Sin much? Love much.

“You need to start praying that God will show you the depth of your sin.”

Her words hung in the air for a moment. It didn’t sting like it does when someone boldly calls you out—at least not at first. It was a conversation with a mentor, my mom, and her delivery on this kind of thing is always gentle. But gentle with conviction.

And wisdom. It is one of many conversations that I play back over and over, even years after the fact. I’ve got dozens of these little gems, life lessons, that I can trace back to coffee and a chat with my mom.

When I did feel the sting, it wasn’t because she was calling me out for being a sinner. She was telling me I was a Pharisee.

At the first of the year I began reading through the New Testament, but lately I’ve been on a quest to understand worship. Everything I read gets filtered through that lens.

Church culture has staunchly settled on 20 minutes of music selections on Sunday mornings, calling that worship. But if we even bother to attend physically, we may check out spiritually. There continues the ubiquitous dispute over what we have labeled worship style. Does those two words together sound contradictory to anyone else? No? Just me?

But, if you go looking for guidance in the bible, worship in scripture can be perplexing. Often the word appears with little detail except, “And he bowed and worshiped.” In other places the word is used when a biblical figure makes a sacrifice, as when Abraham prepares to offer Isaac and tells the company with them, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” (Genesis 22:5, ESV)

Huh. I’m not much further along than I was when I started this whole worship quest thing.

Then my morning reading brought me to this story. Jesus has dinner at the home of a Pharisee—you knew I’d get back to the Pharisee thing, right? A woman with a bad reputation found out where Jesus was, and her arrival at the feast made Simon the Pharisee indignant. She washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and her hair. She kissed His feet and poured perfume on them.

“He can’t be a prophet,” Simon thought. “If he were, he would know all about her.” I can just see Simon rolling his eyes and exchanging looks with other Pharisees at the table. In that age, in Simon’s world, the touch of such a woman—even a loving gesture on your nasty stinky feet–would be repulsive.

Never fear, folks. Jesus set the man straight. And true to form, He used a parable to illustrate His point. Rather, He used a parable so that Simon could make His point.

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Luke 7:40-43, ESV

See what He did there? He set this up for Simon to expose his own hypocrisy. From the parable, it may sound like this woman who seemingly had morals like an alley cat owed a bigger debt because of her sin. But if you read the gospels, a lot—an inordinate amount, really–of harsh words and stern warnings are reserved for the Pharisees, the supposedly less sinful.

John the Baptist kicked off the show by calling them a “brood of vipers” and talked about the coming judgment (Matthew 3:7-12). Later Jesus would soundly castigate them with words like “blind guides” and “hypocrites” because, among other reasons, they slam heaven’s door in the face of genuine seekers. And, oh yeah, the Pharisees are not actually entering the kingdom, either (Matthew 23:13-14). Then He would call them sons of the devil because—guess why?—they don’t love Jesus so there is no way that God can be their Father (John 8:42-44). Those two things—loving Christ and being God’s child—are irrevocably connected.

Here’s what it boils down to. Judgment is the same for anyone who does not respond to the invitation of the grace and forgiveness of Christ. When He separates the sheep from the goats, there are no sub-categories. There’s not a special place for those who didn’t quite make it to heaven but aren’t so bad that they should go to hell. Either you enter the kingdom or you don’t.

Furthermore, the price for the woman’s sin and the price for the Pharisees’ sin is exactly the same—it cost the Son His life. Period. He didn’t have to give an extra sacrifice because these sins are worse than those sins. There’s no special negotiation that took place for those whose behavior serve as a cautionary tale trumpeted by the self-righteous.

What is so special about this woman is her worship. One difference between her and Simon the Pharisee is she knows the depth of her sin. Another is the depth of her love. Remember, loving Jesus and being God’s child are connected.

Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.  Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”  (Luke 7:44-48, ESV)

Worship encompasses a lot of things. There are many examples in the bible that don’t look like this one, and we won’t always engage in such an emotional display of affection for the Lord. But I still feel there is a model for worship in this story that is important. Worship should always be more than a passive deference to God. I became His child because I love Jesus. It should be evident in my worship.

