Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My World is Already Different

Is it safe to write????

Every time I've tried to start a blog post in the last few weeks, a tragic or horrible piece of news comes in our direction.  Here in the Painter household, we have been subject to secondhand news of upsetting things.  If you are managing your own mental well being and do not want to read of upsetting things, I will list the worst at the end of this post.

Skip this post when it becomes beneficial.

Have your kids returned to public school this week like mine have?  How has it gone for you as a parent?  I posted Psalm 91 on facebook; it is a great set of promises from the Promise-Maker for the concerns of physical safety.  I am praying for my kids every time I drop them off, and we are talking a lot about how to be safe and yet not live with fear.

Lijie has afternoon kindergarden.  I didn't want to be a nuisance as this tragedy was just coming across communication lines on Friday afternoon, but I really wanted to be present for my own sense of protecting my child as he went into his class.  I did not walk down to his class like I have oftentimes, I let him go and then peeked around into the office to speak to the secretary.  I asked,
"Do you have a different protocol for security at a time like this?  I assume you've gathered what happened this morning?"
I paused and waited while she gathered her thoughts.  She replied that she just received an email about their security a few minutes prior.  That there was a police car patroling the local streets around the school... that there were particular staff persons who were walking the grounds of the school at certain intervals.  I nodded my head.

I had seen a police cruiser with his lights flashing as we were driving to the school - only he had pulled over a fellow mother I knew and was giving her a ticket for speeding I assume.  It was a comfort to see the police myself.  Then I said to her,
"Okay.  I am afraid for copycats."
She replied with a "yeah" because we're all trying to take this in without overreacting. I told her with a tear in my eye how much I was thankful for all they do. She was touched and said thank you.

I am curious to brainstorm how I can be encouraging to the school at this time?  I want to help, but I don't think I can do anything to be helpful, except give them winter break to gather their wits and come up with some substantial suggestions.  I assume they will hold meetings for parents to describe their plans and solutions and on that day, I plan to be a part and offer my help.

On Monday (yesterday), things were just as tense.  Taped in the front door window there was a piece of paper which said,
Please have patience with us.  We are currently revising our security protocols for the school.  At this time you may be asked for identification before entering the building.
Well, I paused.  And then I walked inside.  I walk in a lot and have had my children attending this school for 7 years, so they "know" me.  Right?  No.  Here's the deal: Adam Lanza was "known" too.  It doesn't matter how long they've recognized me, or that I'm a parent.  Anyone, anyone can put the children at risk including me.  I stood inside and froze out of respect.  Nothing happened.  There was a teacher leading her students across the lobby area toward the gym.  They followed one another in a perfectly straight line.  The teacher, a beautiful young woman just like at Sandy Hook, stared straight at me, ignoring her students.  She just stood there between me and her students, staring at me, but smiling.

It doesn't matter who I am, I realized. All that matters is whether or not I pose a threat. I was wearing a coat that comes down to mid-thigh. Long enough to conceal a gun and I shook my head later when I thought about it.

I need to be thought of as the bad guy: this is the teachers' job, now. To size up risk, to keep me out. That is exactly what I want for my child while he is at school. I just wish it wasn't happening to me, because obviously I along with 99.999% of people who walk into that building, am not the enemy, but an ally.

My world is different now.

So is my daughter's. Grace came home from school. She said that a week prior they practiced their "lockdown drill." I asked her to explain.

Level 1 This is the level the school is commonly on every day. It means the doors on the exterior of the building remain locked during school hours.

Level 2 All classroom doors must be locked from access in the hallway. Students stay in their seats and class continues.

Level 3 All classroom doors must be locked from access in the hallway. Students are supposed to hide in the corner of the room where there is no visibility from the window on the door, or hide in closets or cabinets. Anything to make the room look vacant.

On the one hand, I was like, wow. That's great. They already have thought through a situation like this. On the other hand I marvel. I never did "lockdown drills" as a kid. We did earthquake drills, and tornado drills when I was in Illinois. I remember learning how my parent's generation had atomic bomb drills. I guess this is the next generation's most likely terror...? What kind of a world does my daughter live in, today? Why should she have to learn how to hide from a gunman... or a team of gunmen?

I drove along Broadway Street, past another elementary school. I saw children outside, lined up against the wall, perhaps preparing for recess. For a moment I thought, "oh my God" ("oh my God" is not a cuss word, it is an address to God directing His attention to a situation that needs Him). A sniper could take them out so easy. The playground is out in front of the school, right next to the street. How can teachers send them out to play? How can they protect them from a gun, there?

