Lent as a rehearsal of the gospel

cross desert

For a contemplative – which is what I am in many, many more ways than I’ve been willing to admit – Lent is a season rich with treasures. There are worship services full of meaning: Ash Wednesday to launch Lent; Good Friday to meditate on the suffering of the cross; and then the glorious climax of Easter Sunday at its end. There are thoughtful devotional resources. This year I’m reading “Journey to the Cross” which I found here at TGC, written by Kendal Haug and Will Walker out of Providence Church Austin. The church worldwide is led into a season of denial leading up to Good Friday, and then the church universal celebrates joyously on Easter Sunday. 

It’s a rehearsal of the gospel story. Not only in the obvious way – the season of repentance, remembering, self-denial, that ends with a day of remembering Jesus’ suffering for our sake; and then three days later, celebrating resurrection life with the empty tomb on Easter – but also in our own hearts.

Each year I face the reality that the law cannot save me. Regardless of how low I set the bar for Lenten denial (“just” abstaining from sweets, or “just” not using non-essential phone apps) and repentant engagement (“just” loving my family better, or “just” noticing the homeless in our city and praying for them) – I can’t do it. On a “good” year I might last two weeks before I break Lent. Then I inevitably do what I try to do when I forget that Jesus did it all. I try to be better; I try harder; I invite more accountability; I set the bar lower or higher.

And my striving never works. It doesn’t produce the result of a more disciplined life. Instead, it produces a heart desperate for the rescue of grace. A heart that comes to Good Friday painfully aware of my inability to stay awake to repentance even for 40 days. A heart that cannot make itself righteous. A heart that needs resurrection hope. A heart that is rescued only by turning away from self-denial and embracing the life of the dying-now-resurrected Savior.

So this year, as I’ve been aware of my inability to sustain any sort of meaningful Lenten fast – I say, “help me, God!” And I thank God that he has. That he sent Jesus whose ministry started with the test (and the passing!) of the wilderness temptation. Jesus who followed the Spirit into this very wilderness testing, passing the test I will always fail.

True Lenten fasting uncovers the layers of our hearts where we struggle to trust this Jesus who did it all for us out of love. True Lenten fasting leaves us longing for more of Jesus and hopeful because in the Spirit through faith we have Christ within us – the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)

the glittering mess of Advent

Every December, it surprises me. Meaning, the juxtaposition of “the most wonderful time of the year” with the reality of how far I am from being able to fully embrace the joy proclaimed to me in every Christmas song and story and glittering decoration. I know I’m not alone in this. For I  hear your stories – maybe not yours specifically, but in sitting with multiple stories of suffering and disappointment and hope deferred throughout almost a decade of counseling and a few decades more of friendship and family relationships, I have a fairly good sense of the ways life breaks us.

And for some reason, I find myself each Advent/Christmas season battling to find the hope that surrounds me like no other time of year. I struggle because at the deepest part of who I am, I know that Jesus’ coming as a baby changed everything for the better (while I also see so much that doesn’t fit with a redeemed world). I find deep comfort that his incarnation – God with us – was a literal game-changer for the human race. That Jesus was “born to set Thy people free/from our sins and fears release us/let us find our rest in Thee.” That I am to “fall on [my] knees/O hear, the angels voices/O night divine/O night when Christ was born.” And I crumble inside with the best of you at the emotion of it all – of God being made like us, like a tiny baby, utterly vulnerable to the ones he created.

But then I begin to get angry and sad. For if Jesus was born to set His people free, why on earth are we so chained up to others’ expectations and our own inward voices of shame? And why do we Christians hurt  each other in the church when we are all simply trying to love one another the best we know how? Why do “Christian” politicians infuriate the culture-at-large with offers to pray in the wake of tragedy and apparently no (or minimal) actions behind these prayers?  Why do news headlines daily proclaim a new form of terror?

And to bring it home and make it more personal: why do I have friends still struggling with infertility?

Friends grieving parents taken too soon?

Friends who have suffered unspeakable tragedies of abuse when they were children who could not protect themselves?

