As a nation, as a people, as a world, we mourn for what happened in Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday. There are no words that can satisfy my heart or help me to wrap my head around what has transpired. I read the stories of the beautiful children, gone before they even had a chance to live, and of the brave adults who dedicated their lives to the kids in that school. A principal and psychologist making a desperate charge to take down the shooter. A teacher dying as she shielded her children. A music teacher holding a closet door shut as the shooter tried to get in. Sparks of hope in a dark tragedy. There are no words that I can say that are deep enough, comforting enough, wise enough to make the pain go away.
I am a substitute teacher who spends her time with kids of all ages. My favorite days have to be my days when I am with the young ones, the precious boys and girls who are just learning how to live, who are relatively free of the pain and scars living in a sinful world leaves. They live in a world where best friends are made in an instant, where boo-boos can be kissed away, and everything can be created in beautiful bright colors. They don't all color in the lines. They occasionally throw tantrums. Sometimes they don't listen to the directions you've given them 500 times but they're learning. Have you ever been hugged by a line of fifteen six year olds? I have. It's pretty awesome. I struggle with imagining someone who could want to hurt them.
I have spent the last three weeks teaching high school art which often feels like an exercise in futility. Yesterday, however, I started my new long term (meaning a few weeks) position teaching middle school chorus. Middle school kids are a kind unto themselves. They are testing their wings, often thrashing against authority. Their hormones are going crazy. They often talk too much. They can be cruel to each other and to adults. But they are also funny (sometimes without intending to be so) and sometimes sweet and vulnerable. They drive me crazy more than half the time, but man do I love them.
I read through my code blue drills in my new classroom today and spent several minutes looking around the room wondering, “How will I protect them? How will I keep them calm?” And still worse, in a classroom where the positioning of the windows and door is the worst for trying to keep kids out of harms way, how do I shield them all if the worst happens? I don't know.
Many of my friends know that I don't especially enjoy my job some days. Being a sub is hard because I am usually in a different classroom every day. These two long term jobs have had there own difficulty. As an educator, their safety is my number one priority. They come first. All of them. And I hope that I am one of those teachers who stands up and protects my kids over myself because that is my duty. If that is not something you are willing to do, this is the wrong profession.
I am going to tell a story from about ten days ago while I was teaching high school art. I had assigned my kids the task of creating origami projects and some were very creative and made beautiful projects while others did the bare minimum or skipped it all together in favor of a zero. One student however decided that in lieu of making origami, he was going to take the black construction paper and make a gun. Many of the students thought it was cool. Even before recent events, I completely flipped out on him. I informed him he had 30 seconds destroy it unless he wanted a referral.
I wasn't very old when the Columbine shooting occurred but I do remember it on some level. I was in elementary school at the time. The VT shootings happened when I was in high school so this young man was pretty young when it happened. They don't understand the horror of even seeing the events on TV. They don't understand the fear of it happening in your town. I am willing to bet that if the creator of said paper gun pulled it out today, it would be seen as a threat because we are so scared.
I'm not writing this post to make a point about gun control or the school systems or even mental health awareness. I'm writing to address a few issues near and dear to my heart, issues about faith in times of crisis and the problem of suffering in the world. I hate that we are so cynical that we assume that just because bad things happen in the world, God can't exist. I assure you that he does.
The question many people ask is how God can allow bad things to happen, how he allowed that man (I do not wish to remember his name) was allowed into an elementary school and was allowed to take the lives of innocent children, shattering our hearts. I think God allowed it because he had to.
When God created man kind, he created mankind with free will. With free will, unfortunately, comes sin, the root of all our problems. God does not force us to obey his laws, as much as he desperately wants us to. I like to think of God as the parent of an adult child. No matter how well you raise your kids, they are going to make mistakes, probably lots of them, and probably bigger mistakes as they get older.
We are addicted to sin like some people are addicted to heroin. We know it's bad for us but we can't stop. We are like adult children. No matter how much our loving parents beg us to stop, they cannot make us do so. They cannot shield us from the consequences of our own actions, just like God cannot shield us from the results of our own sin. If he gave us our free will, he can't selectively take it away to save us from the consequences. For those of you who are parents, have you ever let your child make a mistake so they would understand the consequences, even though it hurt your heart? It's like that.
I have no doubt that God mourns for what happened in Connecticut even more than we do. He is able to love more completely than us; and he knows each of them more completely than anyone else. He knows who each of those beautiful children could have become and His heart is broken that they never got a chance to be those people. But those children are now with God, safe in his arms, and we are the ones we ought to feel sorry for. We must continue to live our lives in a world of sin.
I said the following on facebook on Monday:
"People ask where God was on Friday when all those children died. I can tell you where. God was in Sandy Hook School on Friday. He was there escorting each of the little children to heaven, and he was there with the teachers who kept their children calm in the chaos. He was there with the parents that learned that their child would never come home. He was in Sandy Hook, invited or not, as he is in every school."
I hold tightly to every word of that statement. On Friday, when the world was busy asking where he was, God was with the children of Sandy Hook, those who lost their lives and those who have to live in the aftermath. He held each tiny hand, calmed fluttering hearts, and whispered calming words in the ears of terrified children. Do you know how hard it is to keep a first grader quiet, even when there isn't anything going on? God was with those children.
God was with the principal and the school counselor making a desperate attempted to take the shooter out. They gave up their lives for those kids. He was also there with the teachers that had to protect their kids and keep a level head in chaos.
God was there in the aftermath, with the first responders. He was with the husbands and children who learned that their wife or mother had given up their lives. He was with the parents who learned that their child would never come home from school. I cannot even imagine.
As a country, we have decided that God is not invited into our public schools. I think God is kind of like that friend of a friend who always comes along when you make plans, invited or no. He doesn't particularly care that he isn't invited; he's coming in anyway. I believe that God is with us always. Always. God doesn't escort us into a school building and wait at the door.
We have seen a lot of tragedy through the years and a lot of difficulty this year. Hurricane Sandy rocked our country. But the difference was that we felt like there was something we could do. There was a cause to donate to, there were tangible needs to fill, and physical damage to repair. There is none of that in this case. We can only pray. While many think it's like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound but it's not. Gaping wounds take time to heal and they often have to be healed from the inside out. Prayer is like a salve. Applied daily, it helps heal the wound but it takes time.
I hope my words, inadequate as they are, might bring comfort to you. Comment, if you would like, but any posts meant to inspire arguments will be deleted.