It felt like I was watching an episode of Blue Bloods (our current indulgence), but these were not actors. They were the real life Jamie, Danny, and Frank Reagans. Local law enforcement having to deal with horror and tragedy, only this one didn't get nicely tied up in the end.
Cooper and I went to church in time for the first service and enjoyed the guest preacher, as our preacher still doesn't have his voice back 100%. We came home with Kayla, had lunch together, and I waited for Robert to arrive home after service number two. As soon as he got home, we left for the first of two back-to-back graduation parties. It was at the first party that I learned the new death toll.
"Did you guys hear about the shooting?" my friend Betsy asked.
"Yes, so terrible. 20 dead and so many more injured," I replied.
Our mutual friend Stacey corrected me, "It's actually 50 now. 50 people dead and almost that many injured."
Heartbreak. In the midst of the joyful milestone celebration of a graduate you've known his whole life. How do you reconcile these things?
On the way to party number two, I told Robert the news, "Honey, the shooter killed 50 people, not just 20."
Is 50 a shocking number? I wasn't even putting it together that it's almost double the amount of lives lost at the Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut. As if the numbers matter. Even one life is too many, but 26? 32 in Virginia? And now 50?
It wasn't until we got home after 5pm that the news stated it loud and clear:
Deadliest mass shooting in U.S. History.
I had to drive Kayla to meet Cooper for youth group at a sister church soon after we got home. On the way, I explained it to her: "Deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, honey."
In the ten minutes we had together, we talked about our relief that it was not someone claiming to be a Christian (this time), and about how we are called to love our neighbor regardless of religious and worldview and lifestyle differences. That these were human beings. They were creations of a good and loving Father in our view, and therefore their lives are precious.
But we also talked about shootings in general and the disturbing status quo nature of other widespread violence and hatred and persecution and intolerance - of which Christians are increasingly a target in the U.S. but even more so globally.
A text I received from my brother yesterday in the midst of all of this illustrates a trend:
"The elders of our church asked our pastor to resign this week due to his change in belief regarding marriage being between one man and one woman."
I applaud those elders for their devotion to God's Word, but there are few others joining in that applause. The cultural pressure for Christians to abandon God's Word and reject His will for marriage and sexuality is great, and I worry about the increasing pressure on my kids as they become adults. Holding to faith can be difficult enough. Holding to what many consider to be a "hateful" stance feels almost impossible for anyone with a heart or ounce of compassion.
So, Kayla and I talked about love. Loving people without conditions. Having appropriate expectations of those who don't believe God the same way we do. Being a good neighbor to all who are created in His image no matter what.
And we also talked about our only Hope.
If you can get shot in your elementary school, or your local movie theater, or your dorm, or shopping mall, you can also get killed in your worship service, at your church picnic, or on your mission trip. It could happen at random, or it could be due to your faith and belief. Really, it can happen anywhere to anyone. This is the world we live in, and it could get much, much worse. And I don't believe in a rapture out of tribulation. And Jesus warns us of times like these. And no, I'm not forecasting the end of all things here, but still...is there any way to be prepared? What do I teach my kids?
Just this, I think:
"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master,' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me." John 15: 18-25
Trial and persecution will come.
Suffering is a given.
You might be hated and accused of hatred.
Know that Christ can be trusted.
Walk with Him. Learn Him. Cling to Him.
Cast your fears on Him.
Surrender to His good and perfect will.
Know He is sovereign over all.
Death is not final for those who trust in Christ.
We value our life, but we are also ready to lay it down.
He is our healing in heartbreak.
He is our hope in death.
These are the things I want my kids to know, to hold fast to. (And realities I forget daily, and need to be reminded of, too.)
It was on the way home from dropping her off and having this conversations that the emotions of the day caught up with me and the tears came suddenly.
May tragedies like this serve to shore up the faith of my children. May they be strengthened to stand for Christ with both grace and truth. (Which is so much more difficult than adopting the cultural changes and trends and world views.)
May the many in Florida and beyond find hope in Christ in spite of the current horror and devastation. May He provide abundant grace for those who are grieving and left behind. And may Christians be the first to stand up and call the tragedy exactly what it is, offering help and hope. These were our neighbors. These are our neighbors.