Monday, December 17, 2012

About the School Shootings in Connecticut

I feel compelled to write about this, the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that took place on Friday morning. Many people on Facebook are wondering why this has happened and why it keeps on happening and people have been posting great thoughts and articles written by people like Maya Angelou and Morgan Freeman. I have been interested to read all such discussions and have developed my own thoughts and opinions as well, which I want to share. I don’t know if I will be able to share in a complete paragraph form… I feel like in some parts I may just list off thoughts.

So obviously many people are pleaing for more gun control. Others are saying that it’s not the issue of gun control but of mental health. Could we not agree that both probably need attention? Someone who would do this was obviously mentally sick, but will it be the end of the world for people who like to use guns if guns are harder to come by? I think it is a sacrifice people can make. I think both issues should be worked on, for sure, but I wonder how more attention on mental health would go… and I know that I don’t agree with some of the ways that it could go.

I enjoyed Morgan Freeman’s thoughts about the way that the media sensationalizes people when they do such things but don’t like the line where he says, “You can help by donating to mental health research instead of pointing to gun control as the problem.” Because what research really needs to be done? Nothing that would demand much money, I don’t think. I feel like it is just a matter of executing what already works.

Okay, again, I don’t know how to organize these thoughts but will share a little bit about myself. I was a very sensitive kid. My family can tell you about this. I was pretty composed at school and sports. I got along well with other kids, did well at school, etc. But at home where I had less limits, I would get upset often. Things just set me off and I felt unable to control myself. My family can attest to me doing things like beating my head against the window in the car and telling my mom that she was making me do it. My mom used to tell me often that I was too sensitive. I had strong emotions and I didn’t always know how to control them.

Around middle school, I believe, I started doing obsessive compulsive sorts of things and my mom would try to break me of them. After learning to type, I typed everything said in conversations on my hands, without a keyboard in sight. I would have issues about standing on the same floor as the toilet when it flushed, the same floor as the microwave when it beeped, and certain things like that. But again, my mom kept me in check so it didn’t get too out of control and I eventually stopped. I could go on, but my point is that if I hadn’t grown up in the environment that I did, or under different circumstances, I’m sure I could’ve been diagnosed with something at some point. Also, if my father didn’t give us the counseling and wisdom from the wrong paths he took with drugs and alcohol, then I would’ve likely gone down that path as well to alter my state of mind as I often found myself burdened by my emotions.

Now, in college a lot changed. In a TED talk I recently gave at Virginia Tech, I talk a bit about my Freshman year of college and how I found a plan to read the Bible in a year, which I followed. During this time, I searched my heart and laid it all before God, which if you are reading this and don’t have a relationship with God and weren’t brought up that way or haven’t been in a crowd that talks this way, then that may sound foreign to you, but please don’t judge the foreign or different and just consider. I laid my heart before God as it was broken because everything I had done to try to fill it with the joy that only comes from him had failed me. He showed me that it had guilt and self-hatred harbored in there. He showed me that neither of these came from him. How did he show me? Through his word…through learning his character in the Bible, and through prayerful revelations which again, if someone has not done this then they may not understand, but don’t judge or write off. One of the things I hated about myself was that I was so sensitive. When God shone his light on this harbored self-hatred, he turned it right around.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    before you were born I set you apart. (Jeremiah 1:5)

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

I read about how I was made in God’s image. And I read about how God was good and God was love. I realized that he had made me very sensitive. He had made people other ways that also reflected his image but he had made me sensitive… and I just didn’t know how to handle that because I hadn’t asked him how. He was the manual and the maker. And he would show me how.

Around this time is when I started dreaming about what would become Project Esperanza and it was all over from there. This organization has been my way to use my sensitivity to serve God and to serve humanity.

Let me go back. When I was a Junior in high school, a tragedy happened that completely floored me. This was two years after the Columbine shootings, which I watched on TV as a Freshman in complete confusion. I was sick that day and caught it on TV as it happened. This was when I believe this craziness began?

