In previous posts, I’ve mentioned the odd dichotomy that occurs when both blessing and curse happen nearly simultaneously. For me, as a parent, one of those occasions occurred between April 8 and April 9, 2014. It’s a dichotomy that I still struggle to wrap my head around despite knowing that God has and will continue to use these events to shape everyone involved.
My then-16-year old daughter played defense on the high school lacrosse team. Their practices ran from 8 – 10 pm every night, and she’d come home and work diligently on her homework. The oldest of three, she’s always been a self-starter, hard worker, and an overall excellent student. She never liked to miss school (unlike her mother, who may have skipped school a time or thirty!). Her even-tempered nature made her likable, and by all accounts, she was a pretty good kid. Except on April 8, 2014. I don’t know what kind of wicked temper overcame her personality late that night after lacrosse practice when she was working on a homework assignment that she apparently despised, but she became like the little girl in the movie, Exorcist. Sometime after 11 pm that evening, after angrily slamming her school notebooks down on the floor and storming around the house, I calmly said to her, “Go to bed.” I had had enough of the attitude and just wanted her out of my sight for a while. The ensuing argument left me bewildered, wondering if this was what everyone complained about “teenage” years – a phenomenon that we had not yet experienced.
“I CAN’T go to bed!” she exclaimed! “I HAVE to finish this homework!!!!”
To be honest, at that point, I could have cared less if she took a zero on the assignment, but as a type-A honor student, she had always been hell-bent on getting every point she possibly could, and extra credit when possible. I offered what I thought was a reasonable solution. “Go to bed, and get some rest. Stay home from school tomorrow and finish the assignment.”
“I CAN’T miss school tomorrow! I have a Lacrosse game on Thursday and if I’m not there tomorrow, I can’t practice! and if I can’t practice, I can’t play in the game!!!” She was angry like I had never seen before in her entire life. I offered another solution: “Go to bed – work on it in the morning – you can go in late. What’s the latest that you can go in and not be considered absent for the day?”
She seemed to settle with this suggestion, we agreed she’d get up in the morning and finish and I’d take her to school late. With that, she went off to bed and I went to make a cup of tea to calm my nerves.
My son, a fifteen year-old freshmen at the time, was very good-natured and empathetic, and genuinely cares about people. He had asked me if I could take him to school early the next morning. Our youth group was getting ready for a spring retreat and he wanted to ask a friend of his to come. He had taken some flyers for the event and wanted to pass them out before school began.
On the morning of April 9, 2014, we got up early. I ordered three books on Amazon: The Art of Loving One Another, Building Up One Another, and Encouraging On Another (books I had selected as part of my self-development). We left early for school as my son requested. We prayed for his day, as we had done every day for the previous ten years. We said an extra prayer for his friends – specifically the one he’d been praying for to come to the youth retreat.
A short time later, we learned of an incident that occurred at the school that morning where a student stabbed 21 people with two 8 inch kitchen knives. (for the details, please see previous posts:
I naively called my boss that morning to let him know I’d be late to work because of an incident at the school. As I texted the rest of my direct staff to let them know I’d be late, I learned the incident had already made national news. Still, I didn’t quite have the presence of mind to contact family members who might learn of the events. Quite honestly, I think in hindsight that I may have been somewhat in a state of shock.
We received calls from the school district informing us what to do to retrieve our kids. Of course, because my son was considered a “witness” to the event, he needed to stay at school to make a statement to the FBI. It was hours before the non-witness kids came home from school, even longer before I could get my son. I remember pulling up to the school, being directed by police where to park, where to enter, and where I could wait for my son to be interviewed. I was ushered to a classroom to wait with other parents, similarly dazed and very somber, were waiting for their kids. Occasionally, as a student was reunited with their parents, the room would break out into tears, but was otherwise relatively quiet as each person tried to comprehend what had happened.
It well after noon when my son and I returned home. By that time, our house was filled with teenagers who had come over to decompress with one another. Our youth pastor called to see if I’d help plan a service for our kids that night – he felt they would need some time to be with one another in the presence of God. We got together to plan the service, which, at the time, was intended to be for our own youth group. Little did we know that hundreds and hundreds of people would pack our church – including CNN and other large news networks. Again, we prayed for the victims and sang songs to help us feel the presence of God in the face of the evil that had just occurred, everyone still trying to fully grasp the magnitude.
In the days that followed, I spent countless hours hanging out with our teens – driving them from hospital to hospital visiting their friends who had been stabbed. Miraculously, none of the victims died, although some of their injuries were life altering and very touch-and-go for a while. At various points, I found myself alone with my son, who was working very hard to process everything. He said to me, “mom, I saw things that day that I can never un-see. I heard things that day that I can never un-hear” and I knew he was right. He grew up in a heartbeat that day. On one hand, I was incredibly proud that his Godly leadership allowed him to bless others with prayer that day – on the other hand, I was incredibly sorry for what he and his classmates had experienced.
The dichotomy for me, as a parent, comes in knowing full well that God had somehow allowed my daughter’s immature behavior the night before to keep her from being present. I know full well that if she had been, she would have been beside her boyfriend, and could possibly have been stabbed herself. Ironically, however, I know that if I hadn’t taken my son to school early that day, he would not have been there. For me to reconcile that God prevented one child from being there while seemingly delivered the other child to be there to face evil is something I don’t think I’ll ever understand on this side of Heaven. I have seen first hand how this event has shaped both of my children’s lives (as well as those of their friends who also experienced it first hand), and know well enough that God will use all of it for His glory somehow; however, the duplexity of the blessed curse or cursed blessing will haunt me for years to come.
Mostly blessed (sometimes cursed ;-)),
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