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Another School Shooting: How Many More Tuesdays Will I Read About Senseless Killings?

Screenshot taken from The Charlotte Observer

On 30 April 2019, a gunman burst into a lecture hall on University of North Carolina Charlotte’s campus on the last day of classes for the semester. The students were giving final presentations when the gunman started shooting. Two individuals were killed as a result, and one of them died tackling the shooter in an attempt to stop him.

Though the news broke on Tuesday, it was only several days later that I finally opened an article about it. I wasn’t intentionally avoiding it—it’s just that, “Student Killed While Fighting Shooter” didn’t draw my attention like it used to. It wasn’t until I saw several articles about the same topic that I realized something had happened.

As I grappled with the news of this shooting, I found myself perplexed as to how or why I didn’t pay this story any attention until several days after it occurred. If I’m being honest, once I actually registered a headline, my first reaction was, “Really? Another one?!” After a record number of school shooting incidents in 2018 (at least 23), it seemed I was becoming numb to them in 2019.

While I was still trying to process the impact of the violence at UNC Charlotte, it happened again. On Tuesday this week, only seven days after the loss at UNC Charlotte, another shooting took place.

Another school, another shooter, another life mercilessly taken.

This time it was in Colorado, and prefaced by a dark irony that just last month, the school, along with hundreds of others, closed temporarily as the 20th anniversary of a particularly deadly school shooting known as “Columbine” approached. As of today, at least one person is confirmed dead, and several others were shot and injured.

I find myself, yet again, just reeling.

What do I do? What can I say? How can this happen? Why does this happen?

 

I can honor victims and their family in my response

I realize that I have no idea how to answer any of these questions. And that’s exactly why I feel myself becoming more numb to such news. Tragedies are horrible, and it’s easier to turn a blind eye than to engage with them. This is perpetuated by the fact that most of us feel utterly helpless when it comes to responding to tragedies.  Personally, I don’t feel like I can do anything to affect the situation positively, so I tend to give an article a casual read, then turn my mind to other things. However, something about a school shooting happening two Tuesdays in a row convinced me of one thing: I must not become numb.

The minute I stop reading the stories of parents grieving the senseless loss of their sweet child, or listening to the accounts of eyewitnesses, or hearing about how students and teachers are grieving the loss of any semblance of security in their place of study or work, is the minute I start the process of not caring. I need to listen to and read these stories, because I need to acknowledge the reality before me.

The reality is that though school should be a safe place where students can learn and feel protected, it has instead become a place where they’re practicing active shooter drills and listening for loud sounds that may indicate the worst-case scenario they have trained for. In acknowledging this, I pray that God helps me understand how I’m supposed to respond to it.

 

I can re-think how I’m praying

I think part of my response must include prayer. And that can often feel minor, empty, or like it just isn’t enough. But another thing I’ve remembered during these tragic couple weeks is that prayer is one of the most powerful things I can do. Prayer connects me to an all-powerful God who is able to provide peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7), even in desperate situations. I am comforted in knowing that the Lord listens to the cry of the righteous. He is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34: 15-18), and it’s worthwhile to spend time calling on Him. Prayer is vital, but I’ve been challenged to reconsider how I pray about something like a school shooting.

Do I simply pause to muse over it just long enough to offer up a simple prayer asking God to comfort everyone affected, and then move on to checking my email, or responding to a text message?

Or am I taking time to learn about the pain that I need to pray God heals?

Do I let the senselessness of it all inspire a desperate cry to God for restoration and peace that only He can bring?

Because I know that my God is the author of life. In fact, He sent Jesus to the cross so that us sinners could have abundant life in eternity (John 10:10). These violent school shootings are the manifestation of death and injustice in our world today. . . the stark opposite of the life that will define the restored world that God will bring (Revelation 21:1-4). They are senseless, often random, and without an identifiable motive. I have found that turning to prayer when I see death and injustice helps me to set my mind on the promised life in the new heaven and earth.

