Fear is a powerful thing. Sometimes it grips you and it doesn’t let go.
I never expected to wake up to fear a week ago. But I was still laying in bed when my phone rang and in my sleepy fog could barely make out the words of my husband pleading with me to get out of bed and lock the doors. I mumbled something like “I’ll lock it when I get up” and then heard the words now, shooter and neighborhood. It suddenly clicked. And I was awake.
Fear gripped my heart as I woke up sleeping children and quietly hustled them to safety. I had them lie down on my bed in the basement, away from the windows with all the blinds drawn and the bedroom door locked. I locked the front door and barricaded it with a chair. I locked the back door and barricaded it with a table. Because there was someone shooting at people in our neighbourhood. And at the time I didn’t know where he was so I prepared for the worst.
We fell in love with our house partly because of this neighborhood. There are two schools within walking distance, a lovely park with a wading pool, several tall trees – and lots of friendly people. We like our neighbours. We talk to each other, we help one another, and we trust each other. So it seemed surreal that our neighbourhood was under lockdown and there was danger in our midst.
Danger, and yet the sky was blue. Murder, and yet the sun was still shining. Four people were killed two minutes from my house, on a beautiful morning in a usually peaceful neighborhood. But there wasn’t anything peaceful about that day. Two people in a parking lot getting ready for their day, and two police officers who came to help them. Gone.
After a few hours the lockdown was lifted, the murderer in custody. I told my children it was safe, and we let ourselves out of the locked bedroom in the basement. And it struck me – my children had been laying still and silent for three hours. My noisy, animated children had known the danger. They’d understood. It struck a chord with me, that they’d been silent for so long.
We watched the television all day. Updates on the investigation, on all that had happened. Somehow, the day came and went. But as the sun set that night, a husband went to bed without his wife and two wives without their husbands. That night, the sky was perfectly clear – but ten children went to bed with one less parent than they’d had that morning.
That morning, when I was locked in my basement bedroom with my two children I was calmer than I expected. It is more like me to be afraid, to panic more than I did. But as I laid there in the silence, I whispered these words to my boys but mostly to myself.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. Psalm 56:3
The Lord is my light and my salvation— so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble? Psalm 27:1
I prayed to the Lord , and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4
For I hold you by your right hand— I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you. Isaiah 41:13
As these whispered words reached my heart an overwhelming peace filled my soul. Because in the midst of danger, in the midst of fear, it was as if the Prince of Peace was in that room with us. And as the hours wore on and the day became night, I prayed that those families who had lost their loved ones would experience His peace too.
But then, later that night a tender hearted little boy crept into our room and whispered he was afraid. What if the shooter came back? Fear made him afaid to sleep in his bed, afraid to be away from us. I sang him a song from my childhood, a song I still sing over myself when fear interrupts my sleep.
I will lie down and sleep
and sleep in peace
I will lie down and sleep in peace
You alone, Oh Lord, make me dwell in safety
I will lie down and sleep in peace.
– Steve Green, Hide em in Your Heart (1990, Sparrow Records)
Based on Psalm 4:8
He drifted off to sleep after that, and I did too. But here’s the thing – sometimes fear sticks.
This morning I went to the hospital for my weekly treatment. It was another beautiful day, a cool breeze with bright blue skies and stunning sunshine. But it was different than it had been all those other times I’ve had my appointment. Four uniformed officers stood guard outside the outer doors. Inside, many more were present. The shooter, who had taken four lives before being wounded himself, was still recovering in the hospital. I went to my treatment as usual, but when my husband picked me up afterwards my little tender hearted boy reached from the backseat and clutched my arm. “Mom, did you see the shooter? What if he got to you?”
I reassured him and we drove home. All along the way, his little hand kept resching for me. We drove past the police station, cluttered with flowers and sentiments, a memorial for the fallen. “Is that because of the shooter?” We drove past the school, it’s windows boarded up to be replaced. “Did the shooter break those windows?” We drove past the building where it had all happened, minutes from our house. A handful of flowers and a balloon sat outside the building, a memorial for the two civilians who died. So small in comparison to the one outside of police station. His voice, quieter, “that’s because of the shooter.”
We went home and he sat beside me on the couch. We talked about all that had happened, too much for him to process from the events the week before. We talked about fear, and how it sticks to you.
But here’s the thing – we don’t have to be afraid. Just like the words of that sweet tune and even sweeter Psalm say, He gives us peace and allows us to dwell in safety. Even if we can’t quite get past the fear.
Even if the fear sticks. Even if we don’t understand why God also allows tragedies to strike. Even when it breaks our hearts to watch others suffer. Even when we lose someone that we love. Even when we grieve. His peace is our gift.
I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.
One week ago as I lay with my children, not knowing what was happening but knowing of the danger, I experienced this peace. Today, as I talked to my son, we prayed he would experience this peace too. It’s an everlasting peace. Unexplainable peace. His peace, for us, for all time, through every situation.
Fear can be sticky. But His perfect love casts out all of our fears, and He replaces our fears with His peace. We don’t know what will await us tomorrow. We can’t always be prepared for when the next tragedy strikes. But we can continually ask for His peace that goes down deep into our hearts. And with His peace, our broken can start to heal.