How Does One Deal With Tragedy?
It is the question we hope we never have to ask. Unfortunately, I have had to deal with my fair share. My family has seen deaths due to cancer and accidents to moms, dads, and brothers.
We’ve been here before–the middle-of-the-night phone call that changes your life in an instant. We had one of those phone calls a few weeks ago. My sister-in-law called from Dallas at 9:30PM on a Friday night; this never happens.
We missed the first call, but as soon as the phone rang again, I told Necole she needed to answer it.
I knew it was bad, but not this bad, not this tragic. After about 20 minutes, Necole came into the kitchen and told me the news. Her youngest brother, Robee, had been murdered in a hotel room in Los Angeles.
The entire world immediately stopped as I begin to make sense of it all.
Of course, I do what I do and processed how to tell my daughters. We called the girls into the living room. In a world of social media, you can’t wait to communicate. The word had already gotten out on Facebook and I did not want my kids reading that their uncle had been murdered via social media.
I broke the terrible news, tears burst out quickly, and one of my daughters collapses on the floor in anger. The weight of the moment is thick; the reality is horrific.
The story only gets worse as the details come out. A brutal attack in an LA hotel room and, at this point, one without reason. Self defense wounds, post-mortem wounds–I could go on, but I won’t.
The local news releases this story and detectives begin to search for the suspect with a full-scale manhunt. Searching for a known criminal who preys on young men.
The first time I saw the suspect’s face, I felt the anger rush through my soul. But, we didn’t have much time for all of that, since we had to focus on the logistics.
Family had to fly to LA to identify the body, and the cost of of the funeral begins to add up as we call the airlines, car rentals and hotels.
Questions arise. “How can we afford to go to the funeral?”
The details can suffocate you and create a culture where you have no time to be silent, mourn, reflect, and pray. But it is, what it is. (My Dallas family has received TREMENDOUS support from their friends and church, for which we are so thankful!)
We booked tickets and flew to Dallas. We cry, we hug, we laugh, we eat and we play crazy games like Flappy Bird for 5 days. This journey has no road–map, just step by step, you ponder how to deal with it all.
Over and over, you realize that life is really about Scripture, prayer, and community.
Thankfully, that is enough. That is the recipe that is needed in this and every moment.
After 2 weeks, we finally had the memorial service. Hundreds came out to pay their respects. More hugs, more tears, more prayer. I open the service with a prayer and a quick word. Brothers, sisters, and pastors also have messages of love, of hope, of eternity.
Hours after the memorial service, we learn that the suspect has been caught. This is good news!
Two days later, we leave Dallas and I sit here in a cafe in Raleigh writing and trying to reflect and process. I watch the news video for the first time. My first reaction? I want to punch the suspect in the face. What a freaking low-life thug!
I try to remember that this potential murderer is also created in God’s image and loved by God. Jesus hung on a cross for his sins –– even the sin of murder. Even murder that includes my brother-in-law. Jesus loves this guy as much as he loves me.
Then I remember that I am the same kind of person. A liar, a thief, a broken person in need of grace.
I wrestle with these tensions. There are no easy answers. At times, life can be so terrible. But, this is something Scripture speaks of over and over. Darkness exists, and the church–God’s people–are in a battle to overcome the darkness with LIGHT.
So How Does One Deal With Tragedy?
You commit yourself to creating a better world.
That’s the only answer that makes sense to me.
Of course, we can get angry, try to find blame, or even shut down and do nothing. But, none of that will actually solve the problems that our world faces.
Sometimes taking action means you have to be brave; you have to live different. Jesus’s message is so counter-culture. I’m trying to embrace that.
So today, I’m working. I’m working on loving God, my family, my neighbor, and the world.
Today, I even whispered a prayer for “Rick,” the suspect. I see Rick as being the thief on the cross.
The thief asked Jesus for mercy, and it was immediately granted. I pray that somehow, some way, I will meet “Rick” in another world. And together, we can celebrate the love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness of Jesus.
Yes, I’m angry at him. Yes, I want him to sit in a prison cell for the remainder of his days. No doubt, justice must be served.
But, I also want him to experience forgiveness and freedom and the explosive grace that Jesus gives to all humans, no matter how deep their sin goes.
This is the only way that makes sense to me. This is the only message I see in Scripture. This is the only way that I can envision Jesus acting.
I can do nothing else but try to do the same. And this is how I deal with tragedy!