Understanding that situations like school shootings also break God’s heart and go against His ultimate plan for eternal life shifted my response to such tragedies. Instead of allowing my heart to become numb to these senseless shootings, I decided to take some time out to pray.  As I engage with the pain and grief of those affected by this tragedy, it helps me to pray more often and genuinely. As I take time to hear stories of parents who spent hours not knowing if their children were still alive, it helps me know how to pray for them. Taking time to learn about these tragedies also helps align my heart more decidedly to God’s plan for ultimate restoration and life. That alignment inspires me to pray for the pain, hurt, and violence that I see all around me on a daily basis, whether big or small.

I hope that you will join me in praying for the lives that were lost and forever changed as a result of the recent school shootings in the U.S. I also hope that you are encouraged to engage with the reality of pain and grief that I am certain surrounds you as well. Let the engagement settle your hearts on the life and restoration that God values and plans to bring to this world. And remember that when you feel helpless, prayer is powerful.

When Love Didn’t Come at First Sight

“What about Dakotah? Are you sure you two aren’t a thing?”

For months I had been fielding this same question from my family and other friends from campus ministry. They had noticed how much time I spent with Dakotah, and naturally wanted to know if it was a budding romantic relationship.

To this day, I can’t remember the first time I met Dakotah. We attended the same Bible study our first year of university, and we ended up running in the same social circle. He was a really friendly person, flexible, and always available to hang out. From the beginning, he was a solid friend.

But he was just a friend. So, when my best friend asked me the question I was so used to hearing, I shut the idea down pretty hard. I explained to her that I couldn’t picture Dakotah in a romantic way.

“He’s too short . . . ” I remember confessing with honesty and an equal amount of shame for being so superficial.

I always pictured myself marrying a tall guy—or at least someone who was taller than me. And, even with the silly height issue aside, at the time, I was not interested in having more than a friendship with Dakotah. He was solid “friend material”, but he wasn’t as outgoing, athletic, or charismatic as I imagined my future spouse might be.

Fast forward seven years, and I am so thankful that first-year-of-college me was mistaken. As it turns out, Dakotah is very much my type. And we are deeply in love, praising God daily for the blessing of being married and sharing this life with one another.

I think as our friendship grew deeper, my misguided expectations for my future husband faded. Even though I had a lot of good, healthy expectations for my future spouse—being a dedicated Christian, a strong leader, a loving partner, etc.—I got caught up in my own specific ideas of exactly how these characteristics were supposed to look like.

Ending up with the husband I did once again proves that God’s plans are always better than mine.

The truth is, I am rarely correct when I think I know what’s best for me. While I had a picture of the person I wanted to marry, I forgot that my heavenly Father knows me intimately, and would bless me with someone who balances me and counters my weaknesses in a way I couldn’t have planned for.

God has a way of giving us exactly what we don’t realize we need. Many of us experience this in a variety of ways. Whether it is related to finding a spouse, or thinking we know which house, job or church is best for us at any given point in our lives, God has a way of proving us completely wrong—while pouring out unexpected blessings at the same time.

As a first year university student, I was concerned with finding someone who shared hobbies and interests with me. I neglected to consider how irrelevant this would become when my own interests and hobbies shifted as I got older. Instead, I needed someone who was patient and calm, someone who would help balance my own stress and anxiety as I encountered different people and circumstances.

Often times, we do not expect or understand God’s provision. But when we look back, we get occasional glimpses that help us understand why what we wanted wasn’t actually best, or maybe even good, at all.

These little glimpses of understanding God’s unexpected provision are rare for me, but I hold to them closely. When God allows certain circumstances, or when He leads me in a direction that doesn’t seem to make sense, I reflect on these little glimpses in the past, and they give me confidence in God’s provision.

So after a few years of dismissing any suggestion that Dakotah and I could be more than just friends, my perspective started to shift. During our third year of friendship, it dawned on me that Dakotah had gradually become my best friend. As I considered why, I recognized that he cared for me deeply and gently. He encouraged me with kindness. Even while we were “just friends,” the patient love he had for me was evidenced in simple and daily interactions.

It took me several years, but I came to the realization that I wanted Dakotah to continue being my best friend for the rest of my life. Thankfully, the feeling was mutual, and, to no surprise of our family and friends, Dakotah and I did start dating the fall after I graduated.

