death, faith, family, grief, gun laws, guns, hope, school shooting, sisters, suffering

Staring Down the Barrel

“Hope holds a broken heart together.”

~Ann Voskamp


I am sitting in the thick blanket of nighttime, listening to the steady rain beating the drum roll of its sixth hour on the hollow-sounding roof.  The intense piercings of a familiar pain keep me from my slumber, and I am delicate in my constant re-positioning and pill-swallowing to avoid waking the mounds of purring sleep close to me.  My bedroom started out far less crowded tonight, but as the starlit veil fell, came the padding of feet and the tiny, emotion-filled voices describing fear of the dark, tumultuous dreams, and loneliness that needed the quiet comfort of my presence near by.  So here we all are, their chests finally rising and falling with the rhythm of their dreams, and me wondering when things will go back to normal.

This was a headline week for guns.  A few state lines over, lives were shattered as another troubled youngster unleashed explosive fury on rooms full of unsuspecting  teens and adults, cutting short the futures of many who had planned on having more time.  All the articles and bar-room-conversations and social media statuses are blasting loud the positions and rules and amendments and movements that each are convinced will bring an end to this terror. All of this buzz about bullets and laws and security and the NRA, and all I can think is how will these kids face tomorrow?  Closer to home, how will my daughters face tomorrow?



Just a few days after the most recent school shooting in Florida, my girls experienced their own kind of horror at the barrel of a gun.  My two, along with a roomful of other innocent, energetic young girls had come together to kick off the Spring season of cheer leading.  The room was full of ponytails, giggles, and camaraderie.  As they finished tying sneakers and warming up tight muscles, a new and horrifying ambiance sliced through the room.  My oldest daughter had slipped out for one last dash to the restroom before practice, and when she rounded the corner to go back into the gym, she ran right into him.  No one knew, so the coach opened up the door and let them both inside.  The next 90 seconds were so brief, but stretched eternally in the burning scars of terror that now streak the memory of everyone watching.  A few odd but indubious remarks were made to strike up a conversation with their coach as he positioned himself closer to the cash box where each parent had given the weekly dues.  Then, beneath his slouching hood, he grew expressionless and in the longest instant, the dark, round metal of a gun contradicted the innocence of the hairbows and glitter, and the giggles turned to a fear that would not be forgotten.  My girl, still the closest to him, tried to make a subtle move for a cell phone, but his instincts were fast and he tucked the metal box and dashed for the door.  Then the knee-jerk reactions of the coach slamming her shoulder into the door corner as she lunged after him, the instant tears of the little sister who felt the hysteria of watching her sister so close to a ruthless bullet, and the mayhem of the entire crowd as adrenaline was unleashed.

I am still incredibly grateful that this tasteless man had a thirst for money rather than for blood, and my girls got to come home safely that night.  What was no longer safe though, was their security and peace of mind.  Tears upon tears from the two of them and the best friend as they clung exhausted in an embrace of profound emotion in my kitchen that night.  Panic, flashbacks, sweating whenever they found themselves in a room too far from the safety of knowing a trusted adult was arms-length away.  An incessant need for the security of a cell phone pressed closed whenever they have to leave the house. Nightmares and sleep-screaming through the deepest hours of the night, peace divided by having to learn that sometimes these things happen for no good reason.


Tomorrow my girls will face walking back into that gym.  My oldest will relive the details of his coat and his birthmark as she walks through the same hallway where he first cut into her memories.  My youngest will remember the powerful emotions of watching helpless, wondering if she was going to see her sister’s future rewritten.  They will have to come to terms with these memories and these fears, and I will support in them whatever ways that they need, but I can’t help but wonder… what about the kids who watched friends and classmates and teachers gunned down in front of their eyes this week?  How will they find the courage to walk back down those halls?  I truly cannot grasp it.

