Hands and feet.

I was pretty glued to the internet last week – taking in stories and press briefings and reports about what happened in Las Vegas. I was reading part of an article to Aaron about a man who was at the concert with his dad and his dad was shot. The son is an EMT and he tried to revive his dad, but he couldn’t. His dad died right in front of him. All they wanted to do was go to a country music concert and have a good time, and his dad died right there in front of him as he tried to save him. I couldn’t even get through the story without choking up. Even the people who weren’t injured but were just there, running for their lives, screaming, seeing all the blood and the people get shot, hearing the noise of gunfire - the raw terror they must have felt. 

I was listening to the radio and they were talking about this tragedy and oftentimes the immediate response to something like this is, “Where was God?” Even as a Christian, I can sometimes feel myself asking that question when terrible things happen, whether that's somewhere else in the world, or even just in my own life or the lives of people I know. So the radio deejay had posed the same question and a woman called in and she went on to explain how it's the wrong question to ask because God was there that night. He was there. He was with the husbands and boyfriends and strangers who threw their bodies over the women they loved, or the ones they didn’t even know. He was with the police officers who bravely walked toward the gunfire to make sure no one else got hurt. He was there with the doctors and nurses and paramedics who saved the lives of the injured. He was with the first responders. He was with the injured. He was with those who lost their lives. He was there. Among them. With them.

I was struck by this woman’s words as she explained this to the deejay because for whatever reason, it was something I had not considered in the face of previous tragedy. My default position was one of, “Oh, yeah, God knew it was going to happen. He could have stopped it with a word, but he didn’t. We won’t ever know why. We just have to trust.”  Christian platitudes we've all heard before to try and help us understand. But in my head, God was off in the corner watching this happen, knowing it was happening, not orchestrating, but allowing for reasons unknown to us. Do you get what I mean here? That’s always the way I viewed him in tragedy. He was there, but on the sidelines as a spectator to our earthly struggle and sorrow because in his infinite wisdom this is part of the plan, even if we don’t understand it. It just has to play out like this and one day it will all make sense. 

Of course part of that is true – we won’t understand it and it is part of the story of the world. God was not caught off guard that Sunday night when this tragedy happened. He was not surprised – his steady hand was unshaken. But I think in the face of tragedy, when we ask the big question, “Where was God?” it’s like our immediate assumption is that because it was ugly and bad he wasn’t there, but that's wrong. You know how everyone loves the quote from Mr. Rogers about looking for the helpers? There are always helpers. And what I’m getting at is rather than asking the question, "Where was God?", we need to look for all the ways that God was there. Instead of imagining big, unapproachable God in the corner not stepping in, imagine Jesus in that crowd crying with those who were hurt. I imagine him now, as those bullets rang out, just pleading, “No, no, no,” as he covered those running for their lives. "No, not this," as terror ran through the hearts of everyone present. Like this lady pointing out on the radio, he was there. He was among them. He was clearing the path for paramedics. He was giving doctors steady hands and wisdom in emergency surgery. Look for the stories of bravery and heroicism coming out of Sunday night. God was there. 

We have to remember that this was never the plan. God’s plan was not for sin and death and destruction and evil. God’s plan was for flourishing, communion with him, beauty and perfect peace. He did not will for evil to enter the garden. Just as he does not will for tragedy or sorrow on any scale. He does not sit back and watch our anguish from afar. He reaches down and cries with us. He is present in our sorrows.

I had the wrong picture of God this whole time because apparently I forgot that we are the hands and feet of Jesus to the world. 1 Corinthians 12 says we’re each a part of Christ’s body. We’re here to bring Jesus near.  I heard a pastor say one time, “God is never far off, Christian, because you are there. He’s never far from your coworkers because you’re there. He’s never far from your neighbors, because you’re there. He’s never far because he’s placed you in your circumstances around those people.” Christians believe that they have been filled with the Holy Spirit to live and love and be like Jesus. We believe that God is compassionate, he is kind, he is love, he is not far off at any moment and we are called to take him into our every day places. So, yes, Jesus was there that night. He was there in the midst of it all. Was everyone there that acted in bravery a Christian? No, probably not. I'm not suggesting that only Christians can act in courageous love - in fact sometimes they don't. But since God is love, then every act of love and care can only come from him. 