If I want my worship to be a genuine act of love for Christ, I need to understand the depth of my sin. I come back to that conversation with my mom often. That sting I felt for the exposure of my hypocrisy is not at all a bad thing. It makes me thankful for a rescue I don’t deserve, and for the enormous worth of the Savior whose life paid for that rescue.

For those who are in Christ, our sins, which are many are forgiven. We should “love much.”

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:9-10, ESV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Open Valentine to the Good Rev, Todd Beasley

Alright, ok. So we said we wouldn’t do Valentine’s Day, not even cards, this year. Are we Grinches, or what? No, we certainly are not. Money is tight and time is at a premium, so we are conserving all of that plus our energy for a night out without the kiddos. Good for us.

Except that I can’t shake this nagging feeling that I—a would be writer—should do just that. I could spend all afternoon at Hallmark, but what card would say what I would write to you? Lately I keep having these moments, really sweet moments of revelation, where I am suddenly aware of how great a life I have because I’m your wife. At the same time, I’ve always thought we should share more of our story. People expect ministers to have perfect marriages and perfect families. I wonder who needs to hear how much we’ve changed. How we played with that temptation that maybe we shouldn’t be together at all. What we have is an unlikely love story. It’s a love story that was strangely devoid of love for quite a long while.

If ever a marriage was a beauty for ashes story, I think it’s ours. Not because of infidelity or unforgiveness or debt or any of those things that is usually associated with marital pressure. For us it was naivete, selfishness, indifference, and dare I say…ignorance? Dumb kids. That was us in days of yore, but luckily, we were just smart enough to realize that our God is great and that He is in the business of bringing the dead to life. So it was with our marriage—a lifeless, lightless coexistence. Yet, here we are—walking in the light. Together.

So your valentine would like to share with you a few of the revelations that make me so grateful that God intervened. And, as I must be true to the blogging force that says all articles must be numbered—I give you five evidences that God redeemed our union.

5. I cracked a joke about thinking years ago that our marriage was in trouble because you never laughed at my jokes. Really, that isn’t far from the truth. It seemed like I had kids laughing all day long, and yet all my humor was wasted on you. Why you don’t enjoy the same borderline inappropriate humor that I share with eighth graders is a mystery. I figured it out years later. I’m a cut-up because I like the attention. In fact, I think we both had these weird ways of trying to get each other’s attention which invariably failed to satisfy. We don’t have to perform for each other like that anymore. Who even knows what changed? You are attentive and so generous with your time. And FUNNY. In the years since we surrendered all our mess to the Lord, we’ve cracked each other up. I wish I had a dollar for every time I wanted to post something you said or did and just couldn’t because it was, ya know, borderline (or over the line) inappropriate.

4. I have a big crush on my pastor. That’s right, baby. You’re the only one for me. Maybe you’ve forgotten this, but I haven’t. I did not—DID NOT—want to marry a minister. As I recall, you did NOT want to pastor, and I was soothed by the notion that your seminary degree would be a great benefit as you sought a job on a college campus or something less churchy than a pastorate. How could I have possibly known how suited we would be for each other in the ministry? At what point did I round that corner and say, “Yes. We should plant a church. You will pastor and I will teach”? No one on this planet knows better than you do how ridiculous—inane, really—it is for me to WANT to teach school. And that I would do it so you could pastor? People, there is a God. He wants to change you at a molecular level. Trust me. I testify.

3. Here’s a crazy one, babe. We don’t have the things we were running after when we took our vows. We, in fact, have taken a really hard road. On. Purpose. Sometimes I think we are just plain crazy. At the same time, I have never been happier. Rather than stomping my feet because I’m not getting to run hard and fast after “my dreams”, I am more often asking God, “What’s next for the Beasleys?” And the weird thing is, there is so much JOY in it. What happened to all that resentment and stubbornness? Our life has been hard for the last several years. There have been many times when I thought we would never reach a place of rest. I don’t think we’re resting yet, but I’m at peace. And we get to do this together. That makes me happy, love.