Everyone has an opinion about what needs to happen.  More guns, less guns.  More restrictions, more screenings, more freedom, less.  So many different points of view.  I have an opinion too, but I’m not going to share it right now.  Right now all I can think about is the downright brokenness of it all. The terror, the pain, the distrust and the loneliness that has gone down in irreversible ways.  The truth is, regardless of what decisions are made about whether or not guns are legal and what the process will be to get one, there is an issue at the foundation that is something we all hold the answer to.   This world needs people who care more for the hearts of their neighbors than about how their status will suffer if they are seen breaking bread together.  It needs hearts that can anticipate the needs of others, and read from the eye motions and the face lines when someone needs an extra dose of kindness.  This world needs people who are wholly committed to seeing each other for what they are; other humans who are hurting and struggling and trying to make it, and in desperate need of being loved, accepted, and understood.

We don’t need gun laws, whether for or against, in order for this to happen.  We simply need to look up, and look around, and reach out with everything we’ve got in order to say, “I see you, and I know you’re hurting, and I’m going to walk you through it.”

We all just want to be seen.  Have you ever stopped to think that maybe you are part of the answer?  What is it that’s holding you back?



Benjamin, death

The Pain of Searing Loss

Heavy, medicated sleep, my body weak and tender but I am awakened.  My husband’s worried face looks long and pained through the smears of my blurry eyes.  ” I need to tell you something,” he says,   “and it’s not good, it’s going to be very hard for you.”  My first imaginings were nowhere near as horrible as the next sentence which sliced the air, my heart.

Benjamin?  No.
My nearest brother. This can’t be.
 28 years young, never a girlfriend, a dream job, a wife. No first-born, no travels, no wrinkles from life.  My ears hear you’re gone now, slipped out while you slept, but my mind can’t yet comprehend.

I wanted to jump up and drive and drive ’till I got to you, to see you and touch you and say it’s not true. I got up to try and my body kept failing, the pain and the retching they sneered at my grieving and gave me more mountains to climb. I lay at the doctor with needles and tubing and scoffed in my mind when they said “this will help you, will give you more time.” Nothing you give me can heal me or soothe me, just hurry this up, for my family, they need me.

Trying again to gather my strength, I gathered and folded and dug through the shoes to take us to Kansas to tell my brother goodbye.  Again though the thorn in my flesh was too much and instead I melted, exhausted and tearful while my gracious best Buddy stepped in. With grace and with kindness he put us together and packed us in tight to begin the hardest of journeys.

I try to sleep, but my dreams are only replays of my reality. My belly that would not be coaxed to eat even before the news is cemented in emptiness, or is it just pain?

My brother, my Ben, you’ve left me so broken, my memories now swaddled in grief. Grief. Again. My familiar companion, and still I have not figured the balm that would soothe such a terrible wound.

There were plans we had, remember? For when you were going to move to Colorado and be near me again.  I was to be your Paramedic, and you my partner, saving lives together; swapping stories and jokes that no one else understands. We were going to introduce you to all our fine ladies that one day you might find your true love. You were the sibling I first shared a beer with, and the only one that could use a few swear words back at me. You were the one I so ferociously protected, that no one would make an ill comment or hurt your innocent heart. The day you called and asked me how to become an EMT, my heart swelled. It swelled so big with my pride for you, for my sweet little brother following my footsteps.

I watched you, both proud and so saddened as you fiercely chased your dream to become a firefighter, and kept going past every closed door. I knew in my heart they never could take you, the seizures were too much a risk, but I never could tell you because I didn’t want to be one more person that crushed your dream. I admired your determination, and secretly wished I could beg of those chiefs to please make you some kind of job. I knew you’d be happy just to be “in,” wearing that Maltese cross. I smiled each time you would text me or call me to share of a wild night’s calls.  I giggled at your “green-ness” but knew it didn’t matter, ’cause you were over the moon.

I have searched for more, to learn of this Heaven, and what it is like where you are.  The comfort is twofold, as I know that your last night you closed your eyes to sleep, that you opened them to the most amazing, indescribable place, and your niece, my Ellie, she welcomed you there and you both will welcome me home.

Today I will see all those other sad faces as we prepare to celebrate you. I won’t know what to say, I won’t know what to do, but sit in the heavy of grieving for you.

Benjamin William Leake July 2, 1985-March 16, 2014