On the way to church I was overtaken with emotion the minute I got in the car with kids all buckled in. As I thought about the meaning of Fast & Testimony meeting, I wondered what beliefs of mine had been strengthened in December. I stood in that meeting to share my tender feelings. For me, it came down to a greater understanding of the God I believe in, a God who weeps with us.
In early December I stumbled upon a podcast through a link a friend had on her blog. It was an interview of Fiona Givens about the book she and her husband Terryl Givens - University of Virginia-Richmond professor of comparative literature - had written this year. It was a work solicited and published by Deseret Book. The hope was to define to those within and particularly outside of the Mormon church what beautiful doctrines our faith adds to the world's dialogue on the nature of God and all of the perplexing questions man has asked throughout the ages. It's called, "The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life." Because I have had what feels like a flood of opportunities this fall to share my beliefs with friends within and also unaware of our church, it seemed like a great read because of the wealth of resources they draw upon within world literature. Aristotle, St. Augustine, Lord Byron, Machiavelli, Darwin, and so on. Reading this book has helped me better frame my beliefs in a way I had been attempting to all my life.
The powerful message in this book is that God is whom we worship because in his vulnerable-ness, his weeping over the heartaches we face, the sins we commit or those that are done to us, we are willingly bound to worship God. Because God's love for us is so great, so vulnerable, we are able to love God and others more fully.
Moses 7:23-33 And after that Zion was taken up into aheaven, Enoch bbeheld, and lo, call the nations of the earth were before him; And there came generation upon generation; and Enoch was high and alifted up, even in the bosom of the Father, and of the Son of Man; and behold, the power of Satan was upon all the face of the earth. And he saw angels descending out of heaven; and he heard a loud voice saying: Wo, wo be unto the inhabitants of the earth. And he beheld Satan; and he had a great achain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with bdarkness; and he looked up and claughed, and his dangels rejoiced. And Enoch beheld aangels descending out of heaven, bearingbtestimony of the Father and Son; and the Holy Ghost fell on many, and they were caught up by the powers of heaven into Zion. And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon thearesidue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?
And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canstaweep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of aearths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy bcreations; and thy curtains are stretched out still; and yet thou art there, and thy bosom is there; and also thou art just; thou art merciful and kind forever; And thou hast taken aZion to thine own bosom, from all thy creations, from all eternity to all eternity; and naught but peace,bjustice, and truth is the habitation of thy throne; and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how is it thou canst cweep? The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own ahands, and I gave unto them their bknowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his cagency; And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should alove one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they bhate their own blood;
On December 14, Ryan and I were just getting settled in for bed when he checked the news on his computer one last time. The screen lit up with the Connecticut shooting tragedy and he said, "Oh no!" As I looked over, he scrolled down and we gathered the basics - who the shooter was, how old he was, how many children and adults were gunned down and then the images. Those images of grief and fear on stricken children and adults. I had to look away. I am crying as I write this, it's still such a raw emotion and the date of December 14 is engrained in my mind like September 11, 2001. I wasn't angry at the shooter, just so immensely saddened by the grief of so many for a family, a community and national system that has failed so many affected.
I had to turn away and read my book so that I could sleep that night.
When I woke up, the first thing I saw as I turned on my computer was a message from a dear high school friend telling me that our great friend, Bern Kellogg, had died in a work accident the previous day. December 14. He is the father of four children in similar ages to my own. My heart broke for his dear wife, for his family. I spent the day plugged in to my podcasts puttering away at chores to keep the tears at bay for them and the families in Connecticut. So much pain, tragedies.
This young man had asked me in the spirit of true friendship to the Homecoming Dance our Senior Year, just a couple weeks after I'd shattered my femur in a soccer game. My leg had been pieced together with a steel rod and screws down the marrow, I was still working on bending that leg and hobbled on crutches for two months. Bern was such a light to all around him. He wasn't LDS, didn't need to be - he was Christlike to everyone he came across and tried to solicit a smile from whomever's path he crossed. It was his trademark as much as the rubber chicken dangling from his front pocket.
