Sometimes there are no words.
I first learned this at the age of 16 when I saw my Grandma Johnson (my dad's step mother) sitting in the first row of chairs in the funeral home chapel staring at my grandfather's casket. During the first hour of the visitation, waves of people greeted her, but none of their words seemed to offer her any comfort. I did not know what to say, so I decided instead to simply sit next to her, hold her hand and cry with her. I had no words.
When I was eight months pregnant with our second daughter, Megan, I was doing a CPE unit at Deaconess Hospital. One night when I had the beeper, I was called in to comfort a couple that had just lost their baby. I had no words.
When I was doing a chaplaincy at a jail and an inmate that, most everyone from the guards and social workers to the lawyers on both sides of the case believed he was innocent, was sentenced to life in prison. I had no words.
When I was a crisis counselor for the local high school and I was called to be present with a group of students who saw their friend commit suicide in front of them. I had no words.
When a church member called me and asked me to meet them at their parent's home because they had been notified that there had been a terrible accident; and when we arrived, it was discovered that the father had killed their mother and then the father killed himself. I had no words.
Sometimes there are no words. No words that can offer comfort, explanation or ease the pain. And sometimes words only get in the way of offering what is truly needed in a moment of tragedy, devastation and heartbreak. What is truly needed is the gift of being present with someone else to remind them that they are not alone.
Yesterday morning a fellow Conference Minister called me and asked, "What will you be doing to respond to the church shooting in Texas?" My immediate response was, "Nothing, I can't respond." I went on to explain that I was struggling to write something of comfort or some grand, profound statement. I did not know what to say in light of this most recent act of violence. I had no words.
Perhaps you like me have struggled with trying to make sense of yet another senseless tragedy.
I want to share with you something that came to me after a time of prayer and reflection. As I was praying, I had a sudden flash of the origami peace doves that were made for last year's Annual Meeting. Then I had an AHA moment.
Doves have long been a symbol of peace. Early Christians used the image of the dove on an olive branch during funeral processions to symbolize peace. Many centuries later, it became a tradition to send origami peace doves to those who were mourning.
As I thought about the paper peace doves, I began to imagine showering the church in Texas with peace doves, cards, and messages of love and support as a way to remind that faith community that they are not alone.
I would like to invite you to make this possible.
I would like to encourage all of our churches to make some peace doves and/or purchase and make cards of sympathy for the church members of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Click here for the written pattern, or watch the instructional video below that Lynnette, our Illinois South Conference Communications Director, created for a class she taught through the Highland Arts Council.
The cards and doves can be dropped off at the Illinois South Conference office in Highland by the end of the month and we will deliver them in mass the first week of December to the First Baptist church on behalf of our Conference as a way to show our Christian solidarity and support.
Sometimes there are no words that are sufficient, but we need to remind those who are suffering that we are present with them in their time of mourning and grief.