There’s this new and growing camp of parents and students. It’s one of the very worst camps to belong to. 20 years ago, this camp was formed here in the US, but it remained really exclusive. Today, you could build a city around it. Our Denver community makes up a frightening percentage of this city and unfortunately, this week’s school shooting only raised that percentage.
School shootings are the new tornado or hurricane. We have systems in place and drills we practice in the event a shooter targets our kids, our teachers, our front office workers, our custodians….our learning communities. We don’t put our heads between our knees in the hallway in case a natural disaster occurs, but rather we pull a fabric tie from the inside, push a magic button alerting swat teams and hide our kids in utility closets and supply rooms and under wooden desks meant for grading essays. Most of us have assumed these drills were meant for “other” schools. And then it’s YOUR school and that mindset comes crashing to the ground.
3 months ago, we were quite literally thrown to Grand Rapids as a family. Our relocation was sudden and undeniable and smooth. We knew not to second guess it and today we know why. We know exactly why. This week’s shooting was our school – the school we left mid-year and had chosen so carefully for our son. The school that loved him and embraced him. It was one of his homes. Today it sits empty of learning and students and custodians and front desk staff. Instead, it’s filled with police and investigators and I would imagine construction crews covering bullet holes and soft scrubbing blood stains. Blood stains outside of doors where Rylan’s friends hid in closets and where fellow classmate heroes tackled shooters to the ground and saved their friends from unthinkable slaughter.
We sit here today with an incredible amount of “survivor’s guilt.” We should have been there and we weren’t. That’s grace and nothing but grace – NOTHING. But everyone else was there and everyone else is now reeling in the aftermath. Given the anxiety and trauma we feel from 1200 miles away, we can’t bring our minds and hearts to what we would be feeling had we not left. Had we waited with knotted stomachs in that rec center to see if our kid got off the bus. Had we been forced to add “school shooting anxiety” to our son’s list of complicated challenges. I want to vomit when I allow myself to go there and all those parents have no choice because they ARE there. Those parents and those 1,800 kids are officially part of this growing club.
Where do we go from here? That’s what everyone asks, right? It’s an impossible question to answer as an individual parent and so I’ve been asking where we go as individual parents as a starting point? This concept of keeping our kids “safe” is an illusion and it’s a lie we can no longer promise them. Physical safety is what we naturally ensure to them as we hug them and tuck them into bed. As a mom, I can’t promise my kids safety and I gave up using that language years ago. Churches, schools, movie theatres, marathons…we’re not physically safe anywhere. It’s an illusion and one we’re so quick to promise our littles. Their physical bodies are not ours to protect and control. Our physical bodies are breakable.
As I talked to our kids about the horror that fell too close to home, we talked about safety in their hearts and their minds and through their courage. We highlighted how deeply loved they are by countless people and God and how no bullet, no mentally ill human, no evil can ever take away the safety of being loved and chosen. NO ONE can eliminate their courage to stand up and walk into a school that fell victim to mental illness and evil. NO ONE can change the fact that their hearts are overflowing with goodness and support and the ability to do amazing things through their hurt.
We talked about this big God who will walk with them through the darkest dark and show them where to find the light. And I clarify that God is not someone who will never “allow” hard things to happen to us. We don’t lean on him to make our bodies safe. Our world is broken and beautiful and we will experience every realm of both those realities. Our bodies will hurt and so we focus our energy and our time into the work of our hearts and our minds. We focus our faith on a God who picks us up when hell visits, because hell visits all of us. We mold our hearts to withstand all the hard we will experience and gain strength outside of our physical bodies. Because no one can take away what lives inside us. That’s why I told our kids.
As I think about this latest shooting, I just want to grab those two shooters by their faces and tell their eyes just how valuable and loved they are too. They made horrible decisions and caused unthinkable pain and yet they are still children who are in obvious pain and experiencing mental illness. Perhaps they’ll receive the opportunity now to learn that about themselves as they deal with the consequences of their actions.
Can we all just make sure our kids know how safe they are in their hearts and their minds? Can we look the kids in our life in the eyes and tell them of their immense value and courage to live and grow through really hard things? That feels like somewhere we can at least start today.