Thursday, May 28, 2009

The other side of grace

We're all pretty familiar with the concept of grace. Grace, as we know it in the Christian realm, is defined as "the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God." Think about this for a moment you usually find it's easier to give grace or to receive it?

I would venture to guess your answer is giving grace. At least mine is. And by any indication of readings I've done on the topic, a lot of other people would answer the same way. Why is that? In a world consumed by greed & self-absorption, why can't we accept something as seemingly simple as grace?

If you're like most people who have been alive for enough years to have made some of your own decisions, chances are you're not proud of all of those decisions. I hesitate to use the word regret, because I think it's entirely possible to make bad decisions without actually regretting them, so long as you take something positive out of the experience, or learn something.

But I digress. For a long time I had an issue with forgiveness. I wasn't able to give it or receive it. It broke me down, and I brought some relationships down with me. I had been so wronged, so misguided, I thought that I was on a never-ending spiral downwards. That karma would be the end of me. Once I got to the point where I could say I could forgive those who had wronged me, I thought I was good. That I had this grace thing figured out. What I didn't think about was the other side of grace. The receiving side.

How often do we beat ourselves up when we've messed up, even long after the other person has forgiven us and moved on? It's like we can't imagine the other person really being ok with something when we're not ok with it ourselves.

I find myself on the side of giving right now in a particular situation. And for the past couple of years. In this instance, I have genuinely been able to forgive someone for the hurt they may have caused. I usually end up feeling bad when they feel bad about it. Strange? Eh, to some people sure. Even though I should be mad, and want them to know I'm mad, I can't. And if I do voice that frustration, I immediately feel horrible about it. The problem comes when they seemingly can't come to grips with the situation. I honestly don't know if they realize that I have forgiven them. Are they just shying away because they feel bad for what's happened? Maybe. I'm not really sure. That's the explanation someone has given me which, by the way, I had never considered. I again took the blame upon myself. I thought I had done something wrong. I had forgiven the person, but not myself, even though I hadn't really done anything wrong. Makes sense right?

If we can't even understand receiving grace from others, how do we comprehend the grace we receive from God? I don't think we get it. I don't. There are obvious exceptions, but you would be hard pressed to find someone willing to give their own life for the sake of another. Think about it...

Remember, it's just as important to accept grace as to give it. There will be hurt feelings, misunderstandings, etc., but in the end grace and love should prevail. Mend broken bridges while you have the chance. Talk openly and honestly. You'd be surprised how much peaceful it can be.

And regardless of what's happened, I have forgiven you. There are no hard feelings. There never have been. I don't want you to feel like you can't come around. That's more painful than anything else usually. Let's talk. Soon.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

And I Will Not Be Silent, No...

Yesterday I went to a book reading/signing for Lucinda's book No Right To Remain Silent. I had debated for a while about going, but decided I should. I was hesitant because I haven't even been able to read the book yet. I started to one day at work, but just a few sentences in I was overwhelmed with feelings from that day, and had to put it down. And haven't picked it back up yet. It's on the list for this summer...reading it by the pool will hopefully be a little more therapeutic.

I got to Barnes & Noble about 10 minutes early, so went to the back of the store to get a seat. Lucinda was back there greeting people and when she saw me she was pleasantly surprised to see me. And told me so. I'm not just assuming. She gave me a huge hug and we took a couple minutes to catch up, which was nice. For the reading she chose 3 passages from different parts of the book. While I originally thought the part about when she met with him would be the most difficult to hear, it ended up being her recollection of the 1st anniversary that hit me the hardest. At one point I had to look away to not show the tears welling up in my eyes.

She made so many good observations about the events surrounding that day. I won't go into all of them. But the thing that stuck out to me the most was that with the lawsuits, the arguments, the pointing fingers...the most important thing in this situation is information, not blame. She said how she wished in the days following the 16th that the victims' families, those close to the situation, and the administration could have come together and talked openly and freely. But that didn't happen. And now there are 2 suits filed not to get any monetary gain or blame put on someone, but to get the information out there. I completely agreed with her on these points. Also, she mentioned how there are so many people who know things that happened that haven't been able to speak up. That's when my thoughts immediately turned to my situation, and how true that was even for me. There are things that I know that no one or only 1 other person knows. And why should I stay quiet about it? I understand the importance of protecting the innocent, but what about those innocent 32? Shouldn't someone speak up for them?

I remember that day so vividly. I think a lot of people probably do. I went to work like any other day. Anyone who lives in Blacksburg can tell you how unpredictable the weather is here in April. We usually get a shot of warmth for a day or two, then when the cold returns we curse and question it. I can go back to even this past April and see countless Facebook status messages to attest to this. But that year wasn't any different. It was cold and blustery, with snow spitting occasionally to remind you that spring wasn't quite here. Our mailman for the office came up around 8:30 as usual and we chatted about what was going on that day, like we do every day. But this morning he gave me a bit of news that at first I didn't really believe. He said there had been a shooting on the other side of campus, and that they were told to get out of that area. That is was essentially on lockdown. I was taken aback because surely if something like that had really happened we would have heard about it by now. So we went on about our business and I continued my day as usual. But I couldn't get his warning out of my mind. I didn't want to send an email to the other staff to cause unnecessary alarm and to blow it out of porportion, so I decided to go down to my then boss's office to let her know what he had said, and if she had heard anything. She hadn't, but called a couple other people to see if they knew anything. She had a police scanner in her office, so she turned that on to see if there was any activity. There didn't seem to be any, so I went back down to my office to continue my day. The next couple of hours are a blur. I let my mom know via IM that something was going on, but that I was fine, and I would let her know more when I knew. I told her I was going down to Tammy's office because the longer I stayed in my office the more I felt like a sitting duck. My office behind a wall of glass essentially, with no blinds, leaving me completely exposed to anyone walking by. After the email came out saying there was a shooting on campus, and before we knew the details, I remember sitting at my desk watching the staircase that led to our floor and imagining someone walking up and me being the first person they would see, making me an instant easy target. I got my phone (which ended up being useless) and went and sat in Tammy's office and waited. We listened to the scanner as the magnitude of the situation unfolded. We were told to leave around noon, and I remember walking to my car and seeing snipers on the tops of the buildings. I had no idea what to do. I got home, tried to get into contact with as many of my friends as possible to make sure they were ok, then we spent the rest of the day waiting to see what would unfold. We never would have imagined what we would see and hear.

