I believe

Screenshot 2016-06-16 at 4.30.11 PMI know it’s there.

Like the warm good-bye hug from a child when they leave for camp. You can still feel it even when they’re gone. You know the love is still there. It’s a part of you, even as it moves miles and miles from home.

Unity. Compassion. It’s there. I can feel it, even when it’s hidden behind a cloud of anger and blame.

Remember 911, when we were all New Yorkers? Sandy Hook? Boston strong? Do you remember how our hearts broke for Paris, and just like that, we were one with France?

I remember.

Now, in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, there has been enough finger pointing that it seems our country could use one giant manicure. Political debate has, too often, pushed caring and unity into the backseat.

And then, as mourners gathered in Atlanta to honor the victims in Orlando, I heard them sing:

I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining,

I believe in love even when I don’t feel it.

I believe in this country, even when we’re divided. So often, I’ve seen us come together, united in our hurt, in our resolve, in our purpose. When others lash out at us, we put party affiliations and petty differences aside to bond. I’ve seen it happen.

I believe.

We are the United States of America, not the Fractured States of America.

Giving up would cost me everything

So, I’ll stand in the pain and silence

And I’ll speak to the dark night.

I remember when it was my city under attack by a crazy man who marred what was an otherwise magical Olympic games. It was Atlanta’s time in the world spotlight, and Eric Rudolph brought his darkness. I remember taking it personally. It hurt, deep down, every time he placed one of his bombs in a different spot around our town. In those days, we weren’t subject to the long-time listeners, first-time callers with opinions of who failed to do what to prevent the madness. The world stood with us, denouncing the terror, urging Atlanta to heal.

It’s only logical that we want to understand the motivations behind these savage acts of terrorism. But comprehending the act means unraveling a tightly twisted mind. I was close enough to one of Eric Rudolph’s bombs that the FBI regarded me as a victim. I sat just an arm’s length from him inside a Birmingham courtroom. So close, and yet a billion miles away. I read the letters from his fictional Army of God. He justified his actions to the court by speaking of the British crown, the Pharisaical sect, by calling the Olympics a celebration of global socialism, and revealing that his goal was to “drag this monstrosity of a government down into the dust.” Read it all a thousand times. It will make sense to Eric Rudolph, and Eric Rudolph alone. Given the opportunity to question the Orlando killer, I suspect the explanation would be equally baffling. We won’t get that chance. He’s answering to a higher power.

No dark can consume light,

No death greater than this life,

We are not forgotten.

I believe in the compassion of this country, even as it waits its turn behind the heat of a political season. There is a time and place to discuss the difficult issues swirling around the latest act of incomprehensible violence. We can have those talks remembering that WE are not the enemy. We are the UNITED States of America. Together we stand. Divided, we fall to those who wish to harm us.

I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining,

I believe in love even when I don’t feel it,

And I believe in God even when He is silent.

Maybe it’s time we are silent for a moment, silent as a country, so that God can speak. Let’s be silent for a moment and breathe, giving the families and friends of the lost room to cry. Perhaps if our hands weren’t shaped around our opinions like bullhorns, it would free us to wrap our arms around one another, and unite.

Though I can’t see my stories ending,

That doesn’t mean the dark night has no end.

It’s only here that I find faith,

And learn to trust the one who writes my days.

Screenshot 2016-06-15 at 4.49.48 PM

 

The shadow of death

psalm 23There’s a saying that claims bad news comes in threes.

It’s baloney. Bad news comes in threes, or nines, or nineteens, or fifty-sixes. It comes whenever and however it wants. It can be unrelenting. It can be overwhelming. It can cover you in a dark shadow surrounded by fear.

This was supposed to be a year of celebration for my family. A wedding in March, a high school graduation in May. Two of my children are writing new chapters, and I know I should focus on these wonderful blessings. But 2016 has decided to sprinkle my ice cream sundae with broken glass. It’s been delicious and painful. One day is soothing and sweet. The next day, I’m bleeding inside.

Life’s toxic temptations have spilled into my inner-circle. It has taken a relative I love dearly to the brink of death. It’s been going on quite a while, and I thought she was getting better. I was fooling myself. Instead, she’s found a new rock bottom. A major downturn happened the night of my daughter’s wedding, right under my nose, with me blissfully unaware. The peaks and valleys were blending together.

So my heart was already heavy when we lost Halle Scott, a member of my church youth group whose parents worship in my Sunday school class. It was jolting and tragic. Her loss had nothing to do with those toxic temptations, but was instead the result of an innocent adventure. It reminded us all that we do not know what will happen tomorrow. Love your children. Hug your wife. Love your neighbors. Put pettiness aside. Don’t put it off.

It would not be 2016’s last jolt to my church, to our youth group, to our Sunday school class. Far from it.

Those toxic temptations I spoke about have buried their teeth in the child of dear friends, also members of our Sunday school class. It has sent them spiraling into heartbreak, and when they hurt, I hurt. These people are like family to me. I consider their children to be my own. Their son is smart, talented, and full of potential. His future is now in serious jeopardy. His parents have raised him much they way I’ve raised my kids. The struggle they face could just as easily take place under my roof.

