A Meditation on the Death of Olivia Greenlee
This Wednesday (February 12th), I woke up because classes at our university had been canceled due to the icy weather and Liz had come back home. I was happy about that, because I had just had a terrible dream about her dying and had an eerie feeling inside of me (why I had that dream and how I felt this way at that time is still a mystery to me). She fell back asleep and I decided to grab by tablet and read Twitter for a little while.
I came across a tweet that said “My heart goes out to the friends and family of Olivia Greenlee and especially to my fellow Singers.” Even though I had no idea who Olivia Greenlee was, this message concerned me because my wife is in Singers (our university choir) and I have spent a lot of time around the music department and have come to have a special love for the people in it. The next post I saw had a link to an announcement on our school's website which read, “A Union University student was found dead in her car in the parking lot of an auxiliary building on the edge of the Union campus early Feb. 12. Olivia Greenlee, 21, a commuter student from Dyersburg, was found inside her vehicle in the Luther Hall parking lot. A gun was found inside the car as well, according to a Jackson Police Department release. The preliminary cause of death appears to be a gunshot wound.”
I went to Facebook to look up who Olivia was, to see if I might recognize her face even though I didn’t recognize her name. As I was looking at her picture, Liz woke up. I put my tablet down, and, with a voice and face that let on that something was wrong, asked her “Do you know Olivia Greenlee?” With some confusion, she affirmed that she did. After my facial expression turned to complete sadness, she asked me what was wrong. I told her that Olivia had been killed.
Of course, this was followed by many tears, sobbing, and a few loud outbursts. I held her and cried with her and she told me about Olivia– how she was engaged, was doing student teaching, and was working on a mutual friend’s senior recital with Liz. I was glad classes were cancelled that day, because I didn’t want to let her go.
Since that morning, there has been a sheet of sorrow hanging over Union. Many of us, even if we didn’t know this girl, have people we love who did or simply hurt for our friends. There was a beautiful chapel service yesterday in her honor; I cried streams the whole time.
I know everyone has been processing differently this week, but for me I have a few thoughts that keep circulating through my mind.
First, I can’t stop thanking God for every day I have with my wife. I know that I am not promised another day on this earth, but rarely do I stop and think that I am not promised that Liz will have another day on this earth either. Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus upholds all things by his powerful word. All things– including life and death. With the speaking of a single syllable, God could bring my bride to be with him. So I praise him for every gracious minute with her he gives me.
Second, the cry of the early church, “Maranatha” has been on my heart all week. Maranatha is an Aramaic word meaning “come, Oh Lord” or “the Lord has come” and it was a common encouragement used by the early persecuted church. They would greet each other with this word, to remind one another that “though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us”, Jesus has come, and is coming back; he will not abandon us. All I can muster the strength to say in times like these is “Lord, come, end this injustice and suffering!”
Third, I praise God that he will execute justice against people who cause pain and suffering in the world. I’m so thankful that we have a promise that God’s wrath will either crush them or Jesus, in grace, will apply his atonement in which he took God’s wrath in their place, and will kill that old person and make them a new creation. So many people want to get rid of the wrath and justice of God, but then what hope do we have in times like these? The overwhelming comfort of the Bible is that good will win in the end.
Ultimately, I am reminded that death was not part of the original creation and that it is my fault that things like this happen. Because I have sinned, death, tears, and mourning friends and parents are a reality. I mourn over my sin and confess my brokenness before God. I praise him that he has not counted it against me but has taken it upon himself and has forgiven me and made me new. And I join all creation in “groaning as in the pains of childbirth” (Rom. 8:22), waiting for the day when all of this will be made right.
Reeling, staggering, speechless, grieving: These are words that describe us this week. We have not known what to pray for as we ought, and we have trusted that the Spirit has interceded for us with groanings that are too deep for words. – Todd Brady