Today marks four years since the strangest and saddest week of my life began. It’s amazing four years has gone so quickly. It seems like just yesterday.
You see four years ago this week I was mentally preparing myself to turn 25. For some reason this impending birthday weighed heavily on me and I felt the need to reflect and prepare. While I felt that way all of May, something shifted in my heart around the 23rd. Something felt heavy and off.
The next five days went quickly and my birthday came and almost went. With one phone call the weight in my heart over the last several days and the youth of birthdays changed.
You see four years ago today, as best as we can surmise, my little brother died. It was a reality that no one but he was prepared for. I am a Christian and I know my brother was as well. I know that he not only knew about Jesus in his head, but that he knew Jesus in his heart. He was not perfect, however Christ does not call us to perfection but faith. I know that his faith in Christ was real, and that his relationship with our Lord was important. Because of this knowledge, I know that while my brother left us here on earth that he is rejoicing with angels in heaven.
We learned on my birthday of his death. My birthday is “officially” his date of death and is thus literally etched in stone while we all know that really, he left on the 23rd.
Four years ago this week became for a lifetime both joyful and tragic.
Since May 2009 I’ve been trying to figure out how to deal with the truth that life that is both joyful and tragic at the exact same time. Even in writing this I seem to get hung up there- with that italicized line.
As I write this there is a thunderstorm outside and my dog is snuggling as close as is possible for protection. I know that this is the same storm that caused deadly tornados in Texas and Oklahoma just a couple of days ago. I know that these storms bring rain which is essential for things to grow.
Forrest fires, while terrible for those immediately affected, serve an ecological purpose thinning trees and spreading seeds causing new growth that wouldn’t have happened without it. Every plant and tree is a symbol of death bringing life.
Our lives depend on having some storms now and then. Pain, struggles and conflict are catalysts for growth.
These storms are joyful and tragic. Our whole world is one big symphony of joy and tragedy. Our lives and the lives of those around us are constantly filled with these two things. A year and a half ago dear friend from college got married and within months learned her husband had cancer. Talk about joy and tragedy.
It can be really easy to focus on the tragedy. Our 24-hour news cycle makes it impossible not to and so do anniversaries and photographs. But we have the promise of joy in these things through faith in Jesus Christ. Romans 8:18-23 says:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
This is a promise of joy to come out of tragedy. As I think about this week- both the significance for my family but also the world events like the tornados in Oklahoma, it is so clear to me that creation is groaning to be made whole again. Sometimes we can find the obvious signs of joy in the midst of tragedy, other times it is nearly impossible to see. But I know two things- first when the end comes God will be glorified and all creation (including you and I) will be restored and second it’s important to turn our gaze on Christ in all times but especially in times of tragedy.
Theologians debate over the how and why of pain and tragedy but the reality is that none of us know those two things. But for me, as a Christian, I know that regardless of theological stances we live in a crazy, broken, fallen world full of tragedy. Tragedy is an opportunity for us to seek joy and restoration. Not just on the spiritual plane (although that is important) but also here on earth with each other. I want to always do that. Seek joy and restoration.