Why are friends stuck in marriages that feel lifeless? (Or why are there friends who are newly divorced despite months/years of trying to reconcile?)

Why does cancer still strike in the most unexpected of ways and times to friends in the prime of their life/ministry?

And if I dare to be courageously honest, I have a few questions of my own. Like how did I get to be so battle-weary and exhausted when I thought I was fighting for the gospel of justice, truth, beauty, and light in the name of Jesus, in the strength of his grace, and for the sake of his glory?

Why does every recent December feel depressing, as a time when I am more likely to feel the weight of the world’s sorrows instead of the hope of the Savior’s joy?

Why does Christmas seem to come up short from how I remember it as a child?

I am beginning to realize anew that the only answer to these weighty, angst-filled questions is in trying to hold in my feeble hands the glittering mess of Advent.

It’s not unlike the abundant blue glitter that one of my 5-year-old daughters sprinkled with abandon around her room earlier this week. There was literally a path of blue sparkle that looked like a rug placed on our white (!) carpet. A glittering path that led to their mini-Christmas tree. As I vacuumed it up, I surprised myself by beginning to laugh instead of growing more angry and frustrated. I laughed because it was beautiful. Any of you who have ever had the *privilege* of vacuuming up large quantities of glitter know exactly what I’m talking about. It glitters and sparkles and changes in the light, and as I vacuumed clean white paths through the blue, the vacuum cleaner began to sparkle, too. (Because it has a see-through compartment.)

And that’s when it came to me.

This is a metaphor for Advent’s tension between the beauty that will be (which began to break through in the incarnational mystery of Jesus) and the mess that we continue to make with this beauty.

These broken places of grief, betrayal, loss, and deferred hope – they are real and they are tragic in an exponentially greater way than a 5-year-old glitter tantrum (oh – did I leave that part out? The reason that she created such a display was out of anger that she was in time out – it was a mess intended to annoy me.).

But this I cling to – in hope against hope – that the mess twinkles, sparkles, glitters in the light of the Christmas tree. The Christmas tree that became our salvation as it became a cross. This tragedy of the tiny babe grown up and offered up willingly as the most tragic of sacrifices for the most unworthy of offenders. You and me.

Ann Voskamp says it well in her Advent devotional:

The Cross stands as the epitome of evil. And God takes the greatest evil ever known to humanity and turns it into the greatest Gift you have ever known. … If God can transfigure the greatest evil into the greatest Gift, then He intends to turn whatever you’re experiencing now into a gift. You cannot be undone. Somewhere, Advent can storm and howl. And the world robed for Christmas can spin on. You, there on the edge, whispering it, defiant through the torn places: “All is grace.”

 

 

What Tragedy Teaches Us (guest post at TGC)

I will always remember the summer of 2014 as one bookended by two tragedies that struck close to home. The first happened on the evening of May 30. As 17-year-old Mark Rodriguez was driving home from his Christian school’s graduation, he was shot and killed by a madman firing randomly. The madman then killed a police officer and wounded another before being shot and killed himself. That terrible evening in Norfolk, Virginia, seemed particularly tragic for Rodriguez, the son of a pastor and Christian counselor.

What’s amazed me in the wake of that tragedy is watching the way Jesus has shone so brilliantly through that young man’s life, testified to by his parents as well as his own writings and photography on his blog, most notably a post on heaven. As his parents grieved in the days after his death, they graciously accepted interviews during which they spoke of their clear hope in the resurrection:

Our son is not dead; he’s alive, and we believe we will see him again. Mark wanted nothing more than to be a worship leader. And you know what? He got exactly what he wanted.

Two Questions 

As I sat and watched his family and the local Christian community grieve, find hope, and paint a picture of a young man wholeheartedly devoted to Jesus, I asked myself two questions. … [Click over to The Gospel Coalition Blog to read the rest here.]

A year ago: remembering tragedy and finding hope

A year ago today, tragedy shattered one family – intruding into an otherwise sunny summer afternoon and stealing two in its wake. Darkness seemed to win, leaving all of us in our church community in shocked grief at losing Karla and Katharine.

