Thursday, August 29, 2013

Celebrating an Unexpected Heroine

By Linda Grupp Boutin

In the midst of drums of war pounding in Syria, celebrations of the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, and the fuss over one 20-year-old dancing at the MTV Music Awards, did you miss the story of Antoinette Tuff last week? If so, you missed hearing about an unexpected heroine demonstrating how to save lives while solving a small part of the problem of misuse of guns in America.

She started her week following her normal routine. And despite personal problems in her life, she showed up to work as a school bookkeeper at an elementary school in Georgia. Little did she anticipate what the work week would bring. Because by Friday, she found herself sitting across from Anderson Cooper on CNN being interviewed and introduced to the 911 operator who helped keep her calm while she faced the unexpected challenge of a mentally unstable man with an AK-47 and almost 500 rounds of ammunition standing in the school office.

Usually Antoinette would have been in her busy at her desk on a Tuesday morning, but had been diverted to take a phone call before settling down to her usual work at the school. She shared with Anderson Cooper that she had received bad news, but not the exact nature of the problem she had learned about on the call. The next thing she knew she was calling 911 while talking to Michael Hill holding the gun and telling her he didn't care if he lived or not.

What would you do if faced with such a situation at work? Turns out Antoinette had training in handling crisis situations. After the mass shooting at Sandy Hook last December combined with shootings at schools for far too many years, administrators have realized their employees needed some preparations. But it turns out, according to what she shared in her interview, that she also had learned some critical skills on Sundays and Wednesdays from her pastor at church.

Through her fears and despite her own problems, Antoinette saw the hurting human inside the gunman. She spoke to him respectfully calling him "Sir" and finding their common cord of humanity. She relayed his instructions and requests to the 911 operator who sent the messages to the police surrounding the school. After some more talking, Michael placed his weapon down, set the bullets aside, took a drink of water, and laid on the floor to surrender to the police.

Although he had shot some rounds off, not one person died or was wounded on the scary morning at the school. Antoinette's coworkers warned the teachers to lock the doors and protect the children, but the gunman never got near the classrooms. A calm and understanding woman talked Michael Hill into turning himself in and every parent of each child and the loved ones of the workers at the school were able to hug their family members thanks to a very special woman named Antoinette Tuff.

As the police prepared to come in and arrest the gunman, she took the time to tell him that she was proud of him for not hurting anyone. She also told him that she loved him and that we all have problems in life and that he could get through his problems too. She encouraged him and acknowledged his pain and found the words to disarm the armed man thereby saving countless lives.

Goodness won out last Thursday morning at a school in Georgia. And though this week's news challenges us to see the goodness in life, let's celebrate together an unexpected heroine who provides for us the role model for a Christian putting their faith into action and walking in the footsteps of Jesus.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Celebrating All the Summer Days

By Linda Grupp Boutin

Summer, nothing better in life to celebrate than those long, warm days playing in the sun, catching up with friends, allowing time and space for God's Word to manifest itself in my heart. This season I've experienced a special sense of catching up and celebrating all the Lord has given me. I waited with breath held for the final meeting of the Aspiring Writers' Forum in mid-May. Once past, I let the long days wash over me, sleeping late, trying to heal some wounds, taking each moment one at a time. When we slow life down a bit, it allows time to reset our priorities. 
My co-leader Coleene VanTilburg and myself

Two clocks measure my time these days. I am committed to working with writers in the Aspiring Writers' Forum (AWF). From September through May, every Wednesday evening devoted to encouragement, discussing writing, reading and sharing what we have written. While in these meetings, time revs up seeming to disappear before we can complete all we want to do. This is the first summer in 4 years that I have taken a complete break from meeting with this group. By allowing time to recharge, I have renewed energy and enthusiasm to get back to work. And for the next few weeks my partner Coleene and I will be signing up those who want to embrace Christian writing through next May. So AWF will take up a major portion of my thought, time and energy starting again in September.

The second clock measuring my days revolves around a special women's ministry at our church called Coffee Break. One Monday evening each month we gather together to share coffee, tea and desserts, games and worship songs, and listen to one woman from our congregation share her story. I work with the speakers ahead of their speaking date, preparing them for the experience. I have never been involved in anything so satisfying in my life. I hear about miracles of faith from the past and witness growth in the speakers' lives as they prepare. When women accept this assignment to speak, they cannot anticipate how this single act of obedience can change their lives.

Signing up writers for Aspiring Writers' Forum

The next meeting will be in October and I have been working with the speaker since April so she can practice and polish her presentation. In so doing, we have developed techniques to help inexperienced speakers feel relatively confident when they tell their story to an audience ranging from 100-150 women. After 3 years and 21 speakers, we listen every month about how unique each woman's story is and what each one uses to cope with the challenges she encounters in her life. Many of my summer days are spent in reading and advice in writing these stories out.

A process has developed and most of us think this sounds far easier than the actual doing turns out to be. Today our pastor defined sanctification versus justification in the Christian life. The sermon spoke directly to my heart as I have witnessed the growth in my life and others who have spoken for this ministry. 

So I have celebrated this summer by immersing myself in "story," time well spent reading, writing, encouraging and recharging. Our lives bring different seasons during which we are afforded the opportunity to learn a lesson or two. My take away from this season is to listen carefully, both to those around you and to the Holy Spirit in your life.