2. When I was single, I had a little checklist of things I prayed for in a husband. I got pretty good at sizing up a dating situation based on my list. Remember the day I checked that last thing off the list with you? To be perfectly honest, I was attracted enough to you that I probably could have omitted a thing or two. But I was still interested in knowing if you had saved sex for marriage. I figured that you hadn’t and I was prepared to say that it didn’t matter to me. Maybe it didn’t matter that much at that point. You were walking with the Lord—I could see that. I admired your integrity. It was when I walked down the aisle that I realized how important that last item on the list truly is. You looked so far away and small at the other end of the aisle. When you came into focus, I remember sucking in my breath and thinking, “That man waited 27 years for me.” Twenty. Seven. Years. I almost hyper-ventilated. Thank you for bestowing that honor on me. It is truly foundational to the way I view you as a man, as a husband, as a daddy to our little girls. Every time I think about it, I fall deeper in love with you.
I prayed for a man who would be a good father, and for you it’s effortless. The other day when you were helping Emma Kate with her reading, she was discouraged and said she wanted to quit. You said, “Okay, well I’m going to read it.” When you proceeded to read it incorrectly on purpose, she would giggle and correct your mistakes. You are a master at getting the best out of them. I literally watched you from the kitchen, with my heart skipping beats and everything in me turning to mushy goo. A friend, who married long before I did, told me that seeing her husband as “the daddy” made him all the more sexy to her. I thought it was weird back then. Now I get it.

1. I know you don’t like it when I call you the Reverend. Really I should repent for pestering you like that. Do you know why I do it? I’m so proud of you, Rev. You are wise and have such a gift to communicate His Word. There was a time when we couldn’t figure out what we’d gotten ourselves into and why we’d chosen each other. Remember those days? They’re long gone. I was twice selected to be Mrs. Todd Beasley—by you and by God. You better believe I wear it with the utmost pride.

You wondered if you were dropping the ball because we aren’t “doing” Valentine’s Day. I don’t think so at all. I love dramatic, showy gestures as much as the next girl, but lately our life has been a dramatic, showy epic of faith. Our lives are woven with special moments daily. I was satisfied sitting on the bed yesterday, laughing with you at our girls’ shrieks and giggles and antics in the other room. My heart was full hearing you pray over our girls at bedtime. Flowers would be no better than you holding my hand in the car and praying over the house we hope to buy.

Love of my life, I’m so thankful that you’re mine –on the 14th of February and every other day. As Grinchy as I am, I think I have to follow convention and say…Happy Valentine’s Day.

To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory. Isaiah 61:3 (NLT)

I’m Okay with Sinking

Wow. I just got my second wind. And just in the nick of time!

I can play along at fake it ‘til I make it for awhile, but eventually the bottom drops out and right about that time I have to admit that my faith is dwindling away.

Here’s where I’ve been over the months that I’ve neglected—through no fault of my own—this little blog. Last summer we moved, after ten years in Orange, Texas, to a town just outside of Little Rock. It was quite literally the biggest test EVER of my faith to abandon my comfy, predictable life down South for a new beginning in a new state. Not that we didn’t do it for good reason—God called us to Arkansas. My husband, a minister, has thought for years that his ministry would ultimately lead to planting a church. A brand new church. In other words, we didn’t come here with a paying position all set up for Todd. The plan is to transition to bi-vocational ministry, i.e., work a full-time job and also work on the church plant. I won’t bore you with what previous posts can explain. I’m working—teaching—at a Christian school, and I love it. But it’s a part-time job, and without another income, well…you can imagine what the Beasley emotional ride has been like in recent months. It’s not even a roller coaster. It’s one of those bungee things where they pull you down as far as you can go and catapult you into oblivion. Terrifying. But fun, I think. Oh wait, I may throw up…

Not too long before Christmas, my husband applied for a job that he really wanted. He’s applied (is applying) for many positions, but this one in particular interested him. We prayed and prayed through the whole process. And then…what a terrible letdown.

