I remember where I was 5 years ago.
Not to long before, I resigned my position at New Life Church. Pastor Ted was gone, and so were about 5,000 other people -- and the stress of having a full time business, a large family AND being on staff at a church that seemed to be falling apart at the seems was just too much. I had no intention of abandoning ship, but I also knew, for my sanity, I needed to simplify. Taking the advice of my sister, I decided to simplify by eliminating what was causing me the most stress.
Had I not made that decision, not only myself, but my entire family would have been in the exact hallway -- as we usually were -- the gunman entered that morning.
My mother had been visiting and we just so happened to leave church early that morning to take her back to the airport. I remember telling her what a safe place Colorado Springs was on that drive. Billy was home with our small children, but Elizabeth stayed back to finish church and hang out with some family friends.
I returned home shortly after service would have ended. The phone rang. Billy answered and heard Elizabeth's frightened voice on the other end. The conversation went something like this...
Elizabeth, "Daddy, don't come up to the church! Someone is here shooting people!"
Billy asks Elizabeth's to repeat herself.
Billy, "Elizabeth, where are you? What adults are with you?"
Elizabeth, "I'm in Pastor Brady's Office. I'm calling from Pastor Daniel's cell phone. He's here, Pastor Brady and some man named Jack Hafford".
We were alarmed. And, "Don't come up to the church," translated in her dads mind to, "Shanna, get in the car. We are going to get Elizabeth!"
We dropped our small children off at Billy's parents and headed to the New Life building, only 1 mile from our home.
It was already surrounded by SWAT team members, with shields and weapons ready for the possibility of a second shooter. We briefly discussed driving through the building to get our daughter. We knew exactly which door would be closet to her. Reasonable, we were not. We argued. Fortunately, we obeyed the SWAT team and drove to the perimeter of the campus. Looking back, a better choice than driving through the building.
What happened before we arrived?
Service had ended a little early that day. Elizabeth had been heading up the stairs to the executive office to find her grandmother. Half way up the stair case, the gunman entered the hallway opposite of her. The security guard that eventually brought him down, entered the hallway from behind her. Hearing gunshots and cussing disoriented Elizabeth. Confused she started to descend back down the stairs -- straight into the danger and line of fire below. A pastor, locked behind a glass door and shielded by SWAT team members at the top of the stairs, looked out and saw her. He came out of the offices, tore down the stairs and pulled her back up with him until the SWAT team would open up the executive wing and let them back in.
Shortly after the campus was secured, she was marched downstairs, hands in the air -- through hallways strewn with bullet holes, blood and glass -- and directed into an area of the building -- where she would be questioned by police along with others until she was released into the custody of family friends and brought out to her parents. Four LONG hours after her original phone call.
That evening we carted many, many people whose cars were still in the "lock downed" area from the perimeter of the campus to our home. I'm from the South -- so when tragedy happens I feed people. We didn't even know 1/2 the people who wound up in our care that night...I just continued to pull plate after plate from the fridge.
For days we were distracted, hyper vigilant. Elizabeth couldn't sleep. New Life offered counseling. We returned to the "living room" of the building -- worshiped, prayed, anointed the halls with oil -- we decided that we would stay.
2 young girls were killed that day at our church. Questions like, "Why them? Why this family? Why NOT my family?" Ran through my mind day and night.
I grieved -- what happened, yes -- but mostly -- I grieved what could have happened. I didn't say it out loud, but I couldn't identify with all the people saying how thankful they were. I would just silently shake my head in agreement...but felt dazed on the inside.
10 days or so after the event, Billy said, "Shanna, I don't know why the Work's family lost their daughters. I just know that on THAT day, for SOME REASON, God said we could keep ours." And, at that moment, for whatever reason, I was freed to be thankful. And I did feel thankful. Sad, and thankful. Afraid, and brave. Confused and certain. All. At. The. Same. Time.
Matthew 5:45 He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Our family has had it's fair share, and then some, of tragedy -- so has our home church -- and many other families we know. We aren't the picture of wisdom and calm in the midst of pain. We argue, panic -- both want to be in control. It isn't pretty.
In fact, after 18 years of marriage, Billy and I have come to believe that most couples are only 1 crisis away from divorce. Certainly, given the same circumstances, most churches are 1 crisis away from becoming used car lots.
My revelation today, not only about New Life, but about my family -- who walks through difficult circumstances even today -- is that, well, WE'RE STILL HERE. Our church is recovering. Our marriage is good. Most days, we still like each other. A lot. Our daughter, who very rarely still has night terrors and panic attacks, has become a remarkable young woman. Remarkable.
There are places where we feel vulnerable, hurt, tired -- but -- we're still here. Broken, sometimes doubting, but still coming. Still praying, seeking, asking. And that is faith.
God is God, and we are not.