Beautiful Hands

This morning I decided to scrap the curriculum for my Sunday school class and just kind of freestyle. The last couple of classes had been kind of rough, participation-wise and I wanted to try and figure out if I was doing something wrong, and how I could make the class and the curriculum more applicable to the students and their lives.

Additionally, Friday’s events in Connecticut had me spun out a little as well. I’ve been having a bit of a hard time getting my mind around it, or past it, or through it. I wrote a little bit about that this morning and I also knew I wanted to talk to the kids about how they felt, too. I wanted to see how they were handling it, and if they wanted to talk. The young man who committed the crime was only a few years removed from high school himself, and was closer to their age than mine.

So we talked about being a teenager. We talked about how tough it was, and how tough it could be. We talked about whether or not the church was relevant to the lives of the kids (yes and no), and what we could do to make it different. One of the students shared a considerable amount in the class about her difficulties, and the hour ended up passing pretty quickly.

I don’t know what the result was for them, but I feel like I learned a little bit more about their lives than I’d know before and had some insight into being a teen in the 21st Century.

After my class, I went to the sanctuary to wait for Jen so we could catch the 11am service–I was excited about it because I knew Jeff was going to be preaching and I wanted to be there and see how he was doing. The worship songs got me thinking as worship songs do and by the time Jeff came on to preach I was in the frame of mind where I knew if anything emotional happened I was toast.

The first place Jeff went was to talk about the shooting, and he reminded us to remember the victims, and to focus on them, rather than spending so much time finding out about the perpetrator. He talked a little bit about the heroism of the teachers and staff that morning, and finished with a prayer. By the end of it, I was teary and sat with my head down even after the prayer was finished.

I just wanted to go lie down somewhere. I had my arm across the back of Jen’s chair and I absently stroked her shoulder with the fingers of my left hand. I remember thinking I needed…something from God or I was going to have to get up and leave.

Just then I felt the soft touch of little fingers on my forearm and turned to see a beautiful little girl with Down syndrome that was maybe two. She wore a nice little Sunday dress, and her hair was fixed and very pretty. She didn’t say anything, but just stood there for a second and smiled the most beautiful smile I’d ever seen.

“Hi, sweetheart,” I said, just as her father hustled her back to their seats.

He said she noticed my arms were as hairy as his. That was certainly true, but I think it was a lot more than that, at least for me.

I told him that afterward, and I’m not sure whether he got it or not, because he looked at me kind of funny. Regardless, it made me very aware that God will speak to us when we ask him to, sometimes in ways we don’t expect.

I felt his touch in that little girl’s fingertips when I needed it badly.

What a morning…

Back on the Couch

It has taken me several days to process Friday’s events in Connecticut enough to get to a place in my head and my heart where I could write about it. I was in The Big Swirl frozen yogurt shop with John when I saw something on Twitter about a shooting.

Just then John tried to go behind the counter so we took off and headed over to GameStop to look for some Xbox accessories for David. John decided that would be a great place for a power dump, and it wasn’t until after I changed him that I sat in my car and read the story in full.

The magnitude of the tragedy was simply breathtaking, and I struggled to get my mind around it. What could have happened in this young, young man’s head that he could murder a class full of first graders?

In my mind I saw their faces as he came through the door, probably looking up in curiosity. As a parent my mind immediately went to my own third grade son sitting in his classroom, and two the toddler I’d just buckled into his car seat.

I wanted to be angry at the boy (because that’s really what he was) who had done this evil (because that’s it was), and I even expected to be mad at God for allowing it to happen but all I could feel to this very cold Sunday morning is a sadness so profound it coils in my guts like sickness. I think CS Lewis had it right when he said “no one ever told me grief felt so much like fear…”

I feel a grief of a level I haven’t felt since I was a teenager when I lost my parents and a good friend in my 16th, 17th, and 18th years. I didn’t know how to grieve that loss, and I don’t know how to grieve this one.

Clearly I didn’t know any of those children, but I grieve for them just the same. I grieve for their families. I grieve for what could have been. I grieve for the loss of so much innocence all at once.

I grieve for the teachers and faculty who died trying (some successfully and some not) to protect their students. I grieve for their families.

I grieve for the family of the murderer as well. The love they felt for the killer is no different than what the parents of the murdered children feel. Plus, this young man’s father has to live with what his son did and wonder where he fell short for the rest of his life.

I grieve for the country I love as well, because I feel this tragedy will not pull us together but further apart. It will be gun control vs gun owners and it will not stop.

I grieve because I know something like this will happen again.

I don’t blame the gun, or the killer’s mother for owning the ones used that morning. I don’t blame God or anyone else. God didn’t pull the trigger so many times Friday; a man did. I’m not going to get into the gun control debate today and maybe not at all, but I will say this (and I grieve the loss of my own innocence as well):

I own a gun. I bought it to shoot at targets. I have no plans to shoot any living thing.

But I would put a hundred bullets into the young man who did this thing to protect even a single child and I would be able to live with myself.

I read an excellent post by Morgan Freeman (find it on the Internet) which apportioned blame to media influenced sensationalism and I think that’s true, but not the only truth.

I think we’re failing our kids on a regular basis. So many have lost the idea that life is precious, and what binds us to it is little more than gossamer thread. Violence and violent imagery is ubiquitous. We expose our kids to it and we expose ourselves to it. It makes me despair for people. It makes me think there’s nothing to be done for the world. It makes me think there’s nothing anyone can do, the world is speeding to a sad and inevitable end.

It makes me think there is no hope.

There is hope, and that hope came to earth two millennia ago in a humble and quiet manner.

The hope for humanity is in the form of an obscure Nazarene carpenter who wore humanity for 33 years before dying for it. Our hope is not in a victory that can be achieved by strength of arms, though it is by blood.

We can’t change the hearts of our children, but we can tell them about who can. We can teach them to love like Jesus did. We can teach them every single life means something. We can teach them of the quiet heroism of school teachers and janitors.

I think if we just pour love into our kids then maybe we have a chance against this sort of thing.

Back to this morning. John woke up at 0600, and I brought him out to the couch. I skimmed through Twitter and Facebook, reading news stories about the shooting and people’s status updates about their lives, which carried on. Mine will, too.

Then I saw a picture, and it just wrecked me. It was a painting, really, on a post that was a poem with the rhyme structure and meter of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.’

In the painting, Jesus sat in a classroom surrounded by children, and a teacher was reading to her students from a children’s book.

There will be more pictures in the days to come. Many words will be spoken and written, and not all of them will be loving.

I think the thing to remember is that everyone grieves differently, and we should allow them that. Some will cry, some will pray, some will be angry. Some will curse God or call for the weapons of all gun owners.

We need to let people process their grief in their own way, and then we can move on.

We need to talk about a lot of things.