There is the immediate crisis that follows the actual event and managing to get through that minute-by-minute, but often the pain lingers and the bruises to our souls get bumped with the calendar...a birthday, a year after, and so on. We wish for some relief and work toward acceptance and a return to normal. But normal is now very different. Sometimes the goal is just to hang in there and remember we are not alone, though our personal journey to healing will be our own.
I heard myself say just the other day in an appropriate context, "One of my students was murdered in 1996...." People gasped. I paused and tried to connect to the violence of it all, the bruise that still lingers to each of our souls that knew her. Still felt surreal and my mind tells me I must have made it up. Awkward.
After all these years. Still no acceptance. I think that is the way it is and I think there is actually some wholeness in that ugly. If I were to truly accept it, I'd be giving up on a world the way it should be, with people treating each other safely. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done.
What happened to my student and my friend's colleague is NOT OK. It never will be. We live in that tension. That is what I must learn to accept. Like we are tuned between radio stations, sometimes totally annoying, sometimes I can block it out, sometimes I can accommodate the tension, and sometimes I am able to tune in to the beauty that is still with us.
I realize now that violent crime rips a hole in the peace of mind of any who witness and/or cared about the victims. An act against community. Do we forgive? Do we forget? Who has answers to these questions? I think there are moments of both that flash by and become stronger, like clapping for Tinkerbell to grow stronger. But the broader questions for me are always, "What now?" and since life will never be what I knew to be normal, "What good will come out of the darkness that includes me?"
And it will come. Good will come from this. We will be different, just like seeds die in the ground before forcing their way back into the sunshine to bloom in a new place after they were pooped out by some bird. God is at work. Love wins. God loves us. God is here. God is enough. I truly believe those concepts to be true and broader than I can conceive. I cling. Hope invites. Again.
Three resources that immensely continue to impact my journey in difficult, painful times of loss include:
Drops Like Stars -- a book and a DVD (I was blessed to see this in person):
"We plot, we plan, we assume things are going to go a certain way and then they don't and we find ourselves ..."
And another book, One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
And a movie, Lars and the Real Girl, quirky, odd, and uncomfortable at times. It portrays loving community responding to a tragic loss for the main character. I found it simple, profound, and inspiring in leading me to just be with friends who have experienced suffering and/or loss.
In closing, we are in this together. If you are in a time of pain, suffering, grief, and/or loss, I pray you are well connected with a loving community like a small group at the local church or dear, committed friends and/or family. I also pray you watch carefully for hope to light the way a moment at a time, like a flickering candle in a dark room. And I pray that through this, through finding your "new normal," you will bring more to this world than was taken out.
Overall, knowing that Jesus died and rose again took on new meaning in all this for me. What is the eternal force in the world that is major evidence that God is? Love. What breaks the heart of love? Death. The separation from those we love. The love for those lost continues, but the separation breaks us. Jesus brought victory over death making it possible that love is not lost, and death is, well...in the brilliant words of Rossiter Worthington Raymond (1840-1918):
"Life is eternal; and love is immortal; and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight."
Dear reader, I do not know what suffering has crushed you. Perhaps even disappointment because expectations of how life was to look for you does not match your current reality, like your shoes, purse, and outfit so easily do. Hold on. Be patient. Grief does not follow my rules. Bummer.
I am learning to go hide in my "grace space." I run there to wait for help from God. Maybe you recognize your need for a time-out in your grace space place. I'm learning to recognize the symptoms of when I need to go sit in that emotional room and be quiet, which for me include when I'm feeling anger at others, fear of the future, guilt over the past, and anxiety. All related to my myth that I can control my life's circumstances in full, my "myth of control."
Dear reader, I do not know where you stand on who you trust to save you. Beyond circumstances, it is spiritual. We all believe in something. I could not survive without my faith in Christ and trust in God to be with me now and in the days to come. I hope you are with me in that journey. I hope you can find comfort today and recognize blessings that come in spite of suffering. Perhaps you can even find energy to go serve others on behalf of Christ's work and/or on behalf of the loved one lost. Generosity, if you can get to that point, brings good out of pain. And on days when that is just not possible, I pray that you sense an intangible God in those moments through tangible others around you, and the remaining beauty in life and nature.