Part of me wishes I could wake up and realize that last week was just a really, really bad dream. The other part thinks that even though life is harsh, cruel, and unpredictable, maybe we need to experience the negative aspects in order to more fully appreciate the times when life is good.
Last Sunday started off just fine, but something happened that made me question whether or not I should join the church I’ve been attending for over three years. I won’t get into the details of what happened here, but suffice it to say that every congregation has its share of troublemakers and ours is no exception. Someone commented that the current situation in our church is “not conducive to spiritual growth,” and although I disagreed with pretty much everything else they had to say, that statement gave me pause.
There does seem to be quite a bit of division in our church, but I believe that scenario is often repeated in every congregation or gathering of people. Whether it is human nature or something far more sinister, wherever people seek harmony and God’s spirit, it never fails that someone or something will try to divide and conquer.
So, I spent the next couple of days with a heavy heart, considering whether I should join at this time or wait until things were a little more settled. I asked myself if anything beautiful could come out of something so ugly. I prayed about it and discussed my feelings with my partner.
Finally, I decided to email my pastor and share my feelings. She very eloquently explained that God likes to bring beauty out of undesirable situations, much like our Savior arose from a tomb. I liked that comparison and decided that I was definitely joining the following Sunday.
Thursday also started off just fine. I went to work and was having a good day until someone walked in and said they had just heard on the radio that Michael Jackson passed away. I had heard that type of rumor before, but something in the pit of my stomach told me it was true this time. My bottom lip began to quiver as I rushed to the nearest computer to get confirmation.
CNN had a headline that said he had been taken to the hospital. “Not so bad,” I thought. Then I clicked on TMZ and saw that they were reporting he was dead. It felt like my heart went into my shoes. Tears sprang into my eyes and spilled down my face, but I had to maintain some level of composure in order to finish my work. Thankfully, it was near the end of the day and I was able to leave about 20 minutes later.
Emotion hit me like a wave the moment I got in my vehicle to drive home. It was unbearably hot outside, which only added to my misery. I rode with the windows down, my screams and sobs disappearing into the rushing air. As bad as this hurt, I wondered if I could possibly bear the pain of losing a close family member.
I felt silly as I realized that I had never even met Michael. I had only seen him one time in real life, but I had been following his career closely since 1991. It felt like I knew him. I could relate to his sadness, his loneliness, even his constant need for adoration.
He had captured part of my heart all those years ago and I truly loved him. I loved his music, his voice, his style, even his appearance in the earlier years. I admired his generosity, his global view, his poetry. His dancing was a spiritual experience. He channeled something much larger than himself, and regardless of his shortcomings, he never stopped believing that one person could make a difference.
So, my heart was completely broken by the time I arrived home and turned on the television. I prayed and hoped against hope, but within minutes CNN had confirmed the terrible news. My brain couldn’t really comprehend what had just transpired, so I just sobbed uncontrollably. I was thankful that Honey was at work, because I felt so foolish. I recalled how I was also home alone a few years ago when the verdict was read in Michael’s molestation trial. As each charge was pronounced “not guilty,” I had jumped up and down like a crazy person, screaming at the top of my lungs.
Although emotions were once again running high, this was much different. I wondered if I could ever listen to my favorite songs or watch my favorite videos again. Wouldn’t it be strange to see Michael grabbing his crotch while knowing that he was deceased? Wouldn’t I always wonder somewhere in the back of my mind if he was paying the ultimate price for a life filled with excess, greed, and ego-mania? Even though I had always doubted the charges of misconduct with children, would we ever really know the truth? So many questions, each making me cry even harder.
Going to work the next morning was more like sleep-walking, because the nightmare hadn’t ended when I got out of bed. It didn’t help that the local radio station was playing back-to-back songs by MJ, or that everyone kept asking me how I was doing. Tears kept welling in my eyes every few minutes as reality began to sink in… The King of Pop was dead.
Almost exactly twenty-four hours after hearing such terrible news, I was once again shaken to the core. My father walked over to where I was working with an anguished look on his face and told me that my niece and nephew had been in a four-wheeler accident. He said my nephew was okay, but my niece was on the way to the hospital. Apparently she had called her mother from her cell phone, screaming for help as blood poured from a large puncture wound under her arm. Her wrist was also broken, her head was swelling, and both kids were covered in scrapes and bruises. All of this was too much for my already fragile psyche, so I immediately started bawling.
Honey drove us to the emergency room, where we were greeted by my brother-in-law. His shirt was covered in blood from where he had carried his daughter into the hospital. As we sat waiting to find out her condition, the television in the waiting room was playing non-stop coverage of Michael’s death. I seriously began to wonder if I was going to lose my mind.
Somehow, through all of the chaos going on in my head and around me, I began to put things into proper perspective. Maybe my earthly idol was dead, but at least my niece was going to be okay. Maybe I needed to start paying more attention to my life and those around me instead of following every move of a pop star. Maybe I should stop worrying so much about his final destination and start worrying more about my own.
Which brings me back to church.
I was still feeling rather emotional when we gathered for worship Sunday morning. My father and step-mother had come to see us join, and one of our good friends had agreed to sing one of our favorite songs during the service.
We stood in front of the congregation and said our vows. Yes, we believe in God. Yes, we believe in Jesus. Yes, we believe in the Holy Spirit. We professed that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. We promised to resist evil, to show love and justice, to be faithful members.
Then Linda stood and sang. No music, just her lovely voice.
Leave it there, leave it there. Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there. If you trust and never doubt, He will surely bring you out. Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.
And, once again, like so many other times during the preceding days, I wept. I wept for my niece and nephew. I wept for Michael Jackson. I wept because my beautiful partner took my hand to comfort me. I wept from the pure joy that comes from realizing that God loves us, each and every one. No matter how popular or influential, how small or insignificant, He cares.
So, even though part of me wishes that last week had never happened, the other part realizes that life is full of surprises – some good, some bad, some a little bit of both. My niece’s injury and Michael’s death were a reminder of the frailty of life. Our church problems are a sign that progress never comes without a struggle. And our service yesterday proved that our church is conducive to spiritual growth and, yes, something beautiful can come from something ugly!