Why God sent a rainbow: Lessons from the Marysville school shooting

Some people have been wondering why I haven’t written about the shooting yet that occurred right in my backyard at Marysville Pilchuck High School. I’ve wondered that myself.

But something like that–well, it’s safe to say that it froze my hands on the keyboard.

What do you say about something like this?

The place I took swimming lessons for four years, the auditorium I danced in in two recitals, the bleachers I sat in during some away games, the place where handfuls of my friends passed through those halls over the years. Marysville. Right next door. Basically home.

I couldn’t write about it for some time because I didn’t know what needed to be written. The news stations were covering who was shot and where they were at. Twitter feeds and news feeds were doing their fair share of political commentary about guns. Bloggers were having a heyday as usual. And there I was, not knowing exactly what to say.

My fourth grade teacher’s daughter was one of the students who ran and cowered for shelter when the shots rang out in the cafeteria. The day after it happened she said that she saw a rainbow right over the school–this rainbow right here–and even a rainbow over the hospital where some of the victims were sent. Suddenly I knew what needed to be said that hasn’t been quite yet.

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(Both photos credited to KIRO TV, Seattle)

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God is near.

It’s a gutsy thing to write when children are crying and war is across the sea and parents are struggling now to see their kids get on a school bus. It’s a gutsy thing to say in a world that cries out, “What God would allow this?!”

Because, let’s face it. We’ve all thought it. So did I.

Evil exists. Sickness exists. And the news will continue to tell us that it’s just getting worse.

But the rainbow. It reminds us.

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It reminds us that in the midst of tragedy there is something to be found that brings light back into darkness. There are kids who suddenly learn early lessons about hate–and decide to do whatever it takes to show that instead they can love.

It reminds us that in our grief we aren’t alone. And that we won’t let others be alone in theirs.

It reminds us that we’re given a new day to rebuild, even if it’s the smallest of steps every day.

It reminds us we can forgive with time–and become all the better for it.

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(Tweets from hospitalized victim Nate Hatch)

It reminds us of so much–all of us something different I think, according to what we need.

The world isn’t getting better. And it won’t. That was never promised. And as much as people try we can never completely stop kids from killing kids or soldiers losing their limbs in war or villages in foreign countries going without water. We’ll try and we’ll cry for it and we’ll help as much as we can but in the end we’re going to face the brutality of mortality and we’re going to have to find joy and find love anyway.

We’re going to have to keep spotting the rainbows.

Students and community members attend a vigil at the Grove Church after a shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Marysville

My heart hurts alongside those who heard the shots ring out and those who ran home to their children that day. My heart is in the ICU with those who still fight and with the family of the boy who decided there was no  other option. In one of the saddest scriptures of all time we hear the Lord speaking about tragedy such as this and how it even hurts his own heart.

“Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;

“And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood” (Moses 7:32–33).

So where do we turn? What do we write about? Where do we go from here?

I fail to have the right words even though I wish I did. I fail to have a perfect outline to follow or some beautiful way of telling people we’ll get through even this. As a writer–that’s frustrating.

BUT when words fail we turn to the little things that remind us that there is still beauty. There is still good. There is still hope.

That’s why He sent the rainbow.

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Forgiving Cain: And everything else we owe to the undeserving

In the past, challenges have usually turned my mind toward Christ. But something that just happened recently turned my mind toward Cain as well.

 

Yes, that Cain.

 

The Cain who killed his brother thousands of years ago and has his story shared over and over countless times in countless Sunday school classes and in between the yellowed pages of countless Bibles tucked on shelves all over the world. The Cain we talk about in direct comparison to his obedient brother—the surest sign really of a fallen world. The symbol of slipping beyond the forgiveness of an ultimately forgiving Heavenly Father.

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That Cain, in particular, has been on my mind since a couple days ago.

 

I got a letter from someone who hurt me pretty bad three years ago. I thought the damage was beyond repair. Actually, I was fairly certain that if I ever saw him again he’d have hell to pay. Out of all the people who had ever made mistakes in my life, offended me, or treated me wrong, they all fell short of the bitterness I tended to have pent up toward this man. Without rehashing the story, it was simply unforgivable.

 

But that was three years ago. Seasons changed. I grew and learned. And between then and now I learned the hardest lesson I’ve ever had to learn: That forgiveness is owed to everyone, even the ones who never ask for it.

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What a painful lesson that is to learn. It’s painful because you crave for justice to be served. For “I’m sorry” to finally be said. It hurts simply because you feel like you’re the only one bearing the cross. And for three years I’ve wondered ever so often why I had to give this man that forgiveness. Was it just so that I could move on?

 

Contrary to what the world says, the answer to that is no.

 

We’re commanded to forgive all men—not just the repentant ones. The commandment isn’t in place just so we feel better either. The forgiveness we give is mercy that we owe simply because Christ forgave us first–before we even asked for it.

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I didn’t know the repercussions of that kind of forgiveness—the hardest kind—until I opened that letter. I never thought I’d hear from him again. In fact, for the last three years I’ve imagined him going through life without a second thought about me or the damage he caused. In a way I didn’t even care to hear from him again. But then the letter came. And it all made sense.

