In case you weren’t aware, I live in Orlando. Yes, THAT Orlando–the city where a gunman opened fire in a gay nightclub and killed 49 individuals during the weekend of June 11 and 12. I learned of this tragedy perhaps later than most people in central Florida. I had slept late that Sunday morning and gotten ready for church in a hurry. When we parked at our church’s meeting spot (a building we rent from another church), our boys rushed out of the van while my husband asked me if I’d heard what happened at the nightclub down the street, less than 2 miles from where our church meets for services. I hadn’t; I hadn’t been on my laptop that morning, so I felt caught unawares when I realized how shaken our church friends were. I didn’t feel prepared for our church’s prayer time that morning, either, a time of asking God for mercy and lamenting loss of life and praying for opportunities to show and share the love of Jesus. I honestly felt disengaged–sad, but untouched, even numb. The situation seemed somewhat abstract to me. I don’t watch news on TV, so I didn’t get inundated with videos and breaking updates.
But then, Sunday night…Our boys in bed after spending hours at the home of some friends that evening, I read online, and the horror began to take shape, becoming less nebulous and more solid. And I realized–this is MY city. This is MY home. This is so much brokenness in this broken world. This is real. And I no longer felt detached. I wept and prayed. Then on Monday, I wept more, prayed more, read more. Beautiful stories like this one from Chick-fil-A, the same Chick-fil-A location where I held our younger son’s end-of-season soccer team party a couple years ago when I served as team mom. Heartfelt statements like this one and this one, from Christ-following pastors urging Christians to minister from hearts of love, compassion, and a willingness to weep with those who weep. I read the list of the victims’ names–oh, does that make the losses more tangible. God, have mercy.
I feel impotent in the face of this. I filled out a form in conjunction with efforts the city of Orlando is organizing to assist people in this time of need, offering to do almost anything: serve at funerals or memorial services; fix meals; take water or food to blood drives; help at vigils. “Filling out a form” doesn’t count as volunteer work, but I made myself available. I contacted 2 friends from decades ago with whom I keep in touch via Facebook, friends within the LGBTQ community, wanting to tell them that, if they felt afraid, I felt sad for that and hated that their worlds might feel less safe now. I assured them that, if anybody attempts to tell them these killings were “God’s judgment,” not to believe that for a second. God is not pleased by this “murderous terrorism,” as Russell Moore wrote. I wish I could hug their necks, those friends from long ago. I could actually use a passel of hugs right now. There just don’t seem to be enough tears to cry to match the quantity of this loss.
But here’s what else I must confess, besides that of being initially content with my ignorant-but-comfortable mindset: I haven’t always loved Orlando. I’ve worked at being involved in the community in myriad ways since I moved here in 2001, but I would never, ever have chosen this city as a place to live on its own merits. It feels so Disney-fied and theme-park-fied, and I miss the seasons (says almost everybody who moves here from almost anywhere north of the state line). People from elsewhere have asked how I like Orlando. I have typically answered, “It’s home,” a neutral–albeit true–response. Granted, it has grown on me over the years. And it’s truly been my home longer than any other place apart from the town where I was born and raised. You might say I accepted Orlando as my home, but I didn’t thoroughly embrace it.
I’m not sure I loved Orlando. Not before this mass murder that has set the whole world on its ear. But now, I must. I must love this city. Not necessarily because it needs to have my love–although I think it just might. But because I have my own need to hold love in my heart for this place, this adopted hometown of mine. I need to love my home, this City Beautiful. I need to hold it and cradle it and nurture it as if it were an injured child birthed from my own womb. I have a mother’s need to love.
Jesus wept. And He longed to gather the people of Jerusalem under His wings as a hen gathers her chicks under hers. I hope, pray, and plead with God that more and more little chicks will find safe harbor in the God who loves even and especially through this tsunami of loss and grief.
And I thank God for the grace to weep.
*If you wonder how you can experience God in a personal way, I have found the information here to be foundational for me. Let me know if you want to talk more.*