For months we kept reasserting our faith in God’s promises and felt pretty confident that whatever God will do to provide a full-time income is just over the horizon. Then this job went to another candidate just as we were staring Christmas in the face, with a bleak financial landscape to usher in 2013. The gift money and income tax refund we’d been living on was slipping away. It was time for us to begin paying for our own health insurance (thank you FBCO for covering us since August!). Our house in Texas still hasn’t sold. Suddenly, at what is usually the jolliest time of the year, I could not shake any of a sundry of negative emotions: fear, abandonment, hopelessness, anger.

What happened to my faith?

A number of years ago I did a bible study in the book of Matthew. I especially enjoyed the teaching on Jesus walking on water. One question addressed in the study invited us, the learners, to think our way into the story. You know, which character do you most identify with? Are you in the boat, not even asking to hop out and take a stroll on the waves? Are you Peter, braving the waves to walk with the Lord? Are you like Jesus, never flinching in the face of adversity? This question made me laugh. My answer? None of the above. I had to invent a character to identify with.  The scripture says that the disciples had been rowing all night, buffeted by the waves, to get to the other side because Jesus had told them to. During the fourth watch, say about 3 a.m., Jesus walks on the water toward the boat to meet them.

“A GHOST!!!!!!!!” the disciples exclaimed in terror. And pandemonium, no doubt, ensued in the little fishing boat.

Here’s where Katie features in the story. I can just picture myself, engaged in the task–the not at all glamorous, ever so laboriously painful task which God is MAKING ME DO. At certainly not my proudest moment, I bark at the quivering, lily-livered disciples, “HEY!! Quit GAWKING at the ghost! Get over here and help me ROW!”

I had to laugh because back then, it was 100% true. There was work to do, God was making me do it, rarely did it yield any fruit, and faith had very little to do with it.

But not anymore.

What a change God can make! What a hard road He took me down to create in me a clean heart! Friends, I pray your way to obedience is easier than mine! Nevertheless, I made it. I’m here. God’s work is no longer just a task I have to check off my list. It is a great spiritual blessing that He’s imparted to me, that I GET to be a part of what He’s doing. Now, I pray, “God give me work—meaningful work—to do for You!”

But back to the deep despair of Christmas 2012. A week ago, that’s where I found myself, asking, “What happened to my faith?” The last week has been pure drudgery.  This morning, I woke up early and prayed for God to restore my hope, my faith, and my joy.  I’m not sure why I’m so surprised that He answered.

I put myself on a bible reading plan for 2013. This morning I got to read–guess what?–Matthew 14 wherein we find the story of how Jesus walked on water. After reading it twice, to my great relief, something broke in me and I felt a surge of relief and hope.

It came with the realization that I’m no longer the curmudgeon waving the oar at the other disciples. I’ve leaped out of the boat, and guess what?!! I’m sinking!!

But Katie, you’re not supposed to WANT to sink. Peter started sinking and Jesus chided him for doubting and not having enough faith.

Yeah, I’d be all broken up about the failure of my faith if it weren’t for the fact that Jesus is RIGHT THERE, CLOSE ENOUGH TO GRASP MY HAND AND HOLD ME UP ABOVE THE WAVES.

Not too many years ago, I wasn’t near close enough to exercise any faith at all. But today, I’ve leaped off the edge because He told me to and I’ve never been closer to my Savior in all my years.

Praise God. He’s RIGHT THERE.

“Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.”

Truly.

