By Rev. Charlsi Lewis Lee
This morning I was lying in bed trying not to actually be awake and sort of listening to the news. Every time I would shut my eyes and think “Ok. Maybe I can get a little more sleep,” the news would offer another story about the devastation in Moore, Oklahoma. Of course, this tornado follows last week’s cyclones in Texas. I began to talk with my husband about the paradox in which we live after we hear about disasters where people lose lives, loved ones, and the important stuff that we collect over time. I said that I am grateful that my family, friends, and colleagues who live in those areas are safe. I am grateful that my children are safe, my parents are safe, my husband is safe and that I am safe. But I also said that it is hard to be thankful, difficult to be grateful when I know that so many others are grieving today.
That’s the paradox in which many of us live: we understand and give thanks for the blessings that God has given, but we know that so many others still live in heartache, grief, destitution and loss. I always think about that when I watch the interviews after a ballgame—baseball, basketball, football, whatever. The reporter interviews the player who says something like, “God just really blessed us out there tonight. I just want to give thanks to the Lord who was on our side.” Mmmhhhh… So, let me get this straight. God is always on the side of the ones who win the game. Well, with that logic then the one who dies with the mot toys really does win. God wants us all to be winners. God wants us all to prosper and God wants us all to be the ones who survive.
While I don’t really disagree with the notion that God wants us to thrive in every way possible, I’m hoping that you will agree that this is never, ever at the expense of another. My parents, my grandparents, my enormous church family always taught me that my welfare never has to come at the expense of someone else’s. While my choices have consequences, if I am careful about what I am doing, saying, buying, producing, and using then perhaps my choices can benefit someone else’s life just as I have been so blessed.
Ok, I know…”You sound so idealistic, Charlsi.” And I do. I know. I am. That’s why when my husband offered an amazing prayer this morning that asked God to heal, protect, and love those who are suffering in Oklahoma, then I began to weep. I want life to be easy and idyllic and well, like Psalm 23. Say it with me now:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
He restores my soul. This morning I needed a little restoring. I needed to be reminded that, while I grieve and ache for those who have lost so much, it is alright for me to be grateful that those whom I love are safe. This doesn’t diminish my grief or my angst about why bad things happen to good people. Theodicy still confounds me. I continue to weep deep in my soul for those who still lie in rubble; for the names of those who are still be sought; for the ones healing in hospitals; and the ones grieving outside of what used to be their home.
My mother told me today of an interview with one of the men who pulled a car off of a teacher who was laying over three elementary school children. She had saved their lives. She was injured. They were safe. He was grateful to be able to bring three children into the safety of their parents’ arms, but not one of those children was his. His daughter had not been found as of that time. He rejoiced in lives saved and grieved over the possibility of a life lost. Even in his concern, his worry, his darkest valley he found comfort in life recovered.
That is the paradox in which we live. The good stuff happens even in the midst of the bad. Sorrow and grief do not exist solely in the absence of joy and laughter. Oddly, they are somehow intertwined: happy and sad, good and bad, death and life. Perhaps it was this paradox of which the Psalmist speaks: Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.
Somehow in our darkest moments we still hold on to the light that calls us forth because we have been promised a place at a table prepared and a cup filled to overflowing. Hope is that to which God calls us. Sometimes our hope comes through tears, or hugs, or donations, or time, or prayers, or singing—oh, I love singing—or just writing. Sometimes our hope comes from within. Sometimes it comes from others. It always comes from God.
I told someone last week that I like the gray areas of life where things aren’t always so clear. I like those places where decisions rise up in my gut and prayers rise up in my soul. I appreciate the paradox of living in between the good and the bad, the dark and the light, the weeping and the laughing. I rejoice in the opportunity to celebrate heroes while wishing devastation could be avoided. I am grateful for the chance to share in life restored while praying that more lives will not be lost.
I give thanks that my prayers and the prayers of my husband lifted in the morning hours from the safety of our home are heard and become a part of the litany of the faithful. It is a litany of hope for those who have lost so much. It is a song of strength for the ones whose every pore aches with grief. It is a chorale of love for those who feel like that today they are living in the midst of the bad, the dark and the weeping. One day, or maybe even today, they will know some good, some light and some laughing. Maybe Moore, Oklahoma will find life in the midst of paradox again.