I am in North Carolina today where I have been now for several days visiting with my youngest sister, her husband, and their two beautiful little girls. Maggie, the oldest, was 2 in August, and Lizzie was born six weeks ago. These two perfect children bring so much joy to my life that I almost can’t contain it all.
This morning Maggie had her pre-school Christmas Concert at the Methodist Church where she goes to “school”. We’ve been listening to her sing Jingle Bells (only the first line… “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way – hey!”) over and over all week in preparation for the concert, so we had a sense of what was coming. But nothing could have prepared us for the wonder of the morning. Maggie didn’t sing a word, despite all of her practicing, but she led the clapping at the end (or at what she perceived to be the end) of every song. She was darling, and I’m not just saying that because we are related. She looked a little confused when she was led out onto the “stage” clutching onto her portion of the ribbon connecting her to her classmates, but upon seeing her mom and dad sitting in the congregation she perked up, her eyes widening and her little hand waving to them like they were the only two people in the audience.
I admit to being skeptical about these kinds of concerts in the past, including a moment this morning when we tried to get tights and a dress onto Maggie and she was in full-scale meltdown. I wasn’t sure why we go through all this trouble when the kids hardly remember the event and would be perfectly happy just to have snack time and read a story. But I admit that my opinion changed the moment those little ones walked out in front of the room full of beaming parents. I didn’t even wince when the 3 and 4 year olds nearly shouted an overly enthusiastic version of J-E-S-U-S to the tune of Bingo (yowzers). No, I loved every single second of that show. I’d even go so far as to say that little Christmas concert was sacred, because in the midst of a very busy season there was an opportunity for parents and relatives to be overwhelmed with love for their children – even if those same children spent the morning screaming about getting into their tights.
The only problem with the events of the morning is that my heart was all warm and wide open when I then learned about a different set of little ones, who had a day that ended in total tragedy. A day that should have been full of singing, and anticipation, and joy. As we rode in the car after lunch I glanced at my phone and saw the reports about the shooting in Connecticut. And I know I would have been sick with grief at that news any hour of any day of the week, but there was something about just having been with all those smiling children this morning that made the pain that much more sharp. Twenty children dead. Twenty. Maybe even more. And adults too.
The numbers are staggering. And they were children. It is devastating.
I cried some. I can’t seem to stop crying, actually. I pray in fits and spurts. I check Facebook every couple of minutes because somehow that connects me to the other people in my life. I squeeze my nieces just a little more tightly, and I smother them in kisses when they desperately want a little space. I turn the news on, and them I’m disgusted, and I turn it back off.
And then there’s something else that I find myself doing – on repeat. I keep watching the video from Music Camp at ECC this past summer. I keep listening to, or singing, “Requiem” – the song that my middle sister taught us during our all-camp chorus. The piece was written for the victims of the tsunami in Inodnesia, but I’m finding that they are exactly the words I need to hear today:
“Mother Mary, full of grace, awaken. All our homes are gone, our loved ones taken. Taken by the sea. Mother Mary calm our fears, have mercy. Drowning in a sea of tears, have mercy. Hear our mournful plea. Our world has been shaken we wander our homelands forsaken. In the dark night of the soul bring some comfort to us all, oh Mother Mary come and carry us in your embrace that our sorrows may be faced…
Mary, fill the glass to overflowing. Illuminate the path where we are going. Have mercy on us all. In funeral fires burning, each flame to your mystery returning.
In the dark night of the soul, your shattered dreamers, make them whole, oh Mother Mary find us where we’ve fallen out of grace. Lead us to a higher place. In the dark night of the soul our broken hearts you can make whole, oh Mother Mary come and carry us in your embrace. Let us see your gentle face, Mary.”
I know that many prayers and lamentations are being offered up to God today, and I will add my voice to the throng. When my voice waivers, I will continue to add my tears. But I will also call to Mary today. I can’t forget that it is Advent, and we are waiting for the coming of our Lord. I can’t forget that in these cold days of winter we think of a young woman and the child she carried. I think of how she loved him. I think of how she grieved when he died. And I think she must be grieving today – understanding as perhaps few others can. I like to think of her warm embrace around those little ones, mercy in her arms and love on her lips. And I pray for her grace and mercy to extend to all of us in our broken-heartedness.
You can watch the video here.
Hug your little ones extra tight tonight – they need your love. We all do.
May the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.