I’m reading the book, Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life. It’s a collection of letters written by Henri Nouwen and while these letters are forty to fifty years old, it’s striking to me how they are still relevant to our current situations. Several times I have stopped and made Aaron read a passage and said, “Doesn’t that seem like it could have been written yesterday?” That’s the thing about truth. When you write about the truth it transcends time and circumstance and especially trends. The truth will always last longer than what’s cool or popular for but a moment. 

Well in one particular letter, Henri writes about our source of hope. While it was written in 1981, it’s still applicable to us now, especially in the face of tragedy and pain. We’re tempted to lose hope and live in fear. We’re tempted to stay home because it feels safer now than going to the movies or a concert or even to school. But in this letter Henri is responding to a man who wondered if humanity would survive the century, given what was going on in the world at the time. Henri replied,

“I really don’t know if our civilization will survive the century. Considering the growing threat of a nuclear holocaust, there certainly is a reason to wonder. But important for me is not if our civilization will survive or not but if we can continue to live with hope, and I really think we can because our Lord has given us His promise that He will stay with us at all times. He is the God of the living, He has overcome evil and death and His love is stronger than any form of death and destruction. That is why I feel that we should continually avoid the temptation of despair and deepen our awareness that God is present in the midst of all the chaos that surrounds us and that that presence allows us to live joyfully and peacefully in a world so filled with sorrow and conflict.”

It was true in 1981 and it’s true today, in the face of another national tragedy. We have reason to hope. This is not how it ends. His love is stronger than any havoc caused by a single misguided soul. He is with us always. Always doesn't mean every day except in times of mass shootings, plane crashes, and big catastrophes that we wish were avoided. It means always

So we move forward with hope. We continue to live with hope and not in fear. Because we are the body of Christ and we are called to go – out in the world to always be the hands and feet of Jesus, in good times and in tragedies and in all the places he has called us to go. So we go to concerts and movies and school and stadiums and markets carrying the hope and love that we know well. Jesus is not far off, because you’re there, carrying him as a light into dark places. Carrying something of the divine into a hurting world. 


I'm not good at endings - ending jobs, ending a book I really liked, I didn't even like ending high school. I wish the good things just kept on and on. Maybe this is because new things are hard - new rhythms and routines and ways of being. It's the perfectionist in me that panics a little (a lot) over things that are new and unfamiliar and rather than see them as exciting, my initial gut reaction is to see them as a new way to feel stupid and lose my illusion of control. I'm sorry, it actually hurt to type that, but that's the honest truth. Maybe you know the feeling.

I say all this because I moved out of my apartment last week. I lived there, alone, for seven years, and I’m not trying to be overly weird about it but Aaron will testify that I cried many times (and many more when he wasn't around). I put it off until the very last minute and actually waited for him to start sorting my things because I didn’t even know how or where to begin. Remember the series finale of Friends where they all stood in the apartment and remembered the special things that happened there? I get it now. I stood in my apartment last week and as we took more boxes out I thought about the last seven years inside those four walls.

When it was finally empty, Aaron and I laid on the floor of the living room. “What’s your best memory in this apartment?” he asked. I started crying.

“It’s not that any really good things happened here,” I said. “It’s the person I became here.”

I was 25 when I moved into that little apartment. When I first walked in with my mom, I remember feeling disappointed. The carpets were dingy and gross from the previous tenant, the counter tops and cupboards all had a sticky layer of grime on them, and, unlike my last place, it didn't have a washer or dryer. It was also smaller – a definite downgrade, while other people my age were buying whole houses. On top of it all, I was so lonely without anyone to talk to or come home to at the end of the day. After living with my sister for two years and living at home prior to that, I was alone for the first time in my life. 

I quit my job shortly after moving in and that left me even more lonely and then also very broke. I struggled to pay my bills. I borrowed from my parents. I gave my own plasma to pay for groceries a couple of times. Even when I finally got a steady job, I was upset that it wasn’t my dream job.  I hated myself those first couple of years. I constantly wanted to go back to when I was 15 and start everything over from there. I fantasized about what life would be like if I could do that – if I could erase so much of who I was. I felt abandoned and forgotten by a God I said I loved and I railed against him. I didn’t see how my life would get any better than those four walls and my solo-living. Each year I signed a new lease, I felt despair and heartbreak. “Is this going to be forever?” was the only question my heart could ask as I signed my name, year after year, on a document tying me to that 653 square feet for what seemed like another stretch of eternity. 

