Strength for the Storm


    Why, you may be wondering, would anyone want to write a book about trouble?  Surely there are more interesting and up-lifting subjects.  Without a doubt, but none cuts to the core of our human condition the way trouble does.  It is the great equalizer.  Sooner or later everyone experiences adversity. Try as we might, we cannot escape it.  As the Bible says, "Yet man is born to trouble / `as surely as sparks fly upward" (Job 5:7 NIV).  


 No one is immune.  In one form or another trouble comes to every one of us.  Do what you will, you cannot avoid it.  You may minimize your risks, but there is no escaping it.  Some people spend enormous amounts of time and energy, not to mention money, in a desperate attempt to keep it at bay, but in the end they discover that there is no avoiding it.  It is inevitable—sooner or later trouble comes to us all.




    For some of us it is nothing more serious than a broken relationship, or a business deal that goes bad, or a stint of unemployment.  Others experience trouble of a more grievous nature.  A mother loses her children, or at least it seems that way to her:  her firstborn, a son, ends up in prison and her daughter is living with a lesbian lover.  A wife discovers that her "Christian" husband is an abuser.  Now she lives in terror, fearing for her safety and the safety of her children.  A young husband and father learns that his wife has only a few weeks to live.  As the doctor walks away, he is left reeling, wondering how he will cope.  Something inside of him screams, "Why God, why?"  


    Weeping, a young couple cling to each other while the tiny casket containing the body of their beloved child is lowered into the cold ground.  Four days ago they had never heard of SIDS—Sudden Infant Death Syndrome; now it fills their minds like a dark fog.  In the weeks and months ahead, grief will cause them to question the goodness of God.  It will rend the fabric of their relationship and quite possibly destroy their marriage.


As you can readily see, the storms of life come to us all, each in our own turn.  We may go for months, even years, relatively free from any significant difficulty or disappointment, then without warning tragedy strikes.  That is how it happened in the small town of West Paducah, Kentucky.  




    It started like any other Monday morning.  Parents got their children off to school before leaving for work themselves, never realizing that before the hour was out their lives would be forever altered.  At Heath High School, a group of students were meeting for prayer before heading for class.  While they gathered, a fourteen-year-old classmate slipped into school carrying a satchel of stolen guns.  Quickly he made his way to the site where several of his classmates had formed a circle and joined hands for prayer.  Calmly he stuffed earplugs into his ears, drew a .22-caliber semi-automatic pistol from his backpack and began firing.  In seconds eight students were down, their blood spreading over the tile floor.


As news of the shootings raced through that rural community located on the Ohio River, frantic parents converged on the high school, desperate to know if their sons and daughters were alright.  For the parents of Nicole Hadley, Kayce Steger and Jessica James the news could not have been worse—their children were dead; their lives snuffed out in a hail of .22-caliber bullets.    


The alleged perpetrator of this obscene act was Michael Carneal, a bespectacled ninth-grader who played the saxophone in the high school band.


His parents were among those who rushed to the school that fateful Monday morning, never imagining what would confront them when they arrived.  Relief washed over them when they saw Kelly, their seventeen-year-old daughter, unharmed.  But their relief was short-lived, giving way to a growing apprehension when they could not locate Michael.  Now they imagined the worst.  Perhaps he had been wounded or even killed.  Maybe his body was even now lying in the hospital morgue waiting to be identified.  


Finally someone directed them to the principal's office.  Fearing the worst they hurried through the strangely silent halls wondering how they would cope if their beloved son was dead.  Never, not in their wildest dreams, could they have envisioned what awaited them.  Inside the office Michael was telling the principal how it happened.  "It was kind of like I was in a dream," he said, "and then I woke up."  While his parents watched in stunned disbelief, law enforcement officers arrived and placed their son under arrest.  After putting him in handcuffs they led him away.


According to news sources, Michael's father, a respected attorney and an elder in the Lutheran Church, told his pastor, "I'm numb.  The worst thing that could happen in your life is for your child to shoot other children."


Where do the Carneal's go from here?  How do they get over a tragedy of this magnitude?  In the weeks and months ahead they will repeatedly second-guess themselves.  Where did they go wrong?  What could they have done differently?  How could they have failed their son so completely?  How could they have missed the warning signs?  Why didn't they notice something was troubling him?  These and a host of similar questions will torment them for the rest of their lives.


And what about the parents whose children were gunned down?  How will they cope?  For them, the illusion of safety is forever shattered.  If something like this could happen in West Paducah, Kentucky, of all places, then it can happen anywhere and at any time.  If their children could be murdered while attending a prayer meeting at Heath High School, is anyone really safe?


How long will they grieve? For the rest of their lives, most likely for it is nearly impossible to get over the death of a child, especially if she is the victim of a random act of violence..  Only God knows how many nights they will toss fitfully, unable to sleep, wondering how their daughter felt in those last terrifying moments.  Was she afraid?  Did she suffer?   


And the Heath High School tragedy is just one of many… Such pain and loss inevitably give birth to the "why" questions:  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why did it happen to me?  Why didn't God do something?  Why didn't He answer my prayers?