What Great Grace Befell Our Community (Midland / Odessa Shooting)

My family sat at red light of the intersection this morning. In fact, I’ve been there three times today. It is the same intersection that I pass each morning on my way to work and every night coming home. I felt vulnerable. Across the street, yellow police tape lined out the crime scene where an enraged shooter took out his frustrations on passing traffic.

My wife was at the HEB two blocks away from the house when she heard the news. Standing in front of her was a mother accompanied by her two daughters, talking on the phone. The woman kept saying “Anderson” and each time her voice became more and more erratic. Her daughters began crying. Ericka asked the lady what was going on. Upon hearing there was an active shooter in the area, she abandoned her shopping cart and headed outside. Parked in front of the store was a fire truck surrounded by officers in full amor, bullet shields on hand and guns at the ready. She immediately made her way to the car and drove home safely. We would later learn that Anderson was the name of the 17 month old who was shot in the face and life-flighted to Lubbock. The tragedy was on our doorstop.

Tragedies have a way of placing our faith on full alert. Christian or not, we find ourselves questioning God. How could a good God allow this to happen?

It’s a fair question. After all, God was fully aware of the incident, where each and every victim was when the bullets struck them unaware. He knew Seth’s intentions before he shot the state trooper and went on the rampage. Yet, one can not help but feel like He didn’t intervene. So where was God in the midst of all of this?

I honestly believe He was right there in the middle. Not as a cruel or sadistic, passive spectator but instead as an active Father, full of grace and love, who would come to morn Seth’s actions and the losses of the victim’s families.

I do not for one second believe that God condoned his actions, but that instead God afforded Seth the same grace He affords me every day of my life – He allows him to make my his own choices. If God is sovereign, as I believe Him to be, it is nothing short of grace to allow me to make my own choices. I can choose to love God or not believe in Him at all. I can choose to align my life to the example Christ set or I can choose to do my own thing. I can at any time curse His name, calling Him every foul thing that comes to mind with the very mouth God gave me to use.

In the midst of tragedy, we want to immediately blame God for not stopping the perpetrator. Yet, we have no problem with God allowing us to do our own thing. It might make us uncomfortable, but the shooter was graciously given a choice when he was pulled over. In fact, God was there for every decision he ever made. For every good chapter of Seth’s life, celebrating his birthdays and rejoicing with every victory. And for ever bad chapter, I believe God was actively pursuing Seth’s heart, illuminating a way out of the darkness and asking him to trust God. God is always at work.

Which brings me to my second point – there are so many stories in all of the active shootings of people who were nearly caught in the gunfire, or were hit and the bullets missed a vital organ. The whole incident ended in a gunfight right outside of a movie theater. Why didn’t Seth take refuge in the building and who knows how many lives were spared because he didn’t? We can not know or even guess at all the ways in which God was working in this difficult and dark situation. You just can’t.

All I have to lean on is the tragedies in my own life and how looking back I could see God at work time & time again. I understand, without reservation, what Paul wrote in Romans 8:28 – “God works all things together for the good of those who are called according to His purpose”.

I also know that God experienced the tragedy of watching His own son die, at the hands of his own creation for crimes He didn’t commit. And afterwards, sent his Holy Spirit to comfort us in the midst of the chaos we conspired to create. When I say I believe He mourned with those who mourned in my community, this is what I mean.

Finally, I look to my own feelings at the stoplight today. I felt vulnerable, but didn’t give into the fear. I am not going to spend the next few weeks afraid of the light turning red when I approach. God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, sound judgment, love and self discipline (1 Timothy 1:7). When you are able to give those fears to God, there is an incredible freedom found knowing that no matter what befalls you, He remains sovereign.

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God’s Antidote for Fear

Neither of us could sleep on Sunday night. Anger & exhaustion had robbed us of the peace we had going into the conversation.  Angry at the injustice we felt – a word we came back to over and over.  Exhausted from the emotional whiplash and tired of the same thoughts knocking on our hearts’ doors. Like a reoccurring dream in broad daylight.

A little back story – our kids don’t live with us. They live with their mom and visit every other weekend per the visitation schedule. Well, that is sort of true – we have an open door, so they can come over pretty much whenever they want. We are fortunate enough to take them to church with on most weekends. The older two sometimes ask to hang out with friends after the service. On the weekends we don’t have custody, we want to clear it with their mom before we agree to let them stay, so that she can make arrangements to pick them up afterward.

Such was the case this past Sunday when we asked for clarification.  Without going into the details, we pretty much asked about an incident with our daughter wanting to stay.  The response started with an “I whole-heartedly agree with you”, but didn’t end there. It had a “that being said…” attachment, followed by a diatribe of pent-up frustrations, false accusations, and misunderstandings.  The response completely took us by surprise. Hours after the conversation, I found myself playing through the same rhetoric in my mind questioning every possible response and everything I should have said, but didn’t. 

Our only shot at peace stems from a question: What would God have us do in those moments?

The answer remains the same every time I ask: Trust Him. 

Isaiah 43 captures dialogue between God and Israel that is not only beautiful, but timeless:

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
… Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
peoples in exchange for your life.

There are two parts that stick out to me:  you are still going to go through pain (i.e. rivers and fire) and when you do, know that God is always within reach. In other words, my family is going to live in a post-divorce world with all its troubles and brokenness, for the rest of our lives.  There will be good chapters of family vacations, dancing on the patio after making smores, plenty of park visits and playing the same board game for the upteenth time.  There will inevitably be bad chapters where rules don’t line up between households, different world views are being taught and routines are tossed in the air by unexpected conversations. In every circumstance and every chapter of our lives, trusting God is always the right choice. Fears and frustrations dissipate in the presence of His redeeming love.

Photo by Leio McLaren (@leiomclaren) on Unsplash

 

Wait. Hope. Trust.

Every week, my wife and I work our way through a prompted dialogue. We talk about the coming week, what things are coming down the pipeline and what we need from each other. We express what we are grateful for and share how we are feeling. An open and honest evaluation of our hearts. Sometimes we’re on top of the world and other weeks we’re overwhelmed. This particular week, I’m confused, feeling the wonder of Christmas, sharing it with such a beautiful soul, and yet reminded that my kids live in a post-divorce world, where holidays are split between houses. While I realize that Christmas is not bound to a single day, there is a distinct absence felt in the silence every Christmas morning. It’s a thick and heavy silence, not like the kind that one usually appreciates in the midst of shopping, business, cooking and parties.

Ericka and I do our best to make up for it every year. The Thursday before Christmas, our blended family gathers around the tree to eagerly open presents. Five for each child: something to wear, something to share, something to read, something they need, and something they want. Then we put on our pajamas and head out for ice cream, before winding through neighborhoods to enjoy the Christmas lights.

Wait. Hope. Trust. All those feelings are there. Wait and allow God to work His grace through the kids’ lives. Through our lives. Hope that there will be a beautiful ending to this story. Trust that God is always at work, knowing Christ’ resurrection is always present in every story, including theirs. Easier said than done.

God told Zephaniah something similar:

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. – Zephaniah‬ ‭3:17‬ ESV

To put things in perspective, Zephaniah lived around 612 B.C. During his lifetime, Manasseh came into rule over Israel, and sowed confusion, hopelessness and a string of wretched practices into the culture, among which the worst was child sacrifice. These are the words God spoke over Israel in the fray they found themselves in.

My soul is reminded of how grateful I am for my wife, a promise God made to me after my first marriage ended. That though the holidays hold a heaviness, we as a family get to enjoy the moments together. If we’re not careful, the pain of brokenness will rob us of the gladness within reach.