Fear, Family, + School Shootings

Four times in the past two weeks since the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, we've received messages from our children's schools regarding found threats by students. As much as we limit our kids seeing the news and various things on social media, they are in-tune with the shootings that have been going on. They hear the gossip about the student-threats and internalize conversations had in class. And they're scared.

To be honest, I think as parents...we're scared, too. I was chatting with one of my dearest friends in the world, asking if she'd be willing to contribute some thoughts on it all because she gets it. Deeply.

I challenge you to take a few minutes and really read what she has to say. Because I'm having a hard time sending our children to school, a hard time explaining things to them, and a hard time not living in fear...and not infusing fear into our children's hearts. Maybe you're struggling with this, too.

Meet Crystal Woodman Miller. Columbine survivor.

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Thursday morning, February 15th, the day after the horrible attacks in Parkland, Florida, I woke up questioning whether or not to send my oldest daughter to school. Sadly, it wasn’t the first time I had asked myself this question. Our nation has experienced far too many of these attacks. However, the incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school hit close to home for me personally.

Nearly nineteen years ago, I was the same age and in the same stage of life as these students when...

I narrowly escaped death at Columbine High School.

I was a junior and only sixteen years old on April 20, 1999 when my friends and I decided to spend the lunch hour in the library working on class work. When chaos erupted within the halls of Columbine we took shelter under our tables, praying that God would save us. After a few moments, the two gunmen entered the library and went on a killing spree for seven and a half minutes.

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During that time, my friend vowed to take a bullet for me and I promised God that if He would save me, I would give Him my life completely. The library is where the majority of the violence took place that day. Ten of the thirteen who were killed were in the library, and fifteen of the twenty-four were wounded there. After those long, seemingly never-ending minutes, when I was literally waiting to die, the two gunmen pushed a chair in under our table, and I braced for the end. Yet nothing happened. They needed to gather more ammunition in another part of the school, but told us they would return to kill those of us who were still alive, giving us only a few moments to escape before they came back.

We now live and raise our children in a post-Columbine era. As parents, we remember the days when schools were safe, and people did not have to fear sending their children to school every day.

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Nowadays, however, we wonder...

Could today be the day my child experiences the unthinkable?!

It should not be this way.

What is more, our kids are keenly aware of the dangers that they face.

Whether they express it or not, they are afraid to go to school, making it virtually impossible to learn or even enjoy their school experience. Every student from elementary to high school has lived knowing what a school shooting is, and they recognize that violence can take place anywhere. 

I just returned from Parkland, Florida. I was able to speak to the community and with survivors themselves. The overwhelming grief they now face is unbearable.  The question I received from parents more than any other was “How can we ever send our kids back to school?”

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So, what do we say to all the parents out there who are anxious and feeling crippled by fear?

What is more, how do we talk to our kids when they ask questions like:

“Will I be safe at school?”

“What happens if a gunman comes to my school?”

“Why would anyone ever do something like this?”

How do we walk the delicate balance between sharing enough with our children in an effort to prepare and educate them...

yet not say too much and cause undue anxiety?

I think it is important to note that all of your feelings, emotions, and questions are valid. They are completely normal and they are shared by most parents everywhere with school-aged children.

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We face a very real enemy whose aim is to steal, kill, and destroy. (John 10:10) He will stop at nothing until he succeeds. Yet, we also trust that our God is bigger than any evil that comes against us, and that He is present with us in all circumstances. We know that God’s plan for us is to live- and to live radiantly- despite all of the things that seek to crush us.

Faith and fear cannot occupy our minds simultaneously.

In my experience, and in God’s great story of redemption, we know HE WINS.  Yet until the day He returns, a war rages on against our children and within our own minds as well.  It is a battle between what we can see, and what we truly believe.

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I know from experience how fear can have mastery over your life.

Oftentimes, before I even recognize that I am doing it, I have laid out a plan in my mind about where I would hide, how I would shelter my children, or where we would escape to in any given situation.

It is at that point that I must force myself to stop, and tell myself that everyone is safe- that no one is in any imminent danger.  More importantly, I must fix my eyes on Jesus and try to focus my thoughts on the things that are true and right and lovely. (Philippians 4:8)

Then, I must personally ask for peace- a peace only He can provide as the overcomer of evil. (John 16:33)

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Oftentimes, if my thoughts are anxious as I drive my daughter to school, I start praying over her.  With a confident assurance that the Lord loves my daughter even more than I possibly can, and that she belongs to Him, I begin praying out loud over her.

I ask that God will command His angels concerning her to guard her in all of her ways. (Psalm 91:11) I ask that He will be her Protector, and a wall about her. (Numbers 6:24 and Zechariah 2:5)

Praying scripture over ourselves and our children is our weapon.

This scripture-weapon will fight the enemy and to quiet our minds when things are beyond our control.  We must be a people who can stand firmly on and trust in the promises of God so that we will be unmoved by fear. Choosing faith over fear gives us victory over the enemy’s constant assaults. Choosing faith over fear allows us to run in total liberty and watch as the chains that bind us break off link by link.

