Last February, in the middle of a cold snap, I got a call from a young couple to see if I would be willing to do their wedding. They really wanted to have it outside and every other pastor they had contacted said no. There was some urgency. She was pregnant. He was about to deploy for a year to Afghanistan. They were both from Florida. I figured if two kids from FL wanted to get married outside in 14 degree weather, then this pastor from Alaska could accommodate them.
Besides, I was pregnant. And my husband was about to deploy to Iraq. Everyone else said no, including the military chaplain, but they were determined and I hoped that by meeting with them and talking to them before the wedding- I would nourish seeds already planted by the Spirit that might help them turn to a church later in their lives.
We met and talked about what they knew about one another, the difficulties of being married during deployment, the stresses that they might anticipate, the reality that there was much we couldn't anticipate or know.
I married them in the dim light of a Saturday afternoon, near the picnic pavilion at Otter Lake on Fort Richardson. Several of his friends showed up in uniform. Her friends were all in Florida, but the guys encouraged her that day, as well as teasing the groom. It was frigid and she shivered in a sleeveless dress, while I struggled to turn pages in my Bible with my mittens. It was a very, very short service with their promises to each other, my Bible reading and reminder of God's love that was binding them together and which was there for them to lean on in good times and bad. I prayed for them and they kissed. Then everyone whooped and yelled and I served as de-facto wedding photographer while the "wedding party" lined up in the snow.
I've thought of them off and on, mostly in the context of how cold that day was. A few fleeting prayers when they came to mind and then...
This week, in my local paper, there has been a series of stories about a soldier, recently returned from Afghanistan, who shot and killed his wife and daughter and attempted to kill himself. He's still non-responsive.
It took me a couple days to put together the details, but when a picture of the little family ran- I recognized them together. When I did, I felt stunned.
I don't believe I could have done much more for them than I did. They both had strong, supportive families and other support networks. I was just a tangential intersection in their life.
I see the comments people make about the situation. Either that he must have been a monster to do a thing like this. Or he was a victim, through his military service, without enough support and there are three tragedies here.
The truth is somewhere in the middle, though there are more than three victims.
The answers could be no more war, more help for soldiers/airmen/Marines and their families, gun control, Prohibition, prayer... and the list goes on.
That's not my answer.
The tagline for The Shadow was "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?"
I think the real question is "Who knows what gaping depths ache in the hearts of all creation?"
I don't say that in a flip "Jesus is always the answer" way. I say that from the bottom of my heart. Within my life, within my work, within my heart, I know that people long for answers, for truth, for light, for control.
If God doesn't know the depth of that struggle, if God doesn't understand it, if God doesn't care, then nothing matters. Nihilistically, we climb the ladders and slide down the chutes. Life sucks and then you die.
But if God does know, if God does care, if God does understand, then we have hope. We believe that new growth comes from death. God came among us as one of us, in Jesus, so that we might know it's not our struggle that saves us. We're saved by our faith in the gracious One who struggles and aches alongside us.
Will this knowledge help the families associated with this tragedy? Maybe. Maybe not.
But it helps me. It helps me from saying "Screw it."
I believe that God was there, muttering about how free will was a bad idea, but the only way this will work. I believe that God was holding the mother and child in their last moments and was there to welcome them to eternal rest. I believe that God was with the shaking, angry, and terribly afraid young father who felt like there were no other options.
I don't think for a second that this was God's will. But I do believe that God was present for every moment.
And that's why I believe living a faithful life matters. Because in believing that God does care, then we are compelled beyond ourselves to share that love and care with the people around us. And it's phone calls, covered dishes, late nights, letters, hugs, listening, holding tissues, prayer, compassion that can save lives. It's God that saves souls.
Sometimes in a situation, you wonder if there was anything else you could have done. Sometimes the answer is yes. Sometimes, no. Sometimes someone else could have done something more. Sometimes there was nothing more to be done.
Rest in peace, R and K. Be at peace, K.