Fear creates such a mess. Like the airlines after 9/11, I just wonder if life in schools will ever be the same. I wonder if it is going to be just as bad as that tragedy, just as far-reaching.

This is going to be a hard time as a nation. It is going to be hard on everybody, especially those who directly care for children. I am praying for God to give me wisdom for how to encourage teachers and staff.

Public Places

Secondhand experiences have reached us from the tragedy at Clackamas Town Center Mall. Ben's mother had time off from work as an elementary teacher. She planned to go to that mall the very next day after the shooting. She shops there frequently. It is a suburban, upper-scale mall. Not the first choice for an act of home-grown terrorism. I know that she shops a lot at Macy's. She called to share her experience that night, and Ben lovingly called her the next evening to see how she was doing again. It is hard to imagine her entering that place again.

A couple days later, Ben forwarded me an email from one of his martial arts teachers of the last 9 years. His teacher's email was filled with sadness to share that one of his students, a fellow black belt in their martial art (Kosho Ryu Kempo) and friend of 20 years, Steve Forsyth, was one of the two victims (the male victim) that was killed in the shooting at the Mall. Ben had not met Steve personally, but it certainly made the grief more profound.

And then yesterday, Ben came home from work again after Kempo class. His other teacher who taught him today is a black belt and police officer with Clackamas County. He was called to the scene at the Mall and was one of the first responders as an officer. I asked him what he experienced. He said,
"things that can't be said with little ears present."
Tonight Ben tells me part of his story: that there were well over 10,000 people in the mall. That as a first responder he had to go from room to room to room to release people in hiding. The eerie state of seeing not a soul but hearing Christmas music playing overhead and seeing strollers, purses, food -- everything abandoned in an instant when people ran for their lives.

Personal Relationships

My friend Elena as I mentioned in the previous blog post was murdered. We had known Dave since before he filed for divorce, and Ben and I had built some friendship doing couples things to try and share in life and a sense of understanding. It is difficult of course, now. Ben and I joke how crazy it is that we personally know a murderer. I was told by a certain individual that she was shot in the cranium, however their were multiple gunshot wounds. It's awful. The Statesman Journal reported from police officers that Dave confessed to have thought previously of murdering her in ways other than with a firearm. I don't know if Dave is guilty of having done any wrong. It's not my place to judge; I am quoting what is commonly known. This is quite unnerving, and we occasionally have poured over our knowing him to try and come to the mindset of this outcome, but, of course, we can't understand it. As with the other tragedies, how can someone logically come to the decision to murder, which is by definition not an accident, not self-defense?

We are left picking up the pieces. The local funeral home is trying to arrange for a cost-effective way to get her home. The memorial is this Saturday and they'll release her cremated remains to me so that I can transport her to the church for the service. Tough stuff. I spoke again to Kathie at Victim's assistance and after a few minutes we both felt the need to talk about the national sense of devastation this last week, how everyone stopped processing heartache about Elena while that was happening. Kathie said that she is also working on the case of the victims at Clackamas Town Center. Crazy. She is a great lady. I love her manner. She is slow. Her tone is just perfect for grieving people. I couldn't think more highly of her.

One Thought at a Time

I recognize that I am overreacting, in some ways, to what I see as risk for children to be shot while attending school. I do recognize it. I'm allowing myself the grace to experience it as it comes. I believe this is the only healthy way to do it. I haven't yet processed fear of generally public places, such as the mall, theaters, even church. I'm trusting God, but I just haven't thought out how to be as safe as is attainable without robbing joy for life. I haven't processed yet the fear completely that the people in my own life are people who are possibly capable of doing much harm. I've seen scary moments before in my life, and I felt like I learned the lesson of walking by faith and in victory in Christ, but I guess with each new wound, it must be regained, it must be relearned. And if it takes time, it takes time.

How can anybody not feel like a jerk for having ever felt anger in their heart.... When we can all see the fruit of hate... which is murder? Jesus warned us about this. He said that hate is murder in the heart. These are horrible realities on the human condition. I want Jesus in my life so much more than I did three weeks ago.