The story of my husband and I is a sweet reminder to me that God’s plan is the only plan I want for my life. Two years into marriage, it’s laughable that I once used height as an excuse for not being interested in Dakotah. But the sheer ridiculousness of that helps remind me to trust God’s perfect provision in all areas of my life, even when it doesn’t match what I have envisioned for my own life.

“What’s Your Spiritual Gift?”—The Question I Always Dreaded

“What’s your spiritual gift?”

It’s a question I’ve been asked at far too many small group meetings. That question and conversations around it have always made me uncomfortable, and I’ve only recently begun to articulate why.

What started as “time to share your spiritual gifts” often turned into a time for people to share personal skills or personality traits, and then label these with biblical-sounding names of spiritual gifts. These conversations were self-focused, and it seemed that many people confused talents for spiritual gifts.

I also wondered why no one in my church shared about spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues or prophecy. Were these kinds of gifts obsolete, or were my church members and I missing out?

In more recent years, searching for clarity around these questions has exposed two significant misconceptions I didn’t realize I held about spiritual gifts. It has helped me understand, seek, and appreciate them on a whole new level.

 

Spiritual Gifts Are Different From Talents

I spent one summer as an intern for a youth program, and the position required speaking at several youth events throughout the summer. Generally, I am a terrible public speaker. It is not a natural talent of mine.

The first few times, I tried speaking by my own talent and ability. As expected, I got nervous; the students were distracted; I didn’t speak clearly; and by the end of my time, I think everyone was uncomfortable and thankful it was over.

Fortunately, our natural talents and strengths are not the same as spiritual gifts. Sometimes, God surprises us by enabling us to do something we are not naturally gifted at.

There was one particular event that summer where I was expected to speak. Instead of relying on myself this time, I released control of planning, and prayerfully sought God’s will to learn what and how I should share with the students. And as it turned out, God’s Spirit led and directed the message I shared. The students were engaged and very responsive. In a very real way, I experienced the spiritual gift of teaching.

Of course, sometimes God does develop the natural gifts we have and uses them for His work. Spiritual gifts and talents can overlap. I think the key difference is that talents and strengths can be developed by human effort, apart from the Spirit. Spiritual gifts, on the other hand, are completely empowered by the Holy Spirit and beyond our own achievements.

Additionally, God never uses spiritual gifts for the glory of man. Spiritual gifts work through God’s people for the purpose of furthering His Kingdom and His glory.

 

Miraculous Gifts Still Happen

In 1 Corinthians 12:9-10, Paul writes about gifts of healing, prophecy, and speaking in tongues. But the churches I grew up in avoided talking about these things. When we discussed spiritual gifts, the focus was always on leading, serving, teaching, encouraging (Romans 12:6-8). . . you know, the safe, non-controversial gifts.

While it’s true that the manifestation of God’s Spirit doesn’t look the same to everyone, it is also true that our God is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore (Hebrews 13:8). I haven’t personally spoken in tongues, or witnessed the miraculous healing of a deformed limb. And I know some Christians believe that these miraculous gifts ceased soon after the age of the apostles. But lately, I’ve learned that just because I haven’t experienced something, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

In fact, God has recently endowed several of my close friends and family members with spiritual gifts of prophetic words, visions, speaking in tongues, and even the gift of healing. In the past when I heard of accounts like this, I was tempted to rationalize and minimize them, because they were so foreign and unfamiliar to me. But lately, when I hear testimonies from people who  are experiencing spiritual gifts in a way that is honoring God, it prompts me to praise God. It also leads me to earnestly desire to experience these gifts myself (1 Corinthians 14:39-40).

I have confidence that God’s power is still the same today as it was yesterday. God is so big and so powerful. Rather than discounting how God works through His people, we should trust that He will gift us in a variety of ways, always according to His perfect plan and perfect timing.

Continue to Seek the Spirit

Being able to distinguish my natural talents and abilities from gifts of the Spirit has helped me immensely. As someone who doesn’t feel particularly talented in any one area, I now understand that God will absolutely work through me—even if I’m not the best at any certain thing. That’s because it isn’t about me and my abilities at all. It’s about God and the power of His Spirit!

God gives us exactly what we need to fulfill His purpose. Sometimes that provision looks like serving, teaching, encouraging, or giving. Other times, it looks like gifts of healing, speaking in tongues, or prophesying. I know that God is all-powerful, and He displays that power in many different ways. Accepting this moves me to praise God and seek Him even more!

