Celina Cass & The God of the Tapestry

Last night we all heard the news that we were hoping not to face; 11 year old Celina Cass is gone.  Celina went missing the night July 25th from her bedroom, and overnight a nation prayed for her safe return.  At our core, we wanted to believe the young girl had just run away.   With each passing day, that likelihood slipped further and further away. 

Each of us has our own theory of what had happened to young Celina.   Some thought a midnight intruder had struck.  Others blamed an unknown internet predator.  As countless people watched the news coverage we hoped and prayed for that happy ending which ultimately was not to be had.

All of our prayers were left unfulfilled when authorities announced that divers had discovered her body at a hydroelectric dam near her house.   

Now as we sit speechless watching news reports, reality slowly sets in.  Celina is yet another child who will not be coming home again.   As we still sit in the shadow of Casey and Caylee Anthony, we once again find ourselves face to face with the same questions all over again.   We find ourselves asking those questions that never seem to be answered,…or whose answers always seem to fall short.

Why do these horrific things keep happening?  Why is innocence destroyed so brutally and so frequently?  What are we to do, to think, or to believe when we find ourselves so soon in this spot again?   It’s hard not to ask tough questions about God, the goodness of humanity, and the nature of evil and pain in light of these heartbreaking moments. Where is God?

As a pastor and as someone who is committed to leading others to experience the same God that has changed my world, I wish that I had some collection of insights that made sense of all of this.   I wish there was something that I could give that would adequately answer why.  I struggle with how I tell others of a God that is my source of strength and hope, while so many plead for answers in light of the many Caylee’s and Celina’s they see around them. 

As I find myself in these moments, longing for answers that are not to be had, I am reminded of a story that was shared with me some time ago.   It was a story that I originally shared during a funeral service and have repeatedly returned to again and again.

The story has helped me move towards accepting those things which I may never understand.     It a story of the funeral service of a young mother that passed away from breast cancer.    At one point during that service the pastor began comforting the mother’s oldest child who was perhaps ten or twelve.  

The child wanted to know why it was his Mom that had to leave so early.   He wanted answers to the question that is ringing through all our minds today;   why does one suffer and another doesn’t?   Why does one live to a ripe old age and another get taken before our time?   Why does one get ripped from us, by the evil of disease, violence, or anger?   The questions the boy was asking are the same questions we ask.  They are the same questions we ask again, and again, and again.  

The pastor, hearing the questions, took the boy by the hand, and brought him to his office.    There on his desk was a box.    Looking the boy square in the eye, he said; “Sometimes life certainly doesn’t make sense”.   As he did he pulled out this large folded piece of fabric from inside that box.    

Showing the fabric, he pointed to a confused mass of threads and strings.   “See these threads,”  The pastor asked the boy, “There are so many, aren’t there?”    There are some that are long, a lot longer than others.    Then there are really short ones.    Some are knotted and tangled, some are long and separate.     From our vantage point, it’s just a mish-mash.    It’s a mess.”  

The boy, now with a scrunched brow, agreed.

“What we miss” the pastor continued “Is the view from the other side”.  

With that he turned over the fabric, revealing a beautiful antique tapestry. The tapestry was beautiful, and one of a kind by anyone’s standards.  It was in that box having just returned from a repair and cleaning.  It was one of the church’s most valued possessions.

I cannot tell why some of us live long and peaceful lives, or why others have fates like Celina.  All of those long and the short threads, those that are tangled and knotted and those that are free,…they are like our lives.   Some short, some long.  Some smooth, and some not.  Yet somehow they merge into something greater, something infinitely more beautiful.

 From where we sit today, all of this might not make sense.   We might find ourselves angry or asking why.     Without meaning to sound cliché, this is the mystery of life.  Yet, That aside; this I know with my fullest heart and mind….there will come a day, when we will see the other side of the tapestry, and the beauty will overwhelm us.   That alone is where I gain my confidence.  That moment is where I put my trust.   Upon that I build my faith.

As I look at the picture of that young girl above, I want answers that are not to be had.  I look at that girl, and I think about the evil that one must possess to hurt another like that.   I want an answer as to why this girl was taken so young.   I want to know why a six, a sixteen, or a sixty year old gets cancer and dies.  I want to know why there are children that never know safety, peace, or love.  I want to know…but sadly… there are no answers to be had.

In the end, I must trust the God of the tapestry, who reveals the beauty of other side… in his own time.  That child, like every other, is a gift from God that no man can steal that away.   It’s the trust in the tapestry of God’s plan that forms my foundation, and it is that which keeps me from looking at Celina’s picture, and losing faith.  

May you rest in peace, little one.

(The tapestry metaphor is a common one.   After some casual research the earliest I have found of its use in an illustration for grief and children comes from Rev. David A. Tietz (circa 1999), from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Taylor Texas)

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