Confessions of a Christmas Junkie…or…Yes, Virginia, I Have Three Christmas Trees

 

The media wants us to be bitter about Christmas. Have you noticed that abrasive tone in commercials and TV shows? It’s like we’re expected to shift gears somewhere—as kids we are encouraged, nay, expected, to lose ourselves in the fantasy and believe. In what, I’m not sure; the media is pretty non-specific on what we’re putting our faith in. But then the brainwashers have us round a corner somewhere (right about the time we graduate college) and it becomes our holiday lot to dread the decorating, crowds, invading in-laws, wrapping gifts. If you’re skeptical about my take on this, check your TV listings. Dora saves Christmas. Two and a Half Men endure it by retelling the same jokes about Santa being a drunk. Or a pervert. Or both.

Me? I’m a Christmas junkie. The only thing I dread about Christmas is the day after—when I have eleven months to wait before I can get away with bringing out my Christmas trees. That’s right I said trees. Plural.

So here’s a little Christmas tale to lighten the hearts of even the Grinchiest Burgermeister.

Let me take you back to the days before Katie knew the truth about the fat bearded guy, when Christmas Eve was the most magical night of the year—the night of sugar plums, George Bailey, Ma in her kerchief, and all that jazz. And threats. Let’s not forget the Christmas threats. In the Prescott house in ’74, it went a little something like this.

“Now, Katherine,” Dad spoke sternly, “you have to go straight to bed and stay there. If you get out of bed and see Santa Claus, he won’t leave you any presents at all. You’ll be the only one with nothing to open.”

Sitting on the hearth dressed in her brand new pink footie jammies, little Katie nodded obediently before tucking her head in the fireplace for a look-see at the chimney innards. There it was—the point of entry. On this very night, Big Red himself would cram in that filthy space, feast on Mom’s famous Pringle cookies and milk, drop a treasure of gifts around our tree, and POOF—off he’ll go to repeat the process all through the neighborhood. All around town. All over the world!

Not that I needed any more convincing, but big brother Travis ratcheted things up a notch by whispering, “Last year, Katie, I actually heard the reindeer of the roof!” We were gazing up the dark chimney together.

I gasped. “Travis, really? You mean it?!”

“Uh-huh, and I heard sleigh bells right above my bedroom!”

Here I should make my apologies to readers who don’t “do” Santa. “Um-hmm. And THAT’S why we don’t do Santa Claus at our house! The lies! They lied to you!” Yes. Yes, they did. I admire you for going against the cultural grain and keeping your Christmas tradition focused solely on Jesus. He’s my very favorite, by the way, and we get and give a healthy dose of Him around our house. But, from a fundamentalist standpoint, this story from days of yore doesn’t improve any from here on, so I understand if you feel there’s more suitable reading material on another blog. Be warned, though. There’s a lot of belly aching out there over having to drag out all the Christmas ornaments, or about the obligatory office Christmas party and forced participation (growl) in the white elephant gift exchange. Or, even better, find one of those posts to give you the play by play on the atheists hell bent to bring down Christmas by asserting their right NOT to see baby Jesus on a courthouse lawn. Oy. Don’t get me wrong, it gets my back up when atheists mess with baby Jesus, and, yes, I feel I should be duly informed.  But for a few brief moments at Christmas, I will have my kerchief and my sugar plums.

Meanwhile, back to the fantasy…

Katie and her brand new Christmas jammies found themselves nestled, all snug in her bed, with echoes of Daddy’s Christmas Eve threat resounding in her head. Actually, to be more accurate, I wasn’t in my bed. Mimi and Poppie, beloved grandparents who had come to visit for Christmas, were in my bed. Anytime we had family in town, I gave up my room and slept in the study, which happened to be closest to the living room (ergo closest to the tree, presents, chimney, et al). This, I’m sure, is the reason why the threat on that Christmas Eve made such an impression.  Putting the four-year-old to sleep just feet away from all the action was risky. Dad was very specific. You are forbidden to see Santa.

