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God, show yourself!

11.8. 2017 Written By: Dawn Yoder Graber 1,000 read

Dawn Yoder Graber is a member of Sarasota (Florida) Community Church and a member of the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board. 

I can’t sleep.

I’m so angry. I’m sad, but I feel mostly angry.

Like all of us, I’m sure, I’m worn out with sorrow for those who once again lost loved ones in the tragedy of the Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church shooting.

This is not an anti-gun tirade, but I don’t understand the need or desire for a gun. I didn’t grow up hunting or seeing such modeled for sport and in the nonviolent Mennonite faith community I was a part of, certainly not for the privilege of protection. I just don’t get it. But this is not a plea to believe we need better gun laws or mental health care. We need it all. We need love.

Sunday’s worshipers were in the presence of love and community-what they and we need- and lost their lives for engaging in what we all need more of.  It’s what we need as a nation to be able to figure out how to solve such problems. The First Baptist churchgoers were doing what Hebrews 10: 24-25 says to do: they were not forgetting to gather together to praise God and strengthen their faith by encouraging one another to love and good deeds. But on this particular day, because of one man’s anger and lack of coping skills, being there at that time was a recipe for earthly death.

The anger I feel comes from the realization that lives were snuffed out before they barely got started. We naturally put our loved ones in their shoes and wonder how such a tragedy can even be survived? Someone shot an 18-month-old? Are you kidding me? What would I do if my 18-month-old grandson were gunned down?  What about the five-year old that died? Our oldest granddaughter turns four this February. How could we live without her or her parents, or aunts or uncles, or the great-grandparents that the loss of the older person in the church reminds me of? Somehow the rotten luck of filling a pulpit as a pastor, bringing your cheering section of loved ones and friends along, and then eight of them dying on the same morning is just too much to take in (see the story of the Holcombe family).

But the alternative to sorrow is growing numb to these or any tragedies. I don’t want to grow numb. We can’t let ourselves grow numb. We are to truly mourn with those who mourn and yet somehow continue living with gratitude for the joys and blessings we experience. But the questions remain and for now, the anger remains, too.

My journal the day after the shooting was filled with challenges to God. Thankfully, I know from others arguing with God in the Scriptures that God can take it.

Nov. 6, 2017:

Ironically, Sunday, Nov. 5 was the International Day of the Persecuted Church. We had actually knelt as a congregation and silently prayed for those targeted as Christians around the world. This was right when Devin Kelley was driving towards this church. Why didn’t our prayers stop HIM, God? What good did our collective prayers from Sarasota do? Where did you help and protect in the world at that moment? What is wrong with us God? Why did this young man (the same age as our youngest son) do this horrific act against all ages of persons gathered in a church? We can’t have metal detectors at church. It’s your house God and all are welcome and we will not be led by fear. God, please though: show yourself! You are mighty to save. Why not let your warring angels be visible in such an incident like Sunday and let them protect the people and subdue the perpetrator? People would praise your name and know you are the mighty one.

 I know you were there. I know your presence remains there, but you CAN intervene and stop violence and it seems you didn’t. Why? I don’t understand. Our world grieves. So many incidents. Too many guns. Holes in the hearts of too many people. God make your presence known! You were there with the believers. I’m not disbelieving. I’m not trying to be disrespectful, but how did your presence make a difference for them? I want to know.

What I want to share though is that God did show up for me on Sunday afternoon, just moments after I first learned of the Sutherland Springs church tragedy. I don’t have all the answers, but God reminded me that God is worthy to be praised regardless and in the midst of pain.

It was a beautifully warm fall day in Sarasota, Florida, on Sunday, November 5. Our adult daughter talked her dad into taking the boat out after lunch and we were putting the boat in at the bay dock when Chelsey saw the news about the shooting on her phone. She spelled out what happened so  that her 3-year-old didn’t hear. My heart froze with extreme sadness. We had just prayed. We didn’t know at that point why this young man had targeted a church. God, why?

We crawled into the boat speechless and quiet, pulling out down the channel. It was time for naps and Chelsey took the baby and Myla, the 3-year-old, crawled up in my lap to snuggle. I covered her with a blanket as protection against the wind. And suddenly God showed up for me through this young granddaughter.

Myla started singing, “Your praise will ever be on my lips, ever be on my lips. You will be praised. You will be praised. With angels and saints, we sing worthy are you Lord.” She was looping the song over and over and over… and I mean over! I never said a word to her. She never lifted the blanket to talk or look at me. I didn’t prompt her or ask her to sing.  She sang until she fell asleep some 10-15 minutes down the bay.

She didn’t know what had just happened in Texas, or how sad her Mimi was, but I believe God’s Spirit was reminding me that regardless of earthly circumstances God is loving and just. God is full of compassion and worthy of my trust. God is present.

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword (gun?)? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8: 35-39

I’m still angry. I hope I don’t stop being sad. I don’t want to grow numb to violence both home and abroad. But God is to be praised even amidst my questions and “through a glass darkly” understanding of life’s brokenness and how and where God fits in.

God is here. God desires to hold and cuddle each of us in our sadness and questions like Myla held me for two quiet hours under her blanket, relaxed and yet holding on tight. Thank you God for showing up. I won’t let go. Keep holding me back, I pray.
“Ever be” by Bethel, the song sung by Myla:

Chorus: Your praise will ever be on my lips, ever be on my lips.
Your praise will ever be on my lips, ever be on my lips.
Your praise will ever be on my lips, ever be on my lips.
Your praise will ever be on my lips, ever be on my lips.

You will be praised. You will be praised.
With angels and saints, we sing worthy are you, Lord.

You will be praised. You will be praised.
With angels and saints, we sing worthy are you, Lord.

You will be praised. You will be praised.
With angels and saints, we sing worthy are you, Lord.

You will be praised. You will be praised.
With angels and saints, we sing worthy are you, Lord.

Verses: Your love is devoted like a ring of solid gold. Like a vow that is tested, like a covenant of old. Your love is enduring through the winter rain and beyond the horizon with mercy for today. Faithful you have been and faithful you will be. You pledge yourself to me and it’s why I sing.

You father the orphan. Your kindness makes us whole. And you shoulder our weakness and your strength becomes our own. Now you’re making me like you. Clothing me in white. Bringing beauty from ashes for you will have your bride. Free of all her guilt and rid of all her shame and known by true name and it’s why I sing.

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