Beating triskaidekaphobia

From high-rise buildings without a 13th floor to Emergency Departments that skip Bay 13, a lot of us prefer to skip the number 13 altogether. When it comes to calendar years, though, no one ever established the leap year to avoid ’13 and appease the triskaidekaphobes. 13

I’ve always had an innate interest in numbers. As a musician, I can easily associate skills in music with skills in math. My only mental link to the concept of eternity is to associate it with numbers – the eternal continuum of numbers in two directions. As a Christian, I’ve always linked the number 3 to the Trinity, 12 to the tribes of Israel, 40 to the wandering Israelites in the desert … and somehow the number 13 has always joined the list as “unlucky.”

Anyone interested in the history of assigning 13 as an “unlucky” number can read about it online enough to get the idea that it’s a very old custom. I agree with the builders who are re-incorporating 13 into construction designs. When I was a sales director with Mary Kay Cosmetics, I learned that Mary Kay Ash was a fan of the number 13. She thought it was lucky and started her business on Friday, September 13, 1963. (I admire her for many other reasons, but I like this in particular.) We have traditionally given 13 a lot of power as “the” unlucky number.

For whatever reason, I always thought of 8 as my “lucky number.” I don’t remember how I arrived at that initially. “8” has disappointed me many times, so I sort of let that whole idea go. I was born in 1966, but not in the sixth month, so I was always happy about that. I suppose it would have been comforting to have been born in July of 1977, but that wasn’t meant to be for me.

When 2012 rolled around in the calendar, I didn’t blink an eye. What could be wrong with 2012? It seemed harmless enough as it began, and my family had some wonderful things happen in the early months of 2012: a college graduation, a beautiful wedding, the first grandchild! Weaved into that year, though, was one of the most painful things I’ve endured in life: divorce. As a country, we have endured some really challenging experiences, too. Just think about it for a minute. 2012 has been a wonderful, terrible, victorious, defeating, celebratory, mournful year. I don’t know whether to put it in the “good” or “bad” category!

So, now comes 2013. I’m not afraid of 13. I’m rather ambivalent about the number but I’m hopeful about the year. I pray for God to bless us in 2013, just like I do every other year. And God does bless us, even in the most difficult years. I suppose we think being lucky means having only good things happen to us. I’ve lived long enough to see that good and bad often tag along together. I feel lucky when my child wins two toys at once in the claw game and I feel loved and blessed when great things continue to happen for me and my children in the middle of my biggest disappointments.

Do you create slogans for each year to motivate yourself toward new goals? “See and be seen in 2013!” (Maybe not.) “Healthy and lean in 2013!” (Some of you might like that one.) “Eliminate mean in 2013!” (I wish.) 2013 may or may not be lucky, but I do pray for love and blessings for all in this new year! Hope beats luck every time.

When “why?” is impossible to answer

shooting-sandy-hook-elementaryI can remember several days in my lifetime when something so tragic happened somewhere in the world that all I could do in response was to cry about it. In a relative sense, the events happened to people far away from me and my everyday routine, but their story somehow reminded me of my own and, because of that bit of familiarity, I realized that it very easily could have happened to me or to someone I love dearly. Yesterday was one of those days.

The moment I drove into the carpool lane of my first-grader’s school, I imagined the scene at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Not even for a full second could I imagine what it would be like to hear that my own child had been tragically killed while at his school. Even that thought for a fraction of a second brought me to sobbing tears. I imagined at that moment, that perhaps my tears could somehow share and relieve the burden of immense pain that was the reality for those families of children and adults who were killed in the Connecticut school tragedy. I prayed that it could be so.

There have been other school shootings that brought the same painful feelings: Columbine and Virginia Tech, for instance. Then there was the movie theater shooting this year. Otherwise, I remember the numbing grief that I and so many others felt after 9-11 in 2001. In this Information Age, we clamber for the facts as these news stories surface. Even when we can’t get the full story up front, we receive the bits and pieces as they come in and begin to stitch them together. We busy ourselves answering the question, “What happened?” while the answer we really seek is to the question, “Why did this happen?” It becomes obvious that our attempt to answer the “why?” question is really an effort to somehow control events in the future to prevent anything similar from ever happening again. After seeing several of these events unfold, it seems clear that we won’t ever be able to fully prevent them as long as life exists on earth as we know it. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to find and take preventive measures, though.

As a mother and a children’s minister, my thoughts quickly turn to the questions and reactions of the children in my care. How on earth can such evil be explained to an innocent child without destroying his or her sense of security and trust? Having three children of my own, I am keenly aware that each child responds differently to the same situation and that children can surprise us with their profound perspectives that many times, in comparison to our own jaded perspectives, sound more like wisdom than our grown-up conclusions often do.

The mistake I think parents make most is that we tend to believe that our children require answers from us to all the questions in every situation – even those situations for which we can find no answers. Another common mistake is that parents don’t really listen closely to the concerns their children actually express. Instead, we tend to say things in the midst of difficult situations that attempt to answer our own questions or discomforts, and many times it comes in the form of pat answers and clich├ęs. These approaches are equally unhelpful in my opinion. I believe it is most helpful when we express our own pain and grief honestly without trying to answer the unanswerable.

In our state of vulnerability, we remember our humanity. For those of us who profess faith in God, we also remember His divinity and the broken-ness of our world. In tragedy, we have a unique opportunity to demonstrate true faith to our children. We do this, not by having the answers but by grieving openly while placing our hope for mercy and comfort in the God we don’t see. In moments when we look up from our grieving we begin to see God at work in the middle of a tragic situation through the courage of a teacher or the prayers of a child or the unspeakable peace of a father who has lost his only son.

As we begin to process our own grief, it becomes apparent that tragedies of this magnitude do not happen only to those unfamiliar, faraway people who are directly affected. These tragedies are our very own. The impact of loss is felt immediately inside us. Also inside us, we sense God nudging us toward others who need our help. We pray for those who are hurting and then do something to help those who might cross our path. When we can’t give answers, we learn to give ourselves. And pray. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”