I haven't been writing much recently, it has been a very busy season for me-- between school, work, and the pandemic, I've struggled to sit down, put pen to paper, and write my thoughts. I plan on returning soon, once things slow down a little bit. I have missed sharing what God is teaching me through this platform, because I know for a fact He has called me to write for Him. Sadly, I have neglected to do that in this season.
With all of that being said, last semester I took a class called creative nonfiction where I was able to refine a lot of my writing for the first time in a LONG time. This class made me realize that for me, writing is not just a hobby or pastime, but a wholehearted desire and love. Hopefully, one day, a career. I rarely allow myself to even dream I could write for a career, because it sounds so idealized and unlikely. But this class served as a much-needed reminder to me: God is not concerned about what sounds idealized or unlikely-- if He wills it, it will happen. I simply have to be a faithful steward of His call.
In the midst of this class, one of our assignments was to write a story about religion in our lives. It could be anything as long as it didn't sound too "devotion-y." I knew I had many, many, many things I could've written on. But when I considered my options, the first thing that came to mind was the Pulse shooting, which occurred in Orlando, my hometown, in June 2016. Pulse was a nightclub that was just minutes from my home, and the loss rocked my community, church, and city as a whole. It even affected me personally as I began to come to terms with the unspeakable and horrific realities of mass shootings. I watched as families grieved the unexpected loss of young people-- in their 20s and 30s. I watched as the city came together as a united front for these families. It seemed as though Orlando took on the demeanor of a grieving spouse for months, draped in black, solemn, curtains drawn. The city and its people changed so much because of it.
So I wrote this short piece by way of remembrance. I don't think it even comes close to doing justice to how hard it actually was. But it is my real and raw account of the events, 4 years removed. Additionally, in light of the recent events in our world-- the horrific deaths of my Black brothers and sisters Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery, and many, many more who all deserved life but were mercilessly robbed of it-- I feel these same emotions I describe here. An incomprehensible loss, a feeling of deep-gut anger and guilt and shame and compassion. Confusion and fear wrapped into one. It's hard to describe, this feeling, but it is something our country is sadly familiar with.
All I can say is this: Jesus, You are good. We wait in hope for Your return. Until then, we humbly labor in Your name, praying that Your love and kindness may overtake our hearts and embolden us to make Your Spirit known to others.
by Eva Parker
Under normal circumstances, I’d be elated to see Anderson Cooper in the parking lot of my local Einstein’s Bagels. I would say hello to him, ask him for a picture probably. I’d ask what brings him to my local Einstein’s Bagels in Orlando, Florida, on the intersection of Orange and Kaley on a random Sunday in June.
But when Anderson Cooper is on the news, standing in the parking lot of your Einstein’s Bagels, reporting that 49 people have been slaughtered across the street at a nightclub that is three minutes from your front door, the circumstances are anything but normal.
A life cut too short never feels fair. I know God doesn’t work this way, but as a mere spectator of life, it feels like a retribution. It feels like a stab you didn’t see coming, followed, inevitably, by a wound that can’t heal because you never got closure. You never knew exactly why the stabber stabbed you. You were just the victim of a terrible, horrible accident.
A single life cut too short is one thing. You read about it on social media, or hear about it through word of mouth, and you mourn for a short second and say a quick prayer for everyone who knew that person. You ask God to have mercy on their souls, not in a jokey way, but in a legitimate, serious, this-person-no-longer-has-breath-so-Lord-give-them-mercy kind of way.
49 lives cut too short, however, is a whole other thing. It is foreign. It is a conglomerate of grief. It isn’t a quick prayer, it is a mass of darkness that hollows you out and renders you incapable of prayer. It is a wrestling match with God.
49 lives cut too short is a whole day spent in front of your TV staring slack-jawed at the reporter, begging him to say “April fools!” even though it’s the middle of June.
