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Thursday, January 10, 2013

When I Was Held Hostage: On Gunmetal and Grace

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.
~ Frederick Buechner


Yesterday was heavy with hopelessness for humanity.

I feared for the life of my boys last night inside a fast food joint where an agitated, mentally unstable man paced the floor and rallied angry, held his fist in his pocket grasping what might have been a weapon...and everything I thought I believed about nonresistance challenged me the instant my faith came up against my fear.

Our french fries sat steaming but untouched. We were, in a sense, held hostage. The man's writhing angry body draped across the dirty floor, blocking that swinging door with its golden arches cursing and forbidding any of us to leave, his guttural groans bouncing off walls and tables. My heart beat for the Lord's touch of grace upon this man, for God's will in this scary thing, but when the man pointed and laughed maniacally directly at me, singling me out with a terrifying glare, first I wished my husband was there—a military-trained expert marksman—with the concealed weapon he used to carry. 

With careful hands I texted Ryan, telling him I loved him and that I was scared, and avoided the foreboding words I wanted to say:

If I shouldn't come home, take care of our babies. Make sure they know I love them.

“I want you to get a pistol again...soon,” I texted instead, knowing the words would surprise and sober him as much as they did me. I was afraid for our lives, and I wished both for peace and for pistol. He has rallied for having one again, a pistol I know he would never use to harm unless an innocent person's life was at stake.


It breaks my heart all the same.

We are none of us innocent people.

I do not like guns in general and I do not believe they are the answer to an epidemic of hate and hurt. I don't honestly know how you can turn the other cheek toward Jesus, toward peace, with a pistol in your pocket. I grieve today that my heart reached for violence in the gripping midst of last night's fear, that it leapt for safety and not first for salvation. 

This is not about politics; it is about peace. Peace that transcends all understanding.

So I muddied the waters of what once was crystal clear because when the fire got hot, I valued my life and the lives of my family more than I trusted in the name of Jesus. I trusted the assurance of my husband's expertise, trusted that a bullet in a crazy man's thigh might really save our lives...every one of them already saved.

Yesterday, I saw humanity at its bleakest, a gray haze over the world I'm tempted to call home.

But it isn't.

It isn't home, this earthen-house, so broken and blood-soaked. It's so tempting to forget its temporal nature when the days run long and the body aches hard and I forget the joys of this life are only notes in an orchestra of heavenly preview. I forget that I am in this broken world only on official business...my passport stamped with redeeming blood, my permanent address given at Calvary.

In fear, I forget.

The police took twenty minutes to arrive, minutes I spent texting my husband, praying beggy prayers of safety and desperation, eyeing the crazy man's pocket and planning our escape at the first glint of gunmetal. By the time the lone officer pulled slowly into the restaurant, armed and heroic, the crazy man had been swallowed by night. Only then did I pray for this man's healing, for his safety, for his soul if it needs it, and his hurt and his life worth much as mine.

He was gone and life went on. No fanfare. No media. The police took interviews. The fry machine sizzled and sparked into business as usual. Hamburgers were chewed by teeth still fear-chattering while we strangers all looked around at each other's goosebumps and stunned faces and wondered what we were supposed to do now, our frail makeshift family, united in an instant over terror and iced tea. 

The boys and I got to the car and headed back southward, silent and shaken on the highway. The scene recurred through my conscious on a loop, restarting every mile until my husband's call broke through. 

He announced that the two kids at home needed an immediate treatment for head lice, which we later learn were passed on by my daughter's cherub-faced friend, curls always adorably tangled, whose home is filled with filth and animal feces but is starkly empty of a mother. Hers is just another kind of broken home, I know, reminiscent of this earth which stinks and crawls with the infestation of destruction. I groaned with the inconvenient timing of this minor plague, so desperately needing something of beauty to redeem.

I stopped at a store and scanned grocery shelves for the three-step RID kit in the white box, the one that makes me nauseous to purchase, but a woman, worn with wrinkles and raspy cigarette-stale breath, began yelling at her husband and the pharmacist behind the counter beside me.

“CANCER?! When did I have cancer? I DIDN'T have cancer, you lying sack of shit! I'm perfectly healthy! I'm FINE, damn it! I WILL NOT DIE!” 

