Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Chairs of Hope

I am in Oklahoma doing a youth rally at Oklahoma Christian University. I left behind 70 degree weather with blue skies and low humidity and arrived to blast furnace-style heat complete with wet-rag/warm-towel humidity. Knowing it was only going to get hotter this week, I left my hotel early this morning and went downtown to spend a good amount of time around the Oklahoma City Memorial.

It was just over eleven years ago when the nutcase McVeigh (with help from others -- some caught, some not) blew the front off of the Murrah building killing 168 people and injuring 700 more. Where the building stood is now framed by two large, black memorial arches connected by a long eternity pool, a reflecting surface. Some of the walls of the Murrah building are as they were that day -- shattered, broken, rebar poking through ragged holes. A survivor tree is circled by a memorial to the responders -- professionals and average citizens -- who charged in again and again to find and save anyone caught inside.

A field of empty chairs is on the other side of the pool, 168 of them to represent those who died. It is an effective and moving monument. Frankly, I was unprepared to discover that people are still bringing flowers, leaving wreaths, notes, stuffed toys, and letters of love and loss at one end of the memorial. It was moving in a way that took me by surprise. I paid my $8 and went into the museum next door. It walks you through the opening hours of that day, shunts you into a room where you hear a recording of a water board meeting that was in session when the bomb went off. When the sound of the bomb comes over the tape, the lights dim and you hear the cries of people organizing each other in the midst of the unknown, looking for a way of escape.

As if the museum were not touching enough -- with its piles of keys, children's toys, shredded appointment books, shoes and briefcases -- there is also a traveling exhibit attached for a limited time. It is "Terror in America -- the enemy within." It would be easy to forget that we have always had terrorism in America. From anarchists (who killed two American presidents), German saboteurs, communist radicals, the Weather Underground, the Animal Liberation Front, and so on to the islamofascists and white power and black power advocates of today, this nation has always faced enemies from within and without.

And sometimes they leave 168 empty chairs.

Before I could descend into despair, though, I remembered last night. In the Judd theatre I spoke to an enthusiastic and tuned in crowd of teens. I can't remember the exact number I was told were in attendance but I believe it was.... 168. They sat there in chairs, singing praises to God, praying to Him, listening to my little set of stories about our reliance on Christ and salvation by grace. Afterwards, they came up and hugged me, smiling, full of life and hope and faith.

Empty chairs, made that way by a madman. Full chairs, made that way by faith.

He has not deserted us. He is not far from us. He walks with us, even in the shadow of grim arches and twisted rebar.... and faith rises up and fills the chairs again.


At 6/14/2006 11:58:00 AM , Blogger Lee Hodges said...

The resilience of hope shines through.

At 6/14/2006 01:19:00 PM , Blogger Kari said...

Patrick! I live in Edmond! How long are you here? You should come over for dinner!

At 6/14/2006 05:43:00 PM , Blogger PatrickMead said...

Thanks for the kind offer, Kari, but I am away after tonight. I get to spend two days at home and then fly back out west to do a six day youth event at York College. Next time!

At 6/15/2006 12:12:00 PM , Blogger Darth Monkey Tart said...

I had the pleasure of hearing you twice during your time in Edmond. It's always a joy to read and listen to what you have to say. This blog is especially touching to someone like myself who has lived in Oklahoma for all of my life and has known far too many people affected by the bombing. I'm glad you had the time to visit the memorial and that you took the time to share your reflection on what you saw. Thanks. God bless.

At 6/16/2006 12:03:00 PM , Anonymous Brie said...

The memorial is amazing. I'm an Okie- we were at the site two days after the bombing taking up socks and stuff for the rescuers who were working through the rain to get people out, and that's after my Mom (an RN) spent almost 36 hours out there triaging and treating the kids who were hurt. The daycare was on the 2nd floor of the building and a lot of those chairs out there are for little ones.

It's completely sobering to think about how quickly everything can change, and the memorial is a very solemn place. I'm really glad you mentioned the hope, though. The Survivor Tree is an incredible symbol of hope and resilience.

Loved hearing you in Edmond, Patrick. Look forward to visiting with you sometime. Be well!


At 6/18/2006 08:22:00 PM , Anonymous Kristin said...

Patrick, I had the pleasure of hearing you speak at OC those three nights, and I really enjoyed it. Not only did I enjoy it, it helped me realize a few things..spiritually. I wanted to thank you for taking time to speak to all of us kids. I was one of the consuelors, and my kids kept talking about you and how they couldn't wait to hear you again. You were an inspiration to us. Thank you so much!
in Christ

At 7/01/2006 07:55:00 PM , Anonymous TinaMarie said...

Wow!! There is always hope because of the God we serve. Thanks for reminding us all about the hope that exist. I have that hope right infront of me and with all that is going on I was missing it. A young lady my niece Andrea was studying with accepted Jesus as her Lord and was baptized. My niece Andrea and my nephew Joe are busy serving the Lord and seeking to know him more and more. God is working and he is much more powerful than the enemy!!!! Thanks again for the reminder.


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