Finding Strength to Heal a Broken Community

A year ago, on this very morning, my husband Russ and us I held each other as the sun came up over the surrounding hills. Our serene valley turned beautiful shades of orange as the light hit the autumn trees.

We were basking in the glow of the night before. We had renewed our vows in front of family and friends, promising to love each other well.

This morning, we held each other again. As the sun began to show it’s light we prayed for strength to find hope. We vowed to love our community well.

Both mornings we were tired. The first was an overflowing and peaceful tired. This morning was the exhaustion from feeling poured out.

We have relief workers coming in tomorrow to help our community navigate the hairpin turns of this scary winding road. A path that is is dark and unknown.

These are the folks I trained with to become a Disaster Relief Responder myself.

We have both grieved and walked others through grief. What makes this unique is the sense that no one here is truly objective. No one is untouched and no one will come out unscathed. We are all aching and even the strongest among us are so very weak.

We can only hold each other.

We are lighting candles because Roseburg is our home. We are feeding each other because that’s what you do at times like this.

Still, I’m just not hungry…I feel sick.

Scripture tells us that we are to “weep with those who weep” and all of us are taking turns weeping.

This is the first Sunday since our the first news of our tragedy and we will gather with our faith community to comfort and grieve together.

We gather. That’s the important thing. We come together in the same space to breathe the same space and wipe eachother’s tears.

When dealing with her mother’s cancer, Jen Hatmaker said that she went to her office to quietly ask God if He was still good. The answer was yes. He is still good.

Evil is still evil. Darkness is still so very dark. The only thing to get rid of darkness is light.

A reporter asked me on Friday if I can forgive the shooter. I replied “I have to.” When he asked why I told him that I can’t hold that place in my heart for darkness.

We can get angry, yes. We should be very angry. However, if we allow ourselves to hold the anger until it turns bitter, we give up a place in our soul and it does nothing to punish the evil.

Forgiveness doesn’t release a person of their responsibility. It only releases us from our own soul from the bitter prison in which we hold the key. It also takes strength to hold onto the anger and my strength is needed to love and comfort because loving through the pain is hard.

This morning we will release tears.

On this day we will seek peace.

In these moments we will find a way to the next moment.

For me it will be standing in the midst of my church family as we raise our hands and cry out to the God of mercy and grace because right now we need both.


One of Those Days

There are days in your life that are memorable because they mark celebration or accomplishment.

Other days you know for the deep sorrow, pain, loss.

Today is one of those days.

Before the sun had risen on that day 23 years ago, I awoke to my father kneeling by my bed. I was staying with a family friend as we prepared for my wedding less that three weeks away. He sat there without tears, just the hollow expression on his tired face.

You always remember the words someone uses when they deliver sad news. “Your brother went home to be with the Lord.” shocked but not utterly surprised. As I went to bed the night before, it had settled in my heart that the diagnosis given just four days prior was grim. Although he had flown in from his rural town to one of the world’s best cancer hospitals, the diagnosis came too late to save him. God has a way of preparing our hearts. We just don’t always recognize that.

My soon to be husband and i drove to his work to request a leave for a few days. While sitting in the cab of his El Camino I was amazed at how the cars next to us were filled with people going on with their days. It was so obvious to me that their world was still intact. It seemed as if the world was still going around us as I sat in a blur of grief laced emotion.

As the firstborn in our family, Glen had to navigate life on a path unfamiliar with the rest of us. Born in 1954 to a dad who had been raised by a single father became a prototype for the rest of us. Parenting theories were tested on him as were many of his generation. Thankfully we had one of those dads who was willing to work at being a better parent.

Reading was a struggle for him. Somehow the way he processed letters and words was off so he had to try harder. He had a fifth or sixth grade teacher who didn’t give up on him. They came up with a system that allowed him to read more fluently. The influence of Mrs. E went far past elementary school.

My brother loved baseball. He didn’t just go to the games, he actually kept score on the program each time we went. His love for the game was contagious. Even after he moved away, we rehashed the big plays on long distance calls back when you paid by the minute.

He didn’t just pass on his love of sports. A love of George Winston’s music, In-N-Out Burger and a passion for education were gifts he imparted. His belief in the underdog never went unnoticed by anyone who knew him.

As a gifted educator, he always encouraged me to follow my dream to teach. His voice is still in my head. While assisting in a sixth grade science class last week I thought of him the entire time. I could picture his interaction with each student. His odd sense of humor, twinkle in his eye and unmistakable compassion drew out the best in his students.

He left me his love for education. Although I never became a licensed teacher, I am an educator. He is often on my mind when I encounter students that need an extra dose of patience or a cheerleader to break through the feeling of impossible.

On the day of my wedding, during picture with my family. The photographer told us, “After this one, Mom and Dad will step aside and I’ll take one with you and your brothers.” I remember gasping, turning to my mother to exclaim “They’re not all here!”. She talked to him quietly and he took a break to “change film”.

There have been countless moments since then when it is so obvious that he isn’t here. When my grandmother passed away, we gathered for a “cousins” photo. Something was said about everyone being there. I turned to one brother and whispered, “Am I the only one that knows we aren’t all here?” It hadn’t escaped his notice either.

Today, as life goes on around me, while people get on with the business of their day, I am aware. Just as aware as I was on the day he left us that he is not here. We can think of all the helpful things about him being in our hearts, how we’ll see him some day but I miss him. I always will.