She thrashed tearful at her husband's shirtsleeves; misty-eyed man hushing and pulling her close, the woman swinging and spitting on them both. 

So much hurt, here. So much darkness. 

Have mercy.

Forty seconds later, a different woman passed by, crying into a cell phone that her husband had started making meth again, that she didn't want to live anymore, and the whole black night reeked hard and heavy of Hell on Earth. I wanted to give up my citizenship right then and there in the Beauty department, to cash in the earthly heartbeat I'd been so scared to lose hours earlier just to make the madness stop. 

I tried to muster hope, to bring a holy thought to mind that could bring me back from this nightmare, but I could land on nothing but the question of where gunmetal fits into grace. 

...where gunmetal fits into grace.

Recoiling again at the darkness that flooded these desperate lives, I feared despite truth that evil could triumph on a night like this, and I wept.

Just a few blocks from home the radio sang loud, “Though darkness fills the night, it cannot hide the light. Whom shall I fear?” but the song ended before the darkness did, so the music faded into a radio interview. A meek and whisper-thin voice gathered strength in narrating her own horrific survival story through the car speakers, and our scathed spirits sat seatbelted stiff in our bodies, wincing at the endless grief of the night.

“I love Jesus,” the woman declared in shaky whispers, “because I know He forgives me for being a battered woman.”

The airwaves went silent; the interviewer, wordless.

Did you catch that?

She loves the Lord who forgives her for being battered...beaten and stabbed by a man whose heroin addiction split her lips and broke her legs, whose violence killed their unborn child. 

Forgiven. For being battered.

After hearing the story, I only know what I don't know at all. 

I don't know what forgiveness even is for a God like that, for a person like me. I don't know what it looks like to act justly and to love mercy anymore, when evil breathes near enough to tickle my neck hair.

I don't know what faith looks like so full there is no fear. I don't know how to long for the heart of Jesus more than I do, how to gather trust up around my neck and settle into its warmth and assurance when it's all I can do but to whisper, "My God," at the madness. "Have mercy." 

I don't know how to pray or what to pray for when the world seems eclipsed with suffering. I only know that no bullet can take me. No bullet will save me because a nail already has.

What I know—all I I know—is that there is no genesis in wickedness. Evil cannot create. It can only destroy. Darkness disintegrates and deteriorates the sound of that angel orchestra, the familiar melody of home still faint in the weariness of my heart.

Demolition does not stop demolition. In response to creation, we create. In response to destruction, we create even more. We can cover gray haze with orange paint, redeem hopelessness with the redemption and beauty of words made gospel, songs and movement and laughter and wonder that shines pinholes of grace-light through cloaks of fear, singing the joy-song of home.

In creation alone, I stop wishing for safety and start seeking my Savior. I call Him in with words in graphite, words of sacrifice, of love, of the home my heart sings for. Evil destroys but holy creates. Holy redeems and holy survives. Holy glimmers bright with glory, brighter than bullets and gunmetal, brighter than anger, brighter than fear. 

Have mercy.

Linking to:


  1. Have mercy indeed. This left me breathless, Cara. I have no words.

  2. Good gracious woman. This is haunting, gorgeous, thought provoking and exceptional. Thank you so much for sharing. SO glad to have found you and I will most definitely be back for more...

  3. "Have mercy." That's becoming a mantra around here, a constant prayer whispered and groaned, and I'm praying it tonight for you and yours and all the broken pieces, friend. So grateful, so, so grateful, that this is one of the ways you create in response - because it sings to us too. Thank you, Cara.

  4. Wow, Cara -- amazing event, amazing post. I've occasionally felt as if I were being pushed up against a thin glass wall to make sure I saw clearly what was out there. Those moments are sobering, to say the least. Thanks for the post.

  5. Sounds like a very terrible sort of day.

  6. I love you.
    I don't know much.
    But that I know to be true.
    That and that He loves you best.
    And them.
    Each and every one.
    I will hold one with you.
    To that hope of "home"
    To the promise of "no more tears in their eyes..."

  7. This world is not our home, and nothing is as it should be, and that's why the questions and stances don't resolve neatly. Thankful for God's mercy and protection over you. Much love.

  8. Oh. My.

    This is the deepest worship poured out. Right here.

