Note: This excellent post was written by Oxford, MS resident and writer, Toni Overby, about the three couples who died in a tragic airplane accident last Sunday while returning from a dental conference. Two years ago writer Paul Stanley wrote a similar piece about two Christian Brothers High School students who were killed early in their senior year. Toni’s article captures the essence of a grieving community and I encourage you to read her words.
When It’s Just Too Close to Home
I wish this could be one of my sarcastic posts. I’m good at those, better, I think, than of these posts that are somber and depressing.
But in true human fashion, the funny doesn’t always teach. The funny doesn’t pull us closer to God.
The tragic, however, often does.
I’m experiencing for the first time since September 11, 2001, a community that in its entirety is reeling from a loss so big we can physically feel it surrounding us.
The air is thick and it is suffocating, and it is choking the life out of my tiny town even as we celebrate our very own Olympian at the same time this tragedy has occurred (who really pulled through for us by the way, and for that, Sam Kendricks, I say a huge Thank You).
I’m not going to name the tragedy. I’m not going to give it life by bringing it to the surface once more. I’m not going to name names out of respect for families mourning and trying to cope with the loss of sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, cousins. Colleagues and friends trying to make sense of these beautiful lights snuffed out too fast for our human mentality to process.
By far, the most important titles these precious souls held was the most sacred title of all: Mom and Dad. There are babies from kindergarten to college waking up without their parents this morning.
No more goodnight hugs, no more lovingly-cooked meals, or carpools to soccer, or talks about boys or baseball. No future walks down the wedding aisle; no prayers said over little foreheads at night, given from a mom and dad so in love with their babies they would do anything to keep them happy, safe, secure.*
The mind reels. We cannot understand a Good and Loving God who would rip a parent from a child.
What do we tell our own children about all this?
What in the world could we possibly say to them? How do we explain the concept of having strong and steady faith in a world constantly bombarding them with horror, hurt and sin?
It’s almost as if the enemy knows his time is near.
I have a child who was born with a healthy dose of fear. It’s been inside her since the day she was born, its blatant reality shown through everything from infant colic to being stuck in a large shopping mall in the middle of a tornado at the age of four.
These types of tragedies, they test her faith in the absolute worst of ways.
Tell me what my friends did to deserve their parents being taken from them, she said the day it occurred, followed with the words…by God.
She believes God created this tragedy.
And here’s the truth: I have no way to deny that. When we sit in church and we preach what we’ve been preaching for the last umpteen thousand years–that God sends rain on the Good and the Evil, that God knows All and allows All and is over All–and we do so without the large dose of Grace and Mercy that is supposed to accompany it but often doesn’t, there isn’t much else we can do but to attribute blame to the Creator of the Universe.
I can’t sit here and write on a blog and pretend I have the answers. Any of us who even tries to explain the hows and the whys of tragedy and horror and even sin–why does sin need to exist, why did God need to create bad things–will never, ever, EVER get that answer.
His ways are Higher. His thoughts are Higher.
We will never understand.
And still, we the faithful, we believe. We pray. We cry out. We choose to mentally will ourselves to acknowledge that though we don’t understand, we trust. Every single day, every single minute–sometimes that’s all we can do–we trust that we serve a God who will one day rectify this.
We choose to believe that we worship a God who loved the Creation He’d made so much, cared for us so much, that He chose to set aside His kingship to live as a poor carpenter and die like a criminal to set us free from the horror of death.
We don’t see that side, you know. Not now. We can’t see that we’ve conquered death on this side of Heaven.
To us, the gone are gone. Though we tell ourselves we will see them again, we can’t fully believe that what we trust is on the other side is actually on the other side.
That is, until we experience a tragedy like what has happened in my precious town.
Then, to many of us, it becomes more clear.
We long for the day we will be with the Saints, among whom our loved ones now sit.
We believe they are in perfect form, dancing with their King.
We no longer hear their prayers, but we feel them; we know they are interceding on our behalf.
Our senses suddenly become more attuned to the Creation. Sometimes that takes awhile; for many of those closest to these sweet people, there will be a numbness, followed by deep anger, deep depression.
But then, on a day when all seems hopeless, they will sit in a rocking chair outside, maybe, or in a hammock among green trees, and they’ll notice the most beautiful butterfly float by.
They’ll look up at a bright sky and see a cloud shaped like an angel, or they’ll pick up a penny off the ground, and the year will have a significance only shared between them and the loved one they lost.
I believe that. I believe we serve a God who sends signs from above.
I believe He didn’t just create the concept of family for a temporary Earth. I believe we will love and know and serve and worship alongside those with whom we walked here.
Yes, we will know everybody, but no one can tell me that God created a bond this tight on Earth without intending for it to remain so in the Heavenlies.
Family is meant to be a gift, and for many of us who have the privilege to have ours today–no matter how imperfect they may be–we are holding them just a little tighter.
What do we tell our kids about all this?
We tell them Jesus wept.
We lead them to the Bible. We open it to the story of Jesus’ very best friend, Lazarus, and we read to them of how Martha and Mary met Jesus on the road, inconsolable after their brother had died.
We tell them that when the Creator of our Universe, the Almighty God, saw their sorrow, He broke down and wept.
He is a God who sees, knows and feels our pain.
That’s what we tell them.
We tell them that God filters All but doesn’t cause All.
We tell them that Satan has a limited time here and that while he has it, the kingdom-bringers—us—overcome his evil with LOVE.
We take that meal to the hungry.
We give that coat to the cold.
We wrap our arms around the hurting.
We don’t try to give answers.
We don’t try to ‘fix’ the problems.
We just LOVE.
I know so many of us in this tiny town are trying so hard to come to grips with what has happened.
These couples touched each of our lives in some way. They were so well-known, so loved.
I have my own personal stories about them: the way she lit up the room, the way he was so proud of the ballfields he had created, how kind they were to my children.
But even if you didn’t know them, you still hurt in unfathomable ways. And you might wonder why that is so.
I think it’s because we look at these sweet faces and the faces of these hurting children and we know that in this case, in this tragedy, it so easily could have been one of us.
While other horrors are so far removed, this one was just a little too close to home.
And it’s going to take our community giving each other an extra dose of love to see us through these dark days.
I have every confidence this amazing place, this temporary home I love so much, will do just that.
*The children in one of these sweet families do still have their mom and dad, respectively, since the couple was remarried. I wrote in general terms, so I did not mean to downplay those other parents or the many people who will come alongside these precious babies and continue these activities.