All things work for good.
On April 24, 2016 my cousin Robert “Robby” Braxton woke up and attended what would be his last church service. It was a beautiful Sunday morning, but the outcome of that day was anything but beautiful. Shortly after the worship team began singing the Lord’s praises, Robby was shot and killed by a fellow church goer over a disagreement. Although the details as to why the argument even occurred is cloudy, the reality is that Robby was shot twice in his chest and lost his life.
I’ll never forget the call I received that morning from my mom. “Get to the hospital, Robby’s been shot.” Shot by what I asked? I had no idea what she meant. I definitely wasn’t thinking that my cousin was shot by a gun that’s for sure. Her reply: “Robby was shot in church, get to the hospital, it doesn’t look good, get here now!”
Shortly after arriving to the hospital, I was told that he didn’t make it. Two shots, one of the bullets punctured his lung, he never had a chance of surviving it. Robby was 27 when he went home to be with the Lord. In denial, I just kept thinking not my cousin. I didn’t get it, how could this of happened at his own church? How could God allow this to go down in His place of worship?
I don’t know the answers to those questions. I’ve searched and have only come up with more questions. But I do know that with an entire community and really the entire nation and parts of the world watching, Robby’s church (Keystone Fellowship, Montgomery County, PA) as well as our entire family was now in the spot light. Our responses to the situation would be under intense scrutiny, specifically our take on how would God fearing people explain such a tragedy and still proclaim the goodness of God?
In our anger and confusion, we turned to the word of God for answers. We gathered together and cried and continued to cry. I can feel the pain of it all now as I type. So many memories of such an amazing man with so much life left to live. It was stolen from him. It was stolen from all the people who loved him dearly. It’s still so surreal. We received so many prayers for hope, strength and understanding in such a horrific situation. For me personally, I found myself glued to Romans 8 as I searched for clarity. I was beyond devastated and I needed to make some sense of it all, if that was even possible.
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
When tragedy strikes, it’s the way in which we respond to it that most determines the effect of the tragedy on our lives. Without a doubt, there is room for sorrow. Plenty of room for it. There is room for anger and confusion. Which there was plenty of. These are natural responses to tragedy. Necessary responses. We often try to gloss over the pain, thinking there is only room for either acknowledgement or healing. The truth is we have the space for both. We cannot prepare ourselves for tragedy. But in its wake, as in the case of Robby’s death, we can keep breathing because our God is holding us in His hands. He will not leave us. He was big enough to part the Red Sea, big enough to guide Joshua to the Promise Land, big enough keep hope alive for Joseph as he sat in a jail wrongly accused, big enough to make the cross bearable for Jesus, and He is without a doubt still big enough to hold you through your tragedy. He is going before you, guiding and not letting go. That’s His promise.
In light of Robby’s passing, over 20 of his closest friends received the Lord as their savior. The Lord used a horrific tragedy to build His kingdom and further the hope that there is life after death. Robby is gone. I know that. But his legacy will forever live on. His church, and our family is stronger now than it ever was before due to the tragedy.
What the enemy used to deliver fear and division, ultimately united us all, both believers and non-believers in a bond that will never be broken. God uses all things to bring glory to His name. All things, the good as well as the bad.