TRIGGER WARNING: School shooting
“God take me home,” I breathed. “Take me quickly.” The words traveled no farther than my lips, but my heavenly Father heard me.
Everything in life promised my death would be slow, arduous, and painful especially since I was horrible at change. It took me forever to adjust to teaching after my last job as a musician. However, despite the slow growth in the field, I was at least successful. Then there was the battle with cancer. Yup, I fought the new normal after remission like an MMA champ. It took eight years before I began to trust the ground would hold me up and the invisible wouldn’t knock me back down. Even still, I had hope in my dying breath that the Father might wrap his hands around me and sweep me out of the painful mire I now languished in.
Blood pulsed out of the jagged edges of the wound in my chest. The gunman spun around the corner. The stark reality of a gunman in the halls, a code red locking us down, the thirty-three kids huddled behind me, hiding inside a wall of overturned desks, holding nine hundred page English books to their chests, whittled my focus to an alien point, and that point moved my chest straight into the gunman’s fire. As I was the only one standing in the room, he pointed the weapon at my chest and squeezed the trigger releasing three shots. And in the blink of an eye, the single slight catch of my breath, I was pierced through and through.
My mind didn’t register the fall backward. It only shushed my screaming students, if only my lips would relay the message to the precious lives behind me. It was a slight relief when he disappeared seconds after he shot me. He wouldn’t hurt the students. I’d done my job. I’d trained for this moment and succeeded in protecting my students. Yet the darkness was still a surprise as it threatened to eat away at my last vision of my classroom.
I expected to feel a rush of pain, like contractions in childbirth. There was so much pain when people came into the world. It was only right that there would be an equal pain when we left. It was strange how I didn’t feel anything. Where I’d expected pain terror slid into place and spread like a deadly plague throughout me. Did a bullet hit any of my students?
Ice blazed a trail through my arms and legs, leaving me frozen, paralyzed. My slow blink allowed only the vague sense of sky blue cement blocks to permeate my mind. The distant knowledge that someone gripped my hand echoed down a long empty corridor. I couldn’t tell who it was, and I didn’t know why they held my hand anymore. Something about the person eased my panic, calmed my mind, and sent a wave of calm through me. I was grateful for my silent supporter.
Others might think that my last thoughts, those insipid little instinctual flashes, you know the stereotypical moment right before death, might have been about not getting paid enough for this level of sacrifice. My family might believe my ending began with an homage to my good life with my children and husband. But no. I was consumed with the desire to finish this race and earn my ‘Well done, good and faithful daughter.’ I wanted to open my eyes in the presence of Jesus in heaven built for my next life, my real home. I prayed for my children and my husband, and I knew they were in His hands too.
Aleya, my favorite student, somehow stepped through the man whose white robes glowed with the aura of love. “Ms. Curry?!” Her words came out in a rush across my face. “Come on guys. Help!”
A pang settled in my gut. I’d miss their graduation, miss their visits years later, miss their notes telling me where they landed in the great big world out there. Then my regret turned inward to my family. I’d miss my daughter’s wedding, and my son finally getting life right.
“Be still, I am with you. Always, even to the end.”
Could the students hear His voice? I blinked my eyes open. Tears streamed down Aleya’s face. Several stood around us, but I couldn’t make out their faces. Everything blurred into almost complete darkness.
A ripple of something foreign, invisible, and powerful gripped my gut and emotions erupted through me like a volcano, hot and full of lava. I had no idea what it was. All I knew is I wouldn’t survive it.
“I am a shield to those that put their trust in me.”
“Father?” My lips formed the words but my lungs had no breath to expel them.
“Hurry. She’s-she’s so pale.” Aleya whispered to no one in particular.
I wanted to tell her I was okay. I wanted her to know she shouldn’t allow this to change her dreams of becoming a doctor despite the odds. I wanted her to be the first girl in her family to go to college and pursue her dream. But most of all, I wanted her to know that Jesus had us all in the palm of His hand and if she accepted Him. . .
My thoughts failed me.
My mind went blank.
The brilliance washed over me, recharging me until I thought I might burst. Words had vanished from my mind. The sensation was so overwhelming. Yet, somehow my feet still worked, and like defiant beasts, they carried me forward when I could hardly stand without swaying. I moved toward the source of the light, against my own understanding, toward the most complex rainbow I’d ever laid eyes upon.
Nestled inside the brilliant light was a throne. It glistened against the gold stones my feet still carried me over.
‘Come daughter.’ A voice whispered into my mind.
I’d have glanced around to see with whom he spoke, except my eyes would not be torn from the face I’d dreamt of seeing all of my life. ‘Father?’
His smile was a sensation like warm sun on a cool light autumn evening. ‘It is you, daughter, I am speaking with.’
The urge to fall to the ground consumed me, and I was prostrate before another thought could trip through my mind. Intense shame seared through my soul, reminding me briefly of my entrance into this heavenly realm. “Why?”
‘That’s not the question you want to ask, but since you did, I’ll answer.’ He stood.
And again my face wet with tears crashed to the golden pathway. He was by my side, lifting me to my feet before I could inhale again. “No.” I wasn’t worthy of his touch, of even his slightest mercy.
‘You are forgiven.’
A weight lifted from me, and I could almost fly away with joy.
‘I knitted you together in your mother’s womb, and every day I’ve walked beside you, carried you, held you when you were alone, loved you even when you didn’t love yourself. And when the darkness pressed in so hard you wanted to give up, I swept the darkness away. You are my daughter, and you are divinely loved.’
My knees went out from beneath me. I raised my face to the sky, but the brilliance that illuminated the heavens stood in front of me. I laughed. For the first time in my entire existence, I laughed free from all the pain, fear, torment. I was completely and utterly free.
The joy didn’t pass or dwindle, but somehow, I was able to stand in the happiness radiating through me. Here before me was every answer to every question. I bit my tongue.
‘Ask me anything.’ His eyes softened as he smiled.
I ducked my chin, and he lifted it with a finger. “What comes next?”
WHAT CAME NEXT
People of every race, color, and creed worked hand in hand as human curiosity and joy at the Father’s gift of a new world spiraled like a sentient being between them all. The Father took me to the assigning place where a wall of books recorded each person’s place and contribution to heaven’s society.
“Hello, Joy.” The kindly woman smiled at me, fully mature without wrinkles, without mar or blemish.
Her name appeared in my mind and it felt familiar rolling off my tongue. “Xia, a pleasure.”
“You will be an Intercessor.”
I glanced at the Father, ready for my typical confusion and uncertainty when facing a new task, but peace reigned supreme throughout my heart, and my mind was flooded with the job description. I nodded at Xia. “Thank you.”
The Father smiled at me. “You are in good hands with Xia. If you need anything at all, please don’t hesitate to call on me, daughter.” He nodded and headed toward the throne room. Over his shoulder, his voice carrying easily on the breeze, he says. “Your first assignment is to Aleya, your husband, and your children.”
My heart took off on butterfly wings. “Thank you, Father. Thank you!” All the things I’d feared I’d miss, he provided. Something swelled inside my heart and threatened to overtake me. It was like warm melted chocolate and the best roller coaster in the form of a singular emotion and emanating from my heart. “Thank you, Father,” I whispered again, and I could sense his smile in the warmth that radiated around me.