We walked hand in hand toward the mall entrance, my oldest daughter and I.
It was a last minute shopping trip for a choir uniform, but had turned into a lovely afternoon of chatting, laughter and pointing out the strangest clothes on the racks.
As we approached the large glass doors, it happened.
Everyone froze, and dread hung in the air.
"Oh, dear God," I thought/prayed. "It's happening." Instinctively I made a "seatbelt" with my arm and slid my daughter behind me while I continued to survey the situation.
Dread hung in the air as I --- and the 30 or so other people heading in or out of the mall --- looked around, trying to see whether or not we needed to run.
A barrage of laughter punctuated the air, and it became clear that the culprit was not the gun of some disgruntled employee, but rather a wayward balloon getting a little too up close and personal with an Arizona cactus.
The rag-tag group of shoppers released a collective sigh of release and continued on our way. The entire thing probably only lasted about 1 or 2 seconds. But it was enough to get my heart racing, my daughter crying, and my mind swimming will all sorts of what-if's.
The whole rest of the day, I couldn't reconcile the two wars raging within.
On one hand, I was angry. Angry that the first thought of everyone present wasn't sympathy for a child who lost his beloved balloon, but rather looking for a place to duck and cover. On the other hand, I was relieved that it was only a harmless balloon, and the incident opened the door for a deeper level of connection with my daughter. And it got me thinking.
During our time overseas, we had shielded the our kids from the more intimate details of tragedies that happened in America --- and around the world. We would acknowledge the horrific school shootings, but not dwell on them or discuss them to any great degree. I used to feel guilty about that at times, wondering if we were going too far in the way to ignorance.
Then I realized that our kids had seen their fair share of tragedy from the woman on our street corner that lived there year-round to the beggars holding their infants, shielding them from the elements as they tried to scrounge whatever they could to survive.
This world is harsh and broken, and most days I want to just hide my kids away and protect them from it all. But then I look at Jesus. Jesus commanded His followers to let the little children come to Him. And Jesus went where it was hard, and dirty, and people were broken. So, if we want our children to walk with Jesus, we need to teach them how to do it in our broken days.
1. Make a plan. That day outside the mall made me realize we had never talked as a family about what to do if such a situation really did happen to us. So, I talked with my daughter about what to do in emergency situations. What to do will be different for each family. But I encourage you to talk with your spouse, make a plan, and share it with the family --- with the appropriate amount of details so as not to cause our kids to live in perpetual fear.
2. Get involved when you can. One of the things that took the edge of fear and uncertainty for our family was to get involved in helping and relieving injustice whenever we could. Sharing their outgrown clothes or using their allowance to buy a hotdog for the homeless woman we passed everyday gave our kids a sense of empowerment, and cultivated a sense of compassion they hadn't known before. Of course, we must be wise and seek the direction of the Holy Spirit in such encounters. But get involved however you can --- pack clothing kits for flood victims; volunteer at a soup kitchen or food pantry. Let your kids see the reality of this world, and that our job as Christians is to be salt and light, and the hands and feet of Jesus to a hurting and broken world.
3. Pray. This really should be number 1. Pray for the people involved in the scary incidents your kids hear about. Pray for those involved when you hear a siren passing on the street. Pray and ask God to show you and your family how He wants to use you to lessen the scary and broken in the lives of those around you.
4. Look to Jesus. When in doubt (and when you feel certain), look to Jesus. Look to His words, His actions, His prayer life, His compassion. Look to Him for strength and wisdom. And look to Him for the best ways to lead your children to look to Him. In a lost and dying world, Jesus is the only true and lasting hope.
How are you raising strong kids when all you really want to do is hide them away? I pray that none of you reading these words ever faces a drastic and terrible situation, but the world will soon be in the hands of our children, and they need to be strong and ready for the task.