When I was fourteen and a freshman in high school, I experienced something that was tragic and difficult, but that ultimately changed my life for the better. I hope you don’t mind if I share a few details of my story here.
It was April 20, 1999. I wore a dress to school that day, since the color and warmth of spring was really starting to show. As I walked the halls that morning, I felt good about how things were closing in on my freshmen year. I had good friends, good teachers, and a good family at home. I was shy but friendly. Quiet but happy. Awkward but confident. Isn’t high school funny like that?
I was in 5th period earth science working on a project with my lab partner when we heard some faint popping noises in the distance. My teacher (the coolest earth science teacher there ever was), said he wondered if another class was doing some science experiments down the hall. When the fire alarm went off, we thought, “Fire drill? Sweet!” But before we could get ten steps out the door, another science teacher shouted at us to get back into our classrooms and hide because someone had a gun.
Shocked and confused, we did as we were told. Our teacher locked the door and turned off the lights. We hid under our desks and thought, “This has to be a senior prank, for sure.” But as the gunshots became closer, we knew this could not be a prank. All 30-some of us moved to the furthest corner of the room. We huddled together and instinctively held hands, tightly, and many began to pray. Most of my classmates were not particularly religious, but praying was all we could do.
We had no cell phones, no landline, no way to contact anyone outside of the classroom. We did have windows and a TV, but we stayed put. We hid in that corner as long as we could. We heard the perpetrator walk by our classroom, but by some miracle, he did not try to enter. He passed by our classroom and moved on. Unfortunately, the destruction did not end and many innocent students were wounded or killed that day. Many survived, but our hearts were wounded and the subsequent pain had only begun.
It wasn’t until a few days later that the names of the victims were released. Twelve innocent students, some of whom were my classmates or acquaintances, and one incredible hero of a teacher lost their lives. Several others were injured. Many saw and heard things that I did not. But I still spent many days, months, years trying to make sense of what had happened. There were times when I would fall to my knees and curl into a ball in my room, scared and confused.
My family and friends were wonderful and certainly helped me heal, but it wasn’t enough to calm my troubled heart. There was a cloud that still hung overhead and I needed strength beyond my own. I found this strength in something I had been taught all my life, but hadn’t necessarily had that chance to put it into action. It was my faith in Jesus Christ.
I knew that not only did Christ understand what I had been through, but he could help me walk through it. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He atoned for our sins and took upon Him our infirmities. “And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” (Alma 7:12)
He said: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
And also: “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. . . . Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:18, 27)
My parents and leaders must have taught me well because I knew that faith in and of itself was not a passive belief, but action. I knew I needed to exercise my faith and not sit idly by. I was only fourteen, but if there was ever a time to put that faith to the test, it was now.
So, I kept a journal. I wrote down the things that brought me down and the things that brought me joy. I read from The Bible and The Book of Mormon daily. I prayed morning and night, and silently throughout the day. I attended church services weekly. I found ways to serve others by showing small acts of kindness or participating in service projects, such as Project Linus, where we made blankets for all of the 2,000+ Columbine students. I went to my weekly youth activities, which became a consistent place I could feel safe and happy. This was also a place I could conveniently brush shoulders with my crush. . . who was also a freshman at Columbine. . . and who six years later would became my husband.
What happened didn’t make sense, but because of my faith in Jesus Christ, I knew that in the end, all would be made right. It was as though I was on a rocky path, but it was a straight path, and as long as I kept moving forward, I knew it would lead me to where I wanted to go. He offered me an anchor and a handrail. He offered safety, direction, comfort, and peace. Eventually, the fog was lifted. My anger and frustration was replaced with calmness and forgiveness.
I learned that the trials we experience would never be more than we could bear. I learned that when dark days came, we could turn to Him and come out of it stronger than before. It is healthy and good to mourn, grieve, and question, but I wanted to move forward in faith because I had goals and dreams for my future and I didn’t want this to hold me back.
I am now married to my high school sweetheart and we have three amazing kids. Trials have not ceased and challenges won’t quit, but I continue to turn to Christ. My experience at Columbine, and the fact that I am alive today, has taught me to see beauty in life that I might otherwise not see. Life is beautiful! Today is a gift. Family is everything. Relationships are important and meaningful. The Savior is the way, the truth, and the light. I hope to live my life in a way that will show my gratitude to His saving grace, and I hope to teach my children that when trials come, safety and peace are found in He who is the Prince of Peace.
Thank you, Bethany, for sharing your story! Bethany Jackman lives in Colorado with her husband and three kids. She blogs at weekdaybouquet.com and can be found on Instagram at @bethanyjackman.