It was after I had held hands with my daughters and whispered bedtime prayers, after I had folded tiny baby clothes, after I had punched the Start button on the dishwasher, it was after all that when I put my face against the bed and sobbed out the heartbreak of the past few hours.
Earlier in the day, I had picked up my big girls from school a little early, but not because I was fearful of the ominous clouds which promised the fulfillment of the forecast’s prophecy of scary storms. I’m a weathered Oklahoman; it takes a lot more to spook me than angry red splotches on a weather map that serve to warn us of the Severe. No, I picked them up early because I didn’t want to fuss with getting the twins out once the rain set in later.
And so they were here at home with me when the tornado sirens rang through the air here in Oklahoma City. They were here at home with me as we tracked the tornadoes path through our state, watching with me as we saw that we wouldn’t need to head to the basement after all – the storms were all going south.
When the first reports of elementary schools being hit, I shoo’ed them away from the TV. I did this partly because I didn’t want them to be worried over being at school when it stormed, but also partly because I needed some space to cry.
But then the babies needed to be nursed and dinner needed to be made, and so I tried to suck it up as much as I could. I half-listened as we went about our afternoon and evening, pausing to feel my heart splinter as reports came of babies, mamas, preschoolers, grandmothers … dead. Neighborhoods flattened, lives destroyed. I listened as much as I could without falling apart.
But after my girls were in bed and the laundry was done and the dishwasher was started, I saw on the round-the-clock coverage from Moore an interview with a seven year old girl who had survived the tornado hit on Plaza Towers Elementary. I heard this brown haired, well-spoken girl with glasses who looked so much like my eight year old tell of holding onto a desk as the winds ripped the school apart. She said the wind knocked her back and then her glasses filled with dirt.
And in that moment, I wanted to do something more than cry. As I thought of those little ones and their teachers, crouched in hallways and under desks the way I had crouched in hallways and under desks through so many tornado drills, and I imagined being one of the parents desperately searching for information on my children, and I heard they were bringing in cadaver dogs to …
That was it. In that moment, all of the heartache and rage and shock and fear that I had pushed down for hours welled up within me and I felt like I might split open in the face of such horror.
But all that came out as I sobbed into my bed were groans. From that place that we all have that is utterly primal and completely non-verbal came the groaning of the devastation I felt for my fellow Oklahomans, the families that live an easy twenty minute drive from my house. I wanted to scream. I wanted to curse. I wanted to punch the pillow. But all I could muster under the weight of such sadness were tear-filled, heart-emptied groans.
When these things happen, I nearly go cross-eyed with spiritual doubt and theological confusion. If God can control the winds, and surely we know He can, how could He not steer a tornado away from an elementary school? Why would He allow it? Why does He allow any tornadoes? Where is He in this? The questions swirl until my mouth is dry with the asking.
After I had cried my heart out, I had to make one more trip down into our basement, one last round of laundry to fold. In the cool damp and quiet there, I thought of those verses from Romans 8, the ones where Paul says that the Spirit helps us in our weakness, helps us when we don’t know how to pray, that He intercedes for us through wordless groans.
I stood there with my feet on the cold concrete for a long time thinking about that. I’m ashamed to admit it, but when these things happen, these Acts of God, my first response generally involves being furious with God. But I thought about Him in a new way tonight, His Spirit that is so moved by our weakness and frailty that He can merely groan in prayer for us. I thought about how I felt like I could split in two, I was so distraught. To imagine the epic scale on which the Spirit of God aches for His children, that all that comes out are groans …
And then my Facebook feed was filled with prayer and heartache for the people of our state, empathy and angst from around the world. And I felt it there, that elusive thing, that unity that we are always speaking of but can never seem to find. In our shock and confusion and devastation, collectively we groan. And echoing through our hearts and reverberating in our minds, we sense that He never leaves our side, joining His creation in groans too deep for words.
image by gogoloopie