Well, it was Easter break. I finished track practice and as I was leaving, ran into a friend and his brother on a practice soccer field. This friend and I went to school together up through high school graduation and had the same group of friends. We were good friends. We kicked the ball around together a bit and talked. His brother went off on his own. As we kicked the ball around, he talked to me about his brother and expressed his concern for him. He said that he often wonders what it will be like when his brother is in prison because he knows he will end up there. He just does crazy things, etc.

A week later, someone told me on instant messenger that my friend’s brother had murdered someone. I didn’t believe it. Our friends had just had a get together that evening and although I hadn’t gone, I had heard that my friend was there. I called to confirm and they said that he was, although he had left by the time I called. So this wasn’t true. He wouldn’t go to a get together if his brother had just committed murder. I went to track practice the next morning, as we were not yet back in school and continued hearing the rumor but was determined that it was not true. When we left, I passed by the soccer field to see if my friend’s brother was there. When I saw that he was not, although my friend was, if I remember correctly, I broke down. I accepted that the rumor was true. I went home and it was in the newspapers. I just remember feeling uncontrollably upset and sick. I couldn’t stop crying. I spoke to other friends who were surprised, but no one was crying uncontrollably. What was wrong with me? I don’t want to go intotoo many details, but it was a horrific murder where he just went into a neighbors house and stabbed him and his wife, although his wife lived. They later diagnosed him as schitzophrenic.

The week went by. My friend was at school, normal as ever, trying to not let what his brother did, what he couldn’t control, what he knew from before it happened that he couldn’t control..he was trying to not let that affect his life too much, apparently. He wasn’t this calm, cool, and collected forever, and we did see him deal with it later on, but at this time, he was not dealing with it at all. I, on the otherhand, felt like I couldn’t get through the week.

So I have some other stories I could share but this was the most heartbreaking thing for me where I felt like I looked Satan straight in the eyes. Among the other incidents I observed following this were the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007. I was tutoring in the stadium, maybe 200 meters from the first building where there were shootings, and on the other side of campus where most shootings took place. So I was not in the same building but was on lock down on campus. I think that we have to realize that Satan is responsible for this and we have to look at these things this way. We have to recognize Satan’s existence and that he is the enemy. A friend used to have a quote on his IM profile:

“The biggest trick Satan ever played was convincing the world that he didn’t exist.”

I don’t know if he came up with it or who did but I’ll let him contact me if he would like credit. J And the quote is true. I am married to a Haitian man and have lived with Haitians in the Dominican Republic for about five years now. Haitians view what Americans would call mental disorders very differently. Many Haitians view them as demon possessions. In 2007 there was a boy involved in our program who..well you can read about what he did in this post. A few volunteers took him to the doctors where they said he had epilepsy, but the Haitian pastor and church we worked with at the time to run a school said that we were wasting our money at the hospital. He needed prayer. I helped out with him one night when he was having a fit.. not a seizure, a fit. And we took him to the hospital to get a tranquilizer shot which was supposed to knock him out.

We brought him back to the house and it seemed to have no effect. He was biting sheets and trying to bite people. We held him down and prayed and prayed and prayed. At one point he called the name of the man next to me praying and told him that he had a demon walking around in his head. When he said this, a gust of wind blew my face to the side and as I looked to the side, the man whose name he had called looked back at me, his face having been blown to the side as well. These afflictions were something that this boy had gone through for as long as he could remember. After this night, he has not had one. He went back to Haiti for awhile and returned to the Dominican Republic, reporting to have never had that happen again. I spoke to him a few months ago.

This is not the only time I have seen this happen here. Something similar went on with a neighbor girl a few months ago. So there is some free research for those who want to invest in mental health research.

