I watched the cashier ring up my groceries, checking the prices and making sure I had remembered everything on my list.
My youngest was not even a year old, and was curled up next to my heart in a sling. My oldest was three, sitting in the cart, and trying to deal with all the usual noises and smells that grocery stores bring.
All of a sudden, complete pandemonium broke out. I heard what sounded like fire crackers and saw smoke. People began screaming and shouting, “Get down! Get down!”
Stunned, I froze. The cashier looked me in the eye and I saw her terror. She crouched down behind her lane and I saw what all the fuss was about. A man, a gun, a mask. Police chasing him. More guns.
Fear crept through my body, leaving me cold. I grabbed my son out of the cart, moved the boxes of firewood for sale from under the canveyor belt, where my groceries still sat. I sat down under the belt with my children, and moved the boxes back to hide us.
A young mom with a toddler peeked in through the boxes. We couldn’t speak – we were trying to be quiet to avoid being detected by the gunman – but she didn’t have to say a thing. I knew.
I moved one of the boxes. She knew there was not enough room under there for another adult. In what must have been one of the most frightening moments of her life, she handed me her child, stacked the boxes back to block us in, and ran away.
“Father, please protect us. Keep us hidden. Keep us safe.”
Over and over again.
At one point, the two older boys started to cry.
“Father, protect us. Keep us safe. Please keep these boys quiet. Keep us safe.”
I kissed all three of them on the head. I whispered in their ears, “This is like hide and seek. We have to be very, very quiet. I need you to help us hide.”
They both stopped crying and were silent. “Thank you, Jesus,” I whispered.
I remember thinking that if anyone moved the boxes, I would need my youngest behind me, not in the sling, in order to protect him with my body. I felt calm as I quietly and carefully removed the sling, and placed him in his brother’s lap. All three little boys were behind me now. If anyone got shot, it would be me.
Somehow, that gave me a sense of intense relief.
A very, very long ten minutes passed. The sounds of chaos continued all around us.
Then, the boxes moved.
A police officer reached inside and helped us out. We crawled with him to the store front. When we got to the door, he said three words, “You are safe.”
I immediately began to cry.
Those words felt like an exact answer to the prayer I had been muttering over and over again.
Keep us safe.
Yesterday, gunman entered the regional center in San Bernadino, CA. When I first heard the news, I immediately thought to myself, “What would I do? What if that was us, in our regional center. What if that was us, meeting with a case worker or figuring out therapy options, when gunman burst in? How would I keep my children safe?”
The good news is, I already know the answer to those questions.
There is nothing more powerful, than a momma’s prayer, whispered in the midst of violence.
When the police brought the little toddler’s momma out of the store, I could see she was frantically searching for her son. We were waiting in the parking lot, freezing cold. I ran to her, holding her little boy out in front of me, trying to get him into her arms as soon as possible.
She sobbed and grabbed him, pulling him close.
Through sobs, I said the only thing I could think of.
“I prayed for him. And he’s safe.”