Circled Chairs and Our Solid Bastion

Jul 30, 2012

Of all the images captured that day, one stands out among the others.

I woke up at 6:30 am that Friday morning without the faintest clue of what the day would hold. July 20, 2012. Ten days ago. Until I flipped on the news, I didn’t know about Aurora’s Century 16 movie theater or the dozens of people injured by gunfire and the many still unaccounted for. When reports flashed across my screen, the horrific reality settled like cement in my stomach. Why?

Even then I didn’t know I’d end up at Gateway High School. Didn’t know I’d sit with one woman for eight hours as she waited news of her son. Didn’t know later that night we’d receive confirmation of his death along with nine other families in a school thick with pain. Didn’t know that over the course of a weekend I would witness a depth of grief that made my own bones ache in agony.

I hesitated to write this post. What should I say? Not say? Who am I to put words to their pain? I entered Gateway High School an outsider. My children and husband were all accounted for. The only reason for my presence was the request of a friend who awaited news of a son. I showed up, ignorant and naive. I offered feeble, inadequate comfort. And even now, as I try to recapture those hours, I remain so much less than the loss deserves. How can I possibly honor these families?

I did not lose a son that day, nor a husband. But I lost a hefty chunk of my innocence. Friday through Monday, I sat with those who lost someone in a horrific, inconceivable way. I experienced the agonizing wait while they counted minutes and hours until they received feared news of a son, daughter, boyfriend, girlfriend, mom, dad. I watched shoulders shake and bodies crumble under the weight of devastation. I heard groans carrying enough lament to split the sky. Even as I write, I know I will never forget the wails, nor the names of those they grieved.

As vivid as those images and sounds, the scene shining like a light in the dark is what I saw when I first stepped inside Gateway High School:

Twelve round tables circled with the weeping. Friends and family gathered in both sadness and strength, facing their most difficult day together.

And, centered on each table like a solid bastion, a copy of the New King James Holy Bible.

I noticed the Bibles right away, surprised, as I am every time I find one hidden in a drawer in my hotel room. More, I felt calmed, as if God himself blanketed the terror and torment of that room with His promises. I reached for one the moment we settled into our table, caressed the cover and pulled it close.

I have no answers for what happened 10 days ago, no spiritual insights or easy offerings.

But these truths I know:

Humanity may be capable of horrific evil, but we’re also capable of incredible good. In the gymnasium, circled around unfamiliar tables, families and friends and strangers came together. We did not know each other before, but we hugged, held, exchanged stories and tears. Regardless of previous differences, we became one, determined to press through this wretched thing together. I watched police officers weep, pastors of multiple faiths and denominations pray, counselors volunteer their time to offer support, restaurants and pizza shops deliver food, people across the world crying and praying and carrying this weighty burden together. No courtroom could contain all the evidence: goodness trumped evil that day.

But it gets better.

Whether or not we acknowledge Him, God’s presence was—is—as palpable as the Bibles. Our doubts and questions don’t diminish His reality. And although many aren’t sure of Him, many question His seeming absence on the night of this tragedy, I felt the presence of God holding us up more than the cold metal chairs. This I believe and am unashamed to say: God is real. And as I held His book, He held us. He was as near in that room of grief as I’ve ever experienced Him.

There will be a reckoning, a day when a real God carries through on His promise: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” Rather than say it with a whisper, He will command it with a shout:

No more! NO MORE! 

With the lament of a grieving Father, He will right all wrongs. How bleeding hearts long for that day! Until then, we wait. We cry. We live and lose, wail and pray. And we circle our chairs, alternately grieving and comforting each other, with this truth our unwavering bastion:

God is with us.





    • Michele

      Yes. Thank you, Father.

  1. Becky Johnson

    Oh, Michele. Tears in my morning coffee. A desire to hug and hold you. My best friend and neighbor lost her son, my childrens’ best friend (more like a sibling) drowned in the lake where they fished, swam, skiied, and lived together for a decade. I sat as close to grief and the grieving process as one can get without actually losing my own child. Without the assurance of God’s presence and tears in this tragedy, how does anyone bear it? . Thank you for simply being present that day, no words you could have said, no matter how eloquent, would have been able to have been received …your presence said everything that needed to be said. And I know what a huge gift it was, as it wrings out your heart and changes you forever. Thank you for writing this, as painful as it must have been to search for the words to describe the unthinkable. I love you, Friend.

