Anger. Disbelief. Grief. Finger pointing. All responses to the February 14 shooting rampage at a Florida high school. Some reports say it’s the 18th incident of gunfire at a school campus since the beginning of 2018. Regardless of the numbers, this week’s column is meant to convict our hearts, including mine.
At this writing, 17 were killed in the rampage and another 13 were injured. Questions abound. Responses reported in and by the media, both traditional and socially, call for more gun control, more assistance for the mentally disturbed and higher levels of school security.
For 30 years, I was a public educator. Beginning my career in 1975, I was naïve enough to believe I could make a difference in all of my students’ lives. Years later, I had a reality check. I couldn’t save everyone; I couldn’t meet every need. Still, I knew I should and could do what I could.
A 19-year-old has confessed to the most recent shooting rampage. News reports paint a picture of a disturbed young man. One of his former teachers said he was a quiet student, a loner. The students familiar with Nikolas Cruz were not surprised by his actions. His attorney has called him a “broken human being.”
Plucking the gold paper notice from my door knob, I expected to see an advertisement. Instead, it was a notice from the city. To complete some necessary work on our water lines, the city would be shutting off our water for approximately seven hours the following Monday.
Seven hours seemed like a week. I was frustrated at the thought of the inconvenience. So were my neighbors. We prepared, using containers to hold drinking water and filling up our bathtubs, just in case the work lasted longer than expected.
Monday morning dawned. Stumbling into the bathroom to wash my face, I turned on the tap. Nothing happened. I’d forgotten we wouldn’t have water for most of the day.
Although it was an inconvenience, I was convicted by my attitude when I read a newspaper article that morning about the drought in Cape Town, South Africa. The intense drought in Cape Town began in 2015, bringing the community closer and closer to what is called “Day Zero,” which is the point when the water in the reservoirs will no longer provide safe drinking water. The date for the turn off of all water taps to about 3.2 million people in this community is around April 12.
We take for granted the conveniences in our country. Flip a switch and the lights come on. Turn on the tap and water flows. Hook up a water hose and a sprinkler and the results are a green lawn.
On a spring day in Pennsylvania, a poor boy was selling goods to pay his way through school. The year was 1863, and the boy was going door-to-door to meet his goal. While traveling through the countryside, he became hungry. He only had a dime left, so he decided to ask for food at the next house.
However, he lost his nerve to ask the young woman who answered the door for a meal. Instead, he asked for a drink of water. Thinking he looked hungry, the woman brought him a large glass of milk. After he slowly savored the nourishment, he asked her, “How much do I owe you?”
The young woman replied, “You don’t owe me anything. Our mother taught us never to accept payment for a kindness.”
The boy said, “Then, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
As the young man walked away, he not only felt physically stronger, but his faith in God and man was strengthened also. He had been ready to give up.
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that”—Ephesians 5:1-2 (MSG)
Dressing for a doctor’s appointment, I felt led to slip on a seldom-worn bracelet, a gift from a dear friend. The sparkling jewelry was adorned with the symbol for breast cancer awareness. As I drove to my appointment, the charm dangled from my wrist, reminding me of how blessed I am. My cancer was caught early and my treatment was minimal.
Before entering the doors of the cancer center that hot July morning, I glanced again at the bracelet. A still, small voice said, “Give it away.”
Walking through the center, I searched the faces of those who were there for treatment. I was there for my yearly follow-up exam. Again, I was declared cancer-free.
The comfort of faith
Others were just beginning their journey. Some of their faces reflected fear while a peace surrounded those who, like me, had been declared cancer-free or understood the comfort of their faith. My heart ached for those who appeared lost. I prayed, “God, you want me to give this bracelet away. Show me who needs it the most.”
I searched the faces, praying for the right person to receive the bracelet. I’d almost given up hope, thinking I’d misunderstood God’s direction, when I recognized an older couple seated in the hallway outside one of the exam rooms. I feared one of them had been diagnosed with cancer.
After hugging both, I asked, “Are you okay?”
The sound of breaking glass made me cringe. I’d just broken my favorite pitcher because I was careless. I’d paid less than five dollars for it a yard sale. Its beauty had drawn me to part with my money.
Frustrated by my carelessness, I sighed as I cleaned up the mess of broken glass and spilled iced tea. When I cut my finger on a piece of the glass, I almost cried. I was tired. A lack of quality sleep the night before multiplied the incident into a disaster in my mind, until I reminded myself it was only a pitcher.
Later that day, I’d forgotten the pitcher, already tossed into the trash and ready for disposal. Then, I broke something else. I was digging in the dirt in preparation for some stepping stones in front of my backyard gate when I hit something solid. I bent down to remove several rocks and also encountered some tree roots. As I was hacking away at them with my shovel, I hit something else. Upon further examination, I realized I’d just severed my Internet line.
“Just great,” I thought. After cleaning up the mess, I called my Internet provider who informed me it would be the following Monday before it could be repaired. While I’d have to wait five days for the line to be fixed, the other bad news was the cost of the repair. I cringed when the company agent said, “It’ll be $149.”
“Oh well,” I said to myself, “there goes the three-day road trip I’d planned for the following week with my sister.”
Overwhelmed by my overstuffed closet recently, I felt the need to purge and organize. It was time to rid my life of clothing, shoes and purses and anything else hiding in the deep recesses of my walk-in that didn’t add anything to my life. Did you notice the irony here?
I needed less to add more, not more stuff, but to embrace the orderliness of a life filled with God and not more possessions. As I finished removing outdated clothing or items I’d bought on sale and had rarely worn, I wondered why we allow ourselves to accumulate so much. Why do we treasure things and not the life we’ve been given?
The acquisition of stuff doesn’t add anything to our lives. If anything, it detracts us from the joy-filled life we should be living. What do I mean? Each piece of clothing, each knick-knack on our shelves, each gadget we purchase, each new electronic device we embrace requires time and maintenance. The things we own can end up owning us.
But it’s not just material things we cling to. We clutch grudges and anger to our chests as if we were a selfish child refusing to share a favorite toy.
photo by Carol Round
Summer flowers have died. Leaves are changing colors. Life goes on.
Seasons change in our lives. We experience cycles of trials and calm. Life goes on.
Many affected by the destruction of nature’s wrath this year are still struggling. But life goes on. Even then, we sometimes forget to recognize the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary—and life goes on.
Sometimes we’re reminded of God’s extraordinary in the midst of our ordinary. A friend’s relative lost his home last spring in a Missouri tornado. Six months later, through the efforts of his small church family, he is almost ready to move into a newly constructed house. While funds for the construction have dwindled at times, leaving the crew wondering if they’d ever be able to complete the project, God has shown up in the midst of their uncertainty to reveal how much He cares for His children.
In a moment of divine intervention at an Arkansas baseball game, the leader of the construction crew met a stranger. During their conversation, he told her of the church’s efforts to finish the house. This woman was not just any stranger, but was from a neighboring Missouri town and was part of a church seeking to help tornado victims.