When I came home from work on a surprisingly spring-like day, just seven days before Christmas, I rested. The windows were open and there was a hushed stillness outdoors and in the house. The peacefulness of the moment was so refreshing, it helped me relax.
Soon, perhaps twenty minutes later, music emanated from my son’s bedroom. It was the soothing harmony and rich sound of Andy McKee playing instrumental guitar.
His music stilled my soul.
After hearing several of his songs, the robust music of the vocalist Adele began to resonate. The calming peacefulness of McKee’s acoustic tones began to gently but persistently give way to the passion-filled intensity of Adele.
Her music stirred my soul.
As I listened to all of this: the stillness of the late afternoon outside, followed by the gracefulness of the instrumentals of Mckee, and then the passionate ballads of Adele, my mind began to wander. Before I knew it, I was thinking about the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. It has been six days since the stunning news, and I had not yet cried. It seemed too unreal, too far away.
For six days I have thought about the victims in Newtown with a tearless shock and disbelief. Late this afternoon, I finally cried for Connecticut. For six days I blocked out imagining these could have been my own children. For six days I refused to put a face to the names of the children, and I intentionally protected my heart from believing that any of these teachers or moms could have been members of my family or my church or neighbors in my community.
But this evening, whether it was just taking time to rest and reflect, or listening to the music, or being moved by the Holy Spirit, or all three simultaneously affecting me, I finally cried.
I cried because I could almost imagine the horrific pain of not having my daughter, Carole-Anne, or my son, Hudson, sitting at the dinner table with me and my wife, Jan. I could almost imagine the inability to sleep because I couldn’t get out of my mind the speculation of how terrifying those final moments must have been; or how I would be filled with guilt that I could not have been there to protect my children, or my wife, or a friend.
I cried because I began to wonder what those children would have grown up to be. I thought about my two teens and how amazing their 16 and 18 years have been, and how full our family life has been because they have existed. I cried because for the first time in six days, I could imagine not just the emptiness, but the sudden emptiness. Even now, imagining this scenario is almost unbearable. I have finally begun to “weep for those who weep.”
A Special Moment
As the music played this evening, I heard some children outside the open window. They were the little elementary-age children in our neighborhood here in Gastonia who run down to our house almost every single day; ringing the doorbell to inquire if my 16-year-old son can come out to play ball.
I knew they were coming, because from the upstairs open window I could hear their feet as they walked up our driveway, and I could hear some of the conversation. In a few seconds, the doorbell would ring. In that short span of time between hearing them and waiting to hear the doorbell, I thought that if Hudson could not go outside, since he was studying for exams, I might just go out and play ball with those children.
The doorbell rang, our dog Tucker barked, and I could hear Hudson at the door telling them he couldn’t come outside because he had to study for exams. Before he shut the door, I suggested we go play with these guys, even if just for a few minutes.
He was perhaps a little surprised that I was there and ready to go out, and he agreed to go play with the two boys, ages 8 & 9. They are cool little kids. And, they remind me of Hudson and his best friend John, who used to play together after school when they were six and seven years old, in the days when we lived in Tampa.
I was still teary-eyed when I first jogged out into the front-yard, but I don’t think they noticed. We had a jolly time throwing the football with them on this warm winter evening in North Carolina. I was so glad for this special moment. In just a few moments, some of those torn places in my heart began to gently heal. Hudson is their hero, and they love hanging out with him.
I wanted to be there… because I could, and because they could. We were alive.
We played some football and tackled one another, and laughed, and lived.
The sun has gone down now, and the boys in the hood have gone home. Jan has finished wrapping the presents; Carole-Anne is in McAdenville enjoying the Christmas lights with friends, and Hudson is in his room studying for his exams. This has stilled my soul.
More Tears, Better Understanding
But in the quiet, my soul is also beginning to stir again as I think of the contrast of the joy in my front yard a moment ago with the almost unbearable sorrow that must be happening tonight in Newtown. Those children and those teachers and those moms are not coming home. The doorbell is not going to ring. I finally cried for Connecticut tonight. I continue to cry for Connecticut.
It all makes me long for something far away from the sadness and the madness. If Heaven is as great as the sneak previews in the Bible reveal (and I believe it will be as it is written, and even greater), then I want to be there. I am increasingly convinced that this tragedy should move us beyond the creeping atheism in our country to a profound theism in our souls.
I am coming around again to see that this tragedy shows us not less of God, but actually more of God. God, Who is the source of all life, is the very antithesis of all that this travesty represents.
As we continue to shed tears for Connecticut this evening, let us pray that the day will come when the unimaginable mourning being experienced by those families will turn to a different kind of joy, a supernatural joy that comes from the Divine.
And, as the people seek the Son of God whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, may we remember that He is no longer in the manger, and He is no longer on the cross… He has risen and so shall all of His redeemed children. As it is written: “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall” (Malachi 4:2).
Make it so, Dear Lord… make it so. Behold, someone is at the door… maybe it is You (Revelation 3:20).
Rev. Mark Tankersley is pastor of Gaston Community Church(ARP), Gastonia, NC.