One year ago, we all sprang into action. Seeking comfort through what we could offer the bereaved and surviving husband and daughter, and sharing many, many tears together.

One year ago today – I’d never witnessed a dad telling his daughter the unspeakable, seen them collapse into each other with shared sorrow and grief-torn hearts.

One year ago today, I’d never seen the beauty of a church community activated by tragedy, becoming family for the deeply bereaved, restoring them to health one meal and embrace and shared tears at a time. I’d never felt such a deep sense of call – of being made for such a moment, to walk into the wake of an unimaginable tragedy and find this was holy ground. I did not go alone. God was there. He held us together, and he has been in our midst. Tragedy left its mark, but it does not win in the end.

A year ago, I never knew that laughter and smiles could return – that joy could be had – that comfort could be known even with questions unanswered and hearts laden with sorrow.

A year ago today, I could not have penned the words below (a letter to grief featured on Kate Motaung’s site) for I had not lived them yet. I have been changed, and so have we all. Let us not forget, and let us not stop seeking to comfort one another and to press into hope. Hope that light dawns after the darkest of nights, that it will one day dawn again. Forever restoring and healing and redeeming we who have walked through the valley of the shadow of death.

*****

Dear Grief,

You have claimed many friends in 2014, and I have been touched by you as well. The worst part is that the church has too often refused to own you as she should. She has proclaimed a gospel of health and wealth instead of the message of the Man of Sorrows acquainted with grief who promised suffering for all who take up their cross to follow Him. And in those moments when the people of God feel like they have no refuge, you cackle and seem to win. You whisper lies, saying that there is no hope, and that God is as distant as the well-meaning friends who disappear after an initial rally of support.

Your problem is that you cannot be predicted nor defined. You come as a unique visitor to each of us, rarely on time and often in disguise. You hide yourself in many forms, putting on a mask of anger to make us feel strong instead of weak. Sometimes you sink deeply into the soul, bringing depression and despair that seems impossible to escape. If left unchecked, you can cause me to live entirely on the surface of life in order not to look within and acknowledge your presence there.

Jesus Christ knows you better than any of us. He is “the man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He bore the weight of what grieves God on the cross and conquered it fully in His resurrection. He took away the sting of death – sin – saying that you, Grief, no longer have the last word. Hope takes away your bitterness, leaving us a cleansing sorrow in its wake. Hope allows us to acknowledge you without surrendering fully to you. Hope frees us to look you in the eyes as you enter our hearts and communities, and to weep freely with those who sorrow. We the Redeemed can meet you without despair; acknowledge you without empty clichés; join with others who dwell in your shadow without demanding answers or reasons.

Sorrow well

So come, dear grief, teach us to sorrow well because of the hope of a risen Savior who will make all things new and eradicate your presence from our broken world entirely when He returns again. You will not own us, though you may visit us more frequently than we would choose. We will not turn away from your presence in our own lives or those of our friends and family. And thus we strip you of your power to isolate, turning your presence into a sign of longing and an invitation to draw nearer to those suffering in your wake.

Five Minute Friday: hope

Even when I don’t find time to write in between Fridays, it is good to know FMF always awaits me at the end of each week. Five Minute Friday (FMF) is a community of bloggers writing for 5 minutes unedited on a given topic. Learn more from Kate Motaung here.

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photo from 801seminaryplace.wordpress.com

photo from 801seminaryplace.wordpress.com

It comes like the first ray of light at break of day, defying the darkness that has reigned and declaring that there will again be morning and evening. 

Hope hovers over darkness and tragedy and despair. Waiting. Waiting to be noticed. Waiting to reveal itself at the proper time. Hope is what gives freedom to grieve and mourn and cry. It is hope that says I can grieve the losses woven into my story and I won’t be undone. Hope gives me strength to enter into the tragedy when I don’t have words and I feel paralyzed. But because of hope – I take a deep breath, and we step out of the car and we embrace the husband who has just lost his wife and daughter in a tragic way. Hope became his chorus as we wept together. Him saying – “we are resurrection people – we are resurrection people.”

