Las Vegas, Two Churches, and Our 25th Anniversary

This morning I woke up at 4:00 am. I was just going to the bathroom but my phone lay on my bedside table flashing away. I picked it up and read the screen’s alert about the shooting in Las Vegas. I still went to the bathroom but I didn’t go back to sleep.

I have been to Las Vegas three times, but never before I got married. I went with my husband the first time early in our marriage. It was a winter weekend and airfares were cheap. I went to the airport straight from work but almost missed the plane because I answered a phone call from a patient’s mother. Las Vegas seemed like another planet to me. It was interesting and overwhelming at the same time. I couldn’t get warm enough as the winter wind blew down the Strip. We stayed in a little motel called the Desert Rose Inn.

The second time we brought our young daughter so we did all the Vegas family friendly activities. She was too short to ride the New York New York roller coaster (which made us all sad) but we had fun at M and M World. We stayed at Luxor so we got to ride the diagonal elevator which was strange but fun.

The third time my husband and I went alone while our daughter was at camp. We stayed at Caesar’s Palace and saw Elton John in concert. I was getting the hang of Vegas by this time. We stayed away from the smoky casinos and slept and swam in the pool and walked and ate. It was a great trip.

This day many of us may be remembering our own times in Las Vegas. I only have a little Vegas experience, but my Vegas affinity grew as my marriage grew. My husband and I have begun celebrating our 25th anniversary. It isn’t until next month but we are celebrating the month before, the month of, and the month after…because twenty-five years is a lot to celebrate.

So what about two churches? Well, two churches because my husband recently started his position as interim rector at Ascension Episcopal Church in Houston (church number one) after serving as supply priest all summer for Grace Episcopal Church in Galveston. I have been going to Ascension most Sundays so far. But I belong to Trinity Episcopal Church in midtown Houston (church number two). This is the church where I lead a monthly women’s circle and the church that our family went with to Israel on pilgrimage in 2015 and it is a church that I love. I wasn’t there most of the summer but have started going again to Trinity’s last service, a jazz Eucharist, after I go to the midmorning service at Ascension. So, since the end of the summer, I have been praying in two churches most Sundays.

So what again? Well, because praying in two churches every Sunday for a few weeks has been balm to my soul but it didn’t stop what happened in Las Vegas last night. Being married for twenty-five years to the love of my life who took me to Las Vegas three times so far makes me so grateful that I can’t see straight thinking about all the joy and goodness in my life. But all that joy didn’t stop what happened in Las Vegas last night.

Or in Orlando. Or in Sandy Hook. Or in Columbine.

I grew up practicing civil defense drills curling up under my desk at school or curling up in the hall. But it seems like no matter what drills you practice, you just couldn’t be ready for what happened last night in Las Vegas if you were there listening to Jason Aldean sing.

Things happen like this. And it seems, at least so far, that nothing will stop it. Not two churches, not all the churches in the world. Not twenty-five years of marriage, not all the marriages in the world. And Las Vegas is only the most recent tragedy.

There are a lot of ideas about what could be done. About gun control. About better and more accessible and more proactive mental health services. About security. And all of these things and many more bear fervent consideration.

But for today, I am only brought back to grace. Because in the mass shootings and the earthquakes and the hurricanes and the wars and the everything, we remain human beings. I believe that grace exists and that my life depends on that grace every day. There is light that is offered and hands that are extended in a million different directions every moment of our lives. If not for this grace, this very air that I breathe, why anything?

I am not a theologian and I am not an expert in anything. We are drowning in sadness and anger and it gets harder to remember how things can be different. But I know what keeps my heart beating and I know what enlivens my spirit. I am humbled by my circumstances and I know that all is gift.

And so, being married for almost twenty-five years and going to two churches for now and carrying sweet memories of our trips to Las Vegas, I turn again to pray for our sisters and brothers, the ones who died, the ones who may be dying even now, the ones who are hurt, the ones who will carry the trauma the rest of their days, the ones who lost loved ones, the first responders, and all the responders. And I pray for all of us. I pray that somehow we will find our way through this season and learn the way of wholeness, the way of kindness and mercy, the way of grace. There is nothing easy about any of this…but I trust that grace is here in our midst. Our children and their children and all the children need us to hold it and treasure it and share it.

May we learn to remember who we really are together. May we know the bonds of common humanity that make us whole. May we make room, even a little room, to trust in this grace, today and all the days of our lives.