Dave is the exterminator that comes quarterly to my house. Except, I call him "Dave my bug man."
I love my bug man. Dave is a man of faith, and we bonded the first time he came to my house over the eclectic collection of theological books my husband and I have on our bookshelves.
This week when Dave was scheduled to come, I forgot. He had to call and tell me he was at the house. After I just barely put the car in park and ran inside the house, I frantically began throwing toys and half-eaten snacks under the couch and in unpacked suitcases (which might explain why I have a bug guy).
Dave soon came inside to spray, and when he walked over the threshold, I just threw my hands in the air and said apologetically and with exasperation, "I just haven't been able to keep up. It's been a really hard summer."
After a while, Dave began to tell me about another client of his whose 16-year-old daughter had just recently died. I just stared at him. My heart sank because she was the same 16-year-old girl whose death my family and I had been grieving. She was a member at my husband's church, and her death had affected our whole community and beyond. And on this day, Dave, my bug man, and I both stopped what we were doing, pulled up stools and talked, a girl and her bug man.
My earliest memory was when I was no older than 3. I was nestled securely beside my mother on the back stoop of our rented house looking up into the dark sky filled with millions of stars. My dog had been hit by a car and killed. I don't remember exactly what my mother said to me that night about death, but I remember we looked up into those millions of yellow and white lights, and I knew there was something so much bigger than me; it was both incredibly exciting and terribly humbling.
My bug guy said something to me when we were on those stools that I'll never forget. He said it's almost too trite to say out loud. But I'm holding onto two totally different realities that are in tension with one another when I think about death.
On the one hand, there are often so many ways a death could have been prevented (If I'd only done this, if only, if only, if only). And on the other hand, there was no way it could have been stopped.
I see what he means. They are on opposite sides of the theological spectrum. The one being, God had nothing to do with this, and the other being, God had everything to do with this. There are good and bad things to say about either of them. If I'm honest, I've found myself squatting in both, depending on the circumstances. We just don't know why, and sometimes I wonder if we think when we find the answer to this question, then we won't have hurt anymore.
But I'm not convinced we'll ever get past what I felt as a 3-year-old when we try to answer the question of where God is in our and in others' suffering. We know there is something so much bigger than us, and it can be both incredibly exciting and terribly humbling.
As a Christian, the place I put my hope and trust is in the resurrection of my Lord, Jesus Christ, and in the words of Paul in Romans 8: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
And so it gives me comfort when I'm hurting or mourning, to look back. To look back and see how God was there and never left us. To see how a person's living and dying changed us to be more faithful people. To remember how in the middle of suffering the loss of a loved one there were moments when God wiped away a tear in the form of another human being. To remember what it felt like to be gathered in a community of faith loving one another and supporting one another.
And perhaps even to see God in the middle of a conversation between a girl and her bug man.
The Rev. Tricia Dillon Thomas, pastor to youth and families at Peace Presbyterian Church in Lakewood Ranch, can be reached at 941-753-7778 or http://www.peacepcusa.org.