Trying to Make Sense of an Ache Beyond Words

I heard news last week of the kind that leaves you with your face in your hands, aching and praying for a heart-broken family.

Shannon Dingle taught at Summit in recent years on adopting and caring for children with special needs.  I didn’t know her well, but admired her vivacity and loving grit from a distance.  She and husband, Lee, were parents to six children, some of whom arrived with needs and gifts other children do not possess.

A few weeks ago, the family made a trip to the beach.  Lee was playing with the kids in the surf when an immense wave crashed into him.  It smashed him into the sand, snapping his neck.  Lee’s throat immediately swelled, cutting off oxygen to his brain.  Some of his children and other onlookers tried to save him, but nothing could be done to reverse the swift damage.  Lee died July 19.

So many of us mourn.  We mourn for Lee, his life and fatherly joy cut short.  We mourn for Shannon, now deprived of her tender husband and life partner.  We mourn for each of the children, now without the provision, protection and care of a loving father.  It is an ache beyond words.

Deep down, we also grieve for ourselves.  This is, in part, because we sense that the world is a colder place without a man like Lee.  But I think we feel something else as well.  We feel fear, too.  For if a man of Lee’s faith and character can be struck down in an instant by a rogue wave, no one is safe.

In pondering this fact, I had to admit that I still yearn for a guarantee: an iron-clad certainty that if I follow Christ with all my heart, things like this won’t happen.

Lee and Shannon Dingle and their six children.

Don’t get me wrong.  My theology says otherwise.  I know that Scripture does not merely suggest, but actually promises, that in this life we will face hardship and trial.  The “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 carries not only heroes who ruled kingdoms, cheated death and triumphed over foes.  It also tells of the faithful who lived in holes in the ground, were beaten, stoned and sawed in two.

Yes, I know that giving our lives wholeheartedly to God doesn’t guarantee anything, even life itself.  But it is still breathtakingly sobering to be reminded of that.

I do trust that Lee now knows joy beyond words.  I trust that Shannon and the kids will be loved and comforted by God and His people in Lee’s absence.  I trust that God can work all things for good.  But I’m also reminded that I often have not the smallest grasp of what “good” really is, at least in the short run.

So no, I do not believe that we can “make sense” of a tragedy like this, at least if by “sense” one means searching out all the twists and turns that ultimately make this pathway the very best that could have been for the Dingle Family.  Our finite minds cannot even begin to make that journey.

Indeed, as it says in Romans, “creation groans.”

With those two words that so aptly describe this moment are two more in Scripture that belong alongside them.  The shortest verse in the Bible may also be its most profound.  “Jesus wept.”  And I suspect he wept at Lee’s graveside, just as he did at did at Lazarus’s, even as he knew that in short time all would be set right.

Creation groans.  Jesus weeps.

As all who have experienced great sorrow know, it is not the final word.  Night yields to dawn, winter to spring.  Even burned forests, hardly a year after being torched to cinder, rise up with soft green growth, azure lupines, and, eventually, young pine and fir.

But even then, in the newborn forest, one remains freshly aware of how tenuous it is.  They feel how fire could so easily rise again from a single match or lightning strike.

No, there are no guarantees.  Only promises.  Promises of both beauty and sorrow, of peace and persecution, of funerals and feasts, of dancing and mourning.  Promises that this life will, indeed, carry pain and uncertainty.  Promises that God will comfort and guide His children through it all, even the valley of the shadow of death.

I knew only a little about the decisions Lee made in life.  But the choices that I and so many others saw from a distance tell us that he sought to live with all his heart for things of eternal value, welcoming and loving children who needed his love, just as he needed theirs.

In those decisions, at very least, he had no regret.  That we can guarantee.

A Go-Fund-Me Account has been set up to help care for the Dingle Family.  You can see it and join in HERE