It wasn't all awful obviously. There were good things in my life too. I don't want to paint a picture too bleak because I wasn't constantly sad. And, of course, the whole point of this is that over the years I learned to love that apartment. Management replaced the carpet and I learned the new rhythm of taking my laundry to my parent's house. Even though I had enough quiet alone time to make all the mothers of small children jealous, I learned to love that too. As we sorted through my stuff and put things in boxes, I told Aaron how important it all was because of the hard work it took me to get there. I told you – I was broke at one point. I had literally no spare change. So as I slowly started making my way back out of the pit, I would buy one “luxury” thing at a time - luxury meaning non-essential. I bought one bar stool at a time because it’s all I could afford. I had mismatched dishes until I was 30. I read a decorating book that changed the way I viewed that space – changed the way I made it my own and I was so thrilled when I completed my gallery wall because I thought it turned out so cute. Aaron said that when he walked into that apartment the first time it felt magical – homey and cozy - and that felt really sweet because I worked hard to make it that way.

I’m 32 now and I turned in my keys a few days ago. More than just the pictures hanging on them and the furniture between them, the walls of that apartment hold so much of me - of my sadness and joy and growing and learning. Of my journey in trusting the Lord - finally and completely. They hold the story of my walk through a lot of wilderness. Those walls are well acquainted with tears. They hold heartbreak and grief. But they also know a lot of laughter. They know love. I fell in love at that apartment over some Facebook messages with my favorite guy. They know prayers – SO MANY PRAYERS. They also know sleepless nights, late night phone calls, the smell of Kenra hairspray, and all the words to the movie, Ever After.

One thing I can say is that I am proud of the woman I am now. Seven years later and I don't even recognize the girl who moved in there. I grew up in that apartment. I feel like I became an adult in that apartment. I worked out my salvation in those four walls. I learned confidence and independence and how to do the hard and holy things of life. I became a woman who knows herself a little better - who knows the Lord a little better. I became a woman who can say that God has been faithful - even in the midst of my doubt and anger and frustration and insistence that he must not see, hear, know, or care. 

Last week as I vacuumed the floors one last time, I prayed for whoever might move into that space. I prayed that they might meet God inside those walls like I did – that they might learn and grow and become more of who God made them to be. And to whoever lives there next, the light bulbs in the ceiling fan in the bedroom slowly come unscrewed when the fan is on so you’ll have to twist them back in often. And you'll have to learn how to shake the key in the front lock so the door will open.  Also, the orange ladybugs. Oh my gosh, the ladybugs. Somehow they are always around even when maintenance sprays for them. It’s a great mystery. I see them nowhere else in my whole life except the window sills of that apartment and it is a wonder of the world as to where they are coming from but they are yours now. Godspeed.

We moved my stuff out of my apartment over the course of about three days and when I spent my first night back at my parent's house I was all of the known emotions at once. I laid in bed feeling homesick and I didn't know why. I told my sister as much and she texted me back, "You had your whole heart in that apartment." It's true. I did.

In an effort to find some peace, I opened my Bible with the old stick-your-finger-in-the-middle-and-open-it method. I landed on Isaiah, so I turned to my favorite chapter and in the quiet of this new temporary space, God spoke over me the words of 43: 18-19,

“Do not call to mind the former things,
Or ponder things of the past.
“Behold, I will do something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert.

I'm sure someone theologically smarter than me will tell me I'm cherry-picking a verse to make myself feel better but I don't care. It reminded me to not look back because I'm not headed that way. Don't wish parts of your life away, don't dwell on what happened before, don't call to mind former things. Life isn't back there. It's all ahead of you.

I might not be good at endings and maybe you aren't either, but we are called to look forward, not back. I know He'll make rivers in the desert because I've seen him do it in that apartment. He made a roadway through the wilderness. So I'm clinging to that verse as I'm headed into new things - better things - ready to make memories in a new space. Hopefully one without orange ladybugs.