I sit here tonight trying to process something that has been going through my mind all weekend. Just over 48 hours ago, someone did something terrible and because of it, lives were lost. I can’t help but grieve the loss of not just the lives of the people who died in the Virginia Beach shooting, but also the suffering and trauma of those that survived, of the family members and friends left behind, of the family of the gunman left with so many questions. I grieve because I know this city and the people in it will never be the same.
Earlier in the day, I prayed a prayer while at my job, a job that I have been navigating why God has me there. I am still in law enforcement just not where I want to be. And I feel like despite the past months being great being newly married, I am still left in the wake of the unknown. I don’t know why I am at the agency I am, I don’t know why I am at the church I am, I don’t know what my purpose is exactly, or what my ministry will look like. I just know I am here with my husband trying to figure this all out.
So with so many thoughts and feelings about things in my life, I prayed on Friday afternoon asking God to show me purpose and to give me vision. I asked him to give me peace on things that I am unsettled or discontented. I asked him to give me resolve. God reminded me of a section of the Bible that I love, Jeremiah 29. Everyone loves to quote verse 11 “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future”. It’s a great verse. People love quoting that for pretty much anything but so many fail to pay attention to the previous verses. The people of Israel were slaves, captives of another kingdom. Jeremiah 29 begins with a letter to the people declaring for them to be settled where God has them, to build houses, get married, be present. It wasn’t going to be a quick season, but instead 70 years of captivity. Jeremiah then says “pray for the prosperity in the city in which I have placed you”. Then the famous verse 11 declaration takes place. But it continues with an encouragement to seek God because he will be found, he will be near, and he will redeem. So as I was walking around doing my job, I was thinking of this passage of the Bible and simply prayed for God to help me love my city better. To pray for Him to be known by more people, for people to seek him and find him, for people to find hope in despite their circumstances.
Little did I know that an hour later the Virginia Beach Municipal Center would have a mass casualty shooting.
I believe this was not a coincidence but a moment where God prepared me. I believe that God grieves with those that are broken from Friday’s shooting, along with anyone else broken all over the world. It is so easy to find blame in God for bad things like this happening. It is also so far off. Part of the beauty of God’s love for us is that it’s free and we have the choice to love him, or not. And when bad things like this happen, it is because someone chose to not love God and their brokenness and sin revealed. And God grieves this. He grieves the gunman’s choice. He grieves the loss of every life. He grieves the evil. But even still God has purpose and he will be glorified. And he will redeem. He will restore. He will bring hope to people that are hopeless.
The things we face do not define us. And they do not have to defeat us. The difference is whether or not will seek God in the midst of it. Will we seek God when all else remains in chaos? Will we seek God when we feel defeated? Will we seek God when we feel hopeless and lost and in despair? Will we trust that God does have a plan and purpose, hope and future for our lives? I wrote about it before in a previous post when the Las Vegas shooting occurred. But I gave my life to Christ as a direct result of the Columbine High School shooting. I knew as a young teen that I wanted to love God better and trust him with my life just as several students killed that day knew with great certainty. I knew I wanted to love him with everything that I was. I believe God works in the midst of even the darkest of days. I believe he also brings the light that removes even the shadows of darkness. Virginia Beach grieves tonight still. We mourn. We are sad. Many are hopeless. Many are lost. But take heart because God is here. He is present. He brings a comfort, a hope, a wholeness, a healing that nothing else ever can. And there will be good that births from this horror. As a testament of someone whose life was changed by another’s life being lost, I believe that other people will find God as a result of seeking him because of this tragedy. God will work out good despite evil thinking it prevailed.
The story isn’t over.