My sweet friend, Shaela Manross, was only 17 years old when her life changed--through the actions of a madman. I asked her if I could share her story here, before it appears in our upcoming book. I'm grateful she replied with a resounding, "Yes!"
This afternoon, she told me, "Today I turned on the television and the pastor from Wedgwood was on one of the shows covering the Colorado shooting. It was a shock. But it was also a reminder of humanity's broken, sinful hearts--and how God still faithfully redeems humanity."
She says, “Growing up in church, there are certain Bible verses that are quoted whenever something tragic happens. I had heard those verses many times. Of course, I knew the words were true. I knew that God had a plan for my life, and I trusted that He would lead me on that path He had marked out for me. But knowing that and experiencing it are two very different things.”
Shaela was a new member of the small youth group at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, on September 15, 1999. That fateful evening, she drove to her church to meet up with the group.
“A few songs into the worship service, we heard what sounded like popping balloons in the back of the sanctuary. But when I turned around, I didn’t see balloons; instead, I saw fire shooting out the barrel of a small, handheld gun.”
Instinct took over, and Shaela flew to floor. She grabbed the freshman boy next to her and told him to get down. He looked at her, confused, and asked: “This is the skit in the program, isn’t it?”
About that time, the young man on the other side of Shaela dropped his video camera and fell to the ground. She says, “I looked at him in horror. Then there was a loud bang, and tiny pieces of metal hit my legs, so I got up from under the pew. Was it a bomb? I wasn’t sure.”
She looked again towards the boy with the video camera. He was dead.
“I began to sob,” she says. “And I turned back to the sweet freshman to my left, telling him: 'Stay down. This isn’t a skit.'”
In a matter of minutes--which seemed like years--students realized the shooter had shot himself, and they started getting up from the floor. Shaela says, “I remember hearing an adult yelling at us to get out of the church and go outside. We all began rushing out. But I stopped as I passed the boy with camera and wondered if I should try and carry him or leave him there. I left, and that's a decision that plagued me for years.”
The events outside were a blur: sirens, lights, helicopters flying overhead. “It was like a hive of activity. A newspaper reporter took a picture and asked me for my name and age. Much later, I found my parents, and they took me to the police station. The night seemed to never end, but finally, I was released to go home."
In the months after the shooting, my friend received many cards, flowers, words of encouragement and condolences. However, Shaela felt nothing but pain. She was constantly afraid. Noises, shadows—they all brought back memories from that tragic night. She says, “I couldn’t sleep because of nightmares, and I was terrified of the dark. I was 17 years old, and my mom had to sleep with me, holding my hand, with a lamp on all night. After missing school because I couldn’t handle hearing lockers slam shut or reading biology books about the human anatomy, my parents put me in counseling.”
Through the words of truth from her Christian counselor, God began to remind Shaela that He had a plan. She says, “His plan didn’t change when His only Son was nailed to the cross (a reminder from Pastor Al Meredith of Wedgewood Baptist church the week after the shooting) and it wouldn’t change now because of that dreadful night. And what God assured me of was that His plan for me is perfect. He holds the universe in His hand, and yet He has a plan for my life and He will indeed lead me through.”
Although healing was slow, it came. Twelve years later, Shaela still has nightmares, momentary flashbacks, and brief pangs of guilt. But in His faithfulness, He has healed her scars and has filled her with joy.
I can testify to the fact that Shaela glorifies God and trusts Him fully. She radiates peace, joy, and selflessness. It is evident that Jesus is her all in all, and that He has done a miraculous work in her life. Though she has been through other dark times, she continues to trust her Heavenly Father.
She says, “Jeremiah 29:11 says that He knows the plans He has for His children; plans to give us a hope and a future. Even now, when my circumstances seem to crush me, He brings this truth to my mind and I am filled with joy--trusting that He is faithfully shaping me into the woman He desires me to be.”
I'm thankful that Shaela is willing to share her journey through the dark days of grief. My heart aches--along with the rest of the world's--for all those affected by the shooting in Aurora. I pray that each one will know God's presence in a tangible way. As Psalm 34:18 says, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
You have promised that you are close to those whose hearts are filled with anguish. Please be near. With your unending mercy, comfort those whose hearts are breaking tonight. Give them your peace, which is beyond all comprehension. May each hurting soul know your love through the love of the countless believers who are praying for them all over the world. Isaiah wrote that you were the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Thank you for identifying with us. We ask you to carry us when our knees buckle from pain, and bind up our wounds when no one else can. Thank you for the sweet, sweet promise that by your grace, you WILL heal us--in your time and way.
In your precious name,