In the days following there are mental images that I saw that I don't think I'll ever shake. Walking on the drillfield by Burruss there were huge bloodstains on the sidewalks and grass. After another day or two someone placed band-aids on the stains and wrote in chalk messages of sorrow and despair for those lost.

I remember watching NBC on Wednesday and learning that there was a package sent containing pictures, videos, and messages. Of all the things that happened that week, one of the most vivid thoughts I remember having was how I couldn't imagine how the person felt that worked at the NBC mailroom, when he/she was doing their every day job, and came across something like that. It baffeled me to think about it.

I didn't get the mail done at work because the phones were constantly ringing and reporters were all over the building. Details were still coming out. The reality of the situation hadn't sunk in for a lot of people. We knew who the victims were. We knew who did it. We, the English department, knew that for some reason, he walked by Shanks that morning. We didn't know why. I finally got around to the mail on Thursday. We were in the midst of getting graduate applications and recommendation letters in. A lot of them sent them overnight, priority, etc to ensure they would get to us quickly. I got a package that was sent priority. It was a local address. It looked familar, but I couldn't figure out why. I went to put it in the box of the grad coordinator. Then second-guessed myself. I went back and forth, literally taking it in and out of her box about 5 or 6 times before deciding I would just open it and check to see who it actually went to. The address was simply the English Department. No name. So I opened it and there was a regular-sized letter in the package. Weird, I thought. The type was edge to edge. No margins. There were two pages. I skimmed it briefly and actually thought it may be an essay or letter for grad school. So once again I put it in the coordinator's box. Then took it back out. I looked over it again, this time turning to the second page. There was a name scrawled in red ink and a picture. It looked so familiar. I wracked my brain trying to figure out where I had seen it. Earlier. Last night. On the news. In the package sent to NBC. I immediately started crying and shaking. Here in my hands was, at this point in time, the single most important piece of news in the country. In my hands. The timeline of events had started to be released, and they figured out that he sent the NBC package after the shooting in the dorms and before he went over to Norris. He had killed 2 people, then mailed this. I ran down to my boss's office and gave her the letter. She called the cops and they came over. I left. I went into the bathroom and washed my hands for about 15 minutes. Praying, crying, shaking, washing. I went back to my office, messaged my mom to tell her in a sentence what had happened, then got my stuff and got out of there. I called mom on my way home to explain more. She wanted to come down. I told her things were still crazy here, and I would be ok. I just wanted to go home.

I was told by the cops that I couldn't say anything about the letter. That it even existed, let alone what was in it. I was overwhelmed with emotions I couldn't explain. I wanted to talk to someone. But I couldn't. That evening we were having a dinner for homegroup to just sit around and talk and spend time together. They knew something was up. Eventually I lost it. I remember crying and saying over and over that I didn't want to know what I knew. I wanted to talk to one of our pastors. One of them wasn't available, but Matt was. He came over right away and we went to talk. I will forever be grateful for him for listening to my completely incoherant babbling about what had happened. He reiterated the fact that I had the biggest piece of news in my hands. I told him I knew, and it was killing me. We talked, prayed, and I went back out with everyone

Periodically Matt and Jim would check up on me. When the news was silently released weeks later that a letter was sent to the English Dept. I felt like a huge weight was taken off my shoulders. No one really saw the article. Matt did though, and said something to me. I told him I couldn't explain how much of a relief it was. I was finally able to tell my friends what had happened that Thursday. It was a relief to tell them, but while before we were all at the same level of grief and shock, this put me in an entirely different catergory by myself. I was glad that no one felt what I did, but it was still incredibly hard to deal with.

Days, weeks, months passed. A year passed. We held the anniversary. It was difficult. Looking back, I think part of what makes that entire time more difficult was that that day in itself was horrible, but it also started a horrible series of events. April: the 16th; May, June, July: grandma got sick, passed away; July: mom got sick. The next year a half would be without a doubt the most difficult thing I would ever go through. Possibly ever. I don't say this to deminish what everyone else was feeling. I can only speak of my own experiences. And I believe everyone else should start to as well.

Two years have passed. I've lost more more than I could have ever imagined possible. But along with loss comes gaining perspective, wisdom, clarity. I wholeheartedly believe in Lucinda's message: however difficult, simply exchanging information will help everyone. Understanding is at the root of communication and compromise. If everyone took a little more time to explain, and listen, we might be able to live a little more harmoniously.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The countdown is on...

I love May. It's birthday month. And this year, it's the official countdown to the end of work, and the beginning of the most awesome summer ever...appropriately named the Summer of Awesomeness. I figured that there was so much fun stuff going on, I should probably document it. It'll be fun...