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Thoughts and Prayers
CW: Gun Violence, Trauma
Not long ago, someone very close to me lost one of their parents unexpectedly. This was the first time since deconstructing my faith and leaving church culture that someone close to me was deeply grieving.
They are Christian and had asked everyone for prayers for their parent’s healing. But I couldn’t say I was praying. Because I wasn’t. And I didn’t want to say something that wasn’t true even if saying it to the person would have possibly brought them some comfort.
It’s not that I didn’t hold hope in my heart and wish very very much that their parent would be healed. I wanted more than anything for their parent to recover. But I didn’t believe in prayer in the same way I used. I didn’t believe in God the same way I used to.
Instead of telling them I was praying, I decided instead to be radically present. Even when I didn’t know what to say or do. Even when I wanted to look away when the pain became overwhelming. I decided to sit in their pain with them anytime they needed me instead of try to take the pain, uncertainty, or grief away (from either of us).
To grieve alongside someone is sacred and holy.
And I have to say. It was much harder than offering thoughts and prayers.
But it was also so much more beautiful, brutal, loving, and truly miraculous than anything I had ever experienced in my entire life.
It was through this experience that I began to move from being more of an atheist to becoming agnostic in my spiritual beliefs once again.
By refusing to enter into the unhealthy church culture tradition of offering “thoughts and prayers” and then disappearing when the miracle didn’t happen, I stayed the whole time - never looking away or letting go.
Unhealthy church culture doesn’t teach us how to be with someone in their grief, pain, suffering, or loss. We are told to seek the joy of the Lord. We are told platitudes or given Bible verses.
But what we really need is unflinching PRESENCE from those around us who are strong and capable enough to help us carry our burden.
Prayer has become an idol like so many other cultural aspects of church culture. Something to be best at instead of something that connects us to loving guidance and to each other. My friend told me that so many people wrote or called with prayers for healing but when the miracle didn’t come, they either disappeared or offered more prayers and platitudes.
Because that is what happens when we idolize prayer instead of embody it.
The truth is, I actually do pray. But it is so much different than anything I witnessed or was taught in church culture that I can’t use the word prayer to describe it.
So when children, teachers, and staff are ruthlessly executed with assault weapons while at school over and over again in our country and lawmakers who have pictures of their entire families holding assault weapons on Christmas morning offer “thoughts and prayers”, it creates in me a holy rage that cannot be extinguished.
Thoughts and prayers are empty, useless, and actually very harmful unless they come with ACTION.
My kid’s elementary school had a lock-in a few months ago. There was a suspected person with a gun at the middle school next door (so close the two schools share a cafeteria).
Noey’s teacher sent a message to the parents of the kids in her class letting us know our babies were safe with her before we ever got a message from the school letting us know there was an issue. She let us all know our 2nd grade kids were playing and coloring safely in their classroom and didn’t know what was happening.
But she wanted to let us parents know she was crying and having a panic attack because she was having PTSD. She let us know one of her kids went to the middle school where the suspected person with a gun was being investigated and she was filled with fear.
She didn’t want to upset the kids with her tears so she told them she got sad news.
And those sweet babies comforted her.
She didn’t say this in her messages, but we all knew.
In her mind she was having to decide. If worst came to worst. Would she run to her child next door, or would she stay ours?
We knew she was thinking and planning because we were all thinking and planning as well.
Because these are our babies. Forever our babies.
The school sent an email after the teacher had written to let us know the elementary school was in a lock in (suspected shooter) and not a lock down (confirmed shooter).
No one could leave the classrooms or areas they were in until everything was clear.
We didn’t hear from Izzy’s teacher and I didn’t know why until I picked the kids up and found out Izzy was in Art class and they had a new teacher who didn’t know any of the parents to message us.
T and I sat on the stairs in our house reading messages back and forth on social media.
Then I cried. Loud, guttural crying. I cried for my children. I cried for all the teachers and staff. And I cried for all the parents who have to get these kinds of messages and feel helpless and filled with fear over and over and over again.
And then I drove over to the school. Even though it sounded like the threat was low, my body and mind had been primed and made ready to do whatever I needed to do to save my babies.
When I arrived, there were parents standing outside the school’s entrance. There is security fencing that encloses the entire campus and there is only one way in and one way out of the school.
So I picked a spot and I stood there. With all the other parents. Not talking. Just wild eyed and rocking our bodies back and forth. Hands to our mouths. Some of us were crying or had recently been crying.
And then we heard the announcement. Everything was okay. School was back to “normal”.
But nothing is normal. Nothing at all.
How can this be normal?
All of the parents waiting outside asked to get their kids. And so we all waited again. And we all watched each reunification of parent and child. The looks of relief. The tears.
One child came out with a look of shock on their face. Covered in vomit. They didn’t have access to a clean shirt during the lock-in so the teacher tried to clean them up. When they saw their parent they broke into tears and said, “I was so scared I threw up”.
Holy, holy rage.
When I saw my kids it took everything in me not to collapse in tears and relief even though I already knew they were fine.
