. They were friends. They went to school together. They went to youth group together. His first words to me after finding out about the accident were - she and I were just beginning to be close friends. He took it pretty hard.

My amazing 13 year old son is an internal processor. And he feels things very deeply without the words to express it all sometimes. He, of all my kids, has had the most tear filled moments. He also went to the burial service with us.

On the way home, I asked him what he was thinking and/or feeling. He said that he didn't know exactly what he was thinking or feeling but that it was all mixed up and so he didn't say anything.

Lesson 3 about tragedy... When you don't know what to say, just be quiet.

Here is the thing about tragedy - it sucks. And we all want to hurt to go away for ourselves and for those who are a direct part of the tragedy itself. And so, we say things to try to help. Phrases that we believe will make things better. It doesn't help. And it doesn't make anything better to say things when you don't know what to say or how to say it.

In moments of tragedy, silence is golden and presence is powerful. In other words, show up and shut up.

I have a 9 year old daughter as well. She has been out of the loop a bit in all of this, even though she is good friends with some of the children of my dear friends. As I was talking with her about all this, she simply said - (the daughter of my dear friends) is with Jesus in heaven now.

And "from the mouth of babes" comes maybe the most profound part of all this.

Lesson 4 about tragedy... God takes the darkest moments of our lives and ultimately gives them purpose and meaning if we will choose to trust in Him.

And there is that word again - choose.

Maybe the biggest lesson I am learning is that today, I have a choice to see the world, my convictions, and events around me through whatever lens I want. And whatever lens I choose, I am heavily influenced by that decision.

Maybe that is a lesson that my dear friends have been teaching me all along. And maybe I could learn from them, not just in tragedy but in day to day life that whatever I choose, I choose to see God as a God who loves and redeems and make beauty from ashes. And that if that is true, then in order to have beauty we are going to have to have a few ashes first. And that is okay.

I love you, my dear friends. You are not alone.