I could die of a ripe old age, my life fulfilled. Or, I could die in a tragic circumstance that traumatizes a country.
One day before my 16th birthday, I sat in front of the TV with my after-school snack. I was probably hoping to watch an episode of Saved By the Bell before going to my room to do my homework. That changed.
All the TV networks were streaming news updates about a shooting at a high school in Colorado. Two maddened students of Columbine High School put their peers under attack.
Leading up to this, my rural school had been figuring out how to handle bomb threats. The first time they put us on a bus out in a field; they didn’t have a plan. After that we were shuttled to various locations around town. They were all empty threats. Watching the news that day was confusing and scary to watch. It was real.
But my life went on.
Just a few short weeks into my Freshman year of college I was in the shared dorm bathroom getting ready for class when a hall-mate came in to say the World Trade Center in New York had just been attacked by an airplane. I didn’t believe her but I went to my room to turn on the news (something I never did) to see if it was real. I thought I was seeing a re-play but soon realized it was the second plane.
A school-wide announcement was made that day to leave our Muslim middle-eastern classmates alone – they were not the culprits. Candlelight vigils the next day included these same students standing up before their peers with tears sliding over their scruffy chins pleading their schoolmates to resist predjudism.
My life was changed, subtly.
I feared that my new friends would be drafted into World War III. Seriously. Men and women went off to war and came back different people. Flying became a chore and an experience of keeping your wits about you just to be “sure.”
I was finishing up my last semester of college when hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana. Listening to the radio on the way to school forced tears from my eyes. Hearing and experiencing the victim’s anguish over the airwaves got me down deep. Several months later, I went with a group of youth to help with the clean-up. We sat with the victims and we sorted through their stuff. We shared meals with them and heard their sad stories.
My heart was changed.
But in all this, I was still me. I did with my life what I wanted to do. The knowledge in my head and my heart shaped my worldview, but I was still free from personal tragedy.
There have been more shootings and more storms. In an indirect way, I guess I’ve helped here and there, but I have never been truly affected.
This week a madman spread destruction through a gay nightclub just a few miles from where I live; close enough that I could picture the location and its surroundings exactly. Facebook asked me to let people know if I was ok. My doctor’s office, right next door, sent out notification that all appointments are cancelled until further notice. I used to work just around the corner. That hit a little too close to home.
My family wasn’t worried. I’m the kind of person who goes to bed at 10 pm on a Saturday night. I don’t go to nightclubs. I’m not gay or have close friends who are. I’m not Latina. The likelihood that I would have been there was very slim.
But it doesn’t matter.
It’s not about your nightlife or sexual orientation. It’s not about whether you are Muslim or Christian or Atheist. It’s not about whether you’re Latino or African American or Middle Eastern. It’s about the fact that we’re all human who live in a messed up world full of sin where evil tries to rue the day.
With the start of hurricane season, the news channels have been warning us Floridians to prepare. It’s been 11 years since this state has been affected by such a storm. They mentioned that millions of new Florida residents have moved here within the last 11 years and have likely never experienced a hurricane. I fit that statistic, having moved here less than 7 years ago. It’s been so long even for the long-timers that they fear we’ve become complacent and won’t be ready. In the back of my mind I think, “Maybe I should put together a survival kit.” but brush it off for another day. I’ll do it when I’m less busy.
One year ago another madman came to a mid-week Bible Study in Charleston, South Carolina and opened fire. Lives were lost.
Why did he choose that nightclub? He had his reasons. Why did he choose that church? He had his reasons. Why did they choose their classmates? They thought they knew. When will the storm ravage our land? We can’t really say.
My friends and family were not at the nightclub, we had no reason to be. But we do go to churches – huge ones – all over the city. The guy could have had a grudge against Christians instead of gay Latinos, for all I know.
It could have been me.
But I will not fear.
I spoke with someone one day after the shooting here in Orlando. She was terrified. She didn’t directly know anyone who was there, but she was still terrified and completely beside herself. While shaken up, I can’t say I was terrified. Sad, yes. Terrified, no. Shocked, yes. Beside myself, no. I don’t have a reason to be. Even if it was my church instead of the nightclub, I don’t have a reason to be terrified.
I have a Savior who’s also a comforter.
I have a Savior who’s also a healer.
I have a Savior who’s also a counselor.
I have a Savior who also knows every day of my life before it came into being.
I have a Savior who gives people free will and shows us how good he is when we misuse it.
I have a Savior who’s the Prince of Peace.
I have a Savior who’s loved vagrants and kings.
I have a Savior who’s also an includer.
I have a Savior who’s my redeemer and will meet me in heaven where we’ll live together in joyful eternity.
So many people in Orlando, Florida, and across the world do not know this same Savior as I. They see what happened and are either terrified or just turn off the news and go about their day because there’s nothing they can do anyway. I hope you are neither. I hope you find the same Savior who, though I’m shocked and sad and appalled by what happened in my city, will lay over you a veil of peace.
I’ll probably prepare my hurricane survival kit soon. I probably won’t watch the weather fearfully. I’ll probably look behind my shoulder when I’m in a crowded place (I do that anyway). I probably won’t stop going to the grocery store or church. I might die a very old woman filled with stories of how good and how bad the world we live in was. Or I might die in a horrific tragedy.
It could be me, but I will not fear.
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 3:20