November has been a month of spectacular sunsets. This one was changing so quickly that my husband pulled into a pharmacy parking lot for us to capture part of it before it began to fade. I will always remember this sunset, given on November 6, 2017 – a day that an armed gunman walked into a small church during a worship service in Sutherland Springs, TX – a small town less than 2 hours from our home and killed 26 people, including children, a pregnant mother and the baby she carried. The tiny congregation is decimated and the building itself will be demolished. I heard the awful news after we left our own beloved house of worship that Sunday morning. I was filled with grief at the time I saw this sunset. It seemed to me a needed reminder that God is still present even in the presence of evil.
A week later a memorial service was held by the church’s pastor, who lost his own teenage daughter in the massacre. I wept when I heard that volunteers had gone into the riddled church building, cleared and cleaned the space, covering bullet holes and painting the whole space white. Twenty-six white chairs, each containing a rose, were set into the space, which people could visit during the day. Now the building will be entirely removed, replaced by a memorial prayer garden. As my own family gathered for Thanksgiving, and this week as we pulled out old familiar ornaments to decorate our Christmas tree, I am reminded of those families who will have empty places at the table and who will not have family members there for celebrating this Advent and Christmas. There may be some who, like me, begin to shop early and already have gifts for a child or parent who won’t receive them.
I would rather have simply written a poem about the beauty of a November sunset. Instead, I offer my remembering and my prayers in this season of gratitude and beginning again of Advent expectancy. Lament has always been a part of its story.