“Enough,” I told my wife and friends over dinner this past Saturday. “This year has been difficult enough. No more.”

Eight hours later, I would wake to another low blow.

While I slept, a young man I had not seen in two or three years took his last breath. I’d joined him and his sister on youth mission trips, but he’d stopped coming to church. His sister confided that he’d chosen a dangerous path, and I came to understand that those toxic temptations lured him there. On Saturday night, he was on the back of a motorcycle when a car veered in front of him. He was 17-years-old.

I hurt immensely for this family. The departure of this teenager leaves a mom who is legally blind, and a 19-year-old sister who has faced more challenges than some people do in a lifetime. She lost her father just five years ago, and I clearly remember her tearful struggle. It’s encouraging to see how much she’s grown since then. She’s handling the loss of her brother with incredible strength that is emboldened by the friends and church family that has surrounded her. She is not alone, and she knows it.

So much darkness in such a short period of time.

This past Sunday, as we gathered in that Sunday school class that’s been rocked by 2016, we looked to a Bible verse that speaks of darkness:

 

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. — Psalms 23

 

There is light in every situation. Somewhere. I’m trying to find it. I’m working hard not to miss those opportunities to comfort, support, and love. I’m afraid there have been opportunities that I’ve missed in the past. I’m more awake to them now.

I’m committed to taking every opportunity to provide appreciation, acknowledgement, compassion, and care.

Tomorrow, I could wake up to more bad news.

I don’t want it to arrive with regret.

The loudest whisper

Whisper-of-GodI know the sound of God’s voice.

He sounds like a car engine struggling to start.

I begin every morning letting God hear my voice. It’s 2 a.m., dark and quiet, no distractions. Most of the time, I’m throwing myself on the mercy of the court. I’ve spent too much time in anger, or resentment, or not enough time serving others. Many a morning, I end my prayer with a request.

On gritty Pleasantdale Road, one wish was granted.

It was a situation that could have easily guided me into a pothole of anger. I was supposed to meet a man to discuss his unpleasant ride on Pleasantdale. He was a no show. No phone call. No apology. Just me, my camera, and sweat rolling down my back as big rigs rambled by my toes.

Right in front of me, God cleared his throat.

My prayer request was for an opportunity to serve someone in need. That opportunity came in the form of a woman, her two children, and a car that decided it wanted nothing more to do with Atlanta traffic. She was from Gambia. Her English was as broken as the engine of her Honda. I had a difficult time understanding where she was from, and I never understood where she was trying to go. It was clear that her children, one of them an infant, were miserable and needed to get away from the sun. Her car blocked the I-85 ramp to Pleasantdale that filled with prickly commuters and their horns.

Part of my brain was occupied by the man who’d summoned me to Pleasantdale Road only to waste my time. After a failed effort to push the stubborn Honda off of the ramp, I tried to reach the man by phone to find out if perhaps I’d misunderstood the time of our meeting. No answer. No return call. There was no misunderstanding, only a gaping hole in my work load that I would have to scramble to fill. There was a moment of mild panic. My job was to produce news stories, and one had just slipped away.

Then I realized my time was not wasted at all. It simply had another purpose. After all, I’d asked for this.

The Bible says that God communicates not with an earthquake, or a fire, but with a gentle whisper. Just last week, the whisper came as I loitered beside my locked news vehicle with the keys in the ignition. That’s right. I locked the keys in the car, along with my phone. In an area of town teeming with homelessness and despair, all I could do was sit on my bumper and wait for a co-worker to arrive with a spare key. God’s whisper arrived first.

A young man with a backpack and distant eyes approached with a story about the neighborhood violence that had taken his sister. It seemed he just wanted to vent, and I let him. It was an opportunity to offer compassion to a stranger, one placed in my path because of keys dangling behind a locked door. After a few minutes, my new friend made a request.

“Hey, can I have a dollar?”

He specifically requested one dollar. Not two. Not five. One. It just so happened that the previous Sunday, our pastor had passed out crisp new one dollar bills to the entire congregation. We were sent forth with a mission of generosity, to find a way to use that dollar in an act of generosity.

Here was my opportunity.

I handed that young man the dollar and the story of it’s purpose. I told him God was watching over him. He accepted the gift with grace, but seemed doubtful that I’d given him anything more than just an ordinary piece of currency. God’s whisper told me something more.

On Pleasantdale Road, I struggled to help the family stranded by a faulty automobile. I summoned a police officer to help me push the woman’s car out of the road. I bought bottled water to keep the family cool, but my phone calls failed to summon the help they really needed. Eventually, the mom left to negotiate with a tow truck driver at a nearby gas station. I returned to my work day convinced I’d done all I could, but nagged by the feeling that it wasn’t enough.

Twice, my plans were disrupted. Twice, God whispered that something better was afoot.

God might whisper. He might growl like a failing car engine, or ding like the alarm of a car with the keys locked inside.

All you have to do is listen.