A Response to Parkland, Florida School Shooting
Unfortunately, this year’s Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday was haunted by the news of yet another mass shooting in one of our nation’s schools. Just like the rest of you, I am heartbroken, sick to my stomach, and at a loss for words as the South Florida town of Parkland has lost 17 of their own- 14 of them being children.
I was 6 years old when the Columbine High School shooting happened. I don’t remember it, but I learned about it years later. I couldn’t fathom such a tragedy- how anyone could do that to students in their place of learning, growth, and safety, or how so many kids would bravely survive that day.
Two and a half years later, I was 8 years old and in third grade when my teacher got a call and refused to turn on the tv. The entire day was all out of sorts, but most of us kids had no idea why. We weren’t allowed recess that day. We ate lunch in our classrooms. Many of my fellow students were slowly being picked up by their parents throughout the day. My mom picked my brother and me up in the early afternoon and hugged us so tight that sometimes I still close my eyes and remember that hug in these moments of fear. She told us, as calmly as she could, that people who were not a friends of the United States flew planes into several big buildings in our country and hurt a lot of people. She said that it was a very scary day for everyone. My young mind struggled to reconcile the picture of my small, happy world and my child-like faith with the kind of evil that would drive someone to do this. To willingly and purposefully hurt other people. “This couldn’t be happening,” I thought. “This shouldn’t be happening.”
I am 25 now, and I have lost track of the number of tragedies our country has faced in my lifetime (e.g., mass shootings at schools, acts of terror, and hate marches). This was not a “norm” for me as a young child growing up, but unfortunately, it is for our kids today. It grieves and angers me that their schools, places of worship, concerts, movie theaters, places of recreation are no longer places of safety. It grieves and angers me that kids learn the “Code Red” active shooter drill on the same day that they may learn to read or add numbers. It grieves and angers me that children of teachers fear every day that their parents might get shot at school. And that at the same tender age that I first learned about this kind of evil being done in our nation, other kids the same age looked it straight in the eye in towns like Sandy Hook and Townville. “This couldn’t be happening”, I say to myself with disbelief.… “This shouldn’t be happening.”
I am not yet a parent, so I have not felt the fear you parents experienced in the wake of these headlines and tragedies. But as someone who works with children and have worked with youth in the past, my heart aches. It aches for the fear and pain parents are facing. It aches for the now broken communities, one after the other. And it aches for my kids, who I have come to love dearly and who I thank God for everyday, especially after weeks like this when they return safely to our boisterous Kids Connect Room. My heart also aches for our youth, who I respect so much for their light and leadership. This is not the world and reality I want them growing up in.
While I am confident I am not alone in my emotions, I want to encourage conversations about these subjects (at the appropriate ages), because this is how we prepare and protect, but most importantly, spread awareness. Whether in your home, workplace, or community of friends, open dialogue about your feelings and how to respond is so important.
We need to do better for ourselves and each other. Because as the alerts flooded my phone screen on Wednesday, forming a massive pit of fear, anger and sadness in my stomach, the same thoughts filled my head: “this couldn’t be happening… this shouldn’t be happening.”
I’ve thought a lot about how to respond to these acts of evil as a Christian. I’ve asked myself, “How would Christ respond? Would He let political debates divide Him from others? Would He let fear keep Him from acting? Where is Christ in all of this?”
Knowing Him- it’s really no surprise here- He would be loving. Just showing plain ole’ genuine, agape love to everyone. So, that’s what we should do, too. And not just in the few days that follow a tragedy (God forbid there be another one) — but everyday.
We know Christ loved children and protected them in His ministry. Hug your own children so tight that they feel your love 17 years later. Show love, kindness and patience to other kids. Kids look up to adults more than we know- they take after the way that we talk to each other, the way we bicker about politics or sports or finances, or the way we treat people we don’t like. They see it all, and the more they see it, the more they mimic it. Demonstrate love, respect and kindness.
We also know that Christ served the outcasts and the “hated” throughout His ministry and life- let’s make that our mission too. I tell this to my kids all the time- “be kind, for everyone is facing a tough battle.” You never know what your love, respect or kindness could do in someone’s life or what difference it can make.
And lastly, we know Christ prayed. The term “thoughts and prayers” seems to get thrown around so easily when something of this magnitude happens. But our thoughts and our prayers do matter. Pray for those recovering from this recent attack and their families, friends and community. Pray for the safety and protection for our own children, youth, schools, workplaces, church and communities. And pray for action. 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 says “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” Prayer without the action of love is nothing.
I am several years older, now, and I don’t understand why these events still keep happening. My world is a little bigger but my faith in people is unfortunately diminished. But maybe my faith was misplaced. Paul writes in the same chapter of 1 Corinthians that virtually everything we cling so tightly to in this life will one day come to an end – everything one thing. Paul says, “love never fails.” Love. That is what will endure.
Make Christ present and real in these times with your love for others. Keep loving your kids, your peers, your family, your friends- but also make room in your hearts to love the others too. Love so much it becomes natural for you. We all need to work on it- I know I do. Love should be our overwhelming response to these heartbreaking tragedies. With Christ’s help, this could be happening… this should be happening.
-Addison Schmitz, 2/15/2018
For All, to share and be aware…
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741
- Disaster Distress Helpline by calling 1-800-985-5990 or by texting TalkWithUs to 66746