Confession time: As a young boy I was a huge fan of New Kids on the Block, unfortunately. I did not own any of the dolls or the bed spread (in case any of you may be thinking that), but I did own a cassette and a coloring book. I remember after a time, the fragile tape inside the cassette broke, and I could no longer listen to my favorite tunes. I cried. Hard.
At the time the loss of my tape devastated me. At five it would prove trivial as I moved on to other stages, but I had only just begun to learn about losing.
Later that same year (I assume. I am not completely sure of ages or timing.) a friend of mine died tragically - Stephen Cole. Only five or six years old, he was riding his dirt bike around a designated area and was struck head on by an oncoming dirt bike bearing a 16 year old. Stephen did not survive the collision. I remember my parents sitting me down to explain, as best they could, what happened when people die. I honestly cannot remember much of the conversation. I do remember not going to the funeral.
In fourth grade my Dad took me and my sister out of school early. I had no clue why he had done so, but I happily left my class behind doing busy work. I found out that my Mawmaw's husband had died. Bill. He was her third husband. She married first at age 14, but he was abusive so she divorced him. With two kids in tow she married Paul who gave her five more children, of whom my mother is the youngest. Paul died when my mom was 16. Mawmaw then married Bill. I did not know Bill well. He mostly kept to himself when we came over, sitting in the front room and watching football. He did give us candy, and terrible handshakes. You know, the ones that make you concentrate on how strong you look. His death did not leave much of mark on my life, just a knowledge that my Mawmaw had strength I did not understand.
Just a week or two before tenth grade my Grandma McGhee died. Great-Grandma McGhee. What a lady. According to my grandpa's legend, she had survived the Trail of Tears as an infant when her mother hid in the mountains. She was full-blooded Cherokee. As a child she worked to provide for the family washing dishes and the compensation she received her mother pocketed. At a young age Grandma McGhee stood on the train tracks to stop trains for the daughter and son-in-law of the outlaw Maw Barker. After such an eventful childhood Grandma McGhee raised eight children, including the most ornery and rambunctious Paul McGhee. (My grandfather, from whom I take my middle name.) Grandma McGhee fought a slow battle and when she died I must say I was not taken by surprise. I loved her, but now she could live forever. I was happy for her. Her funeral brought out the absolute worst in all of her children except my grandfather. As they gathered up the most valuable items, my grandpa and dad took the two things she loved the most: her bible and her porch swing (the place where we all got to know Grandma McGhee). I learned two things during this time. One: People, including family, can become horrid creatures, full of spite and insult, at the exact time you need them. Two: My Dad is a real person. I saw him cry the first time at her funeral. We stood in front of the casket, he said, "She thought you were somethin' special boy." Then his face curled up with sincerity and he cried on my shoulder. Not a wail of mourning, but a deep cry, one that proves your humanity. Humans lose.
Last November my friend Sam died. Born with a heart condition, his first surgery was at six months. He battled illness his whole life, and received a heart and double-lung transplant at sixteen. Sam had a glad-hearted mean streak. He acted gruff, but he meant well. I met him at Johnson. He lived down the hall from me. He was my friend. The last year of his life he lived at home in Nashville. I visited as often as possible, and we emailed and MySpaced constantly. He always called me brother when he signed an email or left a chat. Sam had a brother, but he called him "Bub." It means a lot to know he called me brother because Sam knew more about God than anyone I have ever met. He was my friend. My brother. I cried a lot at his funeral, not because he died. God was getting to know Sam, and Sam was getting to know God and his new body. Sam needed a new body. I cried because I had lost. I had lost the first person, other than my wife, who I had sincerely loved out of no obligation. I had lost the one person who told me to cut the crap. I had lost my friend, my brother. Humans lose.
Everyone has stories about losing. Losing hurts. Whether you lose a ball game your have prepared months for, or you lose a child, losing hurts deep down. Often people say, "Why?" Just this year I know of several people who have experienced miscarriages, who have lost jobs, who have lost family to the War, and lost loved ones to death. One night, when discussing a close friend's miscarriage, my wife said, "I'm not saying God caused this, but why would he let this happen? Why would he let that baby die?" She did not understand this loss.
I have thought about losing a lot lately. I thought about how God let the Devil hurt Job, and Job lost. I thought about how Lazarus died when Jesus arrived too late, and "Jesus wept." Jesus loses too. I thought about how I lost my friend at five, and my Grandma McGhee, and Sam. I thought about how my friends lost their baby and how it cripples their marriage. I asked, "Why?"
I came to the conclusion that we have no way of concluding God's hand in such events. We can see God working through people and timing, but as for the ultimate cause of such events humanity just cannot see that far back.
In The Chronicles of Narnia: A Horse and His Boy the main character, Shasta, and his companion, Avaris, flee on horseback from an army. During the flight a lion begins chasing them. When they have almost reached their sanctuary the lion reaches up and tears into the girl's (Avaris') shoulder and scares the her horse. They reach their sanctuary hurt but a little quicker than planned. Later Shasta meet the Lion, who turns out to be Aslan. Shasta asks Aslan why he hurt Avaris and her horse but the Lion interjects and says, "Child, I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own." Avaris lost.
Often we feel as Shasta feels. We do not understand how God could do such terrible acts, but unlike Shasta we often do not know if God truly caused them. Just like the story our friends lose, and lose often. To comfort ourselves we conclude that God wants to teach us a lesson or needs us to grow, but I think God moves deeper that.
I believe that YHWH has built much of his nature into Creation and when tragedy happens, whether by God's design or by natural laws, we can learn about God. Every time we lose God may not be forcing us to learn, but crying with us, as Jesus did with Martha. Maybe this time God let the world turn, maybe He let creation move on its own, and He lost when we lost. This, however, displays the might and tremendous awareness of God. When we just happen to draw the short straw and that truck plows into your son's bus, God has placed enough of himself into this broken world that we can learn about him as he grieves with us. In our grieving with him we learn more about him. We grow closer to him. We understand him. We lose with Him.