Many boys in the program we run would’ve likely been diagnosed with a mental disorder, had we taken them to a psychiatrist. Many would’ve been/would be diagnosed with ADHD, for sure. I have always felt the utmost empathy for these boys when they have emotional fits and have taken joy in showing them that I will not laugh at them or get annoyed at them but will talk to them and deal with them the way that I wanted someone to talk to me when I used to react in such ways. And I’ll admit that being around this has been a little therapeutic for me, letting me know that I was not the only one who felt this way at times! We have really only intervened with attempts to provide the best discipline, example, prayer, counseling, and biblical teaching, as possible, although it is, of couse, a work in progress. And here there is an easier way to punish where you can sanction someone from the housing and meals you provide and they go through a time of reflection and punishment without being, say, put in jail. But sometimes this is tricky as well because it does cause them to join up with other criminals and be further negatively influenced. 

Let me change gears for a minute. I believe it was my Sophomore year of college. I was home for Christmas break and I was upset. I needed to learn more about love. I prayed for God to send someone to teach me, because I felt dark. Things were going on around me that I didn’t understand. I remember a pastor and his wife and the warm way that they hugged me and looked in my eyes whenever I went to their church. I called them up and asked if we could meet. They told me a time to come by their house and gave me directions.

Now, as I pulled into the driveway, an idea popped strongly into my mind. “They are going to tell you that you are a prophet.” Okay. It was just as I pulled into their driveway that I thought/heard this. I didn’t have time to think about it but parked, got out, and went to their door. But while reading the Bible, I had felt that I had a lot in common with the prophets.

I also did a class that the church I attended at Tech offered. It was called e4 and was seminary integrated into your college life. They had us look closely at this verse:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. (Ephesians 11, 12)

We talked a little about the qualities of these five, typically, discovering which you are, and talked about how one can also have qualities of all five, etc. We didn’t really have to figure out which one we were, but the verse was introduced and discussed a little. So it’s a different way to look at people and personality differences. God made each person differently for a purpose and different roles work together to form his body.

So, I sat down and talked to the pastor and his wife. I tried to explain what was upsetting me and told them what I was looking for. I cried as I told them different things going on. They saw how sensitive I was. Not long into the conversation, they looked at each other and mentioned to one another that I seemed like a prophet. They talked to me a bit about different prophets and their qualities. By the end of the conversation they were declaring to me that I was a prophet. I, of course, had not told them about my strong thought in the car.

So I am not going to write that I am a prophet, but will just say that I once sought counseling from a pastor and wife, had a strong thought while going in that they would tell me that I am a prophet, and then they did indeed tell me that I was a prophet. I will also admit that I often have visions pertaining to next steps for Project Esperanza. As our organization has moved to different rented houses, as well as our family, I often envision the house and then search for it. This has happened three times that I can think of and we have found what I had envisioned, without knowing it was there beforehand. I also sometimes have felt so stronglt that I have to write a letter to someone that I can’t eat or function properly until I write it. After I write it, there is immediate relief.

Now please no one think that I am claiming anything more than I should. I have learned to be very humble in things I say because even if someone may have a prophetic gift, you are a part of a body and your gift is not necessarily any more important than the apostle’s or evangelist’s, and your mind is still a battlefield which can cause you to say wrong things and appear crazy. I think developing our gifts is a life long process. Again, if you are not used to studying the Bible in this way, etc., then this all sounds foreign to you. Please don’t judge, but consider.

So I have just given a few examples to make the point that I grew up very burdened by an extra-sensitive nature which others, I know, have as well, but when I found my purpose and calling from my maker, I learned to use this extra-sensitive nature in a good and healthy way. Sort of like X-Men! And I think this may be the case for many others.

I have a good friend from high school who went through depression her Sophomore year of college. We spent lots of time together over Christmas break that year and she was not in a good state. She had, like me, tried to find joy in things other than God and found herself, like me, heartbroken. She was also, like me, very sensitive. We had many similarities, in fact, with the ways we had felt growing up, but of course, were different as well. We prayed and prayed together. I shared with her a lot of what I had learned through Bible study, etc.

