How #Pulse changed my heart overnight towards the LBGTQ Community

On a Sunday morning, June 12, 2016, at just before 2am, Omar Mateen parked his van outside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, walked in, and started shooting. At 2:02am, multiple shots were reported and 911 was called. Over the next 3.5 hours, 49 people would be killed and at least 53 wounded in the deadliest mass shooting in American history. The shooter would call 911 and pledge allegiance to ISIS, although in later months, the crime has come to be more recognized as a hate crime against the LBGTQ community.

I was awake following every update I could find on Twitter for all heavy three hours until just before 6am when Orlando Police breached a wall with an armored vehicle and took out the shooter.

Sunday was filled with a scarcity of information, as victims filled Orlando hospitals and pictures filled our social media accounts. I remember standing in the kitchen Sunday evening talking with my Mom while I wiped dishes, as tears choked my voice. “How DARE someone think they can walk into our backyard in Orlando and kill our people? That is wrong. How did this happen?”

I spent most of Sunday night researching places to give blood, and got up Monday morning, expecting to see social media flooded with prayers and sad acknowledgements of the #Orlandoshooting, as it was then being tagged.

Only it wasn’t by the majority of my Christian friends. Social media was dead silent, with the exception of a few heroes to the faith like Albert Mohler, Russell Moore and John Piper. No “this is heartbreaking” or “so awful” posts that always followed huge incidents worldwide.
I’d say 95% of my Christian friends on social media had nothing to say. 

It was a cold shock to my system, and rarely have I felt the immediate black and white, night and day, flip of a switch than I did in that moment. Never had it been more clear to me:

How the church was responding to the LBGTQ community wasn’t good enough.
Saying nothing and keeping our distance wasn’t working and probably never did.
Silence doesn’t melt any hearts and certainly didn’t mine. We were failing them.

And I was livid. 

My parents watched me shift from a silent 27 year old on any LBGTQ issue to a vocal, outspoken, rally and memorial attending woman literally overnight. The shift was sudden and shocking, but, quite simply, I wasn’t going to stay silent or still.

Someone representing the Church needed to show up. Now. Something had to be done.

Silence was no longer good enough.

This quote from C.H. Spurgeon spurred me on that awful week after Pulse:
“Do what the Lord bids you, where He bids you, as He bids you, as long as He bids you, and do it at once.” 

Monday morning, I drove down to our hometown’s little One Blood Center to give blood for Orlando. I waited sitting in a cold tiled hallway, clutching my piece of paper and ID, and smiling gently at everyone who came through the door. After an hour, I gradually made it into the center’s office which was so packed we were shoulder to shoulder, where I sat for another few hours, until it was finally my turn after 4.5 hours of waiting.

It was worth every minute of making friends, waiting, praying. I talked and shared with people I’d never met and had nothing in common with, only bonded by our sadness and desire to help in any way we could. A nurse ordered 10 pizzas, so we wouldn’t have people passing out post-donation. About 3pm, one of the nurses got a call from the district One Blood Center that said because of the overwhelming response, Central Florida had fulfilled the need of blood the last 2 days, which is incredible.

I saw Americans refusing to complain, waiting even though they could leave, and a hush falling over the room when the names were read on the TV. It was a sobering reminder of why were were all there: to BE #OrlandoUnited.

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That night, I went to a prayer vigil and walk locally in my little town. I went alone but I saw friends that I’d made at the One Blood Center and at a cleanup on Saturday. I saw the mayor and the police chief, who wrote the coordinator and said “We’re coming and we’re bringing the guys with us.” There were Fire Department, police, SWAT and K-9 so we’d all feel safe. A pastor prayed for us, and we went walking with our candles and carnations.

I was sitting on the bridge barrier and praying after the vigil, watching the sun set into pink, and Donovan walked by. He and his partner had set up tents outside One Blood and  handed out donated cold waters, juice, cookies, protein bars all day long in the heat.

I had met him and talked with him, and then sat for 4.5 hours inside. As I looked up and smiled, he said “I’ve seen you twice today. Thank you so much.”, and as I reached out and hugged him, I told him I was praying for everyone and he thanked me profusely.

Two nights later some friends and I attended the Citywide Prayer Service at First Baptist of Orlando. It was so hard, but good. There were prayers from multiple pastors in Orlando. Corporate worship live streamed on probably every news channel there was with a video camera. We sang “It is Well” with hands upraised. A standing ovation for a guy named Josh who was at Pulse the night of the shooting, who had tears streaming down his face. There was a reading of the 49 names and the chiming of the bell went on far too long for far too many names. The LBGTQ African American lady who works with the group who spoke a few words and when she said “2,000 people have come here tonight…putting aside politics and differences to show support…in a church. In a CHURCH.”, her tears stopped her from continuing to the sound of thundering applause.

