every opportunity

It’s been a long weekend.  I’ve been trying to piece together what to write in this post, what to share, praying, trying to process what still seems so unreal.  This blog is where I share my heart, where I’m at, but it also serves as a journal, a record of our days.  Though it’s been painful and scary and difficult, there’s also been an incredible outpouring of love and a new found overwhelming gratitude and I don’t want to forget what the Lord is doing.

By now I’m sure there aren’t many people in the world that don’t know what took place in Colorado last Friday morning.  The excitement of a movie premier quickly turned into chaos and tragedy.  That’s a picture of my husband’s ticket stub from The Dark Knight Rises midnight showing.  Crazy to think that I have a physical piece of history, just a ticket stub, but a reminder of a night that changed us.

Branden left that night around 10:45pm.  The theater is about half an hour away.  He was meeting up to watch the new Batman movie with my cousins, my dad, sister and her fiance.  He never really gets to go out, not without the boys and I.  My cousin had invited him.  Branden really is the biggest Batman fan I’ve ever met – ever, so I was excited he got to go.

I knew the show started at midnight and that he wouldn’t be home until close to 3:30am or so.  Another cousin, Aileen (sister to the two that were joining Branden for the movie) stayed the night at our house which always means staying up late, so it worked out.

About 1:40am my phone rings.  Branden’s name shows up.

“Aren’t you watching a movie right now?” I asked, not suspecting anything.

Branden proceeded to tell me that the movie had been interrupted by gunfire.  Bullets and debris had pelleted the theater.  People were injured; a man sitting three seats away from him had been hit.

“What?! What are you talking about?”

He didn’t have many facts at this point.  It was unclear how many gunmen there were.  It had been loud, chaotic, in panic they had rushed out of the theater, climbing over bloodied seats.  He had been with my cousins in one theater, but my dad and sister and her fiance had been in a different one.  He said they had seen more than he had and were very shaken.  Everyone in our group was safe, but no one was being released.

I don’t think it really hit me at this point what exactly had just happened.  Branden was okay.  I asked him to keep me updated.

About an hour later I called his phone.

Any updates?

Not yet.  I could hear the commotion in the background.  Sirens and people and the buzz of confusion.  No one was being released to leave.

By this time, Aileen and I were both sitting with laptops open, scanning facebook and news sites for information.  Branden had posted something on his facebook page about being at the theater.  Friends began to text and message me.  I did my best to dialogue but we still didn’t know many details.

3am Branden calls again.  I can hear that it’s quiet.  He’s walking to his truck.  Some had been released and he was going to come home.  Thank God!

“It might be a little while,” he said.  “It looks like the police are stopping to talk to every car.”

“That’s fine.  Just get here as soon as you can.”

20 minutes later he called again.  The police had informed him that he was free to leave but his vehicle was not.  He used the words “active crime scene.”  A few more phone calls and he caught a ride with my cousins to their house.  I needed to go pick him up.

I called my dad on the way.  He was okay.  My sister and her fiance are okay.  I don’t even know what that means.  They’d been shuttled to a nearby high school for more questioning.  They were tired and shaken.

Just after 4am I arrive at my cousin’s house, both tired and wired still from adrenaline.  Hugs all around, then we get into the car and drive home.

“Are you okay?” I ask him.

“Yes, but there are a lot of people in bad shape.”

I’m both relieved and on the verge of tears.  I feel like throwing up.  I just need to get home.

Branden recounts details, what he saw, bloody bodies being carried out by strangers.  It’s clear now that there was one gunman. He had entered the theater next to theirs, the one where my dad and sister and her fiance had been.  Some kind of tear gas or smoke bombs were launched into the air and then the gunman fired a stream of bullets into the crowd.  Bullets and debris went through the walls and into nearby rooms.  There were lights and sirens and helicopters.  The count was up to 12 now.

We got home about 4:30, turned out lights and locked doors.  Branden crawled into bed as I changed into pajamas.

“Come here,” he says.  “Let me hold you.”

I climb under the sheets, just thankful my husband is home.

“What would I have done?”

“I don’t know, but you don’t have to think about that.  I’m okay.”

“But all those people.”

“I know,” he says and begins to pray, for our family, for all those who were there, who were still there, for the families of the victims, for the injured, the list goes on.  Somehow we fell asleep.

I woke up to  four or five text messages, friends and family calling to see if we were okay.  They had seen Branden’s facebook post the night before and were concerned.  People started calling, texting, messaging.  It didn’t stop.  The day was long and emotional and draining, going from overwhelming thankfulness for the Lord’s protection to feeling disgust and sadness for the families of those truly affected.

My boys went down for their nap and I sat before the Lord.

“I need You to speak now,” I had said, my heart exhausted and overwhelmed.

The Bible is like an anchor.  In the chaos, the craziness, the unknown, it will ground you.  I’m often surprised at what the Lord chooses to speak to me, what I need, not always what I expect.  It’s just comforting to hear the Shepherd speak in the wilderness.

“If you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you?”  -Luke 6:33

My mind automatically thought about the shooter.  I had already read facebook posts saying how angry, frustrated, even indignant some were after what had happened.  Honestly, I wasn’t angry (though I think that would have been a normal response).  My heart was so sad for the victims, for their families, for the whole situation.  But what did this verse mean?  Then the Lord spoke.

We are His church.  In this time, in the wake of this terrible tragedy, the world is looking for hope and to see what the church will do.  We can do what comes natural – give in to anger or hopelessness, or we can walk in the opposite direction and share the love of Jesus with the hurting, even with the doubtful and angry and those who’ve lost hope.

Ephesians 5:15-18 says, “Be careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

Even though what happened breaks the Father’s heart, He allowed it, and it’s become an opportunity.  Not only to share the gospel – that He loves people – but for us to take a look at where we are as a church, as people who follow the Lord.  The days are evil.  There is no time to waste.  It’s time to wake up and be sold out for Jesus, to live by the Spirit.  Now.  Now is the time.

I think about my boys, Branden and I had decided not to tell them anything regarding Friday night’s incident.  They are very young, probably not even able to process what happened.  We didn’t think that at their age, there was any good thing that would come of us sharing it with them.

I think about how the Father filters the events of life for us.  I know that He loves us more than I could even love my children.  Everything that comes our way is filtered through His hands.  If He allows such tragedy and heartache into our lives, it must only be for a purpose, because there is good fruit that can come of it.  What will we do now?  In the midst, in the aftermath?  After all the dust has settled, will be simply go back to the way things were?  Or will we make the most of this opportunity?

 I pray that we are changed, not in just a historical way.  I pray that when we look back to this time, we remember the lives lost and the city affected, but that we’ll also remember what the Lord did, in our hearts and through His church.  The Lord’s heart is always always to reconcile the lost to Himself.  I pray that we make the most of this opportunity.

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