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 19 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 16 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. 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 13 who were killed were in the library, and 15 of the 24 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. 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. The overwhelming grief they now face is unbearable. The question I received from parents more than any other: “How can we ever send our kids back to school?” 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?” Or, “What happens if a gunman comes to my school?” Or, “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, but not saying too much to 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.
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). 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, Zechariah 2:5).
Praying scripture over ourselves and our children is our weapon to 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.
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. 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.
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. Our power and our authority come from the Holy Spirit. The enemy cannot stand in the presence of the Almighty as we call on the powerful name of Jesus! He is the answer to every fear and worry we face. He is the gift we give to our children and to this broken and hurting world.
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. As a survivor of the Columbine High School shootings, Crystal speaks in efforts to prevent school violence and to help those who have already been impacted by it. Find her at crystalwoodmanmiller.com.