It is much more than a thing with feathers that alights and drifts and is barely noticed (sorry, Miss Dickinson, I must beg to differ with you). It is weighty like an anchor teaching us to hold on despite all evidence to the contrary. 

Light will dawn again.

****

when you dread summer (and not for the obvious reasons …)

I’ve been procrastinating this post for awhile. It feels like if I don’t write it, it won’t be true. Yet we all know that’s about as effective as saying you’re not hungry when your favorite dessert shows up on the after-dinner tray. (I caved and totally ate the peanut-butter pie while out for dinner last night.) Sometimes I wonder if I’m too negative or brooding. But, hey, that’s what writers are known for, right? And add “counselor” to my job description, and it’s a wonder I don’t spend all my moments looking at/being weighed down by the dark side of life. For there is much darkness that is real. And yet the light wins in the end, and I have hope that it’s already breaking into this broken-down world. 

But sometimes the weight of all the burdens catches up with my soul. And I’ve felt like I can’t quite rise to the occasion of being fully present in my life lately. Part of it may be “compassion fatigue,” experienced by full-time caregivers, health providers, and ministers. That would fit my life description since as a mom to 4-year-old twins, pastor’s wife, and counselor, I am all of the above. So I’m sure that’s a portion of the mist that seems to shroud the days.

Yet I’m also a girl who *loves* summer and all that it means. Beach days, bright sunshine, late sunsets, crickets’ songs and lightning bugs. This year I cannot seem to rise to my usual “summer love.” And it bothers me. Winter blues? Well, I always expect those. But summer doldrums? They’re foreign to my existence. Sure, summer is different now since having children because these are weeks and months without the break of preschool for them. My summer reading (and project) list must be shorter now than the fall-winter one, because I actually have less time alone rather than more. But this alone doesn’t seem to explain the low-grade numbness I feel (if numbness can be felt).

Then I consider our recent history – the history of my church community. And tragedy seared us about midway through last summer. I find myself cringing within, emotionally bracing for impact as the season turns and it’s summer again. It was a beautiful, typically-bright July afternoon when trauma struck through the deaths of a mom and her daughter, leaving darkness in its wake for the surviving husband/father and daughter/sister. It was one of the greatest privileges of our lives for my husband and I to be able to be first responders to their grief. To sit and cry with them when it was all so fresh and so confusing. To simply offer our presence and our tears. It has been beautiful to watch our community of faith surround them and carry them through this past year. It has been evidence of God’s grace to witness the strength of these two as they have learned how to do life anew together.

And because of the carrying-with of their grief, traces of those tears still remain in my heart and soul. I would have it no other way. That combined with a year of nonstop everything and insufficient rest is probably contributing to the distancing I feel from what’s good and true and beautiful of life, and of summer particularly.

What will be the path of finding my way back to joy? Of refusing to let darkness write the story of this summer through the never-ending dread? It will be simple yet difficult. Putting one foot in front of the other. Speaking of my struggle while it’s in the present (not waiting for the retrospective – “it’s all over and here’s how God met me”). Creating structure for my soul and our family that includes lots of rest, refreshment, and fun. Soaking my soul in the words of hope whether I feel like it or not. Words like,

“In this world you will have trouble. But, take heart, I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

Yes, dread is a normal emotional response to past trauma, and yes, compassion fatigue calls for rest and a break, but no, it won’t have the last word. Jesus has overcome whatever it is you and I dread. This is reason for hope. Hope that looks like walking out of the mist and embracing what’s good and real and true about life, especiallysummer.

Five Minute Friday: tomorrow

We arrived home yesterday from a great several days’ getaway/conference in Orlando at The Gospel Coalition. More on that in a future post. Too much to process for now! Let’s say that returning home has been equal parts wonderful (twin 4-year-olds’ enthusiastic welcomes are the best!) and rough (where are the tropical breezes and the deep conversations?). Parenting is not for the faint of heart … I might have said that once or twice before?

