December 9th marked the three-year anniversary of the tragic shooting at our church that took the lives of Rachel and Stephanie Works. Three others were wounded and the young gunman took his life in the children’s hallway after being wounded. It was the darkest day in the life of our church.
Some days, the events of that Sunday afternoon seem distant and some days the emotions are still raw like it happened just last week. God has brought healing to many of us while others still wrestle with the realities of a senseless act of violence that robbed us of three young people.
I walk that hallway all the time and tell people the story. I show them the one bullet hole we did not repair and walk them outside to the memorial in our parking lot. Two Blue Spruce trees tower over a pair of benches with each of the girl’s names inscribed. I sit on those benches and remember how a normal Sunday afternoon turned dark with the crackle of gunfire.
The predictable rhythms of life have returned to our church, but we will never be the same group of people we were before the shooting. We are more grateful now and maybe more cautious. We are not fearful, but we are painfully aware that the world is not at peace. We cherish each other, love one another more sincerely and I believe we are more honest about our hurts and scars than ever before.
We will not have a public memorial gathering on December 9th, but I will gather with a few families who were most affected, including the Works family, and we will pray, cry and possibly laugh at one of David’s jokes. We will probably walk through that long hallway and end up outside at the memorial, each of us telling our stories of God’s grace on that fateful day. There will be no bitterness, regret, or anger and that alone is a true miracle, given what happened.
Our joy has never left us and our strength to move forward has finally returned. We have walked through the valley of the shadow of death and now, we pause and look back. None of us want to repeat the journey, but each of us are so thankful for what we have learned about God, ourselves and each other along the way.