I drifted off to sleep with Dad’s Santa sighting protocol mingling uneasily with Travis’ testimony of reindeer and sleigh bells. Something woke me up early the next morning. I’m not talking the typical 6:00 am Christmas morning kind of early. It was more like 3:30 am. I lay perfectly still, straining my ears for any jingling bells. After a few tense moments, I relaxed, convincing myself that it was a branch outside the window or the dog moving around on the patio. No sooner had I drifted off again, the sound jolted me awake once more. This time I sat straight up in bed, terrified. Gathering the covers around me, I listened intently. What IS that???

After a moment, my heart quit pounding so loudly in my ears that I was able to detect a soft droning sound, interrupted here and there by silence and startlingly loud snorts.

Any other night, I’d be reassured and calm. Snoring, that’s all. Someone in the house has a deviated septum. What a shame.

But I was not reassured nor in any way calm, because–like any other brainwashed toddler– I BELIEVED in Christmas. Therefore I KNEW that the only logical explanation was that the most famous overworked fat man in the whole world had succumbed to fatigue and fallen dead asleep in my living room. I mean, who could blame the guy? The whole wide world is a rather big place, and even if he skipped all the Jewish kids, all the fundamentalist humbugs, and Asia, he still had an awful lot of ground to cover in one night.

Woe is me! What do I do?

I remember with astonishing clarity the dilemma I faced as I listened to sawing logs just down the hall. On one hand, I recognized that it was my duty as a citizen of planet Earth to wake him up. Santa was a busy, busy man, and this was the big night! He most certainly had at least half the world left to visit. If he didn’t wake up, all those poor children around the globe would have nothing to open on Christmas day. Leaving him to snooze with his face in a plateful of Pringle cookies would be like wrapping kryptonite in Christmas paper and leaving it under Superman’s tree. On the other hand, if I intervened, as I knew I should, I would SEE Santa. Even though I could SAVE CHRISTMAS for every other boy and girl, my father had delineated the consequences of seeing Santa Claus in the clearest of terms. He won’t leave you any presents at all. You’ll be the only one with nothing to open.

To my great shame, I must admit, I didn’t save Christmas. I lay in bed, quaking in my footies, afraid to do the right thing, ashamed to do the wrong thing. That awful snoring continued—interminably, it seemed. I tossed and turned for an hour or two more, tortured by my misfortune, until my big brother broke through his bedroom door shouting, “It’s Christmas!”

Oh no, I thought somewhat guiltily, he’ll find Santa asleep in the cookies and he’ll lose all his presents. I had bought myself a spot on the naughty list for ‘75.

Sitting up in bed again, I heard the whole house come to life—shuffling, whispers, yawns, good mornings, and Travis’ running footsteps up and down the hall.  I could not face whatever waited for me on the other side of the study door. Someone’s Christmas was ruined, and I knew it should be mine.

About that time, Travis burst through my door, breathless. I fully expected him to announce that Santa was staying for breakfast and maybe we should drum up some carrots for the reindeer, but instead he blurted out, “Why are you still in bed??? It’s Christmas! Let’s go!!”

That’s all the prompting I needed. All must be well! And it was. The stockings were full to overflowing—just like last year and the year before—and toys, glorious toys, sat gleaming under the colored lights.

Years and years later, I pieced it all together. Travis must have clued in about Santa Claus that year. My mother certainly gave him a little pep talk to soothe any disappointment, which probably included the suggestion that he could now play along for Katie’s sake.

The snoring troubled me for years, though.  At one Christmas dinner when I was in my early twenties, my mother mentioned “the Christmas when Mimi and Poppie came to visit.” I remember the gift they gave me that year. It was a doll named Alice Ann that had belonged to my mother. They had gone to a lot of trouble to have the doll restored for me. The day after Christmas they took me shopping to buy some dresses for Alice Ann. It was a very special gift.

Though I vividly remember opening that present, for some reason, I never made the connection that they were in the house that Christmas Eve.  What I had taken for Santa Claus must have been Poppie, whose loud snores are the stuff of family legend. Everybody has at least one relative who snores like a jackhammer, right? Even down the hall and around the corner, he woke me out of a dead sleep.

