How Does One Deal With Tragedy

Credit: Power of Slow

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!

Life Is Good

Spent some time with my bride last night as we celebrated 12 years of marriage. We headed to Moonshine for dinner and then to Caffé Medici for a latte. Its quite surprising how we seldom spend one-on-one time these days. With work, church, kids and community its rare to find moments to connect.

Much of the conversation was about the future. But we also discussed the past few years. It seems like we sold everything and moved from Raleigh forever ago; but its only been two years. We headed cross-country on a family road trip and then settled in Seattle. Long story short we decided to head back to Texas after 2 months and then landed in Austin.

We only knew two people, had no jobs and life was pretty stressful. But within 6-months we were able to get back on our feet and and get our lives moving in the right direction. Necole and I  now have a defined pathway that is very clear now, we are no longer restless souls (well, that may be wrong) but focused on living the next 30 + (or whatever God allows) years on raising a great family, living for God, fighting global poverty and creating a church community that simply desires to serve their generation and share the story of Jesus. We also have some great business idea’s that we hope will create some financial freedom and propel us on our mission.

To top it off we now have our “core” family living 5-minutes from us and a great community that cares for us. I say all that to say this: sometimes you just have to trust God and go with your gut. 

it even gets better with the Red Sox winning last year…To bad the Lakers had to ruin the storybook ending by losing to the Celtics of all teams. I guess you can’t win them all. 


Thoughts On Funeral & Other Musings

The funeral yesterday went well-very well. I think I brought hope as I articulated the gospel. Most of these folks were “good ‘ ole boys” from Texas. The funeral director kept asking me if I was a “real” pastor. :)

“Son, you’re a pastor in Austin. Like, you speak on Sunday, or do you just attend the church?”

Anyhow thanks for the prayers and advice. They were helpful.

I think this past year I’ve really understood the complexities of being a pastor.  You have to know so much about a lot of vital aspects in life. Think about it…A pastor has to be good at speaking, counseling, organizational leadership, team building, vision casting, staff management, budgeting, leadership development, cultural engagement, theology, missional activity etc.  The list could go on-and-on.

Usually we have to be good at all that plus lack major resources and education. What seminaries teach you all of the above? NONE!

I would like to dig deeper into this, who knows what we may uncover. And how do we really use our congregation to do the things that they are good at? But through the lens of theology and mission and without burning them out?

BTW-Thank God I’m not really leading the church…Jesus is the lead pastor. Now if he could only run staffing meeting :)

Loans that change lives

A few months ago I challenged Bailey to give away her money to someone in need. I set some educational goals and every time she met the goal she was rewarded. Well she made every goal every week. Therefore she had close to $100 in the pig.

I told her that she could help a family in need. We researched Kiva and I helped educate her in the reality of world poverty. She was moved to action and she gave $25 to a local African entrepreneur. Last week that loan was paid-in-full. Now we get to do another loan.

It’s a small way to help shape our kids to be generous and to really practically help someone who is motivated and has dreams but they need some initial help.