Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Stephanie's Story

The horrible shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, the senseless and tragic deaths of twenty school children and six teachers, is just the latest in the abuse of guns in this country. What doesn't get much press is the attack in the Chinese school that injured over a dozen children. That first attack used guns and left innocent victims dead. The second attack used knives and left innocent victims injured, some perhaps fatally.
I admit that I am conflicted, and have been for over a decade, about the use of guns. I believe in our right to bear arms (which means to own them). I certainly don't think that means we have the right to keep automatic weapons, or weapons designed for a single purpose - killing other humans.
I know that laws will not keep guns out of the hands of lawbreakers, by definition. Lawbreakers do not obey laws, except when convenient for them. I know for a fact that it took someone I know only hours to procure a handgun in the Houston area. Laws might make that harder, and that would be fantastic, but he didn't go to a store to get the gun. When he was eventually arrested, an ex-cop took the gun. I don't know what the ex-cop did with the handgun, and I don't care, knowing that he took it out of circulation.
The young boy that killed his mother took her guns and went to the school, on a killing rampage. I have no idea what went through his mind and doubt anyone else does either, regardless of the suppositions of all the learned men and women with their hypotheses. As far as I'm concerned, they are just garnering headlines.
This isn't the first time I've known of violence with guns.
This is Stephanie's Story.
In Christmas of 1993 armed robbers invaded the home of dear friends of ours, Stephanie and David. A few months ago Stephanie gave her description of the tragedy to the church. I asked Stephanie if I could share her story in my blog and she said I could.
There were no dry eyes as Stephanie told her story. I know mine weren't, though I wiped the tears away as subtly as I could. I knew some of the story, but I never heard the story straight from her.
Stephanie is a slight woman, a little younger than I am, certainly in better shape. She looks fit and dresses impeccably. She wears glasses with thicker frames and a bit darker than we usually see on such well-dressed women. The fact that she can see at all is a miracle.
Stephanie, David and their children were at home in an upscale neighborhood. Their son and his friend walked in from shooting hoops in the driveway, followed by four men in ski masks, waving guns and yelling "This is a robbery. Get down on the floor."
Everyone complied. Two of the men ransacked the house while two stood over the family, agitated, with guns waving.
Stephanie's dog started growling.
"Shut that dog up," shouted one of the men. "Shut him up or I'll shoot him!" Stephanie calmed the dog, and turned to her crying son, huddled on the floor a few feet away. A gun roared. That's the last thing Stephanie remembers.
The gunman blasted half of Stephanie's face away. Her life, as she knew it, changed irrevocably.
I don't know when the men left the house, but Stephanie picked up the story at the hospital, where a team of specialists gathered to try to reconstruct her face.
Due to strange circumstances the hospital was staffed with a couple of friends of Stephanie and David when they arrived. One of the head surgeons, a friend of the family, told David not to get his hopes up. They needed some structure to rebuild from and he found nothing in the gaping hole where half of Stephanie's face had been.
David looked at him and said quietly "Don't be surprised when you get in there and find something. God takes care of all the details." He called everyone in the church and they all did what they could - they prayed.
The surprised Doctor found a half-inch piece of bone intact, from which they worked to repair the damage.
Stephanie talked a bit more about the surgeries, the work done by the doctors. The doctors were shocked that her eye remained intact and she could see with it. Stephanie wasn't surprised. Her eye was not held in the blasted remains of her face, she said, but held carefully in the loving Hand of God.
At one point she did break down, as she explained her thankfulness for David, a steadfast man who never wavered in his devotion and love for her. Stephanie didn't talk much more about the physical ordeals after the attack. Instead she focused on the mental anguish.
Stephanie says she was angry, asking over and over, "Why me, God?" At one point, she said, she was driving back from a doctor's appointment and asking God where He was. Did He leave? Was He ignoring her, ignoring her pain? She turned on the radio and heard a song with lyrics that said "I am here." <<I'll try to get the song title and singers from her for this.>>
They caught the gunman, but the first trial ended in a mistrial. She didn't elaborate, stating simply that the trial is a story all its own. After the man was convicted, Stephanie had the chance to make a victim's impact statement during his sentencing.
Stephanie was honest about it. She was angry for a long time, and she thought of all the things she wanted to say to this man who disrupted her life, who irrevocably turned her entire world upside down.
But God had other plans.
As the months went by God worked in Stephanie's heart, softening it, uprooting the bitterness so that it could not take hold of her. Slowly, ever so slowly, God drew Stephanie into the center of His own heart. From that holy vantage point there was only one things Stephanie could say to this man, the man who broke into her home, threatened her family, shot her and indelibly changed her life.
In the courtroom Stephanie faced her attacker and she forgave him.
In the final analysis, when I look at Stephanie I don't see a woman with scars from an attack two decades ago, who still has periodic surgeries, over seventy-five to date. I see the shining face of someone who listened to the voice of her God and did what is right in the eyes of the Lord.
She is beautiful.

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