John McCain: A Life That Reminds Us Why We Value Sacrifice

Photo by Gage Skidmore on Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

Scrolling through Facebook over the past weekend, a post caught my eye. My friend had shared a video link to the speech American Senator John McCain gave when he received the Liberty Medal last year (the Liberty Medal recognizes leadership in the pursuit of freedom). His comment that went along with the video included the statement, “Thank you for your great service to our country”.

I remember thinking the comment was peculiar because, at a time when political debate via Facebook is so commonplace, I had grown  used to seeing this friend post particularly left-winged, Democratic articles. If I knew one thing of John McCain, it was that he was a lifelong Republican Senator, and two-time Republican presidential nominee—far on the opposite side of the political spectrum.

Shortly after my friend’s post, Senator John McCain passed away on Saturday, August 25th, 2018, after a year-long battle with an aggressive form of brain cancer.

On Twitter, former president Barack Obama of the Democratic Party spoke out to highlight the shared fidelity he had with McCain to “the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched and sacrificed.” Obama continued, praising the Senator who ran against him in the 2008 presidential election for his great courage and dedication to putting the greater good above his own.

Echoing the same sentiment, former president George Bush, who competed with McCain during the 2000 Republican primaries, also shared his very high opinion of McCain’s public service, and his vibrant, vivid life.

Since the news of his passing, I’ve seen a wave of posts across political lines that show due honor and respect to this man’s long life of service. On my social media feed, friends from competing parties have displayed a common outpouring of sympathy to his family and tributes to his long career serving our country. Many have even dubbed him an American Hero.

As a young man, John McCain served in the Vietnam War. When his plane was shot down, he was captured and kept as a prisoner of war for over five years. After enduring injuries caused by the plane crash, as well as torture at the hands of his captors, John McCain was eventually released. Later, he entered into what would become a lifelong career as a public servant.

Personally, what I find most striking about the life of John McCain, is that he had a big-picture view of life. He made sacrifices, but always with purpose. He believed in the history of sacrifice that built up this nation with ideals like freedom, prosperity, and justice—and he strongly urged the U.S. to be a champion of these ideals abroad in order to build a better world. He knew that this position didn’t come without costs, but believed in an innate moral obligation to do good where good could be done.

This man’s death had a way of humbling an entire nation, and called for a brief respite where political differences could be set aside, and people across party lines could express gratefulness for how he served. John McCain fought for our country. He was wounded and tortured, and it didn’t deter him from continuing to fight for what he thought was best. He was willing to make sacrifices because he believed they were worth it.

John McCain was a determined, dedicated man. But, to be sure, he had no shortage of critics and contentious moments of service…especially in relation to his congressional voting record. He often challenged traditionalists in his own party and ruffled many feathers. He had a “do what it takes” reputation that could come off as offensive to those who weren’t totally on board with what he thought needed to be done.

Despite his faults and shortcomings, after his passing, most will remember him for the sacrifices he made for his nation. And it is in his sacrificial moments that I see a reality that should point us to the One who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The outpouring of tributes to Senator John McCain shows that people are drawn to this idea of sacrifice. We respect and long for an example of someone who knows good, and will give anything up to pursue it. But Jesus is the only one who can truly meet those longings.

Jesus knew the costs of His sacrifice, and yet He willingly gave himself up. He suffered at the hands of men who tortured and wounded Him. But the Bible says that He endured the cross for the JOY set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus had joy in the sacrifice He made because He knew it was worth it. It was worth it because by His single act, He achieved the ultimate good. He gave up Himself, and in turn, an entire world of people were saved.

Human effort and human sacrifice is limited—even the sacrifice of someone dubbed an “American Hero”. No human effort will ever lead to a perfect world. But Jesus, in all His power, gave Himself up so that He could make us perfect by His blood.

As I see a nation honoring and praising a man who gave up so much for our country, it challenges me to remember that the highest honor and praise belong to Jesus alone—because it was Jesus who gave His very life for the truest “ultimate good”. The good Jesus brought is perfect relational restoration to the God who created us, which is the only way we can know real peace, joy, and freedom.