49 lives cut too short is the sound of cell phones ringing in a room full of dead bodies—families desperately calling their sons and daughters, praying to God they’ve just overslept and not lying cold on the floor of some nightclub. What a despicable, unfair way to die. My friend’s dad knew this police officer, and he was there. He heard the phones ringing. He saw the dead bodies and the phone screens lighting up in the pockets of their jeans. He told me and my friend about it. It still haunts me to this day.
49 lives cut too short is something you never quite get over. 49 lives cut too short makes you start envisioning unrealistic shooting scenarios in your head while you’re at school in the middle of October, over a year later. It gives you PTSD every time you hear helicopters whirring above your house, because the entire two weeks after the shooting, there were news helicopters surrounding your neighborhood at every angle, angling for an overhead shot of a building with 49 dead bodies in it.
What I know to be true: God isn’t any less present in these tragedies. I went to church on that bloody Sunday. It was a mere seven hours after the shooting had occurred. Imagine waking up to the news that the deadliest mass shooting in American history has occurred less than a mile from your church campus, and you’re supposed to preach a message in a few hours. What do you say? Where do you even begin?
My pastor stood on the altar and kind of just threw his hands up. Of course, he gave a message and every word of it was profound. But the funny thing is, I don’t remember the content of his message—I just remember, after the worship band sat down, he got up there and was silent for 30 seconds. He stared out into the crowd of worshippers hungering for truth. Parched for His quenching Word. Begging for comfort and understanding and a pat on the back and an “it’s going to be okay! God’s in control!” But he didn’t. He didn’t stand up and pridefully announce: “Y’all, I know the deadliest mass shooting since the Civil War has just taken place not even three minutes from our church campus, but… God’s in control. He is good. It’s all gonna be okay. Now let’s continue with my pre-written message.”
No, he stood there silently for 30 seconds, his eyes glistening with tears, his chin wobbling. And he threw his hands up in the air. And that, to me, is more profound than any message could’ve been in that moment. A man who has attended seminary, who has spent over 20 years pastoring a church in the heart of a very broken city, who has raised godly children and written books on God’s character, who has studied the Word for more time than I’ve probably been alive. A man who should be able to understand the inhumane nature of life, and find a few meaningful words of encouragement to hand out to his congregation in the thick of a national crisis. If a man of that nature stands on the altar before his church and throws his hands up in submission, then I feel okay doing the same sometimes.
Pain doesn’t feel real until it falls on your doorstep. At least not for me. It feels like this abstract thing you’ve heard about but don’t fully understand. It’s like singing songs about falling in love but not knowing what love feels like. You get the concept, but the experience is totally foreign, a gray area.
Where is God in the mass shooting? Where is He in the indescribable pain of 49 people being torn away from their families far too soon?
I don’t know. I’ve asked Him a lot. I lived through those weeks and months of pain, and I have to say, rarely did I feel comfort in knowing God’s sovereignty was still there. Of course it was still there. It always has been; but why did it have to be there when 49 people were killed innocently down the street from my house? Why couldn’t God’s sovereignty have just left the sphere for a few hours so that there was an explanation? Oh, God was on break that night. He overslept His alarm. That’s why 49 people were killed—because He wasn’t on guard like He usually is.
But He was on guard, and it still happened. And so has every tragedy that’s occurred since the Fall to the 49 people being killed at Pulse Nightclub on June 12, 2016.
But then I think about how Jesus became flesh. He isn’t some mystical spirit who floats in the clouds and controls the weather. Oh my gosh, He is so real and He is so true and I know it so deeply in the marrow of my bones that even typing the words God overslept feels blasphemous. He is divine and He is human. 49 people died, yes, and that’s something I’ll probably never stop grieving.
But the profound thing about Jesus is that He throws His hands up in the air, too.
He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as He died the death He was born to endure. He got mad. He threw His hands up. He knew what He was being born for; He’d heard all the prophecies.
He was expecting it and He still threw His hands up.