Ashes of Our Dreams

Broken-hearted for my hometown: devastated in the wake of the Borderline Shooting and the deadliest wildfire in California’s history.

Photo Credit: Javier Tovar / AFP - Getty Images file

As a team, and as a nation, we grieve with the thousands living in the ashes of Paradise after the Camp Fire tore through their homes in the deadliest wildfire in California’s history. We’re stunned by the unimaginable loss of the devastating shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in my hometown of Thousand Oaks. Gunfire pierced them as they danced arm in arm. I danced on that floor with my friends when I was in college; I knew people who were dancing on that floor that night—my middle school PE teacher had to run for his life to save his son with the gunman just a few feet away from him. One of the victims, Alaina Housley, was a vibrant young girl from my alma mater, Pepperdine University, who had just begun her freshman year. She had extraordinary promise. For me, this massacre wasn’t close to home; it was home.

In this time of turmoil and confusion, I am struck by the clarity of Jesus’s declaration when faced with the sheer injustice of the cross—this is “the power of darkness,”1 a time when the spiritual forces of evil show their true character. When confronted with injustice, Jesus called evil what it is.

My heart broke when I heard a father receiving the news that his first-born son was among the victims. His sobbing cry reverberates in my chest — “Only he and I know how much I love him!” In fury, a mother cried out for justice when she heard news that her beloved son, who had survived the Las Vegas massacre, had been killed at Borderline. These are the voices that express the true horror of senseless evil. Nothing can take away the pain of a parent who has lost their child. My prayer is that, in their grief, they may know that Jesus walks with them and declares with each cry, “This is the work of darkness!”

As the local community gathered to hold a vigil in honor of the victims, dense smoke from the deadly Woolsey fire appeared in the sky above them. Disoriented and vulnerable, they were in the throes of an evacuation. Another unwelcomed darkness had torn them apart and forced them to scatter. Before Jesus faced the cross, he describes his soul as being “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”2 In our hours of grief, darkness clouds our vision and threatens our hope.

Jesus’s prayer on the Mount of Olives in Luke 22:39-44 offers us a striking portrait of the God of the universe in the throes of personal anguish. Instead of allowing the imminent darkness to isolate him from God and others, Jesus boldly expressed his pain to the Father: “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”3 The Father did not remove the cup of injustice, death, and unfathomable loss—his death and resurrection were the fulfillment of the purpose for which Christ came—but heaven did not ignore his cry. In his mercy, the Father provided the Son with the strength he needed to endure the suffering set before him. “And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.”4 Not only can the Father handle our bitterness, anger, and grief, He promises to provide us with the strength we need to keep going when our lives are in shambles. When tempted to doubt this, Lamentations declares that God is gracious to those who search for divine relief.5

When Jesus rose, he found his disciples “sleeping from sorrow”6, exhausted from grief. He rebukes them boldly, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”7 The sharpness of Jesus’s words are a warning to us all, for he was aware that in their sorrow, the disciples were vulnerable to losing their faith. “Wake up!” he says, “Be on guard, for you are in danger!”

Jesus rebuked them even as he wrestled with his own temptation to despair; in his darkest hour we see Jesus fight through tears to remember the joy set before him, the joy that ultimately gave him the strength to endure the cross.8 Hope is anticipated joy, and where faith abounds, hope abounds.

Jesus was willing to drink the bitter cup of an unjust death so that, when we endure suffering, we do so with hope. My colleague Nathan Rittenhouse once told me that suffering with hope is far different than suffering without it. If you have endured suffering as a follower of Jesus, you know this is true. Hope doesn’t take the pain away or fill the void of love lost. But when all we want to do is lie down in the ashes of our dreams, hope gives us resilience we cannot explain. When you know that ecstatic joy will meet you at the end of your story, it gives you the strength to walk through the valleys of death that gets you there.

When all we want to do is lie down in the ashes of our dreams, hope gives us resilience we cannot explain.

When senseless evil meets us at the door in one of the safest towns in America and our neighbors are weakened by grief and tempted to despair, Jesus is calling us, brothers and sisters, to rise up. As followers of Christ, we are to see through the eyes of faith, to fight for hope in serious darkness, because Jesus gives his children the power to push back darkness with faith, prayer, and loving compassion. Instead of feeding on negativity over the state of our country, let us feed on God’s faithfulness (Psalm 37). And as Christ’s love fills our hearts once again, may it overflow and bring healing to the broken. Let us be the ones to weep on the floor with those most crushed amongst us and, once they are ready, may we carry their weight as they lift themselves back up again. For we do not grieve like those who have no hope.9 Like Jesus with the disciples, let us call them to rise, even as we carry the hurting into his glorious light. This is the work of Jesus for which we are called. This is who he is.

And this is my prayer for each of you: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”10

Hear us, ever-present God.

1Luke 22:53.

2Mark 14:34.

3Luke 22:44.

4Luke 22:43.

5Lamentations 3:25.

6Luke 22:45.

7Luke 22: 46.

8Hebrews 12:2.

91 Thessalonians 4:13.

10Romans 15:13.

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