    There's such beauty in your day. Not "terrible" at all. He allowed you to See Him through the Evil. And, His glory wins.

    He reached deep into your heart and showed you His. And it's remarkable. Utterly amazing . . . grace.

    I know His heart more fully through these words, Cara. You can trust All. Is. For. Purpose.

    Praying you know His peace a bit fuller today -- moment by blessed moment.

  9. I really have few words other than you left me wanting to fall on my knees in surrender.Thank you for bringing me to that place Cara. This is an incredibly beautiful write about redemption.

  10. WOW - What a night! That's a lot of pain and grace to take in at the same time. I'm really amazed at how well you seem to process it...

  11. no words from me. None worthy of speaking anyway. There's so much grace in this post. Christ, have mercy. Love your heart, Cara.

  12. This broke my heart, already broken, but somehow found the one small piece still holding on. And then I felt His Love that somehow, miraculously covers all this destruction that is everywhere near and far. Masterfully told, transparent and true. You have blessed me with your ability to weave this together and take me to a place where I am just whispering "Yes, mercy" with you friend. "In response to destruction, we create even more." Beauty.

  13. Oh have mercy, friend. What dark of night. I am soaking it in. Absorbing the pain and the holy redemption more. Your words are gracefilled and they need to rest on this page and in my heart. I am processing from all that is spilled, flowing here. Grace to you friend. Grace in your continued healing from all that broke out and loose on the earth that night. Peace of our Lord on you and your family.

  14. poignant and riveting.
    what a way to turn my day upside down with this perspective.
    thank you, Cara.

  15. Oh yes Lord, have mercy! Grace to you in the midst of it all. This was stunning. A bit of mercy and gospel beauty breaking through despair and destruction.

  16. Flower Patch FarmgirlJanuary 11, 2013 at 10:22 AM

    I often feeling a similar grip...it's horrifying sometimes. I see all of this darkness and laugh at the ways I believe MY faith is "tested". (It's not. Not really.) But here we all are, trying to scratch the black away and get to the light. We have to help eachother. That's the only thing I know.

    Your words here are true and riveting. They are lovely. And I'm so flpping sorry that you had such an awful night. But also? I'm happy for you, because these are the gifts that keep shaking and changing us.

  17. I can only stand and echo you, Jesus, have mercy.

  18. No bullet can save me because a nail already has.

    I know this fear, this wrestling, this staring into the darkness of humanity.

    I love your honesty and depth of feeling and I love that you return to that hard truth, that you take these truths in deeply. Thank you. I needed this today - someone who can see clearly the darkness that others don't seem to be affected by but clings to the light anyway. Thank you.

  19. All of it just makes me long more for home, real home. The horrible will give way to the holy, and thank you for sharing such beautiful words, holy and redemptive. Stunning and painful in the best way.

  20. Cara, I read this shortly after you posted it but I wasn't able to comment. Not then, at least. But with time and space and spirit winds having blown through me I simply must say, thank you. I meant it when I said that this might just be the most honest thing I have ever read. All of it is my truth, as well. Please keep giving us your heart. It might just change the world.

  21. oh cara. you describe the very things that make me weep and ache and go on anxiety medication. but you also describe here the resurrection hope that is somehow born from all of this ache and all of these tears. so, so grateful for you friend. for your words. for your heart.

  22. I found this by accident and I am moved beyond words.

  23. I am brought to my knees at this. Evil cannot create - it can only destroy. Such brilliant truth. Such pain, and yet such redemption in the midst. Excellent writing, Cara.

  24. Remarkable story, Cara - exquisitely told. "United in an instant over terror and iced tea..." exactly. It's the juxtaposition of the horrific and the everyday that cuts the legs right out from under us and makes us question every thing we say we believe. Thanks for sharing that part of your journey with us in this beautiful piece, Cara. I am so sorry for the terror - but so grateful you were able to write redemption out of it.

  25. Wow. I echo those words of those whose lines fill these comment boxes. I have none of my own, really, right now. I'm haunted and stricken and thankful for a God whose redemption and light are true, even when I do not know what that means. I'm so grateful for you speaking from this most awful night and reminding us of light and creation and our heavenly home.


Your comments are such an encouragement. Thank you for sharing your valuable words.