At the end of our time together that break, she was thinking a lot about the time that she had spent with me and others in the Dominican Republic the summer before. She had felt very settled there and relieved from some burdens she felt in the US and at school. We did some researching together and she ended up spending the next semester in Costa Rica. Well, after that, she was, like me, not often in the US, but always in Latin America, and often doing service. We haven’t kept in touch as much as we should, but I do believe that she, like me, found her calling and found a positive use for her extra-sensitivity.

So here are my thoughts after witnessing this ridiculous school shooting. I do not mean that the lives of anyone involved were ridiculous in any way. What I mean by ridiculous is that the US has turned into one big tower of Babel and I say all of this out of love. What is ridiculous is that something or lots of things are obviously wrong because the country tries so hard to protect itself and takes such great measures, but this was an atrocity in what should be a completely safe and innocent place. This is quite a wake up call, if the past incidents haven’t been enough. And I see that lots of people are trying to define what exactly the cause is so that we can work on a solution. Someone at a church I shared with in Winchester in November, a few weeks after the TED talk, gave me a few wonderful new Children picture Bibles in English and Haitian Creole! I have thoroughly enjoyed reading them in both languages with kids here and the kids have enjoyed it to. Here is a quote from the tower of Babel chapter:

“ Yes! they said. We’ll say, ´Look at us up here!´ And everyone will look up at us. And we’ll look down on them. And then we’ll know we are something. We’ll be like God. We’ll be famous and safe and happy and everything will be all right.”

“But God wasn’t pleased with them. God could see what they were doing. They were trying to live without him, but God knew that wouldn’t make them happy or safe or anything. If they kept on like this, they would only destroy themselves, and God loved them too much to let that happen. So he stopped their plans.”

I will say “we” even though I don’t currently live in the US. We think that we are God!!! We think that we can control everything!! We think that money is security!! We think that jobs are security. This incident seems to be a culmination of incidents that proves those thoughts wrong. We think that we know what our hearts long for when we really don’t. We think that we can judge criminals justfully, but how many innocent people have DNA tests shown were convicted and punished harshly? But we feel better to have convicted someone and hurt someone else and another family, nonetheless, rather than feel as though we lack control when we don’t actually know, or leaving the judgment in God´s hands. We are concerned a lot about global warning, something that may have effects in the future, but not concerned enough in my opinion about children who die often from very preventable things. In researching causes of global warning, we can probably learn a lot about a lot, true, but what about the simple things that affect and kill our fellow humans on this earth right now.

The solutions are simple, it just takes some investment. Not just money, we know that if we throw money at problems, it often gets mismanaged and the problems continue. But it takes being present, careful, and consistent, as any loving parent would. This is what I do. People who want to save the lives of kids can invest in Project Esperanza. Here are 10 reviews from people involved who attest to the value of the organization. Or you yourself can go to another area and do what I do. Or you can find someone else who has been proven trustworthy, who is doing what I do, like this girl and her organization, or this woman and hers, and invest...if the death of children burdens you. I don’t mean to be smart there as I know that what is so upsetting about this event is more than the death of children but the violence, the place it occurred, the unexpectedness, etc. But there is a point to be made that we should be equally burdened about the lives and deaths of children around the world.

I actually think that a large part of this craziness has to do with a lack of balance globally, and we know that balance coincides with health. In this article, a mother pleas for help for her 13-year-old son who is a gifted child, but has started showing signs of violence and mental illness. Mothers here in the Dominican Republic plea for help often because they don’t have the means to get proper shoes for their kids to go to school. They can’t properly feed their children. They don’t often say this but I observe that that they have no yard for their kids to play. I have seen some recent Facebook posts about video games..the violent ones where you have a gun and kill everything that moves. I know from high school and college that they are extremely popular among young males. The mother in this article mentions punishing her son from video games after he acted violently toward her. What if all of the money spent by US parents on brain wasting video games was responsibly transfered to the mothers who have trouble paying for the basic needs of their children. This is much easier said than done, but we are smart, developed people and we can figure it out with repeated effort. Would this, by chance, help both mothers? And both families? I think it actually would. Without video games and computers games, family relationships would be stronger or just more existent and kids would do more natural outdoor activities...they would be more alive. They would be healthier.

