Wednesday, October 10, 2012

OKC--City of Sorrows, City of Strength

I have been in Oklahoma City (OKC) for the past three days.  Every time I come here on business with my husband, I am compelled to visit the National Memorial.  It never ceases to amaze me how utterly moving it is.  Without realizing it until afterward, I always find that I have gnawed a hole in the side of my cheek in trying to control my emotions during my visit there (this is an old nervous habit of mine--it sucks being a crybaby).  But I do believe there is a special spirit present at this memorial.  I always say that it feels like God has placed angels there to comfort people and to guard that place as sacred.  I also think that the memorial is extremely well done.  The design is impeccable down to every detail, with special, purposeful meaning behind nearly every aspect of it.  If you've never visited it and the museum that accompanies it, I highly recommend both.  This museum and the National Holocaust Museum are the only two memorial museums which I have visited thus far, that have evoked tears in me (and they always bring tears, even upon repeated visits).  When I visit the 9/11 Museum one day, I am sure it will easily become number three.

Years ago, my daughter, Allie, did a mission project/trip to Oklahoma City to work in a new rescue mission downtown that helps not only the homeless, but also people who since the tragedy, have become homeless due to drug-related addictions.  In the aftermath of the tragedy, the city suffered many other casualties besides the initial ones, one of which was a spike in drug-related problems.  Many believe that the increase in drug-usage and related issues that the city suddenly had to face was an obvious sign that the community at-large was suffering to cope with the bombing.  The ripple effect of such a crisis is never ending.  Upon this mission trip, my daughter developed a great respect and appreciation for the people of Oklahoma City as well as, an understanding of how vast pain and hardship spread when one person decides to do something really evil.  A city as small as Oklahoma City suffers greatly when 168 people die in one instance.  I remember reading in the museum about how many government workers, who knew multiple people killed on that day, had to sadly pick and choose what funerals they were going to attend because they couldn't attend them all.  When 168 people die, and you only have a few days to bury or memorialize them, it adds up to a lot of funerals within a short time.  Many people couldn't attend all of the services of everyone they knew.  Most of us will never comprehend that kind of loss, or suffer and face the cost of all that entails.  It's not even fathomable to most of us.

So, I, too, have a huge heart for this city.  Being in the "Bible Belt," OKC is a city filled with Christians who entrust their very lives to Christ, and they have had to lean steadfastly on Him in the aftermath of this horrendous event.  Though it was over 17 years ago, you can tell when you speak with Oklahoma Citians about the memorial or about, "that day," that it truly seems like it just happened for them.  They will "never forget" the impact of what their beloved city faced.   I marvel at the strength of this town.  I am amazed at the immense sentiment and passionate love that went into the memorial and the museum.  It is almost filled with too much emotion--kind of a difficult museum to visit actually, due to the graphic and deep grief that is prevalent and prominent in every corner of the museum.  But OKC has heart and soul.  They are a city of great strength to have suffered such loss and continued on serving the Lord and each other with such zeal and joy.  Their churches have grown in great abundance.  They are getting a handle on the drug problems, and they are helping to lift each other up.  Just as Christ tells us in His Word, the strong need to help the weak.  It is obvious they have done that here, and it warrants praise to God.

I was thinking about Timothy McVeigh last night and his capital punishment.  I wondered if any of the victim's family members were allowed to be present for it.  I imagined what I would do in that situation--would I care to be present, or would it be too painful for me to attend and relive the horror of it all?  Would watching another death bring only more pain and sorrow to my life?  Would I have "moved on" and forgiven the criminal as best I could?   In pondering all these things, I quickly realized that there's really no way to know what you'd do in that situation unless you're faced with it--and I praise God I've never had to face that kind of suffering and forgiveness.  I also realized that a crime as horrific as this one is a sin only God can forgive.  Even if a human is able to eventually forgive something this bad, it is only with God's help that they can.  It is amazing how truly evil, evil can be.  It is amazing how senseless it is, as well.  But even more than all that, I marvel at how truly good, good can be.  Upon visiting the museum, you will read and learn of all the vastly heroic and amazingly loving deeds exhibited by the people of this city.  God spurred some incredible acts of courage and strength amongst the community here.  With God's help, the people of Oklahoma City rose to the occasion and truly uplifted one another.  It is a remarkable thing.

I remember where I was the day it happened.  I was student teaching in a Second Grade classroom in Garnett, KS.  I was with kids and when the news hit, and I remember looking up from my desk at the little innocent faces in front of me, and praying for the rescue workers who were having to pull out children even younger than this from a bombing devastation unlike any they'd ever seen.  The horror of just imagining it was awful.  I was given the honor of singing, "Let There Be Peace on Earth," at the school's memorial service that was held a couple of days later, which meant a lot to me.  I still cannot hear that song and not think about the horror this little city faced that day.  The children murdered that day would all be college-age now.  It breaks my heart to think of the vast loss their families have had to face. They say there's nothing worse than losing a child, and I would imagine that is very true.  I would guess it is a hurt that never fully heals.  I very often notice upon visiting this memorial, that the chairs, which symbolize those lost that day, are rarely adorned with flowers.  The ones that are, typically are those of children.  Makes sense to me.

I went to bed last night praying for this city.  I prayed that God would continue to heal the many hurts.  I prayed He would give strength and peace to the entire city.  I prayed He would shelter them from anymore pain.  I prayed that anyone who doesn't know Him would come to know Him.  I prayed that the victims' families and all the survivors would arise each day with a rejuvenated joy in their hearts to help those weaker than themselves and to glean comfort and added strength from each other.  I pray these things every time I come here--the city feels so wounded and vulnerable to me.  Yes, I'm a bit of an emotional sap--I realize it has been a while since the event.  But like they tell you when someone suffers a great loss:  don't forget to continue to support them and even ask them how they are doing with the loss.  Prayer is always a good thing, and we need to pray more for each other--even for those we don't know.  I know that God is here in OKC, though.  He is close to the broken-hearted, as His Word says in Psalms 34:18, and He has strengthened this sorrow-filled city. 

Isaiah 41:10, "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."