I come here to Five Minute Friday, sliding in before midnight … to write in my favorite of regular blog activities. Five minutes of free writing on a given topic, hosted by Kate Motaung.

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photo from macstuff.net

photo from macstuff.net

Tomorrow.

Cue the theme song from Annie here. No, really, let’s talk about tomorrow. Tomorrow is when I will not be plagued by the sin and shame of parenting struggles. Tomorrow I will get organized, and work out, and write more, and be more loving. It is the holding place for all of my attempts at self-improvement and hoped-for answered prayers. 

No wonder tomorrow can feel so uncertain. Yet it is also hope-filled.

I lost it tonight when she kept crying uncontrollably, insisting on her way when I kept telling her she could not have it. I was patient and calm for about all of one minute, and then I unleashed my anger in a tirade of frustrated words. A parent at her wit’s end. A parent who feels out of control, as out of control as her daughter does. She was tired, up way past her bedtime; and I was tired of parenting (as was my husband). I just wanted her in bed and out of the way. And yikes, that sounds awful. That is (and was) raw emotion.

But I stepped away for a minute. Prayed, took a deep breath, and came back to her forgiving arms. We cuddled in close and I heard her whisper “‘give you” in response to my request for forgiveness. And I whispered to her about the promise of mercies that are new tomorrow. Strength for obedience that we both need. Grace to forgive that we’ll both need, too. And freedom not to be tied to today’s failures. 

Only in that hope can I face any of life’s tomorrows.

***

Letter to Grief (reposted) and a book to purchase

[repost from December 21, 2014]

All is not calm and bright, is it? This time of year is more often chaotic and dark as we scurry around with our never-ending Christmas to-do lists, flitting from one festivity to another. And for many of my close friends, this Advent season brings unimaginable grief. I feel it with you. And so I jumped at the opportunity to join in a “Letters to Grief” event hosted by Kate Motaung coinciding with the launch of her book by the same name. This letter – it’s for you, my friends grieving loss this season. Whether that loss is of a parent or a child or a pregnancy or a job or a clean bill of health or a dream or a marriage – the loss of hope and community too often follows in its wake. Let this be a small reminder that no, you are not alone, and yes, it feels excruciating. Cry, and sorrow, for we are not Home yet. But grieve with hope, for Home is being prepared for all those clinging to the hope of our Redeemer Jesus Christ.

***

Dear Grief,

You have claimed many friends in 2014, and I have been touched by you as well. The worst part is that the church has too often refused to own you as she should. She has proclaimed a gospel of health and wealth instead of the message of the Man of Sorrows acquainted with grief who promised suffering for all who take up their cross to follow Him. And in those moments when the people of God feel like they have no refuge, you cackle and seem to win. You whisper lies, saying that there is no hope, and that God is as distant as the well-meaning friends who disappear after an initial rally of support. …

[read the rest over at Kate Motaung’s site where I am featured today as part of her book launch, Letters to Grief, which will be one of my first reads in 2015]

Sorrow-well-300x300

reflections on my story

20140617-071914-26354591.jpgTen days ago, I celebrated a milestone birthday. Not one of the big “decades,” but one that felt significant nonetheless. Birthdays are great opportunities for reflection, and every year I enjoy writing a bit about the year prior and anticipating the year ahead. In March of this year, I did a retreat that could be the title for my story: “When Good Girls Get It All Wrong.” This past year has been a year of realizing more and more of the ways I get it wrong when I trust my goodness instead of God’s abundant grace. My story is one of the prototypical “good girl.” I am the oldest of three children with two younger brothers. I attended private Christian school through eighth grade and my worst nickname was “Goody-Goody.” The transition to public high school was terrifying and faith-activating. While experiencing being made fun of for being a Christian, my youth pastor wisely identified this as a form of persecution for my faith. And all of a sudden, God’s Word came alive to me. Passages like this one in 1 Peter 4:12-14 made sense to me for the first time:

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”