It’s the day before Christmas Eve, and I’m about to head out to buy the last of the stocking fare and all the fixings for Christmas dinner. I’m undaunted by the crowds—even a Wal-Mart crowd, can you imagine? But I love it. Financially we can’t pull off the kind of Christmas we’ve had in the past, but I still love every bit of it. I love trees and lights, wrapping gifts, and Christmas music. I love little girls squealing with delight. I love cooking and baking everyone’s favorite recipes. It doesn’t bother me one bit to drag out the Christmas ornaments. And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten for one second that Jesus is the reason for all this hoopla. He died so I could live.  I love Him, too, more than I can say.

So I’m off to finish the last of Santa’s list and spread good cheer. Beware the Scrooges, friends. Merry Christmas!

Tidings of Comfort

I’ve watched news footage cover national tragedies and wiped away tears at the horror of it all. But Sandy Hook reduced me to a pile in the middle of our kitchen floor, sobbing uncontrollably. I cried off and on all weekend. Five days later, I still feel so raw. I ache for the people of Newtown. Is it because I’m a teacher? A mom?

Grief has characterized the last few years of my life. It was an unforeseen result of a seemingly endless test of my faith–being unexpectedly grieved, not just for my own difficulties, but for other people’s circumstances as well. The news of the Sandy Hook shooting sent me first into shock and then reeling with emotion.

It should be that way, though. I don’t want to be unaffected by something this horrible. While I feel that genuine parental relief that my sweet girls made it home from school safely on December 14th, something inside of me will not settle.  This is an atrocity—carried out against the most innocent and contagiously joyful members of our society. I don’t want to be the person who listens to the news story, feels momentarily solemn, says a prayer for those who are suffering, and changes the channel. I should grieve. We all should.

Friday night, after an emotional afternoon of picking up bits and pieces from the news, it was my turn to put my four-year-old, Emma Kate, to bed. We followed the normal routine—brushing, flushing, changing, and stalling with a little begging and bargaining mixed in for good measure. I tried to shut out what I’d seen on the news, but it hovered stubbornly above my thoughts the whole time I worked to get her to sleep. The news had just reported that the bodies of the fallen children had not yet been released to the parents. Amidst the tidal wave of reporting, that one little detail prompted flashbacks, memories of the Wedgwood Baptist Church shooting, which I prefer to leave buried.

“Katie, I need you to stay with Kathy Jo. They haven’t brought Shaun out of the building,” my friend Laurie had said. She pulled me toward Kathy Jo, who gripped the railing of the wheelchair ramp outside the elementary school across the street from Wedgwood. She only released her hold on the rail to bury her face in her hands.  Maybe I was in shock, but I couldn’t quite process what was happening to Kathy Jo, what had happened to her husband inside the church and why they would have to bring him out.

“Laurie, I can’t. I have to…” I gave some awful excuse and walked away, completely inept to offer any comfort or support. I had no words. I was afraid to reach out. So I didn’t.

Chaos ruled the scene. Helicopters circled. Everyone—everything—was in motion, all going in different directions. Simultaneously, people ran, walked, dropped to their knees, wandered, cried, hugged, laughed, cried more. Figures moved at varying paces to and from the church, along the sidewalks, lining the streets, in and out of groups of people. Reporters emerged to place microphones in grim faces, stunned faces, anxious and terrified faces.  And voices, at all different volumes and tones, shouting, whispering, calling, screaming, praying…Have you seen so and so? Where were you? Did you hear shots? Sydney’s been hit. Sirens and lights. Cops and firemen. Life flight landed on the church lawn.

Newtown, I remember what that very dark day was like. I’m unspeakably sad for your loss.

All these years later, I cuddled next to my curly-headed little one, so blessed to share her giggles, her whispers, and her prayers. As she drifted off to sleep, I stayed in her room, images of Sandy Hook, mingled with Wedgwood memories, playing over and over in my mind. Try as I might, I couldn’t help imagining inconsolable mommies and daddies wailing over empty beds in empty, silent bedrooms. That’s when the ache started.

