My messy, in-the-middle thoughts about Orlando

Over the past few weeks, I have felt exhausted by social media. I know I’m not alone in that feeling. In the midst of that, I keep thinking, “Just because I have an opinion about something does not mean I need to share it.” I also keep thinking, “Before I share this on Facebook, is there a person in my real life I can and should share it with?”

So, as I’ve been wrestling with my feelings about all that’s transpired in Orlando, I have kept them mostly to myself. I’ve talked with Evan, of course, and I’ve sent messages to a few friends. I chatted with a neighbor a bit this afternoon.

I have hesitated to add my voice to the noise. Many people will say it better than me (and have). And I am only tangentially connected to these tragedies–I don’t personally know any of these victims. Yet, this is the type of tragedy that everyone feels the weight of. As Rob Bell said on his latest Robcast episode, we are all created in the image of God and so we all collectively know, “This is not right.”

And what’s more, I still consider Orlando my home.

This afternoon I sat down to read Rising Strong, and of course, Brene Brown started talking about grief. She wrote, “…our silence about grief serves no one. We can’t heal if we can’t grieve; we can’t forgive if we can’t grieve. We run from grief because loss scares us, yet our hearts reach toward grief because the broken parts want to mend. C.S. Lewis wrote, ‘No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.’ We can’t rise strong when we’re on the run.”

I am grieving. My thoughts are messy, and very much in-process. But as always, I need to write to know what I think.

The three tragedies that have hit Orlando this week each hit so close to home. First, an artist was killed in the building where I used to attend church and where I began my job in children’s ministry. Just yesterday, a little boy the same age as Ian was killed in a freak accident at once of my favorite places in the world. Sandwiched between those two events was the shooting at Pulse–the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

In the latest episode of the Robcast, Rob Bell talked about the shooting. He recorded on Sunday so his thoughts are raw, and he shares them as we were still learning more about what happened. He kept repeating this one phrase: “You weren’t thinking about Orlando yesterday, but you’re thinking about Orlando today.”

His point was that these terrible tragedies tend to awaken us to the universality of humanity, the way we have more in common than not, to our shared grief and joy. I knew what he meant, but I kept thinking, “No, no, no. I think about Orlando every. single. day.”

Somehow, I feel as though I am mourning the loss of our Orlando home and community all over again. Isn’t that strange? It just feels lonely to be mourning this tragedy from afar, to know that somehow, if and when we return to Orlando, it will be forever altered. It may look the same, but underneath, I know nothing will ever be the same.

It makes me feel impotent, almost. What am I to do? My people are hurting, and I desperately want to be there with them, to hug and cry and grieve and hope and pray together. To look at the streets and the sites with new, more grateful eyes. I want to donate blood and attend the vigils, drop off meals and assemble care packages. Instead, I send some texts and some emails, I pray from afar.

Over the weekend, an author I follow tweeted something like, “Let’s remember that prayer is not the least we can do. It’s the most we can do.” But doesn’t it feel so insufficient sometimes? I have struggled to bring my real, unedited thoughts to Jesus. All my prayers seem trite and overplayed.

I haven’t felt hopeless–not exactly. Truly, I know my hope rests in Jesus and His now-but-not-yet kingdom. I have asked Him to show me what to do next, and I know the answer is to love more like Jesus did. But if I’m honest, I don’t always know what that should look like in the midst of dirty diapers, picky eating, and missed nap times.

I remember the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre. I sat on my couch and cried, but never once did I pick up the phone or type out an email to my government representatives to tell them that I wanted reform and wanted it quickly. I think that perhaps I have let down my neighbors, let down my country, let down each person who’s been killed by an AR-15 since that terrible day. Meanwhile, I believe more in the power of the NRA than I do in my own voice as a citizen of this country…but I’m not going to live like it.

I watched the Tony Awards on Sunday night, and I wanted to cry for both the beauty and heartbreak of it all. I wanted to raise my hands in worship, grateful for the reminder that all truth is God’s truth and to make art is to imitate our Creator. I could not help but see and thank Jesus for the strange alchemy that was created from such unspeakable tragedy in the morning, and such beautiful art and celebration in the evening. I had church right there on my couch on Sunday night, watching each of those people do the work God created them to do.

All of this motivates me to pray with renewed fervor for Ian and Leo. I want them to know two things: first, that they will never lock eyes with someone who does not matter to God and second, that their lives have a purpose. I don’t want them to ever feel the kind of angry desperation I imagine someone must feel to perpetrate such evil, awful violence. I want them to be captivated by their God-given purpose: to love.

Orlando is a community that certainly has its fair share of inequality, poverty, and violence. But I think most people will tell you that Orlando and all her surrounding neighborhoods are marked by diversity, creativity, fun, and an ever-increasing “local first” consciousness. I always had the sense that Orlando was a community in which our family had every opportunity to thrive.

Disney World is known as “the happiest place on earth,” so that phrase is associated with Orlando by extension (even if, sometimes, with an eye-roll).

Orlando will be different now, but, I truly believe–better. The happiest place on earth? Who knows. But Orlando will be increasingly a place where people know how to love one another, where people care more about their commonalities than their differences. Orlando will be a place where profit takes a back seat to compassion, where people link arms and hold hands. It will be a place where people pray and serve and hope with doors open to their neighbors.

I have hope, friends. I have hope.

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