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Daily Devotion

When There Are No Words

By Lori D'Augostine Associate Producer -- It was just another Monday for the students of Virginia Tech. The dark clouds hovering over the quaint town of Blacksburg and infrequent rain/snow mix left-over from the noreaster may have been a foreshadow of things to come.

Many were still sleeping, while others were preparing for early morning exams. It was 7 a.m. and for the residents of West Ambler Johnston Residence Hall, their wake-up call came when a lone gunman fired shots, killing two students.

But for the rest of the world, it was just another 'Manic Monday.' A few hours east of this tragedy, I was getting ready for work. My early morning activities consisted of the same 'ole grind. l drove by the same elementary school that I pass every day.

This time, I noticed parents dropping their children off after a week-long Easter break. The young students seemed so eager to return to their classes. It brought me back to my first day of kindergarten. I could still see the look on my mother's face as she watched her overly-independent daughter flee from the nest. Little did she know how scared to death I really was.

By 10 a.m. on Monday, the mood quickly moved from my typical mania to national panic. I turned on the television to discover a bombardment of horrific images. Similar to my response to other national tragedies, it wasn't until the day after that I could begin to wrap my mind around this mayhem.

My overly-analytical mind traveled back to my first memory on Monday morning: the elementary school. Then, it drifted to a similar scene in Blacksburg, Va., when parents dropped their over-confident freshman children off last fall. As many college freshman face in their flight out of the nest, they probably fought feelings of loneliness too.

Then, the unthinkable happened. Their first day of classes were cancelled when a convict escaped prison and fled to their campus, killing two police officers.

What a way to start freshman orientation. Two major tragedies in one year. Welcome to adult life.

When I first learned of the news yesterday, my first thought was to call my friend, Ashley and her husband, Thomas. Both recently moved to Blacksburg to begin their graduate studies at Virginia Tech. Ashley teaches a freshman writing class and had this to say in a blog she wrote just hours after Monday's attack:

"For me, my biggest concern right now is how to care for my first-year students. I have 23 of them - some of whom have cried in my office over failing grades and plagiarized papers, many of whom have shared their eating disorders, family crises, and relationship issues with me. For most of them, their college career began from day one with violence when an escaped convict caused VT to shut down on its first day of classes this year.

Today, their freshman year clamored to a close with SWAT teams storming their dorms and classrooms, with police agents wielding machine guns on the drillfield, with fellow students jumping out of windows, with RAs, classmates and professors who have been shot or are missing.

As I talked with some of them earlier this evening, the only thing I could think to say is, 'I promise, it really isn't supposed to be this way.' And it isn't. I sincerely hope that the majority of them will finish out the year with us, but what a terrible, terrifying introduction to college life and to adulthood in general. There are no words."

Ashley was not on campus during the massacre, but her husband was teaching nearby in Pamplin Hall. He dismissed his class during its scheduled time and only learned about the attack after he walked into the hall and discovered frantic students. Amazingly, he was able to drive off campus, even though most of the entrances to the campus were barricaded.

"We are both overwhelmingly glad he made it home safely, but we are terribly concerned for his students, all of whom were released from the building into a very dangerous area at the exact time that the shootings were taking place," wrote Ashley.

"Ironically, two simple words, 'I'm okay,' suddenly have less to do with feeling alright and more to do with simply being alive," she also said.

Ashley and Thomas are still waiting to hear back from their students who live in "West AJ" or attend classes in Norris Hall.

It is difficult to grasp that the gunman, identified as 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui used to walk the same halls as my friends' Ashley and Thomas. I can't help but wonder how many times I've come within short distance of a serial killer. It's a scary thought and impossible to measure, but truth is... according to Jesus' definition of murder, many of us fit this description.

"Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart." (1 John 3:15, NLT)

There is a spirit of hatred in a person that causes them to act on it. The Bible speaks harshly of the punishment of murder in the Old Testament, and then Jesus has compassion on murderers in the New Testament. The murderer, Barabbas was condemned to die under Jewish levitical law, but Jesus took his place on the cross. Christ died for all sinners, and I suppose that many of us hardly consider that murderers are in that mix. In the absence of grace, it seems too grievous of a crime.

It is very easy to demonize these individuals. The truth is, this young man was created in God's image and probably had hopes and dreams at one time. Like myself, he was even an English major. I wonder if he planned on teaching or writing some day.

Over the next few weeks and months, the country will seek to find answers. Many will try to understand Seung-Hui's motives. What was going through his mind? Did he have some previous run-in with the law that he wanted out of? Was he upset because his girlfriend broke up with him? Did he have anyone to talk to? There are so many questions. Who is to blame? Could anything have been done to stop this second shooting?

What is known so far is that Seung-Hui is being described as a "quiet loner." According to news reports, when passer-by's would ask him questions, he would ignore them. In fact, he barely said a word during his killing spree.

How could such apathetic rage exist in this young man? Who were his parents? Where are his friends? The questions will keep coming, but one thing is known -- He was hurting. And now millions will be hurting over the loss of 32 others. Many students may not wish to return to school. Many parents will not want to drop their freshman off next year.

Our country is grieving and many of us, even Christians are at a loss for words. Yet, when we can't find the words, God is faithful to provide us with His words.

"Light shines in the darkness for the godly. They are generous, compassionate, and righteous. Such people will not be overcome by evil. Those who are righteous will be long remembered. They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them. They are confident and fearless and can face their foes triumphantly." (Psalm 112: 4-8)

"Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)

The Lord is the only One who can offer true comfort. Although we cannot go back to the way life used to be before this tragedy, we must not allow this evil to thwart the victory God has in store. It's okay to be at a loss for words. When you are at the end of your ability to reason, go to Him! He has a Word for you. And, please pray for the victims and families of Virginia Tech.

Here is my friend's plea: "Please don't forget us in the long days ahead. Today was terrible, but moving on from today? That's another challenge altogether."

"The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results." (James 5:16)

Are you seeking answers in life? Are you hurting?
Are you facing a difficult situation?

A caring friend will be there to pray with you in your time of need.