There are some days like last night, February 18, and this morning, when I am reminded of what I hate most and love most. The news of Hailey Owens’ abduction in Springfield and the subsequent news of the alleged abductor being a Springfield School District employee shock us to our very roots. We are left as a community in tears, out of breath as we try to contemplate the plight of this little girl. We wince when we begin to allow our brains just for a moment to consider what may have happened.
What we hate…
The overwhelming sense of our community is shock to think that one of us would choose to take the life of a child innocently outside at home after school on a gorgeous afternoon. We hate that one would even consider, much less perpetrate, this kind of crime. We hate that our world is so broken. We hate that our children do not have the privilege of living in the relative safety of generations past. We hate that when our children ask to go outside we are not sure what answer to give. We hate feeling the victim of those in our communities who would do us injury. We hate to think that a school employee – the very ones we tell our children to trust – may be the one who will do them harm. We hate sin.
What we love…
Community. Last night when I called the Springfield Police Department (SPD) to offer any help they could use overnight, the 911 operator graciously said she would add my name to a fast-growing list of those in our community who were asking how to help. The SPD had no shortage of people who were immediately making themselves available to leave the comfort of their own homes to do whatever was necessary overnight to serve them and serve this dear family. The SPD have shared stories of eyewitnesses who independently and sacrificially chased the abductor by foot and car. Strangers – united only in geographical nearness – willing to sacrificially serve others. We love our community.
Compassion. Social media tells the story of this community’s care and concern for others. From television anchors to politicians to pastors to school employees to dads and moms all over the Ozarks, this community hurts. There is heartbreak. We hurt with this family. You can see the sadness. As I engage people today in the businesses around this community, there is a sense of sobriety. When you harm one of us, you harm us all. We are at a loss. Our community was so hoping she would be found safe and sound. We were waiting to hear of the hero who saved her. Instead, a sad ending that no one wanted. We hoped with this family. We love our compassion.
Anger. Again, social media tells the story of the anger in the hearts of this community. Questions…so many questions. How can a school employee – anyone, really – do this? What went wrong? How does this happen? Our questions and outrage toward sin easily turns into outward wishes of justice, revenge and some sense of “eye for an eye.” We certainly do not love all that is said in anger; however, anger toward sin against others is right. We love our anger.
Concern. Thousands have stopped what they are doing and have prayed for this family. When the AMBER alert text spread across the cell phones of this community, people began to pray. Person after person signed into Facebook or Twitter to share their commitment to pray for this family, the police officials, the children impacted, among so many others. Today as the news broke that it was a school employee, many also committed to praying for the school children, staff, and administration. People from all over the world have joined in with the Ozarks through social media in prayer for us. The seriousness of this crime reveals the concern that we have in this community for each other. We love our concern.
So, how do we respond as individuals? How do we respond as a community?
We remember. On a day like today, we are reminded that life is short (James 4:14). None of us are guaranteed any day. Every day we are granted by God counts. We recall that Paul challenged us in the New Testament to “Walk carefully … redeem the time because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). Many days will not turn out the way we hoped. Often we are confronted with the fact that the world around us is broken, filled with evil, disappointments, and enigmas. However, it is in this context that we must remember. Remember that God loves us (Ephesians 3:14-19). Remember that God gives us grace to handle the pressures of today in Christ-honoring ways (1 Corinthians 10:13). Remember that God understands the murder of the innocent (Acts 2:22-24). Jesus, God’s son, suffered a cruel death as the perfect, sinless Son of God. So, we remember.
We recommit. We recommit to live like today matters. We want today to be special. It is so easy to miss today in anticipation of what comes tomorrow or in contemplation of the past. Today, though, has been granted to us by God (Psalm 118:24) and we are responsible to take full advantage of today’s opportunities. However, this is difficult. Life is so full and often overflows with activities, responsibilities, and various pressures. Therefore, it is in the midst of a busy life that we recommit to living every day for God’s honor (2 Corinthians 5:9). One of the key areas we live in light of God’s honor is in sharing the hope that we have in humanity through Christ. We recognize the fact that Jesus powerfully works in people and that no one is beyond the hope of life change in Christ. So we can we commit to sharing and living out that hope in our community among people. It is a hope that changes lives. It is a hope that allows you to see through the fog of difficult circumstances. It is the hope that could have kept Craig Michael Woods from committing these atrocities. It is hope of a relationship with Christ that changes everything (2 Corinthians 5:17) So, we recommit.
We resolve. We resolve to love our neighbors. Loving your neighbor is the most important thing outside of loving God (Matthew 22:37-40). Sometimes, in the busyness of life, we forget to carefully help and love our neighbors. We must remember that our first priority begins in our own homes where we find our closest neighbors. So our children, our spouse, and our other family members must be a priority each day; in addition, also our other neighbors must be utmost concern. We praise those who went out of their way to try to protect Hailey. We recognize that many of us should be more aware daily of the situational difficulties of those that are in our path and in our neighborhoods. Part of being a loving neighbor is simply being a good citizen and watching after fellow mankind. Therefore, we determine to make our neighbors a priority. So, we resolve.
We request. We request that God would grant comfort and mercy for the Owen family. We take God at His Word when He says He will provide grace when we ask for it (Hebrews 4:16). We request comfort and mercy for us. Those of us who are fearful, those of us who are struggling, those of us who are trying to piece all of this together in a way that makes sense to us, we pray God for comfort and wisdom. We also pray for God’s help as we consider Craig Woods and his family. No doubt there are many of his family who are also struggling today and we request that God would give them comfort and mercy in the midst of this terrible circumstance. So, we request.
We rest. As we try to consider all that’s taking place in this community and consider the horrible evil that has happened, we rest in God’s love and control. We confess that we do not know why God allows for evil in His plan and how this ultimately fits His purposes, yet we choose today to trust God. We choose to rest and consider God’s gracious and kind-hearted way of helping and loving people. We rest in God’s beneficial care. We trust his character and that He is with us. He provides grace and courage to face the challenges of today’s struggles (Joshua 1:9). So, we rest.
We move forward from here…
Words cannot express the deepest sense of hurt, injury, disappointment, and loss of innocence we all feel as a community this day. However, we respond to this day not in hopelessness because we hope in God. We respond to this day not in paralyzing fear because we realize there’s more we can do. We respond to this day not in despair of mankind but in the hope of change because of Jesus Christ.