Standing in the vacant parking lot at FBC Dadeville, I felt the heaviness of the tragedy even more than when hundreds gathered to pray in the same spot two hours prior.
So much had transpired in the past 24 hours, and images suddenly scrolled through my mind in warp speed — even some I had no first-hand knowledge of, just ideas of what it might have been like.
In my mind, I saw an excited 16-year-old girl laughing and dancing around, getting dressed up for her big birthday bash, then a steady flow of smiling friends pouring into the downtown building decorated with balloons and streamers.
Oh, and definitely a specially designed Sweet 16 cake.
Were the cars parked up and down the streets? I’m not sure. I couldn’t focus there. My mind stayed inside the building.
I imagined lots of hugs, selfies and more laughter as the music played and a mom running around making sure everything was in place so her baby girl’s big day was extra special.
Then everything went dark, and my mind scrolled through terrified screams, a stampede to exit the building and sirens, lots and lots of sirens.
My heart quickly shifted to a deep, deep hurt for the parents, siblings, fellow students and all who are connected to the community.
Navigating horrific events
Back to my own reality, the activities of Sunday, April 16, seemed surreal as I watched pastor Ben Hayes and FBC Dadeville via livestream that morning and then showed up in person to cover the prayer vigil hosted by the church that evening.
Pastor Hayes shares how he navigated the horrific event and describes the look I also saw on so many faces in the community — “that thousand-yard stare.”
You know the one. You aren’t quite sure what’s playing out in front of you is real and, in some ways, you feel as if you are outside your own body watching instead of actively participating.
Many times, the shock includes an inability to communicate. You are basically staring right through those in front of you while your mind attempts to process and make sense of it all.
We realize we are attempting to shoulder more than we can truly handle. The pain is sharp.
Still, no matter the depth of our predicament, we are not alone if we have accepted the blood-bought gift of grace provided by our Savior Jesus Christ.
Pastor Hayes shared at the prayer vigil that “our hearts have been set on fire by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit that indwells us and gives us the strength to do this.”
‘Afflicted … not crushed’
“Jesus said we (believers) are the light of the world,” he noted. “This sin-darkened world desperately needs the light of believers to shine brightly.”
Second Corinthians 4:7–11 also reminds us “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing … struck down, but not destroyed.”
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