We Will Renew Our Strength

Seattle, WA
Seattle, WA

This morning I woke up to sunshine and an eerie silence. It’s been hanging over my neighborhood since Thursday, and the only thing to slice into it are the helicopters that continually fly over the building where Thursday’s shooting took place. Even if I wanted to forget, the constant propelling sounds, day and night, wouldn’t let me.

You never think it will be your school, your community or your friends. But then it happens. And when you hear the reports for the first time you think someone must have made a mistake – they must have. Things like that don’t happen here.

On Thursday afternoon there was a shooting at my Alma Mater, Seattle Pacific University. When my boss asked me at 4pm if I had heard the news, I started to correct her mid-sentence, “You must mean Seattle University, or Seattle Central, or North Seattle…” Anywhere that wasn’t Seattle Pacific. Not there. Things like that don’t happen there. But it did.

SPU is more than a school to me. It’s my family.

I’ve been on campus since I was four years old. I went to preschool across the street at First Free Methodist church. I used to color underneath the library study tables while my mom studied. I’ve been to almost every SPU play since I was 9 years old. And even though I graduated four years ago, I live across the street.

After four years, I still can’t walk across campus without being greeted by someone I know. Faculty, staff, students – someone always notices.

SPU has always been a safe place for me, and when I heard about the shootings, I couldn’t believe it. I went about my workday, waiting for the news to correct their mistake.

ATTENTION: The named location of the shooting has been misidentified, and is now being corrected to ________________.

But it never came.

Instead, there were reports of hospitalizations, friends mourning, and eventually the pronouncement of a death.

My heart was breaking. But I still couldn’t bring myself to cry.

As I played “Sorry” with the 7 year old I nanny, I tried to balance fake smiling and joking with him, while desperately checking the Seattle Police Twitter and trying to scrape together details of what happened. My brain was scrambled, people were shot – did I know them?

Then came the “I’m ok” messages on Facebook. And while they should have seemed reaffirming, they haunted me. With each message I realized who I could have lost. Who it could have been. How many people I knew on campus. It could have been any of us.

When I got back from work, hours after the shooting, I saw police cars, yellow tape and hoards of people gathering in the center of campus and streaming toward the Methodist church across the street. They were holding each other, praying with each other and the overall silence on campus was almost overbearing.

We weren’t wearing black, but every soul on that campus was mourning. You could feel it. And as I walked through campus, and once again saw faces I recognized, our eyes met in the silence. We all knew – we would never be the same. Campus would never be the same. Our family would never be the same.

Watching news footage that night made it all the more real. I saw my friends interviewed by the police – standing in front of the building moments after. I saw one of my friends bent over a bleeding student, comforting them as they waited for the ambulance. I saw the university President try to hold back tears as he answered questions from the press. Was this really happening?

The morning after.

I was getting ready for work at my usual ungodly hour of 6am when I got the text from my mom, “It was Aaron Ybarra.”

All I sent back was, “Shit.”

I knew him. I grew up with him. I remember him hanging out in friend circles, cracking jokes and sharing classes with me. He was part of my homeschool family. One that is very much like SPU.

And knowing that broke my heart even more.

How could this happen? Not one, but two separate families, shaken to the core by one persons actions. My grief was overbearing.

It would be easy to over analyze, to be consumed by pain and anger and confusion. But, while those are my instinctual reactions, I feel my heart needing more. My mind knows that the wages of sin are death, but my soul remembers that the gift of grace is eternal life (Romans 6:23).

What I’ve seen happening the last couple of days is moving beyond words. People coming together – churches overflowing to capacity with students, faculty, staff and an overwhelming number of alumni.

We didn’t forget. We didn’t graduate and walk away, because that’s not how family works. You never outgrow or graduate beyond the community and people who love you.

And while circumstances like this week could have easily broken us down, I’ve seen people coming together like never before.

In our grief, I pray for the ability to extend grace. To mourn with and for those affected. To seek guidance and somehow process something that has no easy answer. Through it all, I thank God for his grace and for his healing. We are going to need it.

I’m also so thankful for the people who have stepped up; for those who have organized, sacrificed, put others before themselves and responded. For the response teams – police, fire and medical. For the hospital teams who, through their hard work, have enabled students to return to their families. For the church, who has stepped up and been hope to the grieving. For the students who have organized funds for supporting families and commemoration at this year’s graduation ceremony.

We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. (2 Corinthians 4:8)

And amidst these heavy shadows I see light. We are shaken, but not moved. And at moments like this I look around proudly and think, this – this is my family.

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