I actualy stood in line for several cold hours outside of Toys R Us in 2005 when a new X-Box came out. I had planned on purchasing one and then selling it on e-bay, as there was a limited supply. I would make a few hundred bucks, I was sure. Well, I was the 9th in line and there were 8 of them available, so I was not successful. But I did write a letter to the editor of the Roanoke Times afterwards, sharing the comments I had heard and the irony of it all as I realized that the woman in front of me, for example, was purchasing this for her 6-year-old grandson who already had every other system she saw on the wall, she let me know. I was trying to make a few hundred bucks to support our efforts in the Dominican Republic, where the kids lacked such basic necessities, and did not own even one system. Anyway, it was not published in the newspaper and I have not been able to find a copy of the letter I wrote. But I am just sharing this to say, I’ve been trying to channel video game money to serve underpriviledged children for a long time!! J

Let me also say that if I were to talk to the woman who wrote this article, I would say more than “use all of your video game money to serve kids who need their basic needs met”. That was a broad point. I would say to her – “Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (James 4:7) Seek God. God is love. (1 John 4:8) There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out all fear. (1 John 4:18) I believe that God is the only one who can truly help you with this situation. Seek him 100%. Don’t give up. Maybe Satan is attacking your son because he is threatened by him, knowing a wealth of potential he possesses to do God’s work and therefore foil his own plans of death and destruction.”

Back to the issue of video games and one mother losing while the other gains to create a healthier balance, I have always been a lover of sheep, as my family raised sheep and I learned much from them. I also love the fact that Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd and refers to people as his flock. (John 10) I observed on a few occasions when sheep got into a bag of corn that was mistakenly put in a place where they could reach it. My father used to give them a limited amount each day, especially in the winter. But the bag was not to be left where they could reach it. Both times I remember it being left in the wrong spot, we found a dying sheep the next day. They are unable to stop themselves from eating and literally eat themselves to death. The shepherd has to protect them from this. Jesus is the good shepherd and we are the sheep. I pray that he protects us from the excessiveness that actually harms us. And I pray that we seek wisdom that teaches us to think like the shepherd, rather than sheep...who are really quite dumb.

Now I will list a few thoughts that I can’t seem to weave in in paragraphs and I really want to post this and move on to doing some other stuff.

1.                              I saw someone mention and think I have heard the idea in the past of giving teachers guns??? Wow.. I definitely don’t think that is a good idea. A teacher having a gun in her drawer with her stapler and stickers? This is why I used the word ridiculous previously. Now guns would be accessible to students in every classroom! I think that more parents maybe should consider homeschooling. Or the whole institution of school should be a bit questioned. Is it a safe place? I feel very protective over my kids and have always been aprehensive about leaving them. I have only really done so when I feel I have built a strong trust with the people and place that I am leaving them. Do we have too much assumed trust in the public schools and the faculty? I do not mean to blame the family of this young man who did this.. but... well did the mothers of the students really know the teacher and the family? We trust the institution because it is government run... why do we trust the government so much? Why don’t we trust ourselves more? And why don’t we make more effort ourselves rather than putting all of the responsibility on the government?

2. I said this to a friend about two years back and she got really angry. So maybe you will too. I’ve said it to a few other people who have agreed. I have noticed large differences between the use of media here and in the United States. The media doesn’t have such a large power and influence over people here. I have always been disgusted by the destruction of lives of people growing up in the media. I think one main reason why the influence and presence of the media is stronger in the US is because of the size of the country. I think the country is actually an unhealthy size. I wrote about this some in this post as well. I think that this also causes many Americans to be irresponsible, ungrateful, and unhealthy. I think they are this way because they simply don’t have enough responsibility over their lives and society. Too much power lies in the hands of too few people. I think that a solution would be the country dividing into several smaller countries. This would allow for many more people to be leaders and would allow for much more originality rather than uniformity. Unity is good, I agree, but uniformity, I don’t think is always the right solution. It doesn’t respect natural and healthy differences. Countries can have unity without being the same country. I think it may be healthier that way. And I did hear that after the election, many states signed a petition to secede from the Union. I don’t actually think that would be a bad idea or should be viewed as a failure.