My body had been primed to save them and you can’t just turn that off.
I held their bodies close to mine on each side of me as we walked to the car. They had a lot to talk about and they had questions.
I got them lunch at McDonalds and then we went home and talked.
Once everyone was fed and happily watching cartoons I went into the bathroom cried out all the adrenaline. But I couldn’t cry out the fear of “what about next time?”.
That day I got my babies back. They were safe. But there are parents who don’t get their kids back after just such an announcement.
There are children who die in the most violent of ways because of who we have decided to be as a country.
And for that I mourn. And I mourn. And I mourn.
And I rage and I rage and I rage.
At the beginning of school last year I decided I would try being a substitute teacher at some the many schools near our house. And so I applied and I did all the trainings. I was feeling anxious about whether I would be a good teacher, but I wanted to try.
And then there was one more training I had to complete before I got hired and badged.
The active shooter video training. Run, Hide, Fight.
It’s not that I thought it was going to be a fun video to watch, but I had no idea how extremely difficult it was going to be. I ended up having to pause the video several times throughout watching it because I kept breaking down in bellowing sobs.
Nothing - and I mean nothing -had ever scared and truly petrified me like watching this video. It’s one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen.
I decided then that I couldn’t do it.
I couldn’t be a substitute.
I couldn’t be in a position where I had to choose between protecting a classroom full of precious babies, myself, or running to try to protect my own children. The choice would be impossible and I didn’t want to have to make it.
But that’s a privilege I have, isn’t it?
What about the teachers and staff who are in that position every single day in our country? Choosing between protecting themselves, their class, or their children (should they be at the same school)?
What about the substitute teacher who died a horrible, senseless death in Nashville?
What about the children?
What about the CHILDREN?
WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN??????????
A few weeks ago, I was washing the kids bedsheets and when I moved Noey’s pillow I found a toy gun under his pillow. And I just broke down in tears. When I was calm, I gently asked him about why he had it there. He said it was to keep him safe in case any “bad guys” came to get him at night.
Fear makes us feel the only way to defend against violence is to use MORE violence.
I want to add here that we try not to edit the kinds of toys our kids buy with their own money, and so we allowed them to get some toy weapons. (Of note: Something they’ve never asked for or seemed interested in until recently). I have always had a rule against it and I broke my rule. Weapons as toys is so grotesque and harmful, in my opinion, I can’t believe I allowed it. I plan to talk to my kids about this and remedy my mistake. I’m sharing this with you all because I want to have conversations about these things. All of us are doing our best to be good parents and the right thing is definitely not always clear. In this case, I feel I have made a mistake and I plan to remedy it with conversation and reinstating the rule.
When I think about homeschooling again, concern about school safety and violence certainly makes the list of my top concerns. And perhaps that sounds hyper vigilant or over protective?
But gun violence is now (since 2020) the number 1 cause of death for children. I realize that, very unfortunately, gun violence also happens outside of schools. I understand the statistics; that it is unlikely my children will experience gun violence at school.
But they’re my children.
When I heard that they could choke on grapes or pull furniture over on themselves or that I could accidentally leave them in a hot car or they could accidentally drown- I did all I could to prevent it. When I heard there was the possibility of danger- even a low possibility- I still did what I could within my power to protect them.
How could I not?
They are my children.
We can’t keep sacrificing our children at the alter of power, guns, individualism, and violence.
We simply cannot.
The exhaustion I feel about more children dead. The deep hopelessness I feel. It’s truly overwhelming.
Every morning I drop my kids off and I don’t know if they will come home to me.
My parents didn’t have to worry about this with me and my brother.
We’ve done this. We, as a country, have voted people into positions of power who would rather have influence, position, money, and ASSAULT WEAPONS - PEOPLE-KILLING GUNS!!- than they would do anything it takes to protect our children, teachers, and school staff.
The weapons formed against us ARE prospering BECAUSE THEY WERE DESIGNED TO. The only utility of an assault weapon is to brutally kill people by ripping their bodies to shreds.
We are taking books out of schools, outlawing drag shows, and making being transgender against the law?
But we are fine with babies dying violent, gruesome deaths?
We are fine with teachers and staff dying at their jobs? Where they came to teach our kids? We are okay with them being first responders?
We are okay with not sacrificing our own desires and wishes for the sake of our neighbors?
And it’s the self-proclaimed Christians who are holding onto their weapons instead of sacrificing their own desires for the sake of others.
It’s overwhelmingly the Christians.
It’s overwhelmingly the Christians protesting abortion to “save the babies”, but once the babies are Earth-side…I guess it’s okay for them to be assault weapons fodder?
God, help me understand. God help me. I don’t understand.
And so I will mourn. And I will mourn and mourn and mourn…forever I will mourn.
And I will burn with an indistinguishable, all-consuming holy rage at what our country has become and I will do all I can within my power to change it.
FUCK YOUR THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS
(This is the video training I watched if you are interested in seeing it. But please be warned: it is disturbing.