I have asked the questions why
But I guess the answer’s for another time
So instead I’ll pray with every tear
And be thankful for the time I had you here
~ Save A Place for Me, Matthew West
Every morning on my way to work, I drive by an empty lot with two white crosses carefully planted in the center. Occasionally, a stuffed animal appears beneath the smaller cross. I can’t help but glance at the site each time I pass. I’m not sure why. I guess it seems somehow disrespectful to speed passed it — too preoccupied with my own life — not to at least acknowledge what happened there.
Three years ago, a house stood on that site. A family lived there; John and Kori Bryant and their nine week old baby girl, Olivia. Born on her mom’s birthday, she was perfect. Her smile could melt anyone, especially her dad. Life had just begun for this young family. But on April 10, 2009, Good Friday, everything would change. A massive and powerful tornado was making its way across town — the Bryant’s home directly in its path. John thought they were ready. Olivia was in a car seat. They were huddled in a safe part of the home with a mattress on top of them. But the tornado ripped the house apart. The last time he saw his baby, John was being sucked through the roof and was looking down at Olivia as she was looking up at him. He was violently thrown into a ditch clear across the street. He was badly hurt. Kori and Olivia were killed.
This happened only a few blocks from my house where my daughters, my wife and I were also huddled in a small room. It begs the obvious and most frustrating question of all: why?
I saw this famous musician and self-proclaimed atheist interviewed on TV one time. He was asked what he thinks happens after we die. He paused for a moment and then said, “Nothing.” He nervously laughed. “That’s it. It’s black.” He tried to sound sure, but there was little conviction in his voice. His answer rang hollow.
Then I thought about my conversation with Mary Neal. Mary is an orthopedic surgeon who many years ago drowned in a kayak accident. She explained to me what it was like to die. Not a very religious person before the accident, Mary’s life will never be the same after what she saw — after what she felt. I was moved by the words she carefully chose to describe the experience, the overwhelming sense of God’s love and forgiveness, the intense peace and beauty, and her extreme sadness when she learned that it wasn’t her time and she had to come back.
Here, in front of these two white crosses, on this land where a house once stood — where a family once lived, I choose a greater story than that famous musician gives us. I choose a sequel.
But why? Why did John Bryant lose his family and his home on that horrible day? Why did Olivia live only 69 days? Nowhere on earth can we find these answers. Maybe we should be asking another question. My friend Kyle, who’s battling prostate cancer, says he used to ask “why?”…but not anymore. “Instead,” he says, “I ask, what’s next?”
It’s a great question.
I choose to believe that the end is the beginning. I choose to imagine hugging my grandma again. I want to discover what it’s like to have a grandpa. I want to play “Madden Football” with my friend Al. I want to hear my buddy Marlin sing “Devil Went Down To Georgia” again.
“What happens after we die?” “Nothing? It’s just black?” I doubt it. I think God’s got a sequel in mind.
I choose a better story.
I choose hope.