When it was time for college, I ventured out to Wheaton College, hundreds of miles from home. I still am amazed at that courage as an 18-year-old who had never lived anywhere but my small hometown in South Carolina. Those four years were full of long, important conversations that can happen in the context of “all freedom/no responsibility” and halfway through college, grace flooded in for this good girl. I was months away from being a Resident Assistant to a hall of 50 freshmen and sophomore women, and God found me through his grace as I realized how much I needed him. I could not rely on my try-harder goodness to carry me through what had become a crippling bout of anxiety-induced insomnia. The summer between my sophomore and junior year is fondly remembered as “the summer of grace,” when grace flooded into my Christian life – transforming what had been black-and-white into full color. Not unlike when Dorothy in Oz travels from tornado-torn Kansas to the yellow brick road leading to the Emerald City.

I will fast forward a few years to the next major turning point of faith for me: Christmas of 2003 which was bookended by news of both parents’ cancer diagnoses. Yes, you read that right: BOTH. My mom received her diagnosis December 23, and then when we gathered as a family again on December 31, Dad shared that he, too, had been diagnosed with cancer. My parents had always been healthy, and I had taken them for granted. This shook me as a young finding-my-way elementary school teacher who assumed life would continue as it always had. The gift to my faith in the midst of this season of questions and wondering how I would make it through is that I questioned. Really questioned and had to wrestle with a God who did not guarantee “the good, healthy and happy life” to his people. I often felt like I was questioning alone – because so many in my well-meaning Christian community jumped to, “It’s going to be fine!” or wanted to give pat answers that failed to connect with my heart. This journey through questions, doubt, darkness prepared me for the next stage of calling: pursuing a graduate degree in counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary outside of Philadelphia.

My parents both survived (and have been cancer-free for over a decade) and my faith deepened; and the gift of counseling has been the gift of walking with others through their questions, their pain, their suffering; their untold stories of tragedy, grief, loss, abuse, dreams imploding. And it has been the gift of witnessing hope emerging, slowly and painfully at times like a butterfly getting used to its new wings as it emerges from its cocoon. My own hope rehabilitation journey in seminary included the unexpected gift of meeting and marrying my pastor-husband, who persevered despite much resistance from this battle-weary woman who had been through a few too many break-ups by that point to easily entrust my heart to another. Being married to him has been good and beautiful and hard and sanctifying all at the same time, often in the same moments.

And then we had twins. I have talked about my journey of motherhood often on this blog, so I’ll leave it to prior posts to fill in those gaps. [suggested: Trusting God When You’re Expecting, Part 3: A New Chapter Called “Bed Rest“;  Tiny Miracles; Twins: The First Month; Confessions of an Angry Mom, part 12, & 3A Prayer for Potty TrainingTears and TransitionsFor the love of poetryIdentity lessons from “Angelina Ballerina”The one voice that matters mostMind the gap]

Needless to say, for two control-freak parents addicted to self-sufficiency and independence, twin daughters has by far been the best and hardest part of our lives as we find our way back to grace over and over and over again.

Where am I now? Full of anticipation for the next years or decades of life left before I go Home. I want to write. I want to write of hope amidst imploded dreams and war-torn hearts. I want to give voice to suffering and permission to speak of tragedy and to ask the hard questions we too often paste over with faith platitudes. I want to connect with you, my faithful readers, friends, family. I want to hear and share stories yet untold and unheard. To celebrate grace and life and beauty in all its forms, and to beg for redemption and healing for all the pain that creeps in uninvited. I want to laugh, to create art, and to unleash creativity in a million little ways. Join me? I’d be so honored.

 

 

when tragedy strikes, where is God?

I awoke to a clear blue sky sunny with the cheery light of early summer. I texted my friend, “What a beautiful day for your wedding!” We slowly woke up on this Saturday morning in June.

