Tuesday, January 28, 2014

When tragedy strikes

We had been abuzz for days in anticipation. It was this day in 1986. I sat in my third grade classroom with 21 other students waiting for Space Shuttle Challenger to rocket from earth. For the first time a civilian, a teacher who had been selected among the crew, ventured into space on scientific mission. It was to be the first of many for the Teacher In Space Program.

The launch had postponed due to weather and equipment issues several times. But finally the day was here. They rolled the T.V. into our classroom and our eyes were glued. Countdown began and then lift off. We cheered.

And then a short 73 seconds later, the unexplainable happened. We looked to our teacher for answers. But no words needed to be said. Her face told what we knew. The Challenger had exploded and killed all on board.

The nation watched and grieved for days after. But even as a nine year old, I was able to process it as an accident. A horrible, tragic accident.

The shielding

When my son was four, he had this obsession with a cartoon character you may have heard of: Thomas the Train. And I'm not exaggerating obsession. It was all he wanted to watch. All he talked about. All he played. 24 hours a day for about a year. Maybe two. I don't know. My sub-conscious has blocked a lot of that time to protect me from insanity.

Halloween that year he had the Thomas the Train costume. Thomas the Train candy bucket. And of course he chose Thomas the Train to carve as his pumpkin. He and Dad worked for hours and David was so proud. Every night he looked forward to seeing his pumpkin lit on the front porch.

As Halloween night wound down, the children snuggled in their beds with sugar comas. I stepped outside to turn the lights off and discovered that some punk in the last group of bigger kids to clean us out of candy, had thought it be funny to put his fist right through my son's Thomas the Train pumpkin.

I was heartbroken. My son was four. He was too young to be subjected to evil. Neither his Dad nor I wanted to help him make sense of what had happened. So we spent the next two hours carving another Thomas the Train pumpkin. He never knew the difference. That time we were able to maintain his innocence.

I think of the times as a nation we have been brought to our knees in grief since January 28, 1986.

Men boarding planes and using them as weapons is not an accident

Columbine was not an accident.

Sandy Hook was not an accident.

Mall shootings are not an accident.

Just last week I was eating lunch when breaking news cut in for a shooting at Purdue University in Lafayette Indiana. News was slow to come in, but I watched as one of our local news anchors interviewed his daughter who was sheltered in place in her dorm on campus. Professional, he tried to remain poised. But you could still see this father's emotion; happy to hear her voice, but nervous because she was too close.

We want to shield them. To protect them. We don't want them to have to see or know or experience evil in this world. We want them to maintain their innocence as long as we can.

On occasion, our efforts succeed. But reality is, eventually they learn the hard truth. And sometimes it comes all too soon.

I wish I could sit here and tell you that we won't ever have to try and explain the unexplainable. That we won't have to try to help an innocent mind make sense of the senseless. But I can't do that. I know that eventually we will have to sit with our children and grieve what shouldn't have been.

But I've come to learn that we live in an upside down world.

Where to be strong we have to have been weak.

To be at peace we have to have been in chaos.

To forgive we have to have been wronged.

To understand love we have to understand indifference.
To experience healing we have to encounter pain.

To overcome we have to have defeat.

And it's through these experiences that wisdom comes. Where grace can enter. Where we can rely fully on a God who understands when we can't. These times of tragedy can be a way for our faith to grow not in mankind, but in the One Who grieves for mankind.

Rest assured that our kids are here for such a time as this. They have been fashioned to handle where this world is heading. We may not like it, but they are here for a purpose. And if we instill our faith in Him to our children, He will use them in ways to bring glory to Him we can only imagine.

And that is no accident.

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