One powerful and practical tool to help us do this is to train ourselves in the art of mindfulness.

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In doing so, I am convinced that we will learn ways to deal with the anxiety, fear, and panic that seek to suffocate us. In fact, three very specific things can happen when we practice this mindfulness: Gratitude, self-grace, and future assurance.

First, we must become a people who are grateful.

Gratitude allows us to be present in all the moments of our lives- from the most mundane to the most exceptional and extraordinary moments. Gratitude causes us to take pause and enjoy the little things, like how our kids smell when we kiss the top of their heads, how they giggle and laugh at the dinner table over the silliest things, how their eyes sparkle in amazement when they watch snow fall from the sky, or how they breathe when they lay next to you fast asleep.

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Gratitude even awards us the opportunity to laugh and enjoy the “difficult” moments, like when they spill their milk, dump out the dirt in your flower pots, or get paint on their new clothes. These are the moments that turn into memories. These are the moments that fill our hearts with inexplicable joy.

Second, mindfulness teaches us not to make judgments and to be gracious to ourselves.

Whenever you face panic, confusion, or fear, instead of suppressing or ignoring the unpleasant feelings, we must turn to acknowledge them and face them head-on. We must take courage because as believers in Jesus, it is ours for the taking. Courage is not the absence of fear but rather staring fear in its ugly face and saying, “Not today! You will not win today!” When you acknowledge the fear, it loses its powerful grip of control over you.

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Lastly, mindfulness gives us resolve.

It reminds us to assess where we are and where we hope to go in the future. As parents, we get to determine how we want to raise our children and guide them into who they will become. We get to send them out as brilliant stars to light up the darkness in this world.  As parents, we set the stage so that they can become the ones who truly affect real and lasting change in this culture.

We have the beautiful privilege to raise empowered, strong, compassionate, loving children whose legacies WILL NOT and CANNOT ever be extinguished by any amount of evil in this world. We get to instruct and disciple them, to teach them to accept others, to reach out to the lonely, to recognize the broken in a hurting world and respond in kindness.

Ultimately, we get to show our kids how they can change the world one friendship at a time. We get to teach them to hold out the hope of the Gospel to friends and classmates as fearless truth-tellers.

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As parents, we model an understanding that this world is not our final destination. We model an understanding that violence, pain, and even death will not be our end or be our ruin. Then, and only then, will our children walk confidently forward in the direction we’ve led. If we and our children know who we are, WHOSE we are, and where we are headed, we will be able to walk through whatever challenges we face.

As parents we must confront this issue and be brave enough to invite our kids into a conversation about it.

We must create space within our homes and margin throughout our days to talk about these issues. Some families choose to conduct a daily briefing- giving their children a safe place to share their concerns and fears.  We must address their feelings and concerns- both validating and assuring them.

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Without making promises we cannot keep, we must encourage our children that our schools are doing everything they can to ensure their safety. We can discuss reasonable precautions and actions to take in the event of an attack. We must talk about warning signs of the sad, angry, and disenfranchised so that they can reach out, but also be willing to alert safe adults of any threats.

It is critical to never forget what has happened, and remember those we have lost.  We must talk about how we can use our voices and our skills to seek change on every level. Most importantly, we must establish a firm foundation of God’s Word and truth in our homes as we read and memorize scripture. We must pray together, knowing that prayer has the power to ease our fears and also to change things. 

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We must practice mindfulness for ourselves and model it for our children. Mindfulness invites the presence of God into our fears, anxieties, and worries.  As God shows up in every area of our lives, even the ones we wish we could avoid, it silences the enemy and causes the darkness to flee. The enemy will continue to sling his arrows at us, and he may injure us, but he will not ruin or destroy us.  He is no match for The King of Kings and Lord of Lords. 

Our power and our authority come from the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit! The enemy cannot stand in the presence of the Almighty, so we will call on the powerful name of Jesus- the name that is above every name! He is the answer to every fear and worry we face. And He is the gift we give to our children and to this broken and hurting world.

By the way, Crystal will be back soon as she shares practical tips on how to talk to our kids about the what-if's and to live prepared...yet without fear.

If you have specific questions you might like answered in that post, please ask in the comments section of today's blog post.


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Crystal Woodman Miller lives in Morrison Colorado with her husband Pete and three children Lucca, Malachi and Josephine.  She is the author of Marked for Life: Choosing Hope and Discovering Purpose After Earth-Shattering Tragedy (NavPress). 

She is an international speaker on issues of faith and hope in the midst of suffering.  Crystal survived the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999,  and shares candidly of her own journey of hardship, faith and hope so that it may encourage others in the challenges they face. 

Crystal also speaks in effort to prevent school violence and to help those who, unfortunately have already been impacted by it.  Crystal is most passionate about teaching God’s word and carrying life through the hope of the Gospel to a broken world.  Find her online at crystalwoodmanmiller.com