I'm sitting in the living room in my parent's house trying to process all that has happened in the past 18 or so hours. I'm at home because one of my high school friends got married yesterday, and I got to be a bridesmaid. As we were waiting in a back room to take pictures, I saw that one of my friends from school was calling. I didn't answer because we were busy. But then, I saw another friend from school was calling, and I knew something must be up. She was sobbing and told me that our school's chapel was in flames. I didn't know what to say, and as I stood there in shock another friend from school called. I got off the phone with both pretty quickly but I was shaken as we went into the sanctuary. I told the other bridesmaids but not the bride--this was her day. But being in a church and having to put on a happy face while knowing that our church was burning as I stood there was not an easy thing. I felt like I was in the wrong place--I wanted to be at school grieving with my sisters and brothers. I felt almost as if I was betraying our school by celebrating.
The wedding ceremony was beautiful, and the bride and groom were blissfully happy. Their smiles warmed my heart. During the service, I listened closely to what the pastor said. Each word for me held tension but also a deeper meaning than normal--I was hungry for words of comfort, and in a strange way, although the reading had nothing to do with the fire, it somehow was appropriate. The message was one of love; a love that knows no bounds, that outlasts times of hurt and pain and grief.
Throughout the night I was touched by calls from my friends at school and by the people at the wedding who knew about what had happened checking on me. One of my friends actually called because he hadn't seen me all day and wanted to make sure I hadn't burned down with the building! I knew that the VTS community was gathering and praying, and though I wished I could have been there with them, by their reaching out to me, I was.
I got back home late last night. The reception was great and I managed to have a good time--dancing and singing and talking with old friends helped take my mind off of the events for a while. This morning I woke up and trudged downstairs to my computer to finally take a look at pictures. I cried as I watched videos and the pictures people posted. I loved our mismatched little chapel. I loved the windows, the mismatched wood; it had personality. It was eclectic, just like the Episcopal Church. It wasn't fancy, but a humble hodgepodge--a testimony to people who had gone on before us. So many prayers and beautiful music and sermons were lifted up in that space. Like many others before me, I received so much encouragement from looking at the words behind the altar: "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel."
What has really surprised and made me proud is the response of my classmates. Their status messages are largely ones of hope amidst this tragedy. Of treasured memories. We are all reeling, but in the words of the dean, "We're a community that transcends bricks and mortar." Yes, we are hurting. Yes, this has been a tragedy. But like the phoenix, we will rise from the ashes; we will get through this, and we will come out of it stronger. God is present here, and I look to the future with hope.
(Special thanks to Cayce R. for his photos)