My husband and I just recently moved to Arkansas to start a new chapter in ministry. We have encountered a concoction of joy and discouragement lately. It’s been an odd mix of excitement and fear–a sobering realization that God has entrusted some of His Kingdom work to the Beasleys (of all people), an agonizingly stressful past the point of no return leap of faith. After watching some of the news coverage over the shooting, I asked Todd through tears, “How could we ever minister to people who are suffering like that?” When I ask that kind of question, like I’m barely clinging to my faith, my husband always seems to know how to answer. “I don’t know exactly. By being as much like Jesus to them as possible.”

That’s the kind of thing I saw in the aftermath of Wedgwood—people living like Jesus. People with deep wounds and searing pain, who should have been angry with God, declaring the hope that they have in the Lord Jesus. Kathy Jo followed Shawn’s casket down the aisle at his memorial service, with her hands in the air in worship, while we sang, “Shout to the Lord all the earth, let us sing. Power and majesty, praise to the King.” Later she spoke of the hope that she has. I remember clearly that she said, “I’m going to see Jesus. I get to see Shawn again.”

Al Meredith, our pastor at Wedgwood, said too many timely and wise things during that period of mourning than I can possibly write about here. One thing that I’ve never forgotten, and I often quote, was his response to the question in a television interview (I think with Katie Couric), “Where was God when this happened?” Without a pause he declared, “On His throne where He always is.”

As I was reading through headlines on Sunday, I realized that Brother Al’s answer is just part of the explanation. Someone from Newtown had told a reporter that “Christmas is cancelled”. This saddened me so much because I love Christmas, and I know all those sweet children who lived through that nightmare last Friday love their holidays. I realize that this person was speaking about the scope of the tragedy and indicating that it would be impossible to enjoy a holiday at this point. I certainly understand that the timing of this horrible act will make Christmas difficult for a lot of people for a lot of years to come. But Brother Al’s words came back to me, as they often do, and I thought about how Christmas means so much more to me now than it did just a few years ago. Now that I’ve been through these few years of trials, I love Jesus more than ever. Not in spite of grief, but because of grief, I recognize the scope of what Jesus has done for me.

Christmas is the day that we celebrate the part of God that did leave the throne. The Father sent His Word, His only Son, to leave Heaven, to put on skin and bones and live among us. When we encounter loss, we talk about how, when we get to Heaven, we’ll know everything and understand everything. Then we won’t want to come back here to earth, a place cursed by sin. Heaven is the absence of all these things that cause us despair. Still, Jesus did this in the reverse order–He knew everything about the horrors of earthly life—disease, war, cruelty, hate, inexplicable massacres—and yet he chose to come, live side by side with humanity, and absorb all that awfulness on the cross.

Without Christmas, there would be no cross. And without our God who authored salvation through the cross, we would all become like these gunmen—heartless and hopeless. When I started down this road of grief, I craved joy and hope so much. God, I pray that you give Newtown hope.

A gunman took the lives of seven people at Wedgwood Baptist Church on September 15, 1999. On September 19th, God’s people met to worship and reclaim their sanctuary. Brother Al’s children’s sermon hit the mark. He used hard-boiled eggs and Humpty Dumpty to explain our hope to the children:

Our church has had a great fall. But unlike Humpty Dumpty, we know how to get up. What all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t do, God can do. God can put us back together again.

My mother has told me many times, “Grief is work, and the work has to be done.” She’s right, and if you don’t do your work, it just piles up and gets harder to weed through. I’m at a loss as to how to be like Jesus for Newtown. Arkansas is a long way from there. But I do know that Jesus would mourn with those who mourn, and He had compassion for those in pain. I just wish I could do more. I’m so sorry especially to families of the victims. I’m so sorry to every child, teacher, and staff member at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Grief is hard work, and it’s going to take time.

God, I love Newtown and I know You do, too. Please put their broken hearts together again.

I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I have put my hope in your word.            

Psalm 119:147