Banana bread, gun violence and facing the daylight

He just wanted banana bread. Eager to please and to get us out of the house, I obliged. 

We sat side by side in a bustling Starbucks, stealing a moment together before work and school. My son slurped apple juice and nibbled at his bread. I sipped my coffee, barely tasting it. Eyes glued to my phone, I scrolled and scrolled for answers I knew I wouldn’t find. 

Irritated, I looked up. That’s when I noticed my son staring down every visitor walking in the door. Morning sunlight framed his sweet face and curious blue-green eyes.

Before I could smile, the door swung closed and I took a breath. What was I thinking bringing him here? It’s not safe here. It’s not safe anywhere anymore. 

Last Saturday somebody strode through the doors of a Walmart, gun loaded with hate. A Mommy and Daddy died shielding their baby from his bullets. 

A day later, news broke of a second shooting closer to home, then word of more violence in our city. Blood-soaked, lifeless bodies on linoleum tiles and hot pavement. Lives cut short. Hundreds of families shattered forever. With trembling hands, I balled up our trash and swiftly rose.

“Jack, we’re leaving now,” I announced.

“Uppy, uppy!” he pleaded. And even though he’s perfectly old enough to walk himself to the car, I didn’t hesitate. I hoisted him in my arms, busting outside.

I punched the start button on the car. Elmo’s upbeat alphabet rap blared through the car stereo, but I couldn’t stop thinking of Brian Bilston’s poem “America is a Gun”:

England is a cup of tea. 

France, a wheel of ripened brie.

Greece, a short, squat olive tree.

America is a gun.

I gripped the wheel hard. I don’t know how to tell him why we rushed out or why, a week later I won’t bat an eyelash when I bring him with me to get groceries. 

America is a gun. The sentence tumbled around my head as I turned into the Montessori parking lot. The need to offer my son an explanation pressed on me and I took my time unloading him from the car.

More than anything, I want us to live in a place that reflects the values he’s learning in school and at home: That there is more than enough for us all, if we share. That everyone deserves to be treated with love and kindness. That we all have a right to live — without fear. How can I tell my son those ideals have been compromised by our nation’s leaders? And fellow citizens? 

I don’t want to shield him from the violence of the world, but the need to shield him from crippling worry feels more right. 

After lacing up his shoes, this is what I did: I bent over and kissed my son’s cheek, twice. Then I repeated our weekday morning benediction, “I love you buddy! Have a good day!” before he entered his classroom. And, with a prayer for peace pounding in my tender heart, I opened the door and stepped out into the daylight.

Fear and great love

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” ―Frederick Buechner

If we were having coffee right now, I’d tell you the emotion I’ve been battling most lately is fear.

Fear is an uncomfortable emotion to harbor: Fear tells us we are weak and insignificant. Fear makes us believe are powerless. Fear can paralyze us from taking action, the very thing that can save us.

Until I went to therapy a few years ago I wasn’t emotionally aware enough to realize how often I felt scared. I think most of us are more fearful than we let on in our carefully captioned Instagram posts and casual conversations. Everyone’s afraid.

Lately the fear has been acute, like hunger pangs in my stomach I can’t seem to satisfy.

Maybe it was my recent discovery that I’m an enneagram type two, motivated by a deep need to love and be loved by others. (If you have not checked out this personality framework, do it now. It’s my new obsession.) This realization was terrifying and affirming and, like a true two, I immediately wondered what I could start or stop doing so that people would like me more (face palm). I’m afraid I can’t change or work around my weaknesses.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t had many writing “wins” lately and I’m feeling like an imposter. Sure, I’m an editor and I work with words every day. But to claim I’m a writer? Some days I’m not sure I have what it takes. There are so many writers out there who are more talented and have more interesting stories to tell. I’m afraid no one wants to hear what I have to say, that my work won’t be of service to others.

Maybe it’s because my son just turned one and it seems like yesterday we were taking him home from the hospital, nervous and excited. Sometimes I worry I’m missing out on his life, on raising him while I work full-time. I need to work to provide for our family, but I desperately crave more time with my son. What if I regret this choice later? I’m afraid of regret.

