I was working from home yesterday, furiously pillaging through the last of the Holiday cards for the office. It had been a month-long labor of love, and I was ready to forget about them until next year. My husband and I had a lunch meeting with our financial adviser, and we talked at length about finally getting our life insurance straightened out and in line, you know, just in case.
Not two minutes after the meeting was over, I was sitting at my desk and Ben was in the other room. He had just put Olivia down for a nap. I heard him gasp, and he began to murmur something, but I couldn't make out what he was saying.
"What? What's going on? What is it? WHAT???" I was getting anxious to hear about the newest stupid YouTube video he had discovered, but in a voice that only a new father could have, he asked me if I had heard about the shooting. At an elementary school. Somebody had shot up a Kindergarten class.
In milliseconds, I went from shock, to rage, to gut-wrenching panic, to guilt, and then finally landed on fear. Why is it that my baby girl is upstairs sleeping safely in her crib, while twenty other sets of parents just heard the news that they will never get to wipe sticky hands, read bedtime stories, or watch their five year old open the presents that have been waiting for under the tree?
Like many of you, I spent the next hour, completely numb. I just sat with tears pouring, and watched the live stream of the five AP photos they had on loop. These weren't even kids. They were babies. Babies.
I pulled myself together so I could go downtown to the office to mail the cards and pick up a few things. Before leaving, I laid eyes on Olivia who was still sleeping in her crib, and told Ben I loved him. I walked out to the driveway to a flat tire.
Not a big deal, not today anyway; the ones I love are still inside my house.
I got in Ben's truck and headed down the road to the post office. My mind raced. It went there. We are going to homeschool her. I know it is four years away, but still. If this stuff is happening now, what is going to be the norm in four years?
We live in a historically dangerous city. There are sex offenders up and down my street. My neighbors are convicted felons. But I know how to keep an eye out at night around here, and I know that there are people we can trust. An elementary school? I would never feel like I need to watch my back in a place where crust on sandwiches may be the biggest problem in a day.
Mall shootings? Church shootings? Movie theater shootings? They said in Aurora that if you can't go to the movies and be safe, then where can you go? But a kindergarten classroom? What is wrong with us? As a culture? As a nation? As humanity?
I thought about video game violence. I thought about guns. I thought about the slaughtering of humans we watch as entertainment. When did the killing of precious lives become something we oogle over for entertainment? I am a part of this epidemic. Epidemic? Can it be considered an epidemic? If sixteen mass shootings in the US in 2012 alone cannot be considered "excessively prevalent", I don't know what could. By the fault of no individual, we are literally steeped in violence.
Then I went back to the fear. It doesn't matter where it comes from, it is happening. It is real. I am scared. I am afraid for my girl and the world where she is living. How could it be considered responsible to bring another life into this mess?
I pulled in to the post office. I went in, took care of business, and to be honest, I forgot about Sandy Hook. I got wrapped up in the $2.50/lb local shrimp stand I passed on the way home. My mind was focused on getting the invoices out and making sure the FedExing was taken care of. And the flat tire that didn't matter on my way out the door? It was more than urgent now. I needed to make sure Ben had gotten in touch with the tow truck so we could get them replaced before the weekend. I have places to go and things to do before Monday. Christmas will be here in ten days and there are still a few more gifts to buy.
And just like that, the pandemonium and the unthinkable that was unfolding 1000 miles away? I unthought it.
The evening news was sad. But my tears were already dry. The limb already severed. Twenty babies and seven adults slaughtered at the hands of another hurt and broken child, who then took his own life. Sounds like material for an episode of Dateline. Make room for the next tragedy, because it will certainly come. I even heard a news anchor say something like, "...as painful as these mass shootings are, we know that it will happen again. It may be days, weeks, or months, but it is inevitable."
We faced a leisurely Saturday morning today. One of the rare ones: Ben is home and has nowhere to be until late this afternoon, it is cloudy and chilly, and I had to go in and wake Olivia. We moseyed downstairs and ate chocolate cake for breakfast and listened to Ben read from the advent devotional. It is by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was hung by Nazi's with piano strings from a meat hook in a concentration camp. He knew sadness because he lived in the thick of one of the most shameful times in the history of our planet. The title of today's reading: "Overcoming Fear".
"Human beings are dehumanized by fear...But they should not be afraid. We should not be afraid! That is the difference between human beings and the rest of creation, that in all hopelessness, uncertainty, and guilt, they know a hope, and this hope is: Thy will be done. Yes. Thy will be done...We call the name of the One before whom the evil in us cringes, before whom they shake and take flight; the name of the One who alone conquered fear, captured it and led it away in a victory parade, nailed it to the cross and banished it to nothingness; the name of the One who is the victory cry of the humanity that is redeemed from the fear of death--Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified and lives. He alone is the Lord of fear; it knows him as its Lord and yields to him alone. Therefore, look to him in your fear. Think about him, place him before your eyes, and call him. Pray to him and believe that he is now with you and helps you. The fear will yield and fade, and you will become free through faith in the strong and living Savior Jesus Christ.
Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness. God comes into the very midst of evil and death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love...god wants to always be with us, wherever we may be--in our sin, suffering, and death. We are no longer alone; God is with us."
Does it sound crazy to you? Does science explain it away for you? Has religion burned you or the ones you love? This is my response: Experience it for yourself. Experience the peace that comes through Jesus. It cannot be explained. It passes all understanding. Open up and let Him in, there is nothing to fear.
And to the church, we aren't doing our job. We aren't functioning as the church was made to function. Love God. Love people. WE AREN'T DOING OUR JOB. What if someone came alongside the killer, and had loved him? If even just one act of kindness, to remind him that humans have souls, people are still people, regardless of the sickness that is all around us? ME. I am not doing my job. I am focused on ME. How can I be happy? How can I have the next best thing? How can I do better, be better, have better, look better?
I already have the answer, it is Jesus and the peace that only he can bring. It is up to me to share that, and bring the focus away from myself. We as a church are so focused on the wrong and the shame. I am so good at loving other people's unlovables, until I am met with someone I can stand to unlove. We have to stop the judgement, and we all do it. One of the things I love most about being a Christ-follower is that I have no responsibility to judge anyone. God will take care of that on my behalf, all I have to do is love God, and love people.
We label these tragedies as wake up calls. But when will we wake up?
When will I wake up?
I've been clinging to this song over the past few hours. Give it a listen.