Hallie, Evelyn and William spent the first part of the morning in their Christian school chapel. They were learning "Amazing Grace" to sing next week for Grandparents' Day.
An hour later they were with the One whose grace they had been singing about.
As the nation knows now, they were three of the six victims in a mass shooting tragedy at Covenant School in Nashville.
We've been down this awful road many times before. And once again, we weep.
Law enforcement will work on the shooter's motive and lessons learned. Politicians will debate gun issues and mental health issues. Journalists will report on the human toll.
For me, I hear three sentences that have come out of the coverage of this awful tragedy.
- "We're over the 'thoughts and prayers' thing."
Thankfully, God isn't. This God the Bible describes as "the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort" (2 Corinthians 1:1) is the only One who can bring any hope and solace to the depths of a ripped-open heart.
I get the frustration behind a comment like the one about thoughts and prayers. To some it just feels like a lame religious copout in the face of indescribable tragedy. I can't speak to the "thoughts" part. But the "prayers" - all I know is the people going to God on my behalf when my precious wife was gone without warning was what carried me when I couldn't walk.
Prayer downloads that "amazing grace" those little girls were singing about - that can be the difference between hope and despair, between making it and losing it.
My Bible talks about going to God's "throne of grace" and finding "grace to help in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:16). Those crushed hearts in Nashville desperately need what prayer can access. And beyond praying for them should be a more personal prayer - "And what do You want me to do, Lord?"
The Governor of Tennessee said it pretty well: "Prayer is the first thing we should do, but not the only thing."
- "They were running toward the gunfire."
The heroic first responders charged into that deadly situation. Alarm sirens blaring, a heavily armed shooter firing - and officers pursuing without cover. Selfless. One reporter said, "They thought what happened to the children was more important than what might happen to them."
Apparently Headmaster Katherine Koonce thought so, too. She was on a Zoom call when she heard the first shot fired. She immediately raced out into the hall to try to save the children. She died trying. She, too, was "running toward the gunfire."
It was Jesus who said there is "no greater love" than someone who "lays down their life for a friend."
I couldn't help but think about Good Friday. When Jesus ran "into the gunfire" for me. On that awful cross, Jesus faced all the "incoming" of all the sin of all the world. Caring more about what happened to us, His lost children, than about the agonizing price He was paying to save them.
Unspeakable love. For guys like me who had pushed Him to and beyond the edge of my life - "sin," the Bible calls it.
"He loved me, and gave Himself for me," the Bible says. It's that love that captured my heart. And that makes it possible for this One who later rose from the dead to move "close to the brokenhearted" in Nashville.
- "There is hope in the midst of great tragedy because God is a redeemer."
(Bill Lee, Governor of Tennessee)
He went on to talk about God's power to redeem "evil" and make something good from it. Or, again in the Bible's words, He comes "to bind up the brokenhearted... to comfort all who mourn... to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes" (Isaiah 61:1-3).
I've lived that. For out of the darkest hours and greatest loss of my life has come a deep compassion for the broken and a deep sense of hope that God has used to lift many hurting hearts.
For me, "hope" is not a philosophy, idea, or sentimental wish. It's actually tied directly to the day millions will soon celebrate. Easter Sunday. The day death lost to the one Person in all of human history who walked out of His grave under His own power. Jesus. The One the Bible calls our "living hope."
Even against the backdrop of the dark clouds over Nashville today, hope has a name. His name is Jesus. He's there by their side. And He's here by mine.