On June 5th, 2014 I was sitting with a dear friend on the 6th floor balcony of my dorm hall. We were studying for finals and looking over the campus on a perfectly sunny day. We heard a police siren coming down the street, not an uncommon sound in the Seattle area, and didn’t think much of it. Slowly, the sound grew louder. We stood up from our chairs and watched as police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks raced towards lower campus. Our RA walked into the room and told us that we needed to get away from the windows and lock ourselves in our rooms: an active shooter was on our campus. For the next two hours we all crammed into a friend’s room to silently watch the news. Some girls sat and watched the TV, anxious and expectant, some holed up inside themselves, leaving a stoic outer shell, others wept openly, while some silently hid their tears. We watched as the news reported high injury counts, and an ever-raising body count. It was horrifying. After sometime, the reporter explained that “only” one death had occurred, the shooter had been captured, and we were safe.
The next few days were full of mournful prayer gatherings, honest embraces, and an indescribable peace that only the Holy Spirit can provide. As a community we understood the pain, and together we were able to cope.
Just a week after the shooting, however, finals were over and I moved home for the summer.
Away from the community that understood how I felt, I began to live my life in fear.
One day I took a walk alone. I remember that as I walked I grew more and more panicked. Every noise threw me on edge. I suspiciously watched each person I walked past. It overwhelmed me. The fear of it all was too much and I began to run. I ran into the nearest coffee shop, locked myself in the bathroom and curled up in the corner with my arms around my knees and wept.
I wept because I was afraid; I was afraid for myself, I was afraid for my loved ones. I began to fear that summer that the Lord would take my loved ones from me. I feared that just as he had taken a member of my school community, Paul, who was a roommate, a brother, a son, God would take someone I loved from me as well.
It has been two years since the shooting. I have undergone a lot of healing since that first brutal day. But fear still has its grip on my life. It does not always find me, but it will hunt me down when I am at my most happy, when I feel the most blessed. It attacks suddenly and I become overwhelmed with the inevitability of painful loss. This fear had stopped me from doing a great many things.
I don’t know how to fight this fear. I certainly cannot do it alone.
Let me tell you another story about fear:
As a child, my mother was always worried. I thought it was funny how afraid she was of my sisters and I getting hurt. I thought it was funny, that is, until she made us wear helmets to climb the small trees in the park. But that is what she needed to feel like we were safe.
My family has always traveled, but it hasn’t always been so easy. My mother had a horrible fear of flying. It threw her into panic attacks and almost nothing could calm her down. She also feared being underwater, the unpredictability of wild animals, and basically any fast paced game that my two fearless sisters and I thought up. I always thought of my mom as a ‘scaredy cat.’
Fear ruled her, it was a major factor in her decisions, it was the lens through which she saw the world.
But one day, that all changed. She got onto an airplane for her work and decided that she wasn’t afraid. She decided that fear wasn’t worth it, that she couldn’t live her life as a slave to it anymore. She wanted to live fully in the freedom of Christ.
Since that day, she has traveled countless times overseas, she has stood over crocodiles, swam in the Amazon jungle, eaten strange meats, pet a cheetah, recently overcome her fear of scuba diving, and even led a group of travelers to safety after a terrorist attack. These last ten years or so have been a blossoming of someone so beautifully free that the Lord’s hand in her life is unmistakable. She is not letting fear have a foothold in her life.
Today is this beautiful woman’s birthday and as I reflected on who she is and who she has become, I was hit by the polarity of her story and that of mine. This weekend I mourn the second anniversary of an event that filled my life with fear, but this weekend I also celebrate the life of someone who has overcome crippling fears and has run wildly toward the adventures of a lifetime. How humbling a contrast. To try and hold these stories as equal is to try and diminish the Lord’s awesome power of healing in an effort to validate my fearful lifestyle.
I cannot go into this weekend with my head hung low, defeated by fear, because I have seen a vivid life where fear no longer has a stronghold. I have seen the Lord free someone from it, and I know that by giving into my fear, I am not living the life that God has asked of me.
I choose, just as my mother did that day she got into that airplane, that I will not be afraid. I will always mourn June 5th, but I refuse to continue to live in the fear of it. I know that there is still healing that must come, but I choose to live in the freedom from fear that God has given. Because only in that freedom will I truly heal.
To all of those whom I was with on June 5th, 2014, I miss you and I am praying with you this weekend. I hope that you will join me in letting go of fear so that we can mourn in the safety of God’s loving arms.