Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Ups, downs, and the grace of God in the midst of tragedy

The past two weeks have given me one really big up, and one really big down.

The big up was that God moved in a big way on the campus of Bethel College, where I work. Many people are talking about revival - I don't know if we can officially classify it as that, but the Holy Spirit was definitely poured out in an extraordinary way and the students definitely responded. You can read more about this in a blog post I wrote for Bethel.

The big down was hearing that the seven-year-old daughter of a high school friend was shot and killed in a tragic accident. I went to the viewing last night, and the funeral was today.

I remember my friend Jay as being constantly upbeat. We didn't go to the same school but we spent many hours together with our church youth group and hanging out at friend's houses. I wouldn't say that he was a "class clown" type of guy - that's almost an accurate description but not quite right. I remember him as someone who loved to have fun, and was a big teddy bear underneath it all. I haven't seen Jay in more than ten years.

On Friday night I heard of the tragic death of a little girl, and on Saturday I learned that it was Jay's daughter, Karlee. You can read the details of the accident in this news article.

I know there are many people who question what happened. Why did Jay have a handgun in his pocket? Why didn't he secure it before playing with his daughters? How could this have happened?

Some people ask these questions honestly, wondering at the horrific series of events that would lead to this. And others ask these questions with anger and judgment - how could a parent let this happen?

I've been rolling all of this around in my head for several days, and I can't help but think of all the "what if" moments in my life and in the lives of other parents. You know, the one time you drive down the street without your seat belt on because you're only going a quarter-mile.

The one time you are preparing dinner and leave a sharp knife within reach of little hands while you run out to the garage to grab something out of the chest freezer.

The one time the kids are in the backyard and you run inside for just a second to grab the ringing telephone, not realizing that the gate to the pool is unlocked.

The one time you decide to send a quick one-word text while driving down the road.

The one time you forget to fasten the baby gate at the top of the stairs after you bring up the laundry from the basement.

I would venture to say that most responsible people act responsibly 99% of the time. But we all have our moments in the 1% when we aren't responsible. And in those 1% moments, most of the time there is grace.

We arrive safely to our destination and never need the aid of the seatbelt.

We walk back into the kitchen and catch our breath at the sight of the knife on the edge of the counter, saying a prayer of thanks that little hands didn't find it.

We look out the window just in time to see a toddler opening the unlocked pool gate and are able to rush to him before he makes his way to the water.

We look up from the quick text to see that we've veered into the other lane, and breathe a sigh of relief that there was no oncoming traffic.

We have a moment of panic when we hear the crash of something (or someone?) falling down the stairs, but laugh when we realize it's because the dog bumped into the baby gate and made it fall.

Most of the time, the worst case scenario doesn't manifest.

And sometimes, the worst case scenario lines up in such a way that it becomes a horrible tragedy.

My heart goes out to Jay and his wife, Kelly, and their oldest daughter, Brooklyn. I went to Karlee's visitation last night, and the thing that sticks in my mind is how tightly Jay hugged me. I'm so glad I went and was able to give him that hug. I know it won't fix anything, but I hope that it helped somehow.

I wasn't able to go to the funeral today but I did read an article about it in our local paper. I really appreciated this quote from Steve Chupp, pastor of the church where I grew up and where Jay and his family still attend: "You have to be careful, Jay, that this tragedy does not define you ... you're God's son, you're God's boy, and you're a loving father."

I pray that Jay will take these words to heart. I pray that he can move beyond the guilt of that 1% moment because, truth be told, we have all had at least one of those moments. 

Why don't all of our 1% moments end in tragedy? I don't know. There are so many "whys" and "what ifs" that have rolled around in my head in the past week, and I know that I won't ever have an answer. 

Part of me wonders if I want an answer so I can insulate myself from fear - if it's true that the 1% moments happen to all of us, and if it's true that sometimes they can result in tragedy, then I have to face the fact that I don't have 100% control, 100% of the time. Not that I will walk around in fear of what tragedy might be around every corner; I just have to learn again to trust in the sovereignty of God.

I'm still processing all of this so I'm not sure how much sense I'm making right now. I mostly want to express the need for us to show grace in this situation. If Jay was right here in front of me, I would want him to know that the grace and love of God are big enough for this circumstance. They are big enough to carry him and his family through the days ahead.

Please keep this family in your prayers. 

In other news... I have my next vlog ready to go, but it's on my computer at work. I've actually had it ready for quite a while but I keep forgetting to upload it to Vimeo so I can post it here. The topic is appropriate because it is about ups and downs. I'll post it when I finally remember. :)

Also, here is another news story about Karlee's funeral. She was more of a light for Jesus in her seven years than many people who live a long life. I wish I had been able to know her here on earth, but look forward to the day when I'll get to meet her in heaven.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Erin, for your blog. I am Jay's cousin. You so eloquently put into words what has been on my heart since this event.

sadie.bermea said...

This was so beautifully written, and from someone who doesn't know the family at all, this totally paints a picture of who this father is, and despite questions many may have... It reminded me so well of God's grace and how we should hold our criticisms and place whatever energies we have with the all the questions looming, and simply lift our prayers up to God... our comforter during this tragic time. My prayers will include this family.
God bless .

Erin K. said...

Thanks for your kind words. I know writing this out helped me to process through a few things - I hope it will help others as well.

Monica said...

Erin, you have done a great job of putting into words exactly what I wanted to say to another FB friend who posted a link to one of the original Truth articles with her own livid rant about "what kind of father..." I so badly wanted to say, "I sure hope you never have a moment in your life where you have your guard down and something outrageous happens to cause tragedy in your life." However, I have since decided to not stir the waters on something I'm sure she's already forgotten. However, this whole thing has made me really stop and think about how it's so easy to judge others without knowing all the details. Thank you for putting into words what I wasn't able to.

Anonymous said...

I lost my young daughter (age 3 1/2) 14 years ago - suddenly, to an illness. I know what this family is going through - it is unimaginable. I have had many years to ponder the 'whys' and 'what ifs', and I have some thoughts about that. Several years ago I was watching Christopher Reeves in a Larry King interview, after his accident left him paralyzed from the neck down,and Larry asked the question: Have you ever asked yourself the question, "Why me?"? CR answered, "No, I never asked 'Why me?'... why NOT ME? Nobody's exempt".
I agree with that. My belief is that what happened to my child, and Jay's child was random, and unlucky. I do not think these tradegies befall certain people as part of a grand plan. I don't. I think people are lucky and unlucky and these things happen randomly, through no fault of our own. I don't think folks that win the lottery are 'more blessed' than the rest of us - they are just lucky.
I do believe that how we react to these tradgic events, what we make from them and how we grow from them - that is what counts, and that is where God's goodness is seen. With my dear daughter's tiny coffin before me, I gave her eulogy - several people were saved right then and there, gave their lives to Christ - they wanted what I had. I stood there before 300+ people and gave thanks to God, that I was so blessed to have had my daughter for 3 1/2 years. I started a children's charity in her memory. If I remain sad and bitter, then my child becomes a martyr for the devil, but if I can find the good that her tradegic death can perhaps inspire, then she becomes a martyr for God. It's a choice.
I know there will be many Christians that disagree with how I feel about all this. It is what it is...