Living Through Tragedy

Do you have a dream? Something that God has given you that you can’t imagine yourself not pursuing, or doing for the rest of your life? Mine is music, specifically leading worship. From a very early age watching my Dad lead the classic hymns to my college years starting a band with my twin brother, I was drawn to music and fulfilled most when singing or writing it.

I could never prepare for how this dream (or more accurate, calling) would be tested one September night; specifically, one September 15th at Wedgwood Baptist.  This anniversary just passed, and I felt led to reflect on its impact for me.

This chapter of my life began when leading worship for a week of camp in Glenrose, TX. After the camp, Wedgwood called to have our band play their “Saw You at the Pole” rally in Fort Worth. The rally would consist of area churches coming together to worship and celebrate the day of prayer. Just like hundreds of churches before, we arrived and started setting up.

It came time to start the service, and the lights inside the sanctuary were low. The entry doors around the sanctuary allowed sunlight from the hallways to peer in. The room had a balcony where a few tech kids were set to videotape. I don’t remember much more than this, just that the night would be similar to so many rallies we played in the past. Until it wasn’t – we started playing and I remember Joel breaking a chord on his guitar. We played through the song, and our friend came up to the stage to try to help. As we went through the set, we got to a song called “I Will Call upon the Lord” and we started hearing popping. I thought it was our sound system we had brought with us, and the sound was loud enough that it was hard to really know what was happening. Until I looked to the back of the room and with the little backlighting from the entry door, I could see a man loading a gun.

This gunman had walked into the front sitting area of the church with a lit cigarette, and when told to put it out, he pulled out a gun and started shooting people. Men and women waiting for choir practice. He made his way down the hall, and took multiple shots at a man behind our merch table. By the grace of God, one of our loved ones would have been helping at the table, but none could make it that night.

Shots pierced the glass of the sanctuary entry door, and in walked the gunman firing at the stage and across the room. Pop. Pop. Pop. The music was loud; his demeanor so strange, that many in the back of the room thought this was a skit (The Columbine shooting happened that same year).  As more and more of us realized this was all too real, people hid under pews, sheltered each other or escaped to call for help. For over 10 minutes he fired 100+ rounds, threw a pipe bomb that fortunately failed and ultimately took the lives of 7 people. He then walked to the back of the sanctuary, sat down and ended his life with a shot to the head. There are too many stories to share, but know that there were heroes that night, many of them junior high and high school students.

Not so much fear, but shock ran through me. I had never been near a gun going off; much less had bullets flying to the left and right of me.

God and his angels were hard at work. In my case, something took over and I don’t remember those 10+minutes very well. What could have been adrenaline, I say were angels in our midst. Some were carrying us out those church doors, some carrying us home to Jesus.

All these years later, I’m still processing what happened that night. As a band, in the months following the shooting we were crushed. Crushed by our experience, crushed by driving into a church parking lot to unload and seeing their sign say “Tonight: Free Pizza and Shooting Survivors.” We crossed paths that year many times with the 13 crosses of Columbine, each representing one of the lives lost there. How could we keep this up? We couldn’t.

My dream, and a huge part of me, went missing. It was here God started to build me into the person He wanted me to be.

Fast forward to today. I know He had a purpose for what happened that September night in Fort Worth. I know there’s a reason I’m here. The dream of music has been awakened as I am writing and playing with my brother, Joel (Awaken Movement).  I believe a revival is coming, and I hope to be a part of it (RESET). I am blessed to serve at a wonderful church leading worship. These are all awesome things. The more I have been thinking about it, though, I think I know MOST why I’m still here.

I am hugely honored and humbled to live life with Vanessa, my beautiful wife. I have Noah and Stella, two kids that blow my mind everyday with their wonder and curiosity and humor. I get to be her husband and their Dad. I get to watch my wife raise and teach our kids what it means to live with love, honor and responsibility. I get to read books, give baths and share laughs with the two most wonderful kids in the world. What is better? Through the birth of our children, I have fully realized the impact of the outcome for me that night in September. I am living my true, God-intended dream.

My hope is that you never take for granted the time you have here. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or what your background is, our time on earth will come to an end. Until it does, ask God to use the dreams in your heart for His glory, not according to your own plan or timeline. In the meantime,

Love the people in your life, and the people God brings across your path.

Live the gospel and serve well.

Pray for revival in your own life, and for God to draw people near to Him.

Please remember and pray for the families of those killed that September 15 at Wedgwood Baptist in Ft. Worth, TX: Shawn Brown, 23; Kim Jones, 23; Sydney Browning, 36; Joey Ennis, 14; Cassie Griffin, 14; Kristi Beckel, 14; and Justin Stegner Ray, 17.

Also, please pray for those affected by the shooting at the Navy Yard in D.C. yesterday.

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Thanks for taking the time.

Mark Warren