 

He asked for forgiveness. He asked, sincerely and deliberately, for me to understand that the hurt he caused had ultimately led to such suffering that his whole world began to fall apart. His faith was shaken—his family crumbled—he had fear that the blessings would never come.

 

And then—three years later—it was my duty, out of all people, to tell him that they would. That I already forgave him, long before he ever asked for it. That he was free simply because I was told to set him free.

 

But why? you might ask. Why should you forgive the woman who walked out on you or the man who beat you for years? Why should you forgive the father who drank too much or the stranger who ran the red light and killed your sister? Why should you forgive the church that kicked you out or the friend who betrayed you?

 

Why? Because you’ve been given grace too, even in your most undeserving of moments.

 

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a leader in my church, once said: For our own good, we need the moral courage to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. Never is the soul nobler and more courageous than when we forgive. This includes forgiving ourselves.”

 

We talk about Cain’s fall, his rebellion, his turning away from God’s voice and his unforgivable sins. But how often we forget that Eve—a mother stricken with grief for both of her lost sons—had to forgive too. Not even she was exempt.

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So neither are we.

 

Cain, in the pages of my Bible, reminds me of my obligation. So does the letter in front of me from a man that sat in the pages of my past. Because these aren’t just stories. These are reminders.

 

Father, forgive them.

 

Words always given to the undeserving. Words first given to us.

 

prisoner

 

 

It’s your turn to rise again: A letter to a sinner

I thought of you today.

It’s a day before Easter Sunday and I was finally able to see “Son of God” in theaters. A fitting time, if you ask me.

Throughout the movie I tended to focus on a particular person: The sinner.

Judas, who betrayed Jesus all for a handful of coins and ended his life because of the shame of it. Peter, who denied Christ three times and couldn’t even bear to sit at the foot of the cross because of his shame. The woman caught in the act of adultery, who cried at Christ’s feet and expected nothing except a stone.

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The woman in the crowd who reached out to simply touch the hem of His garment–hoping that it would simply make her clean again. The pharisees, who within their doubt and corrupted laws, hammered nails through the purest hands that ever came to earth and then fell to their knees when the skies went dark and they realized they had killed the Messiah. Thomas, who doubted that Jesus would rise, and then fell in a guilty heap at the master’s feet when he saw for himself the holes in His hands.

The sinner is also you. Me. The man next to me who I’ve never met.

We often talk about Christ and his atonement and we praise faithful acts of John and Matthew while also scoffing at the fear of Peter. We shake our heads at the Pharisees who refuse to believe. We wonder how Thomas could doubt.

But then– ahhh yes. We come to a point in our lives when it hits us harder than usual that we too have sinned. That we too have slipped so far away. That we–just like Peter or the adulterous woman or the tax collector within the temple–have messed up horribly.

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Sometimes that realization and the shame of what we’ve done is enough to keep us away from the foot of the cross. Sometimes our sins seem “so dark” or so beyond recovery that, like Peter, we decide to step back. That might entail skipping church every sunday morning. Maybe it means we stop praying. Sometimes we decide we’re too far gone and we let other mindsets or beliefs take the seat of what once was reserved just for Him. Then there are the times when we decide to put our scriptures in a drawer that never really gets opened again.

Sometimes we just stop believing altogether.

I write this to you, Sinner, because I’m a sinner too. And maybe, just maybe, this is more for me than it is for you today. Maybe not. But either way, I write this because I think that as humans we have the habit of seeing the beauty in the gospel and the faithfulness and power in others while telling ourselves beneath muttered breaths that we’re no good. That we’re lost. That we don’t fit in with the mold. That we’ll never be up to par. That Christ is beyond disappointed with us.

And I think that when we buy into that thinking, we step so far back that we trick ourselves into thinking that Christ was the one that stepped back first.

This painting was my Dad’s favorite.

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While he was hospitalized during the last month of his life before coming home to hospice, this painting was hanging on the wall opposite of his bed, and I would catch him staring at it often, amidst the muffled beeps of machines and the chatter of visitors. The one time I asked about the picture he told me that it’s his favorite because he feels like he’s the man in the picture. No matter what I’ve done or how bad I’ve messed up in the past, he said, Jesus will welcome me home with open arms and say ‘Well done’.

I wish, especially this Easter, that you’ll remember the same thing my Dad did.

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I don’t know what kind of mistakes you’ve made. You might be a teenager who slipped up in a relationship and didn’t quite wait for marriage. Maybe you’re a victim of something that made you feel less than what you are. Maybe you’re overcoming an addiction or have spent the last fifteen years convincing yourself that church isn’t a place for you. Or maybe–I’m actually quite certain–you’re a sinner just like me who sometimes pushes Christ away when all He really wants to do is give a hug and show us the escape. We’re forgiven.

Christ came for the sinner. Not for the perfect. That’s my cue that we can let him into our damaged, fragile, beaten and bruised hearts. We can let him see into those dark shadows of our minds and those painful remnants of the past. He can see our scarred hands and tear-filled eyes and he can see all of our second, third, fourth, fifth chances and all the times we fell short. We can rise again out of the ashes and still be confident that he loves us. Each and every time.

Let him rescue you, fellow sinner.

Let him be your Savior.