If I'm concerned by all this, perhaps there's something wrong with me. Am I too responsible for others? Am I not responsible enough? What am I supposed to be learning about my pride and self-reliance? An unspoken goal I've had for a few years is to be a pastor without the title. Lots of people do this, it's obviously easier than attending seminary. How much does it serve to have the title of pastor or minister? Every Christian is a minister (has priesthood), there is no distinguishing ministers in God's Kingdom but by an exceptional love relationship with God. I can be even less ambitious-minded by not thinking of myself as "Christian". Ministry simply amounts to no more than living life as God intended it in community. Am I able to hear His voice in the place that I am? I could have attended seminary for a few years now. The Spirit asked me about whose kingdom I'm building, and I'm not convinced that seminary is God's best. Life seems too short to secure a measure of authority to interpret the bible by a paper's certification. If God opens doors for me to do all the work of a pastor, church-planter, etc., without ever holding a title I would be as happy as a sunflower in the sun. However, if it turns out I could really stand to grow in Kingdom relevance through seminary, if seminary would make me grow in humility or character then I trust God to lead me in that direction.

What's the Good News?

Psalm 91 has been good news to me. God's word has been good news. And His power has been good news. At a time when I feel my worst... at a time when my head is the least functioning than it's been in a couple years... I can say this: God has favor for me, and it isn't because I am on the ball. It is only because of His grace that He calls me servant in such a state as I am in. I am amazed that the story of my personal life coincides to bless the local sphere.... Translation: I never would have dreamed my friend would leave this earth. If I could change it, I would do it in a heartbeat. But it prepared me a few weeks before the whole nation, the whole culture started suffering with the same issues: Guns. The mindset of murder. Trauma. Feelings of living in an unsafe world. Wanting desperately to depend on the normalcy of people who live around me. How is God not amazing in His plans that He prepared me just a little bit so that I could send the comfort that He has given me to others.... I never saw such a thing coming my way. I would take the entire month back in every aspect if I had a choice. But it never will go back to being exactly the way it was before.

I am proud of my husband. He adds such a love for things that are pure, and patient but consistent boundary for things that are not pure. He understands grace and compassion better than fewer people I've ever known. And most importantly he loves taking risks to affect transformation. I could not have asked for a better life-partner. It means so much to me that we both have a deep, true, unfailing love for people.

God has caused His providence to protect me. Dave called me the day before he allegedly murdered my friend. I didn't pick up the phone. I didn't call him back. He didn't leave a message. At the time I was led to hear, "let the call go." I did. Generally when he calls it's because something is happening with their relationship and he wants me to listen or mediate. Sometimes it is to pick her up. If he had asked me to come and get her on that day or the next, I would have done it. I might have been there the moment that this situation turned for the worst. I've been included in their disagreements at times in the past. These things add up to tell me that God said: No. He was going to make sure that nothing would happen to me. I cannot explain why I was protected. I cannot explain why my friend died. I cannot explain the mystery of God's will. But I am thankful that God protects me. Always, God will protect me until it is also my day to begin eternity at His side.

Ask one of the ten thousand people inside Clackamas Town Center Mall why they were protected from harm and someone else was not and they will probably have no better answers. Some things are just too big for us to explain. Close call? Not by a longshot. God directs me on a level path. I gave my life to Him, and He guards it. Matthew 10:28,
And fear not them which kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul...
Missing my friend. Her life is still unfolding like a gift to me. Look forward to seeing her in eternity so I can tell her again that I love her.

So thankful for the template of one tv show in four iterations all these years. I'm thankful for art. For fanvids depicting the subtle interweavings of significance in the human experience. Life... and your story of it, is art. It is the genius of a Master. Ephesians 2:11 ("workmanship").

I'm thankful for a nation becoming my community overnight. For the fellowship with everyone in recent mourning. For the never-wished-for-but-welcome companionship mirroring this specific battle to recover.

I'm thankful for the chance to absorb all that God has purposed me to become in the image of His Son.

"I'll Be Your Soldier" by Gavin Degraw

Where did all the people go?
They got scared when the lights went low.
I'll get you through it nice and slow,
When the world's spinning out of control.

Afraid of what they might lose
Might get scraped or they might get bruised.
You could beg them, what's the use?
That's why it's called a moment of truth

I'll get it if you need it,
I'll search if you don't see it,
You're thirsty, I'll be rain,
You get hurt, I'll take your pain.

I know you don't believe it,
But I said it and I still mean it,
When you heard what I told you,
When you get worried I'll be your soldier.

Funny when times get hard,
At the last moment when you're supposed to charge,
Always on the longest yard,
Oh, they feel their feet getting cold.

Hiding here, hiding there,
Find them underneath the stairs,
People hiding everywhere,
Trying to be still like a stone.

I'll get it if you need it,
I'll search if you can't see it,
You're thirsty, I'll be rain,
You get hurt, I'll take your pain.

