As I scrolled through Instagram on Thursday morning, I noticed a post from my daughter’s friend, saying to pray for the victims of the shooting. I had been home barely 24 hours from visiting my daughter at Pepperdine. As quickly as my home internet could churn, I started googling for information.
Of course, the unthinkable unfolded on my computer screen, and then on national news throughout the day. Thirteen people killed in a mass shooting in Thousand Oaks. A Pepperdine freshman among the victims at a popular student dance spot.
The tragedy took place only minutes from my daughter’s off-campus apartment. It was one of the safest places to live in the US, until Thursday morning.
What was I to say to my girl 1500 miles away, about something neither of us understand?
So my momma heart did what momma hearts do, and it broke for my child. Just like our God does for us, we feel what our children feel, whether we choose to intervene or not. We bleed for them in an attempt to save them from this messy world.
Just hours after my best effort to console her, she called to say she was under a mandatory evacuation order from her apartment due to the Woolsey wildfire. Still hurting from the earlier tragedy, we talked about what she should pack. I told her not to worry about every little thing. Take what you might need for an overnight trip. I was sure they were evacuating the students out of an abundance of caution.
Well, that’s not the first time my parental instinct went awry. And I’m sure it won’t be the last.
Later came pictures of her apartment complex surrounded by flames, and the entire campus sheltering in place with the City of Malibu under fiery siege. Hundreds of memory-laden homes and hard-earned businesses gone. Unexpected, unprecedented, and unbelievable, even to those accustomed to southern California wildfires.
A week my daughter will never forget, for sure. But also a week she must live with and grow through. And being the older, wiser parent, I feel the burden of words now.
For some of us, it is our tendency to blame God for the bad in life. For others, we blame Satan, or free will, or the notion that there is no God and the world exists in random free fall. I honestly don’t know why our world is not always good. I have a feeling it’s much more complicated than we’d ever imagine. Or maybe much simpler.
But I do know that although God is always good, He never told us our world or our lives would be. He didn’t promise it and He didn’t live it. And neither did His followers.
Chronic illness has taught me that if our world was perfect, we’d never yearn for the next. We’d never know the thirst for a better place or a perfect existence. And in our contentment and self-satisfaction, we’d never need a God wiser and stronger than we are.
So yes, the world is painful and confusing and we can’t explain it all. Even when we get gray hairs in our eyebrows and AARP invitations in the mail.
I am reminded of Mr. Rogers’ words to worried children after 9/11. My now 21-year-old daughter was just four. He said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” And when we look for people helping, we find the best in the world, the glimpses of Eternity that flicker in our dark, damaged world. The big helpers like the firefighters and first responders, and the perhaps even bigger ones sharing their homes with the displaced or comforting the broken-hearted.
We can look for answers to a question we probably can’t get our human minds around. Or we can focus on what we know and what we have lived. And we can concentrate on living our lives to write a different, better story because of what we have experienced.
“Live your life so that the fear of death never enters your heart.” A trademark statement of Ventura County Sheriff Sgt. Ron Helus. Helus was among the victims in the Thousand Oaks shooting.
He ran toward trouble so others had a chance to run away from it. The only way you can do that is to know that something better lies on the other side of the scary unknown. To know truly that fear and death are both liars. God’s Holy Fire inside us is not one directed by fear, but by power, love, and the self-control required to sacrifice for others.
And by running in, we honor the knowing that our eternal souls are made for more than this.
As the nightmare week ended, my girl got off an airplane, walked through our front door and into my arms. I am keenly aware that another momma’s girl did not. And that many other families that seem as familiar as mine no longer have a front door to walk through.
As they always will this side of Eternity, the questions and doubts rolled in about life, and goodness, and God Himself. But I have a seed of knowing that will not die.
At times like this, the seed of forever that God placed in our hearts sprouts through the smoldering ashes and the bullet-ridden dance floors.
And for now, that has to be enough.