Friday, January 15, 2016

Three Stories

This is the story of Keiji Nakazawa, author of the Japanese comic series Barefoot Gen.

In 1945, a young Japanese boy named Keiji was on his way to school at about eight in the morning when he bent down to pick something up off the ground. Suddenly, an atomic explosion rocked the city of Hiroshima to its very foundation. The simple action of bending down had saved him, as a concrete wall had shielded him from the blast and the majority of the fallout. All around him was devastation: his neighbors and friends burned to death, everything he had ever known alight as far as he could see. Keiji searched for his family, and unfortunately found that his father and brother had died immediately. His mother and infant sister died of radiation poisoning a few days later.

Confused and disoriented, Keiji joined with other survivors of the blast trying to stay alive. One day about a year later, Keiji headed down to the river in search of supplies, and saw something very strange. Although the reports had said that the city would be radioactive for 70 years and nothing would grow, Keiji spotted green popping up along the river. Blades of grass, fresh with morning dew dotted the landscape up and down the banks of the river. Somehow, despite all odds, new life bloomed again.

Ground zero along the banks of the Ota River, Hiroshima, Japan, 2008.

This is a story my friend Rusty told me.

In 2012, a group of seminary students landed in Haiti to begin their J-term learning experience. They left Port au Prince that morning and made it to their hotel in Jacmel on the southern coast. The group decided to get drinks to unwind from the travel, but soon after, the earth began to move, and the city crumbled around them. Most of them had been outdoors, but as they stood staring at the remains of the building that they had just been inside, the terrible truth of what had happened set in. Some of the students on the trip from another seminary had died with the thousands of others in the city.

With most of their belongings lost and no way to leave the city, the group headed to the camp where everyone else had been sent. It was a surreal scene, with people wailing for their dead or frantically searching for loved ones. The group had little food or water between them, but they hunkered down in hope of rescue.

As night fell, my friend remembers the camp coming alive, not with wailing but suddenly with song. Songs of worship, songs of praise, songs of God's grace and love rising from the destruction all around them. As one group's song would fade, another would begin. All night, a song of victory in defeat.

The bar where Rusty and his classmates stood moments earlier in Haiti, 2012.

This is my story.

My husband and I were on our way back from a friend's wedding in Hawaii when the spotting started. Ten weeks along, we had been filled with such hope, such excitement about this first child of ours. I had spotted before and had still seen a strong heartbeat just three weeks earlier, but the exhaustion of the trip and the increasing bleeding shook us.

When we arrived home from our red eye flight, the first thing we did was call the doctor. There they did an exam and could not find a heartbeat. They sent us to radiology for an ultrasound, where a kind woman told us that unfortunately, the baby had stopped growing two weeks ago. There was nothing that could be done.

One doesn't understand agony until their heart breaks open at the words “I'm so sorry.” The words sound so empty when your whole future has been destroyed. As P leaned over me and my heart poured out my eyes, all I could see ahead was the why, the what happened, and the how can we go on? And yet months later, I am here again, with hope for a child growing inside me, for a family, for birthdays and kissed owies and skills taught, and so many giggles to come. And there is life here.

Baby P (due June 2016), stubbornly refusing to roll over, December 2015.

This is both an old and a new story.

I tell you these stories not because I want to make you sad, but because you, too, have lived through destruction. You have lived through the disorientation, the confusion of who you are and who God is and what we do when all hope is lost. In the last chapter of Luke, the disciples on the road to Emmaus tell Jesus (who they don't recognize) that “they had hoped Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel.” I think this is the saddest part of the whole Bible, and encompasses so much loss, sorrow, and emptiness. We had hoped.

And yet God was revealed in the breaking of the bread to those disciples. And yet God freed Israel. And yet Christ healed the blind. And yet our Savior rose from the dead. And yet.

We find our lives in ashes from time to time, and today I tell these stories so that you remember that your story is part of a larger narrative: the story of God, of humanity, of all creation. And those stories tell us that the audacity of hope is often as simple as grass growing, a song rising from the rubble of a broken city, the embrace of your best friend while you stand stunned and lost in grief, or an empty tomb.

You are not alone. Amen.

Sunrise at Riviera Maya, Mexico, new every morning.