I know you don't believe it,
But I said it and I still mean it,
When you heard what I told you,
When you get worried I'll be your soldier.

My aim is so true,
I wanna show you,
I'll try forever,
I'm never gonna say "surrender".

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Love is Enough

Some readers here may have known through facebook about what happened to Elena, a friend of mine.  I created a multi-admin blog for everyone who loved her who is internet-inclined to publish their own feelings at this time.  It's not much, I feel otherwise useless.

For Elena, Our Dear Friend

When a heart grieves, it becomes confused and hurt, and doubts.  Things that were once clear are now muddy.  It's the love that clears things again.  It is never a waste to love someone to the point that my heart is now naturally wounded.  It's not a waste of my heartbeats even if it ends in a shocking and unexpected way.  Even if I never get to see someone be strengthened by the mutifaceted nature of Christ's salvation.  Even if they fail or lose their way and get worse, it is still enough.  Love is enough.  I am so thankful to God that I was filled to share the love of God with her!  I am thankful that she was truly loved by the Church, God's people.  I praise God knowing that she was loved by Jesus so deeply through His people!  It makes me celebrate inside.

Why is love enough to Jesus?

There's a most famous verse about love not being enough.  Jesus sent out the 12 on their first mission trip.  Well, that word "mission trip" sounds too haughty sometimes to me.  How about describing a mission trip the way Jesus did?  "Freely you have received; freely give" (Matt. 10:8).  Verse 14,
And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.
This would mean that if people don't demonstrate marked improvement because of the gospel of Christ, we should move on.  But that isn't all He said.  In a less-quoted verse (vs. 40) a little further down, Jesus says,
He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.
"Receiving" is, like, having God, the Person.  In verse 14, Jesus dismisses a combination of bad indicators; "if they won't receive you AND they even won't hear your words, THEN shake the dust off your feet."  But sometimes people don't receive the words at first.  Sometimes, we're too broken to get it... for awhile.  Thank God for His mercy!  Where would I be without mercy??  It is enough to receive someone who you know ultimately what they are all about - they do all they have done in the name of the gospel of Christ.  It was rare for my friend to call to talk about the bible, or ponder how to be a follower of God.  But she would say, "Michele, would you come and sit with me?"

Jesus was the Master of being received into the house of the disenfranchised and simply celebrate being together.

If we get to have a funeral I hope to hear many stories of God's power in Elena's life, and how she believed in Jesus even though she suffered from mental handicap.  I wanted most for her to be safe and stable.  We often prayed or talked about Jesus.  She started a bible study with me over skype.  We were good friends, we both loved fashion and many of my most favorite items were Elena's selections for me.  I want to write fun memories of her.  Her being far from her country made her friends, her family.

It's hard to know someone you wanted so much to be safe - has been murdered.  I know that it was beyond my control and it enters the realm of God's plans and Satan's craftiness, which is beyond me.  I fear God.  There are some things I'm struggling to understand, and one of them I can share out loud.  I want to get my theology straightened out in case it's wrinkled.  I could use some discussion.

I'm trying to jump start my brain about a God who sees us and cares for us.  The usual religious word for God's overall power to shape our lives is called God's "sovereignty."  But there's a flip side which is also true.  This flip side is what is often referred to with various names: free will, free agency; basically, human choice.  God dignifies human choice.  Both choice and sovereignty are real.  But how can I wrap my mind around it?

What can I say?  I'm not a Calvinist.  I don't believe everything is in God's power and none is in ours.  I believe "it's up to us," yet God will completely lead and empower us in an ironic state of biblical "rest" through letting Him work.  Vying for someone's physical, personal safety here on earth is important to God.  Just think of abortion as a great example of how we believe in the importance of safety.  I wonder what happens to real people when they are helpless and they really don't receive tangible help?  Don't they really perish?

"Freely you have received, freely give."

Does God vouch for us as we love those we are passioned for?  Does His Spirit partner with us and our righteous, Kingdom-advancing intents?  Or does He have a plan that is so mysterious that we shouldn't take our human sense of responsibility and ambition for the gospel (Romans 2:7) too seriously?

I'm just trying to sort out what happened, here.  I need a few new notes in my head to encourage my heart.  Maybe I'm short on the mystery of God and His sovereign choices.  I knew what my plans were... you know?  It was to continue to love those whom I love, with God's power which works in me.

God is always altogether different than me.  I want to see Him and know Him as He is.  What do you think God might be up to?  Can this be at all related to what God permitted Satan to do to Job?

Look forward to some thoughts. 

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