3. This will also likely make people made. And I say it out of love. I love people to the point that I don’t care if they get mad at me if I believe I am saying something that is good for them and us all and I appreciate others who do the same with me when the time is right. I believe that this surge of homosexuality that seems to be going on in the US is another lack of balance. I believe that people who are living as homosexuals, even those who are Christians and have tried to be obedient to what they have learned in the Bible and abandon homosexuality but have been unsuccessful in doing so, do feel a very strong lack of control over the issue. And I believe that this is due, at least in part, to an unbalanced world in general. I think homosexuality is outside of God’s will and unhealthy therefore in the long run, whether or not we have good evidence of that shared often currently. I have more so seen arguments that homosexuality is healthy and unharmful, etc. I have not seen evidence that it is harmful posted on Facebook or anything like that. And I am a bit disadvantaged in the argument since you see so little of it here in the Dominican Republic. The way I have observed it here has been pretty much always a pedophile male homosexual relationship, so that is most definitely unhealthy. But as far as the norm in the US – long term, same sex, sometimes married couples, I have little observation there because of my time away. Some may say that this is a stretch to link homosexuality to a global unbalance and call it unhealthy, but I think that the same people who would find it to be a stretch are the same people who can’t understand how something that happens in one part of the world or country affects something in another part, and they don’t understand much God talk in general. This is because they are ignoring the spiritual world and looking only at the physical. But I think anyone who ever has dreams while they are sleeping or has an imagination has to realize that the world is not just physical, and that there is a lot that we can’t necessarily see...and it is a stretch to write too much off as we understand it through brain activity, sensory activity, etc. That being the sole explanation is us wanting to be in control, and we are not, actually, in control.  

4. I think some or many people who face mental illness such as the young men who commit these horrible murders are estranged by a life that is actually meaningless and lacking challenges, and they likely are also wallowing in self pity. I think more focus in schools and society in general on international development and life or death challenges faced in developing countries would give everyone more meaning and challenge. And it would cause those who are wallowing in self-pity to get over themselves or to be stronger in overcoming. I think open talk about the existence of God and Satan would also teach people to blame Satan for certain afflictions rather than their parents, society, or whoever they blame. Not that people and society aren’t to blame as well, but I do think it is important to recognize the mastermind and people and society should see that there are two competing forces and use this as a base to judge which of these forces their actions are in line with – knowing that the will of one is life and the will of the other is death. Again, this is something that people who don’t believe in or pay attention to God and the spiritual world in general will disagree with, but I think it is very important.

5. I feel like there was one more thing I wanted to say but I can’t remember. So I’ll just close with this. We better get radical. Satan has been getting radical so those of us who are on God’s side better get radical too. Sure, lots of discussion over God, didn’t mean to open up another door there too. But let’s just put the discussion aside and seek him together by serving those in most need in the world – not just our country - and being grateful rather than viewing our excession as anything other than what it is – lacking absolutely nothing and having too much. Here is a song I like along the lines of being a radical and I didn’t mean to bring up Jesus right after saying let’s leave the discussion about God aside, but this is my blog and obviously I am a Christian and serve because Jesus served but just meant, let’s not let our differences about God keep us from serving together. Let’s just focus on a loving God first. So this is a song I like and I can’t find the artist but may edit it later to give credit:

Two thousand years ago
The greatest radical
Walked the earth and said we are forgiven souls
Have we forgotten him
And made religion king
When love and grace is what we should be offering
You know this is serious
We’re forgetting things we’ve done
You must be delirious
Thinking it’s new under the sun

Do ya wanna be a part of the solution?

So it is important that we recognize the existance of Satan and define him as the ultimate enemy but it is also important that we envision the kingdom of God...and collectively ask for his will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven. (Matthew 6:10) May your kingdom come. 

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