It’s been almost two weeks since my daughter, Lucy, was running for her life at Arapahoe High School in Denver—she was in the school’s cafeteria when a student with a shotgun walked into the hallway next to where she was seated.
That boy shot an innocent 18-year-old girl in the head, then took his own life. Since then Lucy, our whole family, and the Arapahoe community have been wrestling with the after-effects of this trauma. It’s been much harder than I expected, and our emotions are perpetually raw. There is so much in all of this that accesses my tears, but nothing more quickly than the beauty-out-of-ugly details you likely won’t find in many news accounts of the shooting or its aftermath.
Here are four examples of the fingerprints of Jesus…
• At small gatherings of Arapahoe students and teachers and parents throughout the week, I’ve heard the same narrative from teacher after teacher: Once they’d locked down their classroom, they looked for something they could use as a weapon and they stood by the side of the locked door, ready to stop anyone who came through it. In my daughter’s case, two school counselors rummaged around their office and found camera tripods that they planned to wield like bludgeons—Lucy didn’t know it at the time because she couldn’t see the door from where she was sitting, but they spent the entire ordeal standing on either side of the door holding their tripods like baseball bats. How would it change your relationship with your teachers if you saw hard evidence that they were willing to die defending you? Every Arapahoe student now has a visceral experience of a saving act of grace.
• On the chain-link fence that encircles the south side of Arapahoe’s campus students from all over the city, and all over the state, have left notes and mementos of encouragement, solidarity, and concern. Students from “enemy” high schools have created large posters with Arapahoe’s slogan printed on them—“Warrior Strong”—encircled with the notes and signatures of hundreds of students. And on the Monday after the shooting, at these same schools, the students wore black and gold (Arapahoe’s school colors) as a sign of solidarity. When Arapahoe’s students head back to their classrooms after the holiday break, some students at these “enemy” schools are planning to skip out on their classes to show up at the main entrance to Arapahoe in their school colors, to welcome them back. At our core, real courage is about loving our enemies, just as Jesus defined it and these students are modeling.
• Across the street from Arapahoe is a Burger King that’s a favorite of students at lunchtime. On Friday of last week that Burger King posted a huge sign near the intersection announcing that 100 percent of that day’s sales would go to a special fund for Claire Davis’ family, the girl who was killed in the assault. And that Burger King was so packed with customers—inside and in the drive-through—that employees had to buy some orange cones and make an extended driving path through the parking lot to accommodate them. They had a steady stream moving in and out of the restaurant through midnight. A guy from a nearby car dealership showed up with a huge tray—he was buying lunch for every employee at the dealership. My daughter, with tears in her eyes, said, “Think about how much money they’ve lost today—it means so much to us.” Later, one of her friends told her that the nearby Qdoba was giving away free burritos to any Arapahoe student. She asked if I’d take her there—we got there 15 minutes after the free-burrito deal was supposed to be over. The people behind the counter just smiled at her and asked, “What do you want? It’s on us…” Walking out the door, Lucy was overcome with emotion again. It’s the little acts of mercy and support that, like a mustard seed, grow into something huge.
• Five days after the shooting I walked into a breakfast restaurant near Arapahoe for a special meeting with our youth ministry team—we’d planned this breakfast weeks before. I got to the restaurant first, and was immediately overcome by the number of parents, students, and teachers wearing Arapahoe T-shirts having breakfast together. In their trauma, they gathered in the spirit of “Warrior Strong” to not only care for each other, but to poke evil in the eye. The “church” is really just another version of this—a body of people committed to something bigger than themselves, ready to fight and console together in the midst of a real threat. Those of us in the church are “Jesus Strong”—our deep kindred connection comes from a shared attachment to the Vine.
“Warrior Strong” is, in the end, a faint echo of a macro reality that infuses the church. And that “Jesus Strong” kindred connection is a light on a hill in the gathering darkness.