I have told this story over and over, sometimes to an audience of one, and sometimes to the audience of the world. Although if you asked, I couldn’t tell you what words I stumbled over in the Good Morning America interview only 2 weeks after my sisters died. I remember I was wearing a yellow shirt and looked terribly unkempt. But that’s really about it. I got extremely used to telling the story but I haven’t told it in awhile now. I’ve tried to reconnect with the emotions, and to not just tell it as a line of events that happened.
So as I unfold this to you, I have an ache that sits in the center of my stomach.
You’re like an unwinding cable car…”
December 9, 2007 dawned clear, cold, and to the surprise of my family: sunny. We were living in Denver in a teeny tiny apartment, and were driving an hour away for church on Sunday mornings. This was a Sunday morning, but there had been a ferocious winter snow storm the night before. My dad debated making the drive. In the end, it was decided; we would go to church.
That week had been a rollercoaster for me. Two of my coworkers had asked me to cover shifts due to family emergencies. I had worked more than my normal amount of hours for the week and I was exhausted. Furthermore, my boyfriend had recently disclosed some distressing news to me that I was still grappling with. Due to this news, I had even asked my manager for extra work. I was trying to forget what my boyfriend had told me. I was angry, and I wasn’t sure if I should stay with him, or leave.
My sister Rachel, having overheard the conversation a few nights earlier, gave me a note when she came into my work one morning:
“Philippians 4:6-7: Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
She never told me how much or what she heard during my conversation with my boyfriend. But when she gave me that note, I knew that she knew. The note was so uncharacteristic of her. And I needed nothing more than those words at that moment.
So Sunday morning, after the snowstorm, us girls piled into our family van and we took off for church. We each did our various zone-out activities for the hour long ride. I am sure I was listening to my Ipod. That was my go-to activity. When we were about halfway there, I had a sudden idea and leaned forward. “Rach, there’s an Anberlin concert in Denver tonight. We should ask Mom to take us!”
She got excited. “Yeah we totally should!”
“Okay, we’ll talk to her after church,” I said. We were both excited at the impromptu idea of going to see one of our new favorite bands. We had different favorite songs, but the same taste in music. While she liked Set Fire to the Third Bar by Snow Patrol, I was a fan of It’s Beginning to Get to Me. While I liked The Unwinding Cable Car by Anberlin, she liked Alexithymia.
It was when we had arrived at church that I heard about the shooting. I overheard my parents talking about the news. “What are you talking about, Dad?”
“Oh, you didn’t hear? There was a shooting up at the YWAM base in Arvada.”
“WHAT? I have a friend there!!!” My dad looked shocked. I felt frantic. I immediately sent out texts and tried to call our mutual friends. Mutual friends of hers were calling me to try and find information. I ran out to the lobby for a few minutes trying to get ahold of people. In the middle of this I called my boyfriend who was snowboarding up in Breckenridge that day.
“I just feel guilty, you know? Like I should have prayed more last night or something. I feel really bad. I was so selfish last night, so stuck in my own head.”
He tried to reassure me but I couldn’t shake the idea that I could have prevented it somehow with my prayers. I went back into the service where worship was halfway through and joined Rachel up near the front, with the other young people who worshiped in front of the altar. Right about then, I received a message telling me that my friend was safe. Relieved, I tried to lose myself in the service.
Dr. Jack Hayford was preaching that day and he talked about the wise men and the gifts they brought Jesus. He talked about having an open heart to God during the Christmas season. About giving our most precious gift to Christ. Unaware that those words would become like hot cattle brands later, I jotted down notes furiously. I was always quite studious during Sunday sermons.
After the sermon, my dad went to talk to the missions pastor at our church. My dad is quite the talker, so we were in the huge sanctuary until it emptied out. It was almost 1pm when my dad finally said, “Okay, well, let’s go.”
We walked down the long hallway towards the end of the church, and our car. Looking back, that hallway is now reminiscent of another hallway… the hallway between the hospital and the hospice where my Grandpa died. It was a hallway I used to call to myself “the hallway of death” due to its stark white walls.
My mom usually stopped at the restroom, but today we were eager to leave after staying so long. We discussed where to go for lunch. To avoid a fight, I agreed with the decision to go to a local burger place. I didn’t feel like burgers, but our fights over where to eat were notorious in my family, and I didn’t feel like making a big deal out of it.
As we were heading out of the building, we saw a long-time friend whose car was parked near ours. We exchanged hellos. The sun was shining in a stark blue sky; snow and slush were still covering the huge parking lot. Everything was so quietly normal.
My sisters and I piled into the back of our white minivan. All of us were in except Rachel, who had stopped to get something out of her purse. At that moment, I thought I heard a balloon pop. Or maybe it was the tire exploding? “What was that?” I asked. That was when the screaming started.