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When I got home, I unpinned the purple ribbon on my shirt and put it somewhere safe to remember, and as I did, I wished with all my heart that my gay friends I’d met the day before could have gone to the service that night. And I wished more than I had ever wished that I had more gay friends, so that I could hold them in my arms and tell them that this was wrong, and I was heartbroken for their loss. I prayed that many who watched it live were comforted by the prayers and were uplifted knowing we went just for them, not for us by any means.

I wrote this late that night: “We showed up for you, Pulse families and LBGTQ community. Hear us loud and clear: we are praying for you. Conservative Christians are heartbroken and weeping with you. YOU have great worth in our eyes and in God’s eyes. There is One Who will never leave you or forsake you in your whole life; He longs to make you a part of His family, and until you know it to be true yourself, we will call you family and we will mourn with you. Because #WeareOrlando.”

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In the wake of those hard personal stories, I want to speak to you about a few things….

We are all image bearers of God.

Loving the LBGTQ community should not be a political statement. Long before the LBGTQ community even existed, these words were written in the Bible 11 times: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This doesn’t mean, “love your neighbors unless you’re uncomfortable with how they live their lives, then shun them completely”. No.

“…if there is any other commandment, all are summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” {Romans 13:9b-10}

The Bible says “Love your neighbor as yourself.”. Period.

We really love ourselves a lot. And we’ve done a really bad job of being Jesus to a community that, a year ago, was being killed because they weren’t straight.

The shooter killed them because he believed something terribly false about them: that they shouldn’t matter enough to live. As Christians, we believe that ALL are image bearers of God. ALL matter. ALL have great worth. The shooter was wrong.

Although perhaps not all our brothers and sisters in Christ, they were still image bearers of God and deeply important to God. No life is worthless to our Creator God.

I told my Mom that week “It could’ve been me. In that club. It could’ve been me.”. Although I don’t spend many nights at clubs, I have on occasion been to one or two for a concert and I have friends who play late into the night in pubs or halls, but on an even deeper level than that, I saw myself in the victims, and my heart broke for their families.

They were sinners. But so am I. Their sin runs deep. So does mine. Simply: it could have been me.

We are called to stand in the gap.

Church, don’t let politics steal from you what God has called you to do: Love like Jesus.
Likewise don’t confuse standing for your faith with shunning the community that needs to hear that faith from a heart that will show up on the hard days and mourn with them.

Showing up at those memorials was not a political statement, nor are these words you are reading. It was a statement that said: “I will stand and mourn with you. I’m sad someone came and killed your friends. I hate that this happened. And as Christians, we are going to stand in the gap and protect you if someone ever pulls a gun. We are going to lay down our lives for you because that’s what Jesus did for us. What He did for you. We won’t stand for violence against image bearers of God.”

I loved this quote: “You have never looked into the eyes of someone who was not deeply loved by God.” and as I spent that week with people of the LBGTQ community, I knew it to be true. I felt overwhelmed with a fierce protective love. I’d take a bullet for any of them.

Not because we were the same gender or race, but because laying down your life for others is a calling placed upon us by the God who made them and who made me. (John 15:12-13, 17) At the time, we expected that this would be the start of many terrorist attacks in our neighboring city of Orlando, and this became the fundamental cry to many of my prayers for our neighbors.

We had nothing to lose, they had everything to gain: Jesus.

We are called to stand in the gap. We are called to die for others if need be.
We are called to sacrificial love, exemplified by a Savior Who died for sinners. 

We know the answer to the question being asked.

We are all searching for something. We are all looking for our life’s greatest fulfillment, whether we label it our identity or dream or purpose. But we have been given the answer to the secret yearnings of every soul on this planet. And we know it every day when we walk out the door. We know it every time we see a Pulse sticker or tattoo and have an opportunity. We know it with every prayer we offer up for our LBGTQ communities. As I urged last year, please don’t let this great opportunity go. Love instead.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – Jesus {John 10:10}

Church, WE KNOW Who saves the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit, we know Who gives life, we know Who is God and Who reigns over our world, we know the answer to the cry of every lost soul and every heart longing for love and His name is JESUS.

Don’t stay silent. Proclaim it. 

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