I’m afraid. I’m afraid. I’m afraid . . .

Last week on Valentine’s Day I was determined to shake off my anxiety and make this a special day for my family. We had heart-shaped pink pancakes for breakfast. Jack sent his grand and great-grandparents valentines. Jay got me the roses. It was a good day.

It was also Ash Wednesday, so I went to midday chapel. I received my ashes. I prayed.

Then I heard about the Parkland shooting. At first, I felt nothing. I was numb.

As the news rolled in, all I could think about was our son. I imagined him 15 years later, in high school. Jack the teenager cowering under a desk, fearing for his life. The baby I carried in my womb for nine months and nursed for a year shot dead in a hallway, blood splattering the floor. I thought of all the parents who woke up to this nightmare Wednesday afternoon. I thought of my mom an sister-in-law, both teachers. I sobbed and sobbed.

One of the worst parts of being a parent is realizing again and again that no matter how hard you try you cannot protect your child from everything. As any mom or dad will tell you, from the moment your child enters your life you will learn to live with the gut-wrenching fear that your precious son or daughter could die at any moment for any reason. Your child gets older, but it never gets easier. In our current cultural context, I think it’s only getting worse.

Places I have to worry about my son getting shot:

  1. Church
  2. School
  3. Mall
  4. Movie theater
  5. Concert
  6. Sporting event
  7. Airport
  8. Basically anywhere

We shouldn’t have to live with this. We shouldn’t have to die like this. And we definitely shouldn’t throw up our hands and say, “I guess since we all disagree on the root cause of gun violence in America, we should just do nothing. This problem is just too complex for us to solve.”

Fear continues to creep in and cripple us—and the very people we elected to protect us—from taking action to address this issue.

In her recent statement on the Parkland shooting, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton said, “We acknowledge our own failings and ask God to guide us in finding new ways to turn the tide together on both the availability of assault weapons and the lack of mental health care.

But we know that those things alone won’t solve this epidemic. All of us, including the church, must take a close look at ourselves. How are we cultivating a culture of violence, hatred, anger and fear, and how can we participate in building a counter-culture where people can experience God’s intended peace and life abundant for all?”

Amen! Yes, in the U.S. we have a serious culture issue at hand that’s playing a big rule in this mess we’re in. We glorify guns and violence in our media. We socialize our boys to suppress their emotions, to objectify women, to value “winning.” We play violent video games and watch violent movies. We stand idly by as others are bullied or isolated, too absorbed in our own lives, too afraid to show them compassion.

We are broken people. But my faith tells me that we can change. That the church—whose membership continues to be in decline, especially among younger generations—is relevant today because it offer tools for change. The church teaches a powerful, countercultural message of hope, healing, forgiveness and love all wrapped up in the story of Jesus.

I’m terrified of what we Americans have become. But I also have hope. God is calling us, as he always has, to love one another. What would it look like for us to let go of fear and live in great love instead?

Great love means seeking to listen and understand our neighbors before choosing sides. Great love means noticing our own complicity in the problem and resolving to change. Great love means honoring our neighbor’s emotions and stories. It means caring for everyone’s children–not just yours and mine. It also means: Reclaiming our schools and public spaces. Prioritizing people over weapons. Seeking common ground. Resolving our conflicts without violence. Prioritizing peace. Cultivating respect. Loving our neighbors as ourselves.

I’m outraged by the Parkland shooting. And I’m especially outraged because we know it won’t be the last. But we must do everything in our power to stop this senseless, savage violence in our schools and other public spaces. And although we aren’t all politicians or activists, we are all citizens and have an influence on our inner circles. Just look at the brave teens from Parkland who are working tirelessly to persuade our lawmakers to take action on gun control. Together we *can* affect change.

So here’s how I’m choosing to act: I’m choosing to raise my voice and shout, “Enough!” especially to our legislators. I’m choosing to get involved. I’m choosing to raise my son in a way that defies toxic masculinity. I’m choosing to keep praying, to vote conscientiously, to act conscientiously, and to look for the people around me who might need a little extra love.

I can choose to live life afraid. Or I can choose to live courageously in love.

I choose great love. What do you choose?