And then peace was shattered as I heard of a shooting from the evening prior that left a 17-year-old and a Norfolk police officer dead. What chilled me was both how close it happened to our home (ten minutes away), and that the boy who died, Mark Rodriguez, was the son of acquaintances – a fellow pastor and his counselor-wife, Carlos and Leigh Ellen. Carlos pastors Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach, a church planted by the church where my husband is one of the associate pastors. We’ve often prayed for the Rodriguez family and their young church. And now. How to process?

Empathy is helpful to me as a counselor, yet it also means I can feel the emotional impact of an event that does not personally affect me. And I can be weighed down by it. Such as a national tragedy or the nightly news. And this. Well, it’s shaken me. I wonder how on earth I would ever get through such a tragic loss as a parent. And I feel angry at a world in which a high school rising senior would be killed while driving home to make it in time for his 11:00pm curfew. How did his parents get the news? In an extended interview, Carlos talks about retracing his son’s route when his son did not get home in time despite a text to his mom saying he’d dropped off his friend and was headed straight home. He speaks of seeing the car, the ambulance, the police and sirens and flashing lights. He speaks of crying out, “Where is my son?!” And finally getting the answer from the detective, “He’s deceased.” Then of calling his wife … and their stunned disbelief. A car accident with some injuries is what he first thought – but this. It’s a thousand times worse. More tragic, more apparently senseless, more awful. To be randomly shot by a madman with a gun from inside his car. That’s losing your son to the very worst and most irreversible brokenness of this world: murder.

I went to the Christian school’s memorial service for Mark Rodriguez on Sunday afternoon (two days after his death) to be on hand as a grief counselor. I was, instead, counseled by many who are grieving with hope the life of a remarkable man. I saw a picture of a young man wise beyond his years, with the secret of this wisdom being no secret at all: it was the Lord to whom he was surrendered. The God he loved to lead others to worship. His mom said, “All he ever wanted to be was a worship leader,” and fellow students spoke of his joyful (even goofy at times) way of leading them in worship. His mom, Leigh Ellen, spoke of his blog post about heaven – his last one, written less than two months before he died. She talked about his journal that revealed someone “even better than who we thought he was. The Mark you remember is the real deal.” For the mother of a teenager to speak these words – that alone communicates volumes as to the character and integrity of Mark Rodriguez. I was comforted to hear both parents hold in tension the reality of grieving their son’s death (no minimizing or denying this reality) with a deeper seated hope in resurrection life. His father, Carlos, said that there is no question that Mark is alive and with the Savior he loved. They even asked this Christian community to reach out to the family of the shooter, to offer comfort for their grief. They hold no malice (although I am sure there are questions) because they are resting in God’s sovereign goodness over every detail of their son’s life. Psalm 139 that speaks of every day ordained for us before our lives start – this is how a parent can say, “Mark got exactly what he wanted – to be with the God he loved so much. God took our son home, and he did not live one minute shorter than he was supposed to.”

It raises the question for me – well, so many questions actually. There are the typical ones about why and how come and this is not fair. But the questions I want to live with moving forward are these:

(1)  How could I live a life like Mark’s – completely surrendered, longing for Jesus, true through and through – so that those who know me best could say, “She was even better than you thought she was. Not because of her goodness, but because of her Savior to whom she was surrendered.”?

(2)  When I am cut, will I bleed gospel like Carlos and Leigh Ellen? For that’s what’s so poignant. It is the gospel flowing out in their pain that is so compelling. But don’t take my word for it. Watch their interviews here. It is worth every bit of the 20 minutes for all four parts.

How can I live like Mark? And grieve like Carlos and Leigh Ellen? Through drinking deeply of the gospel. A gospel that shows that God’s in the very middle of the tragedy. He is the God who’s not only sovereign in it, but faithful through it. He is the God intimately acquainted with grief. The God who knows what it is to lose a son to senseless murder. For isn’t that the story of the cross? He is the God who hates death and sin and brokenness so much that he allowed Jesus to be murdered that death and sin and its brokenness might be reversed – eradicated – that love would win through an empty tomb and a stone rolled away. Resurrection. Life after death. Hope amidst tragedy that frees a community to grieve and laugh and hope again.