Bernie, as I understand he liked to be called now, and his best friend Brian were the ones who got our high school group of friends together each weekend. They were the first to have their driver's licenses and the freedom we all craved. They initiated good, clean fun that is the hallmark of my high school memories! Their initiative of fun got the creative juices flowing in us all and we had a really great time, sometimes having as many as 30 people at one person's house on a given Saturday night. (Bless the parents who allowed us to barge in and often fed us! We ate and ate on many occasions!) We did silly scavenger hunts, rowdy outdoor and indoor game nights, fully planned/executed food fights, creative dance date proposals . . . it all started for us with Bern and Brian. They were doers, and always includers at a time when we are all so prone to be self-conscious and clique-ish.
My dear friend, Krystin, was as reserved, fun and petite as Bern was tall and gregarious. She reminded us on Bern's memorial page of when Bern asked her to a school dance by tying a live chicken to a stake in her front yard. She had to catch the crazed chicken to read the note on its leg asking her to the dance. This was who he was!
Bern was brilliant - an engineer at heart. He had a bright future in university, but as I understand it, the mission trips he took with his church to help in orphanages in Mexico took an even stronger hold of his heart. Children gravitated to him which is no surprise, he has an open, kind smile-ready face. He fell in love with a young lady in California and has lived and raised a family there. He homeschooled his children for a time I believe, studied and became a pastor in his church, and was helping his father-in-law dig wells.
That fateful Friday, from what I understand, Bern's father-in-law had not been feeling well so Bern went to their work site alone. When he did not come home that evening or answer his phone, his wife and son went to the site looking for him. They found him. Apparently he had been hit on the head with a tool and died.
My heart ached, the tears came. Bern. Connecticut. Agency, God's greatest gift to us. So great a gift that He won't always intervene and save us from deep sorrows. A God who weeps, who loves us. I know this to be true. I have felt God's love in so many ways, in beautiful fulfilling moments among family and friends, but also in my lonely dark times.
As I tried to make sense of Bern's death and the Connecticut tragedy, I was reminded of a scripture passage I'd posted on my fridge this past fall. I'd read and prepared to teach my girls about the Anti-Nephi-Lehi's - a group of people who were wicked Lamanites until their hearts were softened through the loving efforts of the sons of Mosiah. These young men had given up their father's crown in favor of being missionaries. They had great success teaching the gospel to the blood-thirsty Lamanites only through enduring many terrible challenges and trials of their own faith. The conversion of these Lamanites ran so deep, they assumed a new name, asked to join the Nephite people, and made a covenant with the Lord that they would bury their weapons of war and never take them up again even as they all knew the Lamanites were preparing to come to battle against them. When the Lamanites did come, these people went out to meet them. Not with swords, but they lay down and prayed even as they were cut down. When I read this, I ached. This isn't how life should work out for the righteous! And yet, I've read this story many times. I know how it ends.
As the Lamanites were slaughtering them, it says 1,005 fell without resistance. Many Lamanites began to feel their hearts be "swollen" for what they had just done. They dropped their swords and began to sorrow for what they were doing, right there fell to the earth and began repenting. In Alma 24, Alma records that
And there was not a wicked man slain among them; but there were more than a thousand brought to the knowledge of the truth; thus we see that the Lord worketh in many aways to the salvation of his people.I have had to ask myself if I believe this is true. Does anything salvific come from tragedy? And I thought of the outpouring of good after 9-11. Of Corrie Ten-Boom's "The Hiding Place" in the face of Nazi atrocities. Of the thoughts I've had while listening to "The Wisdom of Forgiveness: His Holiness the Dalai Lama" by Victor Chan. There is so much suffering in the world. And yet so much goodness too. I believe God works in many ways. I know God has a plan for each of us. We are here to work out our own salvation, on our own path. How we choose to handle great bounty and terrible tragedy proves our metal, they refine us. Sometimes the weight of the burdens or ache is too much. It just is. In these moments, we can give it to the Lord. I always seem to forget I can give it to Him, that somehow I'm supposed to be the stoic martyr. Yet, giving it over to the Lord is usually the lesson I'm supposed to learn.
I know the people in our lives are there for a purpose, an opportunity to see God in them, through them. Bern was one of those choice souls and I am grateful our paths crossed when they did. Until we meet again, dear friend.