Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Memorial Service

We walked into the beautiful church. It was smaller than mine. Then again, most churches are smaller than mine. It was also older. And more traditional. A beautiful stained glass window depicting Jesus kneeling in prayer was over the pulpit. The organ played softly. A woman greeted me warmly, handed me a funeral home fan and guided me to an empty seat in the pew. My youngest son looked around expectantly. He had never been here before. Neither had I.

It was the first time either of us had set foot in Cumberland AME Church. And had it not been for the horrific event of Wednesday, June 17, 2015, we would still be strangers to the sanctuary.

But it did happen. And I read about tonight's memorial service on Facebook. I told Jackson that we were going (my oldest son is out of town), and another friend of mine was joining us. I told him that he might not get why it was important for us to be there, but he would later.

The sanctuary was full - almost equal black and white. But I still felt a little like an outsider. Not that any of the others there caused my apprehension. At all. It was all me - because I was not affected in the same way as they were. Of course, as a South Carolinian, I was deeply saddened, horrified and pained. I cried many times over the past few days. But never had anyone in my family been murdered in cold blood because of what they looked like. What did I know about any of their experiences?

But it was important that I be there.

It was lovely and somber and appropriate. The organizers and staff of the church had made it a beautiful memorial. And then people were invited to come forward to share. And what words. What strength. What hope. The faith of these men and women of God, young and old. As their words poured out, I furiously scribbled notes on an envelope I found in my purse:

~ "We must love this young man. We must pray for him that the evil will leave him."

~ "It's not easy to understand what God does or why He lets things happen. But I know this: God will make a miracle out of this mess."

~ "Do not hate. We are all brothers and sisters."

~ "We forgive. For God forgives us every day."

~ "It is not about skin color. It's not!  It is about the evil presence that is trying to take over. But God and His love will prevail!"

~ "Let us love one another for we serve the same God."

~ "Some of my friends want to start 'packing' (a gun) when they go to church. Not me! I am going to be packing something much stronger: the Word of God!"

And finally, a woman stood up and started singing "It is Well with My Soul". The entire congregation stood up, clasped hands and joined her.

It's one thing to hear people say all these things on news reports and interviews. It's an entirely different emotion to hear it in person a few feet away. And I left feeling not as an outsider. I left feeling as a true member of God's family, as a sister in His larger community. And although we know there is such evil out there in our sinful world, I left feeling hopeful - and in a sense, emboldened and empowered by my time with my brothers and sisters.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

My Birthday...

I woke up this morning to my younger son bringing in me breakfast in bed. He made me a double coffee, cut up strawberries "real fancy", and picked a flower bud from our yard. What a great way to start my 46th birthday. I took my dog for a walk and came back to wonderful birthday texts from my dearest friends. It started our so much better than last year - which really s*****, because it seemed to kind of fall by the wayside. I felt pretty special this morning!

And then I turned on the news.

The horrific murder of nine African-American Christians, who were praying in their church. In my state. One block away from where my family was staying this past weekend for the joyous celebration of my cousin's wedding. These adults were studying The Word and digging deeper in their relationship with their Savior. Worshiping with their families. In a safe place. A church. A place which has institutionally and historically been a sanctuary for all - the faithful or not. Why? Why? Why?

I wish I had the energy to find words of comfort or understandingly this TRAGEDY. But I can't. I am overwhelmed with grief for my fellow South Carolinians. I am numb. I lift up those families and their children who are weeping. And again, why? Why? Why?

So on a day that celebrates my birth, I am crying over the heinous death of the innocent.