I have two things to write about…today marks two different milestones in my life.
One year ago, yesterday, I piled my stuff in several cars and made the trek north to move to Ft. Collins. A year ago today, I started my job at KinderCare. I don’t feel like I’ve been up here for a whole year. Sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday and sometimes it feels like I’ve been here forever! It has been a great year of learning and growing. I have made new friends, joined new communities, and studied hard! I am half way through my classes to hopefully get my teaching license. I’ve been learning about classroom management, writing lesson plans, and having a professional demeanor. It’s been a rough road, but I am pushing through. I have enjoyed my time connecting with new friends and also with some friends who have moved up here too. I love real relationships and have treasured the fact that I can be real with these people and they are real right back to me.
Another milestone is that five years ago today was when New Life Church experienced “our darkest hour.” A gunman came onto our campus and killed two young girls and wounded several others. Many of my new friends have asked about my experience on that day in 2007, so I decided to write out part of my story.
I woke up late that morning. I had moved to a new apartment the night before and couldn’t find my keys. I ended up finding them on the front seat of my car and drove up to the church. I was going to finish picking up some stuff from my old house and my friends were going to help. I also had some friends coming to the new house to help me unpack, because I had had surgery a few weeks before and my arm was still in a cast.
After church, while waiting for my friend’s kids to be done in the bathroom, we heard noises. It sort of sounded like something was dropped on the new tile in the hallway, but no one was at that end of the hall. We were standing near the playground doors, not very far from the end of the hall, when we saw him in the door way. We ducked down, realizing the noises we heard was a gun! Then someone yelled “get out!” and we took off running as he was coming into the building, shooting in our direction. In the process of running, I lost the friends I was with. I finally got a hold of them and I realized the first of many miracles I would come to find out.
After exiting the building, my friends ran to their truck. I ran straight ahead. It ends up their truck was parked next the the Works’ family van. We were headed to that truck. If the kids had spent a minute less in the bathroom, we would have encountered the gunman outside in the parking lot. If they had spent a minute more in the bathroom, we would have encountered him point blank at the doors. This was nothing short of a miracle. My friends were first responders to the girls, and went to the hospital with them.
Out in the parking lot, I realized I had lost my phone and my keys while I was running. I borrowed a phone and called one of the only numbers I had memorized..my friend Helen. I told her “someone’s shooting up the church.” She sent another friend to come get me, and she miraculously bypassed all the roadblocks and made it onto the campus to get me.
The next week was intense. I was scared and practically shut down. I remember going to work on Monday, I called about my keys and phone to the police station, and they asked if I had been questioned. I hadn’t, and they sent an officer to my work, surprised that I had been able to leave campus without being questioned. I visited several counselors that week. We had a big family meeting that Wednesday. Before that, we had small group leaders meeting. During that meeting, the fire alarm went off. We had to evacuate. It turns out the bullets had damaged the system. The only reason I came back in from that evacuation was because of my friends by my side. That Friday, I graduated from college. I went to theMILL that night and the alarm went off again. My initial response was to run. Far away and never come back. The only thing that kept me inside was not having a jacket or shoes and facing a snow storm. There were many times I wanted to run away. Never to come back. But God had different plans.
These five years has definitely been a process. The first few months were very hard. I had a hard time eating, sleeping, and concentrating. I was offered 15 free sessions of counseling and was able to process through some of the emotions. The emotions that I had were bringing up past stuff, and it was all very confusing. Honestly, I was living in a lot of fear and anxiety. A few months later, we had a worship recording. I was having a hard time understanding why the shootings happened and how I was still alive when these two young girls had died. I didn’t want to worship God. I was mad, confused, and hurt. I had been drained. During that recording, we sang the song “Greater.” It talks about how God is greater than the fight that rages for my life.” I literally had a war going on in my mind. I had threat of physical harm that had raged for my life. The song also says “you are brighter, breaking through the night, lighting up my sight.” There was a darkness that had surrounded me, but God was breaking into that darkness with his glorious light. I suddenly realized that God was greater. That even though I didn’t understand, God was still there and he was watching out for me.
This was the beginning of my process of getting my hope back. The enemy had tried to take it away, but God was restoring. I saw a glimmer and I followed it. There were several other “turning points” when God downloaded more about his love for me, despite what had happened. And I had ears again to hear what he wanted to say to me.
Today, 2012, was the first time the anniversary has fallen on a Sunday. I was able to come down from Loveland and attend the service at New Life. I am grateful that I did. I realized that five years later and I’m stronger. I was not fearful. I was not jumpy. I celebrated, with the New Life family, where God has brought the church and mourned the losses. For the first time, maybe in the five years, I didn’t feel like talking about that day in 2007 was going to send me into flashbacks. I did think about where I was that day, but it didn’t effect me the same way. It was healing to be there this morning. We sang the song Overcome, which has been New Life’s anthem. I cried my face off, but it was good tears, healing tears. Appropriate tears.
God is amazing. What the enemy meant for harm, he used for good. Pastor Brady told us about the meeting the Works and Murray families had, and the power of forgiveness. I realized that I have been holding onto unforgiveness for some things in my life and how petty they seem when I think of the forgiving embrace that was offered to the parents of the man who killed their daughters. It is profound to think of that, but what I great picture of God’s forgiveness for us. Jesus died on the cross because of us. And despite that, God forgives us. The gravity of our sins killed Jesus. God embraces us and cares for us anyway.
So, on this day five years later, I am grateful. I am grateful for Jesus and the work he is doing in my life. I am reminded to be forgiving. I am open to more of God’s healing work in my life. I am reflective about the lives that were lost, but rejoice in the faith of their parents.
I am stronger and have hope because HE is greater and has overcome this world!