    • Michele

      Honestly, Becky, I have no idea how anyone endures without the hope of God and heaven. It’s too much, just too much for a human heart to bear. Love you right back, friend.

  2. Christy Truitt

    Satan’s shouts of victory silenced by His holy presence. Thank you for reminding us to search for Him in horrific times, find shelter beneath His wings, rather than giving satisfaction to the one who kills, steals and destroys. Prayers for your wounded heart as well as the ones broken in this tragedy.

    • Michele

      Yes, Holy Presence. No words needed. Thanks, Christy.

  3. Ken Shaddox

    Powerful post. The ministry of presence is no small thing. Just “being there” to listen, befriend, and comfort others means a lot. I’m with you that there are no easy answers. I agree with you that even in the midst of tradegy and questions our great refuge and strength is in God and His Word. I join with many others around the country to ask God for healing for those who have been devastated by this event. May the Lord bless you as you contunue to make a positive difference in the lives of people around you.

  4. Danica

    LOVE this! Love YOU! I’m always so blessed by your words.

  5. Mary Arps

    What powerful words for those suffering unending loss: “There will be a reckoning, a day when a real God carries through on His promise: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” Rather than say it with a whisper, He will command it with a shout:
    No more! NO MORE!”

    Thank you for sharing, friend. Beautifully and powerfully written. Still praying for you all.

  6. Michele Morgan


    What a beautiful post…stunning in its simplicity. I especially appreciate how honest you are in your humanness, in that experience of “am I enough?” And yes, you were more than.

    I believe that God is with all of us, always, even in the most horrific of circumstance. As He gave us dominion, He also gave us free will…and I believe He stands poised in those acts of terror, to see what we will choose, to welcome the souls that cross, to comfort the fear and grief of the living, and to continue to offer a better choice in every moment.

  7. Alice Arment

    Michele, to see from your perspective, holding my breath as I read your words. There never are right words in the times that life tries us to our very core but it is the fact that you, bringing God’s presence simply by who you are, to be with your friend, and with other families, that speaks more than words can every say! God doesn’t ask us to have the answers, He just asks us to be present! Thank you for sharing a powerful view and an amazing testimony of who God desires to be at and in every moment of our days on this earth. I love the picture you created of Him at the end of your writing. Beautiful, heart grabbing view!
    Love you

    • Michele

      Won’t that day—the Day of all Days!—be grand?! So glad we’ll be there together.

      • Alice Arment

        Yes Maam indeed. Attended a “celebration” service today for a friend of my husband, the first ever “hope/faithless service I’ve ever been to. So grateful that Eternity, glorious eternity is waiting at the end. The pastor’s words “His future is in the memories that he made with his family and friends! That’s it? All there is? My heart broke for his wife, children and grandchildren. No hope, no grace or mercy to ease the grief! Wow~

  8. Change Volunteer

    At such times, you become speechless and question your life, your surroundings, what if it had happened to me or someone in my family. We try to find answers, ask questions and there is only one place to go to. God. I can completely relate to your feelings Michele.

    • Michele

      Those unanswerable questions can be paralyzing. They’re too big, too heavy, with no relief. Except in the unwavering presence of God.

  9. Lincoln Parks

    This was a very real tragedy and it only takes someone strong to be able to write about it or talk about it. I can’t even imagine the hurt, pain and questions.

  10. Donna Weaver


    Thank you for having a heart like Jesus and reaching out to those suffering the loss from this unspeakable tragedy. And thank you for writing the words for those of us that are at a loss for words, during such a time as this.

    God’s Peace.

    • Michele

      Thank you, Donna.

  11. Jerri

    Thank you, God, for sending people into our lives when we need them, even though we may not know it.
    Love you, Michele.

    • Michele

      Jerri, you’re loved and surrounded even more than you know. So grateful for your presence in my life.



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