My heart is breaking for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub Mass Shooting in Orlando. I pray for the parents, the children, the partners, the families, the friends, the neighbors, the co-workers, the classmates, and the communities of the victims, and I pray for all those beautiful, beloved children of God across the world who identify as LGBTQ and feel further isolated, attacked and violated by this horrific act. I pray, too, for our peace-loving Muslim brothers and sisters who, once again, are being unjustly linked to this horrendous act of terror, now in this holy season of Ramadan.
As the media endlessly drones on, trying to make sense of the senselessness, a few stories are emerging from the survivors of the tragedy. One thing I have learned again in this Sabbatical is the power of story. One such story is that of Josh McGill. Perhaps you have heard it, but good stories do not get old. Like children respond to storybook favorites including Goodnight Moon and Make Way for Ducklings, we cry out for a good story, “Tell it again; again!”
As shots rang out, and competed for attention with the sound of people’s screams, Josh McGill managed to escape the nightclub with his friends out the patio exit. As the friends raced onward, Josh halted, then crouched behind a car, and eventually crawled under it. As he hid, he saw a man staggering toward him, covered in blood.
“Can you help me?” the man implored.
After binding up the man’s three separate gunshot wounds with his shirt, the victim’s shirt, and a stranger’s shirt, Josh and the bullet-riddled man made it to the perimeter with the awaiting police presence.
There were no ambulances. So Josh was told to lie down across the back seat of the cruiser. The bleeding victim was laid on top of him. Josh was told to hold him tight in a bear hug and, no matter what, to keep him conscious during the race to the hospital. Did you catch that? Josh was told to hug the stranger, and talk in his ear, until they made it to the ER.
In that trip, Josh learned the name of the man lying with him: Rodney. Now that he knew him by name, Josh said, "I don't know if you're religious or not, but I'll say a prayer with you.” And so it was, that the shirt off his back, and the life-saving hug, those precious acts of faith and love, were followed by prayer, precious words of faith and love. Then, Josh said to Rodney, “I promise you, God has got this.”
God has got this.
As Josh clung as hard as he could to Rodney, and Rodney clung as hard as he could to life, Josh assured Rodney he would be okay. He said that everything was turning out fine. As he did, Josh knew he had just made promises that he could not keep. And he was scared. So then Josh prayed again, “God, please don’t let me break my promise.”
There is nothing that can be said that will make sense of this senseless act. Nothing. But, Josh McGill gives us something to hold onto, something to cling to, as if all our lives depend upon it. First, “God has got this.” God holds us all, cherishing us, comforting us, encouraging us, healing us, loving us. God has got this.
And just as surely, we sometimes make promises we can’t keep. We make promises to fight terrorists, stop violence, reject hate, and cling to hope. We make promises to stand up, stand out, stand together, and stand united. We make promises to treasure each day. We make promises never to forget… So, God, please don’t let us break our promises. Please help us keep our promises. Help us keep our promises to our brothers and sisters in Orlando, and in San Bernardino, and in Aurora, and in Sandy Hook, and in Paris, and in Belgium, and in Brussels, and oh my, the list goes on… Could we keep a promise to answer their cries for help? Could we keep a promise to bind their wounds with the shirts from our backs? Could we keep a promise to hold them so close as to feel their blood on our skin? Could we keep a promise to keep them in our conscious mind and keep alert in this dark hour? Maybe these are too much to promise, so we ask God for help. God, please don’t let us break our promises.
And when we forget, because we do forget, God, would you tell us the story of your amazing love again?